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video games, architecture, and online comics. He has a BA in
Studio Arts at UC Irvine. He loves talking about movies and dining and is a frequent contributor to IMDB, Yelp, Usenet, and various
movie and CG forums. He also enjoys travel, hiking, running, and wines. His online comics are also available at www.ninjasonmotorcycles.com.
A solid horror film with bite
This past weekend, I saw the movie "It" (2017), directed by Andy Muschietti ("Mama"), based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. First off, let me say that I enjoyed this movie quite a bit-- it was a highly entertaining monster flick with jump scares that surprisingly worked (which usually doesn't in many films). The movie stars various (mostly unknown) child actors and Bill Skarsgård as an evil entity called Pennywise the Dancing Clown, which terrorizes the town of Derry every 27 years. The main protagonist of this film is the stuttering Bill (Jaesen Lieberher), who wants to avenge his little brother who was killed by Pennywise. The film focuses mostly on the kids and their relationships, their school bullies, dysfunctional adults, and the sharp-toothed killer clown that moves around in the sewers.
I have the novel in my house, which I never got around to reading. I did, however, see the miniseries on TV, also called "It" (1990), starring Tim Curry as the titular killer clown. There were two parts to the miniseries--first half took place in 1960, and the second part in 1990. The first half mainly starred children, while the second half starred adults (the same children now grown up). The TV show was fairly creepy for TV (particularly the first half), while the second half was on the cheesier side, with monster effects that were not quite on par with theatrical films of that time. Tim Curry ("Clue") was an effectively creepy clown, given that he often just popped out of nowhere to harass the kids. The second half wasn't helped by the fact that it starred mostly comedians such as Harry Anderson ("Night Court"), John Masur ("License to Drive") and John Ritter ("Three's Company)--a baffling decision by the producers. Just imagine seeing a horror film starring Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, and Larry the Cable Guy, and you get the idea.
So, this 2017 film fixes a lot of the problems that the miniseries had. This film only tells the first half of the story (which still works as a standalone story), with only the children as the protagonists. It also takes place in 1989, taking cues from the nostalgic, retro look and style of Netflix's popular "Stranger Things." (To note, one of the kids from the show is in this movie). Unlike the miniseries, the creature effects in this film is impressively creepy and artistically done. And, this movie is rated R (also quite unusual for horror movies of this ilk), which pretty much tells you that they aren't messing around.
Bill Skarsgård is excellent as Pennywise. He is going full-on creepy-monster-mode here. This is to Tim Curry's Pennywise what Heath Ledger's Joker was to Jack Nicholson's. This Pennywise isn't interested in dishing out any humor or making puns--he is meant to be terrible and scary. With that said, Skarsgård's acting has just enough subtlety and the inflections of his voice to be original and interesting. The kids' acting are pretty top-notch. They feel like real kids, and their situation is often quite terrible. Adults are unlikable here for the most part, and are often one-dimensional. Maybe it's me, but I feel this quite often in Stephen King films (eg. "Carrie") where teens or kids are protagonists--all adults seem like terrible people.
The plot isn't particularly complex--much of the story is about the characters and the horror they face. Where it lacks in story, it has enough details about the characters that you care about their well-being (something many horror films fail at). There is plenty of humor in this film which thankfully offsets some of the gloominess of the situation. Much of this humor comes from the 80's references to films and music, and kids' sarcastic, bad-mouthed dialogue. Having been a child of the 80's myself, I found much to relate here.
As for the horror, as I mentioned, there is, yes, plenty of jump scares. However, this film isn't focused on the "JUMP" part of the "jump scare" but focuses on the "SCARE" part of the jump scare. Allow me to explain. Usually, in horror films, right when a "jump scare" comes, it's very quiet at first, then there's a loud noise (which is usually the part that scares you the most) and something "horrific" (or at least not quite as horrific as the loud noise) happens, then ends (usually quickly). In this movie, the horrific part lingers--you get a good look at what is supposed to scare you. The result feels earned, and not cheap. Remember back in the day when seeing a cool, creepy creature was the big payoff? It was the type of thing that many categorized as a well-done popcorn horror flick. The special effects are also quite good here, many of them practical. As the miniseries failed with its lackluster special effects, this film succeeds. Without giving away details, they did well with the budget. Director Andy Muschietti has made a solid horror film.
If there are any complaints, I kind of feel that it has more to do with Stephen King's original story. The illusory part of how Pennywise operates in the world never seemed quite clear to me. This was also how I felt when I saw the miniseries. Maybe it's better explained in the book--the film is a bit vague on it. And, the adults, as mentioned, are mostly stereotypes--I'm not saying that's not allowed, but such things can make the world feel less real.
This is an entertaining horror film. The female audiences at my theater jumped and screamed in horror more than a few times, while laughing afterwards. If they weren't entertained, at least I was entertained by their reaction. Many also chuckled at the "New Kids on the Block" jokes--yep, we get it, sirs. Well played, dear fellows. Well played.
My Rating: **** 1/2 out of ***** stars
Review at http://ninjasonmotorcycles.blogspot.com/2017/09/my-movie- review-it-2017.html
Betoben baireoseu (2008)
A wonderful series full of humanity, artistry, and emotion.
Wonderful acting, brilliant writing, and great, classical music. One can't help but appreciate classical music that much more after seeing this series. Poetic, sad, dramatic, hilarious, and humane, I loved the high quality involved in this production.
The story involves violinist Doo Roo-mi (Lee Ji-ah)who hires Maestro Kang Gun-woo to lead an orchestra that has recently disbanded due to a former manager running off with all the money. She hires replacements for the orchestra, which consist of mostly amateurs, country bumpkins, and misfits with a dream to perform at a band. Amongst the members is a trumpeter who has the same name as Kang Gun-woo (Jang Geun-seok), who may prove to be a musical genius.
Kim Myung Min's portrayal of the perfectionist and arrogant Maestro Kang Gun-woo is both maddening and hilarious. Maestro Kang's scathing aggressiveness and sharp tongue exudes frank, sometimes admirable, efficiency and cold calculation. Things that come out of his mouth causes people to run off, break down, and cry. Carrying the nickname "Orchestra Killer" (because orchestra members tend not to stick around longer than six months under him), this character has a hard time dealing with regular people as he himself doesn't see himself as regular.
Despite the fact that Maestro Kang treats his orchestra like trash, we find that he is actually a very complex character. Adding to the complexity are the orchestra members' own personal, social, and financial issues, and a love triangle between the two Kang Gun-woo and Doo Roo-mi.
Be sure to check this out on DVD or Hulu.
Cars 2 (2011)
What 'Cars 2' does, it does well.
In this sequel to Cars, race cars Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his tow truck pal Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) head overseas to compete in the World Grand Prix race. Mater, however, gets sidetracked with international espionage. Helped by British spy cars, Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), Mater must stop an unknown villain trying to sabotage the race, with Lightning McQueen as his possible target.
I liked the first Cars, but I admit, amongst the other works of Pixar, it was my least favorite. With that said, I really enjoyed Cars 2. Yes, more so than Cars 1. It's very entertaining with both subtle and not-so-subtle humor that not everyone will quite get nor appreciate. The scenes in Tokyo are colorful and extreme. The scenes in Paris and Italy are breathtaking and beautifully rendered. This is a story about cars. There's only so many ways you can go with this subject. With that said, Pixar has again created a piece of work that remains consistent to their high quality.
Admittedly, Lightning McQueen, the main character in the last film played by Owen Wilson, gets less of a role here compared to Mater, played by Larry the Cable Guy. I would guess some may have a big problem with this. To be frank, Larry the Cable Guy's brand of humor isn't to everyone's taste (nor mine), and perhaps represents what makes one feel embarrassed for being American especially when in a foreign country. Well, that issue is exactly what comes up in this particular film. Mater is a constant embarrassment for Lightning McQueen whenever he is around—he is ignorant, unsophisticated, and often gets himself into bad situations. What Pixar does here, however, is not to simply leave Mater to just be the butt of every joke. In fact, the characters here actually learn something or at least we do. The theme in this film is about friendship and seeing value in people we normally would rather not associate ourselves with.
The story is strong and twists are rather mind-boggling enough to keep little kids confused (but as an adult, I thought it was great!). Making Mater the main character, on a practical level, makes sense. Frankly, there are only so many more stories you can really squeeze out about Lightning McQueen at this point—everything already had been told in the last film. It's like a Rocky movie. Rocky sequels were okay, yes, but after a while, Rocky was no longer the underdog—now it's all about him keeping his title (it's like a story about a rich man staying rich)—there are not a whole lot of ways you can go with that plot (I suppose Rocky's next sequel could have him fight in space I know! Time machine! Brilliant!). One can say Cars 2 is like the further adventures of Rocky's Paulie, Mickey, or Adrian, from their point of view. I thought that was a good move. It's like how Empire Strikes Back was really Han Solo's film (although that is open for discussion).
In the previous film, I didn't care much about Mater. I learned to like him in this film. A simple character has been made a little more complex. Lightning McQueen learns a valuable lesson about friendship, and Mater learns to self-reflect. Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy are fun as always as Mater and McQueen. Michael Caine is excellent as Finn McMissile, a super agent spy car, and Emily Mortimer does fine work as Holley Shiftwell.
The overall feel of this film is more "mature"-flavored without being overtly mature. This is true for much of Pixar's films in general. If you think about many classic Warner Bros. films, for example, they had many underlying mature themes. As for Pixar, they have explored, among others, themes related to mortality (Toy Story series), the family unit (The Incredibles) and fatherhood (Finding Nemo, Up). Cars do come in harm's way in this film. Some do explode. Nothing shocking here. They're cars. I dug the action scenes. This plays like a spy thriller, which admittedly, is more exciting than watching car races. Like much of Pixar's work, there is plenty of humor, a great helping of emotion, beautiful renders, and a clever story. I can't think of anything more to ask for than that. Now, did Cars really need a sequel? Perhaps not, but I enjoyed this one and it makes me even like the previous one. I'm not really into talking cars, talking bugs, or talking fishes, personally, but Pixar still manages to make me like them.
