Posts Tagged ‘Josh Brolin’

The Granite Mountain Hotshots

Only the Brave

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Cast: Miles Teller, Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly, Andie MacDowell, Taylor Kitsch, James Badge Dale, Jeff Bridges, Ben Hardy, Josh Hopkins

Based on the GQ article No Exit written by Sean Flynn with the assistance of fellow screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, Only the Brave is an extraordinary tale of bravery, courage and heroism, illustrating the eternal battle of Man Versus Nature.

Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski using the cinematic motif of a grizzly bear running through the forest engulfed in flames, Only the Brave is a remarkable film held together by solid acting especially by Oscar nominee Josh Brolin (Milk) and Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind).

Set in the North American summer of 2013 and focusing on the small town of Prescott, Arizona near Phoenix, Only the Brave follows the story of a group of municipal firefighters that are deployed to help fight runaway forest fires in the canyons and mountainous regions in Arizona.

At times, sublime and dangerous, all the men realize that their jobs are extremely risky fighting unpredictable fires which can engulf entire forests in a matter of minutes depending on the wind speed and air temperature.

Brolin plays Eric Marsh, supervisor of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who has to look after a team of 18 men and train them into fighting one of nature’s most unpredictable beasts: wildfires. Marsh takes a chance on Brendan McDonough, a recovering addict superbly played by rising star Miles Teller (War Dogs, Whiplash) while also dealing with his own relationship issues with his headstrong wife Amanda, a standout performance by Jennifer Connelly.

To add gravitas to the cast, Oscar winner Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) plays Marsh’s mentor Duane Steinbrink. James Badge Dale (The Departed, The Walk) plays Marsh’s deputy Jesse Steed while Taylor Kitsch (Savages, Lone Survivor) plays McDonough’s friend and fellow firefighter Christopher MacKenzie.

What is most impressive about Only the Brave is the haunting cinematography by Oscar winning Chilean cinematographer Claudio Miranda who won for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.

Cinematically this film is excellent from vast aerial shots of the dramatic Arizona topography to the inner anguish of the team’s social dynamics as they navigate their own fears and dreams in light of a grueling occupation which seldom takes survivors when the fires rage out of control.

Tron Legacy director Joseph Kosinski really does his best work with Only the Brave assembling a muscular cast to tell a robust narrative filled with searing bravado.

Only the Brave gets a film rating of 8 out 10 and is highly recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Lone Survivor, Dunkirk and the 1991 Kurt Russell film Backdraft.

2016 Berlin Film Festival

2016 Berlin International

Film Festival Winners

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The 66th annual Berlin International Film Festival was held from 11th to the 21st February, 2016

The Berlin International Film Festival known as the Berlinale takes places annually in February and is regarded as one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.

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Opening Night Film: Hail, Caesar! directed by Joel and Ethan Coen starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand and Channing Tatum

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Golden Bear for Best Film:  Fire at Sea  by Gianfranco Rosi

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Silver Bear for Best Director:  Mia Hansen-Løve for Things to Come

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Silver Bear for Best Actor:  Majd Mastoura for Hedi

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Silver Bear for Best Actress:  Trine Dyrholm for The Commune

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Silver Bear for Best Script: Tomasz Wasilewski for United States of Love

The Golden Fang

Inherent Vice

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Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There will be Blood, The Master, Boogie Nights)

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Katherine Waterston, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Eric Roberts, Jena Malone, Michael Kenneth Williams, Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson, Martin Short, Martin Donovan, Maya Rudolph, Serena Scott Thomas

In the spirit of Magnolia and Boogie Nights, director Paul Thomas Anderson assembles an eclectic cast of stars for his cinematic adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel Inherent Vice with Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, Gladiator) as stoner private detective Larry Doc Sportello who goes on a labyrinthine search for his ex-girlfriend Shasta Hepworth played by Katherine Waterston (Michael Clayton, Taking Woodstock).

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Set in 1971, during the Nixon administration, in California, Inherent Vice is a rambling and extended tour de force of the hippie’s drug culture of Southern California involving kinky and corrupt cops especially Lt Detective Christian “BigFoot” Bjornsen wonderfully played by the orally fixated Josh Brolin, straight laced deputy district attorneyPenny Kimball played by Reese Witherspoon and an elusive government informant Coy Harlingen played by Owen Wilson.

