Tag Archives: R

Way late review: The Hunter

I’m happy I finally gave The Hunter a try via Netflix streaming. Having been on my instant queue for a while, I almost put it off to the point where it ended up in my “sure, I’ll watch that someday (which means I’ll always find something else to watch)” list.

Martin (Willem Dafoe) is hired by a mysterious company to track down the last Tasmanian Tiger on the planet, kill it, and bring back DNA samples. His housing arrangement while on his mission includes a widower and her two young children in the middle of the Tasmania wilderness. Mystery surrounds every one of Martin’s moves. He poses as a scientist studying Tasmanian Devils, which makes the local loggers immediately hate him and the environmentalists suspicious of his motives. His mission is simple yet complicated not only by the locals who see him as a threat but also by the widower and her two kids. Mom is so depressed and drugged she sleeps non-stop, leaving the children to fend for themselves. The girl is spunky and her younger brother is silent. Martin resists getting involved as much as he can but finally succumbs to a family sorely missing the adult male, a role Martin fills simply by being present.

Making a terrible looking film shot in the majestic landscapes of Tasmania is probably near impossible. Regardless, director Daniel Nettheim still deserves credit for making the most of the gorgeous scenery as our protagonist tracks his prey. Martin sets out on a number of hunts throughout the surrounding area and each one is filled with less than thrilling action. He sets various traps, tracks his progress, and then cleans up after himself. While not exciting, the scenes are nearly mesmerizing with the calm, professional Martin tracking the elusive animal. During most of the hunting the tension is built knowing there are those who don’t want him there and the fact that Martin seems like a man with a heart but still goes about this mercenary mission of hunting the last of a species for monetary gain. Just enough happens during these journeys to make the suspense grow while not overwhelming the story with melodrama.

There are loose ends which never get tied up in a satisfying manner. The height of the mystery driving the thriller isn’t as clear as it probably should have been nor are the motives of at least one character. As a result, the story feels overly ambitious for what should likely be a story focused on Martin and his inner conflict.

Maybe all the pieces don’t add up in a completely satisfying manner, but that doesn’t stop the beauty of The Hunter from resonating. Willem Dafoe carries the quiet thriller on his back with a performance which is as much about the smallest moments, the slightest of facial expressions in the midst of a mysterious hunt for the most unlikely animal to be called a tiger.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Take This Waltz

Some films hit instantly – good or bad. Then there are the oddball films which refuse to give in to my scene by scene judgements. Just when I think I have it all figured out, written off as a so-so film desperately trying to be something more, Take This Waltz makes me take it all back. And it’s not because of a sudden turn in the final act, but in piecing together moments which make a greater whole.

Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) are a twenty-something married couple. They love each other and show affection for one another but something is missing, at least for Margot. Lou is either too naive or in too much denial to see his wife’s unhappiness. She hugs and kisses yet she mopes around as though life is her ball and chain. Making matters more complicated, the young work from home wife meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) during a business trip and the two hit it off in a slightly awkward yet hard to miss manner. While riding home from the airport Margot tells Daniel she is married and he confesses that is too bad as he walks to his home – across the street.

The dilemma is clear. Temptation sits not in another country, state, city, or neighborhood. No, temptation for Margot is one street crossing away. While she quietly laments her loss of love for her husband, her curiosity of what might be with the handsome neighbor who charms her in every way gets the best of her. In fairness, Daniel doesn’t make things any easier. He makes sure he is around whenever Margot steps foot outside and vice versa. The two talk and flirt with one another to the point where Daniel puts the pressure on thick and direct by describing just what he wants to do with Margot. She resists, at least for a while.

In most films the story is clear. Follow your heart. You fall in love, you fall out of love. Take This Waltz would appear to fall into this trap. The dialogue between Daniel and Margot is at times insufferably cutesy. The disciplined husband whose focus is getting his chicken cookbook out the door more than much else is portrayed as a bit of a yutz as a result. Everything is setup for the typical sabotage of a syrupy tale of love lost then found elsewhere, but something deeper is at the core of the telling of the story. The portrayal of the everyday life of a still young married couple provides a realistic glimpse.

Strong performances across the board lead Take This Waltz through troubled relationship waters. Visual metaphors abound and don’t completely sink in until the credits roll. What seems like an initially forgettable small romantic dramedy turns into something greater with the slightest of twists and the direct blow delivered by an alcoholic sister-in-law whose caved into the allure after a year long remission. Wisdom comes from the strangest of places.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Lost in Translation


Ever watch a film, enjoy it and then come to appreciate it all the more on repeat viewings? I’m there with Lost in Translation. There is something hypnotic about it.

Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an American movie star making some serious cash as a spokesman for Japanese whisky. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is the wife of a photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) and has tagged along with him to Tokyo. Neither Bob or Charlotte want to be where they are, in more ways than one. Both struggle to find meaning in the mundaneness. Bob is far away from home partially because distance is what his twenty five year marriage may need – or not. Charlotte is a Yale graduate unsure of what to do with her life. Her loneliness only grows as she’s left on her own when her husband has to work non-stop. Neither can sleep so they find themselves restless in bed or reluctantly at the bar listening to terrible lounge singers perform.

In between the laughs, which mostly come from observing Bob in a land so foreign to himself, there is a quiet desperation. Contrasts abound. The bustling streets and bright lights of Tokyo are juxtaposed against the serene temples and the backdrop of Mt. Fuji. The hectic lives of Bob’s wife (who we hear on the phone but never see) and Charlotte’s husband are in sharp contrast to the near sleepwalking state Bob and Charlotte are in much of the time. Japan culture and American culture collide on screen. The down to earth movie star opposite the hot mess of a Hollywood actress Charlotte’s husband runs into at the hotel. Middle age Bob and twenty-something Charlotte. Sleepless nights yet an incredibly tired duo. So many contrasts.

There is no big story to tell. The camera follows Bob and Charlotte as they form a friendship in the middle of a city and a moment in their lives where they feel lost. We take in Japanese culture through their eyes. Some may find it disrespectful or, at the very least, patronizing. I found it more a fish out of water story. The truth is, Bob and Charlotte are going to feel out of place anywhere they are. Their lives are in a state of flux and confusion, which makes the scenes of their night on the town filled with strange parties and karaoke all the more entertaining. Neither seems like they would want to be where they are yet they’re there, sort of; singing ’70s and ’80s tunes with all the sincerity and joy one might expect if karaoke were performed at a distant relative’s funeral.

The “will they or won’t they get together” aspect of our odd couple is present but never overwhelming in a sitcom kind of way. OK, maybe not until the very end where we are left to wonder what was whispered briefly in the final goodbye. The mysterious ending doesn’t irk me because it left me wondering what was said but because it puts so much emphasis on the friendship possibly moving to a romantic relationship. Up until that point speculation about the nature of their relationship was never the focus of the film. Again, the mystery is fine. I only wish it didn’t leave so much hanging on a question that the film didn’t spend much (if any) time addressing otherwise.

The chemistry between an unlikely pairing of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson can’t be beat. Their odd and lonesome shuffle through a country foreign to both of them is inexplicably compelling. Lost in Translation says so much in so few words. And who would’ve guessed Bill Murray’s last whisper would be, “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”?

 ★★★★★ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Rambo: First Blood


Rambo is a legend. He is as much a part of American pop culture as Coca Cola and McDonalds. An ’80s icon during a time when men with muscles took on the world by themselves and won. When Rocky isn’t a big enough movie franchise one must up the ante. Drop the boxing gloves and pickup endless amounts of ammo, a gun, a knife, a homemade bandanna and start a new, more violent mythology. I know this about Rambo, yet it wasn’t until recently when I saw my first Rambo flick, Rambo: First Blood. I hesitated all these years to watch any of the Rambo films because I thought they were likely mind numbing. I was wrong, at least in regards to the first in the series.

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is a former Green Beret who served his time in Vietnam. He’s trying to find his what’s left of his brigade, walking through the remote parts of Washington. He discovers his last known living member is dead due to cancer he got while fighting the war. Rambo makes his way through a small town where he is immediately confronted by the sheriff, Teasle (Brian Dennehy) and escorted out of town. The sheriff doesn’t like the looks of this straggly vagabond.

Sheriff Teasle: If you want some friendly advice, get a haircut and take a bath. You wouldn’t get hassled so much.

Rambo isn’t pleased and after the sheriff drops him off outside the city limits he heads back into town. Teasle sees this and confronts his new nemesis. Things don’t go well and the Vietnam vet is booked in jail. The town must be run by some of the worst policemen in the world. They harass Rambo until he snaps. One flashback too many from Nam and the belligerent officers experience John Rambo up close and personal. Our protagonist flees the jail, takes a motorbike, and the chase is on.

The pursuit of Rambo by the hard headed, fun to root against local law enforcement is non-stop action filled with interesting set pieces thanks to the mountainous terrain. Watching a green beret use all his tricks against guys who fancy themselves equals makes for a good time. Just when it seems he is out numbered with nowhere left to go, Rambo pulls another rabbit from his hat. He could easily kill anyone in the group hunting him down but he lets them live. Egos are often hard to heal. Egos the size of those belonging to Sheriff Teasle and his hapless crew are off the charts, which means an all out war breaks loose. And to think, all this started because Rocky Rambo wandered through town looking for a place to eat.

Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) enters the scene when Treasle unleashes hundreds of men on the forest in all out man hunt. Trautman created Rambo. He tells Treasle to give up. These men are no match for the war machine Trautman molded. Treasle doesn’t listen and brings some more hurt on himself and those around him. If there is any misstep in a film full of archetypes it is Trautman’s character. He is there to give Rambo a voice and grow the legend even while it plays out on the screen. His hyperbolic chatter becomes almost nauseating. We want to like Rambo but his commander almost gets in the way at certain points. The action overrules the chest thumping dialogue, even if the end provides a slightly over the top monologue. Still, after all the non-stop chasing, hunting, hand to hand combat, gun fire and explosions, a shift to the quiet moment expressing deep hurt is admirable even if it is a little heavy handed.

Watching a movie so long after the main character has been established as an icon for an era is often a recipe for disaster. First Blood surprised me. In the place of camp was pure, entertaining action. Rambo may go on and disappoint me in future films. I know the drill. I’ve seen the Rocky series. But I thoroughly enjoyed the first one, which makes me wonder why I waited so long to watch it.

 ★★★★½ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Atonement

Having recently finished watching seasons 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey, I’ve been spoiled by a well done serial drama (i.e. soap opera) set around World War I and centered on an aristocratic family and their servants. That’s not to say it’s the greatest but it’s tough to beat the first season. Atonement would seem to be more of the same, minus the serial aspect. Except Joe Wright’s film is unique in almost every way except the one that matters most – expert storytelling.

Briony (Saoirse Ronan) is a young teenager in a wealthy English family. One day Briony sees her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Robbie (James McAvoy), a servant’s son whose education was paid for by the man of the house, get into a strange entanglement. From Briony’s point of view it appears as though Robbie is forcing Cecilia to take off her dress and jump into the large fountain in the backyard. In reality, Cecilia decides to take off her dress, remaining in only her slip, and jump into the fountain in order to rescue a piece of a family heirloom that was broken off accidentally by Robbie and sat at the bottom of the fountain. Both Cecilia and Robbie feel foolish for what took place. Meanwhile Briony is certain her sister has been assaulted in some way. Later that day Robbie struggles to write an apology. He’s conflicted between feelings of guilt and lust. One letter expresses remorse for the earlier incident while another crudely puts to words Robbie’s desires for Cecilia. Grabbing the wrong letter and handing it to Briony was Robbie’s first mistake. The next being his encounter with Cecilia before dinner. Rather than being turned off by Robbie’s explicit note, Cecilia seems turned on and before we know it the two are unbuckling belts and popping off buttons. Briony walks in and cuts things short. The evening goes from awkward to vengeful as Briony finds a way to get back at Robbie, who she sees as a predator. Briony pins a violent crime on Robbie and the servant’s son finds himself in prison. Cecilia is heart broken. Briony is satisfied. Justice was served in her mind, even if it meant lying about the perpetrator.

Robbie eventually finds himself in France fighting in the war. He could serve in the war instead of in a prison cell. That should have been a clear message about how brutal the war was. Robbie roams the fields looking for a way back home as he and a couple other men lost their troop in the thick of battle. Along the way the men see the horrors of WWI. Cecilia becomes a nurse, as does Briony. Cecilia won’t speak to her younger sibling as she hopes to one day reunite with the man her sister put in prison with a false testimony.

The story is rather simple and, likely as a result, is told in a broken time shifted manner. Sometimes scenes are replayed from a different perspective or the year is fast forwarded or rewound abruptly. This broken narrative doesn’t resolve the bloat in the film. For every creative use of a typewriter mixed with a symphony serving as the soundtrack or interesting shots of everyday life, there are long shots and scenes that overstay their welcome; contributing little to character development or story progression. Beautifully shot and far more experimental than most period pieces (even the expertly shot Downton Abbey), the pacing is off and no amount of time shifting can cover that up.

As the title of the film more than hints at, the story revolves around atonement. Briony’s misguided and jealousy driven action to pin a crime on an innocent man leads to unintended consequences. Or did it? Didn’t Briony know she was dooming this servant’s son, whom her father must have loved as he paid for his schooling and her sister loved too, to a life in prison or worse? While Briony feels much remorse, she never repents. Almost as a way of self punishment, she becomes a nurse who has to do the dirtiest jobs and the toughest emotional assignments. And the way the film ends, I’m not sure if we’re supposed to admire Briony’s “gift” to Cecelia and Robbie or if we’re to shake our heads in disbelief of the arrogance. I know which side I fell on.

An interesting visual take on a period piece, Atonement achieves its heights when the actors are allowed to interact with one another and not contend with a desire to extend the story beyond its capabilities by employing time shifting and other similar narrative trickery. Based on the epic nature of the filmmaking and the title itself, Atonement feels like it wants to say something more than it does. An interesting film with a lot to admire but also reaches a bit too far in certain aspects as to render it less potent.

 ★★★½☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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