Thursday, December 29, 2011

50/50 (Jonathan Levine)

The big shave.

Echoing its very title, which tells of the survival rate of people suffering from the spinal cancer that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character has contracted in the film, "50/50", at the same breath, equally focuses both on despair and optimism as it pushes its way to highlight the often tackled issue of mortality.

Almost single-handedly carried by Joseph Gordon-Levitt's simple yet very effective performance as the cancer-stricken Adam Lerner, the film, directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Will Reiser (which I found out to be Seth Rogen's real-life friend who was diagnosed with cancer in his early 20s), is a bittersweet eye-opener regarding the reality of cancer patients that stare death at its very eyes on an everyday basis, while making the often uttered and always superficially imposed phrase 'live like you're dying' literally a thing of urgency. But what's wonderful with this film is how it has gravely wrapped its narrative around the inescapable reality of being diagnosed with cancer yet never completely succumbed to what's bleak and hopeless.

"50/50", fully advertised as a buddy dramedy of sorts between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, surprisingly does not capitalize on the very mere idea of these two starring in a film. Hell, even the tagline teasingly said so ("It takes a pair to beat the odds"). While both of them had their share of poignant moments together, the film's emotional drive is not concentrated to just both of them but is instead finely rationed among its other characters, namely Adam's mother, played by Anjelica Huston, his rookie therapist, played by Anna Kendrick, and his artist girlfriend, played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

As I'm watching the film, I initially thought that Seth Rogen's character Kyle, Adam's best pal, was integrated into the film merely for some sideshow comedy and nothing more, which entails the fact that maybe, the chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Rogen may end up humorously great but dramatically lacking.

But then I realized that having Rogen and his usual improvisational self in the film made him a potent antidote to counter the film's potential brushes with dramatic clichés. Making him all too serious and suddenly turn him all too teary-eyed at Gordon Levitt's pitiful character can be a bit awkward and is a complete departure from what made Seth Rogen popular in the first place. Fitting enough, Rogen's comic performance made the film more naturally dramatic and his character's relationship with the main character Adam feel more genuine.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a truly versatile actor who can play a lovestruck average Joe on one film, transform into a convincingly stern, gravity-defying action hero on another while still skillful enough to turn all psychotic and murderous on the next, embraced subtlety in this film, portraying the different psychological phases of a cancer patient, the various physical pains and the seemingly cold acceptance of the inevitable with a great display of bravery but also of an evident 'Why Me?' frustration.

Although "50/50" centers at the harsh reality of cancer, it has prevented itself to be completely overwhelmed by hodge-podge sentimentalism and preachy utterances about hope and survival that make films of this type all too fleeting. Instead, with this change of tone, it has given the film a cleaner and infinitely more honest emotional atmosphere.

"50/50" is relatively unique in its dramatic and comic effortlessness as it ironically tackles a laborious, life-threatening illness. And while we may all have immediately foreseen the sad inevitability of Adam Lerner's fate, there's still an unconsciously lingering thought, with the film successfully equalizing optimism and the otherwise, that it may just be a boulder-like obstacle that can certainly be endured.

'Keeping up with the battle' or 'dying without a fight'; 'family and faith' or 'to concede and surrender'. "50/50" takes these absolutes and laid it into the open. The film maintains the fact that the act of 'fighting' or 'giving-up' does not just apply to battling cancer, but also to life in general. And that cancer, although it has prematurely claimed countless lives, is not always an end but sometimes just a phase. "50/50" surely holds on to that claim for a reason.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story

Asiong in action.

This might as well be the first time that I'm reviewing a film without a director. Of course it was, during production, helmed by veteran film director Tikoy Aguiluz, whose film "Segurista" I truly admire. But because of some post-production politics and creative clashes between him and the producers, Aguiluz's name, by his own request, was removed from the posters and the film itself, leaving screenwriters Roy Iglesias and Rey Ventura as the only people left at the top of the creative hierarchy.

"Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story" was, above all, branded as a resurrection of sorts for the very dead action genre of the local film scene: an alternative cinematic reality reigned over by the likes of Lito Lapid, Rudy Fernandez, FPJ, and lots and lots of blazing machismo. It was truly a haven of myth-making capable of solidifying silver screen stars such as Ramon Revilla Sr. as an amulet-empowered 'crime does not pay' icon and Paquito Diaz as villainy and ruthlessness personified. This is the powerful formula only action movies have the strength and endurance to carry on for more than 40 years or so without looking, even at the slightest bit, exhausted. And in this film's case, it was that same, enduring formula that was utilized by George Estregan Jr. (or E.R. Ejercito) and company to serve us thirsty fans a tribute to the genre's lore and also a blood-drenched gangster tale that we can call our own.

