Archive | October, 2012

The Master – Review

14 Oct

One statement I don’t think I’m ever going to have to say is, “That new Paul Thomas Anderson movie sucked.” I just don’t think he has it in his genes to make anything less than spectacular. I guess you guys all know where this review is headed now. Yes. The Master was a great movie and definitely a contender for multiple Academy Awards, hopefully even to win Best Picture.

 

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) has survived World War II, but not entirely. During the war, he became an alcoholic, and even went so far as mixing poisonous chemicals into his drinks. With the war over, he can’t seem to find a job due to his violent outbursts and manic  tendencies. After scuttling a yacht during a party, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a group called The Cause. Dodd immediately sees potential for experimentation with Quell and aides him in beating his addictions and behavior. But is he helping Quell or himself? Does he really mean what he says?

First things first. If Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t win an Oscar for his performance, I will get out of town, jump in a lake, and swim myself into oblivion. Wow, that’s weird, but that’s the equivalent of how I’d feel. I never got the feeling that I was watching Joaquin Phoenix. I felt like I was watching the life of Freddie Quell unfold before my very eyes. He was absolutely fantastic. I’d say it’s not just the best performances of the year, but one of the best performances of all time.

 

The genius of this movie is the way the story presents itself. There isn’t a huge dramatic climax that completely changes the direction of the story. Besides a couple scenes, many of the dramatic beats are very subtle and down to earth. That’s the best way to describe the movie. Down to earth. As a viewer, I felt like I wasn’t watching a conventional narrative, but more just a chronicling of a point in this man’s life. It’s never hard to believe or far fetched, which goes hand in hand with the subtlety of the entire thing. This proves that a movie doesn’t have to be loud or in your face to be intense.

Speaking of, this was a very intense film. Hoffman and Amy Adams play their roles to the best of their abilities and it shows. Hoffman seems like he could start a real movement if he wanted to, and Adams is a quiet storm of boiling anger. The set design and costuming are also very authentic without being extravagant. To top it all off, Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack thumps and screeches in the background like a lurking malevolent force. Anyone who has seen There Will be Blood knows that Greenwood has this strange way of making off tempo music work perfectly in a scene.

 

The Master is a phenomenal work of artistic fiction that I think is destined to become a classic that’s studied for years to come. It is packed with controversial thematic material that is bound to spark heated discussion. It’s intense, expertly made, and at the risk of being corny, proves that Paul Thomas Anderson is a master at his craft.

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Blitz – Review

14 Oct

If Jason Statham is in a movie, you know there is going to be a certain degree of ass kicking. It’s pretty much a given, and Blitz is no exception. This is still a mixed bag for me with more positives than negatives. Still, it’s frustrating to see a movie that has the potential to be great, but falls short, nonetheless.

Detective Sergeant Tom Brant (Jason Statham) is causing a bit of controversy for the police force due to his violent tendencies. His position on the force appears to be jeopardy until a maniacal serial killer, who goes by the name Blitz (Aidan Gillen), begins targeting cops. Now they could use a cop like Brant, and with the help of Sgt. Porter Nash (Paddy Considine), a manhunt through the darkest corners of London begins with deadly consequences.

I want to start with the positives. First of all, Aidan Gillen gives a phenomenal performance as the killer. He doesn’t even have to say anything. Just his facial expressions and body language are enough to understand what he is thinking. The whole psychology behind him is so well crafted that I couldn’t help but love to hate this guy. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about any of the other characters, including Statham’s. It’s weird to have a movie where the main character isn’t anything memorable. It makes you almost not care about the outcome. Thankfully, Gillen supports the entire cast and makes the viewer care.

 

The compositions of the the shots in this film are surprisingly well done. Not very often do I see an action thriller of this caliber with style so above average. The use of negative space is utilized to the best degree that really gives the feeling of being exposed. No one is safe in this movie and there is nowhere to hide. This could have been a very bland looking movie. The gray London streets without anything really interesting to look at. But, the film makers recognized this and made it much more elaborate.

As far as the story goes, it’s nothing I haven’t really seen before. Sure, it’s original in its own way, but the formula remains the same. A tough cop who’s been through hell and back uses whatever means necessary to bring a villain to justice, even if it compromises the integrity of the station. Basically, it’s your textbook “tough as nails cop who doesn’t play by the rules.” I don’t want to say that the movie had stretches where it bored the shit out of me, but it had stretches where it bored the shit out of me. Statham has been in movies that are thrilling and not very violent. He can kick ass or act in a plot driven story like The Bank Job and ChaosThese are two fine examples. This one was close, but wasn’t as original as the other two I mentioned.

