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The Lazarus Effect (2015)
The Lazarus Effect
Many people have pointed out the fact that The Lazarus Effect is kinda like an unofficial remake of Flatliners; but I think the screenplay is very different on shape and intention. However, both films definitely have something in common: the waste of a fascinating premise, for not having known how to execute it on a satisfactory way. In fact, I would say The Lazarus Effect is closer to being a bland and tedious hybrid of Re-Animator and Carrie, but without any blood and a minimum level of violence in order to preserve the PG-13 rating. The first half of The Lazarus Effect attempted to bring some ideological basis, but the discussions regarding life after death are superficial and not very substantial. The second half introduces arbitrary clichés of horror cinema who don't scare or make too much sense. The "explanations" of the phenomenons unleashed by the experiments are laughable; and the attempts to add a dramatic component contradict all the wordiness of the first half. Co-screenwriter Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater change the rules to their convenience, something which extinguishes the suspense and the opportunity of having made something more interesting and consistent with the "scientific" aspects of the experiment. As I previously said, it's the same laziness and lack of imagination which ruined Flatliners 25 years ago. The actors make a good work in their roles, despite how poorly written their characters are. Olivia Wilde is able to bring some emotion and vulnerability to a poorly defined character. Donald Glover doesn't have too much to do, but he makes a decent work, and Mark Duplass is also credible as the ambitious doctor who doesn't have any inconvenient in "playing God". Despite the performances, The Lazarus Effect is a boring horror film, and I can't recommend it. If you want to see much more interesting explorations of life after death, I suggest you watching The Asphyx or the previously mentioned Re-Animator.
Inherent Vice (2014)
After the huge disappointment I took with The Master, director and screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson redeems himself with Inherent Vice, an unusual hybrid of classic "noir" and "head movie" which challenges expectations and gradually involves us into the clichés from both styles, which are somehow transformed into something fresh and fascinating. In the context of Anderson's filmography, Inherent Vice can be considered a complement of Boogie Nights, whose tribute to the '80s was as detailed and complex as the one Inherent Vice makes to the '70s; but in this occasion, the characters are involved in an even more tangled and confusing story... and even like that, it's perfectly clear if we carefully follow the investigation (and accept the methods) of a detective impulsed by love and marijuana, and who is not afraid of employing "alternative" sources of information, such as an ouija and a postcard which revives old memories of a romantic moment with his ex- girlfriend. That's the general tone of Inherent Vice... a cloudy "high" in the sunny coast of California, interrupted by bizarre character who get in and out the story with additional information which gradually outlines the surroundings of a big conspiracy. I also have to say that we will never find a clear explanation of the events investigated by the main character; but it's relatively easy to deduct the necessary if we pay the corresponding attention to the cryptic comments and incongruent scenes we find, which are usually filtered through the sensory cloud from the eternally drugged detective. Regarding the "noir" part, Inherent Vice shares the tone and structure of such influential films as The Big Sleep and The Third Man, including femme fatales, missing tycoons and a tough policeman who is against the main character's diffuse methods, despite chasing the same truth. Joaquin Phoenix brings a perfect performance as the "stoner" detective, and he has a wonderful chemistry with Josh Brolin, who also makes an excellent work as the tough and intolerant policeman who is proud of his violations to civil rights, because they "hippies" don't deserve to enjoy them. It would take too much space to mention all the actors who leave an important mark in the film despite having a limited screen time; so, I will just say that they all make a brilliant work in their roles, highlighting Martin Short and Owen Wilson. And a very special mention to Joanna Newsom as the omnipresent narrator whose sweet voice perfectly contrasts with the rough jargon similar to authors such as Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. In conclusion, I liked Inherent Vice very much, but I understand the fact that its affected style and tangled screenplay will divide the audience and leave away those spectators who were seeking a more "normal" detective story, or a funnier comedy in the traditional sense. But, in my personal case, Inherent Vice was a fascinating experience, and I left the cinema with a smile which accompanies the "buzz" this film transmits after intoxicating us through the view of a world which exists half in dreams and half in reality.