For more of my review updates, you can find me on twitter.com/d_art
Source Code (2011)
'Source Code' is a unique, entertaining thrill ride
This film is a sci-fi geek's dream-- a cross between Quantum Leap, Groundhog Day, and possibly a computer adventure game. The film starts off like an episode of Quantum Leap. The main character is Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) who wakes up inside a commuter train, with an attractive girl in front of him, who already apparently likes him (perfect!). He looks in the mirror and finds out that he is someone else, at least to everyone else around him. He realizes too late that the train he is on has been set to explode in 8 minutes, which happens. He wakes up inside a pod of some sort, a part of a government experiment in which he can travel to the past, into the consciousness of a passenger's last 8 minutes of his life (multiple times). His mission was to find out who had caused that explosion, so the culprit can be located (in the present) before he bombs another train or building. To add, Colter can go to the past, but he can't change it to affect the present. The film goes on to explain all this with jibber jabber about parallel universes and its link to the last 8 minutes of a memory of a deceased passenger. Colter can enter into this new reality and interact with things that the passenger hadn't experienced—because it's actually a parallel universe, you see? (Say what?). Thankfully, the film doesn't try to explain this in great detail.
Now, once you can run with this idea, it's an extremely entertaining movie. Like Groundhog Day, death isn't a factor for Gyllenhaal's character because he will merely return back to the pod after 8 minutes. I'm partly reminded of the text adventure games I used to play when I was a kid--you'd die and you'd return to a saved point, where you can try a different route in the story. In essence, you don't even have to really focus on the mission. In each scenario, Colter would try different things to find the bomber, but on the side he proceeds to find out more about himself, of which he has only fuzzy memories of. Given 8 minutes each time, the pacing of this film is relentless. Understandably, it's not a heavily character-driven film, aside from Jake Gyllenhaal's character. The whole train motif, the confused protagonist, and pastel colors bring back a bit of Hitchcock. The pacing is consistent and the twists keep coming.
The suspense in the film works mainly because we care about Jake Gyllenhaal's character. Gyllenhaal is a great everyman. He reacts just as one would expect in such extreme circumstances. He struggles with his own desires, duty, and with his rights which are being infringed upon. Michelle Monaghan does well enough as Colter's potential love interest, Christina—understandably, due to time constraints of the situations, she is not complex. How many meaningful conversations ever stayed within 8 minutes, after all? Likewise, the government agents who are heading the experiment, as played by Jeffrey Wright and Vera Farmiga, feel mostly like archetypes.
Overall, this is a fun, entertaining thriller with many potential threads. Like Inception, as Hollywood films go, this is a unique film. The ideas aren't new, but it takes a fresh approach. The 8-minute gimmick forces the story to waste little time. Jake Gyllenhaal's portrayal brings in the emotion and Duncan Jones' taut direction pulls out the suspense. Because there are so many ways one can go with this material, this could have been a pretty good ongoing TV series like Lost. If not, I imagine straight-to-video sequels coming soon.
For more of my movie reviews, you can find them through twitter.com/d_art
Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
'Resident Evil: Afterlife 3-D' has good 3-D, less everything else
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, the latest, and fourth of the Resident Evil series, now called Afterlife, Alice (Milla Jovovich) continues on her journey, now with her sidekick Claire (Ali Larter), in a world ravaged by a virus infection to find survivors in L.A. and lead them to safety. Meanwhile the evil Umbrella Corporation responsible for the virus is after her.
This 3rd sequel has now went on to the Avatar-esque RealD 3-D format, and in all honesty, it looked amazing. The images were crisp, the whites looked white, and the raindrops Oh my, the raindrops. If you had a choice between watching it in 3-D or 2-D, I'd suggest the 3-D version, because, well, the movie itself doesn't fair as well on its own, meaning, in terms of characterization, plot, or even action.
The film starts off strong, particularly the beginning credits, which presents a rainy Tokyo street scene where a girl is standing alone without an umbrella amongst a crowd. The scene is filled with colors, tension, and mystery. Had the film carried that same sense of horror throughout the film, I think this film could've been something quite special. The pacing slows down considerably as well. As it is, it is a fairly standard action film with Milla Jovovich doing her usual badass, too-tough-to-bother action heroine thing. She looks cool, no doubt—but it's nothing new and she's mostly going through the motions by now.
The visuals are what sells this film. The sets, both virtual and not, are of high quality (and budget, too, I suppose). The storming of the Umbrella corporation in the beginning is quite out there, but kind of neat, too. A fight between two women vs. one baddie with a giant ax is a nice scene where you see 3-D blood splatter onto the screen. Personally, I don't see how the film could be better in 2-D, particularly these action scenes. These scenes are highly unrealistic, are often in slow motion, and not terribly exciting aside from the 3-D. They're great visuals, but there's hardly any tension, drama, or fear. Milla Jovovich's Alice has become a James Bond-ian superwoman where no bullets or sharp edges can touch her. She twirls and jumps in mid-air, easily dodging bullets as if they were tennis balls on American Gladiators. Advertisement And, this is all in slo-mo. Now, this is where 3-D gets useful. You can appreciate the details, the textures, and the spatial awareness. I've read in an article recently that one of the tough aspects about filming fight scenes in a 3-D film is that you have to actually connect, or hit the other person because you can't use fake distance with camera tricks like you can with the regular film. I suppose that could be the reason for the use of slo-mo. Then again, one can always do the other way as in some Hong Kong Films, where they "undercrank," so people can fight slower with slower frame rate so it looks faster in normal speed. Either way, it works aesthetically well in 3-D. Motion blurs could look odd in 3-D, after all.
The plot involves a group of survivors stranded on a prison facility surrounded by flesh-eating zombies. It is up to Alice and Claire to help them get to safety to a ship offshore. The characters are fairly generic, with couple of fighter-type guys, a wimpy guy, a sleazy guy, and a pretty chick. Their backstory doesn't figure much into the plot, so it doesn't really matter what they do.
Milla Jovovich has played this type of role for so long that it's nothing surprising. She plays Alice with great physicality and delivers her lines as it is written. The dialogue is generic, lacking humor. Ali Larter plays Claire, who looks more like a feminine version of Alice. Shawn Roberts plays the evil head of the Umbrella Corporation, Albert Wesker. (Who pays for the Umbrella Corporation, by the way? And, do they still pay money?) Wesker resembles Ice Man from Top Gun, donning sunglasses, looking robotic--I suppose he symbolizes the cold, robotic nature of big corporations.
Overall, despite the simple plot and characters, Milla plays Alice as I suppose she is meant to played, with lots of action. I was still happy how good the 3-D looked and it could be a good reason to at least check it out in theaters. There's good potential and effective use of this medium, if coupled with a good script and characters we can care about.
Ang-ma-reul bo-at-da (2010)
Movie Review: 'I Saw The Devil'
In I Saw The Devil, Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) is an embodiment of evil, a serial killer who mutilates his victims, many of them women. One night, Ju-yeon, daughter of a retired police chief and pregnant fiancée of elite special agent Dae-hoon (Lee Byung Hun), is brutally murdered by Kyung-chul. Obsessed with revenge, Dae-hoon decides to track down the murderer, even if doing so means becoming a monster himself. When he finds Kyung-chul, turning him in is the last thing on his mind. He will make him pay.
I was really split on this one. The voyeuristic nihilism of it all was too gross to watch. First off, let me add that this isn't a poorly made film by any technical standards. It's just that it was incredibly unpleasant to experience. I watch films (as long as you pay for them) for entertainment purposes. It is a transactional medium after all. Artistic merit aside, if a person is asked to pay $12 for a movie, the film is asking to be judged on its monetary value. I tend to side with Alfred Hitchcock when he said, "A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission and the babysitter were worth it."
Director Kim Ji-Woon is a stylistic director of genre films. From his horror film, Tale of Two Sisters, to action films like A Bittersweet Life and comedic adventures like The Good, The Bad, And The Weird, his films tend not to be complex in plot nor deep, but are visual marvels that are extremely entertaining with maybe a twist at the end. I Saw The Devil is a much darker, depressing, and unsettling departure from his previous works. I felt the director focused too much on shocking the audience. The visuals have richness in color that is typical of his work, but the many scenes of stomach-churning gore and extreme, realistic violence can really dull the senses. Heads and limbs are cruelly cut up, and/or realistically hit with blunt objects or stabbed. Too much for me. Seeing women being cut up and/or raped by a serial killer is depressing and well, too voyeuristic. True, the killer gets his just desserts (boy, does he ever), but I'm more of a fan of the cerebral, "showing less is more" style of filmmaking. I like Hitchcock. Advertisement
Lee Byung-Hun's acting is pretty amazing here as Dae-hoon. As the husband of a murdered wife, one can truly feel all that is going on in his mind through his restrained expressions and words. He can't cry because he has essentially lost all feeling. He has become like a machine with one purpose—revenge. He has great charisma and screen presence (he played Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe). Throughout the film, he becomes more of a monster as he tries to make the killer pay for his crimes. Choi Min-Sik is absolutely despicable as the serial killer, Kyung-chul. Choi Min-Sik is like Gary Oldman (or probably closer to Russel Crowe in popularity) of South Korea. It's freaky to see him play such an unsympathetic character, which he has no problem doing.
The plot itself isn't very complex. The film is more about the characters and their mindset. Kyung-chul has no regard for human life. Dae-hoon has no regard for Kyung-chul's life or is there something more? Throughout the film, more details are revealed about Kyung-chul as well as Dae-hoon's vengeful plans.
Watching this film was like drinking acid. And, experiencing that may have been the main point of this film. But, c'mon. One doesn't need to constantly be tortured to explain the mercurial, horrifying nature of vengeance. The news is depressing as it is. The film outdoes Park Chan-Wook's Vengeance trilogy quite a bit in terms of shock and gore, but not in its theme. Have we become so desensitized to this stuff that we must always push the boundaries? This version I saw appeared to be uncut. Things do come together in the end, but the painful journey was what stayed with me.
