Philomena (2013)

PhilomenaReleased: November 27, 2013. Directed by: Stephen Frears. Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark. Runtime: 98 min.

Today, teenage pregnancy is a commonplace. There’s even a TV show about young pregnant girls called “16 and Pregnant” that premiered back in 2009. It seems like a stupid premise to me, but it shows how accepting people are of it these days. Back in 1960s Ireland, around the time of the Magdalene sister homes, if a young girl was pregnant – a lot of parents would be so ashamed that they’d disown their children and force them to live in a convent. They wouldn’t have any other place to go, and they’d have to work their asses off to repay the nuns.

This is what happened to Philomena Lee, a 16-year-old who had a child, and when her son was about 3 years old, he was adopted. Ever since, Philomena (Judi Dench) has kept this a secret. On the son’s fiftieth birthday, Phil (now in her 60s) tells her daughter about Anthony – and with their luck, they find a political journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who was recently let go from his job, to take on this human interest story.

After fifty years of Philomena not knowing where or how her son is doing, the pair set off to find Philomena’s son, following leads and information the convent might possess; which, unfortunately, isn’t much to go on. Martin has to use his journalistic skills to find where the son might be. One reason this film is so charming is because these characters are so different. Martin is a bit more realistic thinker who thinks questions like ‘Do you believe in God’ are difficult to answer. He’s more pessimistic than Philomena; but almost equally funny. Philomena is one of those people is genuinely interested in people say, and she finds humour in the simplest of things – even if she doesn’t realize that she’s being hilarious. That’s what helps make this a simple comedy in parts. It’s lightly entertaining but it’s an effective drama, too. It’s a different sort-of road trip film, but a refreshing one.

I’m glad that there is a surprising layer of great comedy, because without it the film would be boring. That’s a reason I was hesitant to see this, because the story sounds like it could be good, but it also sounded slow to me. Judi Dench’s great performance helps; she plays a character who only wants to know how her son’s life is going, and know if he’s ever thought of her. Like I said, she is very funny, as well. She is a character who carries around this secret and its shame hand in hand. I think Steve Coogan’s performance is great here, as well, because his comic delivery is just priceless. He is considerate of Philomena’s wishes, and doesn’t always feel like a journalist in it for the money. I think he’s an underrated actor. He impressed me here as an actor and as a co-screenwriter – I’m sure he had a big hand in the witty dialogue.

The friendship that is created is charming. The characters’ beliefs are challenged throughout from what they learn along the way. This is also an ideal film for schools that might want to express the Catholics’ beliefs back in the 1960s; it seems to me some nuns still hold those beliefs. Those would be the old-fashioned ones. I think this is a film that should be experienced because of its subject matter. It’s powerful and is emotionally gripping. It’s the idea of being taken away from one’s family that gets to me. I mean, if anyone tried to take me away from my mother, heads would freaking roll!

There’s a quote commonly used by critics “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” and oftentimes, those can only be applied to great films. Only so many directors and writers have that ability. Alexander Payne has a true knack for it, and even his co-writers on “The Descendants” Nat Faxon and Jim Rash do, too, as expressed in “The Way, Way Back.” This film’s director, Stephen Frears (“The Queen”) has a talent for it as well. I laughed a lot with this one, but for me, the “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” line can only partly be applied.

There’s enough emotional content here to make many people cry – because this is such a powerful subject. I didn’t cry, because it takes a lot for me to cry at a film. This might sound cheesy, but even though I didn’t cry on the outside, my soul ached for Philomena in parts – because she is just such a likeable and often relateable character. I relate to her because she likes “Big Momma’s House.” She at least laughs at a preview on hotel Pay Per View (also giving an idea of what year it is, because there are more new releases then older releases, so this film is set in 2000 or 2001). I hope she got around to watching that movie.

Score80/100

The Vow (2012)

The VowThe Vow

Release Date: February 10, 2012

Director: Michael Sucsy

Stars: Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill

Runtime: 104 min

I wrote the original review of this back in late August, and I just tweaked it a little.

The true story of it all seems like it’s a sad one, but the Hollywood version turns it into a complete and total schmaltz-fest. It’s apparent that we’re supposed to relate or feel pity for the characters, but it proves difficult sometimes.

The first half starts off on a fairly strong point with a nice little original wedding, the injury on account of lack of seatbelt, the amnesia bit. Then, the parents come in (Jessica Lange and Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill), wanting their baby girl home because she ran away a while ago.

It soon turns into a total schmaltz fest, that, if you are unaware that it’s a true story, you might think it comes right out of the mind of Nicholas Sparks. At the half-way mark, it’s hard not to lose interest in the characters and the story itself and the hardest task is not to mimic the people in the film, much like I did with The Lucky One. The film just doesn’t get any better.

The film isn’t entirely unendurable, but it’s a sub-par effort with lazy and predictable writing, that had the tendency to be too cute. The filmmakers probably feel having Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams on board, their appeal would satisfy audiences, and there wouldn’t be a need for good writers. News flash: That doesn’t work, guys. The chemistry between McAdams and Tatum was likeable enough, even though there was a lot of very irritating fights.

The film is part sad, part feel-good, but very average, with the best part being McAdams and Tatum.

