Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
The Book of Life (2014)
Love in Spectacles
The Book of Life is ought to give the mass audience a unique kind of tale for the mainstream animation genre. This is a story that is supposed to represent the Mexican culture and their legend, and when it focuses on that theme, it becomes really lovely. The more fabulous appeal is its distinct designs that brings its own color. Those merits alone immediately makes the film a whole lot beautiful, but once it gets to deliver the main story, it moves okay, but also too conventional for its own good. But still, The Book of Life is visually unique and full of heart that is guarantee a worth of watch.
The story is clearly sort of a fairy tale that handles heavy themes about love and death. This is the surprising darkness that ends up being fascinating for a film that is intended for kids and families. Before the plot goes anywhere, it first takes us to an easy exposition of its rich world. This promising setup brings total spectacle, and wonderfully stays loyal to its own elements and tells the legend behind the tradition of "Day of the Dead". The subplots involving the families of the three main characters are also quite admirable, adding more personal depth to this larger than life tale. But when it finally moves to the supernatural adventure, it is still stunning, but it also lacks definite directions to where they are exactly going. The film, as a whole, does trouble for being often too reliant to its antics, broad humor and zany set pieces, while the sense of its theme's gravity only gets considered rarely. There is definitely nothing wrong with having too much fun, but this storytelling does need some concentration.
It's the animation that becomes the best of its highlights. The characters' puppet-like appearances and their whimsical looking places are pretty much of its own visual personality. Every action sequence creates an amazing scale fun, in spite its speed may get too far. And even at the smaller moments, the designs speak through the scenes' emotions. The vocal performances; such as Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, and Channing Tatum; charmingly bring their characters to life. And for the supporting such as Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, and Ice Cube as well gave a delightful job.
The Book of Life has the potential of a greater movie; the story and themes, even the world it sets are nearly apart from today's typical animation filmmaking. It might as well be a little throwback from the classics when character work and lessons appeal more than anything else, but sometimes this movie just can't leave a scene without showing some grand action or any sort of silliness. Though the movie accomplished more tremendous things than its missteps. Despite much of the mess in some parts, The Book Life succeeds at showcasing the spirit that it loves to deliver. Maybe next time, it could have been a little more steady.
People may quickly picture Whiplash as the Full Metal Jacket of jazz band: there's Fletcher militarily pushing his student, Andrew, to get his task right. The hatred towards the mentor becomes the character's motivation of achieving his orders perfectly; and the similarities could end there. Although this is a very different context; the harsh, shout-y discipline and sometimes its negative human effects are quite reminiscent. But without any grim twists, this movie just sticks directly to one's determination of being successful to his job, either for the instructor or for himself. This is one rough environment that takes you to a relentless study of intense rehearsals and intense discipline until it reaches to the point where their goals lose out of control. And just like those sequences, Whiplash keeps most of the viewers from their comfort zone, and leads them to rewarding results.
Movies like this, specifically relationship between a student and a mean teacher, conventionally ends with a heart changing sentiment, possibly leading the two to an unexpected life-long friendship, but Whiplash takes it stone-cold; hardly showing any sign of friendliness in their bond. The only way for the young drummer to gain his own light is to roll with the punches and learn exactly what the band want him to do, even if it costs much of what he has in life. This is supposed to be an image of inspiration, but the film mostly portrays the nightmares of this "never give up" ambition; which transforms the dreamer into a mad man who is few steps away of breaking down. Nonetheless, this unending pressure brings real impact to what lesson this movie is trying to show.
The filmmaking is spectacular all in all, each of its musical scenes makes for a truly grandeur show, but the core here are the ones that is mainly about the drums. They are impressively played with relentless intensity, while the camera strikingly displays the flowing literal sweat and blood of the drummer; indicating his committed exhaustion. The performances are the spotlight, especially J.K. Simmons who has done perfect to his character. It might have been easy for an overacted performance, but Simmons finds the sense of humanity beneath what it's written, making Fletcher reasonable to furiously shout at any intolerable flaw of his students. Miles Teller also killed it, recognizably for the drumming parts, but aside of that, he convincingly follows through the character's obsession, until he turns closer to insanity.
