Author: J. Scott Shreve

In the Mood For Love

Overview: Set in 1960s Hong Kong, In the Mood For Love, directed by Wong Kar-Wai, is an examination of how the seed of romance can form and leave an indelible mark. USA Films. 2000. Rated PG. 98 Minutes. The Romance: With a delicate and natural touch, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung bring to life the bond that their character’s form over mutual suspicion of their spouses. As the characters begin a romance, absent of sexual contact, viewers fall further and further under the influence of their organic on-screen compatibility. The Setting: The arrangement of imagery is deliberate and top-notch...

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Oldboy (2003)

Overview: A man is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years, then set free with no explanation. 2003. Show East/Tartan Films. Rated R. 120 Minutes. Korean Filmmaking: Oldboy is the second part of director Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy, and a benchmark in the history of Korean film. It brought a specific style of Korean film (films dealing with violent or disturbing subject matter) to a wider audience and served as an introduction to Korean film for many viewers (including this one). I could ask many acquaintances who aren’t avid movie-goers if they’ve watched a Korean film, and many of them...

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There Will Be Blood

Overview: An independent oil man explores his prospects amid the backdrop of early 1900’s California. Paramount Vantage/Miramax Films; 2007; Rated R; 158 Minutes. Visual Storytelling: There Will Be Blood begins with fourteen minutes of wordless, character-building genius. Director Paul Thomas Anderson sets the stage for the compelling character Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) with no dialogue, a few sharp notes of score, and effective visual storytelling of the origins of Plainview’s success in oil. In those quiet and deliberate minutes, Anderson sets Plainview up as a character immediately deserving of the audience’s investment and draws us in to where his...

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The Social Network

Overview: During his time as a student at Harvard, Mark Zuckerberg creates the social networking website that would become known as Facebook. Columbia Pictures; 2010; Rated PG-13; 120 Minutes. The Opening Scenes: The Social Network opens with a brilliant five minute scene of dialogue at a bar between Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). The two engage in a quick, back and forth conversation that illuminates everything the viewer needs to know about Zuckerberg. He is socially awkward with a genius intellect, woefully unaware of Albright’s feelings, and dismissive of her status and education....

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Submarine

Overview: Submarine, the debut of British director Richard Ayoade, follows 15 year old Oliver Tate’s adolescent experiences living in Wales. Optimum Releasing/The Weinstein Company; 2010; Rated R; 98 Minutes. The Comedy: Submarine is downright laugh-out-loud funny. Craig Roberts, in his feature film debut, plays Oliver Tate with a natural comedic deadpan cleverness. Tate narrates most of his story and his quips and observations will leave viewers chuckling. Paddy Considine also provides an amusing turn as Graham Purvis, a bizarre, mulleted, new-age weirdo who has a history with Oliver’s mother. Editing and Score: The film also uses camera and editing...

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Skyfall

Overview: James Bond must track down a mysterious cyber terrorist who seeks revenge against MI6 and M. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Columbia Pictures; 2012; Rated PG-13; 143 Minutes. 007 Opening: Skyfall opens in true James Bond fashion. The trademark 007 musical riff kicks in and Bond (Daniel Craig) appears, mid-espionage. Bond chases his mark on foot, in a vehicle, on a motorbike across the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar, and finally on top of a moving train through the Turkish countryside. All the action is well crafted and realistic, with exceptional stunt work and cinematography. At the close of the sequence Bond falls...

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Killing Them Softly

Overview: Killing Them Softly, directed by Andrew Dominik, is a crime drama set during the 2008 Presidential election. The Weinstein Company. 2012. Rated R. 97 Minutes. Strengths: There are a few good performances here with Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, and Brad Pitt. None of the acting performances are bad; however, none of them standout as great or exceptional. There is one scene which features a style choice viewers may enjoy. That scene features a shot captured by connecting the camera to an opening car door. This is an interesting technique that viewers may not have seen before. Weaknesses: Killing...

