And the Oscar Goes To… Not a Clue

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Quickie Review: The Northman

This is a quickie because I know I am not the audience for this violent revenge epic.  It’s the latest from writer/director Robert Eggers who garnered high praise for his previous film The Lighthouse. Similar in tone, The Northman depends very heavily on atmosphere and creating an authentic time period rather than character or story. In a nod to Hamlet, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) sees his dear father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) killed by his Uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) and his mother Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) taken by him as his wife. He escapes vowing, “I will avenge you, Father. I will save you, Mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.” And that’s just what he does for the next 137 minutes.

Review: Nightmare Alley

I’ve been a big fan of Oscar winner Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water) since he first made his mark with Pan’s Labyrinth back in 2006. He’s a master at creating fantasy-filled narratives in visually striking settings. Nightmare Alley is lacking the fantasy that propelled his previous work. It tries to make up for that with one of the most gorgeous production designs in ages. And Bradley Cooper turns in an awards worth performance as conman Stanton Carlisle who rises from carnival side show mindreader to high society psychic, alongside an all-star cast that also includes Cate Blanchett, Toni Colette, Rooney Mara, and Willem Dafoe. But for all that, it ends up being a whole lot of flash that never pays off.

Mini-review: Siberia

The bromance between director Abel Ferrara and Willem Dafoe has reached its zenith with their latest collaboration. Each year for the last three in June I’ve watched Dafoe play a man adrift. In Pasolini he was the noted director wandering through Rome right up to his death. In Tommaso he was Ferrara’s stand-in, rambling around Rome again as his marriage crumbles and he struggles with his latest film. This time he’s a man hiding out in Siberia roaming through his own mental landscape to try and find himself. As with the previous films, there’s not much of a clear story line, just a series of scenes that you can arrange into a story of your choosing. I wish I’d chosen to turn it off sooner.

Quickie Review: Tommaso

I know I’m the Arty Chick, but this one is too arty for me. I’ll admit from the get-go that I’ve never been a big fan of Abel Ferrara. He’s too brutal and revels in making his audiences uncomfortable, and he peoples his films with deeply flawed men in an ugly world. Tommaso is the latest of these. Only this time, the central character is Ferrara as played by Willem Dafoe. Like Ferarra, Tomasso is a filmmaker living in Rome, married to a much younger woman (played by Ferrara’s wife), and having a hard time with his latest screenplay. His daily routine is a mix of writing, teaching some sort of improv class, his Buddhist practice, playing with his adorable little girl (played by Ferrara’s daughter), and going to AA meetings to regale the others with his tales of messing up. And that’s pretty much the whole film. Intrigued?

Quickie Review: Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn is the type of film that evokes a general sense of post-viewing contentment, and a lingering feeling that it could have been more. Perhaps with a bit more drama, or a bit more emotional pull, it could have escaped the somewhat bland “yeah, it was good” category, i.e. perfectly fine for streaming or watching on an airplane or killing time if Terminator films are not your speed. Motherless Brooklyn operates at a slow, stylized pace. The story is interesting and relevant. The actors are all very good, and the noir production design and cinematography casually and convincingly immerses the viewer in 1950s New York. Motherless Brooklyn is a crime drama with a gumshoe aesthetic and a unique twist. The main character Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton, Birdman) is a private investigator with Tourette’s Syndrome, a disorder involving the nervous system that causes involuntary tics, sounds and movements. His condition results in some awkward situations as Lionel attempts to solve the murder of his boss, mentor and only friend Frank Minna (Bruce Willis).

Quickie Review: Pasolini

Italian poet, philosopher and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini loved nothing more than to push the envelope, to scandalize, to shock the senses. So it’s only fitting that Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) should direct a film about his last days since they are gritty birds of a feather. Pasolini stars Willem Dafoe (Spiderman, At Eternity’s Gate) who bears more than a passing resemblance to the man who died in 1975, murdered and left to rot on a beach in Ostia. The film is a kaleidoscope of Pasolini’s final film and his final quotidian existence, eating with his mother, giving an interview to a journalist, writing away on his typewriter, and trolling for young men to have sex with. And throughout there are scenes from an imagined version of his final script. It’s in Italian and English, sometimes subtitled, and sometimes not. And the audience is left to make the connections. The film assumes a knowledge of the filmmaker and his films, frequently making it a frustrating experience. But mostly it’s just too coarse and pretentious for my taste.

Review: Aquaman

Aquaman is a bit of a hot mess, but it’s not a total washout. It’s one of those ‘must-see regardless’ movies for fans and followers of the DC comic universe, i.e. the one that includes ‘Justice Leaguers’ Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. It’s the first full-length feature film to dive into the origin story of Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the half-human, half-Atlantean who wields a trident and can navigate two worlds– one on the surface, the other underwater. As it is, I always have to tread carefully when reviewing superhero movies so as not to inadvertently spoil things for the faithful. So I’ll keep it simple and brief, unlike the movie, which drags on too long, and tries to do too much.

Review: The Florida Project

The Florida Project is from Sean Baker who brought us the wonderful Tangerine in 2015. It has a similar vibe, just a step up from documentary without a lot of story development. Where that one was on the streets of LA, this time it’s summer in Orlando. School’s out for a group of kids who live in low-rent motels not too far from Disney World. They spend their days running around looking for adventure and getting into trouble. 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is the center of it all. She’s foul-mouthed and full of piss and vinegar, just like her ne’er-do-well mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) who definitely loves her, but can’t really take care of anything. Mom’s figured how to get what she needs to hang on, but not much more. And the motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) is seconds from throwing them to the curb.

John Wick

The moral of John Wick is never ever kill someone’s dog, probably a good thing to bear in mind anyway. In the case of this film, the perpetrators of the vile act choose the absolutely worst person possible to piss off. Keanu Reeves plays the title character and he is a retired hit man. And not just any hit man, but the best in the biz. But he left that life behind a while back and got married, and as the film begins, his beloved wife has just died from an unnamed illness. And John is taking it really hard, when a crate shows up at his house with an adorable little dog and a note from the dead wife saying that she wanted him to have a companion to help him get through his grief. So it is not just a dog, but a link to the love of his life.

A Most Wanted Man

There is really just one reason to go see A Most Wanted Man — Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film, while good on its own terms, mainly serves as a reminder of what an immense talent we lost. Hoffman plays a German spy in this John le Carré adaptation from director Anton Corbijn who brought us the equally thoughtful The American. And like his previous film, this one depends on the audience getting inside the protagonist’s skin. I’m not sure it would have worked without Hoffman.