Monthly Archives: February 2014

Girl on a Bicycle – A Review

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

Girl on a Bicycle is a strange movie. A romantic dramedy set in France that seems to be trying to be different from the other romantic comedies/dramedies out there, but really doesn’t stand out. Girl on a Bicycle isn’t a bad movie, it’s just very average.

               Girl on a Bicycle tells the story of Paola (played by Vincenzo Amato), an Italian who works as a bus driver in Paris. Paola has proposed to his longtime girlfriend, a German flight stewardess named Greta (played by Nora Tschirner). One day, Paola, notices a French woman named Cecile (played by Louise Monot), and falls for her. Things get really complicated when Paola accidently hits Cecile with his bus, and she’s badly injured as a result. Thanks to some poor advice from his friend, Derek (played by Paddy Considine), a Brit living in France, Paola ends up with a German fiancé, a French “wife”, two children who think of him as their “papa” (Cecile’s children), and his life almost ruined.

               There are some funny moments to be sure, but one of my biggest problems with the film is that the main character, Paola, is your stereotypical overly flirtatious Italian male, and, therefore, not very bright. The first thing he does, following his engagement to Greta, is start eyeing girls out of the window of his bus. What an “ass”. Even worse, when he’s at the hospital with Cecile, he claims that Cecile is his “wife” in front of her children. Later in the movie, he wonders why the children are calling him “papa”, even though he clearly should have realized that by saying that he was her husband, they would have obviously thought he was their father.

               The performances by the leads, Vincenzo Amato, Nora Tschirner, Paddy Considine, and Louise Monot are good, but not enough to help the entirety of the movie. The actors can clearly speak English and Amato is an Italian actor who has been seen in American TV shows, such as Boardwalk Empire, while this is Tschirner’s first English speaking production and she is very fluent in it. The majority of this film is written and directed by an American.

               The setting of Paris, France is lovely and the way the film intercuts with various pop and techno songs is fascinating. The film’s soundtrack is quite good. However, the film’s direction, by Jeremy Leven who wrote The Notebook, is nothing that special, but isn’t bad.

Nebraska: A Review

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

Alexander Payne is a director known for making stylish, sometimes offbeat movies. His films are often realistic portrayals of American life. Election is a hilarious parody of the American high school system, while his film Sideways is a wonderful portrait of mid-life crisis. Most recently, his film The Descendants showcased how one man reacted to the death of his wife, and wasn’t necessarily easily defined or categorized as a particular film genre. That brings us to his latest film, Nebraska.

               Filmed in black and white, Nebraska is a poignant, often hilarious, and character-driven film. Nebraska works because it never takes it’s self too seriously.  It’s not overly dramatic, it’s funny, but it’s not off the walls funny.  It’s just right. In some ways, it feels like a slice of life.

               Nebraska tells the story of a dysfunctional family headed by Woodrow “Woody” Grant (played by Bruce Dern), his wife, Kate (played by June Squibb), and their two sons, David and Ross (played by Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk). Woody has become rather senile in his old age, and believes that the Mega Sweepstakes Marketing Prize he received in the mail is actually real, and he starts jogging to Nebraska to pick up his million dollar prize. Along the way, Woody is joined by his family and their road trip includes visiting the place where he grew up. When word gets out that Woody is going to becoming a millionaire, or so he thinks, everyone wants a piece of the money.

               Nebraska features some of the best, most fleshed out (well defined) characters I’ve seen in any film this year. The film runs at a relatively slow pace, but there are real genuine characters here. Woody is an alcoholic, whose old age and mental problems have clearly gotten to him. His son, David (who is considered by some to be the lead character) decides to pretend to be sick in order to skip work and spend time with his father, despite the fact he knows his father is not well and this million dollar prize isn’t real. In many ways, this film is about the two of them finally bonding as father and son. Kate, Woody’s wife, is easily the funniest character in the film. Her constant badmouthing of her husband is more or less true. The audience I was with in the theater was laughing any time she said something.

               Bruce Dern does a terrific job as Woody. He earned an Oscar nomination playing an “old fool’ really well”. Will Forte is very much more “down to earth” as David when compared to Bruce Dern and surprised me in this film (he usually plays more comical roles). June Squibb easily gives the funniest performances of any of the actors. She can be nasty, nagging and even, in a corny way, sweet. Also, to note, Stacy Keach plays an old associate of Woody’s whose name is Ed Pegram. Ed is more of a scumbag than a friend.

