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Furious Seven (2015)
One of the best action films in years and a love letter to fans of the franchise all rolled into one.
This is embarrassing to admit, but I spent more time deciding what star rating to give Furious 7 than I did actually critiquing it. Because for the first time ever, the part of me that pretentiously seeks perfection, the adolescent part of me that revels in heart- stopping action, and the car-loving part of me that is woven into the very fabric of my being all nodded in agreement at the same movie. I didn't know what to make of what I had seen. I quickly cycled through my previous reviews for a frame of reference. 6 stars? Easily better than that. 7? Yes better than Grave of the Fireflies and Heat. 8 stars? Up there with Judgment at Nuremberg and There Will Be Blood? There we go. Any higher and we'd be talking about Come and See and Social Network, and I can't do that. 8 Stars. Not bad for an entry into a series that couldn't give less of a you- know-what about how it compares with anything.
So to the film at hand; The longest entry into the Fast and Furious franchise, 7 passes the reigns to Saw director James Wan who lends his quick-cut, zoom-in-then-zoom-out, rotating camera work to a script from veteran Furious writer Chris Morgan. Morgan takes a step back here, in the beginning focusing on how our heroes have settled and moved after #6, before introducing us to Jason Statham and delving into the gravity-defying, physics-bending, time-warping absurdity we've come to know and love from this series. Although this time it's on a whole other level to the point I was expecting the Looney Tunes music to cue the next scene.
Cars attached to parachutes jumping out of a plane? 'Cudas with 10 forward gears? S65 AMGs and Rubicons that can appear out of nowhere? Chargers that can survive unscathed after a head-on collision? Apache helicopters and drones that can fly around undetected in the most populated city in the country? But that's what you're here for. Deliriously exciting chase sequences, fights, stunts, crashes, high- octane humor and hilarious gaps in logic. And Furious 7 delivers better than any other film in the franchise. It's an off-the-wall adventure like no other, obscenely, eye-wideningly, face-deformingly awesome. Three words come to mind; F**k. Ing. Hell.
By now you're probably rolling you eyes and accusing me of the kind of melodramatics I slam many a film for, but hear me out; I grew up with this franchise. Starting out as a naive 9 year old gearhead who was swept away by the coolness of the first installment, and maturing into a more technically informed teenager who began to enjoy the films ironically, and concluding as a full grown 20- something who went to the films seeking my relentlessly action- packed nostalgia fix. I have vivid memories of where I was and who I was with when I watched each movie. There are people I don't talk to anymore and haven't seen in years who are a part of memories that I will cherish forever. When the credits rolled, I felt a chapter in my life close, and as I stepped out of the theatre and into the sunset, I looked around a familiar world with a different perspective. And with the perfect send off of Paul Walker at the end, I found myself more swept away with emotion than any brilliantly written character-driven drama could possibly muster. I can't believe I'm saying this in a review of a Fast and Furious movie, but these are the kinds of experiences cinema was born for.
The Judge (2014)
The most average movie I've ever seen
The Judge is the tale of Hotshot defense lawyer Hank Palmer (Iron Man) who has shut out his family and hometown from his life is then dragged back after the death of his mother. After paying his respects, and clashing with his family, especially his emotionally distance father, a judge (Robert Duvall), Hank high-tails it out of there. Only to be dragged BACK in when his father (accidently?) hits a kills a local trailer-trash scumbag. What really happened that night seems fuzzy, and Hanks defense is exactly what his father needs, but will they overcome their differences in time for court?
The Judge tries too hard to be both dramatic and light-hearted. Robert Downey Jr.'s sarcastic, fast-talking', too-smart-for-his-own- good character is a synthesis of every post-drug rehab role he's ever played. Which adds some welcome hilarity to the story, but every joke, every punch line comes at the worst time possible; either in the midst of a dramatic scene, or just after it, corrupting The Judge with a jumpiness that disconnects you from the film. And despite the bloated runtime, the script isn't as dense as it should have been, and wastes time on useless tangents that are either ham-fisted in their delivery, or contribute nothing to the crux of the story.
That said, production quality in the Judge is high. The photography is exceptional, much of the beauty coming from to the scenic town of Jackson, Indiana, but also Janusz Kaminski's utilization of contrasting colors and earth tones. Even Dobkin's overuse of lens flaring works to some degree. Pity, then that the script is as jagged and inconstant as the scenery is captivating. But despite the scripts inconsistent and spastic nature, occasionally it lingers on Robert Duvall long enough for him to show us how a legend does his thing. The rest of the cast does a decent enough job, but their underdeveloped characters and the darty script never give them a chance to fully flex their talent.
The Judge is the most average movie I've ever seen; a good concept poorly executed, a film with a good message that tries to be too many things. It's heart is in the right place and it has a strong moral center, but it's let down by a lack of effort from those behind the camera. So the dictum goes, "if you try to please everybody, you'll end up pleasing nobody. The Judge will have its 5 seconds of fame during its time in theatres, then it will be forgotten, revived only years from now when it graces lists of films that are good, but you've never seen. Take that as you will.
Gone Girl (2014)
A heartwarming romance for the whole family!
Never have I been badgered so hard to read a book in my life. It's amusing how bookworms crawl out of the woodwork when a film adaptation of their beloved book comes out, defending the art of reading as if film is the enemy. And to be honest, I think most of them are full of hot air. And they miss the point. Comparing a film to a book is like comparing a yacht to a private plane; Sure the literal purpose and end result are the same, but the means and the experience between Point A and Point B are built to appeal to different tastes. Besides, if you compare the two you'll end up faulting the yacht for its inability to fly....
