Tag Archives: Rooney Mara

Pride Before the Fall

Nightmare Alley

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Step right up, folks, and witness a master of the macabre! See Guillermo Del Toro twist the familiar tale of ambition run amuck! Gasp at the lurid, gorgeous, vulgar world of Nightmare Alley!

Bradley Cooper stars as Stan, good lookin’ kid on the skids taken in by Clem (Willem Dafoe, creepy as ever) to carny for a traveling show. Stan picks up some tricks from mentalist Zeena (Toni Collette) and her partner Pete (David Strathairn), then lures pretty Molly (Rooney Mara) to the big city to set up their own mind-reading racket.

Things are going swell, too, until Stan gets mixed up with psychiatrist Lillith (Cate Blanchett) whose patient list includes some high rollers with large bank accounts ripe for the picking.

That’s already one hell of an ensemble, but wait there’s more! Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen and Tim Blake Nelson all add immeasurably to the sketchy world Stan orbits.

What Del Toro brings to the tale, besides a breathtaking cast and an elegantly gruesome aesthetic, is his gift for humanizing the unseemly. Edmund Goulding’s 1947 adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s novel (a solid slice of noir with Tyrone Power in the lead) dulled the edges of any seediness. Even Tod Browning’s Freaks – maligned as it was – found the unsettling carny life mainly wholesome.

Cinematographer Dan Lausten and composer Nathan Johnson create a delicious playground for Del Toro’s carnival to call home, one where even the most likable members of the family turn a blind eye to something genuinely sickening and cruel happening in their midst. The filmmaker plumbs that underlying horror, complicating Stan’s arc and allowing the film’s climax to leave a more lasting mark.

As usual, Del Toro wears his feelings proudly on his sleeve, with unmistakable but organic foreshadowing that ups the ante on the stakes involved. Anchored by another sterling performance from Cooper, Stan’s journey rises to biblical proportions. An actor whose gifts are often deceptively subtle, Cooper makes sure Stan’s pride always arrives with a layer of charming sympathy, even as it blinds him to the pitfalls ahead.

And Blanchett – shocker – is gloriously vampy. She swims elegantly through the sea of noir-ish light and framing that Del Toro bathes her in, as Lillith casts a spell that renders Stan’s helplessness a fait accompli.

Nearly every aspect of the screenplay (co-written by Del Toro and Kim Morgan) creates a richer level of storytelling than the ’47 original. The dialog is more sharply insightful, the finale more dangerously tense and the characters – especially Mara’s stronger-willed Molly – more fully developed. All contribute greatly toward the film rebounding from a slightly sluggish first act to render the two and a half hour running time unconcerning.

For Del Toro fans, the most surprising aspect of Nightmare Alley might be the lack of hopeful wonder that has driven most of his films. As the title suggests, this is a trip to the dark corners of the soul, where hope is in damn short supply.

So as much as this looks like a Del Toro film, it feels like a flex just from taking his vision to the sordid part of town. But what a vision it turns out to be – one of the year’s best and one of his best.

Don’t believe me? See it with your own eyes, step right up!

Spirit in the Material World

A Ghost Story

by George Wolf

Before some empty misnomers such as “prestige horror” are bandied about, let’s be clear: this is not a horror movie.

But what A Ghost Story is not hardly matters when what it is remains this beautiful. Writer/director David Lowery has crafted a poetic, moving testament to the certainty of time, the inevitability of death and the timeless search for connection.

Opening with a telling quote from Virginia Woolf’s short story “A Haunted House,” Lowery shows us Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as a loving couple at odds over whether to move from their current house. She wants to, he doesn’t.

A car accident tragically takes his life, and as her life must move on, his spirit rises to wander as the silent, white-sheeted embodiment of any number of homemade Halloween costumes.

The irony of such a childlike image representing themes so vast and existential seems silly, but only for a few moments, until Lowery’s stationary camera and long, elegant takes wrap you in a strangely hypnotic trance.

After the curious detour of Pete’s Dragon last year, Lowery returns to the dreamlike imagery that drove his richly rewarding Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and evokes the best of Terrence Malick. Here, the Malick comparisons may be even more apt as A Ghost Story‘s narrative is loose and abstract, with long stretches of little to no dialogue.