               The decision to make the film in black and white helps to enhance the bleak mood. Alexander Payne’s directing is good, and the scenes are clear and well shot. This is the first movie Alexander Payne directed but did not write. Instead, the script is written by Bob Nelson, and is clever and witty with dialogue such as: “I ain’t fiddlin’ with no cow titties. I’m a city girl!” and “Have a drink with your old man. Be somebody”.  Nebraska’s dreary mood, along with the comedy, help to make the film a good sit. Definitely worth recommended. This is one of the very best films of 2013.

Philomena – A Review

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

philomenaPhilomena is a movie that felt like I should have found it generic, but somehow, thanks to two great performances, a magnificent score and solid directing, turned into quite the movie. Philomena is about an interview that turns into a road trip and is based off the true story of Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan), a journalist who has been dismissed by the Labour Party and is disgraced because of it. Looking for a good story to write about, he runs into Philomena Lee (played by Judi Dench – a terrific performance), an elderly lady from Ireland, who, when she was young, had gotten pregnant at a Catholic convent. Philomena is looking for her long lost son, Anthony, who was taken away from her when he was three years old. Thinking that this will make for a good story, Martin decides to help her find her son  and the two set out on a road trip that eventually takes them to America.
As mentioned already, as expected, Judi Dench is terrific in Philomena. She is nice, humorous, and somehow innocent. As Philomena, she plays a no nonsense lady, who clearly wants to have a good time, and is also on a quest to find her long lost son. When she is funny, she is funny. When she is dramatic, she is dramatic. Her performance is one of the best performances I’ve seen from 2013, and definitely worthy of her Oscar nomination.
Steve Coogan seems to be going for the opposite performance.  While Judi Dench is more lively and upbeat for the majority of the film, Coogan, as Martin Sixsmith, is more downbeat and miserable, with his voice being very low. The two have great chemistry together, sounding almost like a man and his mother bickering with one another. Coogan delivers some of the best lines in the film (having written the script as well), and plays a slime bag journalist who clearly isn’t a huge fan of his job, but during the course of the film, has a change of heart due to his journey with Philomena.
The direction and editing in Philomena is top notch. Stephen Frears, an accomplished British director, brings his A-Game to this film, which is shot perfectly, and looks crisp and clear. The interesting thing about the editing is how it incorporates the plot. During the course of the film, Philomena has “visions” that are shot like home videos of what appears to be her son. We later discover these are actually home videos of her son as a child and as an adult. The script by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope is based off the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by the real Martin Sixsmith and is clever and witty, including a funny bit of dialogue by Philomena that pokes fun at the high obesity rate of Americans.
The musical score, by famed French composer Alexandre Desplat, is magnificent, and maybe even the film’s strongest point. It can be at times, uplifting, comical, dramatic and even mysterious. It gave me different feelings throughout the film, as it’s just that darn magnificent.
Philomena is not a particularly fast movie, but it does not need to be. It works well in its own environment. It can be both funny and dramatic at the same time. It’s a very good and well done movie that is worth a look.

The Academy Award Nominated Shorts – A Review

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

2014-shortsEach of the five live action shorts that were nominated for an Academy Award could be described as, imaginative, horrifying, and hilarious. Making a short film is not as easy as it looks. You have to say a lot in a short amount of time, but at the same time you are given more freedom to do what you want, and you can be very creative when you make a short. These five directors: Anders Walter, Mark Gil, Xavier Legrand, Esteban Crespo, and Selma Vilhunen, from five different countries, made five films that were of different genres, more or less. The result – one hell of a time.
Helium – Anders Walter – Danish – 23 mins
Easily the most creative of the five shorts, Helium, a short from Denmark, centers around a dying boy named Alfred, who is told of tales of a fantasy land called Helium by the hospital janitor, Enzo. Thanks to these tales, Alfred finds a way to regain his own happiness in life, and finds a way to escape the problems of everyday life. In only twenty three minutes, Helium, creates a fictional world, complete with a clear description and not needing any characters, which is something that many fantasy films have failed to do in two hours. The film could be considered depressing, given what the main character is going through, but in spite of that, there is a sense of hope and wonder, that something good will eventually happen, and we will always have peace within ourselves, as long as we let our imagination run wild.
The visuals are spectacular, regardless of the limited budget of a short. Director Anders Walter, manages to pull us into the fictional world, and the actors, Casper Crump and Pelle Krusbaek, also help by creating a believable friendship. Overall, Helium, is easily the most creative of the five shorts.