Of course, it helps that Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl adapted by the novelist herself, making it mostly true to the book. Gone Girl is the dark, twisty, neo-noir tale of a suburban man Nick Dunne (Gigli's Ben Affleck) who is thrust into the spotlight after his beautiful wife Amy (ex-bond girl Rosamund Pike) disappears one day. It's cut-and-dry murder mystery stuff until suspicious clues are discovered, hinting Nick may be the guilty party. And his less than normal antics in the wake of his wife's disappearance don't help either. Did he do it? What happened to her?
More on Flynn's script and story later. Fincher is in his element here. And if you don't know what that means, it means Gone Girl is a perfectly cast (yes, even Tyler Perry and Barney Stinson), darkly toned, sharply spoken, agonizingly suspenseful foray into the scum of white-collar America. The performance from the cast is phenomenal, everyone in front of the camera absolutely nailing it, especially Rosamund Pike and Carrie Coon. The camera-work is vintage Fincher; he keeps things up close and personal, giving us a choking feeling of intimacy with the depraved story. With a lack of wide- angle shots, Fincher uses quick, calculated camera cuts to point your attention exactly where it needs to be. A lingering mind is not an option here.
Taken at surface value, it can seem like a Godsend to have the screenplay for a film written by the author of the novel the film will be based on. Yet it's gone wrong more times than not, because it is extraordinarily difficult to jump between storytelling mediums, regardless of your talent in either one of them. But Gillian Flynn's adaption of her own novel is the best screenplay-by- the-author I've witnessed. It's suitably dark, intriguing, ambiguous and witty, but it still isn't the best it could have been. It lacks flow, instead of the seamless buildup of suspense it was capable of. Gone Girl has jarring tonal shifts that abruptly up the suspense, and misplaced punch lines sprinkled throughout that snap you out of the trance the story puts you under.
The remainder of my criticism remain so small and nigh-on- insignificant, they pass at pretentious rantings of a wannabe film critic with deluded with the hollow satisfaction of smearing an otherwise incredible film. But I can assure you my size 10.5s remain firmly on the ground. Gone Girl does not have the gut-wrenching heft, or hyper-concentrated precision of best thrillers of its kind. In fact, especially when compared against Fincher's other work, Gone Girl gives off a mainstream vibe that is slightly off-putting. A vibe that gets more apparent after the mid-film climax. And, while 90-95% of the film has Fincher's discernible directing style and feel, there are moments where Gone Girl looses it's way and feels generic. Again, I'm nitpicking here.
Gone Girl is a brilliant, twisted masterpiece of a film. Flynn's script exploits your threshold of what you're willing to put yourself through, drags you through hell, and still doesn't make you regret taking the tour. In fact it's so amazing I needed two paragraphs just to explain what keeps it from perfection. Such is the quality of films in the league Gone Girl is in that perfection is the benchmark. Gone Girl is an achievement in cohesive filmmaking, once again proving what makes a film immortal is not a standalone feature, but when every element of filmmaking rises in unison to the same level of brilliance. Fincher, you son of a bitch, you've done it again.
It could have been 12 hours long and kept me hooked
I was nervous going in because I wanted Boyhood to be good. In fact, I wanted it to be spectacular. I've been a fan of Richard Linklater's career since I watched Before Sunrise (a viewing of Before Sunset quickly followed) back in 2010. His ability to capture an experience, a culture, a generation, and a life and translate it into film in such a way that is utterly beguiling, yet doesn't feel manipulated is staggering to watch. News of Boyhood reached me around this time last year, and before I knew much about it, I was hooked. A film from Richard Linklater about a young man growing up around the same time I did? And 12 years of filming were dedicated? It was going to be spectacular. So much for nothing in life being certain.
Allow me, if you will, to avoid the part where I colorfully unpeel Boyhood's dynamics, hinting along the way how well it fairs against everything I've seen. IT. IS. UNBELIEVABLE. The script, the execution, the profoundness, and seamless integration of time are nothing short of astonishing. Subdued in nature as it may be, Boyhood is a vivid, captivating, all-consuming assault on the senses. Not only that, there is a deep seated quality to everything it does. And the viewer is absolutely at the core of the experience. Each element has been created and tuned to allow you to express yourself anyway you wish. And that amazing focus has produced a breathtaking film.
From a technical standpoint, it's everything I've come to expect from Linklater, only finished to a higher standard. Boyhood is a film about life. The script has no rising action, climax, or falling action. There is no plot driven by a narrative driven by a goal. Nothing feels manipulated. Linklater's directing is level-headed and controlled, with quick cuts to whoever is talking and a lack of camera motion for a truly first-person omniscient feel. You are observing, but not fully knowing. And the cinematography... was there even a cinematographer? Boyhood's sets look so painfully boring because everything looks so natural, the background fades and allows 100% of your focus to be on the characters.
Despite a silent car ride home and very much conducive analysis, my brain is STILL buffering from the mind-blowing quality of it all. I wonder how I will view my words when this high subsides. My final scattered thought is this; The best moments in film are when it comes across something; a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things that you'd thought was special and particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you've never met. And it's as if a hand has come out and taken yours. That is what Richard Linklater has done. Boyhood is a great film. More importantly it's a great film from Richard Linklater. Maybe even the greatest. and his career is here to stay.
Cold in July (2014)
Dirty, seedy, pulpy, campy.... Awesome!
