Archive | September, 2012

Renaissance – Review

14 Sep

It’s important for a movie to have style. Style gives a film a unique mark that separates it from all the rest. Unfortunately, it isn’t a rare thing that a movie will become so overly stylized that it detracts from its success. Case and point: Renaissance.

 

Paris, 2054. The city has become a maze of streets, railways, and alleys that are carefully monitored by law enforcement.Ilona Tasuiev (Romola Garai), an employee for the mega-corporation, Avalon, is kidnapped for an unknown reason. Enter Barthèlèmy Karas (Daniel Craig), a street wise cop hired to track her down by any means necessary. During his investigation, begins to work with Ilona’s older sister, the mysterious Bislane (Catherine McCormack), and soon discovers the the web of corporate and moral intrigue runs deeper than he could have possibly imagined.

Everything about this film is part of a recipe for success. The stunning visuals, the interesting plot points, and just the way the story unravels is cool to watch. Just like if you were making any type of food, too much of one recipe will start to overbear the rest of the flavor. This is the main issue with Renaissance. The visuals are so stunning and overdone that I started just looking at the movie rather than watching it.

 

Other than the overwhelming visuals, the story was just not involving at all. Things moved on before I got a chance to really process what was happening, and there was little to no explanation of things. The crazy black and white effects also put characters in such ridiculous shadow, sometimes, that I had no idea who I was really looking at, and then the scene was over. Great.

I’m a little bent out of shape about this movie because I really wanted to like it. There were times where I finally got adjusted to the animation and effects and then the scene would change. Once the scene changed I would get lost in the animation again and spend more time adjusting to the surroundings. Again, the animation is absolutely fantastic and very reminiscent of Sin City and A Scanner Darkly. Unfortunately, I was more into what the film looked like and not so much the story or the characters.

 

I feel like the story is definitely there. Like I said, there were times where I was really invested in what was happening onscreen, just not as much as I really should have been. The characters do have to make some interesting moral choices and there are a few good twists that had me legitimately surprised, but by the end of the movie, I was more than ready to turn it off and go do something else.

I can’t say that I’ve ever really had this problem before. Normally I really enjoy an overabundance of style in movies. Any Guy Ritchie (except one that will go unmentioned) has a crazy amount of style that, when mixed with the plot and characters, make the films worthwhile. In Renaissance, there was too much style and not enough good characters or plot elements. I’d definitely say check it out for the visuals alone, but there really is no need to see it twice.

Bad Boys & Bad Boys 2 – Review

13 Sep

When people hear the name Michael Bay, it is usually greeted with eye rolls, hearty laughs, or jokes about explosions. That being said he has almost become a cartoon of the Hollywood lifestyle. But before all the jokes he was a music video producer, which definitely accounts for aspects of his style. Then, in 1995 he entered the movie scene via Jerry Bruckheimer and and Don Simpson with Bad Boys.

Mike Lowry (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are two tough guy, trash talking cops operating out of Miami. When their biggest bust is stolen from the police station and a witness (Téa Leone) is threatened in a connected incident, Mike and Marcus make it their personal mission to protect her, reclaim their bust, and stop the foreign drug lord (Tchéky Karyo) that is responsible from making the biggest deal of his career.

I will say that Bad Boys was a good starting point for a hit-or-miss action director like Michael Bay, unfortunately, this film lacked in so many areas that I can’t recommend it. The whole thing felt hollow from the jokes to the action to the characters. I enjoy brainless action films, especially when they make me laugh, but they have to have worthwhile action to make up for everything else. Bad Boys had a few nice action set pieces, but not enough to carry it.

The chemistry between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence is really great, and usual their banter is funny but it gets old really fast sometimes. In the middle of an otherwise good action sequence, we are forced to listen to them argue. They argue enough in the downtime to be funny. Don’t ruin these action scenes with too much talking! Also, these fun scenes are too few and far between for them to be spoiled, but the film makers managed to.

Michael Bay has talent. I firmly believe that he does, and there are moments where I see it glimmering through the mess. Some camera angles are interesting and well thought out, but when the rest of the movie is unappealing, than what’s the point? He really shines in the final action sequence when the movie finally begins to pick up, then lo and behold it’s over.

 

I guess that bottom line for Bad Boys is that it had potential, but it was wasted. I went in not expecting too much, but got a lot less in return. With that in mind I hoped that Bad Boys 2 would make up for its sloppy predecessor. With a run time of two and a half hours, it better be pretty damn entertaining.

 

Mike and Marcus are still the same trash talking cops even after all the years of being on the force. When the largest import of ecstasy is being brought into the country via a Cuban drug kingpin Johnny Tapia (Jordi Mollà), Mike and Marcus are tasked with not only stopping the shipment, but also with protecting Marcus’ sister (Gabrielle Union) who is also a DEA agent.

