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Antarctica is a white land of pure isolated beauty, and Koreyoshi
Kurahara's "Antarctica", perhaps the best animal film I've seen, and
also one of the greatest of all adventure films, ensures that
thoroughly. The majestic white landscape of nature at its purest set
the stage for its story about a group explorers who bond emotionally
over a period of time during their journeys, only to find most of
themselves stranded there following a hazardous winter storm, where
they are forced to fend off threats from both nature itself and its
What makes Kurahara's film intriguing is that 12 of the explorers aren't human. They are snow dogs, mostly trained by their respective owners in Hokkaido, Japan; and two others raised on the frozen continent itself. They get subjected to winter storms, the longest of nights and the unpredictable terrain of Antarctica as they scamper around the barren land looking for food to survive as long as they can. Meanwhile, the two scientists who bond with them (one of them played by the renowned Ken Takakura) relentlessly regret their decision to abandon the dogs that they have come to bond with during their expedition there, even though they know they do not have a choice in the matter. Takakura's character guilts so much that he resorts in apologizing to each previous owner personally. In a heart-wrenching scene, two girls forcibly return a puppy (born to one of the dogs in Antarctica) intended to be an apology gift.
Kurahara's masterstroke is that he makes the dogs the core of this survival tale, and he does so as if the camera were a watchful eye over the lost souls, lingering onwards when tragedy suddenly strikes. It can be argued that the film is a docudrama, with a helpful and non-intrusive narrator filling in the blanks at the right moments. It can also be called a visually spectacular epic as the beautiful, sweeping cinematography swoops over the white land and blue seas, the kind of shots that documentaries can never get. There are many magnificent scenes of startling beauty and skill to be appreciated in the film besides its powerful thematic content.
The humans' presence is brief but serve to highlight mankind's love for its own kind while forgetting nature's other creatures - rendering them expendable. Takakura and the rest of the actors do a great job in conveying the reality of the situation as naturally as real people would. This commentary is briefly explored as Kurahara wastes no time in returning to the dogs' situation.
The cinematographer Akira Shiizuka's camera pulls the audience straight into the film, joining the dogs on their quest for survival amidst the desolate yet overwhelmingly beautiful land. It becomes a character of its own, as per Vangelis' fantastic music score, which chimes perfectly as the heart and soul of the journey, like an angel giving strength and encouragement.
It is common sense that dogs work as a family when grouped and protect who they love. Having owned two dogs, they are both protective of their owners and friends. Though a dog in the movie prefer to be venturing alone, the rest of the survivors band together and search for food, shelter, anything. Absolutely heartbreaking (and for dog lovers, emotionally shattering) scenes occur throughout the ordeal, all of them a result of nature's fury.
This film was remade by Disney and Frank Marshall in 2006 as "Eight Below", with Paul Walker more or less as Takakura's role. Although a noble effort to recapture the essence of the original, it sentimentalizes numerous moments from the original too much that they becomes distractions. I could say the same for other Hollywood animal movies who try to connect to the audience by ways of sentimentality - even very effective ones like "War Horse" and "Free Willy". "Antarctica" doesn't aim for sentimentality - the film was based on a true story, and Kurahara shows its natural strength as it is - which tremendously adds to the emotional impact of the film. I merely find Hollywood animal films touching at best, but this one struck a chord with me and moved me with no expectations.
The film runs lengthily at 2 hours and 23 minutes, yet not a minute goes by that I wasn't enthralled at, not even during the human moments. I can only wonder why Criterion (or Disney even) did not pick the film up for a high-definition Home Video release, as that's the best way to watch it besides cinemas. It's not a kids' movie but it's something kids should watch. I only hope they and their parents will enjoy the experience as much as I loved it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is a highly successful Palestinian
doctor living in Tel Aviv with accolades to his name and a beautiful
wife. This all changes when a suicide attack rocks the city and kills
dozens of children - and his wife is named the culprit. Why, oh why
must it be his wife, he asks.