Whiplash often feels cruel, but there is an important reason for that. It depicts a serious way of motivation, you can feel that in every beat of his terrifyingly breathtaking drum performances; this is mostly the reality of being unstoppable to what you are desperately aiming for, plus driven by fear and hate. But eventually, the film makes a clear point why their world of music have to be this bitter. Overall, it all works by choosing clever directions, staging magnificent musical set pieces, and remarkable acting from its two leads. Even if the story is quite simple, its heart tends to overwhelm you.
Dracula Untold (2014)
Substituting with Cool
Dracula Untold tells the origin story of the iconic monster, Count Dracula. By its aesthetics, it seems that it is more aimed to be an action film than horror, which is a strange approach. There might be a grand beginning to this legend, but the film took a serious mistake to the material, and it already starts with its PG-13 rating, bogging down the violence and the monster of the vampire. Instead of love for the camp or terror of the original story, the film rather gives cool special effects and stylish action scenes which seems to belong to a different film. We all know that vampires are awesome, but there is more interesting appeal to their capability than what it is portrayed in this film. There is some intrigue in its storyline, but Dracula Untold ends up following the cheaper type of suspense.
The film starts out promising, there might be some complexity beneath the arc of Prince Vlad: a desperate prince sacrifices himself to be a monster in order to defeat his stronger enemy. But for some reason, the story rarely questions his decision. Whenever the supernatural being slays an army, it just leaves the audience being fine by what he did. It hardly explores any moral ambiguity to his vampiric turn, probably because the movie is too conscious of being cool. It robs much of the ugliness, even the horror of the tale, never giving a hint of villainy in his actions. Though he does struggle with a conflict of controlling himself from his thirst for blood, but then there's no challenge in this situation, because we already how it will turn out, even more underwhelming is what causes this fate to happen. It never gives the Impaler any personal darkness, he's basically a good guy with a misunderstood reputation, according to how the movie looks at him. This case resulting the experience as another dumb action blockbuster that takes the potential deeper parts for granted.
The real baffle in this movie is its lacking sense of horror. Well, it exists in some parts, but most of the time, it seems to rather avoid the most lurid element of the violence and instead replace them with less ugly and much clean special effects to bring a different kind of tension to the action. Otherwise, this style makes it visually stale, unable to release the beast and just picture the classic vampire with typical swagger. Luke Evans looks pretty committed to the role and there is a charm for that, but the script's shallow definition for the character kept him from doing something impressive, other than the cool moves he make in those overly CGI-ed action scenes. The only actor who brings a real flavor to the film is Charles Dance, who perfectly delivers the classic vampire camp to its dreary looking world.
Dracula Untold may as well be similar to another film that came out this year, Maleficent: a villain origin story that turns its character into a misjudged hero. This is a lame idea that Hollywood has come up to with these prequels, much strange is why are these movies being directed by visual obsessed filmmakers than the ones who can handle dark themes? It just fails living up to what makes these characters appealing, and even if these characters aren't that bad, these movies still fail to give them a complex character study. Vlad here is generally a cold blooded monster, but the film glosses the negative view of it with cool action scenes that makes him look more like a hero. It becomes confusing, it might work for a dumber material, but we're talking about a well familiar legendary figure here, and this is certainly a big deal.
Kill the Messenger (2014)
Risking for the Truth
To be exact, Kill the Messenger isn't mainly about the CIA conspiracy which was exposed in 1996. This is more of Gary Webb's journey of unraveling some secrets behind the story and facing the consequences of revealing too much classified information to the public. The film shifts from conspiracy thriller to familial drama to give a clear statement of what struggles do honest journalists usually get. The direction seems to have higher interests when it comes to the conspiracy thriller mode, but when it eases down, it doesn't have the same enthusiasm. Thankfully, the star of the film, Jeremy Renner, carries the whole thing, making the overall experience absolutely engrossing.
