Category Archives: Filmmakers

“Paterson” a beautiful story

Very few films are made about everyday life. Most movies are about “super” people: spies, politicians, doctors, heroes and the like. But writer and director Jim Jarmusch has always been interested in the “lesser” told stories about everyday folks and “Paterson” is such a simple yet unordinary story.

“Paterson” is about a bus driver, Paterson (Adam Driver), who writes poetry. He takes an active interest in the conversations and lives of those who ride his bus and the people he meets on the streets. His girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), is an eccentric who keeps trying to find herself through various hobbies such as baking and artistry.

The film doesn’t have a concrete plot and seems to wander from encounter to encounter, all done with a purpose but seemingly as random as the flashes of a rolling river shown onscreen. All the characters are trying to find their way in life and Paterson sees their struggles mirror his own in a way, but his outlet of poetry helps him find meaning in a life that on the surface doesn’t seem to be too interesting.

The film is a beautiful tale of seeking an avenue of expression in a world full of stories. We just need to take the time to listen and observe those around us to find meaning in our own lives and realize our full potential of love.


“War Horse” turns up the schmaltz to 11

Director Steven Spielberg has been known to oversentimentalize his movies, especially those that deal with important historical events or ethical causes. So with “War Horse”, a film about protecting animals and the horrors of World War 1, you can practically taste the sugar-coating over the film.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) develops a strong relationship with his family’s horse, Joey. At the outbreak of World War 1, his horse is recruited into the war effort by Capt. Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), and Albert is enlisted soon after. As the war rages on, Joey is exchanged between the British, the French and the Germans throughout the front, finding humanity in each of them despite the carnage of conflict.

The morals of the story are fine. The beauty of nature, man should be more kind to each other, respect divine laws, blah, blah, blah. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before which makes the film pretty redundant.

The production feels like an expensive version of “Black Stallion” meets “Little House on the Prairie”, so full of schmaltz and pomp and circumstance and tear-jerker moments. It’s a Hallmark greeting card propped up by millions of dollars. So while it’s a typically well-made Spielberg film, it’s nothing more than a glorified soap opera.

There’s a touching scene where a British soldier and German soldier work together to free Joey from barbwire. It’s one of the only interesting scenes in the film and pretty much could have served as just a short film and gotten across the same meaning. Layering everything else on is indulgent. Noble intentions aside, “War Horse” falls short.

“Seven Psychopaths” a fun character story

There are actor’s movies. There are director’s movies. There are even cinematographer’s movies. “Seven Psychopaths” is a writer’s movie.

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the film tells the story of struggling screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) who becomes entangled in the story he’s writing as he becomes surrounded by seven psychopaths, including Billy (Sam Rockwell), Hans (Christopher Walken) and Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Hans makes his living kidnapping dogs and returning them for ransom money. When he accidentally steals mob boss Charlie’s dog, Marty is thrown into the struggle of his life as he, Billy and Hans go on the run.

The story of the seven psychos is intricate and interesting. Seeing how they all interact together with Marty’s journey gives a fascinating portrait of madness and how it ties into violence. Though all violent in their backstories, all 7 characters find solace in peace at the end, asking the question, what qualifies you to being a psychopath? And can you change once you realize what you are?

The film is well-acted, well-shot and decidedly well-written, with many funny lines and sublime character arcs. Some have compared the film to a Tarantino-esque style, but it is definitively McDonagh’s style, blending violence, comedy, high ideas and deep characterizations. He does a good job in all of his films of building the themes of his narrative up to the conclusion. Who would have thought that a movie like “Seven Psychopaths” would ultimately be a story about finding peace?

“Silence” a harrowing story of faith

Director Martin Scorsese spent over a decade trying to get “Silence” made and the result is a personal, harrowing portrayal of faith found, faith lost, perhaps faith never there in the first place. It’s hard to believe this is the same filmmaker who made “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

It is the 1600s. Two Portuguese Jesuit priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), travel to feudal Japan to find their old master, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who rumor has it has forsaken Christianity. Once they sneak into the country, the persecution of Christians by the Japanese authorities becomes all too personal for them.

It’s a little hard to believe in Andrew Garfield as Portuguese, but otherwise, he delivers a great performance. In a film all about the debate of faith, so much of the acting has to be internalized and Garfield serves as a vessel for that debate, the inner conflict within him evident throughout his performance.

