Tag Archives: Paul Dano

12 Years a Slave (2013) Review

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12 Years a Slave

Time: 134 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Graphic violence & sexual violence
Cast:
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup/Platt
Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps
Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey
Sarah Paulson as Mary Epps
Paul Dano as John Tibeats
Benedict Cumberbatch as William Ford
Alfre Woodard as Mistress Harriet Shaw
Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass
Director: Steve McQueen

In 1841, African American Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man, is kidnapped and forced into slavert, under the name ‘Platt’ for 12 years. He faces the hardships of being a slave under the hands of a few different slave owners. Through faith, will power, and courage, Northup must survive and endure those 12 years a slave.

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I had seen 12 Years a Slave many years ago for the first time, and it was quite impactful experience. Having rewatched some other Best Picture winning movies recently, I decided I should give this one a watch again, even though I knew it wouldn’t exactly be a pleasant viewing. 12 Years a Slave still holds up 7 years kater and is just as devastating as when I first watched it, a fantastic and harrowing movie that deserves all the acclaim it’s been receiving.

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Considering the subject matter, one could be forgiven for thinking that the movie might take a manipulative approach, especially considering most of the other movies about slavery, and all the awards that this movie won. However, that aspect was handled right, and I’ll get into some of those aspects a little later. This is first and foremost Solomon Northup’s real life story, and follows him throughout his years of being a slave. The story is handled as honest as possible, and never sensationalises any of it. Now from the title, you know that lead character doesn’t remain a slave for more than 12 years, but the experience isn’t any less harrowing. There are some incredibly impactful and emotional moments that are earned and never feel forced, but genuine.

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This cast is large and talented, and all of them perform excellently in their parts. Chiwetel Ejiofor is incredible in the lead role of Solomon Northup, conveying so much emotion and pain without having to say much, or even anything. This film is continuously following him from beginning to end, this is his movie, and he carries it all powerfully. The rest of the cast are supporting players in Solomon’s story, but they all play their parts well. There are two standouts among that supporting cast, the first is Michael Fassbender, giving one of his best performances as a slave owner. Fassbender really performs excellently, with his character representing pretty much the worst of humanity, he has such a captivating screen presence. The other standout is Lupita Nyong’o, who gives an incredibly emotional performance in her part. The rest of the cast are great and make the most of their scenes, with the likes of Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt. Michael Kenenth Williams, and Paul Giamatti.

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Good writing and acting aside, what 12 Years a Slave would live or die on is the direction. This film needed to be handled by the right person, or it could easily fail. Director Steve McQueen was very much the right person for this movie, and knew how to handle this very sensitive subject. The cinematography from Sean Bobbitt was stunning. Not only that, but McQueen’s use of the camera is effective, forcing the audience watch everything that happens on screen, and not allowing them a chance to look away. When it came to the violence and the aspects of slavery, it was handled in probably best way possible. It’s undeniably brutal and doesn’t shy away from that, and you feel every blow. At the same time, it doesn’t sensationalise or fetishize it, if anything it is uncomfortably casual, and was fitting for the movie. A perfect example of this is a standout moment that takes place a third of the way through, without revealing the context or what the scene is, it’s a few minutes long, full of unbroken shots, and it’s incredibly painful and quiet. Hans Zimmer’s score is great as to be expected, and fitted perfectly with the film.

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12 Years a Slave remains an outstanding and moving film, powerfully acted, excellently directed, and is all around masterful. It is incredibly hard to watch (and indeed the rewatch was just as painful as the first watch was) but is a monumental film and quite frankly essential viewing.

Looper (2012) Review

Time: 113 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Contains violence and offensive language.
Cast:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe
Bruce Willis as Old Joe
Emily Blunt as Sara
Paul Dano as Seth
Noah Segan as Kid Blue
Piper Perabo as Suzie
Jeff Daniels as Abe
Pierce Gagnon as Cid
Director: Rian Johnson

In a future society, time-travel exists, but it’s only available to those with the means to pay for it on the black market. When the mob wants to eliminate someone, it sends the target into the past, where a hit man known as a looper lies in wait to finish the job. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one such hired gun, and he does his job well — until the day his bosses decide to “close the loop” and send Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) back in time to be killed.