Both Affleck and Mara (also Lowery’s leads from Bodies Saints) are deeply affecting, though a big part of the film’s conscience is instead revealed through the monologue of a random one-scene character. That’s fitting, for what makes this film so eerily touching is not what it tells but what it shows, and our ache for the couple comes in part from their staying out of our reach.

As the ghost travels through time and circumstance, it’s easy to see Woolf’s short story as a major inspiration for Lowery – right up to the sudden and glorious finale that’s sure to fuel plenty of conversation. Restless spirits amid the slow, silent march of mortality may sound like a horror show, but A Ghost Story is anchored by a loving hope that might bring a tear to the eye.

Verdict-4-5-Stars

 

 

 





Call Me Kubo

Kubo and the Two Strings

by Matt Weiner

Describing the story of Kubo and the Two Strings feels deeply wrong for a film that takes great pains to remind us of the raw power of storytelling—that our lives come and go, and all we can hold onto is the story of ourselves.

But here goes anyway: Kubo (voiced by Game of Thrones‘ Art Parkinson) is a one-eyed boy who spends his days entertaining his village in a magical, ancient Japan. His nights are a lot less fun, thanks to dire if not particularly lucid warnings from his mother about returning home before dark.

As young heroes in mythical tales are wont to do, Kubo eventually stays out past sundown, invoking the wrath of familial specters (twin sisters, voiced by Rooney Mara) who doggedly pursue him through the village, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

Kubo’s mother saves the day, but at great cost, and Kubo soon finds himself on the run with little besides his stringed instrument known as a samisen, a talking monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and magical powers that grow stronger by the day.

First-time director Travis Knight makes an impressive debut after years of animation experience. Knight, also the president and CEO of Laika Studios, has given his group another modern stop-motion classic. Laika has never been a studio to tread lightly around adult themes in their animated films—but while Coraline and ParaNorman aren’t short on death, Kubo cuts to the emotional core with a story so saturated with loss that it becomes its own texture, something as visceral as the sumptuously animated hair or backgrounds.

Kubo follows the typical hero’s journey: suffer adversity, embark on a quest, encounter friends and foes, suffer more adversity, conquer evil. (None of this should come as a spoiler for the adults watching who have seen or read… well, pretty much any story before.)

But beneath the surface, Kubo and the Two Strings quietly but persistently makes us confront what it means to be alive, and just how tenuous the bonds we share are with the ones we love in this world. And the script deftly handles this emotional gut punch without getting sentimental.

All the way up to the end, the film continues to ask questions without easy answers. What’s the difference between a story, a memory and a lie? Are we more than that?

Maybe not. But it’s all we have, and if Kubo doesn’t inspire you to seek out new stories of your own, you might as well be dead already.

Verdict-4-5-Stars

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4-6qJzeb3A





Countdown: Best Underseen Films of 2013

Today we pay tribute to the most fabulous movies that no one saw in 2013. If you, too, missed them, don’t be too hard on yourself. Some were hard to find, some had such short runs that if you blinked, you missed them in theaters. But here’s your chance to make amends. Seek these out as part of your new year’s resolution to watch something awesome. They are sometimes bloody, sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, always intriguing, fresh and memorable. We give you the most tragically underseen films of 2013.

5. Only God Forgives

Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to Drive offers a nightmarish, polarizing vision of the revenge thriller. The near-silent Ryan Gosling leads a cast of misfits and miscreants (and worse) through a bloody piece of nastiness in Bangkok. It’s a visual, aural feat of wonder creating a dreamlike hellscape. The one-dimensional characters and lurid story guarantee you will either love it or hate it, but you will not forget it easily.

4. Much Ado about Nothing

Joss Whedon proves he can do basically anything as he spins the Bard’s classic comedy. Giving Shakespeare a modern-day treatment trips up many great filmmakers, but Whedon takes it in stride, employing a game cast to create a playful, satisfying romp.

