All posts by pbuscone

The Hours (2002)

The first question one might ask about a movie is “what happened in it?” After all, the average viewer usually watches a movie to see what happens. However, in a strange way, what happens in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours does not seem to be the most important aspect of the movie. And while The Hours certainly does have a lot going on — three different stories and time periods, a couple suicides, more contemplated suicides, homosexuality, bisexuality, and historical and literary relevance with Virginia Woolf as a prominent character — the actual plot does not draw the viewer in quite like the acting, the dialogue, and the beautiful music. It doesn’t take an advanced movie critic to notice these aspects either; after all, they caught my attention almost immediately.

The masterful dialogue in the movie makes sense to a degree, for the screenplay was heavily influenced by Michael Cunningham’s novel of the same title and, of course, by the incredibly gifted Woolf. Listening to the characters converse, the viewer feels no less enthralled than if they were voraciously reading a page from any of Woolf’s great body of work.

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Selma (2014)

How can a movie be made to do justice to the Civil Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama, one of the most significant moments in the history of the United States? Ask Ava DuVernay. How can an actor embody such a revered and important historical figure such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a realistic and poignant manner? Ask David Oyelowo.

With Selma, both DuVernay and Oyelowo deliver one of the year’s most powerful films. A rare movie that actually can provide a fresh and powerful look at three months that came to shape this country, Selma follows Dr. Martin Luther King in his attempt to ensure equal voting rights. After talks with President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) break down, King takes to Selma where he plans a dangerous, but necessary march to Montgomery, Alabama. Despite roadblocks, trouble at home, and several tragic deaths, King and all those who followed him triumphantly complete the march and alter history by helping to convince LBJ to create legislation to allow for equal voting rights.

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Skyfall (2012)

For such a successful franchise of movies, there is no denying that of the 23 James Bond installments, a handful of the movies are nothing special on their own. That is to say, strip away the Bond allure and you’re left with a lot of movies that probably resemble a 2014 Kevin Costner film (3 Days to Kill, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit… you get the picture). But the most recent entry Skyfall certainly does not fit into this category of Bond movies. In many ways, Sam Mendes’ first Bond movie is not a typical Bond film; making it not just a great James Bond movie, but a great movie in general.

Mendes gives the viewer this sense early when Q says to Bond — but really to the audience as a sort of aside — “what did you expect, an exploding pen?” It’s Mendes way of saying, “what did you expect, a typical Bond movie?” In the case of Q, what he gives Bond — a fingerprint encoded gun — is even better. And in the case of Mendes, what he gives the viewer is also far better.

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Primal Fear (1996)

Edward Norton wowed audiences this past year with his supporting role in Birdman, one that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and, at times in the movie, stole the show, even from lead actor nominee Michael Keaton. It was an impressive, but not necessarily unexpected, performance from Norton. He has established himself over the past two decades as a great actor. But how did he get to this point? Where did he start? Two words: Primal Fear.

Truth be told, Norton’s start and end points in his journey have had identical impacts on audiences. On both ends of his career—in his first movie and his most recent one—he has absolutely captivated audiences with his performance. It is his first performance that seems more impressive, though, for the sheer fact that no one saw it coming. Continue reading Primal Fear (1996)

Misery (1990)

According to my mom Misery was the first movie I ever watched start to finish, late one night in one of my first few weeks when I just didn’t want to sleep. Apparently all I wanted to do was watch an utterly insane Kathy Bates hold James Caan against his will in her snowy, isolated Colorado home. A lifetime of watching movies later, I returned to that first movie that started it all for me as a viewer (full disclosure: I can’t seem to find my notes on it from a couple decades back).

My first thought upon re-watching my first film: it’s no wonder I couldn’t sleep! I probably couldn’t sleep for weeks. Kathy Bates is so terrifyingly good as the psychotic Annie Wilkes — writer Paul Sheldon’s (James Caan) “biggest fan” — that bipolar does not even being to describe her. One second, she is exactly as self-advertised: Sheldon’s biggest fan, in pure admiration. However, one slip up by Sheldon, such as killing off the main character in his “Misery” series of novels, and she becomes a different person all together — violent, inconsolable, and capable of anything. Regardless of which mood Wilkes happens to be in, though, it is always clear that she will not let her favorite writer go, ever. They are meant to be together, or at least that’s what she thinks.

