Tag Archives: Alessandro Nivola

The Art of Self-Defense (2019) Review

Time: 104 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, cruelty & offensive language
Jesse Eisenberg as Casey Davies
Imogen Poots as Anna
Alessandro Nivola as Sensei
Director: Riley Stearns

After he’s attacked on the street at night by a roving motorcycle gang, timid bookkeeper Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) joins a neighborhood karate studio to learn how to protect himself. Under the watchful eye of a charismatic instructor, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), and hardcore brown belt Anna (Imogen Poots), Casey gains a newfound sense of confidence for the first time in his life. But when he attends Sensei’s mysterious night classes, he discovers a sinister world of fraternity, brutality and hyper-masculinity, presenting a journey that places him squarely in the sights of his enigmatic new mentor.

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The Art of Self Defence was the other movie I saw at the NZIFF (along with The Nightingale), and I’ve been meaning to watch it for some time. I had heard of the movie for a while, mainly that it involved karate and Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots were in it, however I wasn’t particularly interested in it for whatever reason, or at least didn’t look into it. After seeing the trailer though, it really got me on board with it really quickly, it looked like it would be something right up my alley. I’m glad to say that The Art of Self Defence did not leave me disappointed, in fact it surpassed my expectations.

I’m a big fan of well done dark comedy, and even seeing the trailer I knew it was going to be for me. Throughout the movie was really funny, especially with how absurd and ridiculous the movie would get. You do have to keep in mind that it’s a satire, you’re not meant to take this movie 100% seriously. The dialogue was fantastic, and I especially loved the use of deadpan humour, leading to some hilarious and memorable moments/lines. I have no idea how most audiences will react to the comedy, but my audience seemed to have an absolute blast with it. As funny as the movie can get, the movie is actually a lot darker and twisted than you’d think it would get, and it only gets darker as it progresses. So if you are thinking that this is going to be a light hearted and quirky comedy about Jesse Eisenberg learning karate, it’s definitely not that. The movie at its core is really a commentary about toxic and hyper masculinity. At times the satire itself is funny, at other points it feels very dark and real. The movie is not subtle at all, it is very ham fisted, but for some reason it just works for the rest movie. Much of The Art of Self Defence is over the top and doesn’t always make complete sense, but its something that you’re going to have to go along with in order for it to work. There is also one twist which I did sort of figure out very early on, but it’s still earned and works within the movie very well.

Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast in the lead role, it almost feels like the role was written with him in mind to play it. He starts off as pretty much the embodiment of a beta male, really timid, self conscious, and can’t stand up for himself, but as the movie progresses and he tries to become more masculine, he becomes very full of himself and goes through some changes. Probably among Eisenberg’s best performances. Imogen Poots is also good in a supporting role as one of the first students of this karate group. Unfortunately she’s very much in a supporting role and doesn’t get to have a ton to do. She does very well with what she’s given however. Alessandro Nivola was a scene stealer as the mysterious and intense sensei known only as Sensei. So many of his lines are so ridiculous and insane but he delivers them so seriously and straight faced that it makes them even more hilarious. While much of the movie is funny, some of the highlights involved him. One of the best supporting performances of the year for sure.

This is the first movie by Riley Stearns I’ve seen (I believe he made another movie called Faults, which I have yet to see), and he’s done a very good job with it. It’s a smaller and independent movie but it was directed quite well, at least well enough for the movie.

The Art of Self Defence is darkly hilarious, disturbing, and entertaining, and I had a great time with it. Eisenberg, Poots and Nivola were great in their roles, and Riley Stearns’s writing and direction were fantastic. If you like dark comedy, this is a movie that you’ll definitely need to check out. Definitely one of my favourites of the year thus far.

You Were Never Really Here (2018) Review

Time: 89 Minutes
Joaquin Phoenix as Joe
Ekaterina Samsonov as Nina Votto
Alex Manette as Senator Albert Votto
John Doman as John McCleary
Judith Roberts as Joe’s Mother
Alessandro Nivola as Governor Williams
Director: Lynne Ramsay

A traumatized veteran (Joaquin Phoenix), unafraid of violence, tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, Joe’s nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening.