This dirty little piece of Texas pulp rides the fine line of art of trash with brilliant composure as its dark script teases you with how far it'll go. The seed is planted when an everyman kills an intruder in his home, and the story spins wildly out of control from there. The story moves forward at a brisk pace and never looks back. Sure that means there are as many holes as there are unanswered questions, but such is the case with pulp. You gotta live in the now, man. In the end, I'm still not sure how to process what I've seen, and I've gained no further insight or knowledge about myself, the world, or humanity. And I wouldn't have it any other way
Exceptionally good at many things, superb at nothing
Critics and wannabe critics alike really lashed into this one. And I guess I have them to thank for me liking (not loving) this movie, as they lowered my standards significantly before I walked into the theater. Like them, my expectations were sky-high. I figured since Wally Pfister has been Christopher Nolan's cinematographer since 2000's Memento, maybe some sort of slow-release genius-osmosis had taken place, and Transcendence would be a stellar thriller/head- scratcher like we've come to expect from Nolan. Well, the cold hard fact is that it's not. But it sure isn't terrible.
As scientists are on the verge of a new breakthrough in A.I. technology, a rouge terrorist group known as RIFT begins knocking off labs around the country. One of their antics is the assassination, by radioactive poisoning, of scientist Dr. Will Caster. As his body slowly deteriorates, his wife and his partner work frantically work on a way to upload his mind to a computer, thus allowing him to continue his research. And as anyone could've guessed, the plan goes completely to hell.
Transcendence is not excellent, but it's also not the travesty that reviews from people more reputable than me are calling it. The main problem is the script. An excellent script can make you buy into even the most ridiculous of plots, but first-time-writer Jack Paglen's script never finds a constant tone, is unevenly paced, has underdeveloped side plots, and keeps you at arm's length from any connection with the characters and the story. In other words, it doesn't raise up any concerns or ideas we haven't already seen, and the shallowness of the script gives you plenty of time to question the incongruence of the story.
Other than that, Transcendence is pretty good. Pfister's direction is expedient, and he avoids the jumpy camera syndrome that typically plagues these kinds of movies. In fact I was even getting trappings of Chris Nolan's directing style at times (is it just me?). The ensemble performance from the cast is solid. The cast list may look like Nolan's leftovers, but they do an excellent job, and they make better use of the paltry script than I thought possible. Even though Pfister was behind the camera and not the cinematographer, you think he was going to let his baby look mundane? While not as gorgeous as, say Inception, Jess Hall hits it home and makes Transcendence look properly futuristic while still squeezing in some contrasting elements of nature in almost every frame.
Does 6 stars seem too high? I don't think so. In my mind, 10=revolutionary, 9=excellent, 8=very good, 7=pretty good and 6=jusk OK. An airtight script that rises up to the challenge was all that was needed to make Transcendence truly, um, transcendent. But it doesn't, and the lackluster script affects every other technical aspect of this film like a virus, and makes Transcendence a pretty- to-look-at popcorn movie. I know this is Wally Pfister's first time in the director's chair, but I still feel he was capable of making a film more nuanced than this.
Serbuan Maut 2: Berandal (2014)
4 times the budget, 10 times the movie!
It may come as a surprise to many of you, but I do a plethora of research on a film before I commit 2 hours (or 3) to a film. One of the many benefits this has is it presets my mentality of what to expect, which clears my mind and allows for a truly distilled viewing experience. It's an awesome high, and one that lasts. But once in a while, despite my fervent research, a film will take me completely by surprise and leave me speechless.
Perhaps I let my guard down due to preconceived notions I got from The Raid. And man, oh man was I taken aback. Raid 2 is a completely different film from The Raid. Gareth Evans took 4 times the budget of The Raid and made a film that is 10 times the better. The Raid is a nil- budget, decrepit looking film that takes place in a single set, featuring a campy script and non-stop action., The Raid 2 expands its focus, and adds an immensely rich and intricate storyline. As well some brutally beautiful neon-drenched cinematography, and an indie-style you- are-really-there directing style that puts you right where you need to be.
The Raid 2's focus on storyline is evident by its 150 minute runtime. As our hero comes to grips that the consequences of the ass-kicking he did in the first movie has put his family at risk, he reluctantly goes undercover to take down the local kingpin families that control the scum of Indonesia. The script is brilliant, and there is a real sense the story came first, and the fight scenes were cohesively integrated in. The narrative is sublime and is purely reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick. You heard me. You aren't spoon- fed the story; you read it in the faces of the actors, and in the dialogue that is spoke. It's bizarre to witness this level of quality in this kind of film. If you enjoy getting to know a film and understanding how best to interpret it, you'll find there's much more to The Raid 2 than it's balls-out action scenes.
So let's get down to it, how's the action? Compared to other martial arts films, quantity of fight scenes are few and far between. But when they come, BAM! The world blurs and your head swims as everything seems to arrive in one massive hit. It's a sustained hit too, one that keeps you pinned to your seat, blood drained from your extremities, breath held and pulse racing. The choreography is beyond anything I've ever seen, and as the script progresses and the action gets crazier, you are treated to the most extraordinary sense of otherworldly forward motion, as if you're being fired through the story by an invisible catapult.
I am in literal awe of this movie. It's combination of Refn-like cinematography and Kubrick-like narrative adds a level of originality and quality that takes The Raid 2 to an unprecedented level of brilliance. The deep script makes it a cerebral process, but one spiced with perspiration and adrenalin. From beginning to end The Raid 2 is awesome with a capital F. The Raid 2 will change the world. Alright, that's a slight exaggeration. But it certainly changed mine. To be honest, I never thought I wanted or needed a film that mixed such artisan qualities with martial arts, but now that I've watched The Raid 2, I don't think things will ever be the same...