Oscar winner for director Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic Benicio del Toro also makes a brief appearance as Doc’s legal adviser Sauncho Smilax Esq, but this is very much Phoenix’s film and he inhabits every frame with a sort of woozy ease that is at times prolonged and other times fascinating. This is by no means Phoenix’s best performance and does not match his brilliant portrayal of the boozy drifter Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s superb critically acclaimed film The Master.

At a running time of just over two and a half hours, one cannot blame the viewer for getting slightly confused and bored. Inherent Vice has an intricate plot with lots of subtexts, subplots and quirky visual references but only serious fans of Paul Thomas Anderson will appreciate his laboured approach in adapting this contemporary novel to the big screen.

The best scenes are actually between Phoenix and Witherspoon who reunite after the success of the Oscar winning James Mangold film Walk the Line. Several of the other quite bizarre sequences are truly amazing to watch but the entire story could have done with some efficient editing.

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Audiences should also watch out for cameos by Eric Roberts, Martin Donovan and a crazed Martin Short. While the costumes and production design for Inherent Vice is spot on capturing the origins of the drug fueled and nefarious 1970’s, Paul Thomas Anderson film could have used some serious editing as this languid narrative tends to bewilder and obfuscate the viewer, which the point of the story.

Inherent Vice refers to possible drugs being smuggled into America on a mysterious vessel known as The Golden Fang from Indo-China or modern day Vietnam. This film is recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Magnolia and Robert Altman’s far superior film Short Cuts. Not sure if Inherent Vice will quite make it to the cult status of The Master.

Hollywood Hard Hitters

Gangster Squad

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Based upon the fascinating non-fiction book, Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman, the beautifully yet violent cinematic rendition of the story of how an elite group of LA cops formed a Gangster Squad to tackle the effects of organized crime in post-wars Los Angeles, is thrilling to watch, engrossing and thoroughly entertaining. Featuring an all star cast including Ryan Gosling as Jerry Wooters, Josh Brolin as Jack O’Mara, Emma Stone as Grace Faraday and Sean Penn as the malevolent gangster Mickey Cohen who terrorized the Hollywood Boulevard in the early days of the city of angels growth is both visceral and heartfelt.

Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Pena also star as electronics expert Conwell Keeler and Officer Navidad Ramirez respectively in this brotherhood tale of elite cops fighting the influences of organized crime in the form of the vicious New York immigrant Mickey Cohen. Whilst Paul Lieberman’s novel goes into a truly in depth analysis of the origins of organized crime in Los Angeles, before and after the 2nd World War especially as California and Nevada become ripe for the East Coast families to increase their criminal activities. In this case Chicago crime emissary Jack Dragnet, played by Jon Polito is soon wiped out by Mickey Cohen who will go to any lengths to become Los Angeles’s crime boss.

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Directed by Ruben Fleischer, Gangster Squad skips over much of the social history in favour of making a sleek, glamorous and violent film about the sharp shooting and mischievous Squad which successfully undermined Mickey Cohen’s grip on the city of Angels in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Not nearly as measured and brilliant as Barry Levinson’s film Bugsy about Bugsy Seigel’s establishment of Las Vegas in the late 40’s, Gangster Squad comes off more as a nostalgic pastiche of all great Gangster films from the same genre most notably The Untouchables, Bugsy and the brilliant L. A. Confidential.

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Gangster Squad features a smooth talking Ryan Gosling in what is really an ensemble piece about a group of men who go to any lengths to undermine the mob king in their town often at their own personal costs. Gosling’s screen time with Emma Stone is fabulous along with some particular brilliant and captivating action sequences, Gangster Squad is held together by a brilliant cast, fabulous sets and a superb retelling of an emerging city out of the clutches of crime and into those of glamour and cinema, which is what Los Angeles is more famous for today.

Recent more grittier films about Los Angeles downtown crime film like End of Watch also starring Michael Pena shot in a Southlands TV series style has not changed the image that LA is still a city plagued by foreign criminal organizations or crazy criminals as immortalized in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and not so much by East Coast immigrants as it was in the first half of the 20th century.

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Paul Lieberman’s book Gangster Squad is a brilliant read as his detailed history of the city of Angels in the mid 20th century is perfectly captured and exceptionally well researched.  The Hollywood film version of Gangster Squad is by all respects a brilliantly recreated 1940’s handsome cinematic experience complete with Slapsy Maxies also starring Nick Nolte as Chief Parker and Anthony Mackie as Officer Coleman Harris and worth watching for the quirky dialogue, well orchestrated action sequences,  and will surely delight those fans who loves similar styled mobster movies!

