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10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
A refreshing and suspenseful white-knuckle thriller
Throughout the first 80 minutes of this movie, I was widely grinning over the fact that I had just witnessed my second serving of sheer cinematic perfection following Zootopia. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a perfectly crafted and carefully executed attempt at reviving the thriller genre, and it does so with rewarding thought and exceptional creativity. Like all the classic entries in the genre, this one is suspenseful till the point where it becomes unsettling and features a consistent and bona-fide tone of fear from the creepy atmosphere to the sense of paranoia present at every corner and the sense of claustrophobia that will stick with you weeks after seeing the movie. What you can appreciate most about it its desire to sustain the audience's momentum with intelligence and concern until the disappointing and buzz-killing finale.
The riveting screenplay, written to palpably tense perfection by a team of accomplished screenwriters serves a further reminder of how much character and dialogue development contributes to a film, and really makes you appreciate the amount of process and effort put into writing a screenplay. The enthralling and impressive direction by first time director Dan Trachtenberg and the refreshingly beautiful steady cam cinematography offers a uniquely immersive experience as the audience is thrust into the sustained and confined space that the characters are in. The musical score by TV composer Bear McCreary immediately puts you in the moment from the opening second, and contributes to the credibility of certain situations as they start to weigh in. If that wasn't enough to satisfy your cravings, we also get a surprising amount of character development on the two main characters and a pair of dynamic performances from two bona-fide actors that simply chose to give a crap and go the extra mile in contributing to the authenticity of the film.
Let's begin with analyzing the female protagonist played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, in a role that will make her a household name. What impressed me the most is that protagonist is more than your clichéd and stereotypical damsel in distress type character, which makes root for the character and invest enough spirit in her to care about her struggle to escape. She's a thinker who will use everything in her knowledge and training to survive think Mark Watney from The Martian meets Lara Croft Tomb Raider. Winstead is sensational in this film, and so is the character which she was born to inhabit. Her dedication to the character is evident as she vanishes into the role by displaying every range of emotion so eloquently that you instantly believe that she's in this shuddery and paralyzed state she's so desperately trying to escape from. Equally as phenomenal is John Goodman who's as bizarre, manipulative, and frightening as he's ever been on screen. Goodman's presence is so commanding here that even though his character isn't necessarily a character you'd want to root for, you leave the theater haunted, yet grateful to have seen such a dark, committed, and transcendent performance.
Sounds like the perfect movie right? It would be, if not for the disastrous final act which we'll revert back to right now. To give you a spoiler-free sense of the final act, imagine that you're a university student writing your final essay; your professor is so impressed by the sophisticated beginning and middle portion, that he's already aching to award you an "A+", and he hasn't even finished reading the entire paper. Then when you reach your final body, your talents start to descend leading to a disappointing finale due to change in tone or lack of trying, that kills all the potential displayed before the final body leading up to your conclusion. That should give you an idea of how lazy the finale is.
Until the final act though, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an adrenaline-fueled adventure anchored by exceptional direction and two legitimately credible performances. The screenwriters deserve an enormous amount of credit for crafting such a riveting, inspired, and mysterious project and depicting wit, tension, and fear through dialogue in a screenplay that reminds us of why characters and dialogue are the two most fundamental factors in writing a screenplay. The focused and devoted direction by Trachtenberg demonstrates why he's a filmmaker with a force to be reckoned with, and foreshadows a critically-acclaimed future for the first time director. Winstead hits a new career peak and her dedication to portraying her character as humanly as possible is something that instantly commands our attention and regard. Goodman further demonstrates why he's one of the most cherished actors of his generation with yet another unrestrained, bravura performance. All these factors contributed perfectly into the construction of an invigorating psychological thriller, and despite the finale being a complete mess, 10 Cloverfield Lane is smart, inspired, and solidly crafted cinema for movie-goers.
Real Steel (2011)
Predictable and formulaic, but also exceptionally entertaining and lots of fun
Imagine a futuristic version of Rocky meets Rock Em' Sock Em' Robots and you have Real Steel. It won't win points for creativity or originality and many of the plot elements feel vastly familiar, but for those willing to accept that: it can be considered good mindless entertainment.
Aussie-hunk Hugh Jackman delivers an appealing and lighthearted performance as Charlie: a bankrupted ex-boxer who lies, cheats and steals in order to avoid inconveniences. He devotes most of his time to robot boxing, even after owing everyone money and rarely cares about the people he endangers or hurts. When he's asked to take custody of his eleven year old son: Max (played with genuine affection by newcomer Dakota Goyo), Charlie is torn between having to abandon his selfish acts or loose the only real thing that's ever mattered to him.
