Saturday, May 31, 2014

Take Shelter Review

My wife of 8 years is currently working on her master's degree, having the courage to go back and change the course of her life by pursuing a career in something she cares deeply about. Words can hardly describe how much I admire this, as I sit at a job each day that doesn't elicit even the slightest bit of passion from me, merely a countdown of hours, minutes, seconds until I can exit the building and pretend it doesn't exist. Her goal is to enter the world of social work, a focus on mental health, a fascination with trying to understand it and also the desire to show compassion for those suffering through such internal devastation.

The other day, she mentioned that an upcoming paper would be regarding the portrayal of mental health in a film, and a modern masterpiece immediately came to mind as the perfect subject matter for such an assignment. Take Shelter, the 2011 independent drama by the young auteur Jeff Nichols, is a work of extraordinary power and spellbinding performances, a tour de force master class in filmmaking that was even more stunning during this, my second viewing. The film follows a young family of three living a seemingly normal life in rural America, with one of the finest actors working today playing the role of Curtis, a hard working husband and father doing what he can to support a beautiful wife and daughter, the latter unfortunately having lost her ability to hear. Samantha, the wife and mother, is played by the amazing Jessica Chastain with strength and grace, an astonishing resiliency through tough times, a life of calm happiness shattered by the dreaded approaching storm.

Curtis begins experiencing nightmares littered with apocalyptic visions and moments of shocking violence involving the people he loves most, and the effects of these dreams carry over into his conscious reality. The striking thing about the unstable mind of Curtis is that he is aware enough to recognize the timing of this unfortunate progression, the realization that his mother began fighting a similar battle at the same age yet he can't stop himself from fearing the destructive storm that he believes is headed their way. Curtis risks everything, his job, his financial well being and worst of all his family as he becomes obsessed with building an elaborate storm shelter to ensure their safety.

I am an optimistic film enthusiast, as I enter every single work hoping to find aspects to embrace and often times I do, but what I feel is most often missing from our current cinematic world that revolves around massive budgets and box office receipts is the importance of storytelling. It seems so simple, the concept that a film is meant to deliver a compelling story to the audience, yet far too often a film will lack any semblance of this. Jeff Nichols understands what it truly means to take an audience on a journey, to form a deep connection with setting and atmosphere and characters, and his ability to deliver a narrative with patience and maturity without ever bringing us across the line into boredom is humbling and inspiring. What he delivered here with Take Shelter is flawless, a film that has all the makings of a true classic to be cherished for decades to come.

Plenty of films have been centered around mental illness, but rarely are they this emotionally draining and this expertly crafted. Nichols fabulously showcases the fact that Curtis may be suffering from the disease, but he is not the only victim of such a tragedy. The journey Samantha goes on during these perfectly paced two hours is one filled with heartbreak, with certain sequences being so emotionally draining that I wished I could crawl through the screen and just give her a damn hug, tell her everything would be alright even if I didn't believe the words myself. The loyalty she shows her husband at a time when running the opposite way would be so easy is beyond admirable. She accepts the unavoidable reality of what her family is facing and just when Curtis needs support the most, she is there to take his hand and show him that he won't be left to survive the storm alone.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Drive Review

This is my 15th viewing of Drive. That isn't an exaggeration, I have literally seen the film 15 times now. I didn't even attempt to catch it theatrically because honestly, I didn't know anything about it and I incorrectly assumed that it would be a film focused on car racing, like the horrendous misfire Need for Speed that was released earlier this year. If the main draw for a film is how cool a car is or how fast it can go, I am pretty much guaranteed to loathe every second of it, so I never even planned on giving Drive a chance.

I'm so glad I changed my mind.

The opening sequence of the film is dazzling and sets the tone for the ultra stylish slice of noir that plants the stupidest smile on my face for roughly 90 straight minutes. I fell in love when Driver avoided the police by blending into a rowdy crowd of Clippers fans as they exited the Staples Center, a sexy confidence to his movements that literally forced me to admit to my wife that for the first time in my life, I was without a doubt physically attracted to a man.

Suddenly, the hot pink writing came across the screen and the song "Nightcall" by Kavinsky began to play. At this point I didn't even need the rest of the film. I hit pause on the remote, unleashed the laptop and typed "join Nicolas Winding Refn fan club" into Google. At the time it was my first experience with the genius auteur, but I didn't need any further exploration into his filmography to recognize the outrageous talent on display. Ten minutes of one movie and I already had one thought rolling through my mind: "Holy shit. This guy is good".

The sublime casting of Carey Mulligan as Irene. The small but vitally important performance by Oscar Isaac as Standard Gabriel, so god damn good I never even consider the possible upgrade to the deluxe edition. The way a head looks when it is exposed to a slow motion shotgun blast. The exquisite lighting throughout that makes seemingly run of the mill frames look like works of art. The fact that had this been released half my life ago, even fifteen year old me would barely notice a room full of nude women because its impossible to look away from a man seeking revenge wielding a hammer, trembling in anger. The way things get brighter when you kiss the love of your life in an elevator, only to quickly embrace the darkness soon after. The brilliant simplicity of utilizing a light house in order to make a murderous masked man on a beach appear even more haunting.

A real human being, and a real hero.

Drive was released in 2011, and yet every time I watch it I feel as if I am revisiting a classic. A film that serves as a prototype to explain why I cherish the opportunity to sit back and watch a movie. The type of work that reminds me why I wanted to start writing reviews and learn as much as possible about what separates the extraordinary from the ordinary. A modern work of art that dares me to dig deeper, to discover older films that served as inspiration for the vision of Refn.

One of my favorite films of all time, a flawless achievement.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

After a few days of seeing nothing but positive reactions pouring in for the new film X-Men: Days of Future Past, it was hard not to have rather sizable expectations as I entered the cinema to lay my eyes on this ambitious project by Bryan Singer, his return to the mutant world. I always dread the idea of expecting excellence from a film because even something I regard as solid entertainment ends up feeling like an unfortunate disappointment. Imagine my excitement then when I wasn't merely pleased with the film but it actually turned out to be even stronger than I had imagined in advance. X-Men: Days of Future Past isn't simply a great film, it is one of the strongest moments of the entire genre, and quite possibly the most impressive achievement from the Marvel character slate thus far.