Movie Review: 'The Housemaid'
In this remake of a popular 1960 Korean film of the same name, Jeon Do-Yeon plays the titular character, Eun-yi, who is hired as an upper class family housemaid, tasked to take care of the family's small daughter and her pregnant mother, Hae-ra (Seo Woo). Overseeing her efforts is Byung-sik (Yun Yeo-jung), an older housemaid who has been with the family for a long time and holds many secrets. Hoon (Lee Jung Jae), the master of the house, takes advantage of his social position and begins a secret affair with Eun-yi. Once it is discovered Eun-yi may be pregnant, Mi-hee, Hae-ra's mother, plots a way to get rid of Eun-yi's unborn baby despite Eun-yi's wish to keep it and leave the house.
While the original film was a suspense thriller, this one isn't quite as easy to pinpoint. While there are aspects of an erotic thriller, this film is partly a character study and a satire about class struggle. The film starts off with a random suicide as a girl jumps off a roof onto the busy street. This event isn't really related to the main plot, unfortunately (which I admit would have been more interesting to follow up on). The scene portrays a cold, apathetic society as kids pull out their cell-phones to take a picture. Thus, the film starts off with a bit of a dark, off-kilter, cynical feel.
One of director Im Sang-soo's previous films, The President's Last Bang, was a satire focusing on the assassination of the dictatorial Korean president Park Chung Hee. While this film isn't particularly comedic as that film, it has elements which seem heavy-handed and too outrageous to take seriously. As a thriller, it isn't very convincing. One of the obvious problems is the portrayal of Eun-yi, who is shown here as sympathetic, naïve, and more of a victim, the opposite of the original. Unlike the rich folks, who eventually take advantage of her, she is likable and kind.
Jeon Do-Yeon does well with the role that is written for her. As good and fine as she is in almost every role she plays, it truly would have been something special to see her play a really mean, nasty character—there is no doubt it would have been a wonderful departure and a suitable challenge for this talented actress. Then again, I suppose it's like asking Natalie Portman to play Annie Wilkes from Misery. It's just unimaginable. Would it have been cool to see? Of course. The real villain role is given to Hae-ra's mother, Mi-hee. She plays the all-too-familiar "evil stepmother" role that appears to frequent Korean TV dramas as of late. Yun Yeo-jung is memorable as the older housemaid, Byung-sik, who remains constantly interesting and complex. Lee Jung Jae plays the rich master role with aplomb and brings subtlety to what is relatively a simplified and underused character. Advertisement
The film has some great visuals, particularly the interiors of the mansion, full of deep reds and whites. The camera work is hand-held and rougher near the beginning, particularly in the street scenes, and becomes more static and calculated as the film focuses more on the rich family. The film is sexually-charged and the seedy nature of the relationship between Eun-yi and Hoon, along with their motives, is never quite explained.
The story is overly simple, I felt, and I expected more twists, more believable characterization, more thrills, or something. The problem with satire is that it often pulls the audience away from fully engaging with the story or the characters, an issue that doesn't particularly work in a thriller. Perhaps it might have been better if this had not been a remake. I would guess that the fear of comparison with the original could bring a director to go the complete opposite direction in the newer film or try to turn what may be a simple story into high art (and appear intelligent). I just wish they'd just make it better by changing the name, the plot, and well, simply being a whole new film. I suppose on the positive side, a remake does introduce a new generation of audiences to check out the original. In this particular case, I'd love to see the original just to see how much better it is than this film.
The Town (2010)
'The Town' is a complex, engrossing thriller
Directed by Ben Affleck, based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, The Town takes place in Charlestown, Massachusetts. It is a heist/police thriller about four masked bank robbers--Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), James "Jem" Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Albert "Gloansy" Magloan (Slaine), and Desmond "Dez" Elden (Owen Burke)--who wind up taking a hostage during a robbery--the bank manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall). They release her, blindfolded. Unsure whether Claire might somehow be able to finger them, Doug pays a visit to her (her not having seen him) and asks her out on a date, which turns into a romantic relationship. Meanwhile, FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is tailing the four suspects.
After seeing this film, as I was stepping out of the theater, an elderly man who just walked in, asked me, "Was it good?" I replied with my first two-word review: "Very good." He said, "Okay!" For some, that short-and-sweet review would suffice. For the rest, the following is my longer version.
If you have seen the trailer, it appears to be the standard Hollywood plot—the sympathetic villain falls in love with the hostage, betrays his own guys, and maybe end with an elaborate hail of gunfire, and so forth. It's the general plot line for films that involve professional killers—This Gun For Hire, The Killer, The Professional, Bittersweet Life, etc. Luckily, this film is more complex. In fact, the love story doesn't take that much of the center stage. The story looks more into the environment, the people, and the relationships that form a person. Advertisement
In terms of style, this film could be considered a close cousin of Heat and a second cousin of Point Break, but with more drama. The action scenes have an efficient coldness to it that makes it look realistic. As impressive as the action scenes are, this film is mainly character-driven. Ben Affleck's direction is top notch. The pacing is nearly flawless. The car chases through small alleyways of Boston is reminiscent of French Connection. The gun-fights are loud and gritty. The film has just enough small surprises and cleverness that makes it unique. The characters' back stories, their history, and the crime culture bring an extra bit of dimension. The dialogue is frequently witty and playful. I suppose it helps that the story was based on a novel.
Ben Affleck is understated and solid as Doug MacRay, the planner of the heists. While it is not an unusual role for Affleck playing the sympathetic one, he feels like a real person. His relationship with his jailbird father played by Chris Cooper adds an extra dimension. Particularly noteworthy is Jeremy Renner's intriguing performance, which invokes an unnerving unpredictability to the character of "Jem," Doug's close friend and cohort. Renner's character is nearly the opposite of the soft-hearted hero he played in The Hurt Locker—here, he is creepy, erratic, and has no problem killing people off.
Overall, this is a character-driven, solid crime thriller with good direction from Ben Affleck. The performances are first rate and while the action is strong, the film's focus on human drama is what brings this film up a notch. I couldn't quite predict where the film was going. The pacing is good. It's been a while since I've seen an engrossing heist thriller like this one. It's good. Okay, very good.
You can find more updates of my movie reviews on http://twitter.com/d_art
Le code a changé (2009)
'Change of Plans' is helped by sharp wit and realistic characters
In this French comedy directed by Danièle Thompson and written by Danièle Thompson and Christopher Thompson, the story centers around a summer dinner party where ten acquaintances come together for food, wine, and friendship, while trying to cover up their own personal troubles. Consisting of mostly middle aged couples, if they are not having affairs, they are dissatisfied with their life, or going through family issues. With an all-star ensemble cast from France, the characters each have their own story which are intertwined with one another.
I admit I'm generally turned off by "comedies" involving infidelity. There are always some dislikeable characters, the "comedy" isn't really funny, and rarely have I ever seen a good ending. The poster for Change of Plans displayed multiple characters from the chest down playing footsies under a dinner table, which reminded me of a typical episode from Three's Company. Add to that, a film that boasts an "ensemble cast" usually suffers from a lack of focus and over-simplified storytelling. To add, this is a French film, whereas a subject like this is as typical as a British outdoor breakfast scene on PBS.
Unexpectedly, though, I enjoyed this film. True, there's a typicality to the situations in this film, but it was well-executed. I appreciated the snappy dialogue, the character interactions, and the surprisingly poignant moments. Its wit is sharper than many films of this ilk. The characters react realistically. Dialogue drives this film more than the situations. Admittedly, the characters are relatively jaded and cynical, which adds to the humor. I found it interesting that the film isn't as interested in the affairs of the characters as much as it is about reconciliation. Advertisement
While the centerpiece of this film is the dinner party amongst a group of friends and colleagues, a good chunk of the film is shown in flashbacks, revealing back stories of many of the characters, as well as the relationships that develop after the party. We are told these middle-aged characters have children, but we never see them—perhaps it helps the film keep its focus. We are introduced to ML (Karin Viard), a divorce lawyer, who hosts the dinner party. The guests consist of her teacher Manuela (Blanca Li) from her flamenco class, her husband Piotr (Dany Boon), and her younger sister Juliette (Marina Hands), a costume designer who is dating a much older man Erwann (Patrick Chesnais). There's also the kitchen designer Jean-Louis (Laurent Stocker) who designed ML's new kitchen, oncologist Alain (Patrick Bruel) and his gynecologist wife, Melanie (Marina Fois), who secretly wants to end their marriage and run off with her lover. Attorney Lucas (Christopher Thompson) arrives to the party with his wife Sarah (Emmanuelle Seigner), who is Piotr's old college flame. An unexpected guest is ML's father, Henri (Pierre Arditi), who has had a strained relationship with Juliette ever since he had run off from the family.
Thompson manages to keep the stories working together logically. When characters change, it's realistic. The film moves at a leisure pace, but is always interesting thanks to the film's characters, dialogue, and occasional poignant surprises. Admittedly, those who already have problems with talky French films with subtitles will not have their minds changed here. I enjoyed the zigzag table conversations and different topics that go off tangent. I liked how the film didn't try to be too comedic. There are some great emotional scenes, such as the ones between Henri and Juliette. The actors and actresses all bring fine performances. It's true that these are not stories I normally gravitate towards, but the film's little surprises, wit, and characters made the experience more than palatable.
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Down Terrace (2009)
Movie Review: 'Down Terrace' has memorable characters amongst the mundane
Just released from jail, father and son Bill and Karl (played by real life father and son Bob and Robin Hill) are patriarchs of a small crime family. Their business and life in Down Terrace is plagued with infighting. When Karl's estranged girlfriend claims to be carrying his child, Karl's added priorities create tension amongst his immediate family. Suspicions grow when the family believes there's an informant in their midst that could send them all to prison for a very long time.