55/100

Argo (2012)

Argo

Release Date: October 12, 2012

Director: Ben Affleck

Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman

Runtime: 120 min

Tagline: The movie was fake. The mission was real.

Argo is one of the best films of 2012.

Argo tells the story of the Iranian revolution, and hostage situations that were involved with it. On November 4, 1979, the Iranian revolution reached its boiling point, the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was stormed by militants, and Americans were taken hostage. During this revolution, six American citizens manage to escape and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. It was only a matter of time before the citizens’ cover was blown, or they were rescued. A CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) specialist, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), concocted the best bad idea the CIA had to rescue the citizens, and get them out of the country with their lives.

This was a covert operation that wasn’t known to the public eye until the 1990s. The story is amazing, and extremely memorable. This story was back in 1979 and 1980, so it definitely makes for an early 80s atmosphere. It’s nice that this revolution gets revisited, it brings knowledge of something that happened a fairly long time ago. The impact it had on the world at the time seems large, but, apparently, not large enough for me to hear of it in this day and age.

It’s sort of fascinating how Affleck made it feel more like the 80s, and he did it in quite the innovative way: according to IMDb, he shot it on regular film, cut the frames in half and blew those images up to 200% to increase their graininess. The viewer can also tell that they’re in for an older styled atmosphere because of the old Warner Bros logo which was to match the time of the 80s.

I recall seeing this W in the logos, or at least something similar to it.

Ben Affleck’s pure Hollywood acting career may be dust in the wind (or at least starting to feel a bit like that) but his directing career isn’t going South anytime soon. He has a real knack for making great and memorable films.

It’s an extremely thrilling and captivating film experience, and is the most riveting film of 2012 thus far.

There are history and politics thrown in here, but politics only crossed my mind a few times. It feels more like a great CIA rescue mission more than anything else. It’s intense and there’s some great comedy thrown in there. There’s one great joke that gets used a few times, but doesn’t get overused because it’s thrown at you at times you least expect it.

The rescue mission is a great gamble, because Affleck’s character is both risking his life and theirs.

The characters are fine, because they are real and none feel expendable at all. Affleck’s character has a son and a wife; and some of the Americans stuck at the Canadian Ambassador’s house are married. Each actor and actress wonderfully capture emotions of stress, anxiety and intense worry.

One of the most captivating things about Argo is the boiling suspense of the situation, and the viewer can just feel it build throughout. It also really is quite nerve-racking.The pacing is great, and it doesn’t feel slow in a lot of places. There are a lot of memorable scenes, and then others just build up the plot. There aren’t any bad scenes, though, so that’s great. Argo sort of plays out like an assassin giving you his first choke-hold, he’s inexperienced and you may feel the grip loosening from time to time, but then it strengthens again and doesn’t let go until the very end.

Something that annoyed me is the odd time when there wasn’t any subtitles when the Iranians spoke their language (Farsi, maybe?). Still, you can tell the emotions that they are feeling, so I guess it doesn’t matter very much, now that I think it over more.

The use of old footage really interested me some. It worked into the film well and didn’t feel out of place at all.

The film does live up to its hype, and to its trailer. The use of Aerosmith’s song Dream On, was extremely effective and amped it up about ten times as much. I wish they didn’t use some of the film’s best lines in the trailer. Yet again, studios do that a lot. They still were great when I heard them during the film though.

Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek and Titus Welliver make up this great cast.

Argo offers an incredible true story, a lot of fine action, and a lot of great suspenseful scenes. It’s one of the most riveting films of 2012, and definitely the most intense. The direction, acting, story, the amount of memorable scenes are all great. It’s such an impressive piece of cinema, and will be a real contender at the Oscars this year.

90/100

World Trade Center – A film review by Daniel Prinn – In memory of 9/11 and those who died that day.

World Trade Center

Release Date: August 9, 2006

Director: Oliver Stone

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, Maria Bello

Runtime: 129 min

Tagline: A True Story of Courage and Survival

 World Trade Center follows the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 9, 2001; and the two men (John McLoughlin [Nicolas Cage] and Will Jimeno [Michael Peña]) from the Port Authority Police Department who got trapped under rubble while trying to rescue any survivors. Whilst being trapped, their families (John’s wife is played by Maria Bello; and Will’s by Maggie Gyllenhaal) are in separate towns and the effects these events have on them are shown.

It isn’t a film that I loved because of its slow-pacing, but it is a great triumphant true story filled with powerful emotional content. The performances are also very good, they all play their parts well. Though, there is just a bit too much going on here. There are the multiple subplots with it going from McLoughlin and Jimeno stuck underneath the rubble; to the emotional wrecks that are the McLoughlin and the Jimeno families.

The film is full of hope and seems like a solid examination of what happened on that day. I do prefer this over United 93, as this is all very interesting and has some great scenes; but is a bit forgettable for an Oliver Stone picture and has its fair share of boring sequences.

For a film that depicts that event, it’s great, and for a biography it’s also pretty great. It’s a film that knows its purpose, to raise awareness of a story of hope depicting two police officers’ will to survive.

It’s a pretty interesting experience, but not thoroughly entertaining. Check it out if you like history flicks and great stories of survival.

70/100