This opening sets up Ziad Doueiri's "The Attack", an extremely engrossing film which begins as a gripping mystery of a man in search of answers when none are willing are give it to him. The film eventually evolves into an introspection of the human condition, a commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the harsh reality of love lost in the face of truth.
As Amin digs deeper into the mystery, allies are lost and conflict is escalated. The Israeli police roughs him up, thinking he's hiding something. His colleagues start to avoid him. Even the Israeli bombing victims refuse his services on the operating table itself. All of this to an exasperated Amin confused as to why his sweet, loving wife hid this life of hers from him for years. The basic answer does not satisfy him. He wants more.
In the face of tragedy, people rush to judge. Amin is a decent man who aims to help people, but one horrible act results in him getting discriminated from his friends and his house getting trashed and spray- painted by angry neighbours. Doueiri and his writers add subtle tension to these sequences by adding moments and dialogue that reveal a stark hatred for the other race that, when triggered by the attack, is unlocked without getting filtered. They can only tolerate so much up until a certain point, in which case they feel they deserve the right to berate those tolerated. Doueiri underlines these moments subtly without over-doing it with hysteria and anger This gives a major strength to the film and its lead, Suliman, who is terrific in the role as he subtly conveys a wide range of emotions throughout the film, perfectly embracing the role of a desperate, confused and hurt person which carries the film for its duration.
The prejudice is the least of his concern - Amin goes out of the city and into the West Bank, looking for more clues. He will not be happy with the answers he will get. This later sequence underlines the fear and paranoia that one side has with the other, something the Tel Aviv sequences only hint at. As Amin waits for a character to give him answers, other men try to chase him away, saying that he'll attract unwanted attention from the city onto them. Fear paralyzes both sides and leaves no choice but prejudice.
Interspersed with both halves of the film are flashback sequences of happier times, with romantic moments between Amin and his wife. He refuses to let go of these memories and initially insists that his wife is innocent, blinded by her pure appearance. When it becomes apparent that she did indeed blow herself up, he shifts his attention to who or what caused his wife to do that. His love for his wife is so touching that it culminates in the heartbreaking, poignant final shot of the film.
Ziad Doueiri's film met with controversy from the Arab nation for being filmed in Israel. Art imitating life, the irony of it. Doueiri made the brilliant decision of not picking a side, focusing instead on Amin's plight and how it is effectively destroyed by the paranoia of both sides of the conflict. There is no simple answer to solve the conflict, and there will be consequences for not choosing a side. This is a brave, commendable film that may be difficult to watch, but it is a nerve- wracking film which could also double as a poem for peace in that troubled area. In times like these, a film like this is greatly appreciated, and Doueiri deserves every accolade he gets for this film.
One of the year's very best films.
Brian De Palma's "Mission to Mars", scorned by critics upon its release
in early 2000, is not deserving of so. It has its flaws, yes, and it
certainly can be overbearing at times, but I'd take a filmmaker who
goes over the top any day over a filmmaker who doesn't give a damn.
Loosely based on the Disney Tomorrowland attraction, De Palma utilizes his crew to their fullest extent, specifically his cinematographer Stephen H. Burum and composer Ennio Morricone, and delivers an exciting action/adventure with the fundamentals of true science fiction. But De Palma, always the mischievous filmmaker, toys with his audience, both fulfilling and averting genre conventions to them. Even the film's opening act where - some thing - causes a team of astronauts to go on a rescue mission to the Red Planet, completely seems out of place, but knowing De Palma, this is exactly what he wants.
An addition to the boom of space exploration movies following the success of "Apollo 13", De Palma's film doesn't concern itself with the story so much so as how De Palma wants he audience to feel the story. De Palma and Burum dance their way to elaborate, hypnotic camera movements while the great movie maestro Ennio Morricone provides the symphony for said dance. The camera weaves through the interiors of the spaceships every which way it can, and on the surface of the Red Planet it exudes a terrific sense of wonder and mystery, something akin to the golden years of science fiction.