Skillfully directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum), this is an uplifting tale of a man who finds redemption after discovering the importance of family, hope and forgiveness. It's also a unique character study that demonstrates how someone with a cold and cruel personality can have a change of heart after a good natured event has the ability turn their lives around.
The fight sequences are exceedingly well choreographed and feel realistic and it was even rumored that real life boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard was brought in to portray the robots using motion capture technology. Jackman and Goyo are perfectly matched and you can believe the father and son chemistry that exists between them, but even more extraordinary is the touching connection Max has with Atom (the previously generated robot which Charlie and Max discovers and trains.)
Even though this is one of those films where you can figure everything out before you watch it; the special effects are spectacular, the action is exhilarating and Jackman reminds us of how he became a genuinely charismatic movie star.
The Ides of March (2011)
An insightful and engaging tale of deception and political corruption
Boosted by a compelling script and a terrific ensemble cast "The Ides of March" is a profound and well-made political thriller that resourcefully addresses current political matters. It's a truthful and distinctive depiction of the cynical world of greed and betrayal.
The brilliantly intellectual George Clooney (who stars, directs, and co-wrote the script) lures the audiences in with sharp camera-work, fascinating political intrigue and breezy pacing. He also manipulates the audience with accurate and concordant points about America's suppressed and demoralized political economy, while sending out moral messages about the importance of trust and commitment. The immensely talented Ryan Gosling (who stars alongside Clooney) effortlessly immerses himself into his role as if the character were an actual human being and shows that he has the distinctive personality and bittersweet charm to become a gifted A-Lister. The supporting cast which includes: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), Paul Giamatti (Sideways), and Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen) are uniformly excellent and all serve a purpose to the storyline.
Even though it proves to be too heavy handed for some, this is a rock-solid powerhouse thriller with Oscar-Caliber performances and a provocative storyline featuring astonishing twists at every turn.
Poignant, magnificent, and simply unmissable
Based on the personal experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, "50/50" is an honest blend of intense, heartfelt emotion and dark, irreverent humor. It's a rare and mesmerizing film that will have you laughing one minute and crying the next. Viewers will be profoundly moved by this inspirational tale of a man coming to the grips with his morality but chooses to embrace life instead and discovers passion, friendship, love and humanity during the process.
I've always admired Joseph Gordon Levitt (Third Rock from the Sun, Inception) as an actor, and he deserves an Oscar for his performance as Adam: a man who suddenly discovers that he's diagnosed with a spinal tumor. The film benefits from Levitt's lukewarm tenderness, appealing charisma, and unmatched vulnerability in order for the storyline to be credible.
Teen sensation Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, Pineapple Express) on the other hand is crude and vulgar as usual playing Adam's best friend. But he displays a sense of sympathy, affection and earnestness while playing the average-everyday slacker character for a change and manages to deliver a sensational and fulfilling performance. The meat and potatoes of this precious gem lies beneath Levitt and Rogen's irresistible and undeniable chemistry and their ability to establish a kinetic on-screen bromance. Being able to accomplish that shows how much potential these talented individuals have.
The sharp and brainy script will have you bursting out with laughter and tears, and the influential messages about finding humor beneath pain, valuing the purposes of life and living everyday like it's your last will bring out joy to even the most careless people alive. The important life-lessons will challenge audiences-alike to go back and rethink their lives.
A few scenes should have been left in the editing room, but it's still a genuine work of art and extreme geniusness that stands out as one of the more thoughtful films in recent years. Even though I'm yet to be diagnosed with cancer, "50/50" has come to mean a great deal to me and I urge anyone who isn't moved by the time the closing credits roll to check their pulse immediately.
127 Hours (2010)
A powerful and uplifting movie about overcoming odds
As gut-wrenching as it is emotionally uplifting, 127 Hours is a triumphed and inspirational film about life's challenges and struggles, making sacrifices for the greater good, overcoming odds, and enjoying life's precious moments with the people you love. Danny Boyle continues to prove why he's one of the premier filmmakers of his generation, and James Franco's electrifying performance as Aaron Ruston has "Oscar" written all over it. From start to finish, Franco draws you in by combining all the right amounts of humor, emotion and tension that the audience is immediately captivated and convinced by the way he emerges into Aaron. He also gets you physically immersed and emotionally attached to his character that you just can't help but root and cheer for him. This isn't Boyle's best work, but by providing beautiful cinematography and using bold and elegant camera-work to bring this remarkable true story to the screen, he's able to take you along for another unforgettable journey. To top it off Franco's mesmerizing portrayal of Aaron highlights this shocking, but incredible story about the willingness to survive.
