With over 9 films opening this weekend, suffice it to say there is definitely something for everyone. From thoughtful reflective films that meld the lives of a father and son like “Greetings From Tim Buckley” to the observations of family fracture through the eyes of a child in “What Maisie Knew” to the documentary feel/student film look of “Generation Um”, quiet little indies may be taking a supporting role to the week’s tent-pole blockbuster IRON MAN 3, but in many ways, are superlative stories and performances guaranteed to engross and entertain. Let’s take a look at a few of my “Must See” picks for this weekend:
IRON MAN 3
Let’s just say it - IRON MAN 3 WILL ROCK YOUR WORLD! A perfect marriage of everything marvelous about Marvel and Iron Man plus the skill set and touchstones of writer/director Shane Black. I was curious to see how Black would not only retain the energy of the franchise in terms of story and action, but how he would reinvigorate the characters and the storyline, moving everything forward rather than stagnate. My curiosity is more than satisfied and the result is outta this world! Tony Stark may have been sucked into a life-altering experience of a wormhole and aliens when we last saw him save the world in “The Avengers”, but with IM3 his feet and heart are clearly planted on the ground. He just has to learn how to use them in light of the horrors of the past. It's a very interesting and exciting prospect for a man, let alone a super-hero and between Black's script and Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance, we see a flawed man who tries to hide and escape the pain of mortality but then rise to those challenges, largely thanks to the inspiration of a little boy named Harley, as Tony Stark/Iron Man has to ask himself, “Does the suit make the man or does the man make the suit?” It's been a century old debate with super heroes and (no surprise here), we see that good still triumphs evil and the goodness of the man is what makes him "that guy, that hero", no matter what suit he's wearing. But it’s the journey of discovery that gives IM3 its real meaning.
With a cast of returning familiar faces, Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts (now CEO of Stark Industries), Don Cheadle as James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine and, prior IRON MAN director Jon Favreau reprising his role as bodyguard/security professional Happy Hogan, each is well established and well versed in the IM world but thanks to a dynamic script by Black and co-writer Drew Pearce, emotionally matures, moving into the next or new phases of their lives. But at the core are the friendships and unwavering loyalty that makes this team as invincible as it is. Joining the “marvel-ous” mix this time are adversaries fueled by jealousy and revenge, Aldrich Killian and Mayra Hansen, played by Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall, respectively. But the most delectable performance is that of Sir Ben Kingsley as one of the most delicious villains of all time, The Mandarin. Not to be overlooked is Ty Simpkins who will steal your heart - and Tony Stark’s - as Harley.
Technically masterful, editing and SFX are key to IM3 and I for one am thrilled that Black brought in "Marvel" editing experts Jeffrey Ford and Stephen Elliot and the master of FX magic, Dan Sudick. No strangers to the Marvel movie world, with all the new bells and whistles and even more advanced and intricate CGI action sequences and wire work, the interplay between these three is a crucial element to the success of the action and pacing of the film. Thankfully, another great technical aspect of IM3 is the sound design. Where the sound mix with “The Avengers” fell short and explosions and scoring drowned out dialogue in many scenes, with IM3, not a syllable of dialogue was dropped, missed, not heard - even during explosions, flying through the air and in particular, an Air Force One 13 person rescue in the sky (which is actual performance and not CGI.)
IM3 could have gone so wrong. Generally the 3rd film in a franchise falls short, is done just to satisfy that 3 sequel contract and serves to wrap the franchise. That could have happened here but thankfully, Shane Black rose to the occasion, delivering an edge of your seat non-stop thrill ride. Slick, sleek saturated imagery matches a slick, sleek story, not to mention Robert Downey, Jr. who is about as slick as they come.
IRON MAN 3 is ironclad - IT ROCKS! IT'S AWESOME! IT'S OUTTA THIS WORLD! And it's got one of the best villains - we've ever seen on screen!
KISS OF THE DAMNED
The latest Cassavetes to join the feature film world is Xan and let’s just say, as writer/director she takes more than a bite out of the filmmaking, er, Adam’s, Apple with KISS OF THE DAMNED. Love vampires? Then this is the film for you. Love Fellini, Vadim and Bertolucci? Then this is the film for you. Hate sparkly, glittery, twinkling vampires? Then this is the film for you. Needless to say, this is THE film for me.