Some of the dialog is hokey and some moments admittedly goofy, but again, this also could be a throwback to the Golden sci-fi era, and besides, De Palma wastes no time on those trivial script moments. He is more of an artist than a storyteller, but there is a story being told here, and the journey is indeed mesmerizing and a lot of fun to watch. De Palma and the producers also made the right choice in picking genuine talent for the characters and not the superstar of today.
And then there are the effects. Both practical and computer-generated are put to heavy use here, and the results are nothing short of spectacular, even by today's standards. (OK, well maybe not a sequence near the end). It can really be seen for itself, that actual imagination and talent went into the production design of the film, even though it clearly evolved from Kubrick's Odyssey. The effects do not just serve as pretty eye candy, De Palma utilizes them to bring out an awesome exhilaration and sense of wonder from the audience. Again, playing with them, like a piano.
What I think really divided audiences and critics alike was the climactic act of the film, which some would consider it as "Space Odyssey"-lite. I do not find that an insult to Kubrick, rather I find it complementary that, in today's science fiction films that results in George Lucas mentality, that here is a director that pays the perfect tribute to both the greatest science fiction film of all time, as well as its creator.
Ultimately, "Mission to Mars" is a brave and severely underrated blockbuster that, not only is it exciting and hypnotic to watch, but leaves so much to the imagination long after the main story is finished. This is delicious eye candy high on nutrition. Before you set your kids on "2001: A Space Odyssey", let them see this first.
De Palma is a post-modern filmmaker, a director who shows his love of movies by making other movies (especially his love of Hitchcock in many of his earlier films like "Blow Out", "Sisters" and "Body Double"), and allows film fans to play games with him by watching them. The main difference from other filmmakers who do the same than De Palma, is that he genuinely exudes his own playful style to the film he works on, no matter a low budget art-house indie, or a big-budget studio blockbuster. If De Palma decides to return to big-budget filmmaking (as of this writing, it is his last studio picture) I would really love to see what this American auteur can come up next.
Sutter (Miles Teller) doesn't really face a lot of trouble recently.
He's a party-loving, fast-talking clown who lives fast and in the
moment, never thinking of the future. After getting dumped due to a
misunderstanding, he goes out to get wasted, and finds himself being
woken up by Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a regular plain Jane who has
nothing really to offer, but with a very bright future ahead of her.
Sparks fly, love blossoms and scabs are pulled, slowly.
What is remarkable about this familiar coming-of-age tale is that it doesn't pull back any punches. James Ponsoldt's "The Spectacular Now" is a raw, brutally honest film about teenage angst and explorations of self-worth. Ponsoldt and his writers (the same guys who wrote "500 Days of Summer", here basing off Tim Tharp's novel) purposely avert the generic "teen movie" clichés and doesn't rely on melodramatics, all the more transforming the film into a haunting and depressingly realistic exploration of youthful angst and lost chances.
Adding to the realism is just how natural the actors and characters are. If there is any indication to the amazing crop of recent young talent that are popping up in Hollywood, then Teller and Woodley would rank among the better ones so far. The duo doesn't just portray the couple as lovelorn teens - they fit the parts and connect so well that you will believe that these are real people we're watching, and not cardboard caricatures you see on the Disney Channel.
Sutter lives in the now, but tensions are burning behind Teller's eyes, revealing depths and fears that drive him to do so. Aimee is not a popular girl, but she has a soul, waiting for that special someone, her voice breaking even in hushed tones as she's never felt that way before. Every moment between the duo feels so real and raw that it hurts emotionally when they're hurt. All due praise to Teller and Woodley because both are absolutely terrific in their roles, and a salute to promising careers for both of them.