The film isn't really that straightforward when it comes to its historical side, though the first half does have a keen focus on picking up huge details from one source to another. The film triumphs when it only stays to that root, taking us to a process of how journalism works. But that point didn't get much of the flow, because again the whole message of this film is the danger of getting into this situation. The other half of the movie concerns Webb's protection with his family, while it is important to get to know about his personal life, it sort of feels like a stretched intrusion to what else interesting happening. The rest of the story, specifically the effects of the exposé to the public, remains to be a series of real life footage of mobs and interviews. The film comes to life once again when they face the actual consequences instead of verbalizing their paranoia.
It could have been clunky, but the film totally benefits having Jeremy Renner. Even at its weakest scenes, the actor tend to bring real depth and tension, joining the audience to what his role is going through. This performance alone can be an instant recommendation to its entirety. The direction, as said, seems to spare its energy more on the investigation and suspense, which could have been straightforward in reporting the facts and putting the melodrama to the sidelines. The craft is solid as well, there are some strong production and stunning shots to be found.
Kill the Messenger is more ambitious in its sentiments of valuing the truth and going against political corruption, but it doesn't satisfy enough to reporting its history, especially when the movie is really good at depicting it. It just eventually becomes a cautionary film for journalists about exposing a vulnerable truth, showing us the main character and his family possibly at risk after what he has done. It works when it finally acknowledges that the government is now their enemy and building suspense behind Webb's back, but when it focuses to the drama of his personal life, it doesn't seem to fit on the pieces, however whatever made it still thoroughly watchable, again, is the acting of Renner. This is the type of merit that steals much of the value of the film, even if it's flawed in storytelling, the appeal just keeps on going.
Gone Girl (2014)
Mind Blowing Enigma
Gone Girl begins posing itself as a basic crime drama taking place in a seemingly grounded world that deals with real life situations. The movie does have the promise throughout its smaller first act before all the answers were revealed, but once it shifts to its next move, the story becomes undeniably ridiculous. People, at first, might find it pretty exasperating as it flies away its realistic sense, but once you notice some sophistication towards its mind-bending twists, you can somehow forget bragging about its absurdity and just stay on how the ride would ever turn out. That is how these types of movies work anyway, though Gone Girl constructed it with genuine surprises thus results as a preposterous, yet a thought-provoking thriller.
Put the "unbelievable" complains to the side, you can see the commentaries all over the place. It is not generally about the investigation for the missing wife, it's more of an exploration to the marriage of the couple, observing that sometimes even at the most intimate relationships could not see the true colors of an individual. Much of the characters may have push the limits of their humanity, but it does help giving effect at bringing fear to their actions and behavior. While that point is palpably terrifying, the amusing side of this mystery is where the social satire sparks. The publicity's involvement to the case is obviously poking fun at the ones who only intervenes to seek public attention; the media often exposing, even distorting real life tragedy for the sake of entertainment, while the straight up people out there are still scratching their heads. The film just extends every darkness the story would show.
The story does have its silliness, but David Fincher never lets the central case feel like a joke. There is some strange humor to found in some areas, but most of the time, the direction convinces you that wherever this mystery is going, it is something real serious and possibly twisted that people would still keep thinking about it at the post viewing. The score of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross also helps living up to its uneasy tone. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are both pretty good in their roles.Affleck may not be everyone's favorite actor, but here he makes the audience really root for his character, while Pike clearly gives herself a spellbinding turn. The rest of the cast remains quite entertaining.
Gone Girl comes from simplicity to pure insanity, and that usually troubles to crime/mystery films, but this is one of those exceptions. It doesn't bother negating its enigmatic turns, instead it brings depth to it. Other than the fact that it has thematic connections to social naivety and mass media, the benefit mostly goes to its direction which manifests a colder atmosphere and an interesting rhythm that makes the audience tag along throughout, even when the story takes things too far. That is basically describing the usual style of David Fincher, and that is also the same way of saying the director's achievement triumphs yet again.
