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"Cloud Atlas" is an epic film that left me breathless, speechless, and
wanting more. The films' virtuoso craftmanship beckons, nay, returns to
an era long gone where the writers and the directors, not the studios,
were given complete creative control over how their movies should look,
feel and be. The fact that this film is nearly 3 hours in length shows
the film's brilliant refusal to compromise itself for the sake of
As the films' six main story lines strongly weave together like a cane basket, we progress from a number of different genres, from period adventure, to forbidden period romance, to conspiracy thriller, to slapstick black comedy, to futuristic/post-apocalyptic science fiction. Many characters weave to and fro, some will meet again in the next timeline in the most unexpected of waves. So is life. How ponderous.
Such extraordinary and introspective screen writing is handled perfectly along with top-notch filmmaking skills by Lana and Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer. Yes, three filmmakers. Lana and Andy, responsible for "The Matrix" trilogy, and Tykwer, famous for "Run Lola Run" and "Perfume" have triumphed with supremely ambitious, visionary and focused filmmaking. "Cloud Atlas", the trio's labour of love, is as good as any film they have made, perhaps far more better. This film is Terrence Malick mixed with Ridley Scott. Probably.
This is the work of great artists who have collaborated artistically and professionally to create this one-of-a-kind movie. Supreme visual effects and good cinematography interweave with great variable performances from the impressive ensemble (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Doona Bae, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Keith David, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant), flawless production design, interesting make-up effects and terrific music by Tykwer, Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek (Pale 3, a favourite of mine). A lot of hard work and effort went into this film and it pays off, with Tykwer and the Wachowskis transforming David Mitchell's novel into a daring, complex, intelligent and intriguing Grade-A work of cinematic modern art.
Good movies are ones that leave you satisfied and memorable. Great movies will leave you wondering long after the movie is over. Excellent movies are the ones which leaves you speechless and makes you want to discuss its philosophies with almost everyone you see on the street. Are we all connected by the fabric of time? Do we remember each other in previous lives? Are we all indirectly connected to each other, this life of the next? And so on.
I truly cannot say more for this extraordinary film. This film is a work of genius(es), and I cannot wait to see it again. 3 hours have never gone by so fast. May this film be rewarded richly in the coming years.
Ben Affleck's "Argo" opens with a stunning prologue depicting the siege
and takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran during the 1979 Iranian
Revolution. The whole sequence is exciting and extremely involving. The
leading up to the main core of the film's plot is also as engaging.
"Argo" tells the true story of a fake movie which saved the lives of the Americans trapped during the crisis. There are obvious parts which are too "movie-ish" and "Americanized", however, without them it can't be considered a mainstream movie now can it?
When all other plans fail, the CIA allows their specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) to go ahead with his plan - with the help of Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to front a fake movie studio, approve a science-fiction script, fly Mendez to Iran, and fly the Americans out of Tehran disguised as film crewmembers on a location shoot. No matter how ridiculous the plan sounds like, it's a true story nonetheless. And this is a thrilling depiction of the affair.
It's also a reminder of how powerful the movies can be, both by itself and the making of. This story takes place when two countries are both on the edge, and tensions are spiking on the extreme. Movie magic apparently eases and spellbinds both sides, you'll see what I mean when watching this.
The film also fiercely supports my notion that Ben Affleck is fast on his way into becoming a versatile filmmaker by his own right, and has already evolved into a promising one. Might he be the next Clint Eastwood? Too early to tell, yes, but Affleck shows no sign of sloppiness thus far. Affleck is fairly good in his performance but he directs the film with supreme confidence and skill, using subtle techniques to wring out the thrills.
I especially liked how the film really is a pure thriller instead of the obligatory car chases and gunfights (although the climax is technically a chase, it is subtly directed making it helluva exciting). Affleck, in the past decade being typecast as an action hero, now doesn't even fire a single shot in this one. I like that.