The screenplay is frank, with teenagers talking and acting the way they should in real life, hence the R-rating. I suppose guns, explosions and global destruction are less intense than teenage angst and emotions. No matter. This is a movie that is written and directed with a fiery passion, thanks to Ponsoldt and his crew. Quick-witted, dry humor sprinkle among the more dramatic moments to lend to the rich self- discovering aura of the movie, which lessens as the movie progresses realistically and depressingly to a fitting ending. This is a movie where the quiet moments matter and the emotions boil under the faces, and the audience is too afraid to realize it until it explodes.
Because Ponsoldt and his writers love and respect their characters, this emotional burst will put the audience through the wringer at times, while slightly older viewers will feel a burst of nostalgia flowing through them as they recreate their youth through Sutter and Aimee's eyes.
Just like adolescence, this is a bittersweet yet honest journey, and I for one am joyed that someone treats their characters and audience with equal amounts of respect and intelligent. The characters in this movie are real and true, and so is the emotional punch. "The Spectacular Now" is one of the best films of the year.
Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder) has a problem. Namely the one that
lives with her in her Staten Island apartment. Also, her ex-husband
stalks her during a date. To add salt to the wound, that date winds up
dead the next day in her apartment - with a crusading reporter
neighbour as a witness to the scene. What exactly happened, and why?
It is with this ingenious creeper that writer/director Brian De Palma hits his stride. He made a name for himself for crafting awesome and elaborate suspense sequences, and this is where he started. Taking cues from, and showing a blatant love of Hitchcock, De Palma begins his quest to seduce and deceive the audience's eyes, a trait which will soon become forever linked to the auteur's name.
Take a scene for example where the reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt in a riotously intrepid performance) witnesses the horrible scene from her apartment. It shouts "Rear Window", but then De Palma throws one of many surprises at the audience, by splitting the screen in two and showing two scenes simultaneously, one from the point of view of Danielle, and the other of Grace. They both have dialogue and movement, so keeping up with both of them is a challenge. This scene also adds a layer of De Palma's trademark intrigue - the duality of opinion. Whose eyes do we choose to see through? Where does their point of view end and the other's begin? This split screen also adds extra tension - will she get caught? Will the cops arrive on time?
Margot Kidder, who would game greater fame as Lois Lane in the "Superman" films, is stunningly beautiful in the film, and De Palma makes sure the audience gets that in the film's early scenes. Part voyeuristic, part encapsulating, all hypnotic - De Palma make sure the Gregory Sandor's camera lingers on Kidder's face and body, well, until the scars are revealed, naturally.
What follows after the murder scene is a delightful trip down Hitchcock Lane as pieces of "Vertigo" and "Rear Window" (two films I suspect are De Palma's favorites) as Grace (perhaps named after the Princess herself?) investigates the crime by herself, seeing that the police refuse to help her following a not-so-appealing article on them. Intriguing, even though the movie-loving audience have seen it before, done by master Hitch himself.
Then comes the brilliantly bizarre final act of the movie that pulls the rug from under the audience and becomes pure De Palma. He heightens all senses and purposely makes the audience both disoriented and hypnotized, putting the audience under his spell as they watch both amazed and dizzy at what they are seeing. The camera becomes dizzy, with multiple angles and grainy close-ups galore, complete with disoriented black and white to add an eerie aura to it, and combined with Hitch regular Bernard Herrmann's wildly sensual score heightens the tension up many notches. The scene then becomes bizarrely eerie, almost hallucinogenic at times. By the time the film ends the audience will be disoriented and confused at what they saw, as the film leaves the conclusion open for them to answer. A wise decision from De Palma, as a proper closure would feel like a cop-out.
De Palma's "Sisters" sets the groundwork for things to come as it contains many of his trademarks, but on it's own it stands as a finely- crafted suspense thriller, always enticing and playing with its audience like a piano maestro, full of genuine surprises while still winking at a passionate love for all things Hitchcock - with an ending that will leave many heads turning, for good measure. It is also pretty scary and disturbing - what a suspense thriller/horror film is supposed to do, and De Palma does it very, very well.
Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium" is far more flawed than his debut "District
9", yet it is still skillful summer entertainment and a worthy
continuation of the thematic backdrop that Blomkamp has set in the
latter - futuristic social inequality. This film however takes the
quote "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" to orbital heights,
literally, as the eponymous 2001-esque space colony gets filled to the
brim with the wealthy while the rest of the poor folks gets damned on a
vastly overpopulated Earth. Here in Los Angeles, a criminal named Max
(Damon) struggles to board Elysium after a freak accident, while
corruption and paranoia seethes through Elysium official Delacourt
This social commentary on whether society is doomed by their own doing is used as a clothesline for frenetic sequences of violent action, all combined to form one feature-length race against time for the underdog to triumph over all. Thing is, the underdog has to face an even crazier dog, a disgruntled and psychopathic mercenary named Kruger hired by Delacourt to off Max for, um, doing good stuff. Sharlto Copley, the flawed protagonist in Blomkamp's previous effort, plays a despicable and barbaric villain so well here that he's in danger of being typecast as such, as opposed to Matt Damon who can play an action hero in his sleep. Even when Damon suits up in a clunky brain-controlled exo-skeleton following the accident, we root for him because he's a clear underdog that the audience supports.
Blomkamp's screenplay is flawed, with certain gaps of physical logic here and there, and the story seems cobbled from previous superior sci- fi classics. But where his screenplay fails, it's his direction and vision that delivers. Blomkamp successfully materializes two different worlds - rich and poor - in technical aspects, and presents them as a black-and-white prophecy. Gritty scenes in the L.A. slums on Earth are compelling to watch when compared starkly to the spectacular-looking utopia-like Elysium. Any space colony that can rebuild exploded faces is a colony worth living on, no? It must've been a challenge for production designer Philip Ivey to come up with concepts for both sides, but he succeeds.
Which brings me to the other factor - the action sequences, and Blomkamp delivers thoroughly on that aspect. Frantic action sequences mixed with crowd-pleasing and squeamish moments made me realize - here is a modern- day filmmaker who knows action, and what his audience wants and keeps on that promise. In my opinion they were far more exhilarating and refreshing to watch than any other movie this summer, as they provide no shortage of old school bloody thrills - and I do mean bloody.
"Elysium" may be flawed and familiar story-wise as it should have been half an hour longer with more scenes set in the colony, but it still has a thought-provoking concept and enough action to vastly satisfy both the popcorn crowd and the action crowd. This is a summer blockbuster that delivers.
It was 1994. Steven Seagal had just became Hollywood superstar status
following the huge critical and commercial success of his "Die Hard"
clone "Under Siege". To be fair, the movie's thin plot was overshadowed
by over-the-top performances by its villains, Tommy Lee Jones and Gary
Busey. Taut direction by Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive") further kicked
the action into solid gear and did no less than to cement it as one of
the highlights of 1990's Hollywood action flicks. Warner Bros. then
decided to make an obvious sequel to the smash hit, but Seagal agreed
only if they let him do his pet project.
Which leads us to this.
Seagal starred and directed in this actionier about an environmental agent who turns against his boss, a corrupt magnate of an oil company, when he discovers that his boss has been carelessly speeding up construction of an oil rig in Alaska, and is resorting to any means necessary to keep hidden the shady ways he does this, even murder.
Ordinarily that would be an awesome conspiracy thriller with action sequences that could've been one of Seagal's more interesting efforts, under the guidance of a more capable director, but Seagal saw this as an opportunity to showcase his virtues and beliefs alongside the conspiracy and explosions. The result is a poorly written, directed and acted mess of a movie which more or less sank Seagal's career as fast as he rose up until "Under Siege".
The film's direction is grossly heavy handed on its subject matter and the mysticism/stereotyping of the Native Americans. Seagal couldn't have chosen a more subtler way to direct it. Even in his first appearance in the movie his character (and movie) comes across as a bloated vanity project forcibly shaped to make Steven Seagal the most invincible and noble being ever to grace the planet. The great Michael Caine as the villain, does nothing but mug for the camera and recite ham-fisted dialogue with the rest of the cast.