Namely, some of the film's strengths are its exquisite cinematography and set design, which have genuinely evoked the 50's period with its nostalgic, often times claustrophobic and grayish visual treatment. Take note, 'evoked', not 'replicated'. If replication is the film's real intent, then they should have gone braver and filmed it in full color. But with its purpose being to merely create a distinct visual 'feel' completely free to express its own artistic liberties rather than to completely emulate a bygone era to the teeth, "Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story" succeeded.

But although the film has meritoriously upheld its own visually, it has fallen short substantially. The film suffered in severe one-dimensionality in terms of characterization, with George Estregan Jr., most known for merely playing loud-mouthed, smoker-voiced supervillains such as Dr. Zyke in "Batang Z" and Ivan in Andrew E.'s "Extranghero", although showing relative depth and previously unseen dramatic intensity in his performance as the savage but gold-hearted titular crime boss, obviously looked awkward at times as he makes most out of the stereotypically-written lead role. While character actors like the ever so psychotic John Regala and the subtle Ronnie Lazaro seem to enjoy in their respective characters' caricature-like brutality, the always reliable Phillip Salvador suffered in his role's tiring and predictable 'although my brother's a hardened criminal I still love him' mentality as Asiong's older cop sibling.

Ping Medina, one of the best young actors working today, was underused in an underdeveloped character, and so were Yul Servo and Ketchup Eusebio. Though I can't say the same for Baron Geisler's, which fueled and enforced the film's theme of betrayal and split loyalty with his dimensioned, though predictable Judas-like character to Estregan's Jesus Christ. With Geisler and his mocking smiles and stares like that of a manipulative schemer, you can clearly read within his character that it's just a matter of time before he goes all Robert Ford to Asiong's Jesse James behind.

True, "Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story" may have, in certain ways, hopefully reverberated the action genre with the urgency of its ambition, thanks to George Estregan Jr. and all the people involved. But I think that in time, this film will and should be more remembered as a pioneering crime film that just happened to have one action scene and two or three kissing scenes (!) more than the usual. And just when I'm merely recovering from a "Mad World" LSS hangover, here comes this film complete with its own instrumental rendition of the said song which puts a preachy, 'this is what you should feel' vibe to an otherwise well-executed, "City of God"-esque bullet ballet of a climax.

Now, despite of my scrutiny of the film no one really asked for, I truly enjoyed watching the film for what it is: A textbook action/crime opera. And as the film's credits roll and as the lights in the theater were switched back on, I can see the geriatric majority of the audience; a bittersweet sight that made me think of one thing: "These are the fans that you've left behind, action genre!" Fans that, for so many years, have settled for those pixelated 16 in 1 Robin Padilla DVDs and Cinema One reruns to compensate for the lack, or even the complete absence, of new, locally-produced action pictures.

Now, with not much left to say, I have appreciated this version more than I thought I would, but I'm still particular of the fact that in the long run and in the overall definition of what cinema is all about, the director's vision matters more than all the commercial-minded producers' combined. Now, can we have the Tikoy Aguiluz cut, please?


Friday, December 23, 2011

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly)

Donnie and the Manipulated Dead.

(Note: It's the Director's Cut that I have seen)

I think it's quite a mistake to brand "Donnie Darko" solely as a horror let alone a thriller film. Sure, the film's prevalent elements suggest that it is, but the film completely transcends both genres to which it's most commonly attributed to. On the other hand, I can't also say that the film is inclined to be a full-fledged drama film either, as its emotional content is often times overshadowed by the film's overwhelmingly menacing visual texture. A film written and directed by Richard Kelly, it's a film that I have fully expected to deliver and also to disturb, but its thematic complexity I haven't seen from a mile away. It's one of those films that you're going to watch for the first time out of curiosity but for the second strictly for cathartic clarity.

"Donnie Darko" is a deceptive film that, in initial impression, asks for nothing but your senses, making you think that it's merely one of those typical psychological thrillers, but then catches you off-guard with its beautiful convolutions and blasts your senses and your bedazzled mind away. It is a difficult watch, mind you folks, but not in the sense of how epic period films are. It's difficult in a way how reading a complex literary gem is: intellectually frustrating, even discouraging in the beginning, but is ultimately rewarding.