District 9 (2009)
It's original, terrifying, fascinating, and is the summer's first must see movie
From the visionary mind of Peter Jackson comes a movie so riveting, shocking, and marvelous you'll swear you've just gotten the Goosebumps when it's over.
The following takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa where years ago humans first made contact with an extraterrestrial race. Years later when they evolve into slum like creatures they become a threat to humans alike. A government agency known as MNU (Multi-National United) then came in and locked them up in a secured facility called District 9. One day on a classified mission to evict the creatures out of their homes a MNU agent named Wickus is exposed to their biotechnology making his DNA as powerful and as indestructible as one of the creatures. He quickly becomes the most dangerous man in the world after learning that MNU associates want to use him as a weapon, but the creatures believe that he is the key to their survival.
This is a unique and visually stunning masterpiece that's thought provoking, imaginative & terrifying. It also begs to ask the question "what if we aren't alone in the universe?" Director Neill Blomkamp dares us to expect the unexpected, and with the help of producer Peter Jackson (Director of Lord of the Rings trilogy & King Kong) he's able to grab the viewer's attention, and take them on a tense and realistic journey that will leave you speechless afterwards.
Despite all its potential, the film takes quite a while to get moving. It starts off slow, and you'll feel as if you're watching a documentary but if you wait patiently action, suspense and originality awaits you. Another thing to be warned of is that this isn't "Independence Day." It's complex, gory, and might be too much for squeamish viewers. It's aimed towards mature teens, so leave the kids at home.
If you're willing to be acceptable of that, this is a sci-fi stunner that's so originally well done, technically brilliant and extremely good fun
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Destined to be another cult classic from Tarantino
From the twisted but brilliantly acclaimed mind of writer/director Quentin Tarantino comes a movie so shocking but also surprisingly entertaining that it could only be described as a guilty pleasure.
Once upon a time in Nazi Occupied France Lt. Aldo Rayne (Pitt) leads a team of Jewish soldiers known as The Basterds to do dirty business and work above the law. Their job is to brutally scalp and kill every Nazi, who comes their way. The job becomes bigger when they intend on blowing up a movie theater with the German army attending. Meanwhile the theater owner (a Jewish/French refugee) has another revenge plot in mind for the Nazis.
Tarantino once said he's always dreamt of killing Nazis and glorifying it on screen. Now his dream's come true. Inglorious Basterds does what it sets out to accomplish: shock & entertain viewers with dark humor and over the top Tarantino style violence (it's comical but graphic.) For me though this is another cult classic from Tarantino. Every suspense sequence was chilling, every joke was a riot, and every line was quotable.
Brad Pitt has outdone himself again, by acing another memorable comedic performance coming from an unexpected character. The supporting cast including Eli Roth (Hostel), Diane Kruger (National Treasure), and a cameo from Mike Myers all finely turned their roles. That said the biggest surprise here is Christoph Waltz's portrayal of the clever and terrifying villain Col. Hans Landa (AKA: The Jew Hunter.) Waltz captures the dark and menacing tone of his character perfectly, and is convincing for every on screen moment. His mesmerizing performance left me speechless so therefore he has my vote for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars next year, and he's sure to be this year's Javier Bardem of villains as well.
That aside keep in mind that this is still Tarantino so expect gory, over the top, realistic violence, along with a teaspoon of profanity. If your family has a code of conduct then this isn't something that should come on your list. A lot of this movie is also in foreign dialogue so if you hate reading subtitles wait for it on rental.
To conclude this is a bloody and intense portrayal of World War 2 but with tremendous writing, breathtaking suspense sequences, a great composing score and the right amount of dark humor, it succeeds at being an instant Tarantino classic is a great way to end the summer. All hail Lord Tarantino!