And when I say ham-fisted, does it ever: "Hey Hugh, what's cooking?", "I wouldn't want to dirty my bullets", "'Can you ride a horse?' 'Of course, I'm a Native American'". Good lord.
Yes, the action sequences are thrilling, the cinematography is great at showcasing the Alaskan wilderness in all of its splendor, and the great music superbly underlines the action and tone seriously. But the action sequences are arguably violently juvenile. Really, do they have to go to that extremes just to ensure their secret's safe? Do Seagal on the other hand have to resort to the equal level of bloodshed (and worse environmental damage) to protect the wilderness? The sheer contrast of the violence's intentions and causes just makes the movie laughable, if only at those moments.
Speaking of laughable, Seagal's attempts to portray the Native Americans as "holier-than-thou" has the right intentions, but his way is just wrong. By showcasing their mystical mumbo-jumbo and perceiving himself as the chosen "Spirit Warrior", not only is it insultingly stereotypical, but the audience is led into a bizarre kaleidoscope of chants and dream-like visuals involving Seagal punching a bear and Seagal choosing between a noble Inuit sage or a nude Eskimo seductress. It's the "Twilight Zone" gone horribly Seagal.
A fine supporting cast which includes the likes of Caine, Joan Chen (who looks strongly Chinese for an Inuit woman), John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey and a (then-unknown) Billy Bob Thornton is wasted by Seagal as two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs who exist only to serve as fodder, both positive and negative, for Seagal. In fact in the final scene of the movie after all the mayhem and explosions, Seagal goes out of his way to deliver an intended inspiring speech on the veins of Chaplin's "The General", urging the public (and audience) to do what's right for the environment. This five-minute speech is juxtaposed with real-life clips of pollution and the damage done to the wildlife. It completely detracts from the film and makes it even more heavy-handed yet bizarrely compelling. An Inconvenient Neck-break, if Seagal would say so.
This is a movie that should have been made with a better writer and director. Instead, we're left with a self-indulgent mess with a star/director in love with his own image and virtues that he has completely alienated the mainstream audience and catered only to himself. Come for the action sequences, stay for the laughs. Bring some beer and pals.
"2 Guns" is everything you'd expect of the title - bullets, mayhem and
everything that practically makes up the bulk of action films from the
past three decades. It has professional villains who always miss their
shot and two likable heroes you want to have a beer with. Let's face
it, seen them once, seen them all.
One's a DEA agent, and one's a Naval officer. They're both undercover as partners but neither realizes the other's true identity. Both realize the implications they're in when, after a heist involving millions of dollars, find themselves the targets of three different groups of baddies after a series of twisty plot revelations.
Again, generic. How many times can we see the same kind of shootout and not be enthralled? How many times must we see the damsel be distressed? How many times must we look at slow motion explosions? Why must the (undeniably) sexy Paula Patton be undressed pointlessly? If you're not familiar with 80s and 90s action flicks, you probably will enjoy the action more than I did.
What makes "2 Guns" work, though, more-so than the generic action described above, is the humor. Both Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg are known for being tough in other movies, yes (and their star presence certainly pays off here) but the energetic chemistry between them was brilliant. They naturally play off each other like most natural comedic duos would, and some of the banter between them is downright hysterical. Wahlberg was funny in last year's "Ted" and "The Other Guys" and his comic timing here is great, but Washington surprisingly works well on the deadpan side of the fence. It's clear that both stars were having a blast making this film. Nice to see Bill Paxton and Edward James Olmos on the screen as well.
The film is directed by Baltasar Kormakur, who made "Contraband" with Wahlberg last year. While he has not learned much in the way of action sequences, he certainly did improve on his direction regarding the actors. Perhaps he should stick to doing dialog-driven movies.