 

Activism and Martyrdom

Milk

directed by

Gus van Sant

The article below was prepared for a film workshop and discussion of Milk held at the inaugural Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival November 2011.

“My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you”.

 

Political Activist, Martyr and lover of Opera

These words were used at a speech Milk made on the San Francisco City Hall steps as an elected city supervisor at the Gay Freedom Day Parade on the 25th June 1978 four months before being assassinated. This scene in Gus Van Sant’s film is critical to the viewing of Milk as not just as a film about the Gay rights movement in America, but a film about civil rights and the fight for protection against bigotry and the preservation of individual freedoms which should be enshrined in any democracy.
Milk was an activist for Gay rights and for human rights and he galvanized the communities of Castro Street in the Eureka Valley and also the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco for the protection of civil liberties. Milk was also the first openly gay man to be elected to an official position in a major metropolitan American city. He was a south-African equivalent of an Executive councillor and not merely a ward councillor.

Historically any political movement with a strong base of supporters, martyrdom works. There are examples of martyrs in a range of socio-political movements worldwide from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, to Ruth First. Milk knew of the risks he was taking as an openly gay supervisor who was ready to engage in public debate at a time when the gay rights movement was blossoming along the American West Coast.

Milk was ready to die for his beliefs and was already casting himself in the role of a martyr – he persevered in the face of constant death threats. He challenged opposing viewpoints which were mostly grounded in the form of religious bigotry and parochial conservatism crystallized in the form of Florida religion fanatic Anita Bryant and Californian Republican Senator John Briggs.

Milk stood up for what was right at a particular moment in a historical context which reflected the aftermath of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and followed on from similar social political movements in America most notably the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the anti-war demonstrations of the late 60s and early 70s (notably about the Vietnam war). Harvey Milk was a skilled political activist and knew how to mobilise his supporters effectively.
Milk’s challenge to gay and lesbian people in America was this – We have to let them know who we are. You have to be open about your sexuality. He was the political version of the current crop of Hollywood stars and singers who are breaking through the glass closet Zachary Quinto and Ricky Martin, David Hyde Pearce, Neil Patrick Harris.

As a film, Milk was hugely successful for 3 reasons –
1) Director Gus van Sant is an openly gay director and has touched on homosexuality in his previous films, My Own Private Idaho and his award winning film Elephant.
2)  The screenwriter Dustin Lance Black who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay was openly gay.
3) Milk as a film was researched and had the input of surviving members of the Gay rights movement of the 1970s notably the influential Cleve Jones, played by Emile Hirsch in the film, Milk was shot in all the actual locations in and around San Francisco, notably the City Hall and Castro Street neighbourhood. Van Sant encouraged all the actors to improvise in their characters in the authentic locations they were shooting in. Seasoned actor, Sean Penn’s performance of Harvey Milk is exceptionally brilliant, notably winning him a 2nd Best Actor Award.

There is a moment in Milk when Harvey is delivering the recruitment speech at Gay Freedom Parade that this biopic transcends the boundaries of being just a film about gay rights, but a film about justifiable civil rights. Ironically the call for recruitment sounds very similar to Uncle Sam calling for new army recruits to the US military. Gay people came to San Francisco from small towns across America and the gay community swelled after the end of World War 2 when many closeted military men disembarked at San Francisco after returning from the Pacific theatre of War and remained in the city, not obviously keen to return to conservative mid-Western towns.

Viewing Milk in a South African context

South Africa is an intensely political society and as a new democracy which has enshrined the rights of every individual by having one of the most liberal constitutions, gay people are protected by the constitution but is there an adequate justice system to enforce the civil liberties of gay people in SA. This point is made in Milk in the 70s when gay men are beaten up and victimised by SF police officers in the film. Even though gay rights are enshrined in the South African constitution and discrimination based on sexual orientation is forbidden, does the South African police force adequately uphold these rights in contemporary society? In terms of Gay Pride marches worldwide from Sao Paulo to Warsaw – the role of the police as both protector and persecutor is brilliantly explored in the documentary Beyond Gay: the Politics of Pride.

