Tag: drama

Eastern Promises, 2007

Eastern Promises directed by David Cronenberg is a 2007 story that focuses strongly on the intricacies of life in a Russian mafia family. It tells the story of a young British nurse named Anna (Naomi Watts) who comes across an orphaned baby, a discovery that threatens the patriarch (Armin Mueller-Stahl) of a London-based Russian crime syndicate. Viggo Mortensen plays a Russian driver named Nikolai, appearing on-screen with extensive and detailed criminal tattoos covering much of his body; the effect was reportedly so realistic that one day after filming he frightened people at a local bar because the tattoos were visible.

When Anna discovers a diary kept by a young woman named Tatiana, who is connected with the Russian family, it endangers both her life and that of the infant’s. It is revealed that what likely happened was the Russian patriarch’s son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) fathered the child after raping Tatiana; surrounding the dramatic story is the life of Nikolai as he attempts to ascend into ever higher levels of the mafia family.

The acting is of the highest caliber and, as expected, Cronenberg’s direction is nearly flawless. The twin plots of the film complement each other well and the realism is said to be extremely accurate. Mortensen spent time with Russian convicts to learn about their culture and how extensive tattooing often tells the life story of Russian criminals. The supporting cast leaves nothing to be desired and the pace of the movie leaves the viewer clutching the arms of their chairs with tension as the stories race to their thrilling conclusion. Eastern Promises may not have the mind-warping changes found in his earlier films, but in this reviewer’s opinion, it is still one of the three best pictures he has ever directed. What more is there to say? Now that you know a movie of this quality awaits you there is only one thing left to do: go watch it!

The Escapist, 2008

Frank Perry (Brian Cox) is a long-time convict in an Irish prison where he is ultimately meant to live out the remainder of his life. Things for him change when he learns that his daughter is having problems with drugs and he decides he must escape from prison and try to mend his relationship with her, hoping that in the process he will be able to help her stop her drug abuse. To allow this escape he enlists help from a variety of other convicts, each bringing some skill, knowledge, or other asset to help achieve their common goal of escape.

What appears at first glance to a simple movie with an almost cookie cutter plot delves into ever deeper levels of meaning, symbolism and mental states, depending heavily upon the great skill of the supporting cast.

Aside from the guards, Frank must respect the political arrangements within the prison, which revolve around a drug trade, managed by Viv Batista (Seu Jorge) and overseen by the main power within the prison, a flatly menacing inmate played exceptionally well by the now A-list actor Damian Lewis. Others join the group as the plot becomes more and more complicated, culminating in a race through the underground structures sitting beneath the prison.

So much can be said about the quality of the acting and the depth that is developed by writer/director Rupert Wyatt; from the initially simple story unfolds what can best be described as an exceptionally elegant film. The web of characters is woven with impressive skill and the movie takes on complexity and levels of meaning that are not expected from the initial framing of the plot.

Any viewer who likes good, character-driven stories will likely appreciate this movie and it is highly regarded and recommended by this reviewer.

The Man from Earth, 2007

The Man From Earthis a 2007 masterpiece, directed by Richard Schenkman and written by Jerome Bixby, about the possibilities that would exist if a man never aged and had existed on Earth for 14,000 years.

The film opens with a simple professor packing up his things and getting ready for a small gathering of his associates from the college where he has taught for ten years. During the party he decides to make a confession to his friends: that he is such a man and has lived for more than 14,000 years, moving every ten years or so, once people begin to notice he isn’t aging. His decision to open up to the group results in profound questions, answers and compelling stories that pour from the man (David Lee Smith).

The film has absolutely minimal sets, feeling closer to a play than a film and relies on its underrated and relatively unknown supporting cast and writing to bring about an epic story that is absolutely gripping for the viewer. The highs are just as extreme as the lows as emotions are wrung out of the friends with such skill that the story, along with the questions and concerns of the group become almost too realistic.

The movie can’t be recommended highly enough. It’s remarkable how little attention it has garnered given its quality, skilled acting, precise direction and a killer script from Bixby. While the movie’s themes and stories are intense, it is also totally engrossing for the audience and a terribly enjoyable movie to watch anytime.

Män som hatar kvinnor, 2009

Män som hatar kvinnor, or, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is the original 2009 Swedish film adaptation of the Stieg Larsson‘s book. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, it tells the story of a disgraced investigative journalist named Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), the editor of Millenium magazine after his conviction for libel against a massively wealthy and corrupt businessman. His part-time lover and another editor of the magazine Erika Berger (Lena Endre) still supports him, but Blomkvist decides to take some time away from the magazine and is lured into industrialist Henrik Vanger’s (Sven-Bertil Taube) family mystery concerning the disappearance of his niece forty years previous, promising to investigate in exchange for a substantial fee and what Vanger claims is material which will allow Blomkvist to attack his corrupt businessman once again.

This is the first in a trilogy of films that follows the series of books surrounding Millenium magazine and the character to whom the title refers, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). Salander is employed by a large, private security and investigations firm and is responsible for completing the background report on Blomkvist which is used by Vanger to ensure he is hiring the correct person to the investigation into the disappearance of his niece. She is completely unconventional and shocking in many ways to the viewer, having had an extraordinarily disturbing childhood which leaves her unable to legally manage her own private affairs without the guidance of an attorney.