A brilliant, creative, slow-burner of a horror movie sandwiched between a lackluster opener and predicable ending
A while ago I reluctantly accepted that we will probably never see a truly groundbreaking horror movie again. A film that is both truly cinematic and gut-wrenchingly horrifying. Hollywood has just become to commercialized, too calculated, and to conveyor belt-like in its approach to horror. Everything is summer blockbuster, Oscar season, and the crap that comes out January-March. Horror has become a get-rich- quick investment for producers. Invest small, obtain profit 10-fold.
But once in a while, a horror film gives us a glimmer of hope. Not redemption, but a little window of light from someone who almost gets it. And the skunkworks group from the Saw-Insidious-The Conjuring clan are to thank for that. They're latest work, Oculus, is the story of a brother and sister who obtain a mirror from their childhood that (they think) was responsible for the possession and murder of their parents. They rig their childhood home with cameras and lights, and wait for the proof that the mirror is possessed to get captured on camera.
Oculus is properly scary and, once you get past the awkward first 20 minutes, has a wonderfully progressive nature to it. Too many "horror" film nowadays deliver an uneven stream of gut-punches in the form of BOOM scares and disfigured faces. Oculus relies on an unsettling tonality, and a quantum state of uncertainty, making it a much more effective scare. The colors and set design is vintage Gothic horror, and the majority of the film is flashback driven which is was a very creative storytelling method and integrates perfectly with the story. And there's a scene or two that were so intense, I was making noises like I was lowering myself into scalding water, and fighting the intrinsic urge to turn my head.
My frustrations are centered on the beginning and the end. The first 20 minutes of the film, which set the story in place, is the only part of Oculus that takes place outside the house. It feels tacked on, ham-fisted in its delivery and lacks narrative, especially against the rest of the film. And given the flashback-heavy story, I believe the setting of the story could've been built into the flashbacks, strengthing the narrative and setting the whole film inside the house, which would make the film feel terrifyingly claustrophobic. And about the ending... It's just clichéd, predicable, abrupt and leaves too many questions unanswered.
Oculus isn't the last word in horror or quality, but it's scary as hell and it does what so few horror films do nowadays; it dissolves the world around you and makes you buy into a ridiculous story. The weak narrative gets a little long in the tooth around the third act, and I was left wondering if the script was ever going to reveal anything worth discovering. And ultimately it doesn't. Much like the never-ending winter we've had, we've had so many lackluster horror films lately, that when an average film comes along it feels like a gift.
From both a religious and cinematic perspective, Noah is a failure
Am I compromised? Is this review tainted because I'm a Catholic cinephile? If you've seen my star rating than you probably figured you can rule that out. I was excited, A film from Darren Aronofsky is an event for me akin to the Olympics. That is, many years pass between his films, and when they arrive, they're freaking awesome.
Within the first few minutes, all my pent-up affection leaked away. Despite Noah's fervent source material (and that's as religious as I'll get in this review, pipe down) the narrative is extraordinarily weak, and the plot feels empty, despite the 138 minute runtime. The acting is terrible, especially from Emma Watson. (it's time we stop considering her an actress and call her what she is; a model) Even the brilliant Jennifer Connelly uncomfortably shifts between hammy underacting and cringe-inducing overacting. There is no progression or cohesiveness, Noah is corrupted by a jumpiness that completely disconnects you from the film. And it uses it's largely, if 100%, CGI landscape as a crutch instead of a supplement.
But the real kicker, the REAL kicker, is that there is no evidence Darren Aronofsky had any part in this film. His trademark deep darkness isn't there, his infinitely interpretable script isn't there, and his quick-cut, close-up camera isn't there. You could've told me f*****g Brett Ratner directed this and I would've believed you.
It probably would've been more efficient for me to layout this review with bullet points. Noah's whole ethos counters what I stand for. It's the sort of blinged up executive express that takes a brilliant story in vain, and tries to pass as profound. I have nothing but contempt for this movie.
Oh yeah, that's how you entertain!
"Marvel's Best!", "Epic!", "Better than The Avengers!" There's no doubt the ad execs were having a ball with this one. Marvel's been on a roll lately. They seem to have found a groove within the perfect balance of pandemonium-infused action, literal laugh out loud humor, and the perfect pinch of campiness. And now they're on cruise control. Normally I fault studios hard for complacency, especially when the motive is profit. But if in return the people get pure 100% entertainment, why should I complain?
Not a bad lead in if I do say so myself. Enter Captain America; The Winter Soldier. Directed by the dudes from Arrested Development and Community, and written by the dude from the Narnia movies. Yeah. But the usual suspects are in front of the camera, at least. With a couple of pristine new faces, and Robert Redford's half-melted Ken Doll face. Any way, after a hostage situation on a S.H.I.E.L.D. cargo ship is diffused by our hero, a series of events are set in place that lead the to questioning of sides on everyone Captain America holds in the highest regard. And *spoiler alert* the world will need saving.
I should rewind. At this point you're probably scrolling back up make sure you read my star rating correctly. Now you're probably feeling confused. Captain America is not better than The Avengers, or even equal. Captain America follows the same exact formula as The Avengers, but it ticks the excitement factor from a 10, to about an 8. Joss Whedon's steady camera is greatly missed, especially in the action sequences, where the camera jumps and jives and makes your head spin. The acting at best is merely expedient, which isn't a big deal in these kinds of movies, but occasionally the script takes a breather and gets deep. Which I love, but Evans and Johannson aren't quite up to snuff to pull it off. But there's no doubt the biggest surprise of this film is their chemistry. Where did that come from?
