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The Act of Killing (2012)
Harrowing, shocking, and at times unbearable to watch... but it's also surprisingly poetic and beautiful.
The Act of Killing is a documentary based on the Indonesian genocide in 1965. It challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish. The killings resulted in one of the most brutal genocide in history, with nearly a million people slaughtered within a year. It's obvious some of the scenes they re-enacted are inspired by Hollywood films, as the perpetrators of the killings themselves admitted that they're big fans of violent Brando and Pacino movies. No doubt this is one of the most bizarre and frightening films I've ever seen, but also one of the most inventive. Most documentaries I've seen usually have talking heads or footage of the subject matter, but in this case, we not only get the first-hand account of the event, but the perpetrators themselves willingly re-enact the brutal events on camera. The documentary is so well-crafted as it really transported me to another realm. Director Joshua Oppenheimer spent nearly a decade working on this film, which grew out of another project he was working on in Indonesia in 2001. The Texas-born filmmaker (who currently resides in Copenhagen) had been fluent in Indonesian whilst filming this, and it's apparent that he cares very deeply about the story. I'm amazed at how candid the former death squad leaders were in revealing the acts of killings they did four decades ago, down to the most gruesome details, both in words and in the form of the various re-enactments. It's interesting that in some of the scenes they're playing the 'victim' of the torture and execution. At one point Anwar said to Joshua that perhaps he could feel what his victims felt when they were subjected to such horrifying terror, but the director wisely but politely rebuked him. Obviously he could never felt what his victims felt, given that what Anwar took part in was only fiction, not the real deal. The word 'amusing' perhaps isn't what you'd expect in a documentary about mass killings... yet the re-enactments that were inspired by various Hollywood genres ranging from Cowboy movies, crime drama, and bizarre musical numbers where a member of Indonesian paramilitary Pemuda Pancasila was dressed in an ornate drag costume. Though some of the scenes are quite amusing, it's truly revolting that these guys are in such good spirits and joking around whilst filming such horrific acts. It's one thing when an actor has to act out a fictional violent film, but every scenes they depicted here are based on true acts of killing that they themselves performed to hundreds of thousand innocent victims. The film focuses mainly on two of the most notorious death squad leaders in North Sumatra, Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry. It's interesting to note the different reactions between the two in how they cope with their past sins. Anwar seems somewhat remorseful and honest about being haunted by his past, in the form of nightmares and psychological torment, whilst Adi is more defiant and in denial about how his past doesn't really affect him. There's an absurd conversation between the two when they're talking about seeing a shrink to help alleviate their psychological issues. One of the most intriguing character in the film is Herman, who's dressed in drag for a good part of the film. He wasn't actually involved in the massacre at the time as he was only about 10 years old then, but he played a prominent part in this film. His evolution throughout the film is striking as he starts out as someone who greatly admires his friend Anwar. As the film progresses, it's as if his eyes were opened to the reality of evil that he's somehow being shielded from all his life. Despite all the grisly depictions, the most affecting scenes to me are surprisingly those when no words are spoken. Whether it's a scene of Herman playing drums while wailing and screaming uncontrollably, or the deafeningly quiet moment when Anwar simply stops at the stairway as he's going down from the rooftop where a lot of the killings happened. Both scenes rendered me speechless. But really, there are too many breathtaking moments to mention in this film. It's truly a film one must experience, I don't think my review does it justice as it barely scratch the surface of the depth of what's being depicted on screen. Harrowing, shocking, and at times unbearable to watch... but it's also surprisingly poetic and beautiful. There are few films out there that I'd call essential viewing, but I think this documentary is one of them.This incident isn't just about Indonesia, but it speaks volumes about our humanity and what we humans are capable of. I hope you'd check it out when it's out in your area or available to rent. Be sure to seek out the 159-min director cut whenever possible. I'm sincerely hoping that 'The Act of Killing' would get a nod for Best Documentary at the Oscars, as well as other kudos come award season.
In a World... (2013)
A comedic gem from a first-time female director
As someone who watch at least half a dozen movie trailers a week, the premise definitely appeals to me. In fact, earlier today I saw a trailer of Inescapable that pretty much had this cheesy VO narration that tells you the plot of the story. The protagonist of this movie, Carol (Lake Bell), lives under the shadow of her voice-over star dad Sam Solomon (Fred Melamed). After being kicked out of her dad's house to accommodate for his new young wife which Carol refers to as his groupie she has to pack her bags and live with her sister.
