Ben Cosgrove

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Serena Review


Good

Gorgeously shot, this period drama has a terrific setting and vivid characters, but is edited together in a jarring way that distances the audience from the situations. As the story progresses, the film also shifts strangely from a riveting exploration of a power couple with a pioneering spirit to a more melodramatic thriller about corruption and murder. It's consistently engaging thanks to the power of the cast, but it should have also been darkly moving as well.

The story is set in the late 1920s, as lumber baron George (Bradley Cooper) struggles under the economic pressures of the impending Great Depression. Then he meets Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) and it's love at first sight. A feisty, outspoken woman with a background in logging, she immediately ruffles feathers in George's camp by giving out advice that's actually helpful. George's two righthand men, accountant Buchanan (David Dencik) and foreman Campbell (Sean Harris), both quietly wonder if this woman is going to mess up their all-male world of underhanded bribes and physical danger. But she develops a rapport with George's hunting tracker Galloway (Rhys Ifans). Meanwhile, the local sheriff (Toby Jones) is trying to get George's land declared protected national parkland.

Oscar-winning Danish director Susanne Bier (In a Better World) gives the film a grand scale with expansive mountain landscapes and a sweeping romantic tone. The Western-style bustle of the logging camp is lively and authentic, as is the continual threat of death or dismemberment on the job. Against this, Cooper and Lawrence have terrific chemistry both with each other and the characters around them, sharply portrayed by strong actors who know how to invest plenty of attitude into even a small role.

Continue reading: Serena Review

Deadfall Review


Good

With a focus on messy family relationships, this thriller's deranged comical touches almost make up for its contrived plot and annoyingly thin characters. Director Ruzowitzky (an Oscar winner for The Counterfeiters) makes the most of the snowy landscapes and an eclectic cast, but the jarring combination of grisly violence, black humour, romance and drama never quite comes together.

In a northern Michigan blizzard, Addison (Bana) is on the run with his sister Liza (Wilde) after a casino heist. When their car crashes in the snow, they decide to head for the Canadian border separately. Liza is picked up off the road by Jay (Hunnam), a hunky ex-con boxer who's stopping to see his parents his parents (Spacek and Kristofferson) while running from the cops himself. Addison encounters a variety of local characters himself as he tries to catch up with Liza. And the local sheriff (Williams) relentlessly picks on deputy Hanna (Mara), his daughter, as they track the fugitives through the snow.

Every relationship in this film is deeply dysfunctional, and the actors have a great time playing with the soapy wrinkles. Bana and Wilde play up the creepy innuendo between the siblings, while the contrived romance between Wilde and Hunnam is like the set-up for a porn movie. Meanwhile, Mara's ambitious cop is so belittled by her awful dad and his equally sexist deputies that we don't really mind it when they start dying one by one in their encounters with Addison. And holding everything together is the wonderfully level-headed Spacek, who carries on cooking dinner while her husband goes out to shoot a deer, then cheerfully serves pie even with a shotgun levelled at her head.

Continue reading: Deadfall Review

The Good German Review


Excellent
Those who will hate The Good German will do so not because of its time-appropriate look and technique (more on that in a moment), but because it wants to be a wartime drama stripped of romance -- those movie stars may be standing in the rain next to a plane with its engines running, but this isn't Casablanca. Paul Attanasio's bruiser of a script (based on Joseph Kanon's novel) has all the hallmarks of a classy WWII drama. World-weary reporter Jake Geismer (George Clooney) shows up in Berlin two months after the collapse of the Reich to cover the Potsdam Peace Conference, at which the three Allied powers will carve up Europe like so much pie. His driver, Cpl. Tully (Tobey Maguire, sublimely sleazy), is a big fixer in the thriving local black market, and just so happens to be shacking up with statuesque Berliner Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), an ex-girlfriend of Geismer's who's so far out of Tully's league he should need a passport to get within five hundred yards of her. But, it's Berlin 1945, and a German woman with a shady wartime past is going to sleep with who she has to in order to get out. Geismer can sense a story in all of Brandt's meaningful silences -- that, and the moment when Tully shows up dead in Potsdam with 100,000 marks in his pocket.Romance, murder, corruption, the looming mood of great historical events, The Good German has all the hallmarks of a well-meaning, by-the-books Hollywood period drama. But director Steven Soderbergh is after something else. There's that shockingly brutal sex scene between Tully and Brandt, a couple of nasty back-alley fights that leave nobody looking good, and an overall mood of tired cynicism that doesn't leave much room for heroics. This is Berlin, after all, the heart of evil, in ruins. Hitler has been dead a mere two months, and while the Americans are hunting down Nazis for war crimes, it's already obvious they will look the other way when it comes to rocket scientists. The grand crusade has already been corrupted, and the Americans and Russians are just squatting in the ruined city fighting over the spoils while their soldiers deal in whores and whiskey.More unsettling than the script's cynicism is how it's presented. Soderbergh -- who once worried that the disastrous response to Kafka meant he'd never have a chance to work in black and white again -- not only shot The Good German in black and white, but he did so in the style of the time period. The sound is echoey and occasional poor, the acting somewhat stiff in that studio film manner, while the film itself comes close to mimicking the very appearance of work from the time period. Soderbergh went so far as to dig up old 1940s Panavision camera lenses, and even utilized unused footage shot in a still-bombed-out 1948 Berlin by Billy Wilder for A Foreign Affair. It's a stunning creation, one of the most gorgeously-composed films of recent years, and accomplishing the seemingly impossible: showing that Blanchett actually looks more beautiful in monochrome.While the visual verisimilitude is a shocking contrast with the script's modernity (swear words, a lack of staginess), it quickly makes a great deal of sense as we realize this isn't meant to be a romantic drama, a la Casablanca, it's a noir thriller in the manner of The Third Man. While the script's game of "who's the patsy?" spins about, it also plays with some weightier topics, most importantly the guilt of everyday Germans who may not have had an active role in the war but didn't necessarily do anything to stop it. In 1945, could there be such things as a good German? As Brandt says at one point, "It's very easy to blame everything on the war."Thick with hypocrisy and corruption, the world of The Good German is more that of Graham Greene and a wearied Europe than that of the sun-dazed California dream factory who would continue to mine happy fake fantasies out of the war for decades later. For this it will be hated, though wrongly. Noirs this good don't come along every day, or even every year.Good evening, ladies and germs.