So why a four star rating given these sacrilegious defilements on these pillars of filmmaking? Because unbridled entertainment is a virtue that defies any kind of reason. And it's a virtue that Captain America; The Winter Soldier has in spades. It's a mind warping experience, and if my parched mouth and pounding hear are anything to go by, it's proof that when it comes to delivering good old fashioned fun, this film is right up there with the best. Sure it's devoid of cohesion, but it's so simple and uncomplicated that your attention is immediately focused on enjoying yourself.
To summarize, Captain America; The Winter Soldier is a film so entertaining, so full of attitude, that I feel like a buzzkill just for critiquing it. It isn't better, or even as good as, The Avengers, but it's a close second. And that is praise indeed. Marvel seems to be churning out awesome films like this without any apparent effort, and while they are laughing all the way to the bank, in the end, we are the winners. And we're left with tingling synapses, elevated heart-rates, and the delusion we could take on anyone who crosses us. Oh and mad brownie points are in store for anyone who saw the reference to Pulp Fiction.
August: Osage County (2013)
Not Excellent. It's Delivery and Tone is Inconstant, but the Acting and Tenacity is Something to Behold
You should always take note when a play becomes a film. The storytelling method is vastly different, and offers and very unique experience; Deep, deep character analysis and long extended take sequences move the story along to an ending that always requires post-credit discussion. Even when the results are good-not-great, as here with August: Osage County, you can't look away until you know how it ends.
August: Osage Country features one of the most dysfunctional families projected on film. (One does hear about a certain family in Texas that likes chainsaws, but let's not split hairs.) Three dysfunctional daughters return with their home after their dysfunctional father dies, and their mentally unstable, depressed, pill-popping dysfunctional mother eggs on unpleasant confrontations and reveals harsh truths.
This is a film that starts out bleak, and gets even bleaker. But that's not to say August is a downer. On the contrary, it's a fascinating character study with venom-laced ideologue that unbearingly peels away the layers, and shocks you with its tenacity. It's fun in a devilish sort of way, and the acting from the ensemble cast so immensely good, you can't help but guiltily enjoy yourself.
My frustrations are centered on the inconsistent tone of the film. August is at times bitingly funny, and at times deeply emotional, but it never quite finds the right balance of the two notions that would have made it a stellar film. The result is an indirect collection of scenes with a rigid feel to them, lacking the cohesive flowing feel it should have had. Were it not for the incredible acting and the deep script, the lack of tonality would've gotten the better of August.
Drawbacks aside, August: Osage County defines what I love about film and the essential, simple joy I get from watching. A well written story that doesn't spoon-feed you information and requires a little analysis is brought to life by amazing performances from an unparalleled cast. Progress these days demands films be developed solely for profit margin, and to demand less from the viewer. So I'm grateful for this film and films like it.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Truly Unique Among the Truly Unique
I'm left in a rather awkward position. Having exhausted my vocabulary of every synonym for "quirky" and "unique" in my review of Wes Anderson's previous film, Moonrise Kingdom, I'm left with the option of reviewing his latest venture as a pastiche of my last review, or use an unsightly amount of hyperbole and hyphens. Or I could try what many have tried and failed; try to use the mere 26 letters of the alphabet to narrow down and capture the conceit and the crux of the appeal of Wes Anderson's movies. Well, challenge accepted.
We've come to expect the unexpected from Wes Anderson, but this film is a departure even for him. What makes this a different film from every other Wes Anderson film is its large helping of heart. Anderson is no doubt one of the greatest artisans in cinema history, and he has a truly freakish ability to create his own world in every film he makes but his films have never been one to strike an emotional chord.
The Grand Budapest's script has an expedient amount of the necessary "Wes Anderson-ness" but for the first time ever, it's eclipsed by a flash-back driven story with an amount of warmth and profoundness I've never seen from Anderson's ramshackle school of quirk. What is typical is the cinematography, colors and mise-en-scene. Classic Wes Anderson. It's the best that I've seen in any film. Each frame is pure, art-deco poetry with a level of calculation I haven't seen since Kubrick. The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the most beautifully shot film I have ever seen.
Before you burn me at the stake for giving The Grand Budapest Hotel 4.5 stars out of 5, let me state my peace. The deep parts of the script are more than welcome, and offer a film that's utterly, utterly original. And that's a brilliant thing. But *deep breath* I would have enjoyed it more if it had been funnier, wittier and not as dark. I hate myself for feeling this way, but even though it's not to my taste, Grand Budapest is still a riot of creative genius that needs words invented for it to describe it.
I've had meaningful screen time with every kind of film ever made. I thought I knew my way around the cinema landscape pretty well, but after watching The Grand Budapest Hotel, I feel a bit lost. And it's a good kind of lost. The kind of lost that opens my mind further to the vast expansiveness of possibilities available in the medium of film, as well as the essential, simple joy I get from watching. Does this praise sound perverse after I bashed the crux of this film in the last paragraph? Perhaps, but only if you attempt to apply a layman's logic to the delightfully contrary world where cinema fairy dust magics flaws into virtues.
Sorry but that's the best I got.
It may be merely a modern revamp of a done-to-death formula, but Frozen is irresistibly smirk-inducing and will charm the pants off you
When Disney is on top of their game, as here with Frozen, no other film can come close. Except for maybe another Disney movie. True to form, Frozen offers some life lessons in the form of metaphors formulated to appear blunt to adults and go over children's heads, for the purpose of discussion with children.