The Ugly Truth (2009)
The truth isn't pretty, but Heigel and Butler keep it far from being ugly
The battle of the sexes begins as Butler teaches Heigel The Ugly Truth. Abby is a successful TV show producer with a perfect job and body. The only problem is she can never seem to find Mr. Right. In comes Mike, a perverted and demeaning correspondent for a TV segment called "The Ugly Truth." Mike willingly helps Abby land Mr. Right, but what she doesn't know is that the guy who she really likes might be the one standing in front of her all along. Though predictability and believability are the films biggest flaws, the chemistry and wit between Katherine Heigel and her co-star Gerard Butler keep it from being another run of the mill Romantic Comedy. There were many hysterical moments I found myself laughing at from slightly crude but inventive gags to scene stealing comedy by Butler himself. His perceptions on what men and women want manage to keep you on a laugh riot but are also shockingly true and honest. Heigel on the other hand plays the same role in most of her movies, but can still manage to keep a likable balance of comedy and drama between her as well. The supporting cast also sharing the spotlight (including John Michael Higgins) too managed to make me smile no matter what the situation was. For fans of Hegel's recent movies (eg: 27 Dresses) keep in mind that this is much cruder, vulgar and might not even be on the same league. Some will find the sexist stereotyping distracting and appalling but at the end it's message is that it's being who you are that matters, and that the one who likes you for who you really are (not by your looks) is the one that's right for you. All in all despite it's clichéd and predictable plot Heigel and Butler turn it into a refreshing, entertaining and welcoming rom/com.
Funny People (2009)
It's not Apatow's best work, but it's his most important one to date
Comedies like this don't come around very often. Funny People is the latest addition to Judd Apatow's (Director of Knocked Up & 40 Year Old Virgin) fine collection of films. It also features Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen at their finest. Washed up comedian George Simmons (Sandler) is faced with a terminal illness and is left to possibly die alone in his deserted Beverly Hills Mansion. He has no real family; he's out of touch with his fiancé from years back, and has no friends to help him through recovery. He then meets Ira (Rogen) a struggling stand-up comic he recruits to help him in his opening acts and to help keep his life back on track. As time passes by the two bond an unlikely friendship and decide to help each other while learning lessons of love, family, responsibility but most importantly the moral meaning of life along the way. Funny People is everything you'd expect from Judd Apatow and more. It needs a little improvisation during the third act in particular but it's still a heartwarming and important dramady about the morals of life and its challenges along the way. Sandler gives the performance of his career, and proves that he's an underrated actor whose talent sometimes gets under-appreciated. What I liked best about him was that he's mostly being himself instead of being goofy and really brings that spark of emotion, complexity and realism to his character. Rogen's character on the other hand happened to be the only character of his that I found likable and actually cared about. He portrayed his role as an innocent, sincere, sympathetic individual and does a flawlessly convincing job. The supporting cast including the always amusing Leslie Mann as the fiancé that got away, and a fully committed and comedic side of Eric Bana as her clueless Australian husband just added the icing to the cake. All that said keep in mind that it still manages to include the expected Apatow crudeness as well as enough profanity to make Quentin Tarantino jealous. None of the crassness is close to Knocked Up level, but you still might want to caution your teen Apatow lovers. In the end this is a touching & memorable melodrama with messages of friendship, forgiveness, loyalty, life's decisions, being happy of what you've accomplished and taking time to enjoy what's left of your life before it ends
Cohen once again provides an entertaining (if not far fetched) mockumentary
3 years ago Sascha Baron Cohen introduced us to an outrageously inventive character we all knew as Borat. Now he's back with an edgier, wilder and even more sensational character Bruno. After getting kicked off his own Television Show Bruno (an Austrian Fashion Designer) travels to America seeking to become world famous. In doing so he gets himself into wild and wacky situations mostly involving celebrities and anyone who's around him. On his journey he finds that love, meaning, and the true value of friendship is more important than fame. Cohen's new mocumentary features over the top, envelope pushing jokes to draw ample laughs. Having said that the jokes are often the gross out and offensive gags rather than physical gags. If you've seen Borat you'll know that Cohen's goal is to be as offensive and as obnoxious he can by insulting everyone around him, and that just about sums up Bruno as well. Be forewarned no one is spared from being insulted. Not rednecks, not Muslims, not gays, and especially not women. After the successful this and Borat, Cohen can still prove why he's one of the smartest and bravest comedians out there. His point of offending and insulting others is to show how ignorant and small minded some be at times, and that's all showcased in this movie. Although, I'm surprised that he's still alive after making this (I'm pretty sure he'll receive a hell of a lot of lawsuits as well) he sure has a lot of balls to go out and do the impossible. Being a big fan of Borat, this was on my must see list of the summer. Even though I'm more appalled by the in your face nudity and obscene jokes rather than shocked as I was at Borat, I still think that Cohen has made another entertaining and often hilarious mockumentary. I was disappointed that there wasn't a lot of that social commentary from Borat, and some of the jokes got too far fetched and carried away at times but none the less if you liked Borat this should be able to laugh at least laugh about 4 or 5 times during this. I'd recommend this only for those who are familiar with Cohen's sense of humor and were able to tolerate all that in your face humor in Borat. If not then Transformers is still next door