The film is shot as religious allegory, beautifully capturing the isolation of the countryside, the atmosphere very much a character in the story. Rodrigues arrives with much goodwil, perhaps even blind faith, never truly tested before. The pressures put on him by the Japanese oligarchy test his limits and serve as an exploration of his devotion, the natural world both destructive and additive to that purpose.

Some have criticized the film for being too one-note, but there are significant progressions over the course of the story, rising physical and mental tortures that push Rodrigues. The conclusion is surprising and interesting, not the Hollywood ending one might expect. It is a very carefully told story, crafted with love and devotion, an old hymn from long ago that is still pertinent today.

“Phantom Thread” a thought-provoking drama

Whether or not this truly is Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film performance or not, his role, and the entire story, in “Phantom Thread” will be debated for years. What ultimately drives his character? What does the film mean? What does its title pertain to? What is the significance of hiding secrets in garments? Why the obsession with food, specifically breakfast? And, without giving too much away, what does the twist at the end signify?

Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a renowned dressmaker. He takes a fancy to a young girl, Alma (Vicky Krieps), but her boisterous spirit butts against his rigid routine and persona. Together, with Reynolds’ sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), the dressmaking company becomes a haven of differing agendas, undercover operations and latent longings.

For awhile, “Phantom Thread” would be easily mistaken for a film by someone other than Paul Thomas Anderson as it is unlike anything he has ever done. The building tensions and manipulations between Reynolds and Alma however transform a traditional period costume drama into something peculiar and altogether unique. Perhaps it’s a story about the artist and his muse and how that relationship is both give-and-take and a battle of wills. Or it’s representative of Oedipal longing, with Alma coming to represent Reynolds’ mother, feeding him and nursing him to keep him alive. Or old world versus new world, with Reynolds’ prim and proper colliding with Alma’s youth and vigor. It’s so many things without teetering into incoherence, and its interpretations only grow as the viewer looks back and considers the film.

Paul Thomas Anderson has never made “accessible” films. They don’t fill you with emotion and go down without a few hiccups along the way. They make you think and analyze what each scene means, the purpose behind the character’s intentions and the bending of the plot. With “There Will Be Blood”, “Inherent Vice”, “Magnolia”, “Boogie Nights” and “The Master”, among others to his credit, Anderson has built himself an impressive array of films ranging across different genres and subgenres. “Phantom Thread” fits snugly in that list as a peculiar, illuminating and altogether memorable entry.

Best Films of 2003

2003 saw the ending of a fantasy saga as well as some great indie films and big-budget animation giants. It was an eclectic year that saw a return to form for directors like Clint Eastwood and the emergence of new greats like Sofia Coppola.

Best Film – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Capping off the greatest film trilogy of all-time, director Peter Jackson delivered his most grandiose and dramatic Lord of the Rings film in The Return of the King.

The quest has taken a toll on Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood). On the last leg of the journey, the evil forces opposing him and his shattered fellowship push forward with devastating effect. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) must ascend to the throne he has hidden from and Gollum (Andy Serkis) continues to plot his own nefarious deeds that could spell doom for the world.

Relieved of the pressures of needing to introduce realms and species to an audience, all of the building storylines are brought to a close that is heartfelt, intimate and epic, creating a sensation few films have ever been able to achieve. In due time of course, Jackson would return to Middle-earth to complete another trilogy in The Hobbit series, but he needn’t have bothered. With The Return of the King, Jackson delivered an emotional epic that may never be topped.

Finding Nemo

Pixar delivered one of their greatest hits and most memorable films in Finding Nemo.

The tale of a father clownfish, Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks), searching for his young son, Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould), Marlin is forced to swim across half the ocean, aided by his bumbling sidekick, Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres). They come across sharks and jellyfish and all sorts of dangerous creatures, pushing forward to find young Nemo, who must confront his own mortality in a dentist’s fish tank.

Featuring great comedic moments, mesmerizing animation and a heartwarming message, the film still stands today as one of Pixar’s finest achievements.

Lost in Translation

Sofia Coppola’s masterpiece of finding simple connections between people regardless of gender, age or status, Lost in Translation features two of the best performances of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s careers.