Technically, the film looks like it came out of a time capsule, with the production and costume design, '70s grain and even the vintage Warner Bros logo are at play - it delves you into the film even further. Editing is appropriately paced, yet Alexandre Desplat's music score could have been a bit better. Just my two cents.
With a strong supporting cast (Arkin and Goodman are hilarious in their parts, injecting surprising cynical humor; Bryan Cranston as Mendez's supervisor; Victor Garber as the Canadian ambassador who bravely risks himself while sheltering the Americans) and an intelligent, fiercely exciting, intensely moving, and appropriately terse screenplay. However the film's flaws may be, "Argo" is still one hell of a thriller.
What would you do if one day you had a heart-to-heart talk with
yourself, which is decades older than you? What if you were a hit-man
and you were ordered to take out yourself? Such questions and much more
are posed in Rian Johnson's "Looper", an excellent addition to the
science- fiction genre. No wait, it isn't just science-fiction, it's
also an action thriller and a crime drama (complete with noir-like
narration) with a healthy dollop of romance. This movie knocked my
In the future, time-travel is illegal, and yet somehow some criminals managed to get their hands on the technology, and send targets back in time to be assassinated by hit men called Loopers. These Loopers, such as Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) live rich when the economic structure of the rest of society is crumbling around them. However, a thing called 'closing the loop' happens when the Loopers kill older versions of themselves sent back from the future - effectively eliminating all trace of the Loopers back to the organization which hired them. Trouble befalls Joe when he lets his guard down enough to let his older self (Bruce Willis) escape. How a young Kansas farm lady (Emily Blunt) and her son fit into this plot I will not reveal. One might be thinking "A- ha! I know where this is going" in many scenes, but Johnson is smarter than that. He has a trick up every sleeve, turning a potential cliché over its head. Such an intense ride. Such superb writing by Johnson who also directs the film with flair, and kinetics when duty calls him to. This being his first mainstream film, who knows what he'll come up with next.
Looper delivers. An ingenious, intelligent, daring screenplay which brings a fresh and thought-provoking twist to the time-travel genre while also inverting it. It has brutal violence in between the genuinely thrilling, adrenaline pumping action sequences - adding raw edge to the film. It is also a strong morality play - it blurs the line between hero-isms and villainous acts. The younger Joe, the hero of the film played by Gordon-Levitt in a smart-aleck performance, is a thug that kills people for money and luxury. The older version of the character as portrayed by Willis is a bruised, tortured, intense soul underneath all that toughness, a wounded, broken man who is determined to set things right his way - however morally skewered it is. Not forgetting a vulnerable and fragile performance by Blunt who provides a strong emotional and (non-cliché) romantic core to the younger Joe, and a mischievous, mysterious yet witty act from little Pierce Gagnon, who maintains the right balance of emotions for the role. Not forgetting Jeff Daniels as a businessman-like supervisor for the Loopers - charismatic at times, brutal at others.
Some very good cinematography by Steve Yedlin really shows nice, wide angles and refreshingly crisp action sequences in their glory - and also showcases the sleek production design, a futuristic Kansas metropolis not unlike the city of Blade Runner, only with more impoverished people. The special effects are good for what the budget is for the film but I strongly appreciate its subtlety for not choking on unnecessary CGI. It actually enhances the intensity of the film. Editing is crisp and paces the film nicely, without leaving too much or too little. Nathan Johnson's score is very good, actually, some old-school action orchestra work among the subtler parts can be heard here, with perfect timing, and it is a fine addition to the movie.
"Looper" is extremely entertaining and yet one hell of a film. Very intense and thrilling, very exciting, very thought provoking, substantially emotional and stylish and ultimately just damn great. We might see a cult of fans hoarding this movie soon. Just when you think there's hardly any more original sci-fi flicks, out comes this wallop of a film - surprisingly one of 2012's very best.
Eat your heart out, "Inception".
Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" may not be an
original film dealing with high school ups and downs, but it could very
well be a very strong addition to the genre. It marks a great
directorial debut from Chbosky, who also wrote the screenplay which is
based on his own novel. It is always a pleasure to see an
author/novelist have the freedom to express his own material in a
different medium, and do it so professionally.
The film centers around introvert Charlie and his struggles during freshman year in high school. Charlie is struggling with making new friends due to personal tragedies which affected him negatively. This may not be new, but in the hands of a lesser director, could make it worse. Chbosky knows what he is doing and fine-tunes his actors to fit his story the way he wants it - raw and real. True to introverts, this movie and Chbosky really get what they're thinking and how they can cope with friends, bullies and tragedies. Chbosky understood the themes and his actors understood the material very well, so this film is not the usual teen film.
The three main actors shape themselves around their characters perfectly. Logan Lerman is great as Charlie in a performance that is emotional, subtle, withdrawn and quirky in places. He really can get intense at moments too. Ezra Miller, who terrified us in "We Need To Talk About Kevin" last year, turns 180 degrees and delivers a likable, hilarious, often touching character in Patrick, who is half the key to Charlie's quest for friendship. The other half is the lovely Emma Watson as Sam, Patrick's stepsister and Charlie's first love. Watson, in her first attempt to shed off her "Harry Potter" image is witty, charming and cute, and still manages to give out a heartfelt performance. She's the kind of pretty girl that all boys like to see, and give guys like Charlie hopes and dreams - and possibly save them, too. Other actors in the movie of note are Mae Whitman as Charlie's first date, Kate Walsh and Dylan McDermott as Charlie's parents and Nina Dobrev and Zane Holtz as Charlie's siblings. They sort of fade into the background once Charlie gets with his friends, but they're there when Charlie has no one, like all families should be. Oh, and Paul Rudd as the likable literature teacher. Makes you want him to be in your class one day.
Chbosky does not stray from the roots of realism. Even though the film may tread familiar teen movie ground as desirable as it should, Chbosky firmly plants this movie's feet into the realistic ground. This film struck a personal chord with me, too. It really touched me as I am an introvert as well since high school, although not as serious and intense as Charlie, I feel him. Some scenes were pleasant to watch, some scenes were intense and brought back many unwanted/awkward memories, and other times it had me thinking even further.
The fact that this film contains mature themes of suicide, homosexuality, drug and sexual content, and still be given a PG-13 rating is nothing short of a miracle. Bottom line is, if you're a teen or an introverted young adult, make sure this movie is on the top of your watch list. This is a great teen film.
Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" is a puzzling, often bewildering
film. Very few films have left me shaken and stirred and still leave me
wondering, "What was that all about?" I can't say that I hated the
ride. It is, quite simply, a remarkable film from one of America's best
filmmakers today. This film is not for everyone, however.
The film's center plot; the one about self-described nuclear physicist, philosopher and professor Lancaster Dodd and his "organization" "The Cause" - as seen from the point of view from a shell-shocked psychotic drunk Freddie Quell. During the course of the film Lancaster and Freddie bond somewhat with Lancaster progressing his latest works.
The main performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are superb, and should warrant both of them Academy Award Nominations for Best Actor. Both of them. Phoenix is literally on fire here, his quirky mannerisms, twitching lips, unforgiving, unsettling eyes and ferocious anger and voice had me on the edge every time I see him on screen. Hoffman also is more subtle, though we see growing anger and rage whenever he feels that his work is being threatened. He can be classy, charismatic, and when threatened, loses all of that and becomes about as desperate as Freddie. Brilliant work by both actors. Watch the scene where Lancaster gets through to Freddie, or the harrowing scene where both of them are in jail cells. Special mention to Amy Adams who, while not really standing out, gives off a peculiar and somewhat sinister aura whenever she's on the screen.