It also cleanses your views on the world, relationships and love, and resets your psyche to a giddy, unbridled optimism. Yet, for the sake of resonating profoundness, Frozen doesn't skimp on the expedient depth and occasional darkness. I was grinning like an idiot throughout most of the film.
To watch Frozen is to be enticed, enthralled and enchanted. To enjoy it is to say you have a heart.
The Counselor (2013)
Glitzy, schmaltzy and turgid. Completely unbecoming of the talent involved
It breaks my heart, and simultaneously infuriates me to report that The Counselor is subpar. And the problem can be narrowed down to one thing; the narrative. Or the lack thereof. The Counselor is written by Cormac McCarthy, a novelist who specializes in leaden stories highlighting the corruption of humans, and who rose to fame as the author of No Country for Old Men. Although untested as a screenwriter, McCarthy as a screenwriter just seemed to gel as an idea. Herein lies the problem; McCarthy does not alter his method of writing and The Counselor's screenplay is delivered akin to a novel. The result is a film completely devoid of a narrative, meaning the story an background of the characters is non-existent.
The result is a collection of scenes happening in some sort of ham- fisted, incoherent jumble, and the characters in the movie just react to their surroundings. There is both a lack of description in the attempted story and a disquieting air of self-satisfaction that permeates throughout the film. Ridley Scott's effort to woo you with pseudo- prophetic dialogue and kitsch is downright insulting, and completely unbecoming of the director of Blade Runner and Alien. (Two of the greatest films of all time.) In other words, Counselor neither as incisive nor as blunt as it could have been.
On the flip side, I can't think of a better vehicle to prove that film is an art. On paper, The Counselor has everything going for it; the cast, the director, screenwriter. And yet, the result is a failure Film, like anything that can be considered art, is the collaborative effort of a collective idea. The Counselor is a jumbled mess that tries to be everything, and ends up being nothing. What a waste of talent.
Captain Phillips (2013)
A high quality biopic that lacks innovation
Biopics are an interesting little sub-genre in filmmaking. The flow of real life events rarely, if ever, follows the typical story flow of rising action, climax then falling action. This puts the screen writer on a tight leash as they balance the scale of manipulating reality for the sake of cinema, while still remaining true to the source material. The line between immortality and failure is minute, here. Hit it right, and you have Social Network, get it wrong and you have Patch Adams. Where does Captain Phillips fall? Let's explore.
Captain Phillips is a story most of us should recollect; in 2009, the MV Maersk Alabama was hijacked off the coast of Somali by pirates. Tom Hanks (with a excellent performance) stars as the titular captain of the ship who takes the reins of the situation, keeping the pirates at bay before being tricked into getting in the escape ship, bound for Somalia. The pirates' plan to use Captain Phillips as leverage for a $10 million ransom escalates almost immediately as America, well, gets all 'Merica on the situation.
Now then, Captain Phillips is a straightforward and characterful movie. It's also hugely suspenseful, but hardly groundbreaking. Paul Greengrass effectively delves into the story with a nail-biting sense of you-are- really-there intimacy. His dizzying directing is effective during the more tense scenes, but is distracting and disorienting for the remainder of the film. The screenplay is certainly ambitious in its attempt to show the story from multiple perspectives, but ultimately feels a little too diluted, and makes Captain Phillips a little overlong. I still do not understand Billy Ray's reasoning in showing the background of the pirates.
If Captain Phillips had spent a little more time under the microscope, it could have really been something. Captain Phillips is a perfectly potent, powerful and harrowing, but it's in the third act (once the Navy gets involved) where this film really comes into its own. It's here where I got a feel for what an amazing film this could have been, as the excellent acting, deft directing, snappy editing and banging score all rise in unison to a level a brilliance that you rarely see nowadays.
So Captain Phillips is a perfectly adequate biopic with as many flaws as qualities. If I'm honest I wasn't expecting it be so well put together, but the result is still merely the sum of its parts and doesn't offer anything of remembrance to the world of cinema. I don't recommend this movie unless you already wanted so see it. If that makes any sense.
Shoves you into a bottomless pit of despair and forces you to question your morals.
speechless. That's how I'm rendered after watching Prisoners. Let me explain first that this film is the complete opposite of feel-good cinema, and I do not recommend it to everyone. You are placed at the epicenter of one of the more sickening stories in recent memory and are forced to question your morality, your ethics, and far you would go past them for you loved ones.
Prisoners is unsettling, unnerving, squirm-inducing and twisty. Its script keeps you in a quantum state of uncertainty, with suspense that intensifies like the breath-squeezing embrace of a boa. The sobering cinematography and low-key directing add to this effect and make Prisoners brilliantly atmospheric. It's been a long time since I've felt so suffocated with intimidation.
Prisoners gets 4.5 stars and not the magical 5. This is due to the lack of a proper score. The silence works well most of the time and in some scenes works perfectly. However, Prisoners is hard hitting and intense, and a more powerful score would have made the stronger scenes feel much more hair-raising. I know that sounds like nit-picking, but a 5 star movie needs to be damn perfect in every aspect.
No matter. Prisoners is an all-consuming challenge that requires your strictest attention. The acting from its ensemble cast is stellar, particularly from Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko). Prisoners is a hard film to sit through, but has an addictive cocktail of ambiguity, suspense, and moral complexity. And like it or not, it drags you by the scruff of the neck to a nerve-wracking and jaw- dropping conclusion. Prisoners is good. No, it's better than good. It's brilliant.
If you're a cinephile, this one's for you.