I must admit, I feel silly invoking the Marvel ranking concept yet again because it was less than two months ago when I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier on back to back nights and declared it a finer film than The Avengers, the best the studio had unleashed to that point, and here I am already considering that it has been bested so quickly. I try hard not to jump to conclusions and fall victim to hyperbole, only to recognize the error of my thoughts shortly after, but I really feel such strong words are necessary for such a fantastic, inspired effort like Days of Future Past. Everything I loved about the first two X-Men features released by Bryan Singer, films that paved the way for the current cinematic landscape bursting at the seams with the stories of superheroes, he brings to the table here only with more skill and confidence. Here we have a complicated story of time travel and the merging of two different X-Men casts yet Singer and Kinberg still bring their impressive desire for patient storytelling and their comprehension that pacing is of vital importance to make a great film. The script is intelligent and verbose without ever leaving me craving more action, more explosions or more visual effects. I want to absorb the words, the dedication to fleshing out a story and the characters being explored, and it is because of this that when the outstanding action sequences do arrive they are all the more intense and enjoyable.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is another reminder that it doesn't require the vision of Christopher Nolan to bring a mature, compelling and beautifully crafted film about comic book characters and their special powers to the big screen. When this project was first announced, I wrote it off as being too ambitious for its own good, a work that would certainly fall apart under its own weight trying to balance the inclusion of so many familiar faces while also telling a meaningful and interesting story. Everyone who worked on Days of Future Past nailed it, and I am thrilled to have been proven wrong.

The first time I saw the terrible third film of the X-Men series, The Last Stand, I felt I had witnessed the official death of these characters or at least my interest in ever seeing them again. Now I sit here and I keep asking one question: when the hell is Apocalypse coming out? Because I can't wait to see it.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Boy A Review

The film Boy A is an adaptation of the highly regarded novel of the same name by Jonathan Trigell, a work that I found to be a fascinating read mostly because of the broken style of the narrative, not only telling a story using both the present and the past but also entering the minds of different characters and understanding their issues, getting a glimpse at their thoughts which made the reading relatively short novel a layered and constantly compelling experience. I found the novel to be such a success that it was difficult for the film version to live up to my expectations, which is especially strange for me since I'm one of the few that typically always choose the cinematic option over the book. The film may have technically come up short of the unique and excellent style that Trigell executed wonderfully, but it was still a great film regardless.

The advantage the novel had over its film counterpart was that in a written work of fiction, it is far simpler to explore themes in greater depth through the words and thoughts of multiple characters, something that Trigell did beautifully with Boy A. The main theme of the work that is constantly in play is the concept of identity, both the way we view ourselves and also the way everyone else around us perceive our actions, both current and those of our past. Some chapters of the book may have seemed strange and out of place, unnecessary even as we experience one short period of time inside the mind of a therapist or the father of the main character Jack only to never revisited those people again, but every piece of the puzzle had one thing in common: the struggle of an unwanted identity.

This isn't as richly explored in the film version because it was impossible to do so without complicating the story, something that can be more delicately handled using the written word rather than expecting the audience to pick up on it visually without the opportunity to elaborate. The story of Boy A follows two time lines, the first being about a young man named Jack (Andrew Garfield) who has been freshly released from prison for committing a crime that would put him square in the crosshairs of a society that wants nothing to do with him, a crime so heinous that he could never truly be forgiven. Even the name itself, Jack, was picked out of a book as his new identity because he could never lead a normal life using the one he was given prior to serving time for the death of a young girl. The second time line is presented through a series of flashbacks showing the daily lives of two boys, known by the court system as Boy A and Boy B, and we know one of them is the now freshly released adult named Jack. Both the events leading up to the murder and also their trial is shown, and the story takes its time to reveal whether or not the boys are actually guilty of what they are accused of. Regardless, the assumption by society that they are guilty is obvious both then and now, forcing Jack to live a lie every single day just to stay safe.

Boy A is performed wonderfully by everyone, and it features a star making presence from Andrew Garfield at a time before he became a household name. His painful struggles each day as he attempts to make friends and live a normal life knowing he is lying to all of them on even the most basic surface level, his name and who he is, makes the character a sympathetic figure even if he is guilty of the crime as a child. The film does a fantastic job exploring the idea of never being able to conquer the demons that haunt you from past decisions, leaving us to wonder, is rehabilitation considered a fallacy by the outside world even if it's achieved by the guilty party? Can we ever forgive someone for a terrible, misguided mistake, even if they have served their time and both mentally and literally grown up?

Jack could literally save a life, but he will always be known for the one he took. The question the film makes you both ask and answer is whether or not that is fair. I was clearly rooting for the happiness of the fictional character, but how would I feel if Jack lived down the street from me? How would I feel if he was walking towards my daughter on a city street? Would I believe in the possibilities of rehabilitation, or would I want her to cross to the other side to ensure safety?

Depending on the severity, we are haunted by our past mistakes even if we do everything we can to reform our lives and make amends. Boy A is the story of such a person and the identity he attempts to leave behind for a better life, but does he deserve it?


Blue Caprice Review

I remember how terrifying it was when the seemingly random and baffling murders of everyday people occurred during October 2002 in the region of the United States made up of Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C., known as the beltway, their deaths coming at quiet moments of normalcy at the hands of someone with a sniper rifle. As I reside in Illinois, I wasn't near the chaos and fear that stopped people from doing simple things like going shopping or pumping gas, but it still had an effect on me mentally, taking a moment each day to consider how fragile life really was. The film Blue Caprice tells the story of those that took those innocent lives, a man named John Allen Muhammad and his young protege Lee Boyd Malvo, focusing more on the development of their relationship and the troubling way an evil mind can essentially be created by an influential source.

A highly impressive film by first time screenwriter and director Alexandre Moors, the real life subjects that fill the frames are fascinating because we want to learn more in terms of a motive that was never fully fleshed out after these murders, but Moors doesn't attempt to provide it for us because the answer simply may not be there. Blue Caprice is a film that tells a specific story but really it has a much broader message to portray, that being the fact that pure evil can be so frighteningly absurd, lacking any sense of logic or reason for why people lose their lives at times like this. The question that is always raised immediately after one of the mass murders that seem to occur far too often in America is "Why?". Sometimes a reason is provided, one that is never understandable and typically disturbing because of how unimportant it might seem to a normal person, like being rejected by a girl or an argument on Facebook, but a reason none the less. However, every so often a tragedy seems to be void of any reason at all, and when the question "Why?" is asked, evil looks back at them and answers "Why not?"

The atmosphere of Blue Caprice worked because of its constant sense of quiet and calm despite the story revolving around chaos. Isaiah Washington plays Muhammad with nuance, an eerie confidence and clear hatred for others yet he is able to appear socially normal and sometimes even charming. Tequan Richmond fills the role of Malvo, a young man in search of guidance and a father figure and he unfortunately finds these things in Muhammad, essentially allowing himself to be brainwashed by a nonsensical message of hate. The film takes the time to build up their connection and lead us completely down the path of how the shootings came to be rather than rush any characters and relationship development in order to focus on the carnage.

