Warrior (2011)

Director: Gavin O’Connor
Writer: Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis & Cliff Dorfman
Actors: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo & Kevin Dunn

I’m not a fan of UFC which is why I’ve arrived late to the Warrior party.  But despite its darkness and violent tone this is not a violent movie.  Rather it is a sports drama about two estranged brothers fighting through their past and against their penitent father.  The performances by the entire cast are so touchingly genuine that it will take a second viewing before I become overly aware of the clichés pointed out by some critics and the formulaic plot points found in most movies about athletes.

What I liked: Everything about the film feels so authentic that I wondered if the movie was based on a true story (thankfully it isn’t).  Performances by Tom Hardy (who is quickly becoming my favourite ‘it’ actor), Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte move the story forward with such wonder and tension that despite a predictable final act, the journey is what makes Warrior enjoyable.  Frank Grillo, as trainer Frank Campana, embodies true friendship and he became the eyes through which I watched this story unfold.

What I didn’t like: I can only really pinpoint two scenes.  The first is the confrontation scene between the two brothers.  The scene preceding it carried more emotional weight than the confrontation itself as the setting took me out of the film for a moment.  The second isn’t in the film: Giving away as little as possible, all I can say is, the moment of revelation for the finale could have been more subtle to fit with the emotional tone of the movie and I wanted to see Frank’s reaction more than anyone’s.

My rating: Packed the biggest emotional punch (so to speak) I’ve felt in years.

Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
IMBD: 8.4

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

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Director: Wes Anderson
Writer: Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Ed Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray & Jason Schwartzman

Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s latest ‘romance’, about adolescent star-crossed lovers, is as colourful, funny, stylized and heartfelt as I’ve come to respect and expect from the filmmaker.   In his first film since 2009, Anderson has held fast to the style that has earned him critical acclaim and a strong fan base:  the highly stylized narrative, the deliberate staging (see an interesting article about Wes Anderson’s choices here) and, my personal favourite, the tapped-out nuanced dialogue that conveys more emotion than most dramatic monologues.

Here the two young newcomers, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, play the leads with charm and innocence but they are no match for the seasoned actors, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, who suit Anderson’s style so perfectly that I kept waiting to see them on screen.  The cast is rounded out with eccentric and witty performances by Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel and Ed Norton.

What I loved: Pitch-perfect performances by Jason Schwartzman and Ed Norton, especially Norton whose Scout Master Ward is more  endearing than his teenage ‘wards’. The dialogue and staging are poetry.

What I didn’t love: This is not my favourite Wes Anderson movie.  While the innocence of the leads is convincing, it takes a special touch to deliver Wes Anderson dialogue with deadpan conviction and I have yet to find any of his later movies match the Royal Tenenbaums or Rushmore on that front (The Life Aquatic came very close).

My rating: It’ll make you smile for the full 94 minutes.

Rotten Tomatoes:  94%
IMDB: 8.3

Inside Man (2006)

Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Russell Gewirtz
Starring: Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Plummer, Jodie Foster and Willem Dafoe

I love a good heist movie.  What makes them good, to me, is the way they suck me in to the point where I forget to guess at the ending and slight anachronisms don’t pull me out of the story.  Such is the case with this character-driven, crime drama directed by Spike Lee.  The bank heist is mostly interesting because of the characters involved:  Clive Owen’s robber oozes intelligence and cool even under a mask;  Denzel Washington plays the grasping detective to perfection;  and Jodie Foster plays the type of arrogant, corrupt, problem-solver with such confidence that I felt she had to be real.

Roger Ebert pointed out  the many red herrings that detracted from the movie in his unfavourable review.   Unlike him, I enjoyed being thrown into it in medias res and was satisfied to have the plot and characters unfold in a contained situation. I didn’t need every character’s back-story to understand their roles and Lee’s social commentary added that extra layer to the film that a more developed plot wouldn’t have accomplished.

What I liked: The robbery is calculated and intelligent enough to keep the audience guessing but, unlike most heist movies, is not the main focus of the story; Lee stamps this picture with his own social commentary that is preaching but not pedantic, which adds a layer of depth to every character that appears on screen; It’s hard not to enjoy Clive as a charming bad-ass and an understated Denzel who carries the audience with him.  It’s one of those gems where you can’t help but root for both cop and robber.

What I didn’t like: Some of Lee’s social commentary seems inserted rather than flowing, yet I still enjoyed it.  Foster, at times, was too smug for me to appreciate her presence on screen.

My rating: Worth watching more than once.

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
IMDB: 7.7

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