As a vocal coach, Carol often has to coach certain celebrities when they have to adopt a certainly adopt a certain accent, but voicing a trailer is still pretty much an elite boys club. An opportunity suddenly presents itself when a big studio is looking for a voice over for a quadrilogy blockbuster sci-fi franchise and with the help of her friend Louis (Demetri Martin), she just might have a chance to break into the glass ceiling of that industry. The whole VO competition involving her dad and another VO star Gustav, an eccentric douche bag who takes a shine on Carol, provide most of the laughs. Ken Marino is a hoot as Gustav, a familiar face though I can't quite put my finger on what movies I've seen him in. There's also a comical side plot about Carol's sister marital infidelity involving a seductive hunk in the form of Irish hunk Jason O'Mara. Seriously who could resist him with his natural Irish brogue!
This is the first time I've seen Lake Bell, though I've heard of her before this movie. She not only star in this but also wrote and directed her debut film, and I must say I'm impressed! She's got excellent comic timing and a knack for accents, and the story is surprisingly engaging and downright hilarious. The tall and svelte Bell could make a living as a model but she really made herself to look very plain here as a perpetually-disheveled tomboy who's 'signature look' is a denim overall. But she's instantly likable and she surround herself with equally affable and amusing characters.
It was fun to see cameos from Geena Davis, Eva Longoria and Cameron Diaz as well, the scene of Longoria struggling to say just one simple line with a British accent had me in stitches! This movie premiered in Sundance a few months ago and I hope it'll get some decent distribution in the coming months.
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Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
The spirit of patriotism is so high in this movie, there's absolutely no room for subtlety
I was wondering the other day if it's possible to find a review of this movie that does not mention the words Die Hard. Seems that the comparison is inevitable and it seems that Olympus Has Fallen is begging for a comparison. In fact, perhaps it's an homage to that action franchise, as it's more akin to the spirit of the original Die hard movie than its official sequel.
If you've seen the trailer, then you'll know the plot. The White House is being attacked by a group of North Korean terrorists and hold the president hostage. As is with a lot of 90s action flicks, there is only one person who could save the day and that man is Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). The first ten minutes or so of exposition reveals a tragic event during his day as a Presidential guard. 18 months later, Banning is confined to a desk job and even as time passes he's still consumed with regret that he let his boss and friend, that is President Asher, down. So naturally, he's more than eager to redeem himself when the chance presented itself one sunny Summer day. The attack comes hard, fast and vicious. The first attack came from above, but instead of a space ship, practically the entire Washington DC is sprayed with bullets from an air carrier, and within minutes, the supposedly most secure building in the entire free world is reduced to rubble with dead bodies piling up on its grounds.
The words fresh and original aren't likely to be associated with this film, but it certainly stays completely true to its title. Olympus indeed has fallen, and Antoine Fuqua doesn't pull any punches with the brutality of how it goes down. It's rated R for a reason, it's violent and bloody. I lost count how many people getting shot in the head at close range and all the severe stabbings. Banning himself has no qualms in *taking care* of the enemies. He seems to subscribe to the same "No mercy! No surrender!" motto as his most famous role in 300, but with a bit more humor thrown in. Some of the one-liners did deliver some laughs, especially his defiant quips at the Pentagon folks, though Butler's character not quite as charismatic as Bruce Willis' John McClane as the script lacks some serious wit.
Unfortunately it's lacking in common sense as well. Granted, the believability factor depends on whether you'd believe a group of extreme terrorists could deliver such a blow to the United States. The thing is, I don't know how such a big aircraft could enter our airspace, passing through Andrew Air force Base, without being shot down? The security forces are so quickly rendered powerless it's as if they've never been trained to respond to emergency attack whatsoever. But the biggest plot blunder of all is how Banning is still able to get security clearance once he's inside the President's compound as he's technically no longer part of the Service. Yet could still use his thumb print to gain access, has the right code to open a safe, etc. as if he's never left! I mean, they didn't change authorization codes every time there's a shift in the security personnel? WOW, some *security* huh? Now, I can't possibly write this review and not mention the cheesy special effects. I get that this is a throwback to 90s action blockbuster, but do they have to throw in 90s SFX as well?? It gets distracting at times, especially during the ambush scene in broad daylight. Fortunately things get better and grittier as the day progresses, and the action gets more up-close with more hand-to-hand combat between Butler and whoever is unlucky enough to get in his way. Butler is utterly believable as a bad ass special forces, he's definitely credible in action flicks and as a one-man army. Yet he's not wooden or vacant like many action stars, he still brings a touch of humanity to the role as the mission is a personal one for his character. There's some emotional resonance in his scenes with Aaron Eckhart as the beleaguered POTUS, and also with his young son.
