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201-250 are listed alphabetically.
Vanilla Sky (2001)
A Drug You'll Take Again and Again
"Vanilla Sky" is about a drug. It's a familiar drug that every man tries once in his life, whether consciously or not. In the film, that drug is Sofia (Penelope Cruz). She embodies lovethat intoxicating drug that gives David (Tom Cruise) a high that permanently shifts his normal. In other words, his mood will never be the same again without it.
David, a guy so perfect that a single gray hair is unacceptable, is seemingly forced towards humility after suffering a disfiguring accident shortly after meeting Sofia. However, it is not humility he achieves, but a curse that transcends any kind of physical deformity. David has to have that drug again, so he desperately seeks out his previous normal state, taking drastic measures to make it a reality.
Both Cruise and Cruz play idealized characters. Cruise plays a meticulously perfect big shot, who is only likable because of his abundance of confidence and charm. Meanwhile, Cruz is the natural kind of perfect, and is as desirable as she is pure (she met his friend at a library!). It is no surprise that they were a pair in real life because their puppy love is authentic and palpable (an emotional stage on par with "A Lot Like Love" and "Like Crazy"). I could not help but smile. And Cameron Diaz is utterly frightening as the irrationally clingy stalkerevery man's worst nightmare.
The film just exudes replay value. It is a cerebral ride along the lines of "The Butterfly Effect", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", "Source Code", and "The Fountain"all loose-reality based films where a man obsesses over a woman.
Vanilla Sky is pure ecstasy and an enthralling cinematic escape. It's a drug I want to take again and again.
Side Effects (2013)
Soderbergh Does Drugs and Does Them Well
Side Effects is a psychological thriller centered around the pharmaceutical industry. I won't say much more for fear of spoiling anything, but let's just say an experimental drug prescription goes... haywire. ;)
Steven Soderbergh crafts his suspense from the very first frame with a perfect start for the film. The plot then pulls us in and keeps us guessing as the mystery slowly unfolds. The cast meshes wonderfully. Jude Law delivers a strong lead as the frustrated psychiatrist and Rooney Mara is mysterious and unpredictable. My only complaint is the performances were not as dramatic as they could have been. Mara was excellent at portraying her character's cold and lifeless depression, but I have seen what she is really capable of (Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"), and she could have definitely reached those heights with this type of character. Nonetheless, a fine set of performances all around, but they take a back seat to the intoxicating narrative.
So is Side Effects Soderbergh's last hurrah? I certainly hope not, as it's probably my favorite film of his. I do wish Soderbergh got more range out of Mara, but the result is a satisfying and expertly-woven psychological drama packed with twists and turns.
Kôkaku Kidôtai (1995)
Cerebral and Groundbreaking
Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell is a science fiction anime film that raised the bar for Japanese animation. Its complex woven narrative is set in a society where being a full-flesh human is no longer the norm. Is humanity losing its existence or is it loosely defined? Cyborgs are part human, part machine, and a continuation of a previously "whole" human entity. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a full-replacement cyborg in the national security division Section 9, is investigating a mysterious hacker who goes by the name "The Puppet Master." It may be apparent throughout the film that many of its aspects and ideas have been borrowed for other films such as The Matrix (source code; plugging into the network) and Inception (diving into another's conscious).
Ghost in the Shell's portrayal of the significant role of networking in society appears strange and exaggerated to us but carries with it a strong familiarity and subtle message. Our reliance on networking is similarly demonstrated in The Matrix, but GITS takes it beyond questioning the basis of reality by turning to the self. The dualistic nature of mankind's existence is so prominently explored that it is reflected by the film's title itself. Physical vs. metaphysical mind vs. body the ghost vs. the shell. Cartesian dualism is a theory that the mind and body interact yet remain distinct from one another. Major Kusanagi contemplates what determines the identity of an individual. What defines life? Almost entirely artificially constructed, she questions her own existence. Is the ghost distinct from the shell? When someone is ghost hacked, they no longer have memories. So is the ghost (a loose metaphor for mind) what defines the self? Her resolution is reached as she merges with the Puppet Master, who suggests that life is simply a component of the network of all things. After the merge, the major and hacker share one entity with a blueprint for regeneration and become an integral part of the network by achieving a higher consciousness. The chief of Section 6 refers to the Puppet Master as a self-preserving program to which the hacker objects that by that logic, the human genome is no different. The Puppet Master claims to be a ghost born "within the flow of information" and goes on to define life from a person's memories.