3. Mud

The forever underseen filmmaker of extraordinary talent Jeff Nichols follows up his bewilderingly wonderful Take Shelter with this Huck Finn style tale. Matthew McConaughey excels as the man-child fugitive befriending a couple river rats interested in adventure. The result is a lovely journey of lost innocence and a vanishing American lifestyle.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pv30J05U2nI

2. Fruitvale Station

Ryan Coogler’s impressive feature debut offers a powerful and superbly acted account of the tragic death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. Michael B. Jordan’s revelatory lead performance deserves to be in the Oscar conversation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMrAH_rO_fM

1. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

No one saw this movie, which is a tragedy given all the film has to offer. The aching romantic drama boasts exceptional performances from Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster as well as understated writing and exquisite photography. It’s an overlooked gem of rare beauty – one worth finding.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjR3DLatrFg





Ain’t That Film Impressive

by Hope Madden

 

The screen fills with the sepia image of a bygone Texas. Sinewy lovers quarrel and forgive, then wait in a pick-up, planning a future with their unborn baby, until the third robber arrives. There’s a chase, a lonesome shack, a shoot out, and a compromise that sends the boy away to prison and the girl home to pine.

There’s good reason writer/director David Lowery’s romantic tragedy Ain’t Them Bodies Saints feels so confident. The breathtaking cinematography, the fittingly artistic framing, the poetry of the language and image, the heartbreaking authority of the performances – each element fits together beautifully and benefits from the artistic coordination of a maestro. It’s because the relatively unknown Lowery has honed his craft, spending time as a casting director, crewman, writer, director, sound editor, actor, producer, and cinematographer before tackling this, the culminating effort of a lifetime spent in film.

He’s blessed with a cast that embraces his understated drama. Casey Affleck animates a career full of characters with vulnerability and confused nobility, and he impresses again here as the outlaw who breaks out of prison, just like he promised, to reunite with his girl and the daughter he’s never met.

Rooney Mara’s quiet ferocity offsets Affleck’s tenderness, and the love story they create offers a poignant center to the film. Orbiting the couple is Ben Foster’s humble police officer, torn by his affection for one and duty to the other. Each actor embodies an image of lonesomeness that makes the film ache. What’s beautiful about this triangle is that neither the characters nor the filmmaker judges anyone. Lowery and his characters accept, however sadly, the motivations and actions of all involved.

The young mother also attracts the protective nature of a retired gangster/father figure played by Keith Carradine, whose presence reinforces the film’s bluesy connection to the other great, doomed Western romance, McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

The film’s one shortcoming is that it does not tell a larger tale. This beautifully told story of loneliness, devotion, love and tragedy never manages to transcend its own intimacy to speak to something universal.

But it’s a hell of an effort, and one that establishes Lowery as one of the most exciting new filmmakers to come along in decades.

 

Verdict-4-5-Stars

 

 





Side Effects may include unusual career choices

by Hope Madden

Director Steven Soderbergh has worked with screenwriter Scott Z. Burns three times now, each instance a bit weaker than the last. Their first collaboration, The Informant!, was an unhinged gem of a flick owing as much to Matt Damon’s outstanding performance as to Burns’s knack with the English language. Next came Contagion, a better box office performer, but a less inspired effort.

Their third collaboration, Side Effects, offers a mystery thriller inside the world of pharmaceuticals. As is often the case with mystery thrillers, to say much more would be to give away too much. Coursing with Soderbergh’s cynicism and varnished with his laid back style, the film has more in store for you than the diatribe against Big Pharm it appears to deliver at first.

Unfortunately, plot holes seriously interrupt the impact of the mystery, but a solid cast helps bridge those gaps. Jude Law evolves cleverly from the modern doctor – overworked and ambitious – to something more raw, dirty and real. As his patient, Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) carries the film. It’s her picture, and she does with it what she wishes, thank God.

Like Soderbergh’s last several efforts – all mid-budget, off-season genre pics – Side Effects is an absorbing bit of entertainment you’ll dismiss after viewing. It’s better than most February releases, but worse than most Soderbergh pictures. What a funny turn for a career that began with the game changer Sex, Lies & Videotape.

3 stars (out of 5)