The supporting cast are stellar but not really given much to do. We've seen Eckhart and Morgan Freeman in far better roles, but their presence did add gravitas to the project. Melissa Leo got more screen time than I though but I'm disappointed that the still-athletic Angela Bassett didn't get to do any butt-kicking in this movie! I was sure she would get to do some of that when she was cast as the head of Secret Service. Rick Yune pretty much rehashed his role as Bond villain in Die Another Day as the villainous mastermind Kang who's hellbent to get his hands on US nuclear missiles. I guess he's serviceable but nothing more, a far cry from the iconic performance of say, Hans Gruber, as Kang is neither menacing nor entertaining. I'd say the characters of Dylan McDermott and Radha Mitchell could've been left in the cutting room floor and they won't make a dent.
The spirit of patriotism is so high in this movie, there's absolutely no room for subtlety. A torn down American flag being thrown by the bad guys from rooftops falls in slow-motion as a patriotic score comes on, there are plenty of moments like this and I can't help but feel a bit emotional despite its corny sentimentality.
Despite all the flaws though, I still think this one is not a bad movie. In fact, it's actually quite entertaining and action fans should be pleased to see the relentless combat scenes and countless shootouts. There's also a decent level of suspense overall, and I definitely feel a pang in my gut seeing our leaders being violated in such a way. The subject matter of terrorism is sadly still relevant to this day, and at times it really hit close to home.
Stoker definitely works as a cerebral, atmospheric psychological thriller
In case you didn't know this already, 'Stoker' is Chan-Wook Park's English language debut. It's not only a first for Park, this is also Prison Break's Wentworth Miller's debut screenplay. I'd say he's quite a talented writer. The film centers on India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), who's mourning the sudden death of her father. As if that is not a major life-changing event for the reclusive teen, her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) who she never knew existed now comes to live with her and her unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Right of the bat we know there is something strangely peculiar about Charlie and India thinks so too, right from the moment she noticed him standing on a hill at her dad's funeral. The Stokers certainly gives a whole new meaning to dysfunctional family, one that'd make your blood turns cold.
Much to India's chagrin, Evelyn seems to be fascinated by her long-lost brother-in-law who claims he's been traveling all over the world. India is naturally suspicious of Charlie, and he gives every reason for her to be with his creepy mannerism and frequent glances towards her. Initially, she tries to ignore his unhealthy attention, but Charlie is quite relentless. Despite the warning of one family member, Evelyn doesn't mind her brother in-law staying with them and let's just say Charlie intends to keep it that way, and would stop at nothing to keep his secret safe. I'm going to stop giving you the synopsis as the less you know about the plot the better. Not that Park is too concerned about plot twists however, I feel that he's more interested in building a certain state of mind for the audience as they watch things unfold.
To say this movie is unsettling would be a giant understatement. The sinister atmosphere practically ricochet off the high ceilings of the secluded woodsy estate where the Stokers live. The tension intensifies every time Charlie appears and Park is able to establish suspense with minimal frills. Even the seemingly ordinary event such as two people playing the piano or having dinner is so eerie and you're at the edge of your seat waiting just what's going to happen. Even the humorous parts are not without tension, such as the part when the Ray-Ban-wearing Charlie stalks India on her way home from work in his black convertible whilst the girls on her school bus are giggling and fawning over him.
A few reviewers say this film is not as bloody as Park's other films and I'm certainly glad for that most of the violence happen off screen. That's not to say there are no brutal scenes, it's certainly not in short supply for my taste, but it's not so gory that it makes my stomach churn. What really strikes me about Park's direction is his creative camera angles and how he frames the scene. It's truly a gorgeous film and beautifully-shot by Park's longtime-collaborator Chung-hoon Chung, both clearly have such keen eye for detail that enhance the mysterious ambiance of the film. There are also some interesting metaphors used here, such as the choice of Charlie's car, a Jaguar, seems to signify that he's a predator on the lookout for his next prey.
Clint Mansel's foreboding score also works very well here, I quite enjoy the classically-tinged music used throughout. The music certainly enhances the mood, but it also plays a role in the story. There is one memorable scene where Charlie and India playing piano together that perfectly captures the disturbing nature of their relationship.