I have noticed that audience ratings for this film seem a bit low, much to my surprise. I found the storytelling choices to be excellent as the mood of these men and their plan seeped into my skin and shook me, leaving me still searching for answers to any questions I had regarding the attacks but in the end that's the point: the answers simply aren't there. John Allen Muhammad wanted to kill as many people as possible to send a message, but what that message was remains a mystery, and with the capital punishment sentence since carried out after his capture we will never fully know what resided inside his mind. His targets? Absolutely anyone standing where their gun was pointed, no rhyme or reason for the choice.

Scary, isn't it?


The Normal Heart Review

When the trailer for the HBO film The Normal Heart premiered months ago, I was floored by the brief look at the film and my wife and I circled May 25th on the calendar immediately. It seemed as though it would certainly be a top tier production by the stellar network, a gut wrenching look at the onset of the HIV/AIDS virus but also an informative film about the world that was then before my time, a world that was filled with panic and confusion over the lack of answers regarding the deadly disease. While I highly enjoyed the film and was filled with heartbreak over the characters depicted and the stirring performances that gave them life, I was surprisingly a tad disappointed over the complete vision being portrayed here.

Prior to watching The Normal Heart, I was not aware that it was an adaptation of a Broadway play but that quickly became apparent because the film followed a style similar to a stage performance, focusing on a specific group of people during the onset of a worldwide problem, bringing us scene after scene of intense dramatic moments between these friends, colleagues and lovers while maintaining a rather limited scope for such a big story of human history. I suppose had I come into the experience knowing what to expect it may have played a bit stronger and with more power for me, but as I was expecting a much broader look at the impact AIDS had on the entire homosexual culture and humanity as a whole I couldn't help but be left slightly cold due to greater expectations.

On a performance level, almost every moment worked wonderfully which is why I still admired the film despite my slight issues with its limited narrative. Mark Ruffalo was the lead of the film, playing Ned Weeks, the self appointed leader not by title but through action of the gay rights movement during a time when no one seemed to give a damn whether they lived or died. He was solid and did nothing to detract from the film but at times his constant barrage of anger filled rants made me grow weary of sequences that demanded more quiet eloquence and emotional resonance. I couldn't help but let my mind wander and consider the possibility that he was practicing his role as the Hulk in the upcoming Avengers sequel while filming The Normal Heart, as he was often over the edge in a rage while others played it more even and thus, more impactful. 

The stars of the show for me were Taylor Kitsch as Bruce Niles, the literal leader of their cause but only chosen as such because of his good looks and mass appeal to reach others with their message. Kitsch seemed to know the right way to balance a character that tried to maintain a cool demeanor despite losing lover after lover, friend after friend to the awful ailment, and I was often impressed by his turn in the film. Matt Bomer might as well clear off his mantle now for the Emmy award he will be receiving for the film, as he was stealing scene after scene as the lover of Ned Weeks who becomes infected himself, and the reason I approach his role with such confidence that it will be recognized through a trophy or two is because of the physical transformation that was asked of him to play a dying man with such authenticity. Jim Parsons found a way to move past the fact that he is known world wide for his role in a sitcom to provide a rather quiet but stirring performance as Tommy Boatwright, one of the less outwardly sexual members of their group but internally devastated by the constant loss of friends.

I could go on and on about performances because director Ryan Murphy made them the focal point of the film and I am sure this worked wonders for most, as it nearly did for me. Still, I expected a bigger story about the early 80's and the landscape of society as a whole, and I didn't really learn anything new from a film that often brought a tear to my eye but never really tried to break new ground.


Monday, May 26, 2014

The Wolverine Review

For whatever reason, despite being a fan of the character and the X-Men in general, I simply couldn't get excited about seeing the 2013 solo Wolverine outing directed by James Mangold. Perhaps it was due to the fact that while I was only casually following the progress of the production prior to its release, I was aware of the fact that accomplished visionary director Darren Aronofsky had previously been attached to the project but had chosen to walk away from it. Maybe it was because the last time a solo Wolverine film had been released it was received with much derision and now basically been dropped from the characters historical landscape entirely, a film so unpopular that most pretend it never existed at all. It also might boil down to super hero and summer blockbuster fatigue last year, as I can barely even remember this being released at all to be honest. Regardless, today I finally caught up with the film as I prepare for Days of Future Past tomorrow night at the cinema, and while I has my issues with it overall I really enjoyed The Wolverine.

The film begins with Logan living in a solitary situation in the woods, overwhelmed with the grief of losing the love of his life Jean Grey, which quickly tells me this is following the events of The Last Stand. This left a bad taste in my mouth almost immediately because it reminded me that the third X-Men film was an actual release and not a bad dream, but as the story carried on I was able to shake this off and leave the sour cinematic memories in the rear-view mirror. Logan encounters a young woman named Yukio that had come looking for him to deliver the news that a man he had saved the life of long ago was now dying, in hopes that it would bring the mutant back with her to Japan to pay his respects. The trip becomes far more dangerous when Logan finds himself wrapped up in a violent struggle involving not just a complicated family situation but also the Yakuza,.

I was quickly falling in love with the film, admiring that it was focused on characters and relationships and an amazing atmosphere thanks to an authentic Japanese setting, but everything that soared during the first half began to falter as the film sputtered a little as it approached its conclusion. Watching Logan experience romantic feelings again while still fighting the demons that were attached to him due to the death of Jean was far more fascinating than the entire villain reveal and big bad people showdown that is typically the aspect most look forward to during a film from this genre.

I was a tad disappointed by the whole thing as the film ended, but that was because of the extremely promising first half. As I entered the experience with insanely low expectations, when looking at the The Wolverine as a complete vision I can't help but admire it as a very entertaining success. Unfortunately an opportunity missed had the Mangold film been stronger down the stretch.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Monsters Review

For most people, $800,000 is a life changing sum of money, a dream come true for anyone grinding out week after work of a job to ensure that they can keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table. However, in regards to the process of making a film, a production budget of under a million dollars these days is almost unheard of as we currently experience a cinematic landscape that regularly releases works with budgets north of 200 million dollars, needing absurd box office success in order to simply break even. The directorial debut of the new hot commodity in the industry Gareth Edwards, Monsters is a film of stunning craft and attention to detail, a film derived from passion that is oozing with nuance and a message of political thematic significance, and the fact that it came to be from a budget so low only makes it that much more astonishing.

At the start of the film we are provided with a quick bit of background on what has lead to the existing circumstances of North America. Six years earlier, a NASA deep space probe crashed in northern Mexico, and the samples it had collected lead to the appearance of new life forms in the region. forcing a massive piece of land to be quarantined and labeled as "infected", a giant wall being erected to stop the creatures from entering the United States. With this information in hand the story begins, that of a photojournalist named Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) being contacted by his boss while on assignment in Mexico, giving him an entirely different task. His new job is to locate and protect the bosses daughter, a young woman by the name of Samantha (Whitney Able), whom is also down in Mexico and ensure her safe return to the states. 

