Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mini-Reviews of a Whole Lotta Underrated Movies

The holidays have ended and I'm back at school, but with all that spare time - that I'll no longer have - I watched a whole lot of underrated gems (I saw a couple of these movies way back at the start of December). So in alphabetical order, I'll serve up a few words on Richard Linklater's Bernie, Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus, Tony Kaye's Detachment, Lee Tamahori's The Devil's Double, David Ayer's End of Watch, and Amy Heckerling's Vamps.

Bernie (2011) / US / Out on DVD now / Directed by Richard Linklater / Written by Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth / Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Brady Coleman / 104 mins

I've already said a lot about Jack Black's performance as convicted murderer with a heart of gold, Bernie Tiede. And there won't be a point for a very long time where I don't champion that performance. Everything just clicks, and usually Black annoys the heck out of me. The movie itself is just wonderful - and I saw it twice in the holidays. I wouldn't say I'm an expert on Richard Linklater's films, but I feel like he is one of the best working directors and no one really realises it. He's just so consistent in his work. This film, all about the Bernie Tiede case where he kills a woman he's been living with (Shirley MacLaine) coz he's had it with her, is mostly told mockumentary style, with real people who were around during the whole ordeal relaying the events for the camera. It feels so real, in a bizarrely unreal way. To be honest, this is the Matthew McConaughey performance from 2012 that I have no trouble going back to again and again. I mean, who really wants to brave Killer Joe a second time? And yeah, Magic Mike wasn't my favourite.
Why see it? The performances. And it is damn entertaining.

Coriolanus (2011) / UK / Out on DVD now / Directed by Ralph Fiennes / Written by John Logan based on the play 'Coriolanus' by William Shakespeare / Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain, James Nesbitt / 122 mins. 

Basically, this has been my most anticipated movie forever, not only because it is my favourite actor, Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut, but because my favourite actress, Jessica Chastain is also in it. I mean, I could basically hear a choir of angels floating around going "this is all for you Stevee, you can just wait a year and a half for it though". I wouldn't say I completely loved the movie, particularly because admittedly, I'm not so into Shakespearean language when I don't have the chance to fully digest them. This film takes the language and puts it into a very modern setting, filled with modern warfare and exile. The basic bones of the story is that there's much unrest in a city much like Rome, and a lot of people blame Roman general Caius Martius Coriolanus (Fiennes) for that, including his arch enemy Tullus Aufidius (Butler - turning in a surprisingly fantastic performance). The story definitely does fit the modern setting, particularly because the story is rather bleak and the setting is quite scarily empty and damaged, so they really go hand in hand. Fiennes has quite the flair for directing, especially getting the most he could out of modernising Shakespeare. I can see there was a bit of influence from Kathryn Bigelow - whom he worked with on Strange Days and The Hurt Locker - here, with his jerky camera and straight and narrow way of playing out the facts. Vanessa Redgrave turns in a performance which really should have been nominated for an Oscar last year. Jessica Chastain is wonderful, despite the fact she has very few opportunities to shine.
Why see it? It is a good - not great - modernisation of Shakespeare. Plus, Ralph Fiennes doing Shakespeare is one of the best things ever. And Jessica Chastain.

Detachment (2011) / US / Currently undated in NZ / Directed by Tony Kaye / Written by Carl Lund / Starring Adrien Brody, Christina Hendricks, Marcia Gay Harden, Sami Gayle, James Caan / 97 mins.

Detachment is one film which I hadn't heard that much about until I happened to watch it by chance earlier this month. And I'm damn glad that I did end up watching it. It is a film of many facets. In one way, it looks at the state of education in America from the point of view of the teachers. In another way, it looks at the state of the students who are being educated. In a whole different way, it is a character study of substitute teacher Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody in one of his best performances of the past few years), who is wandering through life trying not to care for or about anyone. It doesn't always meld these different facets together well, but that doesn't make it any less fascinating. I definitely wasn't expecting the film to pack such a punch like it did, but I haven't been able to shake the end for quite some time. All I can say is that you see this flawed masterpiece for yourself. Even if Tony Kaye's direction gets a little bit distracting sometimes, his film is something to behold.
Why see it? It is one of the most intriguingly made films to surface recently.

The Devil's Double (2011) / US / Out on DVD now / Directed by Lee Tamahori / Written by Michael Thomas, based on the books by Latif Yahia / Starring Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Philip Quast / 109 mins.

If you look at the poster to The Devil's Double, we have a whole scene doused in gold, including Dominic Cooper holding a rather large gun. I don't know what it is, but there's something absurdly intriguing about this poster. And it pretty much sums up the film. It is based on the supposedly true story of Latif Yahia, who is hired to be the body double of Saddam Hussein's sadistic son Uday, with Dominic Cooper playing both roles. Basically, the film is extremely sadistic, violent, and everything that makes an R18 film what it is. For the most part, it was so absurdly put together and the House of Hussein was one interesting place when put on film. I can't say it always had its eye on the ball the entire time (it seemed to delve into violence when it ran out of ways to go), but it was immensely entertaining even if it was sickening. By far and beyond the best thing about this film, though, was Dominic Cooper's dual performances. I'd put him just behind Michael Fassbender's performance in Shame for the best performances of 2011, he's that good. You can always tell exactly which character he's playing through his on point mannerisms and utter fearlessness. It may help that I've always been a fan of Cooper - sadly from his "you tried" performance in Mamma Mia - but his performance here is truly back-breakingly fantastic.
Why see it? Dominic Cooper's performance. And it is directed by a New Zealander. Not that you'd realise it. Lee Tamahori has come a long way since Once Were Warriors.