Description-wise, it's quite challenging to state what this film is all about in a one paragraph, five-sentence synopsis. But seeing it fit to combine various films to create an impression of what the film might look and feel like for braver souls who may want to give it a go, then this is how I see it. It's like a cross between Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" and Sofia Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides", with Brian De Palma's "Carrie" and even Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" dually sneaking somewhere in a dark corner to provide the dream-like scares. That and some heavy-handed concepts of time travel.

Set in an 80's American suburbia, it's a bit of a stretch for the film to have etched some fantastical science deeply into itself. But with what I've said earlier, seeing that the film's true motive, at least from how I see it, is to give its characters dramatic pay-offs that are wholly unique (producing a sense of emotional catharsis out of the idea of portals and vortexes) in terms of how they were built up more than to depict an adolescent schizoid's mad internal world, it has nonetheless made the film's distinct mood shifts and tonal overlaps seem justified.

Jake Gyllenhaal, now a very fine actor of considerable fame, can be proud to call "Donnie Darko" as his great coming-out party, but the same can also be said regarding how Richard Kelly and company felt about Gyllenhaal's performance. Seething with deranged half-smiles and enigmatic behavioral patterns, it can easily be surmised that his Donnie Darko, a teenager with distorted visions of an impending oblivion and an evil-looking, six-foot tall rabbit, is one murderous freak. But on the other hand, with his acting talents winded to the fullest, Gyllenhaal was also able to merge those with childish tenderness and youthful naivete. With that, what came out is a character that may externally be judged upon as a doomed nightmare incarnate but is, after all, still entirely human.

One may regularly see people dressed as Donnie Darko on certain Halloween parties but I think he's not meant to be seen like that. "Donnie Darko" is a film that agreeably shows the dangers of psychological distortions but does not focus on its negative consequences but on how it affects lives in ways both unexpected and unseen, either good or bad. For some, with this kind of character treatment, it's an opportunity to yet again exploit give-away murders and bloody mayhem that may even breed dreadful sequels, as it is even quite fitting to see the title "Donnie Darko 2" dwell in movie marquees, complete with cheesy taglines that border on the desperate, but I'll just stop right there.

The film may or may not have provided all the answers regarding its hidden truths, but nevertheless, "Donnie Darko", with its conceptual complexity that deservedly inspires an intellectually stimulating post-viewing discussion or two, has awaken my ever-analytic sensibilities and my urgent need to understand. It is a film that achieves to simulate the sensation of reading an intriguing little book without trying very hard to do so. The film, for the magnitude of its ambition, can easily be branded as nothing but extreme cinematic pretense on Richard Kelly's part, but what it surely can't be accused of is cowardice of vision. A true modern classic, I believe.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)

Above image: What movie stunts are all about.

The "Mission: Impossible" film franchise never really had any major missteps. In fact, all previous films are solid ones in their very own right regardless of how they were received by critics. But then there are always these particular flaws that may have never really affected the quality of the installments but nonetheless still left obvious holes in terms of execution. Brian De Palma's extreme complexity in the first film: an aspect that is very difficult to overlook let alone comprehend. And then there's John Woo's fetish for cool-looking, slow-motion action sequences (and those pigeons) in the second film which, more or less, beautified the film but seemingly favored pure stylish brawns over brains. Then finally, J.J. Abrams created the third installment, mixing just the right amounts of blockbuster spectacle and simplicity, but with the latter making the finale seems rather anti-climactic and stale.

Now we're into the fourth film in the franchise. It's the first film in the series that has a subtitle, and you must admit that 'Ghost Protocol' sounds rather pleasing. It's also the film in the series with arguably the hardest mission for the IMF yet (trying to stop a nuclear war), not even mentioning the fact that they must accomplish it as a rogue squad branded as fugitive terrorists. And most significantly, it is, I think, the first Mission: Impossible film that has flawlessly excelled both in storytelling and thrills, and also featured the most ideal incarnation of Ethan Hunt.