Gore Verbinski's "The Lone Ranger" is a pure summer blockbuster, head
to toe, filled with sensational action sequences and oddly hilarious
and zany moments, though sufficient enough for character development.
And yet, it feels like an old-fashioned campfire tale, told by an
(unreliable) narrator as shown in the opening scene, setting things up
for the main plot to come. It doesn't feel overbearing and rushed,
takes its time with the pacing and characters, building momentum and
excitement for the grand finale, but more on that later.
Verbinski is no doubt a fan of Western films (check out his animated "Rango") and how he manages to take a $250 million budget and turn it into a personal love letter for the Western genre is that one-in-a- million Hollywood tale where a director uses a large amount of the studio's money to make a movie that he or she wants. Verbinski, reuniting with most of his "Pirates of the Caribbean" writers and crew, just puts his whole into entertaining the audience as much as he can whilst not insulting them.
Verbinski sure knows how and where to place the camera. The great cinematography which shows off the vistas of the American West while combined with Hans Zimmer's throbbing score which echoes that of the great Ennio Morricone's effort, makes for an odd but arresting visual and aural experience, and certainly shows Verbinski has made his film self-aware that it is made in a different time than those classic Westerns of yesteryear. The film owes more to Leone for its villains and the clean cut Golden years for its hero, obviously. In fact, the villains are pretty much the most depraved and violent in a Disney- certified film thus far.
Armie Hammer, in his first lead role, provides enough charm to go along with his character's earnestness and steadfastness, but he thankfully doesn't mug for the camera as most young stars nowadays. He looks, sounds, and acts about right for the part of the Lone Ranger, and his naivety is matched only by the kookiness of his trusty companion Tonto (Johnny Depp who is top-billed). To be honest, Tonto is basically Jack Sparrow 2.0, what with Depp's usual buffoonery and oddball antics throughout, but where Sparrow doesn't seem to care about his predicament and relies on dumb luck, Tonto shows concern and purpose in his actions. I would say the chemistry between the two is good, and far from being mechanical as I expected. And the horse is always fun to watch. I would also like to point out William Fichtner for portraying such a slimy, reprehensible and yet ultimately old-fashioned-at-heart villain very well.
Verbinski was wise enough to make the film stretch out to be a whopping 149 minutes, but I feel that it was sufficient for establishing the supporting characters. Lest we remind ourselves of "A Good Day to Die Hard" with all those character moments cut short in favor of action. Oh dear.
So far, so good. Within the first 2 hours it became clear to me, that Verbinski, Hammer, Depp and co. were having a blast making this movie, and that they didn't really think of the box-office or studio gossip that might hurt the movie. Or maybe, they were, and decided to use every penny of the budget as heartily as they can.
Then came the climactic action sequence. I cheered.
Not just because I was rooting for the Ranger and Tonto to save the day, but also because of how extremely thrilling yet entertaining the sequence was. It involves two trains, on parallel tracks, chasing each other. Any big budget studio would normally film it on a green screen, but Verbinski thought otherwise. Most of the scenes were shot for real with CGI only touching up certain scenes. The mere sight of seeing real train stunts and practical effects on the big screen again was something I thought I would never see. Verbinski's direction in this scene has a certain Spielbergian/Indy zeal to it that makes it all the more enjoyable to watch, and he takes pride in it.
And all of this accompanied by a terrifically rousing extended arrangement of the William Tell Overture, giving an old-school heroic vibe, but never overwhelming the action, rather complementing it perfectly. This finale is worth the price of admission alone, although there are plenty other action sequences before this one, and lots of them involving real stuntmen rather than CGI-ed ones. These are throwbacks to those silent-era Westerns, probably "The Great Train Robbery" and more obviously, Buster Keaton's "The General", in which the train stunts have to be seen to be believed. This one, too, showing perfectly how stunts and CGI can co-exist in harmony.