The Equalizer (2014)
The Equalizer is loosely based on an 80s television series with the same name. This reinvention in comparison aims to be darker and much violent, but the film's ambition is basically turning its star, Denzel Washington, into a grittier action hero. It somehow pays off when he starts killing bad guys in cold blood, and it's amazing how he could still carry the character's humanity along the way. The film troubles when it gets out of hand to its glorious vigilantism despite it takes place in a world seems apart from that context. If you tend to ignore the sentiments and shade of reality, you can still tell that it's a pretty entertaining piece of action, but in general it's just difficult to not notice its mess of tones, even with that amount of fun.
There is one side in the film when it's totally gripping, that is when we just see the protagonist as a person living in an ordinary life, often being with people and often encountering them getting in trouble by crime. This grounded world just keeps most of its darkness in their presence, sometimes feeling like a doomed, helpless world. But once the hero reveals what he truly is capable of, it doesn't actually sucks out its entertainment quality, but it does betrays that intriguing context, nearly turning itself into a superhero movie, except of course, it's less silly and much violent. McCall, in shorthand, is too competent for any criminal he fights and often leaves with a perfect swagger. It may not be big deal to many viewers, especially the action fans who are already enjoying the blood, but the film sets up an existing theme that seems to be a lot interesting to consider instead of indulging itself with its own way of justice.
The cool slow-mos and stylish special effects might have also rob the sense of realistic tension, but put that aside, each action scene is watchable enough, we don't usually see a wider blockbuster today that has the guts to fearlessly show brutal movie violence like this. This is probably the only mundane element existing in those set pieces. Denzel Washington shifts his character to two personalities: one is the likable ordinary man himself and the anti-hero with a hidden cosmic hate through its world. The performance does sum up the overall movie, from gravitas to smugness, and what's great is they're both effective anyway. However, the villains (and their tattoos) have blatantly shown that they're evil: the main antagonist seems like he's written to be over-the-top, almost like a cartoon villain than a believable human mafioso, but Marton Csokas gives a little grimness as he have fun with it.
The Equalizer would have been nicer if it was a little shorter and much consistent, but I could guarantee that it still entertains, it does have the appeal through its action and acting. Though, there are more serious things that could have made it a lot compelling thriller. The film does have the knack of embracing either of its elements, but it just keeps shifting back and forth, like we're not getting to the actual big picture. Well, if you can accept that the hero is this superior then it might work better for the experience. For now, it can be endlessly watchable, but you will only find few things that are remarkable about it.
The Boxtrolls (2014)
The "animation" genre now has a common trait: it is known for broader gags, bullet speed pacing, and eye candy visuals, but out of many animation studios out there, Laika Entertainment could be the only one that stays loyal to their own direction. Aside of the stop- motion animation and love to the horror movie camp, their storytelling and themes are equally unconventional, though charmingly daring at best. The Boxtrolls is no different from their last two movies, except this one might be gentler, but the strangeness is still there intact. And by those merit, the experience becomes special.
It might get immediately be assumed that the film has the same moral of 2012's ParaNorman. It does have that feeling: strange people being treated as outcasts by everybody and describes their fear to them out of caricatures. But the film tends to explore more messages beneath besides of that, if you can get behind with the whole rescue plan stuff, you may also get to notice that it's really about separating people's common views and expectations from the reality; like the Boxtrolls they're against with aren't actually bad creatures, or some fathers turn out to be not as supportive as they're supposed to be, or even the difference between being good and bad. The sentiment may sound a little familiar, but the delivery here is often steady and bitter to acknowledge its sincerity, and it indeed makes it remarkable.
As for the animation, there's no hiding for the love of the horror movie aesthetics. The world already looks magnificently whimsical as the filmmakers transcend their stop-motion animating abilities by making grander and crazier set pieces and physical comedy, but when it comes to featuring its creature and character designs, the camp just brings lots of it to life, some parent might find it a little creepy for smaller children, but if they don't even bother then there is no denying how beautiful they're designed anyway. In another angle, it offers a larger extent of warmth compared to many family movies today. The nearly wordless montage of the Boxtroll Fish raising young Eggs is one of the sweetest things you would see in recent memory, while the sadder montage at the middle act could surprisingly be affecting. These storytellers just know how to drive emotions. Among the voice actors, Ben Kingsley predictably becomes the best. He brings the main pizazz as both the villain and his hilarious drag disguise. Isaac Hempstead Wright and Elle Fanning are great as well, giving their characters the personalities they need. There are more big names (mentioning the favorites like Simon Pegg and Richard Ayoade) that bring the extra fun of the film.