 

Blitz is saved from the hell of sub par action thrillers, and sits comfortably in the upper realms of the land of mediocrity. Jason Statham has been in many awesome action and thriller films, and even a couple bad ones. This one is closer to being good than bad, but is still just ok. Aidan Gillen’s performance supports the entire movie, and the style that is present adds a little bit more.Too bad the story and the rest of the characters have all been seen before in one form or another. If you’re a Jason Statham fan, then I don’t see why you should skip this. It isn’t bad, but isn’t too good. Still, give it a chance and see what you think. It definitely has potential.

Kill the Irishman – Review

11 Oct

The Mafia is not a group of people you want to have pissed off at you. We see the Mafia get pissed in the best gangster movies, and subsequently see them kill whomever they need to without error. What I have recently found out is that it’s equally as entertaining to see them fail over and over and over again. This is the backbone of the story seen in Kill the Irishman.

 

In the mid 1970s, Cleveland became a war zone as over 30 bombs went off in a gang war that almost engulfed the city. Who was the target? Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson). Danny Greene is the man who pissed off the Italian mafia more than they have ever been before and is partly responsible for the decline of organized crime in Cleveland, and more importantly, throughout America.

This was a very interesting and entertaining gangster flick, that was made all the better by it being a true story. The film makers made good use of its history by putting in actual news reports about Danny Greene and all of the trouble he was causing throughout the movie. To me, this really helped me concentrate on the history of the story and was a good reminder that this may be fictionalized, but it was true. It’s a pretty incredible story.

 

 

I’ve seen a lot of negativity surrounding this movie because of its low budget and some of the poor effects. Yes, this movie was made on a low budget so they couldn’t afford to actually blow everything up and some of the fire is fake. I agree that it looks pretty bad and might be kind of distracting when you first notice it, but should that get in the way of you enjoying the story and the characters? Everything else about this film is good. The acting is exactly what it should be and the as I’ve already said, I love the story.

I did have a bit of an issue with the lighting in some scenes, so I guess not everything was great. It’s not that it was particularly bad, it just wasn’t very interesting. Some of the scenes looked pretty flat. This doesn’t have to do with the low key lighting, which this film definitely was shot in, but the separation. If you don’t separate the characters from the background then the whole scene looks two dimensional. I got that feeling at certain points during the movie.

 

Despite these problems, I was completely invested in Kill the Irishman. I love the way it was told and I loved the characters. The cast was great with people like Christopher Walken, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Val Kilmer to name a few. All of the actors were completely into their characters which made the story flow a lot nicer.

I do have a bit of a soft spot for rise and fall movies, and this one is no exception. Even though it wasn’t filmed with the best equipment, had the biggest stars, or had the grandest budget, I still loved it all the same. The characters and the story are captivating and make you want to keep watching. A warning to the jaded Hollywood worshipers, some of the effects look pretty bad, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the history lesson that is Kill the Irishman.

Looper – Review

11 Oct

Have you ever watched a movie that made your brain feel like its been twisted and by the end it has to quickly unravel? That’s a pretty weird description, but that’s exactly how I felt at the end of Looper. I’m a hug fan of writer/director Rian Johnson, who’s done the excellent films Brick and The Brother’s Bloom. Now, Looper is added to the list and just might be his masterpiece.

 

The year is 2044, and in thirty years time travel will be invented and quickly outlawed. People are sent back through time by criminals to 2044 where they are executed by loopers, who are pretty much assassins working in the present for future employers. Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of these loopers, who up until now has had no problems. His most recent assignment is to kill an especially interesting target: his future self (Bruce Willis). His future self escapes with a plan of his own to protect the future, with his present self hot on his heels, all while being chased by his own organization.

From the opening scene to the very last, Looper is filled with outstanding dialogue, action, and though provoking concepts that guarantee much discussion hours after the movie is over. Morality and science clash in a fantastic mesh of thematic material that makes this film more than just an average science fiction film.

 

Rian Johnson has this incredible eye when it comes to setting up a scene. There was a point in this movie where I turned to my friend and told him that it was some of the best camera work I have ever seen, and that’s no exaggeration. The camera tilts, tracks, and pans in the most interesting of ways, giving each scene its own style that is appropriate for the story and the mood. There is one great shot (that can actually be quickly seen in the trailer) where Joseph Gordon-Levitt falls from a balcony and the camera tilts with his falling body. It gives the scene a very disorienting feel. This is just one of many examples.