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I remember seeing Looper years ago around about the time when it came out. It was the first movie from Rian Johnson that I saw, so I was naturally excited when he was announced as directing a Star Wars movie because of his work here (and yes, I’m still very much love how The Last Jedi turned out). Because Johnson’s latest film Knives Out is coming out soon, I thought it was a perfect time to revisit this movie. Looper still holds up pretty well. There might be a couple things that don’t work perfectly, but on the whole it’s still great.

First of all with Looper, I liked how the movie portrays the futuristic world. It’s definitely a science fiction reality, with some advanced technology, new drugs and the like. However it doesn’t have flying cars or anything like that. There’s even some people in this movie who have the ability of telekinesis, but it’s pretty small and can only really be used for levitating small objects, not a significant superpower by any means. The movie also isn’t just science-fiction, it’s also a crime movie, and through Joe’s (Joseph Gordon Levitt) narration, we hear about how this criminal group operates. Rian Johnson is great at blending different ideas together and Looper is no exception, it’s quite an original movie and if you haven’t seen it and don’t know much going in, I’m pretty sure the experience will be better when you do. With any movie involving time travel, there’s going to be some holes and things that don’t quite make sense, and Looper isn’t immune to that (especially towards the end). The characters who even know vaguely about the time travel do at least acknowledge that the time travel is confusing, and I still really liked how the movie portrayed and utilised it, so I was able to look past some of the more confusing elements. While I liked the ending (even though I’m not exactly sure if it’s right), I feel like it could’ve been like a minute longer at least, it somehow felt a little abrupt.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives probably his best performance yet in the role of the main character of Joe, a hitman of sorts. Bruce Willis here really gave one of his best performances in years, he really seemed dedicated to his performance here, significant given most of his recent work has just been straight to DVD action flicks. Something they did with Gordon-Levitt is that they put makeup on him to make him seem like a younger Willis. While its effective and definitely looks a lot better than it sounds on paper, I do find it a little hard to buy that they are the same person. JGL looks like himself but slightly Bruce Willis-ish, but the with the way they act you don’t really buy that they are the same person. However you can look past that and roll with it. Emily Blunt shows up in the latter half in the movie and is very good in her role. The same is said for Pierce Gagnon who plays Cid, Blunt’s child who seemingly a lot more than he initially appears to be. Other supporting actors like Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels also add quite a lot in their screentime.

Rian Johnson has really progressed as a filmmaker, going from a smaller gritty noire set at a high school, to a bright Wes Anderson-esque conmen comedy, to Looper, a science-fiction crime movie. Visually it looked great. I mentioned earlier how I liked the portrayal of the future, and that extends to the direction. The locations for the most part look very similar to places to today and was rather gritty in parts, but with some futuristic touches. The soundtrack by Nathan Johnson was also very effective.

Looper is an original science-fiction crime movie, very well written and directed by Rian Johnson, and the cast were good, particularly Gordon-Levitt, Willis and Blunt. Despite some of the issues I had with some aspects of the plot which didn’t quite work, I think it’s really great. Definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.

Wildlife (2018) Review

Time: 104 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Offensive language
Cast:
Carey Mulligan as Jeanette Brinson
Jake Gyllenhaal as Jerry Brinson
Ed Oxenbould as Joe Brinson
Zoe Margaret Colletti as Ruth-Ann
Bill Camp as Warren Miller
Director: Paul Dano

Fourteen-year-old Joe (Ed Oxenbould) is the only child of Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) — a housewife and a golf pro — in a small town in 1960s Montana. Nearby, an uncontrolled forest fire rages close to the Canadian border, and when Jerry loses his job — and his sense of purpose — he decides to join the cause of fighting the fire, leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves. Suddenly forced into the role of an adult, Joe witnesses his mother’s struggle as she tries to keep her head above water.

