Archive | April, 2013

Trance – Review

29 Apr

Hypnotherapy is a pretty crazy concept if you really stop and think about it. If you believe in all of it, the patient is pretty much allowing the therapist to pick the lock of the subconscious in order to help the patient figure something out. Danny Boyle and his writers, Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, tackle this subject using the narrative push of a complex auction house robbery. This brings about some triply scenes and an unbelievable head game that will leave the viewer desperate for answers by the end of the movie.

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Simon (James McAvoy) is an art auctioneer who is the victim of a heist in which the target is an unbelievably expensive painting, Francesco Goya’s “Witches in the Air.” During the heist, Simon gets hit in the head by Franck (Vincent Cassel), who is participating in the robbery. To Franck’s surprise, Simon has already hidden the painting, but the whack on the head has made him forgot where he hid it.  Through a series of revelations and twists, the crew of robbers and Simon hire Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist, to tap into Simon’s mind and find out where the painting is hidden. What they all find in his subconscious is a multilayered story that connects all of the players and will bring some to their ends.

This is a trippy movie that makes the viewer literally feel like they are being thrust into Simon’s troubled mind. The story at a point becomes very nonlinear and will trick you a number of times. There came a point where I really couldn’t discern what was real and what was not. This seems like a term that is thrown around a lot, but this truly applies to Trance. While McAvoy’s character acts more as just a simple protagonist than a defined narrator, it is his mind we are tapping into making him, I would consider, a very unreliable narrator. Sound and visual trickery become very important to the storytelling, and never felt overwhelming.

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If one were to just look at the surface aesthetics, I feel like this would be considered a masterpiece. There’s almost a visual thematic element to be seen in Trance. One thing that I really noticed was how symmetrical everything appeared to be. One shot showed a building in the dead center of the frame with train tracks on both sides. Another memorable shot was a blown out scene on a balcony in which Simon peeks his head out of the glass door. The sun makes his reflection on the door very defined which makes a really neat sort of mirror effect. Of course a lot of these beautiful shots were done through clever editing, they are still something to marvel at. Another scene on a highway splashes many different colors that appear to be moving on the character’s faces. This reminded me of a living, talking Impressionist painting. As for the sound, the music is what stands out the most. When something serious was about to go down, the thumping electronic score would boost the intensity and pull the viewer deeper into the surreal atmosphere.

Trance‘s narrative is definitely good, but compared to the visuals and music, it doesn’t quite stand on the same level. For one thing, it may be a little difficult for some viewer to really buy into the idea of hypnotherapy and amnesia. It is a little contrived, but the whole movie has an otherworldly feel that serves to remind the viewer that, yes, this is a movie. The acting is great all across the board, with Vincent Cassel’s performance standing out. But, then again, I’ve been pretty biased towards Cassel ever since Black Swan.

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Danny Boyle has once again shown that he is an exceptional film maker, just in case the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics wasn’t enough of a clue. I didn’t find any problem with the movie, personally, although I can see how some people may be turned off by the entire plot of the movie and the highly stylized approach. Trance was a huge treat in a time of final projects, exams, and papers. It’s bursting with creativity and an artist’s love that you can’t always find in thriller films. I definitely recommend Trance.

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Outrage – Review

25 Apr

Over the years, Japanese film maker/actor Takeshi Kitano has proved that he has what it takes to hang with the most elite crime film makers. I’d like to think of him as the Martin Scorsese of Japan. He’s done a lot of work with Yakuza stories, but has more recently branched out into other genres like romance and comedy. With Outrage, Kitano showed a return to form with a tale of violence and betrayal that takes place with break neck speed. Outrage is a fine piece of film making, although I felt like I was experiencing cinematic whip lash by the time the credits began to roll.

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Partnerships aren’t very simple if you’re a member of the Yakuza. Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura) made peace with and decided to become associates with rival Yakuza gang leader Murase (Renji Ishibashi) while they were in prison. Now that they are out, things don’t seem like they are going to pan out quite like they had in mind. Sekiuchi (Soichiro Kitamura), boss of the Sanno-kai family orders Ikemoto to sever all ties and completely wipe out Murase’s family. This task is quickly handed down to Ikemoto’s violent, yet surprisingly calm subordinate, Otomo (Beat Takeshi aka Takeshi Kitano). All out war erupts and no one can trust their closest allies, as betrayals and double crossings take over the criminal underworld.