The three main actors did an excellent job, particularly Wasikowska who manages to be convincing as a 17-year-old despite being five years older than her character. The talented Australian has this otherworldly presence that is perfect for the role and she has proved to be a capable leading lady. Goode is so perfectly creepy as Charlie, his preppy good looks makes him all the more menacing. I read that Colin Firth had been cast in the role but dropped out, I actually think Goode's youthfulness is perhaps more suitable for the role than Firth, plus he resembles Dermot Mulroney who plays Mia's late father Richard, who appears only in flashbacks. Kidman's icy demeanor is put to good use in depicting a selfish and detached mother. I like the International flavor of the film. The director and cinematographer are Korean, the composer, screenwriter and lead actor are from the UK and the two main actresses are Australian.
Being that this is my first Chan-wook Park's film I saw, I'd say I'm quite impressed with his direction and style. I do think that the filmmaker perhaps place aesthetics above narrative that it felt like the film's on the brink of style-over-substance. It's also a cold film that appeals more for the brain but little for the heart as all the characters are impossible to root for. That said, Stoker definitely works as a cerebral, atmospheric psychological thriller. Thriller fans looking for a spooky and suspenseful roller-coaster ride should not be disappointed.
review by ruth @flixchatter.net
Holy Motors (2012)
More of a cinematic experiment than a conventional film... but worth a look
I have to admit I have not heard of this French film at all until a few months ago when I read some really rave reviews of this. It sounds so batty and bizarre, and though I don't really have a huge taste for surreal cinema but I was intrigued enough to check this out.
From dusk 'til dawn, we follow a man by the name of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) traveling by a white limousine around Paris to a series of nine "appointments." His chauffeur Celine makes sure he gets to each of those appointments in time, and at each stop, Mr. Oscar transform into new character, one more bizarre than others, but we're never told just why he does this. From a gypsy beggar, to a motion capture artist like Andy Serkis, he does his own make up and disguise in his well-equipped limo.
The two most bizarre ones to me is when he's dressed like a leprechaun-looking thing and kidnaps a fashion model (Eva Mendez, channeling Cindy Crawford here) during a photo shoot at a Parisian cemetery and takes her into a cave. It gets even more bizarre after that, trust me. And the other one is the motion capture stuff where he's doing all kinds of Ninja moves, and then a woman dressed in the mo-cap suit with all the dot markers and the two start to perform a sex act inside a digital production facility and being projected as some reptilian beings on the monitor screen.
The film's narrative is quite challenging to follow, not to mention the fact that we have no clue just who Mr. Oscar is and why he does what he does. I was willing to go along for the ride and oh, what a trip this is. Director Leos Carax mixes all kinds of genres, as iTunes described it, it's a monster movie, film noir, romantic drama, musical, crime thriller, futuristic sex fantasia rolled into one, yet it also defies each and everyone of that genre at the same time. It reminds me of 'Paris, je t'aime' a bit but with just one actor in its multiple storyline. It's tough for me to even explain just what's going on throughout the 2-hour running time, I think if you're curious about it, just go see it.
My favorite segment is of Mr. Oscar and Jean (Kylie Minogue) where she sang the movie's theme song 'Who Were We.' I'm still humming that lovely song, it has kind of a haunting quality about it. The music is actually quite memorable here, there's also an accordion interlude called 'Let my Baby Ride' that's quite awesome. My late mother played the accordion so that instrument holds a special place in my heart.
I'm not surprised this film won so many film festival awards, and was nominated at Cannes and César. I'd even think it's worthy to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Oscar. The cinematography is beautiful and unique, it shows various parts of Paris that's not always all romantic. Lavant's performance was noteworthy to be sure, that's got to be a challenging role for any actor.
'Holy Motors' is perhaps more of a cinematic experiment than a conventional film. I don't think this fantasy film is for everyone though, but I do think if you're willing to step out of your comfort zone, you might actually enjoy it. I know I did, and parts of me are weird-ed out by it, even terrified at times, but also mesmerized at the same time. Yet it's also strangely moving, it somehow appeals to my heart even when my brain fails to comprehend just what is happening. In a sea of movies that lack imagination and originality, I certainly appreciate it when something offbeat like this comes along.
Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
I wasn't expecting a masterpiece, but I'd think Bryan Singer could've delivered a much more compelling and entertaining movie.
I've actually never seen any Jack and the Beanstalk movie before, but of course I'm familiar with this bedtime story. I was curious enough about this one given that it's directed by Bryan Singer.