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I heard about Wildlife for a little while and I’ve been meaning to check it out. On top of it starring Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal, two of the best actors working today, it’s the directorial debut of Paul Dano (a really good and underrated actor). I didn’t really know what to expect outside of that. Personally I found Wildlife to be a really good and engaging family drama with typically great performances from its lead actors.

Wildlife basically follows a dysfunctional family through the eyes of the parents’ child as the marriage falls apart. The script written by both Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan was really good. This movie isn’t given a particular structure of sorts, it feels more like it was showing periods of time. While as a result it could’ve felt like it could meander and feel unfocussed, something about it kept me on board from start to finish. It can be increasingly uncomfortable at times watching some of the family drama that unfolds but it did its job well, it really does feel like you’re watching this all happen from the child’s perspective. After everything that happens, the ending was a little abrupt and I could see people finding it to be underwhelming, there’s not really a complete conclusion to all of the characters and the story. However, for some reason it just really worked for me and I liked what they did with the ending.

Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal are some of the best actors working today and they unsurprisingly delivered here. Between the both of them though, it’s Mulligan who shines the most as the mother of the family. While I definitely need to see more from her, this is at the very least among her best work. She demonstrates an incredible amount of range as the marriage between her and Gyllenhaal slowly falls apart. Jake Gyllenhaal is also really good as the father, you don’t really see him as much as you’d think but he was good when he was on screen. Ed Oxenbould plays the child of Mulligan and Gyllenhaal and he was good as well. Wildlife more or less follows the story from his perspective, and I think that is probably the reason why there’s not that much to him as a character. All I can remember about him as a character was that he was in the role of the child, I felt like I didn’t really know him by the end of the movie. Other actors like Bill Camp also play their parts well.

Paul Dano had a pretty good directing debut with Wildlife. It fully embraces the 1960s time period, from the production design, the costumes and the music. I know that given that the plot is set in the 60s it should feel like it, but they especially heavily leaned into it with this movie. Really everything including the cinematography was done well, and the movie feels smaller and intimate, which worked for the story.

Wildlife is an intimate and simple yet effective family drama, and has some great performances, particularly from Carey Mulligan. Paul Dano has demonstrated a lot of directing talent with this movie and I definitely would like to see more of his work behind the camera. Wildlife is definitely worth a watch whenever you can see it.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

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There Will Be Blood

Time: 153 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Violence and content that may disturb
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an oil prospector in the early years of the 20th century. He travelled with his adopted son H.W. to Little Boston, California to dig for oil. Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is one of a pair of twins who family farm Daniel purchases for the major oil deposit located on it. Eli is a preacher and wants the money from the sale of the property to finance his own church. The tension between these two men grows, as does the greed. This film is loosely based on the 1927 Upton Sinclair novel “Oil!”

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Although the premise may not seem like an interesting movie, somehow this movie manages to be that, and much more. With beautiful cinematography and a perfect performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood is a great movie and is one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s best.

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The story does take its time to progress, it is a drama; it’s also long at 2 hours and 40 minutes. I can’t be sure that everyone who watches this movie will like it; it might not interest some people. I know that not many people would be interested in this movie on its premise alone. Another reason that people might not like this movie is that it is often quite negative. Other than H.W. (the adopted son) there aren’t many people you can relate to in this movie; Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday are particularly bad people. Also, the story mostly follows Daniel Plainview and his interactions with others instead of the main plot and that may disinterest some viewers. The script is really great and the characters are well fleshed out; any script that has a character has complex as Daniel Plainview is great.

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The best part of this movie is the performances, mainly by Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as Daniel Plainview; this is one of the most fascinating characters in cinema. He is a character that can’t be summarised in one sentence, only in about 2 hours and 40 minutes. The film follows him nearly the whole time and it’s interesting to see his character as you learn more about him. Plainview is an unstoppable force, filled with greed and ambition and Daniel Day-Lewis was the best actor for this complex role. Not to be overlooked is Paul Dano’s performance. Some people may say that his performance was over the top and a bit annoying, but for the character he was trying to portray, he did it well. When you see these two characters and their rivalry, you can see contrast between the two but at the same time, some similarities.