This film is hard to categorize. Some have called it a British version of Sopranos. While it is a story about a crime family, there's nothing very "gangster" about them. They don't dress or look the part. The three characters, Bill, Karl, and Maggie (Julie Deakin), Karl's mother, look and act like a regular blue collar family. They're not particularly convincing as gangsters (which may be why they're so well-hidden). For a good chunk of the movie, I had forgotten they were gangsters at all. Kind of like the TV show Roseanne, they bicker about regular family issues. Heavy with dialogue and awkward situations, the film plays almost like a comedic sitcom. It could have been about any family business and it would have worked.
There's realism and candor in the film's look and style. Characters talk about everyday things. Characters are often irritable, unkempt, and cumbersome. The camera is often hand-held, jerky, and frequently focuses on the mundane. The dialogue is often quite sharp and funny. It's certainly not glitzy like a gangster film.
There's virtually no action until the latter half of the film. Admittedly, some parts dragged. And, some parts are engrossing and sentimental. Some parts take you by surprise. The film's focus on both the mundane and the surprising moments is perhaps used to its benefit, but can sometimes feel a little uneven in terms of pacing. When the unexpected, violent moments hit, it reminded me that yes, this is indeed a "gangster" film. This results in some great dark humor. Advertisement
The characters truly make this film. The dynamics between Bill, Karl, and Maggie are realistic, funny, dysfunctional, and sad. Bob Hill is particularly memorable as Bill, an aging father who is frequently disappointed and putting down his son, Karl. Robin Hill expertly plays off his real-life father Bob (who plays Bill) as the constantly-frustrated Karl. Julie Deakin gives a complex, multifaceted performance as Maggie, the loving, sometimes scheming, mother, who may not always be as kind as she appears. The supporting cast, which consist of thugs who often do not act like thugs, bring proper amount of quirky, dry humor.
Given the expectations one may have of the frequently popular gangster genre, fans of that genre will likely be let down by this film while missing out on this film's more subtler, deeper story about family relationships. The initial pacing of the film may try some people's patience. It did me a little. I wished the film hadn't really characterized itself as a story about a crime family or a "gangster film" because it really isn't. I think it perhaps hurts the film somewhat—it makes it seem less real, maybe more gimmicky. This is closer to a family drama with occasional violence thrown in. One may mistakingly go in expecting The Godfather. I can see this film re-imagined as a small crime story starring ordinary people—something akin to a Coen Brothers' film. These characters are odd, quirky, and dark in that vein.
I enjoyed the humor and the little surprises in this film despite the fact that the plot didn't always keep my interest. Some parts are quite banal and I sometimes wondered where the film was going. The film picks up considerably on the second half and the film's theme seems to follow the old adage that "what goes around comes around." By the end, though, it was ultimately the memorable characters that remained with me long afterwards.
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Four Lions (2010)
Movie Review: 'Four Lions' uncomfortably balances the dark and the humorous.
In this dark British comedy directed by Chris Morris, four ragtag band of jihadists—Omar (Riz Ahmed), Waj (Kayvan Novak), Barry (Nigel Lindsay), and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar)—decides to become terrorists. However, they are incompetent in various ways—Waj is a bit slow in the mind, Barry is a nihilistic white Islamic convert who wants to blow up a mosque to blame Jews for it, and Faisal can make a bomb but would rather train crows to fly bombs through windows. Meanwhile they are planning a bomb attack without being discovered by the authorities.
Given that this film is a comedy, it is kind of a tough sell. The main characters in the film, disillusioned about the treatment of Muslims around the world, are radicalized, but bumbling, young Muslim men who decide to become suicide bombers. Ironically, their personal life isn't all that bad. They have jobs and live in the suburbs. Omar (Ahmed) is married and has a kid. Besides wanting to become martyrs, their life is also common and they bicker about the usual everyday things amongst themselves. A couple of them decide to enlist in the terrorist training camp in Pakistan. Unfortunately (or fortunately for everyone else), they are also quite inept as soldiers. They cause some unwanted problems in the camp, so they soon rush back home. The four characters then try to plan on a particular venue to target.
What is novel about this film is that the filmmakers make the jihadists the main characters. They also happen to be personable, goofy, relatable, and perhaps a bit confused. With a mix of verbal sparring, potty jokes, and slapstick, much of the humor lies in the situations these characters are in due to their incompetence and naiveté. I suppose there's a hint of Wile E. Coyote element in there—although, with Wile E. Coyote, he is only after one thing and we actually root for him. This film, though, relies heavily on silly jokes and site gags. Given the film's roots in real-life, I found the humor mostly too broad and simplistic for my taste. Advertisement
Riz Ahmed does a fine job of making Omar an everyday type of character and personable. I still couldn't understand his eventual choices of actions, especially given that he was a fairly happily married man with a kid who'd probably do better with a father around than without. A good amount of unexpected humor comes from Nigel Lindsay as the hot-tempered Barry, the only white guy in the group, who has a tendency to take things a bit far. Kayvan Novak brings a good amount of sympathy to the slow-witted Waj who is only used to following orders.
The film has an almost documentary feel with its use of the hand-held camera. This film's world is certainly no fantasy. Despite the humor, I felt an unsettling discomfort throughout. One can't help but feel guarded when something seriously wrong may and can happen (especially toward innocents). Some of the more interesting and perhaps revealing moments in the film involve Omar's peace-loving brother-in-law and his relationship with Omar. I wished the film looked deeper into this relationship and their differences, which may shed some light on the subject. The film takes some ironic jabs at law enforcement as well.
Overall, despite the research done on the material, I felt the film didn't explore the subject fully, at least beyond the surface, or at least to a point where I could understand certain choices the characters make. Much of the humor comes off rather forced. Still, I suppose that's the only way to go with a dark subject like terrorism. Some of the material is amusing, but often not terribly clever. It's no Dr. Strangelove. With the right hands, this film probably could have been very thought-provoking. I found myself smirking more than laughing. I smirked in certain moments more than others, though. The film straddles the fence between a thriller and a comedy, but I found that it didn't quite succeed in its crude balancing act.
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Rare Exports (2010)
Movie Review: 'Rare Exports' is a darkly entertaining Finnish export
Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, based on a series of his short films, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale takes place on the eve of Christmas in northern Finland, Korvatunturi mountains, where an archaeological dig may have unearthed the real Santa Claus. However, this may not be the plump, white-bearded Santa Claus most are familiar with, but the much meaner creature from Finnish folklore. Young Pietari and his father Rauno, a reindeer hunter/butcher by trade, capture the old man/creature and attempt to sell him to the company sponsoring the dig. Meanwhile, all the local children begin to mysteriously disappear while Santa's "elves" will stop at nothing to free their fearless leader from captivity.
From the beginning, I really liked the mood of this film. Admittedly, I haven't seen any of the short films that Helander had made before this. Throughout this film, there's a sense of tension and mystery, but with good amount of dry humor thrown in. Ever since the dig, strange things begin to happen in the small town--electrical objects are stolen and children disappear. I really liked how the film never reveals things too soon, but allows the story to progressively present itself. While most of the film is in Finnish, there are occasional English speakers in the film, who play their parts with just the right amount of over-the-top gusto.
The film works similarly to a horror film, with well-timed pacing and build-up, and perhaps finally the eventual uncovering of the mysterious, impending horror. With harsh language, dark humor, some gore, frontal nudity (of old men), and some creepy moments, it's certainly not for little children (Think Pan's Labyrinth). Director Jalmari Helander confidently balances the horror and the humor of this tale expertly. The horror elements, while mostly tongue-in-cheek, are there, but the film is closer to a thriller, and the humor is sharp. I'm reminded of Bong Joon-Ho's The Host. As such, this film shares many elements of a monster movie, but it isn't really about the monster—it's the characters and their relationships with each other. The story unfolds in a diabolically clever way, which works in conjunction with its occasionally labored build-up. Advertisement
A good amount of the film's focus is on the relationship between Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila), who operates a bankrupted reindeer slaughterhouse. Rauno, who appears to be a widower, tends to be very protective of Pietari and often keeps many things to himself. Onni Tommila plays the young Pietari with much confidence, allowing us to see this strange, surrounding world from his point of view. Jorma Tommila is excellent as the loving father, played with a realistic blend of emotion, restraint, and subtlety.
The icy, white, wintery locale of this film is gorgeous and one can tell that there has been a good amount of production value involved, while avoiding looking glossy or fake. There's good attention to small details that keeps things feeling real. The orange lights, the rich, saturated colors of reds and blues play off and contrast with the snow marvelously. And, firey explosions certainly look great in the snow. The film's pumping soundtrack brings good amount of tension and weight, almost with a hint of that Danny Elfman/Tim Burton-like fantasy atmosphere. Still, the style of the film is generally realistic, and even if very strange, surreal things do happen, the feel of it is not as aesthetically Gothic as, let's say, a Burton film.
While the thematic elements of the film aren't anything new, I loved the film's original take on the Santa story. It doesn't ever feel like a lazy "wouldn't it be cool if " gimmick, but there's actual weight to the story. It isn't trying to redefine something, but it is simply telling a story which happens to be quite strange. Strange it is, indeed .but it feels wholly original.
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Serious-minded 'Inhale' is mired by B-movie conventions
In this new thriller from Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (The Sea), Santa Fe District Attorney Paul Chaney (Dermot Mulroney) and his wife Diane (Diane Kruger) has a daughter, Chloe, who is on a long list for a lung transplant due to a rare degenerative condition. As Chloe's health worsens, Paul becomes desperate for a donor and forgoes the usual channels to seek out a mysterious surgeon named Dr. Novarro in Juarez, Mexico, who may be able to help her. Things get complex when he finds that Dr. Novarro may have connections to a criminal underworld.
The film starts off with a text on the screen about the increasing needs in the world for organ donors, similar in style of a documentary or a fact-based drama. We are soon introduced to Chloe, Paul and Diane's daughter with severe lung problems, establishing the motivations of the parents. While I first expected something more akin to a medical drama, majority of the film is actually closer to a thriller. It is a decent, if conventional, thriller.