With a timelessness and classicism, Cassavetes sweeps us up in the vampyric world of the 21st century as told through the eyes of sisters, Djuana and Mimi. As different as night and day, Djuana is old world elegance while younger sister Mimi is rock ‘n roll out of control. Graceful, quiet, classic, Djuana is draped in the richness of aged brocades, satins, velvets and laces of centuries gone by, living a quiet and subdued life in an Art Deco mansion owned by Xenia, “leader” of the local chapter of vampires. Mimi, on the other hand, craves the blood lust of the hunt. Irresponsible, showy and antagonistic, she reappears in Djuana’s life, intent on wrecking havoc and endangering those in the community with her repeated and open human kills. As if the 200 year old sibling rivalry isn’t enough, Djuana has fallen in love with Paolo, a human who begged to be “turned”. As quiet and thoughtful as Djuana, Paolo is a screenwriter and finds the solitude of the vampyric existence both welcoming and stimulating. Unfortunately, with Mimi around, life becomes anything but quiet for everyone.
Incorporating the vampyric legends and mythology into the film with blood, synthetic blood, sun, light, stakes, regeneration, joy of moonlight, etc., Cassavetes embraces the legend without making a mockery of it. Her characters are thoughtful and textured and the performances she elicits from her actors are timeless, particularly those of Milo Ventimiglia and Josephine de La Baume. Ventimiglia is an emotional force of nature with quiet control, oozing sex appeal. It’s as if you can smell the testosterone seeping from his pores. A classic and classy performance and his chemistry with de la Baume is magical, elegant, giving the whole film a feeling of timeless elegance. As Djuana, de La Baume has a languid fluidity to her movements, to her very presence, that is alluring and intoxicating. Roxanne Mesquida’s Mimi elicits danger and recklessness at every turn. Every look, leer, nuance is defiant, obsessive.
There’s no denying Xan Cassavetes’ lineage. She is her both her father’s daughter and her mother’s, exacting a critical eye in both visual and story construction. Creating a timeless quiet world juxtapositioned against that of modern, crass and “trashy” present day, there is a seamless meld of history made with history in the making. Embracing an eclectic yet distinctive production styling, the set design soars with rich, shadowed lighting, the classic feel of an “Art Deco” black & white floor tiling, high ceilings, chandeliers and ornate corniches on the room ceilings.
Cinematographer Tobias Datum steeps the film in depth and contrast. Moments celebrate negative space. In the home of Djuana and Paolo lighting is soft, color is saturated feeling the weight of time yet the film is sharp and crisp in its lensing. There are moments of heavy color and shadow one feels as if they took a breath you would smell the aromas of time, like walking into your grandparents’ home surrounded by 200 year old furnishings, books, crystal. Women are showcased with the lust and love of Bertolucci. There is a glorious intensity with the saturation of color, even when dressing de la Baume’s Djuana in ivories and golds - color is still saturated. Use of a "candlelit" palette is lovely during the party scenes.
Compelling is that but for a few scenes with Mimi, we see no real violence or killing. Everything is eluded to, allowing the imagination to take hold in the blue-black darkness of night...or movie theater.
Let KISS OF THE DAMNED take a bite out of your weekend.
LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED
In Susanne Bier’s LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED, Pierce Brosnan is at the top of his game. Paired with the luminous and sublime Trine Dyrholm, as Philip and Ida, Brosnan and Dyrholm are the parents of Patrick and Astrid, respectively. A widower, Philip has had a distant relationship with Patrick since the death of his wife. Still alone and with no interest in dating, he has plunged himself headfirst into his work as a Copenhagen-based fruit and vegetable dealer. Ida, on the other hand, while having had a very loving relationship with daughter Astrid, has not been so happy herself in the love department. Recently completing treatment for breast cancer, she is married to Leif, a slob of a husband. Indifferent to Ida’s illness, just before leaving for Astrid’s wedding, Ida comes home to find Leif having an affair with some young bimbette he works with. Never meeting prior, Philip and Ida now meet up courtesy of an airport parking garage auto accident on their way to Philip’s villa on the Amalfi coast of Italy for their children’s wedding. But there’s more going on here than Astrid and Patrick as Ida’s sunny disposition and warm heart soon starts to chip away at Philip’s hard veneer.