End of Watch (2012) / US / Currently undated in NZ / Written and Directed by David Ayer / Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Natalie Martinez, Anna Kendrick, David Harbour, America Ferrera, Cody Horn / 109 mins. 

To be honest, End of Watch was not high on my watchlist until every man and his dog kept raving about it. I sure as hell wasn't expecting to be sitting on the airplane flying over the Equator bawling my eyes out. Yeah, thanks for warning me about that everyone. Anyway, the film is filmed in a 'found footage' kind of style that also has some other grainy, documentary style stuff going on at the same time. It is hard to explain, and while it is a little bit silly sometimes, it works for the most part (but that comes down to the fantastic material). It mostly just follows the story of cops Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena), both in their work and in their personal lives. Things go bad for them when a gang want them dead. Admittedly, the gang were a bit one dimensional and too annoying to be threatening, but that didn't really detract from what was going on. What's interesting is that most of the banter between Taylor and Zavala was improvised, and it just felt totally natural. In fact, most things about this film felt totally natural, and that's why it worked so well. It isn't your typical cop drama - it is one that you should definitely believe the hype for. It was crazy good.
Why see it? It is one of the best cop films I've seen in a long time.

Vamps (2012) / US / Out on DVD now / Written and Directed by Amy Heckerling / Starring Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter, Dan Stevens, Wallace Shawn, Sigourney Weaver / 92 mins.

Amongst all of these dramas and the like, here's a very light-hearted comedy that I guess is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. Written and directed by Amy Heckerling, the mind behind Clueless, and also starring Cher herself, Alicia Silverstone, Vamps is a rather funny, but also kind of depressing vampire comedy. Silverstone stars as Goody, a nearly 200 year old vampire who lives in New York with her younger vampire sister Stacy (Krysten Ritter). The two pursue dating, and the later falls in love with none other than Matthew I can't drive properly Crawley from Downton Abbey, who is also named Joey Van Helsing of all things. Yeah, it is pretty silly, but what I loved most about this film, apart from Dan Stevens being adorable without being Matthew Crawley, was the fact that it was really just an ode to the past through Goody, as she's been through so many time periods in her life. The final montage was so beautiful, as it went through all the different fads and phases she had to go through in order to keep up with the human world. Plus, Krysten Ritter is awesome. I wouldn't say this film is amazing, but it is definitely an underrated comedy that deserves more of an audience.
Why see it? It is an ode to nostalgia - not as effective as Midnight in Paris, but close to it, in a guilty pleasure sort of way.

Have you seen any of these films? What did you think of them?


  1. I really liked Vamps too. It was an interesting outlook on vampires, who I still love in spite of Twilight.
    I really liked Bernie too. Will check out Detachment (ADRIEN BRODY!) and End of Watch soon-ish.

    1. Adrien Brody actually does some good for himself in Detachment! He hasn't been having a good run of late.

  2. Great mini reviews. Completely agree with what you said about Coriolanus: good not great, but with superb acting.

    End of Watch: what a surprise, huh? Excellent cop film.

    1. Yah, Coriolanus could have been more but I was satisfied with what I got. Can't wait to see what Fiennes does next.

      Man, was End of Watch a surprise or what? So good.

  3. Loved the performances in Bernie, Coriolanus, Detachment, and End of Watch. I think Fiennes, Redgrave, and Brody were all Oscar-worthy.

    The Devil's Double: The only thing that bothered me about Dominic Cooper's performance was that his portrayal of Latif seemed a bit lazy and stiff compared to Uday. Granted, that could've been on purpose to show how different they were from each other. Still, he nailed the Uday scenes.

    1. They definitely were!

      I think that may have been on purpose - for one thing, Uday was insane, so that was always going to be his selling point. He was so tremendously good in that side of the role.

  4. about BERNIE: It was a surprise for me. Or, at least, half-a-surprise. I usually like Richard Linklater's movies, but this one caught me off-guard. It was hard for me to imagine Jack Black and even Matthew McConaughey - yeah, I know he's in a kind of an "acting-rehab" mode - having such serious parts while still having fun doing it. Nice flick, very enjoyable :)

    And I watch KILLING JOE twice, eh eh :)

    António Tavares de Figueiredo
    (Matinée Portuense)

    1. Matthew McConaughey is having a great run at the moment, but Jack Black was a huge surprise in Bernie!

      My friend wants to watch Killer Joe so I'll probably have to go through it again. That will be interesting!

  5. I saw Bernie, and really liked it. The rest I have not seen, but would like to see all of them with maybe the exception of Vamps. Unless of course, someone can really convince me otherwise.;)

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