Majority of the film follows Paul (Dermot Mulroney) who goes off by himself to Mexico, searching for a "Dr. Novarro", a surgeon who apparently has access in finding a donor for his daughter. Paul, a white, upper-class gentleman with graying hair, sorely sticks out in this new and unfriendly environment. He is soon mugged by thugs and taken advantage of by street kids for snooping around in the wrong area. Many of the thugs are typically two-dimensional. Paul eventually makes some headway by enlisting help from one of the kids. I found it surprising that a District Attorney couldn't hire a language-friendly guide or bodyguards to get by in this type of environment, but I suppose that would make it less "edge-of-your-seat." Advertisement
Dermor Mulroney is competent as Paul, who is constantly in the worst of places. Majority of the people he bumps into are unfriendly. Strange, extreme situations follow this character around--actually, it's more like he throws himself into these situations. Beyond that, his character is a fairly typical white collar character. Diane Kruger has a supporting role as Diane, Paul's wife. After Inglourious Basterds, Diane Kruger has become even more recognizable. She is underused here, and is away from most of the action, looking concerned in much of the film. Rosanna Arquette also has a small role as Dr. Rubin, which isn't developed. Most of the street characters in Mexico aren't developed beyond the obvious.
The cinematography is well done. The film makes good use of its unfriendly, harsh environment with saturated colors and sharp contrasts, emphasizing the gritty, urban areas of Juarez, Mexico. The streets are filled with sharp greens, reds, and yellows. The thugs, the poor, and the children in the streets complete the whole mood. They are often more part of the environment than individuals. Many of them aren't too friendly. I'm curious how Mexicans would view this film. The hand-held camera shots, edits, and angles are all effectively done--the whole stylistic direction has a certain Tony Scott feel.
As for the story, it's nothing too new, especially when it focuses on the events in Mexico. It works like a simple detective story--one clue leads to another. There are a good amount of violence and sexually explicit situations, many of which seem to exist purely for shock value than to further the theme or the plot. While the film regains its focus down the line, there are many things going on that seem sensational--shady politicians, conspiracies, and exploitation of the poor. Some parts were implausible, if well-intended, which took me away from the film. Overall, I did appreciate the theme of this film, which was driven home fairly effectively near the end. Still, I don't think the film's message was helped by all the clutter--clichés, shocks, and stylistic chases.
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'Hot Summer Days' is an energetic, imaginative, visual treat
Directed by Tony Chan and Wing Shya, Hot Summer Days is romantic comedy which takes place in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shenzhen, consisting of seven intertwined love stories in the middle of the hottest summer on record ever. There's a story about a chauffeur and a foot masseuse who encounter each other through accidental text messaging, a young man who makes a bet to see if he can date a pretty factory girl, an air-conditioner repairman who chases a mysterious motorcycle girl with his moped, a sushi chef and a food critic, a boy fish and a girl fish inside an aquarium, an arrogant photographer who goes blind, and a story about an old widower who rents out beach umbrellas.
When one mentions a romantic comedy with multiple stories intertwined, the first film that would likely pop to one's mind would be Love, Actually. Well, that film wasn't particularly deep (not that most romantic stories of this kind usually are), but it had an ensemble cast that helped things along. In a sense, Hot Summer Days is its distant cousin, but takes place in the summer instead of winter. With the extreme summer heat also come extreme emotions and flaring tempers. If Love, Actually emphasized warmth amongst a cold, sometimes lonely, landscape, everything in this film is bright, loud, cramped, hot, and crowded.
This film is a quirky, visual marvel of contrasting colors and is full of energy. From the beginning, there's a surreal CG element to emphasize the extremely hot weather, with wobbly buildings in the background literally melting like popsicles at certain points. Another noticeable uses of CG involve a love story between a male fish and a female fish talking inside a restaurant aquarium. They are not of Pixar-quality nor are they realistic, but it works just enough to service the plot. They are overlooking another relationship going on outside their tank between a sushi chef (Daniel Wu) and a pretty critic (Vivian Hsu). These and other moments emphasize the quirky, limitless, and imaginative borders of these stories, while showing both simplicity and complexity of romance. It is nice how they're not afraid to occasionally just throw in the kitchen sink (as long as its plumbing services the story). I found these elements freeing and refreshing. Advertisement
From the beginning, visual elements and scenes come quick and are jumbled together like a collage. Characters are introduced quickly. I really appreciated the diverse color palette of the cinematography. Warm to cold tones are scattered throughout the film. Majority of the scenes are quite urban, with contrasting saturated colors emphasizing the diversity of it all.
Given that the film juggles seven different stories, some of the characters have simpler and more easily recognizable personalities. One of the more detailed of these stories involves a chauffeur, Wah (Jacky Cheung), and Li Yan (Rene Liu), a piano-playing masseuse, who communicate only by text when one receives an accidental text message from another. They become pen pals (through their texts) in a sense, with Wah lying that he's a Ferrari driver and Li Yan claiming to be a concert pianist. The actors do a fine job, personifying their roles with much charm. Some of the small moments with Wah and his daughter are quite poignant.
As are most romantic comedies, one can predict most of the outcome. Thankfully, the film makes that journey palatable and fun. For the most part, the energy is consistent. Even though many of the stories have a certain conventionality that is familiar, there are also many details that are clever and original. Clocking at 93 minutes, very little time is wasted—after all, there are seven stories going at once. The characters are charming and beautiful to look at, the stories have certain innocence, and the general mood is positive, yet bittersweet. Even if familiar, it is a novel and charming piece of work.
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The Social Network (2010)
Sharp and refreshing, 'The Social Network' has much to Like.
Directed by David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men) based on a book by Ben Mezrick called Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network is the story of Harvard undergraduate and computer programmer Mark Zuckerberg (Jason Eisenberg), who works on a new idea for a social website with his friend straight out of his dorm room. Called Facebook, it becomes a global social network, garnering 500 million users and making Mark the youngest billionaire in history, while also creating some enemies and legal complications.
Right off the bat, let me first say that The Social Network is a well-made film. Director David Fincher's stylistically visual direction, Aaron Sorkin's acerbic dialogue, and Jason Eisenberg's near effortless-seeming performance are what make this film beyond the usual biographical businessman-and-his-dream Hollywood tale. What's unusual about this film's subject is that the main character of this film is to this day, quite young, which also means the story doesn't span a very long period of time. So, a good majority of the film focuses on the details--dialogues, interpersonal relationships, and brain-storming sessions. I take it the main reason for even making a film about this is the fact that Mark Zuckerberg holds the title of being the "youngest billionaire."
The majority of the film takes place in Harvard, where we see Mark, his calculated personality, his interactions with his friends, and nurturing of his ideas. Jason Eisenberg is able to bring out the nerdy genius of Mark Zuckerberg with spit-fire delivery helped by witty, acerbic dialogue and geek-speak. His performance is convincing and makes it seem like Eisenberg is just playing himself and that he is the genius. Also good is his business-minded best friend, Eduardo Saverin, played sympathetically by Andrew Garfield (reportedly the next Peter Parker in the Spider-Man reboot), the more level-headed of the two owners of Facebook, portraying both the uneasiness and insecurity of being out of the loop when Sean Parker (played smart and confidently by Justin Timberlake), founder of Napster, comes into the picture, wanting to take Facebook to another direction. Advertisement
On the whole, the story is about how Facebook came to be and the people who created it and people who fought against it. There are some familiar conventionalities in this film like many biographies of this kind, along with greed, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Structurally, it's nothing new. The story is framed within a meeting between Mark and the people and their lawyers who want to sue him for breach of contract or intellectual theft. We go back and forth between this current event and the past events in Harvard that helped create this popular network.
Not unlike Fight Club, David Fincher has a way of making any scene visually interesting. With camera blurs for depth of field, along with his sense of composition and color schemes, he makes scenes feel both surreal and personal. Even the beginning wide-shot credit sequence of Mark walking through the Harvard campus amongst groups of people he doesn't know is interesting in how it visually portrays the whole "social network" idea.
While Zuckerberg is portrayed sympathetically in this film, he isn't particularly seen here as a good guy, either—thus, the enemies. I suppose the irony of the film is how a site that is meant to create friends also created enemies for Mark. I enjoyed the quick-witted dialogue that came out of Mark's mouth. They don't try to dumb down the character for the audience, which is refreshing. To appreciate this film, it probably helps to know how Facebook looks like and how it works. For those who have used it, they know Facebook itself isn't really that complex or new—it's a site that is incorporated in such a way that it's easy, loads quickly, is somewhat safe, and works great with plugins. And, it is, of course, quite popular. There's little doubt there will be some who will be confused by the computer jargon in this film, but they need not worry as it doesn't contribute much to the plot (yet still cool to hear anyway). I wouldn't go far as to say this film defines the modern generation, like some have, which I found to be a strange statement. It is, however, a sharp, nicely-made film, and more refreshing than usual. I'm sure many users will have little problems putting this film on their Facebook's 'Like' list.
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'Devil' has its ups and downs, but mostly ups.
Directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine), written by Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night) based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan, who also produced, this film takes place with five people—a security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), a young lady (Bojana Novakovic), a middle aged lady (Jenny O'Hara), a salesman (Geoffrey Arend), and a hooded young man (Logan Marshall-Green)--stuck in an elevator. As time passes by, a person inside gets killed off every time the lights go out. One of the security guards operating the security camera believes, based on a tale his mother told him as a child, that one of the five is the Devil who is killing each other off. Meanwhile, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) tries to dig deeper into the history of the five passengers while trying to find a way to get them out of there.
When I saw the trailer, and read that M. Night Shyamalan was involved, despite his reputation as of late, it intrigued me somewhat. My first reaction was probably that it'll have a twist ending. It looked low-budget and perhaps more character-driven, perhaps a film more about human nature instead of people just getting killed off by bad guys. And, this time, it had a different director, which sounded more like a collaborative effort (which can be a good thing).