This is a far greater challenge than a typical bit of travel, as the only safe passage without having to cross into the infected zone is by water, a ferry system that runs through the Gulf of Mexico, one that charges the incredibly pricey sum of $5000 a ticket, an amount that Kaulder is willing to and does pay to complete his mission, but when the moment arrives for Sam to board the ferry they come to the realization that her passport was robbed by a guest Andrew had spent the previous night with. This leaves only one course of action to get back home to their lives and loved ones waiting for each of them respectively: travel directly through the infected zone by vehicle and on foot. 

There are more aspects to the story and the development of these two lead characters involving those that await their return and whether or not Sam truly wants to return to her normal life and feign happiness that clearly eludes her, and I admired the way Edwards valued creating a film that existed in a science fiction, supernatural world yet focused its narrative on a human level, a dose of realism and believability while surrounded by a landscape filled with a nightmarish threat that represented anything but. Andrew and Samantha feel genuine, their emotional connection and attraction proceeds at a pace that seems plausible, and they fact that they need each other in order to survive the ordeal allows their chemistry to resonate on a deeper level. 

I would compliment a script if possible, but in regards to Monsters one essentially did not exist. Due to financial constraints and the indie status of the project, Edwards was forced to shoot in various locations without even asking permission in advance, and every other character besides the two leads were merely people on location that were willing to participate as extras and were not asked to memorize a script but instead merely given a guideline on what should happen next and allowed to deliver it in any way they saw fit. When considering this, along with the fact that each day whatever content they had filmed had to be downloaded off of a flash drive to clear off the space to continue shooting the next day, what Edwards achieved here is truly remarkable. Not for a second was I bothered by an amateurish feel to the film, nor did I wish for anything more from the performances. I was hooked from the get go and cared deeply for the fate of these characters, I absorbed the clear political themes that were in play when a story involves a giant fence stopping "monsters" from Mexico from gaining access to the United States, and I admire any level of nuance involved in such a low budget debut feature. 

Also noteworthy are the special effects of the film, as the monsters rendered after filming had completed do not look low brow or cheap in any way, shape or form. The entire film is photographed with confidence and beauty, and during moments involved the alien creatures they were added to the backdrop without skipping a beat and fit right into the frames, work that became even more admirable once I learned that Edwards himself created all of the visual effects on his laptop using an Adobe software any person could purchase off the shelf of an electronic store. Truly remarkable, and such a passion for cinema and a personal vision is something that I easily embrace and leads to me thinking highly of the filmmaker going forward.

Shortly after I watched Monsters for the first time, the announcement came through that after the success of his second film, the mega blockbuster Godzilla reboot, Gareth had been chosen by Disney to helm a spin off Star Wars film as his next project, I began to look for more information regarding further details as I am an enormous fan of the galaxy far, far away. While visiting various message boards and forums for film discussion, I came across multiple people who referred to Monsters as "truly terrible" and even in more than one comment it was described as "one of the worst films ever made". As I had just experienced this triumphant example of the power and possibilities of independent film-making, these reactions floored me and I couldn't wrap my head around such thoughts. I am a firm believer in the value of an opinion and allowing others to have their own without judgement, because what one work does to a person may not impact another in nearly the same way, but such outlandish hyperbole really troubles me from time to time. I see plenty of films that feature content that simply does not click with my interests, but I am still able to recognize the good that went into crafting the film, various bits of framing and imagery that I found impressive or a performance that stood above the rest. To dismiss Monsters as "one of the worst films ever made" means you either need to have your eyesight checked or simply do not watch nearly enough cinema, because so much good went into this production when those creating it were given so very little to work with.

My reaction to Monsters is beyond mere admiration due to a low budget and the factor of it being a debut film for Edwards. On practically ever level I adored this film, and after sleeping on it the love continues to flourish. 


Brothers Review

Brothers is a 2009 film directed by Jim Sheridan about Marine Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire), a man who seemingly has it all, sharing his life with a beautiful wife named Grace (Natalie Portman) and two little girls, but on a tour of duty in Afghanistan his helicopter crashes and he is presumed dead. Back home his loved ones experience horrific grief over the loss of Sam, and his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps in and assumes the paternal role in the family. As the wife and daughters he left behind begin to heal and appreciate moments of happiness again, Sam is found alive as a prisoner of war and returns home. Dealing with post traumatic stress disorder and the concept that he had been replaced by the women he loves most, Sam finds himself dealing with more turmoil and emotional chaos in the comfort of his home than he did while away at war.

Brothers is well made and the performances are the the focal point here, with all three leads and even the various supporting roles constantly on point, but something about the film as a whole just didn't add up for me. While the subject matter was deserving of such an atmosphere so it should have been expected, the mood of the film is constantly cold and unsatisfying, and even the moments that are trying to portray lighthearted happiness come off feeling sour and awkward. Despite this, the strangest thing about the work is that it pretty much maintains one tone the entire film and yet we still experience attempts at jarring tonal shifts during the first half, like we can feel Sheridan attempting to contrast the awful depravity of war with the happy go lucky lives of a family living free, yet it simply doesn't work. Sure, we see soldiers being tortured followed by a scene of Grace and her daughters with Tommy out for a fun day of ice skating, but the emotional bond being portrayed during the latter doesn't resonate. Instead of selling the idea that Tommy has fit into their lives in some ideal fashion, we get a sequence that tries too hard to make the sale and turning us off from buying it instead, as music plays to their fun filled day that is laughably optimistic to the point that it made me cringe.

In the end, Brothers isn't a bad film by any means. I just didn't care. I often embrace material that is so constantly dour as long as it makes me feel something in the process, but I couldn't have mustered up a single ounce of passion for what was being portrayed if I tried. Maguire gives a solid performance as a person struggling with mental health issues and I wanted so badly to give a shit about the outcome of his ordeal, but other films focused on this topic have done so in a far stronger fashion, crafting characters and relationships that make me care and hope for a positive outcome in the end. When the credits of Brothers began to roll, I shrugged my shoulders and moved on without giving it much thought.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

X-Men: The Last Stand Review

It seems too easy to blame director Brett Ratner for this shockingly poor final film of the original X-Men trilogy because the simple math adds up. Bryan Singer gives us his vision for these characters with two smart, fun and well made films, only to step away from the opportunity to complete the saga and place it in the hands of Ratner, and the result is a complete and utter mess. Everything that made the first two films successful is stripped away here, a film that one would expect would step it up yet another notch above the excellent X2 and give us the conclusion fans deserve, an epic finality to the story of this team of superhero mutants.

My first concern with The Last Stand came when I saw the running time listed as 104 minutes. This in itself is not a guaranteed indication of the quality of a film, as plenty of films have been surprisingly short yet demonstrated beautiful, perfect pacing and eloquent storytelling, but for the final film of a superhero trilogy to be a half hour shorter than its predecessor? Something didn't smell right with this for me, an early indication that a dissatisfying conclusion was headed our way.