Anderson's solid screenplay and his concentrated direction bring the goods. There seems to be a pattern about Anderson's last three films including this one. Both "Punch-Drunk Love" and "There Will Be Blood" featured lead characters who are extremely lonely and prone to snap to anger. "The Master" is somewhat a bit of both, where the lonely man can be both psychotic without reason and yet there are scenes which show he is, after all, a man. Some very well written lines ("If you can find peace without looking up to a master, any master...") meshed with some really great cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. that brings nice color tones to the 1950 production design. Complementing all of this is Jonny Greenwood's eerie, dissonant score which makes the movie all the more odd, unsettling, and yet compelling to watch.
Eventually, both men in the movie are the masters of their own fate, and Anderson his own. It may move some and it may turn away others, but this is a fascinating watch nonetheless. "The Master" is one of 2012's very best films.
David Ayer's "End of Watch" opens excitingly with a narration by Jake
Gyllenhaal's Officer Brian which trails a car chase. Once the action
ends, we are introduced to Brian's partner, Mike (Michael Pena) and his
squad who serve and protect the streets of Los Angeles.
What makes Ayer's film compelling are many factors. Firstly, the terrific chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena. These two bounce each other off so naturally, you'd forget you're watching a movie. Even their comrades, friends and family (Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, David Harbor, America Ferrara) form a circle around them to which they interact naturally among one another. It's their lives.
Another factor is that of the editing. The film is filmed using the usual hand-held first person cinematography, as Brian is doing a law degree and has to pick an elective, so he chooses filmmaking. He intends to make a documentary about police life, with Mike helping him. Through this technique, a day in the life of a street cop could not be more natural. Criminals are caught, children are rescued from a burning house, capture of drug shipments, etc. Meanwhile, the villains of the movie, an angry gang mad at the cops for retrieving money, drugs and weapons following a bust, marks the cops for death, and one of them carries a video camera to record their exploits, perhaps hoping that they'll be famous one day. It's interesting to see Ayer juxtapose the different points of view while at the same time adding third person cinematography. It makes the film more compelling to watch.
And then there is the violence and shootouts, a staple of Ayer. It is brutal, it is shocking, it is fast, and it is graphic, just like in real life. Ayer knows realism. He bleeds it. His filmography is comprised mostly of crime/cop dramas, so he knows what he's writing and directing about.
All in all, it was an intense and quite emotional movie to watch. The banter between Gyllenhaal and Pena may form an emotional impression on others. And I would say that the touching closing scene of this movie couldn't bring that point home any further.
I admit I am not familiar with Judge Dredd the comics, but I did see
the 1995 film with Sylvester Stallone, and, well... I wouldn't say it
wasn't entertaining, but... Now comes the updated "Dredd". And it is
surprisingly a thrill.
Never mind that the story is basically a pastiche of "Blade Runner", and this year's ultra-violent "The Raid". If "The Raid" was ultra-violent, then this is uber-violent. It's rated R? Should be NC-17. It's surprisingly gory. Heads and limbs are smashed, fly off and explode in realistic, bloody detail. Bullet wounds and broken bones look all-too realistic. Dozens of innocents are slaughtered graphically by the sadistic villainness.
But why did I enjoy this movie? Because all of those scenes fit within the film's gritty, edgy new atmosphere, courtesy of director Pete Travis ("Vantage Point") and especially production designer Mark Digby and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (both of whom have worked on "Slumdog Millionaire"). Mantle's very stylish cinematography stands out here: we have nice wide angles to appreciate the special effects and sets, and the violence in all its brutality. Paul Leonard-Morgan's effective and gritty techno bass score cues everything at the right moments, and the editing is paced nice and tight with a cohesive flow throughout, instead of the usual cut-cut-cut and paste job of today.
I want to mention a terrific use of slow motion where all four technical aspects combine. The use of slow motion when the crooks take a special drug (appropriately titles SLO-MO) is among the most stylish and positive uses of the editing technique I've seen. Those hallucination sequences are superb and creative visually, it feels all too real (maybe a bit more if you watch the sequences in the good but unspectacular 3D).