After having seen the film, I found it to be an interesting little thriller, and a little different than usual. The five characters trapped in the elevator annoy and distrust each other, each of them with a little bit of baggage behind them. The whole situation reminded me of the Twilight Zone episode, Five Characters In Search of an Exit...except each of them get killed off one by one. The story is indeed more about people and their responsibility for their pasts, which I found to be an intriguing subject.
It isn't particularly a scary film, but director John Erick Dowdle does a competent job with the material. The atmosphere is, of course, claustrophobic. The building looks sleek and almost futuristic. The film does feel low-budget, admittedly, as much of the film takes place in one area and majority of the characters are not well-known nor do they give stand out performances. And, admittedly, they don't always react realistically in regards to such extreme situations. There's a suicide jump through a window at a corporate building which seem strangely unnoticed by many people in such an urban area. There's some violence and blood as certain characters get killed off in different ways, but much of it happens pretty quickly. The film isn't particularly shocking or terrifying, but still unnerving. Advertisement
Admittedly, I couldn't help but notice the rather generic dialogue. It gets the story going, but doesn't really bring us close to the characters. The characters have a slight B-movie quality to them--they're interesting, but not detailed. Chris Messina is competent as Detective Bowden and Geoffry Arend provides much humor as a mattress salesman. Bokeem Woodbine does fine as a claustrophobic security guard. The female casts feel a little underwritten. I think the deaths would have more drama if we knew the characters better.
Overall, while I wasn't at the edge of my seat, I was still entertained. There were some pacing issues whenever the film focused outside the events of the elevator. The police investigation regarding the passengers' history felt tacked on, and even when the characters' secrets were uncovered, it was not quite as shocking. There is a reveal at the end somewhat, but not what I would call a twist, per se. Or, at least the film itself is not so much about the twist. It isn't so much about the horror, either. Shyamalan seems to have a somewhat different approach, which is novel. This is supposed to be the first film of a trilogy called Night Chronicles, each directed by different people based on Shyamalan's story. I'm actually quite interested to see what the next film will be about, which is a good sign.
Visually dazzling 'Legend of the Guardians' is a mixed bag
Based on a series of books by Kathryn Lasky and directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is the latest CG-animated RealD 3D picture from Warner Bros. Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) is a young barn owl who lives with his parents, his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), and his sister. Soren and Kludd gets kidnapped by evil owls called the Pure Ones, who turn owlets into brainwashed soldiers for their empire. Kludd decides to join their order while Soren and his friends escape to the island of Ga'Hoole, where they try to get help from the Guardians, the good warrior owls who had defeated the Pure Ones in the legends.
Before the film started was a CG Road Runner cartoon short. I wasn't particularly impressed with this version of the original 2-D cartoons—the cartooniness of the original wasn't quite captured in the best way here. It was a small letdown, but my hopes for the following feature film were still high despite the fact that owls do not particularly appeal to me. I mean, Finding Nemo was about fishes and while I wasn't a big fish fan either (except for eating), that film was still good. As for this film, despite the hard efforts by the filmmakers, I felt this was ultimately a mixed bag.
What separates this particular animation from Pixar's and other CG features is the realistic look of the characters—certainly, a daring decision. These owls look like real owls. They are not idealized, cartoony, nor particularly cute, for that matter. It must not have been easy to market these to kids. Because they looked so far from human, it was hard for me to connect with them. I also often couldn't tell the owls apart, let alone tell if the characters were smiling, sad, or if that was their natural face. Figuring out the gender and age of an owl was another issue. How does a female owl look like, really? Do they walk more like they're on heels? I could've sworn Soren looked more female. Thank goodness for the voices to help me differentiate them. The voice actors, with the likes of Jim Sturgess, Geoffrey Rush, and Hugo Weaving, do the best they can. Advertisement
The story is steeped in fantasy, legend, and funny names not unlike The Lord of the Rings series. It is a film about heroism with a medieval element, yet the story is not an unfamiliar one. Perhaps to fit the genre, the characters also have British accents. I found it odd that these owls used tools like humans—they had helmets, gauntlets or metal claws, and such. It's novel, I guess. This film would have been great if there was actual humor, though--it's somewhat dark like LOTR. Still, knowing that Legend of the Guardians is part of a bigger story, I'm open to the idea that there may be amazing surprises along the way in the sequels. The film's story is self-contained and while not too complex, little kids might have a hard time deciphering some of the British accents of the characters and the funny names.
The background visuals, contrasting colors, and the glows in this film look gorgeous. Flying scenes look great in RealD 3-D. They are not quite as breathtaking as How To Train Your Dragon, but still holds their own in quality. The stormy scenes happening on the seas look particularly gorgeous, with individual raindrops popping out of the screen. Also impressive are the action scenes, which look realistic and a tad on the violent side, although it may be too rough for the young ones. I hope kids won't try to get metallic fingernails like these owls and poke people's eyes out with it. There are also Zack Snyder's signature slow-mo and sped-up action scenes. Some of the camera-work seemed too jerky for my liking. Still, some kids may like this stuff--it's not my aesthetic.
Overall, the material has good potential, but I wasn't impressed with the execution of it. Despite flashy visuals, rougher-than-usual action scenes, and good intentions, I couldn't fully connect with the characters. The story couldn't fully engage me because I wasn't engaged with the characters. Little kids may find it a little dark. Maybe I just couldn't figure out how to fully appreciate this film. Perhaps I'm just not an owl person.
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Barry Munday (2010)
'Barry Munday' is a surprisingly poignant and introspective comedy
In this comedy directed by Chris D'Arienzo based on the novel Life is a Strange Place by Frank Turner Hollon, Patrick Wilson plays Barry Munday, a suburban wanna-be ladies man, who makes up in the hospital with both of his testicles gone after being attacked in a movie theater for hitting on the wrong girl. To make matters worse, a paternity lawsuit is filed by a woman he can't remember having sex with. Realizing this being his last chance to ever be a father, Barry decides to take on the responsibility on being a good father.
My initial impression of the concept of this film was that this film could either be a feminist revenge fantasy or a raunchy comedy. Thankfully, this film was neither of those, but turned out to be a surprisingly poignant little comedy, with a honest, introspective look at what being a man entails beyond having the body parts, if you will. Given it's a comedy, there were many predictable directions this film could have taken at the expense of Patrick Wilson's character, Barry. Surprisingly, the film avoids the obvious and portrays Barry in a sympathetic and real way. Barry starts off as an irresponsible loafer, whose main interest involve bedding women, who soon after loses his most prized asset and what he feels makes him a man. He goes through a slump until he finds out that someone may actually be carrying his child (from a previous fling he had no recollection of). In a sense, he realizes being a father may be the only thing left that connects him to his manhood.
Barry meets the mother of the child, Ginger Farley (Judy Greer), who isn't particularly a looker, to put it nicely. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Farley, as played by Cybill Shepherd and Malcolm McDowell, seem to agree that Ginger hadn't quite lived up to their expectations, in beauty and otherwise, unlike their model daughter, Jennifer (Chloë Sevigny). There's noticeably a bit of a sibling rivalry between Ginger and Jennifer. As we get to know the characters, we see personal baggage behind both Ginger and Barry which perhaps contributed much in how they viewed themselves and their lifestyle. With Ginger full of bitterness and resentment toward Barry, the relationship between Barry and Ginger is often awkward and comic as Barry is honestly trying to know her better for the first time. Advertisement
Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) is close to perfect in the role of Barry, where he deftly milks the comic aspects of his shallow character as well as his eventual change to a deeper, sympathetic, and more serious side. Judy Greer plays the awkward Ginger Farley with caustic wit and consistency. Cybill Shepherd and Malcolm McDowell in their supporting roles as Ginger's parents, the Farleys, turn in expectedly seasoned performances. Bill Dee Williams (do I even have to mention Empire Strikes Back?) is his usual charming self as Barry's Delorean-driving boss, who happens to be close to the Farleys. Jean Smart is great as the blunt, yet sharp-minded, Carol Munday, Barry's mother.
This independent film marks Chris D' Arienzo's directorial debut and it is a strong one. The comedy feels natural because it's fairly close to life for the most part. The emotions of the characters feel genuine. It is unexpectedly touching. Patrick Wilson does great work in his role as the titular character. It's not what I would call a laugh-a-minute comedy, but a deeper, thoughtful film that happens to have much comedy—usually the type of films I gravitate toward. This film left me with some thoughts long afterwards, which says a lot about a comedy, let alone any film.
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'Leaving (Partir)' brings strong performances despite conventions
Suzanne (Kristin Scott-Thomas) is a well to do middle-aged, married woman and mother of two teenagers in the south of France. Bored of her idle bourgeois lifestyle, she decides to go back to work as a physiotherapist as her husband agrees to fix up a consulting room for her in their backyard. Once Suzanne meets the man hired to do the building, Ivan (Sergi Lopez), they develop a mutual attraction which leads to a torrid affair, which Suzanne decides to sacrifice everything else for.
The film starts off with a bang. Well, literally. There's a gunshot heard in the household of Suzanne and her doctor husband, Samuel (Yvan Attal). Majority of the film takes place before that event. The film establishes Suzanne's happy life in the house, her supportive husband, and kids. When the hired handyman Ivan fractures his foot while trying to save Suzanne's car from rolling down a hill, Suzanne feels responsible. She helps him recover and one thing leads to another. I have to admit the whole high class lady getting on with a blue-collar guy story has become cliché by now--it happens fairly easily in the film. Once the affair begins, Suzanne becomes increasingly desperate to keep it going. Considering that she is giving up a comfortable life and professional goals, and the effects it will have on her children, her decision to stay with Ivan, who is poor and an ex-con, is an unusual choice (although it does emphasize the "extreme" measure of her passion).