It starts unpredictably enough, with Jack's father reading him a bedtime story and of course Jack always believed it's not just a myth. Fast forward to a decade or so later and Jack's now living with his farmer uncle. After his father's death and on the way of selling his horse to make ends meet, he inadvertently comes into possession of the magic beans that has the power to open the gateway between human race and giants. "No matter what you do, makes sure you don't get these wet," said the man who gave Jack those beans. Well, that's exactly what happen when one of them fell underneath Jack's house and rain poured heavily one fateful night. That one small bean ends up growing into a giant beanstalk that shoot up and up to the sky... and soon, all hell break loose.
You can pretty much guess what's going to happen next. In fact, this movie has zero intrigue as it's as if you've seen this story played out in your head. Now, there are a lot of fairy tale movies where you know the story by heart but yet the fresh adaptations still manage to surprise and entertain you (Tangled is one that comes to mind, which is based on the classic fairy tale of Rapunzel). Alas, this film is NOT one of them.
Neither the adventure nor the romance is the stuff of legend as it were, in fact, if you're older than say seven or eight, you'll likely be bored watching this movie. The British pair Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson as Princess Isabelle barely has any chemistry despite their best effort, but then again they never stood a chance when their dialog is so uninspired. I guess I shouldn't be surprised this was written by Christopher McQuarrie who gave us the abysmal The Tourist!! This film has all the elements money can buy, what with the computer-generated giants and impressive effects of the beanstalk forming all the way up to the sky, but clearly money doesn't buy great scripts. I mean it SHOULD, but for some reason, studios seem intent on squandering their money on CGI and elaborate set pieces instead of a story and characters worth caring for.
It's a big waste of talents too. I mean, I think 23-year-old Hoult is a pretty decent actor and has enough leading man charisma, but for some reason he's just not all that interesting to watch here. Tomlinson looked like she's about to cry at every moment it's irritating, I don't really know if that's the director's fault or that's just her acting style.
The supporting cast is an even bigger waste! Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci, and Ewan McGregor are so grossly underutilized here it's criminal! Even McShane seems bored and uncomfortable under that gold full plate armor and the only funny part involving Tucci you've already seen it in the trailer. The CGI giants look realistic enough, which I'm sure that's where most of the gigantic budget cost went to, but despite their size they have no personality whatsoever other than the stereotypical gross, uncivilized behavior. They remind me of the goblins in The Hobbit, only much less amusing. The 3D is just fine, not distracting, but it doesn't add much either. Once again it's just another studio gimmick to extract more money when a regular format would do just fine.
I wasn't expecting a masterpiece, but I'd think Bryan Singer could've delivered a much more compelling and entertaining movie. After all, this is the director who brought us the excellent X-Men franchise before all the superhero movies came along. He's proved that a comic book movie could be more than just fluff, you'd think he could do the same with a fairy tale story.
Unfortunately, this film is such a giant waste of $190+ mil to me. Overused plot lines, clichéd characters and dialog, and every joke and line seems to have been recycled from things we've seen before. Kids might enjoy the CGI wonders... but adults will realize it's a soulless piece of cinema.
A solid film that has the 'complete package' of being well-written, well-directed, and well-acted piece
This is the second time I participate in an Oscar Best Picture write-up, and the first film I championed did end up getting the trophy in 2011. It's interesting to point out that both are based on a true story, and as I said in the final thoughts of 'The King's Speech' review, a film doesn't have to be dark, brain-twisting or nightmarish to be engaging. Certainly the subject matter of ARGO is dark and that first scene where a bunch of Iranian protesters stormed the US embassy in Tehran is down right tense, terrifying even. Yet the film itself is not bleak nor depressing, in fact the story is quite uplifting as ordinary people became unlikely heroes in extraordinary circumstance.
For those who haven't seen the film, ARGO is a dramatization of the "Canadian Caper" based on an article published in 2007, in which Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA operative, led the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran, Iran, during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. I talked to a few people at work who were old enough to watch that event unfold through television or newspaper, and they still remembered it. It's one of those events that left a mark in our memory, much like how 9/11 was to the younger generations. As for me, I had just started reading about it prior to seeing the film, yet even though I already knew the ending, it didn't lessen the experience of watching the film.
