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In The Wind Rises, his last film as a director (let's hope he retracts himself once more), filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki decided to make a semi-fictitious biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the famous combat airplane Zero, whose speed and maneuverability made it an almost impossible adversary for the allies in the Pacific front during World War II. It's a complicated and dangerous subject which runs the risk of getting into into political postures, but The Wind Rises wisely minimizes the war elements in order to focus on topics which have been present in many Miyazaki's films: the simple pleasure of flying and the freedom which represents defying gravity and sliding through the clouds, whether it's on a broom (like in Kiki's Delivery Service) or with different experimental airplanes, like in The Wind Rises. Inspired since he was a kid by the feats from aviator Giovanni Caproni, Hirokoshi dreamt with flying airplanes, but his marked myopia couldn't allow him to do that. So, he decided to learn to design them, and during his university studies, he showed such a talent that he was quickly recruited by the setter Mitsubishi, where Hirokoshi found big triumphs and resounding failures, but always with the objective of the pure flight... even though his creations were used in less humanitarian circumstances. The Wind Rises includes some fantasy sequences, mainly focused on Hirokashi's dreams and "visions", where he imagines conversations with Caproni; leaving that aside, I think this is Miyazaki's most sober and realistic. However, that didn't avoid him from delighting us with his habitual visual richness, the fluid hand-made animation (well, with a few digital incursions when the circumstances require so), and an amazing production design where even the most trivial details of daily life acquire an unexpected beauty. I would also like to mention the delicate handling of the political tensions during World War II. The alliance between Japan and Germany is portrayed like a necessary evil, implemented more for practical than ideological reasons. The scenes in which Hirokashi visits Germany in order to share secrets with European colleagues reflect a melancholy we can interpret as a regret for the mistakes of the past. It was fascinating to see that moral disjunctive depicted. But, well, as I said before, The War Rises isn't a war film, but a pseudo- biography which doesn't adhere to the facts, but to the dreams; to the ideals of flying and constructing effective aerodynamic systems which get us a little bit close to the birds' casual and instinctive ability. In conclusion, I liked The Wind Rises very much, and even though I wouldn't consider it my favorite Miyazaki's film (that one keeps being Princess Mononoke), it's definitely his most mature and personal work. If this truly ends up being his last movie, it would be an excellent way to close his filmography, and a clear testimony that traditional animation keeps being as vital and expressive as always. But, beyond the technique, Miyazaki reminds us of the importance of aspiring to an ideal; and I think his filmography has been a definite proof of it.
In the screenplay of 22 Jump Street, the most important thing is the relationship between the two main character, as well as the challenges their friendship will face in the university setting, where they discover new interests which bring to light their personal differences and threaten to separate them forever. Needless to say that nothing is taken very seriously, and co-screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman don't lose any opportunity to exploit the main characters' bromance in order to make constant homosexual allusions, at the same time they satirize the cop cinema, the "chick flicks" and the juvenile comedies. The problem is that the humor doesn't work in various occasions, and it almost always fails on its attempt to duplicate the freshness and affable subversion which made the first film so amusing. In other words, 22 Jump Street has the same ingredients as the original recipe, but the taste isn't the same. However, that doesn't mean that the film is bad. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill once more have a perfect chemistry with each other, creating likable humorous details and exploring bizarre tangents which are moderately funny either because of their audacity or incongruity. I suspect that there was a wide margin of improvisation during shooting, which Tatum and Hill took advantage of in order to create spontaneous moments of comedy where they laugh at the screenplay and themselves, generating enough smiles to rescue the film to some point, despite the mediocrity from a bland and predictable screenplay. I would place 22 Jump Street at the same level of The Hangover Part II: both faced the challenge of repeating the success from their predecessors using the same premise, and even though they didn't achieve it, they are moderately entertaining on their own merit and worthy of a slight recommendation.
In 1996, the film Twister employed a hollow screenplay as an excuse to display the then impressive special effects from Industrial Light and Magic. And now, 18 years later, Into the Storm repeats the formula with bad performances, excessively bland direction and a weak screenplay. However, I have to admit that the movie offers brilliant special effects, which made me feel sorry for the fact that they weren't part of a better film. In other words, the moments which Into the Storm dedicates to its characters are increasingly irritating and boring. But when we listen to the sound of the wind and the roar of the tornadoes, we can appreciate the digital magic, which is an end by itself in here. As for the characters, they represent the range of stereotypes we have seen in many disaster movies: the brave scientists with all the answers (even though nobody listens to them); the youngsters in love in danger of getting separated; the stoic hero with family problems; the ignorant louts who don't take the risk seriously until it's too late; and the villain who puts his interests above other people's lives (even though he eventually has the opportunity to redeem himself). In conclusion, I can't recommend Into the Storm, because even though the special effects are excellent, it fails in its screenplay, direction and performances.