Ghost in the Shell manages to mix seamlessly integrated CGI and hand drawn animation, a complex but fitting plot, a resonant score, intermittent action sequences (complete with thermoptic camouflage!), and heavy philosophy (without being preachy) into an 82 minute runtime to make for a profound experience with loads of replay value.
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
There's no one I'd rather be than me
Here is a warm, clever, and funny addition to Disney's animated canon. Wreck-It Ralph applies the general concept of Toy Story in a new and original way. The entire film is illuminated with familiar video game characters and little gamer jokes from invisible walls to jerkier, less developed side characters.
The overarching Armageddon subplot could have been handled better since it has us nearly forgetting about it in an effort to focus on developing the main characters and their own interests. Ralph seems to be oblivious throughout the film about the fact that he pretty much threatens everyone's existence with his carelessness.
But Vanellope! The highlight of the film. She is the most adorable little character, although it is a bit creepy that she's essentially a mini-me of Sarah Silverman. Nonetheless, if this movie has a single strong point, it's that Vanellope will find a way to win you over.
The simple lesson of the film is conveyed well: grow to accept your identity.
The Master (2012)
This may be Paul Thomas Anderson's best film... and his worst.
The Master is a slow-boil character study focused on the interplay between a radical philosopher and an eccentric alcoholic. The film begins with the viewer looking at water escaping from the back of a traveling boat. It is a beautiful shot that lingers giving you a sense of motion and time--escapism. Eery orchestrations follow, reminiscent of There Will Be Blood's disturbing score. Right from the start, I felt much more ambition from Anderson.
What I like most about this film is the complexity. The journey is maddening. Frustrating. And it is hard to care for either of the main characters. But I simultaneously found their flaws captivating. One is perverted with sexual compulsions and with the other, you're not sure if he is driven more by proving his philosophy to others or to himself. Like his previous film, Anderson does not try to tie us into the character, but rather fascinate us with them--only this time, he takes on two characters equally as, if not more, complex as Daniel Plainview in Blood.
The acting is very strong in all corners. Phoenix is in total control of his role and it is refreshing to have him back in top form. Philip Seymour Hoffman is even more powerful and equally eccentric. Atmosphere is great. Cinematography, score, lighting, great. The production quality all around was not just good, but great. It is a bold reminder of why I admire this director as much as I do.
However, ultimately, for a great movie to work, it has to come together. And this is where I find it lacking. The movie was too long, could have used better editing, and weak in its exploration of such thought-provoking and controversial subject material. Also, between Phoenix and his love interest, the age range was too wide. Having to watch a 40- year-old kiss a teenager was cringe-worthy.
Let me stress: in technicality, this is Anderson's best. The film is beautiful, the screenplay has depth, and he brings out the best in his actors. Towards the beginning, there is a brilliant scene where Phoenix is forced to avoid blinking during a barrage of personal questions as we learn revelations about his character in less than a minute. It is overwhelming and captivating. I just wish the rest of the film kept up that momentum, but it falls flat. I believe that perhaps I will grow to like it with each subsequent viewing because, although I did not find the film entirely satisfying, I reflected on it quite a bit. The beginning has promise and the ending is thought-provoking, but the middle act frustrated me more than it entertained me.
As a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson's work, I have been looking forward to this film for a long time. Is it a failure? No. Is it a disappointment? Yes. It is as aesthetically pleasing as it is thought-provoking, but the narrative does not support the magnitude of Anderson's ambitious double character study. This is a rich film in idea and presentation, but stale in its construction.
The Master is certainly something I will be visiting again down the line, but if it has some profound message, it fails to come across in one convoluted viewing.
Rise of the Guardians (2012)
'Guardians' gives kids some holiday inspiration
Here's a fresh look at old tradition: a tatted-up Russian St. Nick and an Australian kangaroo-looking Easter Bunny. Rise of the Guardians is based on an original children's book series by William Joyce, who produced the film along with Guillermo Del Toro. The books were inspired by the author's 6-year-old daughter when she asked him if Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny knew each other.