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You Were Never Really Here was one of my most anticipated films of 2018. I have been hearing nothing but excellent things about this film. It received acclaim from the Cannes Film Festival, with particular praise to Lynne Ramsay’s direction and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, receiving Cannes awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actor. The trailer also made the movie look quite unique and something truly special. You Were Never Really Here really lived up to all the praise. It is a very different and unique film, with fantastic visual direction from Lynne Ramsay and yet another phenomenal performance from Joaquin Phoenix.

One thing that is really worth pointing out is the way the story is told. Lynne Ramsay tells the story more visually, it not only doesn’t rely on a lot of dialogue, not everything is set out clear for us, we aren’t necessarily being told what’s going on. That means that you can miss a lot of the important details, even if you are focussed 100% on the screen and what’s going on (this definitely happened with me, afterwards I had to look up plot details to see what I didn’t get, this doesn’t usually happen with me). A lot of the plot or aspects like Phoenix’s character’s past aren’t set out clearly for us, with his past for instance, we only get flashes of it and we have to take what we are given and interpret it. In this case I can kind of see rewatches improving the enjoyment of the movie overall. I can see this unclear storytelling polarising some, but while there were some aspects of the plot I didn’t know about, I still admire Ramsay’s way of telling the story. Another thing is that the story, although it seems familiar, avoids falling into clichés that other similar movies often have, it’s not a straight forward revenge film. It’s more focussed on the character of Joe and his arc, which is not one that you’d really expect. It’s also worth knowing going in that this isn’t an action thriller or anything of the sort like it was shown in the trailer, it is a slow paced character study. This movie is fairly short, at 1 hour and 30 minutes long, which is a good enough length, though I will admit I wouldn’t mind it being another 10 or so minutes. The pacing was fine, the first act was a little slow but it wasn’t too much of an issue.

It’s no surprise that Joaquin Phoenix gives a fantastic performance, with him being one of the all time best actors working at the moment, but this is one of his best performances yet. The whole movie surrounded his character Joe and was basically riding on Phoenix, as usual he delivers. It’s a multi-layered performance with very little dialogue, so Phoenix has to convey a lot through his performance with so little. I’ve noticed a lot of people comparing his character of Joe to Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver and while on surface level they might seem similar, they really aren’t. I won’t go into too much depth into Joe as a character as I think it’s something better seeing for yourself. What I will say is that his character clearly has a lot to him that has to communicated often times non verbally and Phoenix, being the incredible actor that he is, does this fantastically. Other supporting actors like Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman and Judith Roberts do well enough in their role, even though most of the attention is on Phoenix (some of these actors don’t even have that many scenes but they were still good).

This is the first film I’ve seen of Lynne Ramsay, I heard she did some films like We Need to Talk about Kevin and Ratcatcher, I haven’t seen them yet but I heard they are good. Based on her work on this movie however, I can say that she is an excellent director, her direction of this film is nothing short of fantastic. This movie is shot incredibly well, it is an absolutely stunning looking film. Ramsay also portrays violence well, it’s brutal but not excessive, a lot of the times it doesn’t even show it very close up. Nonetheless you feel the impact of it. The way the film is edited is definitely really great, it really is essential to the storytelling style. As I said, the story is told more visually than verbally and a big part of the movie is Joe going through some flashbacks because of his past and his PTSD. Often times we get splices of what happened in his past. Ramsay also helps you really experience what he’s thinking and feeling, especially towards the final act, culminating at times in some nightmarish and effective sequences. Jonny Greenwood has been creating movie scores for a while but this just might be his best, it really adds to the overall tone and feel of the movie, ranging from being entrancing to being nightmarish.

You Were Never Really Here is truly one of the best films of the year so far. With Lynne Ramsay’s excellent direction and Joaquin Phoenix’s great performance, it really is a unique film that delivers on pretty much every level. It’s not for everyone and I can see a lot of people not really liking this. It worked for me though, and I have a feeling that I’m going to like it more upon further thought and rewatches.