Leaving the aesthetics of the movie, I must take time to recognize and show my appreciation to Johnson’s imagination. This is a incredibly well written movie with snappy dialogue that is both serious and sarcastic, and an entire story that sounds hard to believe until it is seen. The narrative also has a very unconventional route. I can’t really explain this, but I will say I had no idea what was going to happen next. It may be one of the most unpredictable movies I’ve seen outside of David Lynch.

There is really only one very minor detail that I wasn’t even going to bother mentioning because it is so small. There is a scene in this movie that really did not need to be there. I don’t want to say what it is, but I will say that it would have been much better to have let the idea go by a little more subtly.

Looper may very well be the best movie of the year, but I can’t say for sure since it’s only October. It goes to show the Rian Johnson is only getting better as a film maker, so hopefully he keeps on going. This film isn’t just mind bending, it’s mind twisting, warping, and blowing. Whatever you do, do not miss out on Looper. You will not be disappointed.

 

Air Force One – Review

10 Oct

Air Force One, aka Sky Hard, is the story of Officer John McClane after he became president. I’m kidding of course, but it seems every time I watch this movie I find more similarities between it and the original Die Hard. Still, even though these can be distracting, Air Force One is still a pretty good action movie that kept me entertained for its running time.

President Marshall (Harrison Ford) is in Moscow at a dinner celebrating the capture of a warlord from Kazakhstan, General Ivan Radek (Jürgen Prochnow). In his speech, Marshall declares America’s zero tolerance policy on terrorism and negotiation with said terrorists. After his departure with his family, employees, and secret service on Air Force One, the plane is promptly hijacked by ultranationalist terrorists led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman). He and his team are dedicated to General Radek and will execute a hostage every half hour until Radek is freed. What these terrorists never bet on was President Marshall reverting back to his days of the military and making the terrorists get a taste of their own medicine.

This is a very pro-American action movie that reeks with patriotism. This is an easy way for a movie to become intolerable. I don’t mind a pro-national stance for a film, but not when it’s shoved down the viewer’s throat. With the sweeping music and American flags everywhere to some of the dialogue, this movie just couldn’t get enough. But, and this is a big but, there were obvious criticisms of American policy that speak some truth. When Oldman’s character begins talking about our foreign policies and how the government works, he doesn’t sound like a crazy person. This was obviously intentional both for character purposes and thematically. If he came off as a lunatic, then it would be difficult to believe the sincerity in the writing.

While we’re on the topic of Gary Oldman, he is the strongest part of this movie both in form and performance. Let’s face it, the story here is pretty weak, the bulk of the characters (including the president) are uninspired, but Oldman’s performance is something to be taken completely seriously. While all the other actors do their jobs just fine, he goes above and beyond what is called for. I don’t want to keep comparing this to Die Hard, but think of how great Alan Rickman was as Hans Gruber. This is the level of intensity that Gary Oldman gives Ivan Korshunov. He is an A+ actor.

The special effects are pretty dated in Air Force One, but I still really enjoyed the action. There are excellent gun battles that have surprisingly fine cinematography and jet planes engaging in dog fights that will put you on the edge of your seat. I wouldn’t say the action is nonstop, but a lingering feeling of suspense plays throughout the movie. Unfortunately, the film is just a bit too long and should have ended 15 minutes earlier. The effects and action couldn’t keep me interested by the end.

Air Force One is a fun movie if you are willing to check your brain at the door. It has obvious flaws in its story that makes you wish you were actually watching Die Hard at times, but the action and Gary Oldman’s performance is enough to keep you watching. It’s better than a lot of action movie, but it can’t be place in the upper-eschelons of the genre neither. Still, it’s a fun movie to watch, especially if you’re with other people.

The Thing (1982) – Review

9 Oct

John Carpenter is a big name in the horror genre, and can easily be considered one of the masters. Halloween changed the way people viewed slasher films, and I feel that his 1982 masterpiece, The Thing, was a landmark in special effects technology. Not only does it look great, but the horror and paranoia behind it will leave a mark on you, no matter if you’re new to horror or consider yourself a buff.