The Boxtrolls is probably going to be the least attraction for the animation genre this year, mostly because it's nearly apart from the comfort zone of today's entertainment. If you don't care about trends, then this movie is a treat, and as usual from its studio, the overall film is dark, campy, but visually stunning and eventually endearing. They still haven't changed and I hope it always stays that way, especially the monster movie tribute and strong heart and perspective towards things. The Boxtrolls proves that these types of animated films shouldn't be antique yet, there is a huge value to its quality and moviegoers should once again encounter it.
A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)
Crime Cinema Relic
A Walk Among the Tombstones tells a pretty basic detective story. It doesn't necessarily offer us anything new, and that truly is the case here: it's just another episode of a private detective. Even with all of the twisted scenarios, there isn't anything else big or even daring to the picture. While some might be bothered with its lack of innovation, fans of these types of mystery films would still have the pleasure. It has been kind of rare to have such crime thrillers like this in cinemas today, and by its simplicity in storytelling, it sure does deliver things right. What matters to the experience in the end is it's a finely crafted piece of noir that nearly glosses over to the fact that it's just a relic, but a pretty decent one.
The film follows the classic roots of the genre, you won't find any sort of uniqueness around the storyline, but how it constructed each of its sequences still manage to be charming at the beginning and gripping along the way. It just lets the detective walk from one place to another to find clues and unfold questions. But it never lacks the tension, the film places its coldness to buildup an atmosphere that brings uncertainty to the fate of the investigation. The best thing about it is it's simple. It doesn't bother adding some mind-blowing or ridiculous twists, it just digs within a world where some evil can be found in any street. Settling with the characters is as well one of its finest moments, they may not have the most original arcs, but it is undeniably entertaining when it lingers to them.
The direction is predictably slick, and it totally benefits by it for making every scene of bleakness and violence emotionally effective. People shouldn't take for granted its decent camera-work that sharply displays its vital points. It gets even better when explores around its main man: Liam Neeson is now commonly used as an action hero, but here the film rather uses the better side of that reputation which is keeping the audience feel that he is a dangerous man to deal with, even without revealing much of the fists and gunpoint, it's still a totally compelling depiction of his character's cold, brooding personality.
My personal enjoyment to the film is how refreshing to see a mystery film this straightforward and unpretentiously dark in modern cinema. I mean I might as well seen one in any crime television series running today, but it's a lot fascinating to witness it in this form, plus a tone this gritty, a style so clever, and a performance from its main star that makes it more interesting. Again, you won't find anything groundbreaking to the film, but leaving that thought behind would make you realize that it is still a terrifically put together, unpredictably told crime thriller. And I bet that's already enough for this sort of entertainment.
The Maze Runner (2014)
The appeal of the The Maze Runner for its billion dollar genre is how straightforward everything it seems. It (thankfully) doesn't begin with a voice-over narration, because indeed it's another high concept that designs a world as a mind-bending game. The film already faults for spilling too much rules and details, but when things starts actually moving, the action becomes marvelous, with large scaled, suspense driven set pieces that easily makes it worth the price admission. The worst of it however is when it finally unfolds all of the hidden secrets, compromising much of the potential of this ride. Still, it's pretty hard to deny the excitement of the experience alone. Treating it as another solid action film might be enough for a while.
Things are stronger at the first act when the hero is just picking up information even though the people around him are basically just over-explaining stuff rather than developing their characters. But it's great when it keeps the plot moving from one place to another. Once they get into the maze, the momentum becomes a heartbeat. It works like a certain video game that has its heroes risk through various obstacles, brimmed by conspicuous fortitude. It is a great example of a real action film that relies more on the matter of life and death thrills, even if you're already surrounded by nice production and special effects. There's also an hint of social analogy to fit the genre's trend of playing with politics, except the one here seems simple and intriguing to figure out what it is trying to pinpoint. Everything else is just more scattered clues for the mystery.
