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Winter’s Bone-Movie Review 03/31/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, American, Based on a novel, Emotional Drama, Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards, Sundance Film Festival, Suspense, Thriller.
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Winter’s Bone (American) 2010

Adapted from the novel by Daniel Woodrell
Directed by Debra Granik
Screenplay by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, and Dale Dickey

Among many other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Picture (Rosellini and Alix Madigan); Best Supporting Actor (Hawkes); Best Leading Actress (Lawrence); Best Adapted Screenplay (Granik and Rosellini), Academy Awards
NOMINATED, Best Actress-Drama (Lawrence), Golden Globes
WINNER, Best Supporting Female (Dickey), Best Supporting Male (Hawkes), NOMINATED, Best Cinematography (Michael McDonough); Best Feature; Best Director (Granik); Best Female Lead (Lawrence); Best Screenplay, Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Grand Jury Prize-Dramatic (Granik); Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (Granik and Rosellini), Sundance Film Festival

In a poor backwoods area of the Ozarks, seventeen-year-old Ree (Lawrence) is forced to care for her two younger siblings when her mother goes into a depression and her father goes missing. Despite warnings to leave matters alone, she sets out to find her father.

Although it received critical acclaim and many awards (above is just a small selection), Winter’s Bone is one of the lower grossing films nominated for Best Picture by the Academy Awards. Here’s a chance to see a gripping performance by young actress Jennifer Lawrence before her new release, The Hunger Games.

100 min. Rated R for drug use, language, and violence.


The Bank Job-Movie Review 03/23/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true events, British, Edgar Allen Poe Awards, Movies, Suspense, Thriller.

The Bank Job (British) 2008
Based on true events

Directed by Roger Donaldson
Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais
Starring Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows

NOMINATED, Best Motion Picture Screenplay (Clement and La Frenais), Edgar Allen Poe Awards

Happily married and settled with a family, Terry (Statham) becomes intrigued by former girlfriend Martine’s (Burrows) idea about tunneling into a bank’s temporarily unalarmed vault. The vault, she assures him, is filled with safe deposit boxes containing millions in cash and jewelry. Terry assembles a team of petty thieves to pull it off. The entire plan seems highly unlikely, but timing, as they say, is everything.

There’s a good twist to the story: Martine has other motivations. The actual bank heist took place in 1971, and the cash and jewels were never recovered.

112 min. Rated R.


Crónicas-Movie Review 02/24/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true events, Cartagena Film Festival, Guadalajara Mexican Film Festival, Sebastián Cordero, South American/Spanish language film, Sundance Film Festival, Suspense, Thriller.
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Crónicas (South American/Spanish/English) 2004
Inspired by true events

Written and directed by Sebastián Cordero
Starring John Leguizamo, Damián Alcazár, Leonor Watling, and José Mariá Yazpik

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Silver Ariel Award, Best Actor (Alcazár); NOMINATED, Silver Ariel, Best Direction; Best Editing; Best Screenplay; Best Sound, Ariel Awards, Mexico
WINNER, Golden India Catalina, Best Actor (Alcazár); NOMINATED, Best Film (Cordero), Cartagena Film Festival
WINNER, Mayahuel Award, Best Actor (Alcazár); Best Film and Best Screenplay (Cordero), Guadalajara Mexican Film Festival
NOMINATED, Grand Jury Prize, World Cinema-Dramatic (Cordero), Sundance Film Festival

Popular television journalist Manolo Bonilla (Leguizamo) brings his producer (Watling) and cameraman (Yazpik) from Miami to Ecuador in search of a sensationalistic story about the child serial killer and rapist known as “The Monster of Babahoyo.” In a small town, the news team gets caught up in the aftermath of an accidental death of a child and the consequent attempted lynching of Vinicio (Alcazár), the man who caused it.

By only showing hints of what “The Monster” has done, the director keeps the horror level tolerable and the suspense level high. The several scenes between the single-minded, ambitious Manolo and the manipulative, emotional Vinicio escalate and lead to a horrible and unexpected ending. Although Alcazár seems to have won the most honors (see above), the talented Leguizamo also deserves mention. Apparently this was the first film in which he spoke Spanish dialogue, something he did not feel comfortable doing. It didn’t show.

108 min. Rated R for violence, sexuality and language.


The Secret in Their Eyes-Movie Review *** 12/04/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Argentinian Academy Awards, Argentinian/Spanish language film, César Awards, Drama, Movies, Romance, Suspense, Thriller.
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The Secret in their Eyes (Argentinian) 2009 ***
El Secreto de Sus Ojos

Among many other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Best Foreign Language Film, Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Film; Best Director (Campanella); Best Actor (Darín); Best Actress (Villamil); Best Screenplay Adaptation, and others, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Argentina
WINNER, Audience Award, Best Foreign Film, Turia Awards, Spain
WINNER, Best Foreign Film, César Awards, France

Directed by Juan José Campanella
Starring Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, and Pablo Rago

Billed as a mystery, a long-lost-love story, and a thriller, and excellent on all three counts!