The Antarctic is not a place where you want to be trapped, but unfortunately a group of American researchers are stuck on their base after a mishap concerning a couple of Norwegians. To make matters worse, there seems to be an extraterrestrial that is infecting the scientists and mimicking their personalities. Under the command of helicopter pilot, R.J. Macready (Kurt Russell), the team of scientists must find out who the alien is and fight their own paranoia.

This film can be seen in the same light as the first Alien film. It’s claustrophobic, filled with paranoia, and shocking special effects that are marvels in puppetry and animatronics. The whole time, the viewer is filled with dread at what truly seems to be a hopeless situation, especially since the creature that is so terrifying can’t be seen and works on the cellular level.

 

There are some gnarly scenes in this movie. Just look at the picture right above this. If you haven’t seen this movie then there is really no way you can understand just how weird and over the top that scene is. And this is just one of many. All of the frightening moments in this film will stick with you for a very, very long time. Just picking one scene as my favorite is so hard to do, because each one offers something so original and different. While a lot of the credit goes to John Carpenter, you can’t forget the creator of these special effects, Rob Bottin, who was only 22 at the time he was designing these.

While The Thing is certainly not for the squeamish or the feint of heart, the film doesn’t just rely on these totally overt scares. The themes of paranoia and isolation is just as disconcerting as all of the creatures. Going back to Alien, the main theme was that of isolation. The tagline was even, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Pretty effective. The Thing adds the layer of distrust and fear of what can’t be seen on top of that. Distrust and violence erupts at the worst times, as this microscopic organism works to tear the researchers apart, sometimes quite literally.

 

Both as a horror film and as a science fiction film, The Thing exceeds all expectations and is truly a masterpiece. John Carpenter has even stated that this is his favorite film that he has ever made. Is it better than Halloween? Well, they’re two totally different movies, but if I had a choice I would rather watch The Thing. It’s a gory tale of suspense, distrust, and a microorganism from outer space. What more could you want? If and when I make a list of my favorite horror films of all time, you can be certain that this one will make the list.

Source Code – Review

5 Oct

As a person who spends a fair share of his waking hours on trains, Source Code wasn’t exactly my dream premise when in come to comfortability, but other than how I felt in relation to reality I was wholly impressed. I didn’t know what to think going into this movie. I heard a lot of good things, but I wasn’t totally convinced. I had to dive in and see for myself that Source Code is a fantastic science fiction mystery and genuine human drama.

 

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train in Chicago without any explanation on how he got there. The mystery thickens when he keeps getting called “Sean” by the woman sitting across from him (Michelle Monaghan). The train explodes and he is brought back to a dark capsule and talked to by Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who explains that the train is a “source code” made up of the last eight minutes of Sean’s life, and that Stevens must navigate this source code and find out who bombed the train so that he can be stopped in the real world from bombing the city of Chicago with a dirty bomb.

The plot and how deep it goes down the rabbit hole is enough to make your head spin. It brings back the confusing memories of Inception, The Matrix, and even Groundhog Day. The layer of pure drama that was completely unexpected puts this movie on a much higher level than I was expecting it to be. I wasn’t just interested in unravelling the mystery of the bomber and the source code, but I was also interested in the human side and the emotional response that Colter Stevens is feeling because of this experience.

 

You might think that watching the same thing over and over again would get boring. Not so. Just like the protagonist, I tried to pick out little idiosyncrasies or clues to point me to the bomber. Also, it’s interesting to see how the way the conflict is approached has a very large effect on the events leading to the inevitable outcome. Stevens tries all sorts of tactics from violent to more stealthily. There’s also a heightened feeling of suspense since he has to complete his mission in only eight minutes.

Writer Ben Ripley and director Duncan Jones have crafted an outstanding story that, like I said, will make your head spin. The imagination behind this is brilliant, even if there are some elements of the plot that seem way too unlikely. I don’t want to talk too much about the ending out of fear of giving it away, but there is something about it that doesn’t sit right with me even though I was happy with it. In my opinion it doesn’t fit right with the story and everything explained in it, but it’s how I wanted it to end so I can’t say if I love the ending or not.

 

Films that challenge an audience to think are desperately needed in a time when movies baby the audience and hold their hands to get the safely to the conclusion so absolutely no discussion is necessary and they can get back to their lives. Source Code challenges the viewer to think about what makes up the source code and the morality behind it, and how this morality relates to real world events. It’s a surprisingly deep film that has an intriguing story, excellent performances, and mind blowing layers. Don’t miss out on Source Code.