What makes this especially shocking is that my early judgement of the shorter running time revolved around the concept that this film would be a surprisingly small in scope assault of action until the credits rolled, but in reality one of the biggest flaws of Ratner's film is that he attempts to stuff so much into such a short time that he clearly had no idea how to correctly handle the material. Introducing new characters with no time to develop them, juggling multiple story lines with no time to adequately see them through is not the the direction you would want to go with the third film of a trilogy. The same restraint shown in the first two films should have been a key yet again with The Last Stand, but not to tell a methodical story to lead to future films obviously but instead the idea that perhaps the characters the audience has already so deeply invested in should be the focal point of the film, putting the finishing touches on their stories both individually and as a team rather than attempting to introduce anything new when such a thing is unnecessary.

The truth is, solely blaming Ratner for this massive piece of shit film is short-sighted and unfair to the man, even if he clearly wasn't the right man for the job and played a role in the downfall. The script by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn is atrocious, featuring bizarrely terrible dialogue and attempts to be clever that are actually anything but. The ten greatest directors in cinematic history could have combined their efforts to create this X-Men feature and it still wouldn't have stood a chance as long as the screenplay was destined to be this ridiculous and uninspired.

On a performance level The Last Stand failed as well, although this could be due to the minds in charge of the production giving the actors so little to work with to make this turd seem fresh and interesting. Even those performers that we saw bring their skills to the saga during films one and two seem awkward and lost here, like somewhere in their minds even they can't believe they are actually saying these lines and filming these asinine scenes.

In nearly every way and on nearly every level, X-Men: The Last Stand is a failure, a massive disappointment for fans of the comic and films that had been eagerly anticipating the third journey they could take with these characters at the cinema. During only 104 minutes of action packed superhero action, I was honestly quite bored during most of the film, and the only sequences that really grabbed my attention were those that were so unfortunate, I couldn't take my eyes off of them for all of the wrong reasons.

I have seen the early reactions to the upcoming Days of Future Past film, and they have been almost unanimously positive and I noticed one key fact that made me excited. Apparently, this new installment will totally eliminate the events of The Last Stand from ever technically occurring, a way for the studio to separate themselves from the entry that clearly didn't work. Bravo to them, as I anticipate a much cleaner experience in the future when I can pretend this crap never existed in the first place.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Never Let Me Go Review

I have established that The Tree of Life is, on a profound and personal level, my favorite film of all time, a masterpiece that changed my perspective on life for the better. One of my main points of emphasis in describing why the Malick film is so meaningful to me is because I walked away from the experience thinking about how the very notion of existence, the opportunity to live and breathe, was the greatest gift one could receive. The film Never Let Me Go tells the story of a group of children that attend a secluded and seemingly excellent boarding school, but their lives are flipped totally upside down once they discover that they are clones and the only reason for their creation in the first place is that they are to be used exclusively as organ donors as a way to extend life expectancy among everyone else. They would literally be giving away their bodies until their death at an age far too young, and they are forced to continue living with this knowledge and come to grips with the idea that their time on this planet would be over far sooner than most.

The reason I bring up The Tree of Life is that a film like Never Let Me Go, based on a well regarded novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, makes me wonder about the idea that all existence is a blessing and recognize that perhaps while this message is still just as hard hitting and important to me on a personal level, others who are far less fortunate than myself would beg to differ. During this film we contemplate the bigger themes of time, life, death and the unsettling ethical decisions that would have to go into creating a life for the sole purpose of ending it in order to save another, but on a storytelling level we consider these notions on a small scale level, following three specific characters as they live their lives and pursue friendships and romantic relationships despite knowing their fates are mapped out for them. 

The extremely talented cast of Never Let Me Go is essentially made up of Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, and the methodical approach to telling their story allows each of them to shine in their own ways, not just through words but also through their expressions, mannerisms and chemistry shared among each other. While never an exciting and fun film to view, I found the pacing and mood to perfectly fit the type of story being told, and I actually think it could have benefited from being just a little bit longer then the 104 minute running time, giving us more time to explore how these characters really feel about facing death at a young age, the injustice of being given the gift of life only to have it ripped away from them without having any say in the trauma their bodies would suffer or the limited time frame they were afforded. 

I loved that the film showed that despite being brought onto this Earth as a medical advancement, a benefit to the rest of humanity through their own physical and emotional anguish rather than being treated as humans themselves, they still desired love, passion, warmth and kindness. On some level their lives were more a curse than a blessing, yet you could feel that they were on some level grateful for having the opportunity to know and love each other for the brief time they were given. I hope those that do go through such horrible circumstances, those whose lives are less than ideal in reality, get to experience some form of happiness when they had the chance. 

Never Let Me Go is a very well made and interesting film, one that still has my mind racing, perhaps more due to my own thoughts and feelings than what was actually achieved from the narrative. In the end, I got a lot out of it and some of the imagery and performances will linger in mind for some time to come.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Sacrament Review

Filmmaker Ti West is one of the lone bright spots for me when it comes to horror films, the one genre that I have an issue embracing on a regular basis unless the material is something truly special. The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers are two of my favorites of recent memory, so I was very much looking forward to his next work The Sacrament, and for the most part the film worked. Essentially the film owes its entire concept and story to the real life Jonestown Massacre that tragically occurred in 1978, and drawing that inspiration on its own doesn't necessarily trouble me, but the handling of it in this case does.

On top of horror being a genre I struggle with, my least favorite sub-genre to go with it is this entire fascination with the idea of "found footage". It was once innovative and exciting when The Blair Witch Project shocked audiences and became a box office sensation, a film that honestly made me scared to go into the woods at the time, but the entire idea of fooling people into thinking they are watching real events has run its course. What frustrates me so much about The Sacrament is, had West handled this material in a similar fashion to his previous two films I already mentioned being a fan of, just a traditional fictional narrative rather than trying to present the illusion of actual footage, I really believe this could have been a fantastic film rather than the missed opportunity it actually is. 

The hand-held camera aspect gives the experience an amateurish feel for me, and occasionally the dialogue suffers thanks to writing that needs to make it clear that this is a found footage film, reminding the audience like a giant flashing sign that "THIS IS REAL! YOU ARE WATCHING SOMETHING REAL!" even though we simply aren't falling for it anymore. We know these are actors, but having actual lines of dialogue in which a character tells the camera that they hope this footage is found by someone in case they die just mars the experience with unnecessary, eye-rolling cheese. A straightforward work of fiction crafted very well regarding disturbing events like this would have worked far better and felt far more mature than the way this was presented.