Maybe it is how Tom Cruise shows his maturity both in character and in looks, maybe it's Hunt's 'been through so much' game face nature or maybe because his status as an action hero skyrocketed because of his larger-than-life mission in this film. Wherever you look at it or whatever you choose among those aforementioned reasons for his forward march towards character transcendence and true iconic ascendance in the hierarchy of action heroes, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol", with its purity of intrigue and globe-trotting peril, complemented Tom Cruise's arguably most well-known film role in a manner that admittedly neither you nor I have anticipated or expected.

In strict confession, I never thought that "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" will even be a worthwhile watch as it looked, as the first trailers were released, nothing but a retirement tour of sorts for our ever so skillful and intelligent agent Hunt. And to add more to my initial skepticism, although Brad Bird is an Oscar-winning director, I really can't see him, a man who has directed heart-warming animated films after another, with one of them being about a gourmet rat, to helm such a frenetically-paced action movie.

Surprisingly, he has delivered a truly and thoroughly solid action movie that is relentless in its innovative action set pieces (the opening Russian prison brawl and the sandstorm-plagued car chase, among others) and imaginative in its new IMF devices, such as the retina-identifying hologram-like projector and the remote-controlled magnetic floater or whatever those things are called. Oh and there's also this little stunt involving Cruise's Ethan Hunt, some technologically-enhanced sticky gloves, and a tall-ass building.

However exciting the climactic sequences situated in Mumbai may be, it's this skyscraper-navigating mega stunt set in Dubai that will certainly be this film's flag-carrying image, just like how every previous installments had their own. In part 1, we have Ethan Hunt, with arms outstretched and body hanging in mid-air, infiltrating a secured CIA facility with a thin rope in his waist. In part 2, we have the black-clad, shades-wearing Hunt riding a bullet-evading motorcycle. In part 3, we have him sliding and jumping a tower somewhere in Shanghai.

But the more I think of the sick building stunt here in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol", the more I think that it is indeed not just this film's highlight, but of the movie franchise's as a whole. It is indeed a most proud moment for the action genre.

While Simon Pegg's humorous on-screen skills is a given, it's a surprise to see Jeremy Renner, known for playing hardened characters such as the war-addicted bomb expert in "The Hurt Locker" and the lethal bank robber in "The Town", stretching some comic muscles and building a great relational chemistry with Pegg, Cruise, and the smokin' Paula Patton; a true revelation to me considering that the trailers suggest that his character in the film, an ally of Ethan Hunt, may or may not be what he seems to be.

But indeed another surprise is Michael Nyqvist of the "Millennium Trilogy" fame. An actor which I came to admire as a heroic journalist in the form of his character Mikael Blomkvist in the said trilogy, he is a breath of fresh air as the film's sublime chief villain, a bold yet risky character choice that has given the film a bold benefit, considering that most popcorn blockbusters prefer a more outspoken and often theatrical antagonist.

When all is said and done, the "Mission: Impossible" series, with what "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" has done to give it a forceful upward pull, may have solidified its position up there as one of the most enjoyable action franchises of all time with enough tricks in its sleeves to immerse us in a world of covert agents, dangerous adventures and complex missions, while at the same time indulging itself in a cunning chess match with cinematic timing and delivery. Light the match and play the film's musical score in your head over and over again, get pumped up or maybe buckle up, let the clichéd testosterone-filled statements flow, this is a genuine blockbuster treat, and it's quite adamant that you accept it.


Monday, December 19, 2011

X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn)


Because of the dismal "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", I never really looked forward to watch "X-Men: First Class" mainly because of a premature thought that if even the iconic Wolverine can't seem to bring the film franchise into places other than 'Mediocrity Avenue', what more a bunch of barely adolescent mutants? I saw the film's stills showing them young lads wearing yellow-colored battle gears of some sort and wasn't particularly impressed. I found out about how Wolverine isn't even included in the mix and was immediately sensing doom. But then I saw that Matthew Vaughn, the director of the underrated gem "Layer Cake" and "Stardust" (not to mention "Kick-Ass", which I consider a bit overrated and oh so over-the-top but still quite decent) will direct it, that wonderful actors James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender will headline it, and I was intrigued. I read about how "X-Men: First Class" would tackle the 'secret ' history of the Cold War and I was slightly elated.

But still, I haven't seen it in theaters for no particular reason other than the fact that my anticipation towards it wasn't really that high like that of a devoted fanboy or a pumped-up viewer. After watching the film, considering that I'm not even a fan of the previous films or a compulsive reader of the comic books, which of course suggests my slight indifference towards the "X-Men" universe in general, I still immediately thought that it is indeed one of the best superhero films that I have ever seen. Color me surprised.