Bad Boys 2 is bigger, louder, crazier, and all around better than the original. This is exactly what I wanted the original one to be. Sure, it has its fair share of problems, but it is still a very entertaining action film that made me laugh and also provided some excellent action set pieces.

 

The first thing I thought of was the late, great Tony Scott sitting Michael Bay down and giving him advice on how to make Bad Boys 2 a better film. I’m pretty positive that never happened, but there are many stylistic similarities to this film and Tony Scott’s. There are crazy yellow and orange filters mixed with over the the top kinetic camera work. I have a soft spot for this style, so automatically I was enjoying myself.

The jokes are ten times better this time around, and the chemistry between Will and Martin has stayed strong. Unfortunately, the movie does suffer from a main problem that the first one had. When there’s a crazy action sequence going on, it keeps getting broken up by the two main characters bickering. Again, it’s funny to a point, then it just gets annoying.

While the action may be more entertaining and the story more intriguing, it is still way too long, and some of the acting is horrible. Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jordi Mollà, and Joe Pantaliano knock it out of the park. Gabrielle Union on the other hand is pretty terrible.  It seems Bay just needed a beautiful woman, kind of like Téa Leone in the first film.

 

Michael Bay’s first attempt at a feature film was flawed beyond repair, but by the time its sequel showed up, he already matured as an action film maker. The Bad Boys films are a mixed bag, but one half of the package is very entertaining. I always think that you need to watch the first of a series to appreciate the second or third, but if you don’t share this logic then skip the first Bad Boys all together and move on to the second.

The Devil’s Advocate – Review

11 Sep

Films that put religious or mythology in modern times has a real draw to me since I don’t think it is really easy to connect them. The Devil’s Advocate doesn’t just do that, but it also exposes a rather hated view of the judicial system and the laws that make up our nation, but also connections between religion and mental illness. This was a great multi-layered supernatural drama that never took itself too seriously, but still manages to be intelligent.

Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a defense attorney he appears to have the perfect life. He has a beautiful wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), a 64-0 case record and now the chance to work for one of the leading law firms in New York. Upon arrival, Lomax gets close to the boss, John Milton (Al Pacino) who quickly take him under his wing. Despite the pleas for their old life from his wife, Kevin decides to stay and begin his rise to the top. Soon a strange evil seems to blanket over Kevin and Mary Ann, and it appears that John Milton isn’t just a defense lawyer, but the Prince of Darkness himself.

The writing was the first thing that struck me about this film. The introduction is a real slap in the face when it comes to real world problems, disgusting human beings, and the moral dilemma that defense attorneys must face. Only a certain type of person can be a defense attorney as this movie clearly states in an almost condemning way. Are they all terrible people? No, but they have to understand that they might defending a horrible human being.

The pacing of the film is great. It’s a slow movie that adds layers upon layers of new characters and story lines to wrap your head around, it isn’t difficult to find yourself lost and totally engrossed in the story. Pacino’s character isn’t revealed right away, but instead we have to wait. This is a great way of building up the character, and let me tell you he is fantastic. This looks to be the most fun Pacino has had since Scarface, and his best performance he’s had since.

The entire film is filled with random supernatural occurrences that remind me very much of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, especially the scenes involving Mary Ann. The scene that really lingers with the viewer, however, is the outstanding climax. Of course I won’t reveal what happens, but I will say that Al Pacino kills it. I feel like I’m talking about him a lot in this review, but it’s warranted since this is practically his show. He really runs the entire movie.

What almost soured the entire film was the very end. It seemed that I was going to have to spend an immense amount of my night brooding over how gut wrenchingly awful it was. Now, it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought, but it was still pretty unsatisfying. There are ways to analyze it that make it seem more “plausible” or at the very least appropriate, but something about it just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s really unfortunate considering everything that happens before it, and we are rewarded with a strictly forced and mediocre ending.

The Devil’s Advocate is smart, accusatory, chilling, and at times darkly comedic. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a strong conclusion to support the rest of the movie. It got me thinking about how strange it is that a bad ending can really detract from a movie or piece of literature. They are so important to the rest of the story, and endings are usually a big thing to be remembered. Still, 98% of this movie is excellent and should really be checked out, especially for Pacino’s performance.

The Blair Witch Project – Review

8 Sep

When The Blair Witch Project was released, there was a surprising amount of speculation, discussion, and chills that came along with it. Part of this can be attributed to the film’s outstanding marketing campaign, but also to the fact that this movie is in fact bone chillingly scary. The camera may make you feel nauseous and there is a fair amount of boredom to be had, but when all is said and done, I can easily rank this film as a horror classic.

Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard (all using their actual names) are three film students who are attempting to make a documentary about the legend of the Blair Witch. They head into a forest in Maryland where they come across strange dolls and rock formations during the day, and are tortured by an unknown force at night. Tempers flair and fear overcomes the helpless film makers, who begin to realize that they may never leave the woods.

There is a lot to think about with a movie like this. What is causing all of this terror? Is it of this world or something spiritually sinister? What is lurking in the darkness? Why can’t they get out of the forest? All of these questions are left up in the air for viewer interpretation. This isn’t just a scary film, it’s a thinker’s film. Looking at it as three people lost in the woods and terrified would be a waste. Think of all the possible explanations as to how things are happening and why. This makes re-watching this film a must to see from different angles and points of view.

This is a movie that is very important to me because it was made so cheaply, yet still very well and became very successful. It can be put on the same level as Clerks. This film can also be used in an argument that some of the greatest horror movies have been made on a shoe string budget.  Just look at the original Halloween and my recently reviewed Night of the Living Dead. The thrills of The Blair Witch Project all come from what is not seen. The imagination can be a terrifying thing. Horror films nowadays rely heavily on special effects specters and creatures that may make me jump, but rarely leave me scared for days to come. What is unseen in this film can haunt you for a good long time.

I will admit that I got bored at certain points. The transitional period from normalcy to horror kind of took a long time which gives this a slow burn type of feel. That would be acceptable if the movie was longer, but it only runs an hour and twenty minutes. This makes the amount of time I spent gritting my teeth in suspense and terror go by quicker than I wanted it to. Stil, the movie packs a major punch.

 

The Blair Witch Project has become a landmark film that has to be respected even if you don’t particularly enjoy it. The ending will leave you speechless and the visuals will leave you feeling dizzy. If you can sit through a lot of yelling and chatting, you will be rewarded with memorable implicit scares that will have you thinking about the plot, characters, and your own safety.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – review

7 Sep

Wuxia has been a genre of Chinese martial arts literature and film for many years. For a long time, however, most American viewers weren’t even aware of its existence. In 2000, Ang Lee brought this style oversees with his film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Its emergence on the scene cause much hype and expectations that was not only met, but exceeded.

When Li Mu Bai’s (Chow Yun-Fat) sword, Green Destiny, is stolen by a thief and his old arch-nemesis, violence and treachery erupt in Peking. Along with an old friend, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), Mu Bai wages a personal war with Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei). They also meet a governor’s daughter, Jen (Zhang Ziyi), a young woman with a romantic past and sword skills that are entirely unexpected. How the paths, histories, and conflicts of these characters intersect will determine the fates of them all.

The real star of this film is the fantastic choreography of the fight scenes. Instead of these intense frenetic battles, we are treated to a violent dance of fluidity and grace. These excellent scenes can be attributed to master choreographer Woo-ping Yuen, who also choreographed the action sequences in The Matrix Trilogy. The action is nowhere near as intense as it is in those films, but you get the idea that this guy is a master at his craft.

This movie reminded me a lot of another Wuxia film that became popular in America, Hero. There are a lot of comparisons to be made, but never enough to say that Hero ripped off Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. What Hero succeeded in more was the visual design and color schemes. Crouching Tiger beats Hero when it comes to story, character development, and drama. In fact, this film had some of the best character development I have ever seen and I never felt like I was left in the dark about any aspect of a main character.

I really got a feeling for Chinese culture from this film. The surroundings, how they spoke to each other, class differences, and gender roles all play a big part to the narrative. In fact, without them this story wouldn’t have been as great as it was since the history and culture play such an important role in how people interact with each other and are treated.

 

One point where this movie kind of hurts itself is in the middle when Jen’s past is told through a flashback. I understand that it is a crucial part to the story, but it went on for a very long time and I felt like it could have been trimmed down. Once the main plot was back on track, I was so relieved. More relieved than I should have been. In fact, I shouldn’t have felt relief if the segment was paced right. Still, this is the only part of the movie where I was bored. Think of it as your bathroom break. A “what did I miss” should cover you.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an epic martial arts masterpiece that has to be seen to truly be appreciated. The story is so captivating and multilayered that it rivals the excellence of the action sequences. If someone asked me which I prefer: Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I would probably say Hero. Still, this can easily be ranked as one of the best films of all time, whether you’re new to the genre or a Wuxia fanatic.

Rubber – Review

4 Sep

Before I even get started with this review, I have to give this movie and its makers props for creating one of, if not the most, original idea that has come across my screen in a long time. Are all of the ideas in Rubber good ideas? Not particularly, but the entire premise is new and interesting. That being said, this might have been a lot better as a short film, but Quentin Dupieux has went all out to give us a film we have never seen the likes of before.