How about our hero? Karl Urban makes Dredd his own. Echoing Clint Eastwood's own Dirty Harry persona (there's even a scene which reminds me of "Magnum Force") - he scowls and growls and dishes out hard brutal justice the only way he knows how. Urban is great in one of his few lead roles - and let's hope the fans agree. Lena Headey really makes a nasty, sadistic and cruel villainness that permeates the film's atmosphere as well, while Olivia Thirlby is a pretty face, doesn't really bring anything new, but yet doesn't stand out from the film. Although I am glad Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland does not force a stupid romance between her character and Dredd. It just doesn't fit.
Overall, this is a surprisingly intense thrill ride. It is loud and flashy, and occasinally big, but it is all done right. Pete Travis makes a usual story/screenplay into a stylish, uber-violent futuristic action pic, he goes for ambition and fills the film with more stylistic touches and goes straight for the jugular. More importantly, he is one of the few directors who knows when and especially how to use slow motion. Take that, Michael Bay.
If you're looking for blood and carnage, and Karl Urban's great take on Dredd, then this is the movie for you. This makes Stallone's movie look like camp.
"How the hell do you know I'm lucky to survive?"
Legendary screen icon Clint Eastwood returns in front of the camera since his hit "Gran Torino". No matter what anyone else thinks of him, I will always admire the man. He is one of my heroes. Who else can personify the action hero perfectly, become a gifted filmmaker, improve his acting ability as he ages AND be quite the jazz musician?
Mr. Eastwood may be old but he still has a commanding presence on screen. Granted, he might be the only leading octogenarian in Hollywood right now, but still, I digress. He is old. That is a fact. At the age of 82, seeing him play an elderly man losing his sight while bonding with his distant daughter makes it quite sad for me to watch. However, "Trouble With the Curve" is a breeze to watch.
It is not a baseball movie, although baseball is the basis of the film's story. Nor is it a depressing drama (Mr. Eastwood's favorite genre of late). It is a father-daughter bonding dramedy, with some great chemistry between Mr. Eastwood and Amy Adams as his estranged daughter. Justin Timberlake also arrives to lighten up the atmosphere even more, and his presence is welcome in the film.
Mr. Eastwood is not in the director's chair this time. His long-time producer partner, Robert Lorenz, makes his directorial debut with this film. Apparently Lorenz directs the cast with ease although it feels too by-the-numbers. But hey, there are much worse debuts. Judging from the breezy pace and the somewhat brisk editing and lively cinematography, it's clear from the get-go that the superb "Eastwood touch" is not evident in the film, even though some of Mr. Eastwood's key players are still here - cinematographer Tom Stern and editor Joel Cox - though the music by Marco Beltrami (not Mr. Eastwood nor his son this time!) complements the atmosphere pleasantly.
Look, this is not a great film. It's a pedestrian and predictable film, with Mr. Eastwood, Adams, Timberlake, as well as an impressive supporting cast featuring John Goodman and Robert Patrick, phoning in the performances. Both Adams and Mr. Eastwood have acted much more superbly in better previous movies ("Gran Torino", "Million Dollar Baby", "The Fighter"). But it is funny, it is sad at times (Mr. Eastwood's heart-wrenching singing of 'You are My Sunshine' is forever embedded in my head), and it is easy on the eyes, ears and mind, a relaxing pleasure to watch. It is great entertainment. From all the big- budget blockbusters out in cinemas last summer, this is a joy. You'll walk out smiling.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"In economics and finance, arbitrage is the practice of taking
advantage of a price difference between two or more markets: striking a
combination of matching deals that capitalize upon the imbalance, the
profit being the difference between the market prices. When used by
academics, an arbitrage is a transaction that involves no negative cash
flow at any probabilistic or temporal state and a positive cash flow in
at least one state; in simple terms, it is the possibility of a risk-
free profit at zero cost." So says Wikipedia.