Benjamín (Darín) is a retired federal court investigator who is writing a novel about a case that haunted him for twenty-five years. In Buenos Aires, the young wife of Ricardo Morales (Rago) was brutally raped and murdered. The case was eventually solved and the guilty party was captured but, not long after, he was released from prison in exchange for becoming a hitman for corrupt politicians. Benjamín was outraged about the injustice but could do nothing about it.

When Benjamín returns to his former department to do further research, he meets up with his chief Irene (Villamil), now a prestigious judge, and feelings of love are rekindled.

The film flashes seamlessly between past and present, and comes to a fitting and (in one aspect) chilling conclusion.

Highly recommended.

129 min. Rated R. Rape scene, violent images, graphic nudity, and language.


Elevator to the Gallows-Movie Review *** 11/18/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Drama, French language film, Highly recommended, Louis Malle, Miles Davis, Movies, Prix Louis Delluc, Suspense, Thriller.
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Elevator to the Gallows (French) 1957
Ascenseur pour l’échafaud

From the Criterion Collection

WINNER, Prix Louis Delluc (Louis Malle), France

Directed by Louis Malle
Starring Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Yori Bertin, and Georges Poujouly
Score by Miles Davis

The musical score lends a special air of suspense to this thriller about Julien (Ronet) and Florence (Moreau), a couple planning to murder Florence’s husband, and Veronique (Bertin) and Louis (Poujouly), a young couple who don’t seem capable of planning anything, but leave a trail of crimes behind them. Hauntingly filmed in black and white, the style is reminiscent of Hitchcock, with a decidedly French sensibility.

Amazingly, this is the debut feature film by the late legendary French director Louis Malle (Murmurs of the Heart), filmed when he was only twenty-four years old. He had previously spent several years creating underwater films for Jacques Cousteau. Malle’s collaboration with jazz trumpeter Miles Davis for the film’s musical score has also become legendary. (Watch the Special Features for an inside look at Davis’s improvisation process.) Jeanne Moreau’s movie career went on to great success after her performance in this film.

Highly recommended.

92 min. Unrated. Adult themes.


State of Play-Movie Review *** 02/03/2011

Posted by Films to consider in BBC, British, Suspense, Television.
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STATE OF PLAY (British) 2003

Among other awards and nominations:
Won, Best Actor (Nighy); Best Sound (Fiction/Entertainment); Best Editing (Fiction/Entertainment), BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts
Nominated, Best Acto (Morrissey); Best Drama-Serial; Best Original Television Music; Best Photography and Lighting, BAFTA

Directed by David Yates; written by Paul Abbott
Starring David Morrissey, James McAvoy, Bill Nighy, John Simm, Kelly MacDonald

A BBC television mini-series presentation consisting of six episodes that are each nearly one hour long, so not suitable for one sitting unless you’re snowed in and have a lot of snacks handy.

No spoilers here: Some reporters for the newspaper The Herald start investigating a story about a woman who apparently fell to her death on the London Underground at the same time they are looking into what seems like a drug-related shooting of a teen. Soon they become embroiled in a tale that includes murder, sex, and politics, a combination that builds, taking many twists and turns, and lasts until a very satisfying conclusion.

A great cast that worked well together, and music that added to the suspense, excitement, and pacing of the story. Director Yates later was chosen to direct the final films of the Harry Potter series. Supposedly writer Abbott began but then abandoned a follow-up story.

The series was adapted as a film starring Russell Crowe, which was released in the U.S. in 2009. This was not as well-received as the television series, but it does get good reviews on Amazon, IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. One criticism seems to be that there are a few plot twists that don’t make much sense in the movie. I haven’t seen this film, but there were no such problems with the story in the mini-series.

350 min. Six episodes. Unrated.

For more info:
State of Play (BBC Miniseries)

For info about the 2009 film:
State of Play (2009)

The State I Am In-Movie Review*** 01/02/2011

Posted by Films to consider in German language film, Movies, Suspense, Thriller.
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The State I Am In (German) 2000
Die Innere Sicherheit

Directed by Christian Petzold
Starring Barbara Auer, Richy Müller, Bilge Bingul, and Julia Hummer

Among other awards and nominations:
Winner, Outstanding Feature Film, German Film Awards
Winner, Grand Prize (Petzold), Valenciennes International Festival of Action and Adventure Films
Winner, Best Feature Film, Hessian Film Awards
Nominated, Outstanding Individual Achievement-Actress (Hummer); Outstanding Individual Achievement-Supporting Actress (Auer), German Film Awards

A family of three – parents Clara (Auer) and Hans (Müller) and teenage daughter Jeanne (Hummer) – live their lives on the run, the result of Clara and Hans having been involved in terrorist actions for some unnamed group. Jeanne, now fifteen, has known no other way of living.