I declare myself unable to write an objective review of the remake of Oldboy. The original film is a fascinating experience full of memorable scenes, excellent performances and an extraordinary ending. Why was a North American remake made? I have no idea. And why was it directed by Spike Lee, a filmmaker with a unique and personal vision? I don't know. It would have been easier to condemn this remake of Oldboy if it had been directed by an anonymous studio puppet; but with Lee behind the cameras of this piece of junk, it's more difficult to accept the laziness with which it was made. Supposedly, screenwriter Mark Protosevich didn't attempt to write a formal remake of the original film, but a new adaptation of the "manga" which inspired it. And I haven't read that comic, so I'm unable to evaluate which film was more faithful to it... but I honestly think that's irrelevant. The key points of the story are the same ones, and the changes feel artificial and forced, drawing the attention to themselves as "innovations" which can't remotely make us forget about the original film. Among the very few pros from Oldboy (2013), I can mention the performances from Josh Brolin, who makes a credible work as a man who lost big part of his life, and Elizabeth Olsen, who feels sincere as a nurse who feels compassion for the main character. Samuel L. Jackson is completely wasted in his character, and Sharlto Copley's performance as the main villain is atrocious, and the way his character was written, even worse. I would truly like to hear opinions of spectators who saw Oldboy (2013) without having seen the original film. Even though I tried, it was impossible for me to watch this remake with objectivity, so I recommend you not to waste your time in this pathetic movie. I think that not even the remake of Psycho was as bad as Oldboy (2013)... there's no need to say more than that.
I'm already tired of these poorly raised futuristic dystopias, which don't show any interest in genuine science fiction, and only work as the basis of trite teenage fantasies where the main characters always discover they are "the chosen one", or that they are "special" in some way. The Maze Runner is another one of those films, even though its good manufacture and competent performances make it worthy of a slight recommendation. Based on a series of novels written by James Mashner, The Maze Runner is kinda like Lord of the Flies with monsters, and with the obligatory sinister conspiracy as the background of its elementary narrative. There aren't many surprises or creativity; just the same formula as always, but executed with enough gravity and melodrama to keep the audience slightly interested (as "audience", I'm talking about embittered old men like me; but I don't pretend to guess the effect or acceptation this movie can have with the teenage audience it was obviously made for). As I previously said, the actors make a good work, bringing credibility to their clichéd characters of hero, villain, mentor, ally, etc. (Is there someone who didn't guess during the first 10 minutes who was eventually going to die in order to prove that "things are for serious"?). Despite its abundant logical holes, The Maze Runner develops a more or less interesting mystery, but when we finally reach to the explanations, they are absurd and excessively forced. In conclusion, I wasn't left very satisfied by The Maze Runner because of its lack of ingenuity, clichés and weak conclusion, but it managed to keep me moderately entertained because of its performances and Wes Ball's adequate direction. Besides, I have to say I found The Maze Runner superior to Divergent, Beautiful Creatures and The Hunger Games; I know that that isn't something very enthusiastic to say, but we can't demand too much from this kind of films.
On the positive side, The Zero Theorem is full of philosophical concepts, explorations of human condition, and a perverse sense of humor which finds laughs in the futility of people; and all that is contained in a space decorated by the same production designers of the TV series Max Headroom with a limited budget. On the negative side... the same reasons. But, in my humble opinion, the positive side surpasses the negative one because I'm accustomed to see the films directed by Terry Gilliam as authentic displays of an unstoppable creativity, vaguely structured by ideas and deep existential questions which are easy to lose of sight, due to the fact that they are expressed through deceptively irrelevant details, when in fact, they contain the films' true essence. However, those who will see The Zero Theorem exclusively focusing on its superficial elements might find the screenplay obtuse and repetitive, and told in confusing settings created by special effects of a doubtful quality. However, I think that this film's authentic value goes much beyond its variegated presentation. It's hard for me to put that on words, but it's exactly why I generally like Gilliam's films: the sensation of a purpose behind the chaos. I don't know if that's real, or just a consequence of my ossified brain trying to process random information, looking for ideas where there's only style. Anyway, it worked for me, and that's why I think The Zero Theorem deserves a recommendation, with the hope that every spectator will find something different and maybe valuable in the experience. And I would also like to mention the excellent work from the whole cast, who brings credibility and enthusiasm to the eccentric characters. In conclusion, I enjoyed The Zero Theorem pretty much. At the difference of its tortured main character, I don't need a concrete answer in order to be left satisfied by a film. It's enough for me with the possibility that the solution exists in some place of the narrative, waiting for the moment of revealing itself and surprising us.