Directed by Oscar winner Bier and co-written by Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen, LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED is a love story for the ages. Just watching the screen makes one feel as if this is how love should look, this is what love looks like, this is what falling in love looks like. LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED makes you want to fall in love with love. From Johan Soderquist’s score to Morten Soborg’s stunning cinematography to the picturesque beauty and color of Amalfi, the result is an easy, unforced blossoming of love that is sweetly charming.
Pierce Brosnan has never been better. With a light hand, he adds a touch of humor to a classic performance of suave sophistication. (Quite frankly, if we met up with his earlier “Remington Steele” character now, this is who Mr. Steele would now be.) And then you pair him with Dyrholm who just lights up the screen. She is as emotionally luminous as the sun is bright. Their chemistry is magical. Supporting actors provide depth and texture to the story, not to mention humor, and none moreso than Paprika Steen. As Philip’s sister-in-law, Benedikte, she will have the eyes rolling with her hilarious over-the-top pursuit of Philip while Kim Bodnia’s Leif and his pairing with Christiane Schaumburg-Muller’s bimbettish Tilde is to die for.
Fully expecting to see this as Denmark’s Oscar submission (and Oscar nominee in 2014), fall in love with LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED.
For a completely different film, look no further than Ariel Vromen’s ICEMAN. Inspired by the true story of mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski, ICEMAN is unrelenting, hitting hard, fast and deep, gripping you with a compelling story, meticulously detailed characters and Oscar-worthy performances, not the least of which are courtesy of Michael Shannon and Winona Ryder.
Hooking up with Roy DeMeo of the Gambino crime family while in his early 20's, Kuklinski proved to have a knack for taking care of business for the mob. Of course, no one could know what his job was, least of all his devoted wife and their children. With a cover story of doing “audio dubbing of Disney movies” (he was actually dubbing porn when he went to work for the Gambinos), Kuklinski was a master at living two lives. On the one hand, a loving husband and doting father. On the other, ruthless killer who was ultimately responsible for over 100 mob hits in the eastern Tri-State area in the 70's and early 80's. Eventually ousted by DeMeo, Kuklinski hooked up with “freelancer” Robert Pronge aka Mr. Freezy and the two of them forged a fruitful partnership, continuing with their own hits, trademarking them with deaths by torture, cyanide and then freezing the bodies before dumping them, thus masking the exact time of death.
While the mob wars were heating up between the Brunos, Scarfos, Genoveses, Gambinos and DeCavalcantes before coming to a head in 1980, THE ICEMAN was quietly making his own mark, establishing his own reputation, while still attending church on Sundays and making every PTA and school function.
As Kuklinski, Michael Shannon is transformative and Oscar-worthy. Intense, compelling and complex, he is mesmerizing. As wife Deborah (whose real name is Barbara), Winona Ryder delivers the performance of her career with a genuine naivete and blind love. Spot on NJ accent, period perfect hair and costume. But then look to the supporting players for authenticity and screen command - Ray Liotta’s DeMeo, Robert Davi’s Leo Marks , Chris Evans’ Mr. Freezy, Danny Abeckaser’s Dino Lapron (Kuklinski’s best friend), Stephen Dorff’s Joey Kuklinski, David Schwimmer’s Josh Rosenthal and James Franco’s Marty. Every character a real life player in the Kuklinski world. Every performance dynamic and powerful.
Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski sets the visual tone with a grim, gritty, dark murky look of the late 60's and 70's Jersey, Philly and NYC while editor Danny Rafic weaves a hypnotic spell, seamlessly melding violence and the calm of family capturing the physical and emotional dichotomy with smooth juxtapositioning. Icing on the cake is Haim Mazar’s score punctuated with Top 40 hits of the era.
THE ICEMAN - so slick, so smooth, it will send a chill through your veins.