She soon confesses of the affair to Samuel, wanting a divorce. Samuel refuses—he wants her to come back to him, using whatever means possible in his disposal. He does this by (other than canceling her credit cards) using his political (?) influence and power to keep her from finding a job, which I found contrived (unless he was some kind of a mob boss). The film now reveals Samuel to be somewhat the antagonist. This leads to an emotionally dramatic scene of Suzanne trying to sell her expensive watch at a gas station just to get money for gas—Scott-Thomas' desperate performance makes the scene very believable. Advertisement
It's hard to deny the rawness in Kristin Scott-Thomas' performance. One can read everything from just her expressions—urgency, desperation, or torn indecisiveness, even without use of any dialogue. Her realistic reactions make her character sympathetic despite the fact that Suzanne isn't a very moral character.
This film seems to be about unbridled passion despite the consequences and the façade despite what goes on underneath. I suppose it's understandable for the filmmakers to want to make Samuel a "bad guy" just so Suzanne seems more sympathetic. I think it would have been stronger without that aspect, so we can see what's going on inside Suzanne without her suddenly becoming some sort of a "victim" or condoning her actions. Still, Samuel isn't physically abusive, which would've turned this into a whole different type of story. What is really going on inside her is open to interpretation—does she really love Ivan or is it all about her? Is she giving up everything for sake of lust and justifying that by calling it love? Will she eventually move on to the next guy? Perhaps it is the fleeting aspect of it all that makes it enticing for her. As for Ivan, he doesn't play a very strong role, or a definable personality. He is a sympathetic character and has a cute daughter who gets along with Suzanne. Quite convenient, I'll wager.
There's nothing new about the story itself, and it doesn't necessarily fill in the gaps. It is true that the plot contrivances do hamper the film somewhat. The film appears to be more about the details, subtleties, and interpretation that the viewer brings to the film, an aspect I liked. I'm not clear whether co-writer and director Catherine Corsini was trying to make a specific point in this film. Suzanne's actions may be questionable, but not unbelievable due to Kristin Scott-Thomas' performance. This film is arty. There's always tension whenever one discusses film as a commercial, or transactional, medium (money for entertainment) or piece of art. This film falls more on the latter. It left me with an impression, which might not be everyone's, nor not always my, cup of tea.
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'Potiche' is a colorfully energetic satire.
Based on a French play, Potiche (aka. Trophy Wife) is set in 1977. Suzanne Pujol (Catherine Deneuve), a 'trophy housewife', finds out she must step up to manage her tyrannical husband Robert's (Fabrice Luchini) umbrella factory after the workers go on strike and take him hostage. To everyone's surprise, Suzanne proves herself to be a very competent leader of action. Her adult son and daughter also start to take more interest in the workings of the factory. Things get complex, however, when she bumps into her old flame and local politician, Maurice Babin (Gérard Depardieu), and her husband returns to take back his job.
Whenever a film of recent years, like this one, try to fully capture the feel and style of a 70's film (or anything retro) with editing, camera tricks, and colors reminiscent of that era, I can't help but smile. Had I not known that this film was made in 2010, I could have been convinced that this was a film made in that decade. Of course, this is aside from the dead giveaways to the contrary with the appearances of well-known French actors who have obviously aged.
Directed by François Ozon (Swimming Pool), this is a well-done, entertaining and visually attractive satire. A mixture of pastel and hot colors permeate throughout the film, along with bell-bottoms, retro hairstyles, design patterns, and clothing. The colorful umbrellas in the film are perhaps a good reminder of Deneuve's older, famous film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The colorful, playful, comedic tone of this film remains consistent, yet there are just enough complexities in the plot to keep the film from getting dull. Advertisement
Admittedly, there's something rather monotonous about casual adulterous relationships in French films. It's almost expected in a French comedy (Unlike in America, French must find adultery sooooo funny). Robert has a mistress who is also his secretary, Nadège (Karin Viard), whom Suzanne knows about. Nevertheless, Suzanne is content with her life at home as Robert provides for her, materially. Once Robert is taken hostage and Suzanne takes over as manager of the company, the secretary becomes one of her closest allies. Meanwhile, her son Laurent (Jérémie Renier) and her daughter, Joëlle (Judith Godrèche), help out on the company as well, which does bring the family together more than before.
Catherine Deneuve is quite likable in this film. It's hard not to cheer for the initially soft-spoken Suzanne. She is a cheerful character with a certain naïve optimism that makes her charming to people around her. And, well, she gets things done. Once she is proved to be a fairer and better leader than Robert, one can't help but be engaged in what she will do next. There is a side story regarding her past affair with Maurice (Depardieu), who still has feelings for her. The relationship between them does not take a typical turn, which I appreciated. While Robert comes off mostly as a buffoonish character, he isn't portrayed as someone to be simply reviled, thankfully.
Overall, this is a colorfully entertaining, satirical film with playful characters and a nice retro style. Catherine Deneuve is a lot of fun to watch, and while this is not a subtle film by any means, it has enough energy and humor to be engaging throughout.
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Immigration Tango (2010)
Movie Review: 'Immigration Tango'
Directed by David Burton Morris (Price of Love), Immigration Tango is a romantic comedy that centers around two couples. Elena (Elika Portnoy) is a Russian immigrant studying in Miami with hopes of staying in America and working. She and her Columbian boyfriend Carlos (Carlos Leon) are best friends with an American couple—Betty (Ashley Wolfe), a law student, and Mike (McCaleb Burnett), a doctoral candidate in literature. When Elena and Carlos find out they may have to be deported, the two couples switch partners and get married, with an understanding that they will divorce once they've satisfied the two year probationary period. Problems crop up, however, when they are under investigation by an immigration enforcement agent, as well as trying to keep appearances to their family members, along with the tension and jealousy arising between the couples.
Perhaps this film might have worked better as a drama. As a comedy, it's not particularly innovative. The characters here are the types you've seen in romantic comedies countless of times—mixture of dull characters and two-dimensional caricatures. The plot here isn't new—it's a dash of TV's Trading Spouses, I Married Dora, and other films/shows that involve switching places, while having to keep up appearances to the friends and neighbors. Or, every other episode of Three's Company.
Much of the humor here is standard fluff, mostly cheesy and heavy-handed, and predictable—it's akin to a standard live-action Disney film, but not for kids. It isn't big on subtlety. Nor is wit the film's dialogue's strong point. Any possibility of intelligent humor or informed thought that may have spawned from this film is downgraded to the basic cliché's, slapstick, and familiar foreign accents. Add to that the occasional (and poorly executed) Benny Hill-inspired fast-motion effects accompanied by jazz music, and you know you're in for some truly "sophisticated" humor. Advertisement
On the plus side, Carlos Leon does bring much energy to his Columbian character, Carlos Sanchez. True, he's a stereotype and his dialogue is uninspired, playing out his "Latin Lover" shtick, but he is still likable in his excess. Elika Portnoy is charming as Carlos' Russian girlfriend, Elena Dubrovnik, who lives with him on a boat. She likes to swim naked in the morning, which is normal in her country (right?). Still, her character has less of a degree of cynicism, which makes her more likable than the rest of the cast.
The two American characters come off generic. McCaleb Burnett has the typical male role as the underachieving Mike White. His live-in girlfriend and would-be lawyer Betty Bristol played by Ashley Wolfe comes off mostly shrill and unnatural. Mike and Betty never come off nearly as interesting as Carlos and Elena. In fact, it's hard to understand what made them close friends at all—their interests and personalities seem incompatible. Admittedly, once the switch happens, there is some amount of chemistry between Mike and Elena, but the tension (or friendship) between Ashley and Carlos comes off mostly artificial.
The film, overall, is an average romantic comedy. It's probably not helped by its lack of star power and good dialogue. The film's bright spot is perhaps Elika Portnoy and her more-convincing-than-normal performance. When she falls for Mike, we actually believe she feels this way, despite Mike's blandness as a character.
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Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)
Movie Review: 'Gnomeo and Juliet'
In this CG-animated feature film Gnomeo and Juliet (parody of Romeo and Juliet), the garden gnomes of two elderly neighbors, Mrs. Montague and Mr. Capulet who dislike each other, come alive when they leave. Separated by a fence, blue gnomes live in one backyard, while the red gnomes live on the other one. The two groups of gnomes are constantly competing with each other. While trying to retrieve an orchid for her garden, Juliet (Emily Blunt), a red gnome, meets Gnomeo (James McAvoy), a blue gnome, and they fall in love. They try to keep their romance secret as there is a war between the blue and red gnomes.
I'm betting in order to really enjoy this film, one has to actually like these clay gnomes that frequently inhabit many gardens in the Western world. I personally don't like them myself, which perhaps didn't help to curb my lack of optimism for this film when I saw the trailer. I personally find these gnomes lifeless and kind of ugly. Imagine how creepy it seemed to me when they started moving around like they were possessed. Now, I never felt this way about Toy Story--when toys came alive they all looked very different from each other, moved and walked differently, and as a result, had their own unique personality which fit their shape, texture, and material. Majority of these gnomes have a similarity in look and like those glazed gnomes in real life, they have glassy eyes, which looked just about as lifeless. Admittedly, it was always a plus when I saw a character that wasn't a gnome. Now, don't get me wrong--I do appreciate kitschy ornaments, retro stuff in particular, such as the plastic pink flamingo, which was rather cool to see in this film. I wished I had seen more of the "other" kitschy ornaments--it may have brought in a little more character. Maybe throw in some rusty Coca-Cola memorabilia and other cool, retro geeky stuff. And, possibly dump this overused Shakespeare plot along the way, perhaps? Just a thought. Advertisement
Now, given that this film is based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, I paid extra attention to the romantic aspect of this film. It's cute, but pretty typical, standard stuff. It's a little hard to imagine any warm, fuzzy kind of love between two stoney objects. Still, it is helped much by good voice acting and animation, even if I didn't think they were very attractive as a couple (at least in any way I'm used to). Their personalities were likable and believable despite their lack of subtlety in expressions.