Gravity challenges convention with its brilliantly bold and refreshingly simple plot; a disaster during a space shuttle repair leaves two astronauts adrift in space. And they must fight to return to earth. End. Gravity is unchallenging to watch and is bound by the uncomplicated mission of putting the reliance on the viewer to make the difference. This movie is about the intimate, inextricable relationship between challenge and reward.
The script has been honed within an inch of its life and actually has a surprising amount of heart. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney rise to the occasion with aplomb. No small feat, considering the story's brilliantly executed shifts from white-suspense to emotional density. Bullock in particular has an immense screen presence in this film and somehow manages to outshine the breathtaking cinematography. This is her best performance yet and she deserves gold statuette nom.
The camera work is vintage Cuaron. Gravity is blessed with his trademark excruciatingly long, cut-free scenes with pivoting, panorama motions. It's disorienting, unnerving and it fits the atmosphere perfectly. I love that Gravity's character is so transparent. It cannot be any other film than an Alfonso Cuaron film.
Gravity is discreetly and unbearably tense, with a runaway train sensation in the way it builds up suspense; nothing frantic, just a no- nonsense rush that just builds and builds. If you're prone to addictions, Gravity will turn you into a suspense junkie. What's amazing is the scale of the pyrotechnics, tension, emotions prowess and how beautifully they combine. Gravity is hugely impressive without any single element dominating the experience, everything rises in unison.
I'm not sure such brutal calculation of response has ever been coupled to such emotional intimacy. Gravity is simply a breathtaking experience. Here and now, in the immediate aftermath, this is one of the greatest films ever. And for that, I owe Alfonso Cuaron an eclipse inducing debt of gratitude.
Don Jon (2013)
It's content will alienate people, and the story lacks cohesiveness, but Don Jon is pure, poignant social satire
Halfway through Don Jon, the point of its madness all hit me; this is the Easy Rider (1969) of Generation Y. To explain, Don Jon is pure social satire. Joseph Gordon "The Situation" Levitt's directing debut is a mirror into what our generation is. Not what's wrong or right with it, just a mirror. And like the reflection in said proverbial mirror, you either like what you see, or don't.
Jon, nicknamed "The Don" due to his skill of always picking up at least 8's every night, meets and subsequently falls in love with the girl of his dreams. He then must come to terms with his routine-infested little life, the superfluous B.S. that comes with having a relationship these days and, oh right, his porn addiction. I suppose it goes without saying that there is gratuitous explicit dialogue and pornographic clips intertwined into the story.
Don Jon is visually exceptional and expediently acted. It's editing is off the Richter scale and its comedy is as tongue-in-cheek as it gets. Don Jon pings and fizzes with energy and feels positively alive. For that, Don Jon gets two stars. And one bonus star for being truly original, both in its seismic delivery and its tenacity.
There's a clear sense that Don Jon has been honed for people that love film, in that it's singular purpose is to inspire thought and discussion. It's message is 100% subjective. Unfortunately, and perhaps in and effort to highlight its point as a satire, Don Jon has a story with all the cohesion and structure of balsa wood. There is no background, buildup, climax, or falling action. Don Jon fails on the premise of basic storytelling. And that is unforgivable.
Make no mistake, this movie WILL be looked upon years from now as a concealed insight to our psyche. I know this may sound excessive, given this movie's La-De-La approach, but look past what's on the surface . And you'll be looking at us. You may just not know it yet.
Sure, it could've been better, but Rush is adrenalin-fueled and cooler than a cat's pajamas
Rush tells the true story of the heated rivalry between two Formula 1 drivers; playboy and hot head James Hunt (Thor) and level-headed and calculated Niki Lauda (a brilliant Daniel Bruhl). Rush begins with their humble beginnings in Formula 3 and their instant distaste for each other, and continues with their rise to Formula 1 and Niki Lauda's infamous crash that almost claimed his life. After the accident, their rivalry evolves from being fueled by hatred to one of mutual respect
Rush gets off to a rocky start, but once it gets its footing it envelops you in an atmosphere that is gloriously 70's. The cars, the hair, and vibrate colors is pure time machine. Rush is a born entertainer, a natural extrovert, the people are beautiful, the cars are flash, the sun is bright, the locations are breathtaking and the action is remarkable. You are constantly bombarded with high quality sensations. It's a dazzling experience.
Rush is fun in a superficial sort of way, but the script only sporadically delves below surface of its source material. It comes down to the script not spending enough time on Hunt and Lauda's rivalry and hanging around too long on some of it's side plots. Also, there is no reason this movie needed to be "R" rated; The sex scenes and cursing could have easily been toned down or cut all together and taken nothing away from the core of Rush's appeal. In fact it would have streamlined the script and made Rush appeal to a wider audience.
Don't worry, you probably won't notice my complaints, and if you do you won't care a damn. Rush is entertaining, gloriously action packed, beautiful to look at and is exceptionally well executed. Ron Howard's directing, particularly during the racing scenes is stellar and Hans Zimmer's scoring is hair-raisingly awesome. Rush is refreshingly slick, suave and adrenaline-infused. I say you'll be beguiled by it like I have, but the feeling won't resonate.
Pixar's latest effort enchants us with stunning visuals, and charismatic characters, but misses the X factor that makes Pixar film's great
This should have been an easy review to write. Brave should have been a film that cemented itself as one of the all time greats, a necessary addition to any Top Films list. It should have been a film that claimed a place in our hearts as so many other Pixar films have in the past. But it's not. And writing this review is proving anything but easy. It's hard because I'm sitting at my Dell Latitude feeling bewildered at how a film from the best animation studio in the world left me feeling lukewarm at best.