As her parents plot and react to constantly changing and threatening surroundings, Jeanne is struggling with the same issues other girls her age struggle with. When she meets Heinrich (Bingul), a surfer boy living in one of the towns she and her parents stayed in for a short time, Jeanne wants to be with him and starts to make some decisions on her own. But when her parents come up with another one of their schemes, things go horribly wrong.

I especially liked the performance by Julia Hummer as Jeanne. Although her typical teenage angst (e.g., “I don’t want to wear this stupid sweatshirt”) was taking place in such extraordinary circumstances, her actions and reactions were so normal that it made her parents seem even more unreasonable than they actually were.

On my list of films to watch are Gespenter (Ghost) (2005) and Yella (2007), which together with this film are known as director Petzold’s Gespenter trilogy.

106 min. Not rated. Adult themes.

Burnt by the Sun-Movie Review 11/05/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Drama, Movies, Russian language film, Suspense.
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Burnt by the Sun (Russian) 1994

Among other awards and nominations:
Winner, Best Foreign Language Film, Academy Awards
Winner, Grand Prize of the Jury (Mikhalkov), Cannes Film Festival

Directed by Nikita Mikhalkov
Starring Nikita Mikhalkov, Nadya (Nadezhda) Mikhalkov, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, and Oleg Menchikov

In mid 1930s Russia, Colonel Sergei Kotov, a larger-than-life hero of the Revolution, is spending a happy day with wife Marusia, daughter Nadya, and his wife’s family. Mitya, a former friend and lover of Marusia, shows up unexpectedly after a long absence and is welcomed into their home. He privately informs Kotov that he is now a member of Stalin’s police force and that the colonel is his next assignment. When Mitya leaves, Kotov will be forced to leave his family and go with him.

This is one of those films that started out slowly for me; its cast of characters was just charming enough to keep me interested. Once Mitya arrives, emotions understandably get more complicated. Especially notable is little Nadya, who is director and star Mikhalkov’s real-life daughter. Surrounded by adults and without seeming overly precocious, she conveys a very natural air of maturity and wisdom.

A few instances of “magical realism” seem a bit out of place but I don’t think they detract from the rest of the movie. N. B., there is a Burnt by the Sun 2 (2010) that is just out on video, but that movie did not get good reviews.

135 min. Rated R. Some violence and sexual content.


The Lives of Others-Movie Review *** 10/28/2010

Posted by Films to consider in German language film, Movies, Suspense.

The Lives of Others (German) 2006

Winner, Best Foreign Language Film, Academy Awards

Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Starring Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch.

A chilling look at how the Stasi (State Secret Police) functioned in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Writer Georg Dreyman (Koch) manages to stay on the right side of the Stasi, although he continues to associate with others who run into trouble. When his girlfriend Christa-Maria (Gedeck) catches the eye of a high Stasi official, however, Dreyman is put under the surveillance of Captain Gerd Weisler (Mühe), a bland lower-level Stasi operative.

After Dreyman’s good friend, a blacklisted director, commits suicide, Georg agrees to use his own writing to inform the world about the tactics of the Stasi. Captain Weisler, in turn, has become obsessed by the couple he is listening in on. He even reads some of the books in Georg’s library, which opens up a whole new world to him. He makes a bold decision that reflects the changes he himself is experiencing.

A high level of suspense is maintained throughout this lengthy movie, making it one of my highly recommended films.

137 min. Rated R.


Day Night Day Night-Movie Review 10/24/2010

Posted by Films to consider in American, Drama, Movies, Suspense.

Day Night Day Night (American) 2006

Written and directed by Julia Loktev
Starring Luisa Williams

Nominations and wins for several prizes, mostly for the director, including:
Winner, Prix Regards Jeune (Loktev), Cannes Film Festival
Winner, FIBRESCI Prize (Loktev), Chicago Film Festival
Winner, Someone to Watch Award (Loktev), Independent Spirit Awards

A behind the scenes look at final preparations for the suicide bomb attack that is to be carried out by a teenage girl.

The movie receives mixed reviews. From start to finish, I found it both terrifying and mesmerizing. Let me know what you think about it.

94 min. Not rated.