Was it the actors, the story or the execution? I think that these three have indeed contributed to the overall experience, especially McAvoy and Fassbender's great and seemingly effortless portrayals of Charles Xavier a.k.a. Professor X and Erik Lensherr a.k.a. Magneto respectively, who both equaled and, at times, even fully surpassed the standards set by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen's performances in the earlier "X-Men" film incarnations. Although on a slightly negative note, I thought that Kevin Bacon's character Sebastian Shaw is too exaggeratedly maniacal considering that the film's core premise is more or less still particularly grounded in reality, or to be even more specific, in history. And really, I just can't imagine anyone else other than Magneto wearing that telepath-blocking, Greek warrior-like helmet.

Aside from the semi-tragic regression of Professor X and Magneto's relationship from best friends into eternal foes which is the film's real highlight, "X-Men: First Class"' other real star is the very scope of the narrative. Never have I seen a popcorn superhero movie, aside from "Watchmen" maybe (though I can't consider that to be a popcorn film), that has bravely tackled a quiet yet extremely turbulent part of our history which is the Cold War, or even more specifically, the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is the closest the world has gotten to a full-blown nuclear war, and was also able to create excellent, special effects-laden action set pieces out of it.

And what's more impressive with "X-Men: First Class" is that it even squeezed an engaging and entertaining story out of such a politically-charged military affair without feeling forced or distracting, execution-wise. Hell, Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor's" love triangle story arc feels even much more contrived when compared to this, which really proves the strength of this film's screenplay.

And considering that it's about mutants and nuclear war, and especially the fact that "X-Men: First Class" basically belongs in the superhero genre, a category which we all know to have been following a flawed storytelling dogma ever since Superman messed with the idea of dual identity and Lex Luthor with megalomaniacal villainy, sure, the film has all the energy and visual force prevalent in a typical superhero feature, but more importantly, it also has enough threads of reality to counter an otherwise chaotic CGI fest with filmic sobriety.

With a story and presentation neatly balancing its tone to appeal to everyone, from the typical blockbuster suckers to the more nitpicking purists who want source material faithfulness more than anything else up to the history buffs who appreciate a parallel reality once in a while, "X-Men: First Class" is both substance and style, power and grace, a film that teeters between 'rage' and 'serenity'; a rare feat for a film categorized in a genre where it's perfectly fine, or sometimes even compulsory, to neglect the first and wallow in the latter.

This film may not be like "Watchmen" in terms of thematic depth and quasi-philosophical take regarding the superhero mythos and the end of days, but "X-Men: First Class" delivered what it needed to in ways that are extremely satisfying, truly exciting and even thought-provoking: As a commercial and critical sleeper hit that gives a fast-waning superhero movie franchise a much-needed jolt of life, as a picture-perfect origin story that sets the bar high for other cinematic prequels, and as an allegorical exploration of discriminatory hate. This is the most definitive "X-Men" film yet.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

Father and son.

By immediate definition, "The Tree of Life" cannot really be considered as a film based on its lack of narrative, plenty of randomly befuddling visual spectacles and little to no dialogue. I think it's much apt to categorize the film strictly as a motion picture poetry piece whose reason for existence is not to be merely watched but to be experienced. "The Tree of Life" is pure esoteric cinema; a film that does not require narrative comprehension but emotional and psychological involvement. It explores life both in its simplicity down to its complex conception. It visually articulates both the world's creation and the very landscapes of the soul.

Given that "The Tree of Life" is a difficult watch much in the same way Gaspar Noe's "Enter the Void" is, it is a film conscious of its own awe-inspiring beauty and is also a strong meditative piece with enough sorrow and despair as it has hope and deliverance.

One of the things that I liked most about this film is how it has purely prioritized its metaphysical nature while at the same time gearing away from the A-list presence of both Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. For some, it's a perfect time to capitalize on these two actors' fame, but director Terrence Malick never did. Numerous times, there are even scenes where Pitt and Penn were shot from the neck down or over the shoulder. For Malick, at least from what I see, his vision is the film's real star, and considering the magnitude of what he's ambitiously trying to depict here in "The Tree of Life", everyone and everything must take the backseat.