Lucy is a spectacularly ridiculous but very entertaining film which is the best one Luc Besson has directed in a long time... even though, considering all the missteps he has had since he returned from "retirement" 9 years ago, that isn't a big compliment. For better or for worse, Lucy employs Besson's habitual style, combining abundant action, a creative visual style and an accelerated rhythm which, in this case, distract us from the parade of nonsense and inconsistencies from the screenplay (Hasn't the "we only use 10% of our brain" myth already been discarded?). Fortunately, this film counts with solid performances from the whole cast, starting by Scarlett Johansson, who brings charisma and credibility. Morgan Freeman brings his usual conviction, serene presence and persuasive voice, while Choi Min-sik and Nicolas Phongpheth bring quite a personality to their villain roles. Besides, with only 89 minutes of running, Lucy ends as quickly as it began, it never gets boring at all and it leaves us with some philosophical reflections I found interesting. Lucy is not a great film, but it entertained me very much, and I recommend it as a pleasant distraction which doesn't require us to pay too much attention. And besides of that, I like to see Besson back on the right track in his career as a director.
I wasn't very interested in watching Afflicted, because I'm already a bit tired of the pseudo-documentary technique, specially on horror cinema. However, to my surprise, Afflicted ended up being an excellent film with solid performances, good production values and an ingenious screenplay which presents its classic premise on a fresh and quite creative way... without forgetting, of course, the horror and suspense which are frequently absent in this kind of films. Many modern filmmakers think that the pseudo-documentary technique is an excuse to do the things badly, but co-directors and co-screenwriters Derek Lee and Clif Prowse show a considerable discipline to keep the narrative logical and consistent, with enough style to make it visually interesting and (finally!) realistic and pleasant characters I truly empathized with. I would also like to mention the perfect use of European locations. Instead of secluding us to generic woods or an abandoned building, Lee and Prowse set the paranormal events in varied and picturesque settings. As for the mentioned paranormal events, I prefer not to reveal them, because before watching Afflicted, I knew practically nothing about the plot, and it was exciting to be unraveling the mystery at the same time of the main characters. In summary, Afflicted is a hidden gem which left me very satisfied on the dramatic and visceral levels, and also left me surprised with the quality of its manufacture. I wish we could see independent horror cinema made with such a talent behind and in front of the cameras more frequently.
Last year, I read an interview to Ralph Sarchie, a retired policeman who co-wrote the book Beware the Night (along with Lisa Collier), about the paranormal occurrences he found during his career in New York. The anecdotes he told in that interview were truly terrifying, and elevated my expectations for the film Deliver Us From Evil, "inspired" on Sarchie's experiences. However, the film took a simpler and safer road, and the result is mediocre, but passable. As an important part from its screenplay, Deliver Us From Evil borrows many concepts and situations from other films, either as a "tribute" or as a tool for establishing the atmosphere and tone from the scenes (some examples: policeman with family difficulties; rebel priest with a tortuous past; a main character who has lost the faith; and a prologue set in the Middle East, in the purest style of The Exorcist). The actors make a competent work, highlighting Eric Bana, Joel McHale and Olivia Munn. However, Deliver Us From Evil isn't very satisfactory as a horror film. Its rhythm is occasionally a bit dull, the screenplay makes too many unnecessary turns, and the demonic possession scenes aren't very frightening. I appreciate the fact that Deliver Us From Evil attempted to modify its particular cinematographic recipe, placing the characters' humanity above cheap scares and stylish tricks (even though it contains various examples of both); but at the same time, I feel that it distanced itself too much from the roots of the horror genre, and tried to compensate it with an abundance of clichés which end up diluting its identity. Nevertheless, I can give a slight recommendation to Deliver Us From Evil, mainly because it generally kept me moderately entertained.
For better or for worse, Only Lovers Left Alive ended up being exactly what I expected... a vampire film directed by Jim Jarmusch. I have been a fan from this filmmaker's for a long time, and even though he has had a few missteps in his filmography, I generally enjoy his parsimonious narrative style, which sacrifices story in favor of atmosphere and richness of character. And even though I wouldn't place Only Lovers Left Alive, his most recent film, among his best ones, I liked it pretty much. Regarding the screenplay and atmosphere, Only Lovers Left Alive properly combines the traditional mystical of the tragic vampire (delineated by author Anne Rice) with the contemporary attitude from writers such as Laurell K. Hamilton and Poppy Z. Brite, adding a pinch of the pompous affectation from director Jean Rollin's vampire cinema. In other words, a vision with the best attributes from the genre combined with Jarmusch's undeniable style in order to add emotion and gravity. However, I can't deny the fact that I felt Only Lovers Left Alive a bit superficial; an interesting exercise of shape and style which couldn't find the necessary intellectual background in order to become something excellent. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston bring perfect performances as two immortal beings whose considerable accumulation of knowledges and experience has left them a passive and philosophical perspective of life. Adam took the road of a "tormented artist", creating amazing music with retro instruments which has become a cult object, even though the artist refuses to publish it. On the other hand, Eve has a more bohemian life, enjoying the long and aesthetic experience from her long life. The film portrays them as two rock stars living a beautiful decadence, something which is undeniably "cool"... but there aren't authentic narrative foundations holding the attractive facade. Anyway, I enjoyed Only Lovers Left Alive pretty much, thanks to its elegant visual style, perfectly achieved atmosphere, good performances and extraordinary soundtrack.
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