Prepare to be very confused. I know I was. This movie hits the ground sprinting and doesn’t stop until the last frame of the movie. Calling this movie slow is like calling Charles Manson sane. This speed works both to the advantage and disadvantage of the movie. The advantage was that I was never bored. I had to really try my best to keep up with all the characters and their motivations, which seemed to change very often. The disadvantage is that the movie felt sloppy at certain points. Some of the characters remained sorely undeveloped, so when a scene involving their demise came about, it felt empty. Sometimes it’s best to slow down and let the audience latch onto a character, and really get to understand what makes them tick.

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Then again, who ever said the criminal underworld was simple? I respect the movie for not holding the viewer’s hand and guiding them from point A to point B. Outrage demands your full attention, and if you let it slide for just a minute, you might have a lot to catch up on. Perhaps it would have been nicer for the film to be longer. Think of if Casino was only an hour and forty minutes, but still had every plot point in it. That would feel really crammed. When I did find myself getting lost or agitated, there was something that would rope me right back in and realize that this is a good movie, you just have to get used to it. These scenes I’m talking about were normally quick pieces of brutality, but sometimes it was just a funny character or situation. That’s another good point about Outrage. Kitano injects it with a very dry and cynical sense of humor.

It’s interesting to see a lot of American gangster films and then switch over to another culture and see their take on it. There’s something unique about Yakuza films that really tickle my fancy. Their organized crime culture seems so different, yet at the same time, so similar. There’s stories of greed and violence, but set in a different place with different rules. Sometimes it was a little hard to keep track of the different families and who belonged on which side because the hierarchal structure of their syndicates and families is different than the ones shown in American gangster films. Still, it’s an fun experience to compare and contrast these cultures.

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To me, Outrage wasn’t disappointing, but it wasn’t quite exactly what I wanted either. The speed of the movie is relentless which causes some major problems in its storytelling, but the entire picture that it paints is really cool. There is no real main character to speak of. One may argue that Kitano’s character is the main character, but not all of the action really focuses around him. It’s more of a conglomeration of many different characters and how their motives clash and cause violence to erupt in a wonderfully bloody fashion. Definitely give this movie a watch. I know I’ll watch it again. I still can’t put this on a list of best gangster movies, and I can’t even call it great. It’s a respectable film, nonetheless.

Deception – Review

17 Apr

I’m feeling kind of weird. I feel like I’ve just been led on, lied to, then treated like a child. This isn’t anything personal, so don’t be concerned about little old me. No. I just watched Deception. Thinking more and more about this title, I can’t help but wondering if it was given in relation to the plot and themes of the movie, or if it’s because the film makers were just trying to warn the viewer that this movie only exists to lie to you and then disappoint on pretty much every single level that this movie has to offer.

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Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan McGregor) is an accountant who is presently hired to do the books for a law firm where one Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman) is employed. Wyatt is a smooth talking confident man who appears to take Jonathan under his wing after a chance encounter. Jonathan inadvertently stumbles upon a sex club called “The List,” which Wyatt is a member of. As Jonathan gets more into this club he meets a woman that he only knows as S (Michelle Williams). He breaks the rules and begins to fall for her. S is promptly kidnapped, which forces Jonathan to act out for her kidnappers and take part in a multimillion dollar heist in return for her safety.

Read that last sentence again. Never have I ever been so jerked around by a movie in my entire life. Having plot twists can be great and can really disorient and shock, but the twists that happen in Deception are so beyond ludicrous that I can’t believe the screenplay was even passed and the film actually made. The screenplay to this movie is so terrible, from the dialogue to the completely unbelievable narrative. I was literally shocked.

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One thing I will give this movie is the way that the actors handle the script. I don’t know exactly what they were all thinking, already being talented and established actors not hurting for work, when they read this and decided it was a good idea to take the job. Ewan McGregor is completely in character as a quiet and weak man who has stumbled onto something way above him. Jackman is plays his suave, condescending character with ease. Williams is fine, but certainly nothing special compared to these two other actors. There is some horrible dialogue that the actors really try to make serious, which sometimes works and sometimes it doesn’t.