But all of those growth suddenly gets bogged down once it hits to their biggest answers. It's obviously setting up for another young adult franchise, but it also hurts to whatever it has put together. At this point, it feels like we're left hanging with more questions, except it's much nonsensical. To be fair after this large disappointment, we're still given a totally fun cinematic experience. The direction is so energetic at its tension, it almost seems to have inspiration some of the greatest horror movie aesthetics and tricks: the ooze, the meat, the traps, the dark walls, and the singular angled chase scenes with the enemy coming closer to the hero. Those are some of its remarkable, well-shot bits that you don't always see in this dull genre. The acting is also good for outweighing what's written for the characters. Dylan O'Brien looks like a hero to root for and he does a fine job for it. Will Poulter also shines as his reasonably arrogant opposite.
The best thing The Maze Runner could offer is the maze itself, though those spectacle couldn't help us ignore the final minutes of the film, but it still overpowers the overall experience. Personally, I would rather look forward more on a video-game adaptation (if it's even possible) than the sequels, but I don't know. It's pretty hard to see where this story is going. It instantly compromises some larger picture beneath the surfaces.for the sake of being another million dollar franchise, but this one has a direction of its own, despite that their destiny seems to lack the freshness. The cleverly constructed action just adds the value, otherwise.
The Babadook (2014)
Beyond the Creeps
At first glance, The Babadook may sound like a tale that warns people to not let children put creepy stories up into their heads. It may also be like one of those old horror movies with children being influenced by the ghost. The titular monster seems to have the potential of being a silly urban legend, such as Slender Man or the Hash Slinging Slasher (sorry about that), that is destined to be flooded with fan fiction, or simply just another horror movie icon, but the film surprisingly has a different aim than just scaring the audience. It might as well be a character study of a mother having a hard time moving on after the tragedy she's been through losing her husband and trying to raise her only son. The real horror doesn't come out that quick, but there is already a pretty compelling movie when it come to its characters. The tension is just the prize for being intrigued by the story's core.
One thing people must know about the film is it's not generally about The Babadook monster. In spite that the antagonist has an ambitiously great campy design and his story is told well by a twisted storybook with wondrously illustrated diorama, the movie is still laden on the more human element of the tale, which is the struggle of a mother who is unable to live normally. The pacing of her life may move too fast for the film, but the sadness and deprivation beneath those regular troubling days are totally manifested even without extending any of its breathing. The plot mostly concerns Amelia finding a way to overcome Samuel's behavioral issues and her memories with the accident than dealing with the whole supernatural threat, for sure it is trying to build some slow burn, but even without that horror movie sense, it still feels like they're being tormented by life.
It deliberately takes their personal grief seriously, making sure that they actually aren't insane, and nobody else could ever understand what they're going through. This is pretty much the most compelling view of the film, which makes them reasonably trapped into their own nightmares. Mister Babadook only becomes the boiling point of the ordeal. And when it hits to the part of the real scares, it sells well whenever the monster attacks. Instead of loud lazy jump scares, it rather spreads away signs of his presence and its effects to the family. His appearance has more terror if he's lurking in the shadows. It also has a nice use of practical effects to endure its very effective creeps. The performances of the two leads are outstanding for bringing the real heart of the picture. Essie Davis embraces the character, making her fear, depression, and shifting madness all visibly genuine. Same to the young Noah Wiseman who as well gives his character's actions some sense of anxiety.
Some horror fans might get slightly disappointed for not giving The Babadook monster enough of the characterization he deserves. The other story is a lot more interesting to follow than his diorama tricks, and that is why I keep stating that the the movie is best viewed as a gloomy fairytale about a mother and a son fighting to keep a hold of themselves and promise to protect each other from the odds, even if the promise doesn't always apply, than just another horror movie being shown in our theaters. While it still has the right amount of admirably campy scares, the film often explores to the larger and much affecting side of the story, and that sure offers beyond than what you expect to this stale genre.