Best line in the film – “I sound like a homosexual with Power” – from being marginalised to being politicized that was the legacy that Harvey Milk gave to the American and the international gay rights movement.
Harvey Milk was a quintessential Gay politician who only served in office for one year but his impact on social change and his symbol as a martyr for the gay rights movement in America and internationally is huge. Milk was 40 years old when he first came out the closet and started living as an openly gay man.
The character of Dan White played by Josh Brolin in Milk represents a complete dichotomy from Harvey Milk. White was also a fellow city supervisor from a strong Irish Catholic neighbourhood who was concerned more with supporting a family on a municipal salary than supporting any of Harvey Milk or Mayor George Moscone’s liberal city ordinances. Dan White viewed Harvey Milk as a threat and he acted upon that threat, whereas Milk underestimated the danger of Dan White as a potential enemy. The last quarter of the film, there is a sense that Milk had almost become cavalier with his political power despite receiving numerous death threats. Milk was willing to become a martyr and for the cause, often remarking that politics was theatre.

Politics is Theatre

Politics is theatre except the scripts are different, but there remain the stars even they become legends as martyrs.

Van Sant skilfully shows not just the extent of the Milk’s activism but also his passion for the gay rights cause at the immense cost of his personal life and safety. The film beautifully reconstructs the fateful events leading up to Milk’s assassination and the truly poignant ending of Harvey Milk being heralded as a martyr by the community he served and adored. Milk is more about Martyrdom and Activism in a socio-political movement in the 1970s and the call for equal civil rights for gays and all other minorities.

Today in San Francisco there are convention centres, streets and public institutions named after slain City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Corner of Castro and Market Street in Eureka Valley is now called Harvey Milk Plaza.
The immortalization of martyrs for a cause is not new in any political movement and is especially significant in the current SA political context with conference centres, highways and streets being renamed after struggle heroes against Apartheid more appropriately in cities such as Durban and Johannesburg.

Proposition 6 as put forward by Californian Senator Briggs was legislation that allowed the California state to discriminate against employees in this case teachers on the basis of sexual orientation. Milk’s biggest triumph was getting the gay communities and the broader society to vote against the implementation of proposition 6.
Irony is that Gay Marriage in America as a federal law is still banned. Only several US states have passed legislation allowing gay marriage to date including Vermont.
Proposition 8 (ballot title: Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment; called California Marriage Protection Act by proponents) was a ballot proposition and constitutional amendment passed in the November 2008 state elections. The measure added a new provision, Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights, to the California Constitution, which provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” – Wikipedia source.
Innovative film style of Gus Van Sant –Van Sant’s visual style is unique from extreme close-ups highlighting the intimacy of the characters to showcasing the broad political activism that Milk did to galvanize and protect the gay community in San Francisco in the 1970’s. Political activism involved taking over a block then a neighbourhood and gaining support and credence for specific municipal issues.
Suggested Reading and Viewing: ~
Biography: The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life & Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts
Documentary: Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride by Bob Christie

 

Revenge is a Snake Pit

True Grit

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Joel and Ethan’s Coen rendition of True Grit is a classic Western with the cowboys unshaven, filled with whiskey swigging gun-slinging characters who all appeared to have been beaten by the harsh environment of Arkansas in the 1870s frontier towns.

True Grit is a revenge tale with pitfalls both figurative and literal and as the old Chinese saying goes, when seeking revenge, it’s always best to dig two graves. At the centre of this Western, is Mattee Ross a determined 14 year old girl who is beset on avenging the death of her father.

Hailee Steinfeld delivers a superb performance, rightfully getting an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Ross hires Rooster Cogburn, an unsavory US Marshal who drinks too much whiskey and is not very fond of personal hygiene. Cogburn in his rough and scraggly demeanor is brilliantly portrayed by Jeff Bridges. A third character who makes up the unlikely trio of adventurers is La Boeuf, a dandified Texas Ranger, played with panache and egotism by Matt Damon, who quite frankly looks like a fellow who takes pride in his appearance.
This darkly comic journey reminiscent of the Coen brothers earlier film Oh Brother Where Art Thou? is more richly textured with symbolism and myth, complimented by beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins. With the occasional spats of violence which as always in Coen Brothers films are swift, untimely and always shocking are tapered down in comparison to their Oscar winning masterpiece No Country for Old Men, which was drenched in the suspense of inevitable violence and pervading menace.