What really makes me angry about this movie is that it started out so interesting, and I was pretty into it, but 40 minutes in I completely lost it. The plot not only changes direction, it goes completely off road making for a very uncomfortable, messy, and annoying ride. Even when I was sort of enjoying the movie, it seemed so afraid to take risks with the plot device of the sex club that I started asking myself, “What’s the point?” My attention wasn’t held any better with the absolutely bland set design. From the offices to the apartments, they were all so fluorescent and sterile that it was just ugly. This might have worked if this was shot completely in digital, but on 35 mm and HD video, it just doesn’t turn out well.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve despised a movie so much. Saying it’s a subpar thriller is an insult to subpar thrillers. I can’t tell if the film makers tried to hard or nowhere near hard enough. I can’t even say it’s not memorable because there’s no way I could forget the narrative atrocity that is Deception. It’s ugly, boring, and stupid. I can’t stress it enough that you stay far away from this piece of trash. It’s an insult to my intelligence and stole two hours of my life that I will never see again.

Killing them Softly – Review

15 Apr

I have preconceptions of what a “gangster” movie is going to be like, even though maybe I’m making a mistake with that. This isn’t a negative thing, because most narratives in film have a pretty traditional narrative arc with archetypal characters. What’s the best thing about Killing the Softly is that it takes all these expectations that you have about these crime/gangster films and completely throws it out the window. This is a completely unique film that is both ridiculously entertaining and a new inspiration to my work that I do.

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Johnny “Squirrel” Amato (Vincent Curatola) has an idea that involved two small time crooks, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), and a card game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). The plan is for these crooks to rob Trattman’s game, with all the blame being placed on Trattman due to his history with these games. The heist itself goes off without a hitch, but the shockwave the results is anything but favorable. Enter Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a hit man who specializes cleaning up particularly messy situations. Now no one involved in this heist is safe, and Cogan is not about to show any mercy. It might get in the way of his paycheck.

From the get go, this doesn’t feel like an average gangster film. All of the tough talking dialogue is there, but it was so unique that it almost reminded me of early Tarantino. The conversations about sex, violence, drugs, and life are so convincing and at the same time, seem so foreign. These dialogue scenes aren’t quick little moments either. Be prepared for some very long and drawn out scenes of two people talking in a bar or in a car. What saves this is that the dialogue and the delivery are so great and different that I couldn’t help but be sucked in.

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When I first started seeing previews for this movie, I thought that it was a pretty strange cast. First of all, I never heard of Scoot McNairy before this movie, but I hope to see him a lot more. His boyish naïvety masked by a false sense of confidence was so much fun to watch. Ray Liotta takes the whole idea of what a gangster should be, tough and raw, and turns him into a whiny little brat who is full of bad decisions. Some of my favorite scenes, however, involve Brad Pitt talking to James Gandolfini, who like Liotta’s character, is anything but traditional. This strange combination of characters and actors makes for very original interactions and situations.

I’m going to combine the violence and the themes into one paragraph because they go hand in hand. Killing them Softly is not a subtle movie in any way. It leaves nothing to the imagination and the message is clearly stated. This may put some people off, but I was able to easily decipher the real world metaphors and comparisons. By playing sounds of governmental speeches and gripes about the economy over scenes of violence and crime is simple but brilliant. Now we come to the violence. There isn’t a lot of it. 90% of this movie is talking, talking, talking. When there is a burst of violence, it is very unapologetic and in your face. It’s almost like Andrew Dominik, the writer/director, was saying “LOOK LOOK!” There is one flashy scene, which I really enjoy, but the ones that just show brutality at its most human are sublime.

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Different. This is the best way to describe Killing them Softly. As a mainstream release, it didn’t do to well in the box office. I feel like a major contributing factor to this may be the fact that it is a borderline art house film complete with unconventional camera angles that are made to jar the viewer, uncomfortable violence, and lengthy dialogue. This isn’t a movie that serves only to entertain. It’s a political allegory, a journey into the philosophy of crime, and an artistic piece of brilliant film making.  Know what you’re getting into before watching this, but it is a wild ride that I don’t just recommend, but require.