I love stories about regular folks rising above difficult circumstances and surviving against all odds, and Argo delivers such a story brilliantly. Kudos to Chris Terrio for his taut script and of course Affleck for his astute direction, and the film also benefits from such a strong cast, both the not-so-well-known actors playing the six diplomats, as well as great character actors such as Bryan Cranston as Mendez's supervisor, plus John Goodman and Alan Arkin as the makeup artist and Hollywood producer, respectively. Goodman and Arkin stole scenes as they brought the much-needed comic relief as the main players who created the fake movie. Certainly it was a big risk for both of them, there was nobody in this whole ordeal who did not make a personal sacrifice in order to develop this plan so the diplomats can go under the disguise of the film's cast and crew.
(SPOILER ALERT!) One of the most gripping moments of the film happened when the group, led by Mendez, scout for filming locations at a bazaar. When the crowd turned hostile, I truly feared for the group's safety. The entire scene at the airport was also incredibly tense, it kept on mounting during the runway chase when their cover was blown, up until the 747 leaves Iranian airspace. Now, I read that the two incidents did not happen, and Affleck has been criticized for having such an exaggerated Hollywood ending. Be that as it may, to me that's part of the creative license of a filmmaker in bringing a true story to light. I'm even willing to forgive Affleck who perhaps is the weakest link in terms of his performance in this ensemble, and the fact that Mendez is Mexican, I think his role should have been played by a Hispanic actor. Despite that minor quibble though, overall the film certainly holds up as a solid historical drama.
I'm glad the Directors Guild of America (DGA) awarded Ben Affleck with Outstanding Directorial Achievement Award for his third directorial effort, defying the academy for not even nominating him for Best Director! To me that's a huge snub as I think this is perhaps Affleck's best work yet. Affleck was pretty humble on his DGA speech, "I don't think that this makes me a real director, but I think it means I'm on my way," (per Deadline). I already thought that Affleck is one solid director even after 'Gone Baby Gone,' but now that he's done three more-than-decent films, he's certainly not a one-hit-wonder. The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) also honored the cast members with an award for Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture. Both kudos are well-deserved and holds the key in what makes ARGO such a solid film that has the 'complete package' of being well-written, well-directed, and well-acted piece. Props also to Alexandre Desplat, who was nominated for 'The King's Speech' in 2010, did a great job in creating a stirring score that's atmospheric and culturally-relevant. The 'Mission' track is by far my favorite.
The Blu-ray/DVD release date is February 19. I certainly don't mind watching this one again. Hopefully The Academy would rectify the snafu of not nominating Affleck in the directing category by giving him the trophy for Best Picture.
Looper is a thrill ride that has a nice blend of thrilling action and matters of the heart.
Time travel sci-fi movies are inherently intriguing to me, so when I first saw the trailer with THIS cast, I knew I wanted to see it.
As in the trailer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a specialized assassin, in an outfit called the Loopers. He lives in the year 2042 but the mob he works for lives 30 years ahead where time travel would've been invented. When his employer from the future wants to get rid of someone, they zap that person back 30 years where someone like Joe would be waiting with a big gun in hand, ready to blow them up to oblivion. The only rule is: never let your target escape... even if your target is you. The job seems easy enough, I mean, the targets are blindfolded, so it's not like they could really escape. That is, until one did, and that target happens to be his older self, in the form of Bruce Willis.
Now, before the action begins in full throttle, Director Rian Johnson sets up the story by introducing the Looper doing their jobs and how these junkies hit-men spend their lives in a dystopian future (is there any other kind in the movies??). "Loopers are well paid, they lead a good life..." Joe said in his narration, but what he means by 'good' doesn't mean a happy one and it's clear that Joe is disillusioned with his life.
Let me just say the less you know about the plot the better as I went in pretty much 'blind,' other than seeing the trailer weeks ago, and it's fun to see the story unravel in ways I didn't really expect. There's really a lot to chew on here, as do most time-travel movies, and I have to admit it was a bit mind-boggling to digest it all as I'm watching it, but now that I've processed the movie more, Johnson actually told the story well enough without an overly drawn-out exposition.
The strengths are in the performances, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who seems to only get better and better as he grows to be a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. Seems like every time I see him, even in minor roles like in 'Inception' or 'The Dark Knight Rises,' he never fails to impress. I've got to admit though, his prosthetic make-up to make him look like Bruce Willis is distracting at times, but once I get into the story, I got used to it. In fact, in some scenes Gordon-Levitt's mannerism and expressions really do remind me of Willis! Now, I've always been a fan of Bruce. He's a bad ass guy with a heart and I feel that he sold me on the emotional moments as well as on the action front, in which he channels his iconic John McClane in the 'Die Hard' franchise. In fact, I kept waiting for him to yell 'Yiippiikayee' during some of the shootout scenes! I'm also impressed with Emily Blunt and child actor Pierce Gagnon who plays her little boy. Both played two key roles that serve as the emotional center of the story. Their paths crossed with both the younger and older Joe in a way that not only affect their own lives but the lives of Joe's fellow Loopers. Their scenes with Gordon-Levitt are well-played, though it could perhaps be tightened a bit as it does feel dragging at times. Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano also lend memorable supporting performances, Daniels is sort of a comic relief as Joe's manager who happens to be sent by the mob from the future.