A bit of background on the film first; this film went through two directors. After Brenda Chapman left the film for reasons I don't know, Mark Andrews was hired as a shoe in. This wasn't the first Pixar film to have multiple directors, just unplanned multiple directors. This is where my major problem with this film stems. Everything from Brenda Chapman is textbook Pixar class and charisma, but once Mark Andrews gets the reins (and you WILL know when it happens), the film takes an abrupt and uncomfortable shift towards the dark, and really challenges the boundaries of PG. It feels like two different films tacked on to one another with Gorilla Glue, it's as if the directors had no collaboration with each other. A real shame because up until it takes this dark turn, the rest of this film is a class act bursting with potential.
However to lament on the pitfalls is to ignore the positives. Pixar created two characters with copybook classic credentials in Princess Merida, and her father Fergus. Merida as the independent, self-confident, inurbane princess has a tongue-in-cheek charm and a personality that brings a genuine smile to your face. The other hero of character is Fergus, his character of a bumbling king with an overpowering queen is cliché, but he's executed brilliantly and is the provider of the majority of humor on Brave. Another immensely impressive aspect is its supremely dazzling animation aesthetics, the resplendent beauty of the Scottish countryside sometimes stealing scenes from its characters. Whether or not you agree that's brilliant is more subjective.
Now this may seem like the ranting of a spoilt wannabe movie critic weaned on delusions of grandeur, and hollow satisfaction from demeaning films with hype behind them, but I can assure you my size 10.5s remain firmly on the ground. This film is still a damn sight better than a majority of animated films out there, and it no doubt sets a new bar for animation quality other films won't be able to reach without a pole vault. I generally like this film and its good moments are plentiful and remind you why we love these films so much. Pixar films are utterly infectious when done correctly, Brave isn't up to the standards of their best, you won't fall in love with it, but forget the scale of its predecessors and you'll definitely be impressed by it.
The Woman in Black (2012)
Far from the masterpiece it could have been
The all purpose point of a horror movie is to make you forget the reality around you, and make you buy into the alternate world it has created. It must do this using originality, or an improvement on an idea, because in a horror film, predictability is its worst enemy. It's is a deathly balancing act of reeling you in and terrorizing you, while not losing focus with the viewer. This is extremely difficult to do, and is the reason why there are so few horror masterpieces and an abundance of failures.
You are presented with Arthur Kipp, played by Daniel Radcliffe, who is a young lawyer, still struck with grief after his wife died in childbirth. He is on the verge of being fired, and his boss gives him one last job to prove his dedication to the firm. This last job is filing paperwork for a recently deceased woman in a unkempt mansion. After immediately being snubbed by the locals, he begins uncovering a ghost story.
Unfortunately, Woman in Black is a failure. It falls trap to the majority of horror movie clichés, making it anodyne and gimmicky the point of anonymity. It is a film defined by what it is ultimately capable of doing, and nothing more. And what it is capable of doing, again, falls short. You are hit with an array of boom-bang-scream scares, and plenty of disfigured faces, but nothing progressive.
The storyline is definitely intriguing, but the shallow way it's carried out hints at budget cuts to increase the profit ratio. Daniel Radcliffe had his work cut out for him breaking the mold set by his decade long stint has Harry Potter, and the screenplay doesn't even give him enough time to flex his acting chops and show us what he's really got. It feels more like a showcase.
Ultimately, greatness eludes this film. The story feels watered down, and the characters are dry and undeveloped with no clear motives behind their actions, leaving you questioning everything they do. Despite plenty of tweaks and trinkets to catch the discerning eye, this film can, and will be easily forgotten. With a fresh sounding story, the talent of Ciarán Hinds, and the ability to show the world what Daniel Radcliffe is capable of, this film wastes it all, and is far from the masterpiece it could have been.
One of those films that changes you after watching it
Movies that shatter taboos like this does divides film buffs as well as film critics, and I believe how you respond to these films reflect the nature of your film interest.
The story is that of Brandon, a well off New York bachelor with a secret sex addiction. An addiction he doesn't mind indulging in every chance he can in the privacy of his lavish apartment. He's content with his life, and it all is shattered when his sister, Cissy, arrives unexpectedly for an indefinite stay. Animosity is immediately sensed, hinting at a dark past shared between the two. The shame of Brandon's addiction shines brighter with the arrival of his sister, increasing tension, until it inevitably climaxes.
Some will dismiss Shame as a distasteful exercise in excess, the copious amount of sexuality being over the top, ultimately distracting, and shaking hands with pornography. A valid view I'll admit because the sexual content is explicit and gratuitous, but it's a view that only looks at the surface of an excellent film.
I see a future classic in the making, a film tragically enigmatic with its time that will gain respect and notoriety in time. The cinematography is expedient, acting is stellar, and dialouge is given only when necessary. You are absorbed into this film, provided you are in the right frame of mind. It takes the intimacy of the interaction of watching a film and the intensity of the sensations you feel to another level.
There are many throwbacks to Stanley Kubrick's methods of directing. One being extended takes of conversation, which is brilliantly complimentary if done correctly. Unfortunately these scenes in the movie are less than captivating and fail to hold your attention. But with a film this calculated, maybe the fault is with me.
What will make this film withstand the test of time isn't the controversial material, but what remains when said material is stripped away. This film is actually a fascinating study into the human condition and how addiction can deteriorate a person and cripple they life and loved ones. It's a very thought-provoking metaphor, masked in the most extreme way possible that challenges the viewer to dig past the superficial shock value and find its substance. And if you can, you won't emerge the same person after watching this.