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Paul Thomas Anderson can always make his movies look great and There Will Be Blood is no exception. The production designs are well crafted, the film takes place in different locations and they all feel authentic. Same goes for the cinematography which is filmed really well, an example of this is an incredible scene involving fire – you’ll know which scene I’m referring to when you see it. When the cinematography is paired with the soundtrack, it is especially good. The soundtrack really fits the movie’s tone.

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If you are a film buff, you should check this movie out. I know it’s not for everyone; it might not be interesting for people, it may be too long or maybe it might be too gritty and dark for some people. I do recommend watching the movie even just for the performances – in particular by Daniel Day-Lewis who gives one of the best performances shown on film. There Will Be Blood is one of cinemas all time greats and I’m glad that I watched it.

Prisoners (2013)

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Prisoners

Time: 153 Mins
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, offensive language and content that may disturb
Cast:
Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover
Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki
Viola Davis as Nancy Birch
Maria Bello as Grace Dover
Terrance Howard as Franklin Birch
Melissa Leo as Holly Jones
Paul Dano as Alex Jones
Director: Denis Villeneuve

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), his wife Grace (Maria Bello), their teenage son Ralph and little daughter Anna celebrate Thanksgiving with their friends, Franklin Birch (Terrance Howard), his wife Nancy (Viola Davis), their teenage daughter Eliza and their little daughter Joy. After a while, the parents noticed that their youngest daughters disappeared. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned to the case. The only lead is an RV parked on the street the day the girls disappeared. Its driver Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is arrested but is released due to a lack of evidence. As the police pursue many leads, Keller decides to take matters into his own hands, knowing his child’s life is at stake.

 

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Prisoners is a very surprising movie, first hearing about it I expected good performances. Instead what I got were great performances, high tension and well written dialogue. There was never a moment when I predicted something would happen. The dialogue between people is already fascinating and interesting; on top of that it’s delivered by actors who can make the lines very authentic and real. A lot of the movie spends time just on the family, when they aren’t looking for their daughters. That’s something that I don’t see with most kidnapping movies, most kidnapping movies follow the police trying to find the captives or focus on family trying to find them. Prisoners has probably the best representation of a family reacting to a kidnapping. There is still quite a bit of looking for the daughters and that is done very well too but the fact that the film takes time to focus on the characters instead on the plot, makes it stand out from other kidnapping movies. The final act was very intense for me as the stakes continually rise.

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A lot of this came from the excellent performances from this movie. This is hands down the best performance I’ve seen from Hugh Jackman, even better than in X-Men and Les Miserables. He plays Keller as a desperate father who will do anything to get her daugbhter back and holds nothing back. Another great performance is from Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki. Terrance Howard, Viola Davis and Melissa Leo are also very good. Paul Dano is also worth mentioning as the role of Alex, the very disturbed driver of the RV. If there is a common thing all these performances had, they have a grounded sense of reality. The film is so well acted that I felt the emotions that these characters experienced. That is something that I don’t find very often in most movies, at least for me.

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The cinematography by Roger Deakins gives the film a dark look which adds to the dark atmosphere. It is never sunny in this movie which really suits this movie’s tone. As a result, the movie felt very dark and damp which was good for this movie. There were moments that reminded of David Fincher’s Se7en with all the grittiness and darkness. It had a sense of dread throughout the entire film and the look really sells it.

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Some people will call this movie depressing but there is no denying the skill of this movie. It’s probably not for everyone, especially for parents with young children. The film unfortunately isn’t as known as it should. The dark look of this movie, combined with the excellent acting results in a thriller that truly feels real. This is one of the most surprising movies that I have watched. I knew that this would be a good movie but it didn’t expect the expert craft of this film. This is one of the best films and surprises of 2013.