The film follows the life of Salander as she endures shocking levels of abuse at the hands of her caretaker attorney and her vengeance against those who wrong her and other women. She teams up with Blomkvist after he reads the background report she prepared and he decides he needs a research assistant to better investigate the disappearance of the Vanger niece. The relationship is complicated by sexual tension between Blomkvist and Salander, who become lovers as well as partners in the investigation and the film takes on the role of a thriller centering upon a bizarre series of murders which seem to be tied to the disappearance of Henrik Vanger’s niece.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a simply fantastic movie with an engrossing plot, exquisite acting, superb direction and a very nice pace. Oplev’s skill is so impressive that the English-language remake of the film, even with the expert direction of David Fincher, is essentially the same movie, but without the subtitles and Swedish. What better compliment from one director to another than to recognize excellence and not try to outdo it with excessive changes in tone, dialogue, characters or plot?

The Last Kind of Scotland, 2006

The Last King of Scotland is the story of Idi Admin (Forest Whitaker), the leader who came to power in Uganda in a coup in the 1970s.  But the story is told through the eyes of Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) who is bored with his life in Scotland and decides to go and see the world, but lacking the imagination to select a place to visit, closes his eyes, spins a globe and makes a promise to himself that he will go to whichever country his finger lands on.  Obviously that country is Uganda.

As Nicholas travels there, first by plane and then by bus, his bus is past by dozens of military vehicles on their way to support the coup which is occurring in the capital and bringing Amin to power.

He begins work a rural medical center where he meets an attractive European woman named Sarah (Gillian Anderson), the wife of the doctor who runs the medical center.  The two begin an affair which they fear Sarah’s husband will discover and act cautiously as a result.  One day Nicholas decides to go see Amin speak and Nicholas is immediately taken aback by the charm of the leader the way in which his rhetoric seems to reflect the wants and needs of the poor crowds before him.

Sarah is hardened and has seen leaders come and go, most often by coup, multiple times in her times in the world and has no high hopes for Amin, but Nicholas is idealistic and believes that the new leader should be given a chance before he is judged.

While discussing this, the pair are interrupted by Ugandan soldiers who have come to bring the doctors to a nearby accident where Idi Amin has been injured and needs treatment.  Amin’s motorcade has collided with a cow, his hand is broken and the cow is moaning as it lies dying its painful death by the side of the rode.  The cow’s cries distracting his attention from Amin’s wound, Nicholas, rather impulsively, grabs the nearest pistol, calmly walks over the cow and shoots it, much to the shock of the leader of Uganda and his soldier-bodyguards whose nerves are only settled when Nicholas lays down the gun and makes it clear he means the leader no harm, just that the cow needed to be put out of its misery.

The wound is treated and Amin is taken with Nicholas’ demeanor, asking him if he is English.  Amin hates the English and is incredibly relieved when Nicholas clarifies that he is Scottish, not English.  Amin, being a bit of an eccentric, eyes the t-shirt which Nicholas is wearing and insists one of his sons would love it and trades his full dress military coat for the t-shirt right there at the scene of the accident.

Thus is the beginning of Nicholas’ trip into the world of power, greed, sex, violence, war, paranoia, charisma, and confusion as he is summoned a few days later and offered the position of personal physician to Amin.  After some protest, he agrees and with this new position comes power, wealth, and the many, many strange habits Idi Amin has.

In one instance Nicholas is summoned to an emergency in Amin’s room, where he is complaining of intense pain in his lower torso.  Nicholas provides a cursory examination, determines the problem and grabbing a nearby baseball bat, uses the bat to bear-hug Amin and force out the gas which is causing him such pains.  He then advises him never to mix one medication with another to avoid future such problems and after the calm, the two sit and talk.

It is easy to see the way Amin has a charm with people and without his temper and his paranoia he may very well have lead Uganda into some significant success.  He speaks of growing up in extreme poverty and working his way up from grunt to soldier to officer to higher officer and now, finally to becoming the supreme leader of Uganda.  His stories are touching and well told and he has an easy demeanor with people that make him instantly likable and a person with whom one may speak with fantastic ease.

Alas, one could go on and on about Amin, but that in itself is testament to the writing from the screenwriters and to the magnificent performance by Forest Whitaker as Idi Admin.  Whitaker takes on the characters mannerisms, emotions, modes of speaking, accent, and other varieties of specific features to such an extent that at times it is difficult to determine whether this is a feature-length movie serving as a form of entertainment, or an attempt at a docudrama of the life of Idi Amin.

Nicholas’ character eventually realizes that he has himself been brought into something of a trap.  Everything he has, including his passport, his housing, his food, even his transportation are all in the control of Amin and he is not free to return to Scotland.  He is instead, a very wealthy, very powerful prisoner-physician to what would become one of the world’s most infamous African dictators.

Constantly getting himself into trouble, Nicholas eventually comes into Amin’s bad graces and finds himself in imminent danger of being executed and the movie’s most exciting climax comes when we discover whether or not Nicholas is one of the very few who have managed to escape the wrath of Amin, or if he is to find himself among the countless dead for which Amin is already responsible.

The direction is fantastic in the sense that one never really notices it.  Director Kevin Macdonald manages to recreate the world of Uganda in the 1970s and direct his actors and all of the various other elements with such skill that one manages to forget that this is just a movie and becomes enveloped in Uganda in the 1970s and the world of Idi Admin.  The present president of Uganda was thrilled by the notion that this film would accurately portray Ugandan history and the cast and crew were given basically unfettered access to the country, including the cooperation of the military and the ability to close roads as necessary for the production.  Rent it, buy it, download it, borrow it, whatever it takes.  Just see The Last Kind of Scotland because it is absolutely fantastic.