A Gritty Game of Rancher and Outlaw

As Westerns goes, this is not 3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold 2007 action packed gun tottering film featuring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale as the cattle rancher and captured outlaw, but True Grit is closer to a period piece, shot in sepia colours complimented with stark black costumes and musing more on the legends of the Old West as opposed to the violence that characterized the era.

True Grit is more a homage to the film genre, a respectful and beautifully directed representation of a mythical error of the Wild Frontier, where the only real law of the land was each individual’s right to seek revenge where injustice had occurred, whatever the consequences. Nominated for 10 Oscars, unfortunately True Grit was beaten at the Academy Awards by the more technically brilliant film, Inception and the popular David Fincher film, The Social Network. In the acting stakes, Hailee Steinfeld is definitely a rising star, since receiving an Oscar nomination at age 15, a testament to her talent. Of all the Oscars True Grit should have won, it should have been for cinematography which was flawless.

Besides the accolades not heaped on the latest Coen Brothers film by this past Awards season, True Grit is nevertheless a terrific film about revenge, mortality and the myth of the Wild West. Watch out for a great cameo by Barry Pepper, all disheveled and wearing sheepskin chaps as the outlaw leader Lucky Ned Pepper.

Texas is No Place for Survivors

No Country for Old Men

It is a difficult nut to crack. No Country for Old Men initially purely for its shock value, then for Joel and Ethan Coen’s take on morality in border town Texas. Even the second viewing was hard to contemplate. From its relentless scenery to its unrelentless take on the Mexican-Texan drug trade, the Coen brothers never compromise of their  vision of an America without any heroes and essentially its Superb!

Rich in imagery and dark in imagination coupled by great performances from the cast from Javier Bardem to Josh Brolin and Kelly McDonald. The Coen brothers seminal work is a masterpiece in psychological immorality and genuine disconnectedness of the main characters. From Tommy Lee Jones’s cynical police chief to the cold blooded ruthlessness of Javier Bardems psychopathic killer Anton Chiqua the film betrays a sense of ruthlessness and immorality little before seen on the big screen. Panoramic visions of Texas and neighboring Mexico make little t0 assuage the view. To make the viewer feel better.

Not for the faint-hearted

Even in the second viewing the Coen brothers disturbing point of view is fascinating and simultaneously appalling for those who watch it, but in a true Cinematic tradition, their film is both a masterpiece and a harrowing account of the cost of greed and revenge. Its a tough showdown but ultimately rewarding tale of disillusionment, disgrace and courage faltered in a land ravaged by death and destruction.

Javier Bardem’s performance is intimate and contained, rich in evil and retribution, filled with that abysmal sinister quality of a man which clearly operates outside the law. He is a non-conformist, who is bound by his own sense of justice and revenge. A sense not grounded in reality but pure evil, unadulterated.

Josh Brolin is equally brilliant as a man who makes a conscious decision not to redeem himself in any way possible and accept the consequences however grotesque for  a man who crosses a moral boundary with no way of turning back.

Tommy Lee Jones mirrors the path of the psychopathic killer, from drinking the same milk to staring at the same emptiness of a TV screen not quite tuned into the world. A cynical sheriff, a man who has becomes speculative, a watch on all the macabre episodes, not realizing the gravity of the events, but only its significant consequences…

Utlimately, there is no sense of redemption in a film like No Country for Old Men, no cathartic assurances, just a deep valued sense of tragedy which its dark vision never compromises on, leaving the viewer wasted, but realizing that they have watched a film exceptionally profound. No Country for Old Men won four Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay from the novel by Cormac McCarthy and of course Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem’s spine chilling portrayal of a hitman.

A Fine and Fabulous Portrayal

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The brilliant film Milk is recommended not so much for its excellent coverage of political mobilization but more for Sean Penn’s superb and heartfelt portrayal of Harvey Milk. Of course there are those seventies fashions, James Franco skinny dipping and the wonderfully coy Emile Hirsh. Well worth the viewing.

If viewers loved director Gus Van Sant’s earlier works including My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy and Elephant, then this film is up there with Gus Van Sant’s original masterpieces.

There is a detailed analysis of Milk under the title Activism and Martyrdom http://www.davidrwalker.co.za/2011/11/milk/ in a comprehensive article praising the merits of this film as a biography and a moving portrait of the Gay Rights Movement in America.

Milk also stars James Franco, Diego Luna, Emile Hirsch, Alison Pill and a fine supporting performance by Josh Brolin as supervisor Dan White.

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