Admittedly I was skeptical going in, but the chemistry of personalities works wonderfully. It creates an original formula that goes against certain expectations. Perhaps one improvement in potential sequels would be to focus more centrally on Santa (or "Nicholas St. North"), but Jack Frost's story is incredibly touching and I found it clever how it parallels the antagonist's motives. The film is slow to start but picks up at a fast pace with non-stop action. By the end, the entire movie theater was in applause.
Rise of the Guardians is a cute, adventurous, and heartwarming family film that focuses on hanging on to the best thing about childhood: belief.
Mr. Nobody (2009)
A single snowflake can bend the leaf of the bamboo.
According to string theory, the universe contains nine spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension. Three of the spatial dimensions: length, width, and depth, and the temporal dimension: time, were deployed within our universe while the rest remained wound up together. "What if one of the other six was temporal?"
Jaco Van Dormael's Mr. Nobody is a science-fiction drama that explores the concept of parallel universes existing for different possibilities for each branching point in our lives. The butterfly effect, so to speak, creates a divergence in universes. Will they ever converge once again? Just ask the second law of thermodynamics: As long as the universe continues to expand, entropy is always increasing (i.e. things can only spontaneously become more random or disordered). However, this never becomes a problem because no one is aware that alternate realities exist.
Yet, one man is. Nemo Nobody.
The entire film plays out almost like a dream. Recurrent images and sounds. Non-linearly spliced scenes. It displays the different ways one man could have lived his life based on the mere probability of a leaf falling one way or the other. The story can be both philosophically challenging and spoon-fed at times. Although it may come off as too pretentious, edgy, or complex, such cerebral stories should be executed in innovative ways and all ideas presented both complement the storyline and serve to enhance our understanding of the underlying philosophy. The film is also rich with subtleties. For example, I found the main character's name to be particularly odd and noticed it spells "omen" backwards. But it doesn't stop there. The film is just as emotional and poignant as it is thought-provoking. The viewer is tossed around the emotional spectrum as Nemo's back and forth transitions from being emotionally invested to a soulless bystander begin to make sense. Visually, it's incredibly imaginative and colorful. Perhaps even more enthralling is the music. The late Pierre Van Dormael (the director's brother) composed a sensational score from beginning to end. Not a scene goes by without at least some piano in the background.
Mr. Nobody is a treat for the heart, the mind, and the senses. Van Dormael has constructed one hell of a complete package. An absolute must-see.
A Unique and Extraordinary Adventure
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is a very strange film but it pulls together wonderfully. It was dark but funny at the same time. I really loved the imaginarium sequences. Gilliam uses dream-like imagery and odd behavior to construct a fantastic escape into imagination. Although the CGI was admittedly simplistic, it was fitting for the fantasy realm. Great performances, especially by Heath Ledger and Colin Farrell.
I don't think this movie is for everyone since it has received mixed reactions. I also would advise against having certain expectations going into it, because there's no way to anticipate what you will get out of the film. But for me, it was certainly a real treat and very enjoyable throughout.
The Messenger (2009)
An Emotional Look Into the Psychological Effects of War
The Messenger has incredible acting by Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, and Samantha Morton.
The film has a curious flow to it. It begins predictable, yet remains engaging, exposing a heart-breaking consequence of war no family wants to face. Although the news remains the same, emotions run just as deep at each door. Every scene is handled marvelously through subtle performances by the actors. As the film unfolds, the viewer sinks into the complex characters on screen, discomforted by the internal struggles that slowly surface.
The Messenger is a non-linear, character-driven film with exceptional performances but might not be for everyone.
Fired Up! (2009)
Surprisingly not that bad...
I reluctantly went to a private screening of this the other day, and found myself laughing quite a bit. Although the premise is as lame as it gets, it's the characters that save this one. They poke at high school stereotypes most of the time, which I found pretty dull, but there are many moments where the lines are executed hilariously making it entertaining for the most part. If you've seen Eric Christian Olsen from other movies and enjoyed his faces and humor, you would find this one amusing as well. The acting is definitely not the best I've ever seen, seems way too forced at times, and the situations can get kind of ridiculous, but like I said- for me, it wasn't how the movie set up the humor, but the animated expressions and characterizations throughout that made me sit through and still enjoy this one. Still worth watching at least once, in my opinion.