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128 out of 198 people found the following review useful:
Roll Jordan Roll, 18 October 2013

A random and encounter has led Solomon Northup from living freely in New York to being kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana, getting handed over to various slave owners. There, Solomon witnesses numerous acts of cruelty that no man should ever face.

As I stared at the movie screen with full dread, I was reeling back at certain scenes I had just witnessed. There were good films and television shows about slavery before, and they had various nuances at how to tackle slavery. This film is part of said resurgence of the sub- genre, hot on the heels of "Django Unchained" and "The Butler". But while the former relinquishes on Spaghetti Western entertainment more than attempting to address the issue in a political light as the latter, Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" shuts those two up, and perhaps the entire sub-genre, for good. I doubt any future slavery-themed film will be as harrowing as this one was.

Steve McQueen is a fearless filmmaker, continuing his streak of unfiltered brutality within human depths. He frames his actors' faces in extreme close-up, the eyes staring into despair, the nostrils fuming in aggression. Naked flesh are shown not because of erotic content, but rather because of desperation and futility. Long takes and wide shots are not uncommon in his films, and here they showcase a plethora of fantastic scenes and performances that work to discomfort the viewer as much as possible. McQueen doesn't just allow the audience to tackle slavery, he guts the audience and leaves them for the consequences. This is an extremely uncomfortable film to watch. Beautifully shot locations are placeholders for unsettling sequences before and after, contemplated by Hans Zimmer's poignant and at times horrifying score. This all works to create a nightmarish time and place where hell walks on Earth.

Central to all of this is the performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon. Ejiofor showcases that he is a natural force to be reckoned with in this film, after a decade of mostly supporting characters. He spaces out in despair as the camera lingers onto him for solid minutes, not a word spoken. Another sequence shows him mourning the death of a fellow worker, in which the singing of the surrounding group compels him and shakes him down to tears. These scenes follow earlier ones where he is a classy, free man in the upper states, mingling happily with the crowd and partaking in fanciful music sessions. It is a tour-de-force performance.

A fine ensemble of established and up-and-coming actors surround Ejiofor in his limelight - Paul Dano, Paul Giammati, Alfre Woodard, Sarah Paulson, even Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch, but none so ferociously as McQueen regular Michael Fassbender as the despicable, sadistic plantation owner Edwin Epps. So excellent and terrifying is Fassbender's portrayal of such a merciless and barbaric person, that the mere sight of him will either cause audience members unfamiliar to him to flinch.

I was left speechless as the credits rolled. A lesser film would have added tacked-on sentimentality/exaggeration and politically influenced claptrap. Not this one. This is a movie to watch as a reminder of how powerful the human spirit can endeavor, and how lucky all of us have grown past that dreadful time in history. The full effect of it has not been felt in movies before, until now.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
The men with a plan, 18 October 2013

Having his characters being put in prison in many of his films, Sylvester Stallone this time has his character, Ray Breslin, specialize in breaking out of jails to find their weak spots. Breslin even co-owns a security firm and wrote a book about it.

Alas, as it is with this sort of movies, he gets more than he bargained for when he is inexplicably kidnapped and put in an ultra high-tech, maximum security prison nicknamed "The Tomb". Somewhat ingenious, as each glass-walled cell is elevated on platforms, with a descending probe-like camera watching every move these inmates make. Nor does the sadistic guards and the warden, the charismatic yet ruthless Hobbes (James Caviezel), give them a chance to move, for that matter. So while Breslin's partners try to find him, Breslin gets some unexpected help from fellow prisoner Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

This is fun. Mikael Håfström's "Escape Plan" - the latest from the promising Swedish filmmaker, details this high concept into a somewhat predictable, but handsomely crafted and undeniably very rousing entertainer. Unlike "The Expendables" which gave a wink too many to the audience at times, "Escape Plan" is the real deal - a true blue, old school '80s - '90s action classic - that somehow found its way to the present day and managed to make two of the biggest stars of that era age for that same amount. Same look, stars and feel - but a different time, era and thematic content. There's even a badass heroic Muslim character (Faran Tahir), and not-so-subtle political ('Blackwater') undertones.

Although the two action icons headline the title, this is arguably Stallone's film. As Breslin, Stallone cuts back on the humor and plays his role straight with an undeniably commanding presence, but doesn't go too far as he did in the mediocre "Bullet to the Head" earlier this year. Well, a 67 year old with a jacked physique as a security expert may be pushing it a bit, but I've seen much worse. Besides, he has a moment which I did not expect in a film like this - character development, which was then skirted aside thanks to those wacky guards.

Speaking of wacky, Arnold Schwarzenegger, sporting grey hair and a beard, is for the most part hilarious as Rottmayer. While being basically an ascended supporting character, Arnold, with a presence equally as commanding as Stallone's, plays his role with his tongue firmly in cheek, giving foil to Stallone's serious personality and coming up with some of the film's best lines - some of which are in his native German tongue. He should seriously consider a rebirth in comedy once he's done reliving what's left of his action glory - he can be truly hysterical if he wants to (note: "True Lies") - or Austrian/German roles for that matter. The chemistry and banter between Arnold and Sly is excellent as they play each other off very well as they would in real-life (their interviews together are a hoot) and it's fun to see these two friends having a blast on-screen.

Where the "Expendables" somewhat missed the mark on their villains (JCVD should have had more screen time), "Escape Plan" hits it right on target. Although portraying a two-dimensional character, Jim Caviezel is terrific as Warden Hobbes, his piercing eyes, calm demeanor and soft- spoken charisma just gives off this extremely strong sense of antagonism and nastiness with whatever word that comes out of his mouth. It's reasonable that we don't have villains like this in the movies any more, but Caviezel shows us why we still need them. This is the villain that "Die Hard 5" should have gotten. I won't be surprised if Caviezel portrays a supervillain in a comic-book movie in the near future.