It's refreshing to see a movie based on an original script, not an adaptation nor a remake. Despite all the time travel elements, the film also doesn't feel too science-fiction-y. I'm also glad Johnson doesn't pile on one action set pieces after another, instead there are a lot of quiet moments to establish character development that help you get immersed in Joe's journey.
Final Thoughts: Looper is a thrill ride that has a nice blend of thrilling action and matters of the heart. There are brutal action and some totally-unnecessary nudity here, but fortunately not so much so that derails my overall appreciation for it. At the core of this movie lies a heartfelt love story between a man and a woman, and also between a mother and his son. Highly recommended.
Disney still reigns when it comes to romantic animated features and this one is definitely a keeper for years to come
Tangled's got everything you'd expect from a fairy tale movie. Obviously you've got the Princess, the dashing Prince-like love interest, the evil motherly figure, the quirky townsfolk and of course, the expansive castle. Originally titled 'Rapunzel', it's based on the classic German fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm of a magically long-maned Princess who's locked in a tower by her wicked, selfish 'mother.' Disney apparently changed the title to be more appealing to boys who might be deterred from seeing a Princess flick. They also argued that Rapunzel isn't the only main character in the film, as Flynn Rider is also featured prominently in the film. Instead of a traditional prince, Rider is a thief on the run who stumbled upon her and inadvertently changed her world forever.
Whether or not the title-switch tactic worked, this one was a real winner for Disney. It's grossed more than half a billion dollars worldwide, more than double the cost to make. Yep, 'Tangled' cost $260 million to produce, perhaps a lot of it goes to the 3D rendering, and it shows. The Wiki article mentioned that the filmmakers combined 'the best of both worlds' of CGI technology and traditional hand-drawn animation Disney's famous for and the result is impressive. This is by far one of the most picturesque and colorful animated features I've ever seen and the animation is smooth and seamless. I really was in awe of how gorgeous every scene is, with the night scene of the two main characters on a boat surrounded by lanterns. It was nothing short of magical.
This Princess flick has come a long way from the classics as far as the character goes. Rapunzel is a heck of a lot more assertive and strong but never losing her naiveté and vulnerability. She's bubbly and vivacious but not dim-witted. Her interaction with Flynn from the moment they met is endearing right from the start, but it's refreshing to see that she's not immediately swooning over the guy despite he's the first one she's ever met. Flynn is the typical charming bad boy, self-seeking at first but finds his heart over time. Voiced by Mandy Moore and CHUCK's Zachary Levi, it's a lovely combination that's supported by an equally wonderful supporting cast. In fact, the two non-talking animal characters, Maximus the horse and Pascal the little chameleon are such lovable and memorable creatures, while Tony-award-winning Donna Murphy is excellent in the voice role of villainous Mother Gothel.
As with any Disney's works, especially when 8-time-Oscar-winner Alan Menken is involved, the music is one of the best part of the movie. All the musical segments are lively and just pleasing to the ear, with 'I See The Light' as my absolute favorite, it was such a lovely duet. The lantern scene when the song appears is my favorite as well, yes it's on the schmaltzy side but you'd be hard pressed to deny its charm.
Tangled's plot reminds me a bit of 'Little Mermaid' (a girl longing for freedom and Pascal is like the new Sebastian) and part of 'Sleeping Beauty' (she's separated from her parents all her life), but yet it's still a pretty unique story that kept me laughing and crying throughout. I also like the fact that Disney keeps this one pretty clean and wholesome, as a lot of animated features these days are filled with crude jokes and inappropriate innuendos. By the end I was totally enamored by this movie and the Blu-ray is now on its way from Amazon :)
Disney still reigns when it comes to romantic animated features and this one is definitely a keeper for years to come.