The usage of found footage for a film that is so clearly based on a real life tragedy is a tad unsettling because it brings a level of insensitivity to the project. The point of found footage is to present a "documentation" of events that seem almost stranger than fiction, a moment in time that seems so absurd yet is presented as reality, therefore seeming to be more believable than it should. Making a found footage film of something that actually happened, a concept ripped straight from actual history, seems like you are showing an audience the real, horrific events, showing no actual humanity towards those that really died in 1978. 

Surprisingly, after writing what is clearly a mostly negative review of The Sacrament, I actually did enjoy the film and was impressed by much of it. The Ti West style of building a slow burn tension before finally unleashing the disturbing works wonders again here, and my goodness do I mean disturbing in the case of this film. This is a dour, unsettling work, and the events that occur near the end are not something that compel me to revisit it any time soon, but clearly some real talent was at hand here that I can appreciate. Please, for the love of God, enough with the found footage though. Just make an intelligent, well made film and I will buy in without having to pretend it's real.


Godzilla (2014) Review

Sorry to disappoint all you Breaking Bad fans like myself, but Bryan Cranston is not the star of the film Godzilla. He is relegated to a supporting role, an important one, but supporting none the less. Elizabeth Olsen, up and coming star of extraordinary talent, also not the star. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is the lead actor listed and is given the most screen time of any one performer featured in the film, nevertheless, not the star. The one real flaw of the film is that it dedicates a lot of time to developing the characters and the human relationships, yet on this level it never quite comes together, and occasional scenes are hampered by recognizable faces giving flat performances delivering clunky dialogue. Despite this, I am giving this franchise reboot a rave review, as I was in awe of what was achieved here despite the issues I mentioned.

This brings us to the real stars of the film. First up, director Gareth Edwards, a man with only one feature film under his belt, a low budget feature I unfortunately am yet to see titled Monsters released in 2010. I entered the cinema having no idea whether Edwards was the right choice for this massive blockbuster and I exited knowing the answer was a resounding yes. Godzilla is so brilliantly paced utilizing a slow burn style that I was literally getting goosebumps waiting for the shit to hit the fan, and once it did I wanted to jump out of my skin with joy. I could sense others in my sold out IMAX theater getting restless and antsy as the potentially epic action sequences were constantly teased but not yet fully realized as the film carried along, but I bought in early on this storytelling choice and was completely engrossed throughout, along for the ride and willing to go wherever it took me. Edwards followed the path taken by other great monster flicks like Jaws and Jurassic Park, knowing that while everyone may be waiting to see the highly anticipated creature, revealing the monster too early and often can appease some but will result in overkill by the time the film winds down. I admire the bold decision to limit the King of Monsters to such a limited amount of screen time. When Edwards brought the majestic beast into the frame, he utilized those moments to perfection.

Another star of the film is a person whom an audience rarely knows the name of or acknowledges during conversation after it is over: the composer Alexandre Desplat, a six time Oscar nominee who is yet to bring home the trophy. Unfortunately I doubt he will be recognized for his work on Godzilla, but it is truly something special, a haunting compilation of music that constantly sets a spine tingling tone for this dark and brooding picture, scene after scene after scene. Without his score, my intense admiration for the film as a whole would likely not be as over the top enthusiastic, as it honestly might be my favorite single aspect of the entire thing.

On a technical level, Godzilla is flawless, featuring incredible cinematography, sublime visual effects and a pulsing, beautifully blended sound mix that knows exactly the right moments to knock your god damn socks off without ever being overbearing. A feast of the senses, go see Godzilla on the biggest screen you can find. I am more than willing to look past the flaws when a movie features so much excellence otherwise. This is one I will revisit time and time again for years to come.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pan's Labyrinth Review

Roughly a year ago, I celebrated the start of a weekend by doing one of my absolute favorite things: making a Blu Ray purchase. With any other type of shopping, I prepare a strategy in advance that will get me in and out of a store in the shortest amount of time imaginable. Life is too short to spend it grocery or clothes shopping, but adding a movie to my collection? That is simply the bees knees. I could spend hours wandering the aisles of a store containing a vast amount of Blu-ray options and I will enjoy every second of it. On this particular day, I ended up leaving that store with Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth in my hand, a blind buy made with faith that I would cherish a film so highly regarded, and I couldn't wait to get home and give it the debut spin.

That night, Pan's Labyrinth began and all was well for about 15 minutes until something forced my finger to press down on the stop button and call it a night. Annoying, sure, but no big deal really. I would get back to this magical cinematic world the next day and finally understand what so many people had fallen in love with over the years. The strange thing though is, I didn't get back to it the next day...or the next day, or the next week, or the next month after that and so on. It wasn't that the film did anything wrong during those brief 15 minutes I had witnessed, in fact it had already enchanted me throughout the early moments, but instead it was merely a case of being distracted by other new and shiny options laid out before me. So many brilliant films to see, and seeing as how I now owned Pan's Labyrinth I could get back to it anytime I wanted. No rush.

Finally tonight was the night, and after witnessing this exquisite film a part of me is angry that it took so long to delve back into it. The other part of me is trying to focus on a bright side to this story, the side that recognizes how much I have grown with my appreciation for film during that year which possibly allowed me to look at Pan's Labyrinth with a different frame of mind than I would have then. A few months ago I witnessed the masterpiece The Spirit of the Beehive, a film I loved immediately during my initial viewing and my admiration for it continues to grow daily as the imagery and themes of that work linger in my mind and occasionally invade my thoughts. The first 15 minutes of Pan's felt like a completely different experience this time around, as I noticed the striking similarities between Spirit of the Beehive and this film and my appreciation for Del Toro and his ability to embrace the art that inspired him soared to new heights.

Pan's Labyrinth tells the story of a young girl named Ofelia as she enters a new world she wants no part of, a move to a different home and a different life due to her pregnant mother's marriage to the cold and ruthless Captain. It is a time of Spanish civil war and Ofelia is surrounded by conflict, both between the men on the battlefield and also her desire to escape this new situation which she recognizes is poisonous, much to her mother's dismay. Ofelia finds comfort in a fantasy world escape from reality after a fairy points her in the direction of a labyrinth that resides nearby, and it is here that she first meets a Faun that recognizes her as royalty and sets her on a quest to leave this all too real nightmare behind forever.

Every second of this perfectly crafted beauty fascinated me, but the aspect that most impressed me was the way del Toro so perfectly balanced telling two completely different stories at the same time and yet tonal shifts are never felt, confusion never sets in and while the separation between fantasy and reality is clearly defined, they both manage to enhance the other, as if both a civil war between everyday men and encounters with mythical creatures in impossible locations were needed to form a complete cinematic vision. At times hauntingly beautiful and yet at other times just plain haunting, Pan's Labyrinth is an absolute master class in the glory of cinema, completely engrossing and enjoyable as surface level entertainment and yet so thematically rich and profound underneath, an allegory of the highest order.