I don't know why, but the cults are becoming a fashionable trend in contemporary cinema. In the last 5 years, we have been watching films such as Martha Marcy May Marlene, Red State, Sound of My Voice and The Sacrament, whose focuses vary considerably, but they all examine the disturbing phenomenon of brainwashing, and the apparent ease with which some people let themselves be dominated by charismatic leaders who promise some kind of spiritual salvation when, in fact, they only seek their own benefit. The film Faults presents a very interesting perspective, moving away from the "commune" and the specific details of the cult, in order to focus into the regenerative process of lost identity. And, if that were not enough, it also makes character studies about the victim and the analyst, gradually revealing their particular psychologies and the internal travel which took them to the struggle of wills which hold big part of the movie. Faults presents us a "hero" defeated by life... something like the classic alcoholic detective from various cop films, or the priest without faith who is so common in horror cinema, but even more down at heel (I point out the fact that Faults doesn't belong to either of those genres). This tortuous main character complicates the situation more, and makes a Faults a subtle and fascinating thriller, in which not only the victim's future is in danger, but also her redeemer's. The screenplay of Faults shines because of its precision and sagacity, keeping us in suspense during the whole film, until leading to a satisfactory ending. And then, we have the excellent performances, starting by Leland Orser as the main character. Orser is one of those actors whose names we don't know, even though we immediately recognize their faces when we see them in a film or TV series. I revised his filmography, and I confirmed the fact I had seen him in many movies, without specifically remembering him in any of them. Faults will undoubtedly rectify that situation, and I estimate that his extraordinary work as a "loser" seeking redemption will get him out of that limbo of character actors who always make their mission but go unnoticed. Mary Elizabeth Winstead also brings a perfect performance as the victim of the cult; she's modulated in her role, but she never loses spontaneity or passion. The premise of Faults might sound similar to the one of the previously mentioned Martha Marcy May Marlene, but its levels of meaning transcend the victim's mentality and offer more ambitious and interesting reflections about human condition and its virtue/fault of seeking spiritual fulfillment, even for the sake of the own identity. The screenplay of Faults might occasionally make a few small traps, but that didn't avoid me from liking it very much, and I definitely recommend it as a hypnotic and audacious thriller, specially to those ones who find the concept and existence of "cults" equally intriguing.
I generally try to give the benefit of the doubt to the films based on successful juvenile novels, assuming the fact that the book was good, but it had problems in its transition to cinema. However, in the case of Insurgent (and, from what I have seen, the entire saga), it's hard for me to believe that the novel was more comprehensible or logical, and that only because of Hollywood mistakes, it became this confusing parade of vaguely connected scenes with irrelevant characters whose importance is never established, or whose function isn't clearly specified. As a simple spectator who hasn't memorized or even read the books, I found Insurgent terribly obtuse, boring and absolutely lacking of any emotion or interest. The main character from Insurgent feels like a passive puppet who only weakly reacts before her insecurities and the conflictive tide of events which round on her, getting into trouble and situations from which she has to be rescued. In other words, the main character is a damsel in distress who only stands out inside the imaginary world of "simulations" (don't ask me to explain them), in which she makes exploits and stunts which are laughable due to their exaggeration and the insipid special effects through which they were made. The action seems more appropriate for a Tom and Jerry cartoon than for a supposedly solemn saga, in which the supporting characters constantly die in a useless attempt to create the dramatic impact the screenplay is never able to evoke. After such many chases, betrayals and tedious action, it is revealed (SPOILER? I'm not sure and I'm not interested in confirming it either) the fact that the villain is after the main character because only she, with her divergent ability (or whatever it is), will be able to open a McGuffin which contains a secret message about the founders of the ridiculous futuristic society divided into "factions". For a moment, I had the hope that the "revelation" would bring some sense to the previous two hours of filler and special effects, but after all, it doesn't solve anything, and only confirms the general stupidity of the premise, which had already been pretty questionable in Divergent, the previous film of this saga. While reading this review, some people might be thinking "You can't give an opinion if you haven't read the books". However, I went to see a film, and this was my reaction. Maybe, if I had minutely studied the novels and known the personal story of every tiny character who says two lines in order to later disappear (or arbitrarily die), it would have been easier for me to follow the story and understand why it was necessary to give such many turns to the story without reaching something more concrete or interesting. Anyway, the point is that, in my personal case, Insurgent was an unbearable experience, and I truly regret having watched it.