The Voorman Problem – Mark Gill – U.K. – 13 mins
This is my personal favorite of the five shorts. The Voorman Problem is a hilarious little gem of a short from the U.K. , and tells the story of Doctor Williams (played by Martin Freeman), a psychiatrist who is called in to check up on the enigmatic Mr. Voorman, a man who claims to be God. In the course of 10 minutes, Doctor Williams learns that Voorman may not be bluffing at all.
While it does have moments of drama, The Voorman Problem, feels like a comedy more than anything, and it works at that, too. In essence, it seems to be a “black comedy”, featuring a serious subject material, but not playing it entirely straight. Director Mark Gil and co-screenwriter Baldwin Li do a terrific job in just thirteen minutes. When Voorman is introduced, we only see his back, perhaps to give him a more mysterious and threatening appearance.
Martin Freeman’s and Tom Hollander’s performances are great, and they play off each other well: Freeman playing a man clearly driven insane, while Hollander’s character remains calm and very mysterious. The Voorman Problem is hilarious, has a point, is my favorite of the five, and worth checking out.

Just Before Losing Everything – French – Xavier Legrand – 30 minutes
Although it’s my least favorite of the shorts, Just Before Losing Everything is not a bad short by any means. In fact, it is a well-made, well shot short. It is also the longest of the five shorts that were nominated for Academy Awards.
Just Before Losing Everything tells the story of Miriam, a mother with two children, a son and a daughter, who tries to escape from her abusive husband. The reason I felt it was the weakest of the five nominated shorts is because it doesn’t seem to have a clear tone, while the other two shorts, Helium and The Voorman Problems, had clear intent and a message. Just Before Losing Everything is supposed to be dramatic and yet it feels somewhat unsatisfying in that regard.
The first few minutes are very puzzling as we see a boy, who turns out to be Miriam’s son, skipping school. A woman asks him why he isn’t at school and he tells her that he has to do so errands for his mother. The rest of the short is a “who, what, when and why” kind of deal, eventually resulting in a chase of sorts.
This short has humorous moments, including my favorite part, where  one of the characters, Mrs. Bollca, is nicknamed Robocop because of her supervisor status, and is overall, pretty entertaining. A somewhat long short, I was only let down by its lack of vision.

That Wasn’t Me – Spanish – Esteban Crespo – 24 minutes
Of the five shorts, That Wasn’t Me was the most brutal and hardest to watch. Yet, it was excellent and very emotional. That Wasn’t Me tells the story of three friends travelling in Spain, who are stopped by and taken as prisoners by a group of African soldiers.
Director Crespo seems intent on addressing the ever growing problem of child soldiers in Africa, and the trauma these children experience when they have lost their childhood. He does terrific job of showing and addressing this issue in this short.
This short film is so good, that I would even say it’s better than some Hollywood films that have dealt with similar subjects. It is, however, a very hard film to sit through, and not recommended for those with weak stomachs.
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything – Finland – Selma Vilhunen – 7 minutes
The shortest and easily most chaotic of the short films, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything is (along with The Voorman Problem) one of the two “comical shorts”, and a good way to wrap up the short films, especially after such a depressing short, That Wasn’t Me.
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything is told in only seven minutes, and tells the story of a family in Finland that is about to attend a wedding. Only, everything goes wrong before they even get there, which starts with them waking up late. Do I Have to Take Care of Everything is a hilarious tale full of loads of laughs, and easily the easiest of the five shorts to watch.

From comedy to drama, to fantasy, to being downright brutal, the five nominated Academy Award live action shorts were impressive in one form or another.

Summer In February A Review – An Accidental Oscar Baiter

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

summer-in-febSummer in February feels like one of those movies that knows it’s not going to get nominated for any Academy Awards, especially since the film is a United Kingdom (UK) productions and the producers probably weren’t even sure if it was going to get released in the U.S., but somehow ends up feeling like an “accidental Oscar Baiter”.  The story is based on the true story of the Lamorna group in the U.K., and centers around three characters. It is a love triangle between AJ Munnings (Dominic Cooper), his new wife, Florence Carter Wood (Emily Browning), and his friend and Florence’s eventual lover, Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens).
Summer in February is a beautifully shot movie and feels like a period piece with the correct costumes, and some of the acting is pretty good, but for my taste, it just lacked action. The three leads are good in their respective roles. Dominic Cooper, in the role of AJ, brings an easy level of energy, though he seems somewhat incapable of yelling. His character, true story or not, is just unlikeable. Are we supposed to sympathize with a man who abuses his wife that way?  No wonder she had an affair with his friend. Sure, he changes his attitude near the end, but it’s just too late for me. Dan Stevens is good as Gilbert, though he has moments where he overacts (hence the Oscar bait feel). His character is way more likeable than AJ’s, and that just seems somewhat unnecessary. Emily Browning is easily the weakest of the three. She is an Australian actress, and I thought she was sounded Australian, rather than British, but eventually, I got used to her, although, she does have a slow delivery, and no real chemistry between either of the leads (Dominic Cooper and Dan Stevens). There are other actors and characters in the film, but none of them were as well developed as the three leads.
The direction by Christopher Menaul (unlike Dallas Buyers Club) seems to be playing it easy for the most part. The musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch is melodramatic and supposedly “uplifting” as to be expected in a period drama. I know this based off a true story, but that doesn’t excuse the messy nature of the film. Summer In February just feels like one of those films that they made and forgot to give a flavor to.