Rumor Has It... Review


Terrible
Rumor Has It is the only 2005 release that I walked out of. It's really that bad. I am not exaggerating.Just saw it.

Syriana Review


Good
Never send a writer to do a director's job. That, more than the addictive evils of easy oil and cozy government/business corruption, is the true lesson of Syriana. When Steven Soderbergh took on Stephen Gaghan's byzantine script for Traffic, he utilized a few simple tricks to keep it all making sense, everything from grouping stories by color scheme to casting vivid character actors for minor roles so that they wouldn't get lost in the shuffle. Gaghan doesn't have these skills to bring to bear and though he beats his sprawling epic somewhat into shape, it leaves one wishing for the film that could have been, given a better director.

Like Traffic, Syriana is a messy Gordian knot of plot, only with no Soderbergh to slice it neatly open. Instead of drug trafficking, the subject this time is the nexus where oil corporations, the U.S. government, Islamic extremism, and Middle East dictatorships come together in an unholy fusion of polity and greed. The characters are introduced at a leisurely pace, Gaghan laying it all out with perhaps a little too much care. Once things start to cohere, the film shunts into a political thriller about an unnamed Gulf State where the ailing king's two sons are jockeying for control; one is a lazy playboy beloved by U.S. interests and the other is an educated reformer who wants to modernize his country and stop kowtowing to the west.

Continue reading: Syriana Review

Good Night, And Good Luck Review


Excellent
One doesn't need much more of a reason to go to the movies than this: Edward R. Murrow taking on Senator Joe McCarthy (at the height of his power), crisp black-and-white cinematography, the clink of ice cubes over scotch, voluptuous clouds of cigarette smoke hanging in the air, a nation's conscience dangling in the balance. So it is with George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck, a film where the mood - just shy of too cool for its own good - sets the scene for Murrow, the patron saint of journalism, to cajole and castigate the audience in a time of complacency. It also has a great jazz soundtrack.

The story of the witch-hunt has endlessly retold, usually laden with the same self-satisfied 20/20 hindsight that afflicts stories of the civil rights movement, and fortunately Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov see no need to go through it all again. With admirable precision, they've sliced away most all the accoutrements often used to open up the era for the modern viewer, ala Quiz Show. This is a film that takes place almost entirely inside a CBS studio and newsroom, with occasional trips to hallways, elevators, and a network executive's wood-paneled office. Once, they all go out to a bar. It's best in the studio, because that's where we find Murrow - incarnated with almost indecent accuracy by David Strathairn - looking and sounding like as though Rod Serling had decided to rejoin the human race, his manner clipped and astringent, cigarette cocked in one hand like a talisman warding off evil.

Continue reading: Good Night, And Good Luck Review

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Ben Cosgrove Movies

Serena Movie Review

Serena Movie Review

Gorgeously shot, this period drama has a terrific setting and vivid characters, but is edited...

Deadfall Movie Review

Deadfall Movie Review

With a focus on messy family relationships, this thriller's deranged comical touches almost make up...

The Good German Movie Review

The Good German Movie Review

Those who will hate The Good German will do so not because of its time-appropriate...

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Rumor Has It... Movie Review

Rumor Has It... Movie Review

Rumor Has It is the only 2005 release that I walked out of. It's really...

Syriana Movie Review

Syriana Movie Review

Never send a writer to do a director's job. That, more than the addictive evils...

Good Night, and Good Luck Movie Review

Good Night, and Good Luck Movie Review

One doesn't need much more of a reason to go to the movies than this:...

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