I am both humbled and inspired by this film. I am both concerned about the potential for nightmares derived by its imagery and yet excited about the possibility of visiting an imaginative dream world thanks to del Toro tapping into my subconscious. I love so many films, but rarely does one impact me the way Pan's Labyrinth did.


Monday, May 12, 2014

L'Atalante Review

Considering how often I have heard the name Jean Vigo in regards to legendary filmmaking combined with the fact that I had not yet experienced his work until now, I was shocked to learn that L'Atalante was his own feature length release of his career, the master work of a life cut tragically short at the age of 29, his passing coming the very same year this film was released. I find it both depressing and fascinating that he never had the opportunity to know how important and influential his work would be, even now, eighty years after his death.

I found it difficult to apply a ranking to L'Atalante because it is a masterpiece that didn't resonate with me the way one should for whatever reason. I understand and appreciate the influences it had on film that are still felt today, and on its own I found it to be a beautiful approach to realism at a time when such thing barely existed in cinema. On every technical level, L'Atalante is impressive, but the story itself didn't grab me in any profound way. I found myself appreciating every aspect of the film except for the content itself, as I seemed to be going through the motions as the viewer rather than be pulled into the events and wanting more.

Perhaps with a better grasp of this era of film and what Vigo meant to the landscape at the time, I would fall more in love with this work. For now, it is something I admire but do not adore.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb Review

My God, what an incredible film.

I recently proclaimed Stanley Kubrick to be the greatest filmmaker of all time, and then became troubled by one major blind spot from his filmography that still existed: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. I had heard so many great things over the course of my entire life regarding this film, and yet somehow it had eluded me for this long. This afternoon I found myself alone in my home, remote in hand with seemingly thousands of options to choose from, but I knew what I had to do. It was time to pull myself one step closer to the goal of having the entire career of Kubrick locked inside my mind, iconic imagery and amazing performances and the most brilliant direction I could comprehend bouncing around there each day to keep me entertained when stuck inside the lifeless environment of my employer for 40 hours a week.

Dr. Strangelove is just so damn funny, filled with memorable characters and the performers that play them give them such life and presence. Peter Sellers plays multiple roles and each one is just so wonderful. George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson steals every scene he is in, with even the smallest touches like the widening of his eyes in reaction to others' words proving the perfection of his comedic timing. I couldn't get enough of my brief visit to this world, and everything I had heard over the years proved to be beyond true. Even though I anticipated loving it, I loved it even more than I could have imagined. A war satire unlike any other, a film that still plays beautifully not only in comedic terms but in relevancy on its 50 year anniversary.

The idea of the total loss of human life has never and could never again be so funny. Dr. Strangelove is a flat out masterpiece.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Neighbors Review

I entered a matinee of Neighbors today and my mind prepared for the comedic delivery and timing of Seth Rogen, as he is one of my favorites going today. I wondered how Zac Efron would hold his own when sharing the screen with others known far more for comedy than he is, because honestly, I am a 30 year old man. I have not encountered a ton of his work as he became a household name to a younger, Disney channel audience. This isn't a criticism of Efron at all, good for him to make his mark in any way he could, but familiar with him and his actual abilities as an actor I am not. I recognized that despite a relatively small sample size and without a leading role base it off of, I have become a fan of Dave Franco, a solid supporting piece in films like 21 Jump Street and Warm Bodies. I considered the talents of Rose Byrne and the surprisingly large amount of films I had seen her in, a range of genres from her notable comedic turns to her part in the Danny Boyle science fiction Sunshine. Then it hit me, the one piece of the cinematic puzzle that I typically thought of first and foremost when entering a theater had somehow meant nothing to me. Why didn't I give a shit about director Nicholas Stoller?

The fact is, Stoller has already amounted a rather impressive career in a short span of time, yet for some reason I seem to treat the comedy genre in a different way than I would any other. The director of the fantastic Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the director and screenwriter for the hilarious follow up Get Him to the Greek, the man who wrote both new Muppets films, and yet I never once found his name in my mind when searching for reasons to be excited about Neighbors. I am hoping that begins to change, and my interest will be peaked when I see his name attached to a future project, because for the most part when I see the name Stoller in the credits, I am a fan of the film in question. Neighbors was no exception.

A very funny film about a young family in the grand scheme of things, a husband and wife probably in their early 30's with an adorable infant daughter, yet they quickly feel old when a fraternity moves in next door and their partying ways cause distress with their way of life. While the film consistently worked on a humor level throughout, I would say one of the flaws of Neighbors is that, I'm not sure if any one moment or specific moments really stand out above the crowd of gags to linger in my mind for whenever I need a smile. My favorite comedies always have insanely quotable, memorable lines of dialogue that I can randomly say to a friend fifteen years from now and we will both experience the joy of that film all over again in our minds.

Regardless, I am a big fan of what was accomplished here, a film that rises up above being merely about the sophomoric humor and occasionally grotesque imagery. The real surprise of Neighbors is just how nuanced its main theme is, the fear of the young who refuse to accept that their perfect, pressure free existences will at some point have to change when the responsibility of growing up is upon them, and also the fear of those in my age range, the realization of a 30 year old with a family that you can never go back to a time when we were younger and are allowed to be "cool" again. While I personally have no issues with my place in this world, I know plenty of people who are stuck in a purgatory between the past, a life of simplicity and fun, and the future, the true understanding of what it means to be an adult and care more about balancing a checkbook than keeping tabs on how many shots they have drank at the bar.

It may not be as exciting a piece of cinema as the 2013 gem This is the End, but Neighbors absolutely did its job and delighted me for 90 plus minutes this afternoon. All of the talk regarding this film will be based around the various cringe worthy sequences of crude yet clever comedy, but what I truly admire is that this had a message behind its madness and it delivered it.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Incendies Review

As of only a few months ago, the name Denis Villeneuve meant nothing to me. Not only had I never seen a film of his, the name itself wasn't even on my radar. That changed when I saw the brilliant, atmospheric 2013 thriller Prisoners, a work that was littered with names I was familiar with like Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, and the masterful cinematographer Roger Deakins, yet the first thing I had to do after the film concluded was to head to IMDB and figure out who this Villeneuve fella was. The disturbing and ominous tone of Prisoners left an indelible impression on me, and I knew I had to absorb more that the man had to offer.

My second Villeneuve journey came when I experienced the wonderful cinematic mind melt known as Enemy, a film likely locked into a top ten slot for 2014 despite it only being May. Much like with Prisoners, Villeneuve teams up with Gyllenhaal and the choice is an example of spot on casting, as if the auteur produces material that brings out the best of Jake and his nuanced talent. That is where the comparisons between the two films end however, and that is meant as a compliment rather than a complaint. It was quickly evident that Villeneuve was no one trick pony, as Enemy was a far more challenging and confounding slice of cinema, one that will leave viewers scrambling for answers to unlock its mysteries. I for one love to be left in the dark when it comes to films that are more abstract, as piecing together my own puzzle is far more fun than having a complete understanding of exactly what the filmmakers vision was.