Dallas Buyers Club A Review

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

dallasDallas Buyers Club opens with a scene of Matthew McConaughey humping a woman while at a bull riding venue. There is no dialogue in the scene, just the sound effect of “screeching”. This opening scene more or less sets the audience up for what they should expect the film to be like. Certainly, it is one of the more interesting ways in which a director opens his film this year.
Dallas Buyers Club is based off the story of Ron Woodroof, played by Matthew McConaughey, who lost 40 pounds for this role and almost dominates the film. Woodroof was a handsome, macho, playboy, homophobic bull rider, but after he was diagnosed with HIV, due to unprotected sex, he starts to see things a little differently. After getting approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Woodroof gets AZT to treat HIV/AIDs, but due to consuming AZT, as well as substance abuse, Woodroof comes close to dying. Realizing this, Woodroof starts a worldwide search for a fallen doctor (Griffin Dunne) who prescribes antiviral drugs. Along the way, Woodroof meets Rayon, a transvestite who changes Woodroof’s views on homosexuals, and played by Jared Leto, who is completely transformed in this role, with makeup and weight loss much like McConaughey. Becoming an inspiration for HIV/AIDS people everywhere, Woodroof, along with his friend Rayon, starts The Dallas Buyers Club, a new place for HIV people, which eventually leads him directly in conflict with the FDA.
Dallas Buyers Club shows how “greedy” and untrustworthy pharmaceutical companies can be. The film actually seems to support two different sides. On the one side, you have Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare) and Richard Barkley (Michael O’Neill) representing the “corrupt” side of things. More motivated by money than anything else, they don’t even seemingly bother to look at how good their prescriptions are. The other side is the “good guys”, the ones who seemingly want to help: Eve (Jennifer Garner), and Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne). Some people are just in it for the money and are not to be trusted.
The acting is, for the most part, pretty great. This film relies heavily on its performances. As mentioned above, both McConaughey and Leto lost a lot of weight to play their roles, and both actors are very skinny. McConaughey, as Woodruff, delivers an Oscar worthy performance. His accent fits the character perfectly, and he portrays an abuser with tremendous power. When McConaughey says “fuck” when he discovers that he is truly diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, his scream is delivered pricelessly. McConaughey, as an actor, has gone through a major career change, and is no longer considered a joke among his peers. He went from being a promising actor, the male lead in “lousy romantic comedies”, and to where he is now, a real serious dramatic actor. The fact that he manages to snag so many award nominations, and even win a few, as well the Oscar possibly, speaks volumes of how much he has changed as an actor.
I wouldn’t be the first to say the film’s most outstanding performance is not from McConaughey himself, but from Jared Leto as Rayon. His voice, his makeup, its all done perfectly, transformed into his role as a transvestite. Sometimes, I even swear he was a woman. His performance in Dallas Buyers Club, feels very much like a Leto performance, as it continues his willingness to do anything for a role. It’s not hard to see why he is the frontrunner this year for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Most of the other performances in the film are good, but those two are especially outstanding. Jennifer Garner is unmemorable in the role as Eve a doctor. Though Garner isn’t awful, her performance leaves much to desire. Thankfully even the writers realized that, as the film seems to be more about the relationship between Woodroof and Rayon, then that of Woodroof and Eve. Denis O’Hare and Michael O’Neill are just playing stock corrupt doctors and aren’t developed much beyond that, which may be considered one of the films biggest weakness, though it didn’t bother me at all.
The direction by French Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee is especially good. Just about every shot is clear. The decision to have scenes without dialogue and just “screeching”, was especially interesting. If this was in the wrong hands, it could have potentially been disastrous. The editing is also good and the film flows at a nice pace, being a little less than 2 hours. Dallas Buyers Club is an extraordinary film which shows just how far one man with AIDS went to find a cure. The acting and directing makes the film and it is definitely one of 2013’s very best.