Jane Eyre (2011)
A worthy adaptation... but left me wanting more
The oft-filmed Charlotte Brontë's Gothic novel has been adapted into TV and film more than two dozen times. Here's a summary of what works and what doesn't in this 2011 version:
Cary Fukunaga's direction. He preferred natural light for much of the film, forgoing camera lighting and instead opted for candles which created the proper dark, moody and gloomy atmosphere that matches Rochester's temperament perfectly. He used some hand-held camera work to great effect, but not too much so that it became distracting. Thornfield Hall, Rochester's expansive mansion looked like something Count Dracula could comfortably settle in. It practically becomes its own character here and adds the necessary spookiness we come to expect from this Gothic tale.
Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax When does Dame Judi ever disappoint? Apparently never. Even in small roles, the scenes she's in are one of the best ones in the movie. There was an important scene involving Jane and Rochester where Mrs. Fairfax didn't utter a single word, but she made quite an impact just with her expression.
Mia Wasikowska as Jane. A lot of the issues I have with literary adaptation is that the supposedly plain heroine usually ends up being played actresses who are too glamorous for the role. Fortunately in this one, Wasikowska was believable as a plain young girl, though she obviously is a pretty girl. At 18, she's also the perfect age for the role. If I were to nitpick though, she's not exactly 'little' as she's described in the novel as Rochester doesn't quite tower over her. In any case, I thought she did a wonderful job carrying the film. She captures the essence of the strong-willed character who holds her own against her much older subject of her affection, and one who despite 'not being well-acquainted with men' doesn't seem intimidated by them.
Michael Fassbender as Rochester. In many ways, we evaluate a Jane Eyre adaptation by its Rochester, and as long as we use that 'calculation,' I think he measures up quite well. He has a strong screen presence and is the kind of actor who's usually the best thing even in a so-so film, and he makes the most of what's given to him. Even with the relatively short screen time, which is less than what I had hoped, he's able to make us care for Rochester.
This cliff-notes version feels way too fast. With a complex story like this, no doubt it'd be a challenge for any filmmaker, no matter how talented, to pare it down into a two-hour movie. So it's inevitable that this film just moves along too quick for me. Of course that is not Fukunaga's fault and he really made the best of it, but still this version just leaves me wanting more. I guess this is perhaps a more 'accessible' version for the crowd that otherwise would not watch JE. But to me, the story is compelling enough that an extra half-hour would only enhance the viewing experience and allow enough time for the characters to develop an authentic connection.
Dialog omission. This is perhaps a result of being 'spoiled' by the comprehensive 1983 version (which at 5.5 hours is perhaps the longest screen adaptation). Of course it's impossible to include every single dialog from the book, but I was hoping at least some of the important ones are kept. The famous quotes such as "I am no bird; and no net ensnares me", "Do as I do: trust in God and yourself", "Reader, I married him" are not spoken in this adaptation. I also find some of the delivery lacks bite, y'know that certain oomph that an actor does to bring those timeless words to life.
Jamie Bell seems miscast. Now, keep in mind I really like Jamie as an actor and have said so many times on my blog (http://tinyurl.com/mozzs5) However, I don't feel he's right for the role of St. John Rivers. Firstly, when you've already got someone as striking as Fassbender as Rochester, I'd think the casting agent would have to find someone much fairer than he. No offense to Jamie, but that's not the case here and he certainly doesn't fit the book description of 'tall, fair with blue eyes, and with a Grecian profile.' Now, physical appearance aside, he also lack the solemn and pious sensibility of a Christian missionary.
Unconventional storyline Moira Buffini's script tells the story in flashback mode instead of following the novel's linear storyline. The movie starts off right as Jane is leaving Thornfield, which is right smack dab where the main crisis of the story begins. Now, I can understand that it's done to make it less tedious, yet it gets confusing at times to figure out which part happens in the past or present. I think for someone not familiar with the book, the shuffled time line might be a bit tough to follow.
IN CONCLUSION, despite leaving the theater wanting more, I do think this is a worthy adaptation. The production quality is top notch, with gorgeous cinematography, affecting light work and music that serve the story well. There is even one scene of Jane and Rochester that Fukunaga took liberty with that's quite tantalizing. It caught me off guard but I must say that scene left me breathless and is an effective way to convey how much Jane longed for her true love.
But in the end, even though I adore Fassbender, he still hasn't replaced Timothy Dalton as my favorite Rochester. Sure, the production quality of this one is superior, but what makes a Jane Eyre story so fascinating and memorable are the heart-wrenching connection between the two main protagonists and the dialog spoken between them, so in that regard, the 1983 version is still the one to beat.