The very positive reviews I had read about Cinderella gave me the hope that this new interpretation of the famous fairytale would be equally made for kids and adults, and that it wouldn't be a cloying dose of princesses and "girl power". And I'm glad to say that the film ended up fulfilling with that expectation, and the result is a satisfactory movie whose old- fashioned spirit is its biggest pro. I also liked the fact that Cinderella kept the basic shape of the original tale, with very few "post-modernism" (that term is so old that it doesn't feel very "post" anymore). Cinderella preserves the nature of the fairytale, creating a modern version which respects the original story, but at the same time, offers the visual magic needed by contemporary generations to keep their attention. The main changes in the screenplay are oriented to bring the characters some depth, including a bit of "ret-con" in Ella's first encounter with the Prince; and adding some compassion to the stepmother, well played by Cate Blanchett. The stepsisters Anastasia and Drisella feel more cartoonish than they should, but for the rest, the screenplay flows pretty well. Lily James and Richard Madden bring solid performances and have a good chemistry with each other, and the visual part of Cinderella is very attractive. In conclusion, I wouldn't consider Cinderella an excellent film, but I liked it pretty much, and I can definitely recommend it, either to kids or adults.
Still Alice (2014)
Still Alice is a film about a devastating situation which is unfortunately suffered by millions of people, and I appreciated the fact that this film avoided the excessive sentimentality or pre-fabricated drama. In other words, this isn't a lachrymose medical tale in which doctors struggle to find the cure, antidote or magical procedure to save the main character. Instead of that, Still Alice portrays the most trivial moments of daily life, which acquire a new dimension when they are experimented under the influence of Alzheimer. On the negative side, Still Alice doesn't feel very different to those "dramas of the week" which were used as filler in the TV prime-time during the '80s. What makes this film better than those ones is the extraordinary performances. Julianne Moore received deserved acclamation for her magnificent work, but the rest of the cast also brings perfect performances, highlighting Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart. In conclusion, Still Alice is a good film, but I didn't find it particularly memorable; it's a proper vehicle for brilliant performances, and period. Even though it may offer consolation to those who have had relatives or friends with this illness; my maternal grandmother suffered from it, and even like that, I didn't feel too much connection or identification with Still Alice; however, that didn't avoid me to appreciate is sober didactic intention and the quality of the performances.
Before I Go to Sleep (2014)
Before I Go to Sleep
Based on a novel written by S.J. Watson (which I haven't read), Before I Go to Sleep introduces its premise with a moderate ingenuity. Unfortunately, that ingenuity decays considerably as the film goes by, and when the "big revelation" comes, I found out that I wasn't very interested in knowing who "the good one" was and who "the evil one". And we also have Rowan Joffe's poor direction, forced performances from Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth and a screenplay which obviously condensed the novel too much, creating many holes and rushing passages which might have needed more time to feel credible, or at least, not as illogical. Thinking about it well, the main problem might be the fact that the story only works inside the artificial universe the film built for its own benefit, where the cops don't show up until they are necessary, the technology works only like the screenplay says so and the four relevant characters don't require interaction with anybody who could ruin the delicate balance of credulity, coincidences and paranoia which feeds the film. And last but not least, we also have a bland and almost corny ending. In conclusion, I can't recommend Before I Go to Sleep, because I felt it like a genuine waste of time. Besides, it seems I caught the main character's amnesia, because I finished watching it one hour ago, and I already struggle to remember it.