But then, although the film will certainly be remembered as a deep-treading and almost psychedelic visionary work, it is finely balanced by a simple family drama in its middle part, with child actor Hunter McCracken delivering a beautifully realized performance as the Young Jack (Sean Penn's character), Jessica Chastain as the joyful, loving but vulnerable mother Mrs. O'Brien, and of course Brad Pitt in a surprisingly subtle turn as the father, Mr. O'Brien.

For some suckers for psychedelic visuals, a trait that was brilliantly displayed by the film in the beginning (with its "Discovery Channel-esque" visual representation of dinosaurs and some hammerhead sharks), they may think that the slightly plodding little drama inserted in the middle was there just to form a sense of dramatic coherence. I, for one, loved the middle part, but fleshing out such a segment then jumping back into the surrealistic, mind-numbing journey of metaphysical proportions later on may have cost the film some tonal consistency.

As the film returns to its phantasmagorical netherworld with whispering voices echoing some questions of existence, "The Tree of Life", instead of purely having the free-flowing feel of poetic filmmaking, has embraced a more patterned approach (Surreal visuals in the beginning, drama in the middle, surreal visuals yet again in the end), which resulted with the film having to separate its imagery into two fragmentary parts.

There really is no doubt regarding Terrence Malick's elegant audacity as a filmmaker, but "The Tree of Life", although a powerful film that holds within its hands an unhindered vision, is slightly inhibited in its otherwise successful attempt at cinematic bravery.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Carnage (Roman Polanski)

A most impressive cast.

"Why can't they leave?" Luis Bunuel asked Gil Pender in Woody Allen's fantastical "Midnight in Paris" after the latter pitched the former a film idea (that is to say, the plot basics of "The Exterminating Angel"). "They just can't," Gil answered. Such is also the case for Roman Polanski's protagonists in "Carnage", a film based on the Tony award-winning play "God of Carnage", written by Yasmina Reza.

If the bourgeoisie characters in "The Exterminating Angel" can't seem to find a way to leave a lavish dinner party, "Carnage's" characters can't seem to break a cordial meeting (they decided to hold such because of their respective kids' earlier altercation in a park) because of, well, some cobblers, coffee, and just the right amount of angst and mutual disgust.

Watching the film with a certain consciousness of the performers involved, I can't help but feel a larger-than-life thump somewhere within me that reminds me of something akin to a beautiful heart-ache. John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet. 4 Oscars and 8 nominations combined. As a film lover, if the mere idea of those names and these numbers joining forces for a film project is not enough to put you into a state of bliss, then I'm afraid nothing will.

Although in essence almost the same with Mike Nichols' "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in its approach on situational degradation, only this time armed with parental sensibilities, "Carnage" is tightly humorous and uniquely energetic in all its hard-edged argumentative glory that these actually evoke a certain charm that can only be attributed to this film alone.

The cool but sharp-tongued Alan (Waltz), a lawyer whose intent to actually join in onto the whole conversational fiasco is constantly failing because of the repeated rings of his cellular phone. And then there's his wife, Nancy (Winslet), an elegant woman in her mid-thirties whose collected exterior is not enough to fend off the power of Scotch and nausea.

While on the other side, there's Michael (Reilly), your typical American husband who is, as what his wife claimed him to be, seemingly contented with living a life of mediocrity. And lastly, Penelope (Foster), Michael's wife, a writer who feels the plight of people in Africa (Darfur, specifically) but can't seem to feel the plight of her own lack of emotional control.

These four parents, after they have initially welcomed each other and ate cobblers together like fine, civilized folks, gradually transform into all-out verbal warriors one moment, pathetic criers the next. With wide-reaching topics in the tip of their tongues such as the "John Wayne" concept of manhood, the superficiality of writers, and, well, some hamsters, "Carnage", aside from being a study of contemporary parental thinking, is a teeth-gnashing, word-jousting, vomit-inducing (quite literally) little confessional of a film with just enough unraveling tirades that finely express the film's honest-to-goodness take on the oftentimes childish vulnerability of adult life.

Roman Polanski, after directing the more than impressive "The Ghost Writer", a thriller that is also a borderline adventure film, chose to direct a small, enclosed and set-limited film with only his actors and actresses to create wonders with. Fortunately for the exalted exile, his actors are immediately wonderful all on their own, with a powerful material working greatly to his advantage. What came out is a film that is a bit too standard in its technicalities, but one, just like other stage-to-film adaptations, that is relentless in its verbal athletics, poignant in its emotions and purely articulate in its entirety.


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