These three take center stage in the elaborately designed facility, where the prison cells resemble transparent Rubik's cubes and a somewhat harsh method of solitary confinement that involves blinding light and strong heat in a claustrophobic metal room. Such is the production design by Barry Chusid ("2012") who should be commended for the prison a life and character of it's own, with its spewing steam and claustrophobic rooms breathing a foreboding sense of dread behind the high tech. The cinematography seems to harken back to the days of yore where fight sequences weren't shot with hand-held cameras, though some of the visual effects are dodgy.

The screenplay by Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko (Jason Keller) is about as direct as it can get - but it paces itself appropriately without rushing or dragging the plot. Though I feel that the duo might have seen one too many an action film while writing the climax, but it's all good. Strangely enough, despite what I've heard from critics, the film has little-to-no one-liners (Arnie's 'vegetarian' quote seems to be the only one). The breakout scenes may be implausible, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief, because hey, you can't keep Stallone's characters in jail.

Accentuating the intense atmosphere, and what I think makes the film work, is Håfström's strong direction which again focuses more on plot and character rather than action sequences - a feat he has accomplished on his previous thrillers "1408", "Derailed" and "Shanghai" - all with equally perfect major casting. However, Håfström should also be commended for saving the only major action sequence for the final third of the film, creating not only mystery and tension for the first two halves but also a terrific build-up to an explosive, insane and crowd- pleasing climax which sees the two action icons doing what they do best - kick ass. Age be damned.

This was a fun ride from start to finish but it's time for their action hero days to end and for their careers to move on to more interesting and grounded stuff. They can't do this forever.

Passion (2012)
4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
To deceive or not to be deceived, 8 September 2013

Cinema is all about the sense of sight, and few filmmakers take advantage of that fact than Brian De Palma. His "Sisters", "Body Double", "Dressed to Kill", "Snake Eyes" and "Femme Fatale" all explored the duality of sight and illusion, seducing and deceiving the audience at every turn, and usually surprising them at end. Logic is the least of De Palma's concern - he uses the camera as his storyteller, showing simultaneously what the eye can see and what the camera can hide.

In De Palma's aptly-titled "Passion", he utilizes this signature technique of his in every frame. Like "Femme Fatale", he pulls out every trick in the book and shows it to the audience, seducing and hypnotizes them to look closer, then deceives them in surprise. The lines between reality and nightmare become distorted as cinematographer Jose Luis Alcain's camera shifts from the mundane modern, to slowly tilting away into darkness and insanity. Combined with flashes of bizarre imagery and an equally seductive score by De Palma regular Pino Donaggio, De Palma successfully hypnotizes the audience into a surreal dream-turned- nightmare.

An absurd, darkly comic and sensual thriller, "Passion" tells the tale of Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) and her boss Christine (Rachel McAdams) - both work at a PR firm in Berlin. When Christine steals Isabelle's credit for a PR idea, it sets the ground for backstabbing, seduction, and even murder as Isabelle goes out from one nightmare into another. While Christine indulges herself with her narcissism, Isabelle is plunged into a deep hatred for her boss.

No surprise if this all sounds familiar - De Palma's film is a remake of the 2010 Alain Corneau film "Love Crime" with Ludivine Sagnier and Kristin Scott Thomas. But whereas Corneau's film concerns itself with revenge and the investigation post-murder, De Palma wastes no time on trivial plot points and mixes motives of homo-erotic and psychological tendencies into the plot, creating a more interesting and - thanks to De Palma's fantastic style - hypnotic film. Already we have some of De Palma's key plot points - interesting female characters, manipulation, seduction/deception and voyeurism, but De Palma keeps the film in check by adding a layer of self-awareness and irony (a masterstroke on the auteur's part), making for a wholly enjoyable and gripping experience.

Both McAdams and Rapace steal their moments in the film - McAdams hasn't been this deliciously evil since "Mean Girls", in fact her character could be Regina George all grown up. Rapace shows subtle emotions that crack slowly but painfully as each humiliation by her boss falls upon her - until she descends completely into the darkness. A supporting performance by Karoline Herfurth also stands out.

However the real star of the movie is undoubtedly De Palma's camera as it becomes the most essential character in the film. Take a key sequence in the middle of the film where a split-screen set-piece brings De Palma's techniques to full circle. The music of Debussy's "Afternoon of a Faun" accompanies both a ballet and a separate action involving Christine — the sequence is beautifully directed and choreographed that it should prompt today's filmmakers to see how to generate real suspense.

De Palma is a master filmmaker, a true American auteur that makes his films how he wants it, and hasn't lost his touch even after years of modern-day thrillers and action changed Hollywood sensibility (I suspect this for the low ratings the film has been receiving; modern audiences aren't accustomed to De Palma's style). He is also a playful one who doesn't expect his movies to be taken seriously - and he takes full advantage of the fact. Besides, film isn't meant to reflect real life, so why hold back? This film knows what it is - it is gleeful entertainment for true cinema fans, as well as a skillfully crafted thriller that shocks and amuses. Few will agree, but this is one of the year's best films.

Antarctica (1983)
The Brave Ones, 5 September 2013

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 creations.

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.

The Attack (2012)
10 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Poem for peace, 30 August 2013

*** 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.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
De Palma's Odyssey, 17 August 2013

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.

4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Living in the now, 13 August 2013

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.

Sisters (1973)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
De Palma's "first", 13 August 2013

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.

Elysium (2013/I)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The future's a bloody mess, literally, 8 August 2013

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 (Foster).

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.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Steven Seagal directs. That's all you need to know., 3 August 2013

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.

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