 

Robert is a tire who has just so happened to come alive for no reason. He soon learns how to roll, crush things, and blow objects, small animals, and people’s heads up with his psychokinetic powers. Spectators watch in awe, and local law enforcement give chase. Soon the question arises, how much of this is real and how much is just for show?

This is another one of those “I have no idea how to explain it” kind of movies. There’s this really weird movie within a movie thing going on along with the mass murdering tire rolling around blowing up heads. There’s this weird existential type of commentary that keeps going on, but without any metaphor for real life. There really is “no reason” for this movie other than the exploration of how far can a pointless idea be pushed, and can it be made good.

 

The music in Rubber deserves some praise. Writer/director Quentin Dupieux might be more widely know as the techno artist Mr. Oizo. That being said he provides some excellent thumping electronic tracks that never become overbearing or loud. It’s just the right amount of music to fit in with a movie such as this. Along with the music comes some excellent DP work by Dupieux. It isn’t often that the writer and/or director is also the director of photography. The desert is both barren and lively thanks to awesome angles featuring the glaring sun and its reflections off of the metallic surfaces throughout the film.

What I didn’t like too much was the constant reminder that this is a weird movie. The existential dialogue and the movie within a movie are both very clever concepts that go along with the main “plot.” I don’t need to be told that this is weird, I’d rather just gleefully accept it and be taken along for the ride. The writing almost became unreasonably pretentious, like it was the only strange movie ever to be made. If David Lynch wrote dialogue for Lost Highway or Eraserhead proclaiming how bizarre it was, the movies would lose some of their effect. Sometimes the best jokes are the ones that go unmentioned.

 

While the acting may not be the best in the world and the dialogue might be a bit pretentious and off putting, the entire concept of this movie is strangely brilliant. If you were to tell someone what Rubber was about, they probably wouldn’t believe you, and if they did, why would they want to watch a movie about a tire? The reason is because it is original, brilliantly photographed, and reeks of cult success. This film certainly isn’t for everyone and its glaring flaws almost sour the entire experience, but after some thought I do believe this is a work of genius.

13 Assassins – Review

3 Sep

The samurai genre seems to be nearly extinct these days. There was a time, however, where samurai films were nationally popular and attracted massive audiences. This isn’t the case now. Fortunately, Takashi Miike has taken a break from his usual over the top gorefests of twisted mayhem to bring a quality samurai film that reintroduces the genre to modern audiences, 13 Assassins.

 

The year is 1844, and the era of the shogun is coming to a swift end. Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), the shogun’s  younger brother, is threatening peacetime by murdering, raping, and stealing at random as he travels through towns. A secret meeting is held where the samurai Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) is tasked with assassinating Naritsugu. A team of 13 willing samurai assassins is formed and turn a town into a well fortified trap which Narisugu and his men will enter and engage these samurai in battle.

13 Assassins reminded me very much of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Seven Samurai. It got to the point where I was convinced that this was an unofficial remake, but it turns out that it is a remake of a film from 1963, The Thirteen Assassins. Even though it isn’t related to the Kurosawa film, it is certainly influenced in both style and storytelling by Kurosawa. To say otherwise would be very naive.

 

This film may be very easily mistaken as a misleading or boring. With a name like 13 Assassins, one might begin to think that this is going to be an all out samurai action film, and with Takashi Miike at the wheel, we can sure expect buckets of the red stuff and limbs flying in all directions. If that’s what you’re looking for, I can gladly refer you to great Miike films like Ichi the KillerAudition, and his banned ShoTime Masters of Horror episode, Imprint13 Assassins on the other hand is a mature drama that builds up all the tension that is released in an extended battle at the end.

I never really mention just one character in a movie. Normally I’ll try to spend time on all of the main characters. This is not one of those times. I’d like to focus on Lord Naritsugu. This guy is a total asshole that the audience wants to see fail. He attacks men, women, and children of all ages. No one is safe from his violent and malicious personality. He know he has power and can’t be touched, so he flaunts it at every turn. It is a great performance by Goro Inagaki.

 

Even though there isn’t much action in the first half of the movie, rest assured that the final battle more than makes up for it. Have you ever played a video game and got to the last level where you are bombarded by enemy after enemy? That’s what this final battle is like. There is a never ending flow of enemies that this small group of assassins have to defeat. It’s long, bloody, and a fulfilling showcase for Miike’s talent as a director.

Takashi Miike is a director of many genres. With 13 Assassins, I believe that he has earned some much deserved respect from film makers, critics, and larger audiences. This is mature film making that is epic in scale and down to earth. This is one of his best films that will her regarded as a classic in years to come.