Bob Harris is a past-his-prime film star scraping work together in Japan, where he is completely out of his element. He meets Charlotte, similarly lost, her husband a photographer on assignment. Finding each other and trying to find themselves on the crazy streets of Tokyo, they learn about the nature of connection and what their futures entail, whether it is what they want or not.

Understated in its approach, strong in its emotional power, Lost in Translation succeeds by using Bill Murray’s brilliant sense of comic timing to punctuate the laughs and bring meaning to the story.

Mystic River

Clint Eastwood had been a touch out of step after his instant classic film Unforgiven (1992) won him two Academy Awards in 1993. Making rather average movies such as The Bridges of Madison County (1995) and Blood Work (1992), it was natural to wonder whether the movie icon would ever reclaim his past success. With Mystic River (2003), those fears were laid to rest.

Dave (Tim Robbins), Jimmy (Sean Penn) and Sean (Kevin Bacon) are three friends growing up together in Boston in 1975. When Dave is kidnapped by two mysterious men and sexually abused for days, their friendship wanes. Now adults, they are drawn together once again as Jimmy’s daughter, Katie (Emmy Rossum), is found murdered with Dave the prime suspect and Sean the police detective working the case. Fate has brought them together again and their destinies are all intertwined, for better or worse.

The film is about childhood loss of innocence and how that loss impacts us for the rest of our lives. Dave, Jimmy and Sean are all tied together through their past, present and future, helpless against the pain of time and regret. Mystic River is a haunting, beautiful film that truly explores the connections between people and the past.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

Ki-duk Kim’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003) is a story of rebirth. The soul, the body and the world are reborn over the course of its telling, set in the Korean countryside.

A young boy (Jae-kyeong Seo) is raised by an elderly Buddhist master (Yeong-su Oh), who yearns to teach him the ways of peace and solitude. But the young boy, as all boys are, is impatient and gives in to his emotions, torturing animals and acting destructively. Once he gains sexual lust, he abandons the master and ventures off into the world. Only after he commits a heinous crime does he return to try and find the peace that the monk had tried to teach him. But both wonder whether it is too late; too late for the boy to find the inner peace he desires and too late for the master to overcome his previous failure and purpose in life.

Featuring beautiful cinematography and a deliberate pace, the film is a touching examination of the essential forces at work in the world: love, nature, mentorship, anger, desire and the continual rebirth of those forces over and over again.


“The Shape of Water” a strange but touching romance

Those who abhor bestiality may do well to avoid “The Shape of Water.” An homage to monster and Hollywood love films as well as a rebuke of male-centric hegemony, “The Shape of Water” is a deft tale of love, passion and intrigue.

Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is mute, working as a cleaner in a secret government facility, her only friends Zelda (Octavia Spencer), another member of the help, and Giles (Richard Jenkins), her eccentric painter neighbor. When a strange creature from the Amazon is brought in to the lab by supposedly tough-as-nails army man Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), Elisa forms a special bond with him and a romance starts to brew, one that will change her life forever.

Featuring the gorgeous cinematography that director Guillermo del Toro’s films are known for (provided here by Dan Laustsen), the film is a textbook example of filmmaking wizardry, utilizing framing, composition, color and depth to tell its story.

It is at heart a story about the dreams that fester in our minds, dreams amplified by Hollywood glamour and the movies, dreams of finding love, dancing and feeling absolute happiness, and how those dreams clash with daily reality, where governments try to one up each other and would rather kill an innocent creature rather than let it fall into their competitor’s hands. To Elisa, someone who has never been able to speak and works a menial job, those dreams keep her spirit alive and finding love, even a love with something beyond imagination, is a remarkable experience. Fighting for her dream against the cruelty of man’s world tests her resolve in a dramatic way. Another interesting note are the pressures put on the villain of Richard Strickland. Rather than a one-dimensional stereotype, we see how the stress of being a man’s man gets to him, to provide for his family, to be a winner, to be a man of the future. At one point, he even asks, when is what I do enough to qualify me as a good man? This humanizes him in a strong way that develops greater appreciation for the story’s themes.

Strange, beautiful, stylistic and above all, heartfelt, del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” is a moving love letter to all movies: monster, science fiction, drama, spy thriller and romance.