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George Washington

Overview: George Washington follows a group of kids through a summer living in their impoverished rural southern hometown. It is the feature film debut of writer and director David Gordon Green. Cowboy Pictures/Janus Films. 2000. Unrated. 90 Minutes. The Setting: It could be argued that the key storytelling tool and narrative centerpiece in George Washington is the small, desolate town in which the events occur. Cinematographer Tim Orr captures the depressive feel of the area with a raw and honest camera. He lingers on destitute and depreciated images of the town, while a secondary character narrates and provides voiceover...

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From Up On Poppy Hill

Overview: From Up On Poppy Hill is an animated Studio Ghibli film written by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Goro Miyazaki. Toho. 2011. Rated PG. 91 Minutes. Strengths: From Up On Poppy Hill features rich, beautiful animation (a Studio Ghibli standard) and a heartfelt tale of love and friendship in the midst of struggle and change. This is a family-friendly film, accessible to both adults and children, and the film features an exceptional English translation voice cast. Miyazaki manages to build interesting characters in a short time that allows the emotional swings of the story to really take hold....

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Overview: Benjamin Button is born with a disease that causes him to age in reverse. Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures. 2008. Rated PG-13. 166 Minutes. Strengths: When Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born, he is aged to the level of an eighty year old man, and as he grows older, his body becomes increasingly younger. The special effects and makeup used to create the de-aging process are exceptional, and realistic enough that viewers will never notice a difference between the portions of the process created by special effects and those created by makeup. Benjamin’s transformation from a short, wrinkled old...

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Brick

Overview: A high school student tries to unravel the mystery behind his ex-girlfriend’s death. Focus Features. 2005. Rated R. 110 Minutes. A Modern Twist: The feature film debut of writer/director Rian Johnson, Brick is a neo-noir detective mystery set around a group of contemporary high school students. Johnson’s approach to film noir is a direct and authentic one. He uses traditional techniques—such as low angle camera shots and a flashy visual style– and the distinct language from a bygone era to create the film noir universe. The dialogue is a combination of slick, witty prose and pieces of a...

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Django Unchained

Overview: A bounty hunter helps a freed slave seek vengeance in the pre-Civil War South. The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures. 2012. Rated R. 166 Minutes. The Vengeance and Violence: Django Unchained is a tale of vengeance set during the period of 19th century American slavery. And it’s all about the vengeance. With buckets of blood and hails of bullets, it’s violently arresting and unapologetic. All of writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s signatures are here; the witty and sharp dialogue, rushed camera zooms for dramatic effect, 360 and God’s eye POV shots, eccentric music, references to films of the past, and a cameo...

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Breathless

Overview: A car thief is on the run from the police and tries to convince a girl to run away with him. UGC. 1960. Unrated. 90 Minutes. Place in Film History: Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless is one of the spearheads of the French New Wave film movement of the late 1950’s and 1960’s. It featured the breakout role of the movement’s biggest star, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and several technical innovations that the period is famous for. The Leads: Jean-Paul Belmondo is the most famous French leading man of his time. He stars in Breathless as the car thief Michel Poiccard. Belmondo...

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Looper

Overview: In the future, the mob uses time travel to send targets back in time to be killed by assassins called “loopers.” Everything changes for Joe, a looper, when his future self is sent back to him to be killed. Tristar Pictures. 2012. Rated R. 119 Minutes. Two Faces: Looper examines some possibilities that could arise if time travel existed. One of those possibilities is the existence of a different version of the same person in the same time period. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis portray the lead character Joe at different points of his life, Gordon-Levitt as Joe...

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

Overview: A young girl must fight for survival as her father becomes ill and her coastal delta home is flooded. Fox Searchlight Pictures. 2012. PG-13. 93 Minutes. Feed-Up Time: In Beasts of the Southern Wild, director Benh Zeitlin tells the heartwarming tale of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a young and lively resident of The Bathtub, a coastal delta town shut off from the mainland by a levee. Hushpuppy’s journey with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) is one of innocence and preservation of a way of life. Their struggles through the flooding of their homeland are a mirror to, and social...

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