Life Itself (2014)
In the mid-'80s, I discovered the TV programme At the Movies, in which two film critics (Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel) passionately talked about movies... all kinds of movies, from the most recent film directed by Federico Fellini to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. I became an addict to that programme and I watched it every Sunday, even knowing that months, maybe years, would go by until I could watch some of the films they talked about. In the mid-'90s, I made a new discovery thanks to the then incipient Internet (or CompuServe, specifically): the film reviews written by Ebert, which were much deeper and more substantial than the 5 or 6 minutes he and Siskel could dedicate to a movie in the TV programme. I read hundreds of those reviews, and I think their best attribute was the casual and accessible style in which they were written. I allowed myself this indulgent autobiographical passage for two reasons: the first one is establishing the fact that I'm a big admirer of Ebert's; and the second one is because, honestly, I don't have much to say about the documentary Life Itself. It's a sincere and emotive tribute to Ebert's life, with contributions from many friends and relatives, including his tireless wife Chaz, his grandchildren, Marlene Iglitzen (Siskel's widow) and filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese (who was also a co-producer of this film), Werner Herzog and Ava DuVernay. Life Itself is definitely a good documentary, even though it occasionally gets too intimate that it seems to exploit the painful final months in the critic's life. But, after all, the genuine reflection of Ebert's life is in his writings, and that's all we need to understand the person. Knowing the dates, places and events of his biography end up being secondary when he compare them to the huge contribution to cinematographic critic, and that's why I prefer to remember his words instead of the chronological trivia or the details of his illness. Nevertheless, Life Itself is a solid documentary which will be undoubtedly appreciated by the fans of Ebert's; but if you want to understand the reasons of his importance, I suggest you to visit rogerebert.com, or watch Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, one of my favorite films, which also says a lot about Ebert and his love for cinema in each one of its shapes.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Some months ago, I read the comic The Secret Service, and I loved it. Its story is absolutely perfect: very dynamic, internally consistent and with the precise degree of humor in order not to be taken too seriously despite its violence and catastrophic global threats. Oh, and it also had an abundant number of "geek" references to delight the fans of comics. Therefore, I was very interested in watching the film Kingsman: The Secret Service, and even though I found it entertaining, but it didn't live up to the high expectations set by the comic, mainly because co-screenwriters Matthew Vaughn (who was also the director) and Jane Goldman decided to "improve" the story altering abundant elements and breaking the balance of the well built characters. But, well... those complaints will only be relevant to the few people who read the comic, so I will now try to focus myself on the movie itself. The basic premise of Kingsman: The Secret Service is interesting: a centennial secret organization of expert British agents dedicated to the protection of society, not due to a mandate of the Crown, but due to a moral duty; and since they are independent from the government or political institutions, they avoid harmful influences which could corrupt their noble mission. Colin Firth brings an excellent performance as the classic "knight spy", and he also displays a wide dose of charisma. On the other hand, Taron Egerton feels a bit insipid and not very charismatic as the apprentice Eggsy. And it was obviously a pleasure to see Michael Caine as the leader of the organization. The violence is quite bloody, totally justifying the "R" rating and giving us an idea of what action cinema can be like when it doesn't care about commercial interests which prefer a pre-teen audience. On the negative side, the screenplay feels occasionally too erratic, seeking the correct proportion between the two sub-plots (the investigation of missing celebrities and Eggsy's training), but not always achieving it. Another thing I didn't like was the superficial way in which the villain was written; the character has so many affectations that they destroy any sensation of purpose or threat. In conclusion, I think I would place Kingsman: The Secret Service at the same level of Kick-Ass, which was also directed by Vaughn: in both films, the action is pleasantly bloody, not all the characters are well written, and even though the concept is interesting, it's not always handled with enough ingenuity to take full advantage of it. Nevertheless, I think I can give a moderate recommendation to Kingsman: The Secret Service as an entertaining action film, despite not being totally satisfactory. And besides, it served for me to lower the expectations for future cinematographic adaptations of other extraordinary comics (Saga, Sex Criminals, Alias). It's an unavoidable fact I will have to accept. The fans of Howard the Duck's know what I'm talking about.
The Face of Love (2013)
The Face of Love
The Face of Love is a brilliant film with perfect performances and a fascinating screenplay about the risk and comfort of clinging to the past, using it as an excuse to evade the present and ignore the future. The great Ed Harris makes an excellent work in his dual role, bringing an appropriately warm and vulnerable attitude and achieving moments of an abundant emotional intensity. Annette Bening very solidly navigates the line between sincere love and sickly obsession, and the sadly deceased Robin Williams is absolutely credible as Bening's character neighbor and friend. Before watching The Face of Love, I thought it was going to be a generic autumnal romance, but the film ended up being something much more interesting than that, presenting us an interesting psychological perspective which is rarely examined in modern cinema. In conclusion, I liked The Face of Love very much, and I definitely recommend it, specially to those who want to see an excellent adult drama, which is lacking of clichés and full of deepness.