This is what billionaire and hedge fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere) does to the people around him - he takes advantage of many people unlike himself in order to escape a sticky situation that he has gotten himself into. He takes advantage of his mistress in order to feel loved and belonging. He takes advantage of his wife's loyalty to maintain his image. He takes advantage of his company so that his pure-hearted daughter can take over. And finally, when said mistress ends up in a car wreck and in flames, he takes advantage of an average joe to get himself out of a situation that is fast increasing its radius.
Is Miller a heartless bastard? Not completely. He is a human being, after all. Money hungry and obsessed, yes, but still human. Richard Gere in possibly a highlight in his career, portrays him as a man seething with power just under the surface, that the mention of anything that will damage his facade will blow him up. When he smiles, there's deceit in his eyes. Take example of the scene where Tim Roth's detective character first meets Miller in his office. Miller just lies his way through every question and still be the smoothest businessman in the office. It's the quiet Gere that we come to see the emotions boiling underneath - he's at the top, but no one's there with him. Not even his wife, played effectively by Susan Sarandon (especially at the end where she erupts as well, but more subtly) - nor his children, including his daughter (Brit Marling) who is also his Chief Investment Officer - and the only person he truly cares for. He's all alone and on his own. As he says to his daughter - "I'm the patriarch. I play my role." I can safely say that Richard Gere is back - and here's hoping he'll stay some more for a while.
But it is not just Miller who has intentions. Roth's Detective Bryer isn't buying Miller's excuses. He's smart, but he hates rich people for getting away with anything, that he brought himself down to their level - doing anything to put Miller behind bars. This isn't an honest cop. Even unwilling Jimmy (Nate Parker) has issues of his own and is steadfast about his loyalty to Miller - but for how long ?(note the scene in the courtroom where Jimmy never loses his cool or composure - it's a great moment for Parker) Or even Mrs. Miller who(after years of complying with Miller about his illegal ways) loses it after he breaks the heart of the only person that both of them ever truly loved?
"Arbitrage" is not a particularly great nor original film, but it is a crackerjack dramatic thriller, expertly crafted and written by Nicholas Jarecki. Cinematography and production design are slick (as expected from any sort of finance- related film) and the music by Cliff Martinez is suitably moody and complements Gere's character perfectly. The editing is good as the film never lets up the moment it starts, and keeps the audience rapt in its attention.
Is money the root of all evil? You decide. Money can be a scapegoat, but for people like Miller, "money is God". He is, after all, human. And like all humans at some part of their lifespan, he makes big mistakes at the wrong time.
I have found reviewing this film in detail to be futile. Instead, I
will offer my own thoughts.
Whereas 1992's "Baraka" contemplates on humanity in a dream/god-like manner, Ron Fricke's "Samsara" is more intense and solemn in its tone. From the birth of civilization, mankind has used its gift for intelligence for nothing but progress, and now, today, we have either reached or gone over the tipping point. There is no where but down this time. Humans work mechanically in a clockwork fashion, consume everything in their path, and leave the excesses behind for others to scavenge. Eventually, all will collapse, leaving nothing behind and returning the state of civilization back to ground zero. And the wheel turns on. Is this what "Samsara", Frick and co-editor Mark Magidson is trying to say? Or did you experience a completely different interpretation? It is up to you to decide.
I will not ponder upon the technical details. The cinematography and editing is flawless; the music and music arrangement - simply mesmerizing. A work of art, like life itself, on this planet, in our cities and homes, in the desolate plains and mountains; they are shown in all its beauty, splendour and spectacle. Our planet is truly beautiful.
I will end my review with this note - you owe no one but yourself to see this film. Every man, woman and child should see this - regardless of their personal preference of culture and entertainment. This film is a message to all of us. A warning.
Overall rating: 100%
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