After diving into two of his films, one thing became very clear about the work of Denis Villeneuve: the man creates haunting, memorable and important cinema. Months later, I cannot shake Prisoners from my mind, as I still think of various sequences from time to time and I will simultaneously smile and also feel my skin crawl from the mood and imagery of that film. On paper, Enemy was a fascinating concept, the idea of recognizing your exact double while watching a film and the search for answers as to how someone unrelated to you could be a true doppelganger in every possible sense, and the movie didn't disappoint as the idea was wonderfully realized and executed in a way I could never possibly forget. I knew I had to seek out one of his previous works and see if his style was always so exciting and hypnotic, which lead me to the film Incendies.

Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2011, I was confident that I would be witnessing another very good effort with Incendies, and yet somehow I am still in total awe over how spectacular of an achievement it turned out to be. The opening scene of the film consisted of some attention grabbing imagery of various young boys getting their heads shaved as the always incredible music of Radiohead played over it. Two minutes into the film and I already knew I was in for a treat, a sequence worthy of the reputation Villeneuve has already earned with me for creating lasting, unforgettable moments despite the limited amount of time I had spent wrapping my mind around his work overall.

The remaining 137 minutes did not disappoint, as I was beyond riveted by the story of the twins, Jeanne and Simon, as they honor the final wishes of their recently deceased mother by going on a journey to the Middle East to discover and better understand the messy and troubling roots of their family. The unique narrative of the film shows us the original actions of their mother earlier in her life and also their search for the answers they seek, and Villeneuve's camera is masterful throughout, an expert in mature filmmaking that knows just how to frame his subjects and their circumstances to elicit the most powerful reaction from us, the viewers. Incendies is also beautifully performed by the cast across the board, so much so that this work of fiction felt consistently natural and authentic throughout. I was invested in this film from the first frame to the last, at times disturbed when an unfortunately realistic lack of humanity was showcased, but also emotionally invested by their journey and the direction it takes them.

One masterpiece could be a lucky accident. Two means a visionary talent might in fact be making his mark. Three films, however, is definitive proof that a truly special and extraordinary director has emerged, a new addition to a short list of filmmakers that deserve to have each new release circled on the calender without even so much as a plot synopsis yet released. Some need a recognizable star in the lead role, an exciting story to draw them into the theater, or a promise of stunning special effects to peak their interest enough to lay down the cash at the box office. I only need one reason to be excited for a film called Sicario, slated for a 2015 release: Denis Villeneuve.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

Typically I do what I can to avoid reading spoilers for a film prior to seeing it for obvious reasons, but sometimes I truly believe knowing exactly what you are in for is for the best. I did my research with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and read plenty of reviews, and I was prepared for the worst in regards to the complaints that seemed the most common. The thing is, I agree with most of the aspects others were upset about. The film is a mess, trying to cram so much into it with the goal of film universe building rather than telling one cohesive sequel story. The character of Max, prior to his villainous transformation into Electro, is beyond terrible, a complete and ridiculous rip off of the Riddler from Batman Forever. The major flaw of this film, however, is that it isn't so much a Spider-Man sequel as it is a Sinister Six prequel, doing whatever possible to make sure they can fast track that work to potential box office glory rather than worrying about the standalone film in front of them.

Despite this, I must be honest. I really friggin' enjoyed the film.

The factor that draws my admiration the most with this Spidey sequel is how Marc Webb handled the human relationships in the film. I appreciated that despite the rushed mess of trying to force in new characters and friendships, they still found the time to allow Peter and Gwen to share some fantastic moments on screen together and their chemistry is absolutely sublime, possibly due to the fact that Garfield and Stone are living out a romance in reality. Sally Field is given a chance to shine and she embraces the opportunity, with some great scenes and a touching moment or two between her and the nephew she struggles to support on her own. In these moments the film really soared.

Dane Dehaan is also a great addition to the saga, although the way his character is introduced is sloppy and unconvincing. We are supposed to believe that Peter and Harry were the best of friends as children, yet in the first film this relationship must be totally inconsequential considering Peter spends so much time in the Oscorp building yet this friendship is never even mentioned, let alone explored. Still, I was glad Dehaan was there as his performance was noteworthy and I look forward to what he can bring to the Sinister Six film and future Spider-Man installments.

The action sequences were entertaining but much like Zack Snyder and his absurd usage of unnecessary zoom-ins, Webb becomes too infatuated with the slow motion technique and it kills the otherwise electric pace of some intense scenes. Using this once would have been fine, as it was particularly effective during a moment in which Spider-Man saves multiple people from electrocution and the slowed down method was the only way this could be demonstrated. However, it happens repeatedly throughout the film and it is overkill.

The film was far from perfect, but I cannot deny I was totally invested throughout and managed to ignore the many moments of bad and focus instead on what worked for me. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a bit of a mess and I am sure the fact that I turned my brain off before entering the theater played in my favor, but for a Saturday afternoon with the family, looking up at a majestic IMAX screen, I can't complain.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

My Favorite Film of All Time

When I was 6 years old, I took my first journey to a galaxy far, far away and my life would never be the same. I was too young to view the Star Wars saga with a critical eye or even begin to comprehend how much work went into the production of a film, so all that mattered was that the story, characters and effects swept me away into a euphoric trance. I was hooked immediately.

As great as A New Hope was, and as child friendly and fantastic I found Return of the Jedi, nothing could come close to Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. It is an example of sublime pacing and storytelling, with so much remarkable content delivered in a running time barely over two hours long. For over 20 years, I considered the middle film of the Holy trilogy to be the defining work of cinema, and I never even considered moving it from the top spot...until now.

Naming your favorite film seems like such an inconsequential topic, and yet I was truly troubled when I decided to dethrone the space opera that filled my childhood with so much joy. It had to be done though, as a film that was released in 2011 has become so much more to me than just entertainment or nostalgia. The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick has literally changed my perspective on what it means to wake up each day and live, and the irony of this is that the first time I attempted to screen the film I turned it off in anger halfway through.

My initial reaction to The Tree of Life is easily explained: I wasn't ready for it. What I had seen of the film lingered with me and I realized it was important that I give it a fair chance, and after revisiting it I was stunned by the true beauty of the film. I have no idea what Malick is truly trying to represent through this work, but personally I appreciate life more because of it. I recognize that existence itself is a miracle, and the opportunity to wake up each day is something that shouldn't be taken for granted.

The Empire Strikes Back is still a magnificent film, one I will love every day for the rest of my life, but The Tree of Life literally makes each of those days seem like a gift. That is why it is the greatest film I have ever seen.