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The 33 (2015)
A compelling story of human resilience
I just saw this at Twin Cities Film Fest this weekend. The 33 chronicled the event that gripped the international community when 33 Chilean miners were buried under 100- year-old gold and copper mine and trapped for 69 days.
Director Patricia Riggen did a phenomenal job telling a compelling story of human resilience and the courage of both the miners and their families above ground who refused to give up. Great ensemble cast featuring Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Philips, Rodrigo Santoro, and Gabriel Byrne. It was exquisitely shot by Checco Varese, which was shot on location in two different mines in Bolivia, Colombia. It certainly looked authentic as the environment of the set made the actors felt as if they were real miners for a while. The 33 miners were also consulted for the film.
There were moments that might have felt too 'Hollywoodized' but overall the film didn't feel emotionally manipulated. The genuinely stirring score came from the late James Horner, which the film paid tribute in the end. It's not a perfect film but I think the film was respectful to the subject matter and did the story and those miners justice.
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Sword of Vengeance (2015)
A visually-driven genre film that doesn't pretend to be deep or philosophical
I rented this when it arrived on Netflix and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It's stylishly-shot and the decidedly stark, bleak color scheme actually looks quite artistic in contrast to all the red of the spurting blood from those who get in our hero's way. The simple, no-frills plot suits the piece. I mean the title says it all. Obviously the protagonist is seeking vengeance and once it's revealed what's taken from him, you get why he does what he does. Yes, a bit more character development is always nice, but at a brisk 87 minutes, it was entertaining enough without overstaying its welcome.
The mysterious Shadow Walker quipped 'vengeance is my only belief.' You know what, he lived by that rule in the movie. He didn't seek out to be a hero or has aspiration to lead a nation or anything like that, he just wants vengeance. It's as minimalistic as it gets, so if you go in expecting a whole lot more, then you set yourself up for disappointment.
French actor Stanley Weber is freaking bad ass in the lead role, sporting a historically out-of-place corn rows but who cares, it looks so damn cool! Apart from that hairstyle, he looks suitably grim and gritty, and his rugged costumes look believably soiled and grubby. His character is the strong silent type who's as efficient with words as he is with his sword fighting. He's like an 11th century John Wick! I also like his fellow French actor Edward Akrout. There's a great mano a mano sword fight between the two that's fun to watch, but my favorite scene is the one in the woods where the Shadow Walker get to show his action hero prowess.
The movie has the look and smell of the dark ages, the set pieces look appropriately harsh and gritty, the fact that it was shot on location in Serbia in the middle of Winter. Even from the opening sequence when we first met Shadow Walker slaying off people in the rain, I love Jim Weedon's style and his use of music. Weedon started out as an award-winning commercials director who also worked on some SFX work for films like 'Gladiator' (the Elysian Field sequences).
So yeah, I have no qualms about liking this flick. It's not for everyone but if you're into this genre, I'd say give it a shot.
A great entry to the sci-fi genre proof that it doesn't take an astronomical budget to tell a GOOD story
I was intrigued to see Predestination as I was impressed by the Spierig Brothers' previous film 'Daybreakers.' It offers a novelty twist to the popular vampire genre and this time, they tackled another popular Hollywood theme, time travel.
I'm not going to say much about the plot as the less you know about it the better the experience. All I'm going to say is that it's based on Robert A. Heinlein's short story All You Zombies. I thought at first there's some similarities to 'Minority Report' about the preventing-a-future-crime from-happening plot, but the story is completely different. In fact, it makes that Spielberg film seems more straight-forward if you can believe that. I like how the film started out with a bang but then the pace slows down considerably in the first act as we're introduced to the characters played by Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook. The odd pacing seems deliberate and I actually think it's pretty effective and engrossing in getting us to care about their journey.
Hawke is solid here once again, as he was in 'Daybreakers.' I always think he's an underrated actor as though he's not the most charismatic actor but he's always reliable. There's something soulful about his performance and he's not afraid to show his vulnerable side. But it's Snook who's quite a revelation here. I've never seen the Aussie actress before but she is absolutely astounding. It also helps when she's given a strong character arc here, and she tackled her role as The Unmarried Mother, which is the name of her magazine column she writes for. It's quite a complex role with multiple layers but it's so rewarding to see how she tackles each one convincingly and with so much heart.
There's also Noah Taylor as the enigmatic Mr Robertson but for the most part, the story revolves around Hawke and Snook's characters. This film will leave you scratching your head, as most stories dealing with time travel paradox often do. But how the plot unravels is captivating, keeping you guessing whilst you try to grasp just what you're actually witnessing.
If you like sci-fi AND time travel movies, this one is a must-see. The cinematography and art direction is wonderful, featuring unique camera angles and excellent production design. It's impressive considering the relatively tiny budget (about $5 mil). It's another proof that one doesn't need an astronomical budget to tell a good story. I'm curious to see what the Spierig brothers will tackle next!
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.