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Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy is not for the faint of heart, but for everybody else it is one hell of a ride. The South Korean film makes Se7en look like Cinderella and director Chan-wook Park makes Quentin Tarantino look like Nicholas Sparks. For better or for worse, there are few movies comparable to Oldboy when it comes to pure intensity.

The plot starts simply: an average man, Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) is inexplicably imprisoned for 15 years, framed for the murder of his wife while imprisoned, and then suddenly released in equally inexplicable fashion. Upon his release, he meets both a young girl, Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang) and the man who had him imprisoned, Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yu). Rather than killing Lee on the spot, Dae-su accepts the challenge to uncover the reason for his own imprisonment.

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Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

How badly can two brothers mess up a supposedly simple robbery? Apparently, very, very badly. This is what we learn in Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead when Hank and Andy try to rob their parents’ jewelry store to cure some financial woes and, well, it doesn’t go according to plan, which is to say their plan did not involve botching the actual robbery and leading to six deaths, including their own mother, in just a few days. Definitely not good.

At the very least, I can say that the movie is done much more pristinely than the brothers’ plan, but, like the attempted robbery, it certainly could have been executed better. Before I get to any of my problems with the film, I must first admit that the acting is superb. The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic as Andy, the older brother pushing for the robbery. Then there’s Ethan Hawke (who just loves being in movies that start with “Before”, as he’s been in four such movies) who plays Andy’s younger brother Hank, a loyal, but non-custodial parent (Boyhood, anyone?), behind on child support. Hawke, as he has been known to do, truly captures the role.

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Birdman (2014)

Birdman is not your typical Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu film. Correction: Birdman is not your typical anyone film — which is part of what makes it so good. Iñárritu’s inventive cinematography combined with exceptional dialogue between intriguing, fantastically-acted characters make Birdman a masterpiece, and one that deserves all of the praise it is receiving in terms of Academy Award nominations.

The film follows Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thomson, a past-his-prime actor who was once famous for playing the titular superhero Birdman (Keaton himself knows a thing or two about formerly playing a superhero). Riggan’s past character haunts him throughout the film as he tries to become relevant as an actor outside of just the superhero role. He attempts to shake loose of Birdman by directing and starring in Raymond Carver’s play “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Carver’s play provides an appropriate backdrop for Riggan’s attempt at a career revival. Carver, himself, is quoted to start the movie in what reveals a central theme of the movie: “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth”.

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Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Movies have the power to foster a true emotional experience in its viewers at times while at other times movies can bring characters or people, though deceased, back to life. The documentary Dear Zachary reminds all of its viewers of this potential by making us feel both a deep connection to the Bagby family—on which the movie focuses—and unadulterated emotion towards their tragic situation.

Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne follows the heartrending story of the murder of his friend Dr. Andrew Bagby as well as the aftermath of the senseless crime. The documentary takes on several different forms throughout, which is part of what makes it so powerful. Kuenne rightly glorifies the life of the deceased Bagby through interviews with all those people around the country whose lives he had touched in his all-too-short 28 year life.

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My Left Foot (1989)

Calling Daniel Day-Lewis the greatest cinematic actor of all time certainly isn’t a stretch, and his performance in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot is the reason why. Day-Lewis plays Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy. The only control Brown has over his body is his left foot. However, he uses this one appendage to achieve fame as both an artist and a writer. Throughout the film and in real life, Brown works through the adversity of his condition as well as the poverty of his large family. The movie is set mostly as a flashback; Christy’s life unfolds as his nurse, Mary Carr (Ruth McCabe), reads his autobiography while at a charity event with him.

The decision to set the movie as a flashback was a solid one as it shows the progress Christy makes in so many regards to arrive to the fame that lands him at the charity event. Also, the film does not focus much on the actual writing of the autobiography. Rather, the focus is more on his art. Thus, seeing his life through his own writing highlights his talent as a writer while also providing an appropriate backdrop for his story.

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