Bottom line, this is an exhilarating and really fun joy to watch, perfect old-fashioned escapist entertainment, lovingly crafted by a director who has an eye for camera work and thrills. This might be the first and last big-budget western you'll see in cinemas (judging from the poor box-office, unfortunately), it's a pity as Verbinski, Hammer, Depp and co. show you, in this film, how the Western was won.
Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" opens with a stunning sequence set on the
dying planet Krypton involving Jor-El (Russell Crowe), trying to
preserve the Kryptonian race via his newborn son, Kal-El. I put
emphasis on Snyder because this film has his stamp clearly all over it,
try as the marketing department might to fit in Christopher Nolan's
producing credit in every trailer they can get. But no matter.
If there was one thing I could pin Nolan on for this film, I would say, the mood of the film. This is definitely not your daddy's and grandaddy's Superman, or for that matter not your older brother's. Like "Batman Begins", emphasis is put on mood and atmosphere, with the lighthearted and campy factors virtually scrubbed out for a slicker, more down-to-earth feel. Unlike Nolan's reboot, though, "Man of Steel" opts to take a more action-oriented approach for its hero. And boy, do I mean action.
Once the action lands on Earth, the audience is immediately whisked off alongside the now adult Kal-El, or Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), as he ventures alone on his quest to eventually find a certain (not-so) solitude location, while intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) investigates that very same one. Along the way well-timed flashbacks offer glimpses into Clark's youth and inspirations, most notably his loving Earth parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who sufficiently provides as much inspiration as they can to properly shape up Clark as he nears his destiny.
I say sufficient, because "Man of Steel" paces itself thunderously with gigantic and spectacular action sequences from start to finish, giving little time for the audience to breathe. The admittedly bare-bones plot is made way for some truly awesome sights to behold, showing quite possibly the most honest depiction of how powerful Kryptonians can really be if they really, really want to.
I deplore "Transformers" for the very same reason I recommend "Man of Steel" - that is, non-stop action. This is because the former repeats an outdated formula that is aggressively forced onto the audience, while "Man of Steel" embraces its action sequences with style and technique. I usually deplore the excess of CGI in action sequences, but here I'm making an exception because this movie really shows that CGI can be used positively to create sights previously unknown to man, (a feat not seen since "Avatar", perhaps?). Buildings fall, planets explode, large objects are flying in the air, all done before, yes, but Snyder and his talented crew are probably influenced by Biblical catastrophes for their sensational action sequences. Imagine that.
Snyder has a firm grip on action sequences, and injects them with such energy that one would think he drank a gallon of adrenaline and decided to show it through this film, but again, his crew is key. The marvelous production design by Alex McDowell, which includes the planet Krypton is given a major rehaul and now resembles something Lovecraftian, made me grin at the details and atmosphere created. Amir Mokri's framing of the action compiled with moody, muted colors makes it hard to not awe at the sheer spectacle unfolding while gasping at sights at the same time, and Hans Zimmer's rousing score keeps the film moving at a high tempo while pausing occasionally to take a breather.
And what of our film's star? Cavill fits Superman to a T, he looks and sounds exactly what Supes would, but given the emotional mood of the whole movie, he manages to act convincingly in those emotional scenes. He looks like he has a bright future ahead. Michael Shannon, a character actor who is rising rapidly in his field, is intimidating as General Zod the villain, but most good actors can play the role well. As for the rest of the cast, they all deliver solid if unspectacular performances, though it was nice to see Costner on the big screen again.
This is what I wanted to see in a comic book adaptation. Retaining the essence of the Superman character while wrapping sensational action sequences around a moody and Gothic atmosphere. It's no "Dark Knight" in terms of depth and character, but it doesn't even try to be, and it still works. Of course there will be a sequel. There will be a Justice League movie while they're at it. Hell, I'll be there if they can make it as rollicking as this.
If I were to pick between this and "The Avengers", there is no question. I'm sorry, Marvel fans. Just my honest opinion.
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