Directed by Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2), there are many nods to modern pop culture, humor, and modern music throughout this film. For the most part, they are entertaining, even if they are not particularly laugh-out-loud material. Shrek 2 certainly had more of it. There are a good number of clever moments that play with the whole idea of these characters being clay gnomes, hampered by the material they are made of. They make hollow, clinking sounds when they move, they are fragile, and they often sink in water. I enjoyed the plastic pink flamingo character which skipped along with its wiry legs. As for the story, I couldn't help but feel this film was weighed down by the all too familiar aspects of the Romeo and Juliet plot, but I suppose this could be a good intro to the play for the kids. There is an amusing scene with Shakespearian actor Patrick Stewart lending his voice as a William Shakespeare statue.
This film may not quite reach the quality of Pixar, but it's entertaining, mostly. The idea of using garden gnomes as characters is an original idea, but I've been bored with the Romeo and Juliet plot for quite a while now, with all the teen romances these days. The film's character designs were not my cup of tea, but I'm sure they're more than adequate for others. The film felt a tad long as well, given my familiarity of the plot. The whole garden thing is a cool gimmick, but I think it may have worked better as a short film than a feature. But, that's just me. Kids will have much fun with this one, I'm pretty sure.
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The Garden of Eden (2008)
Movie Review: 'Hemingway's Garden of Eden'
Based on a posthumously released novel written by Ernest Hemingway, Garden of Eden takes place prior to the Great Depression, during the Jazz age, following a successful young American writer, David Bourne (Jack Houston), and his new bride, Catherine (Mena Suvari), a rich heiress, who are on an extended honeymoon in Europe. During the honeymoon, Catherine starts to get restless and begins playing bizarre mind games with David, testing his devotion. To David's discomfort, she persuades him to role play in the bedroom, with her as the boy and him as the girl. Things get stranger when Catherine develops a relationship with an Italian girl, Marita (Caterina Murino), and brings her to him as a "present", even suggesting they take turns being David's wife.
Directed by John Irvin (Hamburger Hill, Dogs of War), this film is more character-driven than plot-driven. There is much sex going on, focusing on the strange love triangle between David, Catherine, and Marita. The focus and the pace of the film changes noticeably when it moves on to David's past memories of his father, an elephant hunter in Africa. These memories, which are quite out of place from the rest of the film, become material for David's new book.
This film is beautiful to look at. It is a period film--the mood, clothing, and environments recreate the early part of the 20th century in fine detail, soft sepia filters, and a pastel color scheme. There's an impressive tracking shot in the beginning of an outdoor banquet, of rich folks raising their glasses in slow motion. We soon see a naked lady being filmed at a picnic, re-enacting Manet's "The Luncheon on the Grass". Small moments like these amusingly portrays a certain mindset of this particular society. Advertisement
It the film, David Bourne appears to be Hemingway's alter ego. While Jack Huston looks like the young Hemingway, his character is far from the heavy-drinking, macho guy the famous author was known for. He is constantly pushed around by the neurotic Catherine, whom he is always trying to please, which becomes increasingly hard to do. Catherine has some amount of disdain for David's work and becomes jealous when Marita admits to having read his transcript. Throughout the film, David half-jokingly calls Catherine "Devil."
Admittedly, the characters here are not very engaging. Jack Houston does what he can with his role, but his character never feels like a whole person. Mena Suvari has a meatier role as Catherine, who brings much intensity to the film. However, we never quite know why she acts the way she does and her dialogue feels stilted. Caterina Murino (Casino Royale) is competent as Marita, despite the character's lack of complexity.
Given the title of the film, Garden of Eden, a reference to the Bible, one might say David represents Adam and Cartherine represents Eve. Perhaps the theme speaks about a picture-perfect couple who are tempted toward a wrong way. In this film, though, it appears to be mostly Catherine who brings things down for them. Or, it could just be that Catherine is actually the serpent (as David called her "Devil.") bringing Marita (Catherine's "present") as the fruit to tempt David to fall. It is indicated that Catherine wants to share her "sin" (Marita) with David to feel less guilty about her extramarital relationship with Marita.
One wonders if Hemingway could be using Catherine to represent certain attitudes within radical feminism. The film also touches upon morality and class. Catherine says something along the lines of "we are not like normal people--we can live our life however we want." Given that this film was based on an incomplete novel, it is hard to say what Hemingway really wanted to say, or if he had a particular message. It could just be a character study. As it is, the film feels uneven and the characters are not very engaging. Perhaps it is meant to be read as a novel and not seen as a film.
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'Tron Legacy' may be more style than substance, but that's okay.
InTron Legacy, the long-awaited sequel to Tron (1982), Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the son of the famous hacker, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), finds himself teleported into the computer world, the Grid, like his father had 20 years ago. There, he reunites with his father and they attempt to find a way back home. Meanwhile, Clu, Kevin's program (who looks just like Kevin), who rules the Grid, tries to stop them.
I grew up in the 80's and I remember watching a video tape of Tron on Sony Betamax. This was back when E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark was still fresh in my mind. I remember I didn't quite fully get the story, but I knew that ultimately, it was the traditional "hero kills dragon and saves the world" scenario. The special effects were (and still remain) very unique. My friends and I had the toys too, although I never understood why the Tron action figure was purple. The charm of the first film WAS the whole cheesy video game aspect, complete with quirky sound effects, programs that walk around like people, being forced to fight for their lives while Users control their every move. A cool moment in that film was in the beginning--we see a kid in an arcade playing a Lightcycle game and messing up; the film cuts to the virtual world (the other side of the screen) where we realistically experience that moment firsthand, establishing the whole gag of that film.
Tron: Legacy, on the other hand, attempts to take itself a little more seriously. The Grid here is a bit of an enigma. It's not fully explained what the limits and the laws of this world are. It doesn't have a direct connection to video games (which was basically why the first film had gladiatorial games). Unlike the first film, the connection between the virtual world and the real world is non-existent. What happens in the Grid has little to no effect on the outside world or vice versa. I had always thought this element was what made the first film fun. However, this virtual world could as easily have taken place in Mars or a different universe. Advertisement
The story has complex elements, but the plot is fairly simple. While there is a part about how Kevin Flynn discovered something important while in the Grid, it's essentially a MacGuffin (a plot device to move the action). Jeff Bridges reprises his role as the aged Kevin Flynn and offers motion capture for Clu, a younger version of himself. Clu is completely CG, which looks real 50% of the time. Jeff Bridges is still fun as Flynn even if he may not be as vibrant as we remember him (he has aged/matured, after all). Garret Hedlund is a good choice as the sardonic Sam Flynn, and has good chemistry with everyone. Olivia Wilde is memorable as the sleek, attractive Quorra, a program who is curious about the outside world.
The film is well-done and entertaining. Much like Star Wars Ep.1: Phantom Menace, it may not have met my expectations, but it has other cool stuff going for it. The Lightcycle action scenes are great. The gladiatorial games are fun. And, I loved the soundtrack. Daft Punk's score fits the style and mood of this particular universe almost like, I suppose, what Basil Poledouris did for Conan, which is a bold statement.
This film is a fine feature debut from director Joseph Kosinski. Where it lacks in substance (the story), the film makes up for it with innovative visuals, action, and music. True, while it's more like a close cousin to the first film than its offspring, it still pleases where it counts.
Black Death (2010)
Movie Review: 'Black Death'
Set in 1348, during the time of the first outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), a young monk, is tasked to accompany a determined knight named Ulric (Sean Bean) and a group of mercenary soldiers in learning the truth about reports of people being brought back to life in a small village, where the plague has not reached. While Osmund sees this as a mercy mission, Ulric believes necromancy is involved and is determined to bring this necromancer to justice. Their journey leads them into various obstacles and darker moments as secrets are unveiled.
Despite its grim mood and subject matter, this film is an entertaining and generally a thought-provoking, medieval horror/thriller. Even with the film's low budget, it is impressive to look at. The misty landscapes, the costumes, the filthy details, and the sets are impressive. Some of the makeup and soundtrack may seem a tad modern, but they are not distracting. While the film is considered a historical horror film, it is also a bit of an action flick, as it has some energetic, gritty swordplay, with some blood and limbs flying off.
The film takes place around the time of the Inquisition when there was much distrust from the Catholic church and the government toward pagans. Ulric is a zealous warrior driven by hatred. He believes he is serving God through the use of his sword against suspected necromancers. Osmund, the monk, on the other hand, believes that in order to love God, one must serve through mercy and love.
There are no characters here that are fully saintly. I felt Eddie Redmayne's performance as Osmund really made this film work. His performance feels genuine and he acts as I would imagine a monk would act and talk, and he is emotionally relatable. As the film progresses, one can appreciate his good range of emotions and acting ability. As for Sean Bean, one can't help but feel he is reprising his role as Boromir from Lord of the Rings. He has the same type of hair. He is wearing medieval armor. Again, he plays that proud, brash character who we know will do something brash. I would love to see him someday play a real calm, jovial, intellectual character. To the film's credit, Sean Bean gets to stretch a bit as Ulric is not completely two-dimensional and we do get to know more on how he became the type of character that he is. The rest of the cast, who have their own special look and quirk, do a laudable job and work together well.
The action scenes have a good amount of tension and intensity, but the shaky camera effect can be dizzying. There is about one major fight scene, which happens midway into the film. Once the main characters make it to the village, things get a little more surreal and one realizes that this is not necessarily an action film, at least in a conventional sense. I've noticed the characters in the village feel, talk, and look strangely modern. I'm guessing these villagers still farm for a living, but they seem quite clean and manicured.
The script is sharply written, with good detail in the dialogue. The film attempts to explore how extreme situations can turn people into hateful zealots, or a violent fundamentalist. There is a twist at the end, which is interesting, but somewhat hard to swallow. The film doesn't attempt to give any big answers, but it is an interesting exploration of man's dark nature, the cycle of vengeance, and how good people can turn cruel when evil is done on them.
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