The Artist – Review

8 Apr

In the beginning of cinema, film makers and the studios that backed them had the distinct challenge of telling a story without the use of dialogue, and relied on the talent of the actors and the use of montage. This was a magical time for movies that serves as the genesis for the films we know and love today. There are people who are turned off by the idea of silent films, and that’s the reason why I feel that Michel Hazanavicius’ Academy Award winning feature The Artist was a bold move that reflects his love of film and successfully captures an important and unique time in film history.

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George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the king of the silver screen. At the premier of his latest picture, a random fan, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), bumps into him leading to a front page headline. This chance encounter changes Peppy’s life as she begins rising through the Hollywood ranks, and getting bigger and better parts. Soon, the studio that Valentin works decides to start producing only “talkies” leaving Valentin in the dust. As Peppy’s career takes off, Valentin’s plummets to the lowest depths that the actor has ever experienced.

The Artist is a truly remarkable film that just goes to show that silent film still has the same power that it had 80 to 100 years ago. Like I said, this is a very magical time in the history of film, and Hazanavicius has recreated the feeling of the time and the mood of classic Hollywood films. This is a comedy, a drama, and a romance that isn’t just an homage to a simpler time, but also a great stand alone piece that is highly artistic, but never condescending. People with no prior knowledge to the time period will still have a great time, although if you’re a fan of these types of films you will probably better appreciate everything the film has to offer.

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Being a silent actor is not an easy thing to do because you have to rely on how well you can physically convey something. In this respect, every single actor in this movie knocks it out of the park. Dujardin deserves his Academy Award for Best Actor. His character is pompous, yet likable and even though he doesn’t talk, I understand his character very well and got very emotionally attached. I can say the exact same thing about Bejo’s character. While Dujardin’s character communicates to the audience with his over the top body movements, Bejo is very good with her face. What I mean by that is that she has a very broad smile and eyes that can switch the tone to sadness. Let me reiterate, this type of acting is very difficult and these two actors are absolutely superb. Oh, I almost forgot. Keep your eye on the puppy in this movie. Please.

The production design is beautiful. Shown in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the audience is from the very beginning thrown through time. This certainly is the farthest thing from IMAX. The title screen also completely mimics the titles of the time. I was smiling from ear to ear before the narrative even started. The sets are elegant and occasionally over the top. One great scene in particular shows a stair case from an angle that you don’t usually see in movies. Finally, what would a silent film be without its soundtrack? The soundtrack is more than appropriate. It’s almost eerie how well the music sounds in relation to the film. I loved it.

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The Artist is a magical film. I know, I know. That sounds completely corny, but as a person who has dedicated most of his life to film, it’s really a wonder to watch. In a culture that has become jaded by dialogue driven movies, it was so refreshing to see a silent film sweep all of the major awards, but also deserve every award it got. From the acting to the production design, this is a perfect movie. It’s easy to find faults in movies, but The Artist is absolutely flawless.

Goemon – Review

2 Apr

I like to think that Asian cinema has far surpasses America. We’ve seemed to have lost all of our creativity, and feel perfectly content churning out remakes, reboots, and adaptations. It was refreshing to see the originality that complimented Goemon, a visually beautiful treat. Unfortunately, once you get past how nice everything looks, there is a supremely sloppy film that made even our constant reboots that accomplish their storytelling seem much more appealing.

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Goemon (Yôsuke Eguchi) is what you would consider a Japanese Robin Hood. After seeing his mentor and ruler of Japan, Lord Nobunaga (Hashinosukè Nakamura) assassinated, Goemon ends his education to become a samurai and turns to thievery. He soon becomes what he considers “the greatest thief in the world” and gives most, if not all, of his loot to the poor. One particular job uncovers a secret about the assassination of Lord Nobunaga, revealing that the present leader of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Eiji Okuda), is responsible. Now, Goemon vows revenge with the blood of Hideyoshi and to save his lost love, Princess Chacha (Ryōko Hirosue).

Style over substance. There isn’t a better phrase that can be used to describe this movie. Right when I put it on, and the first scene played, I knew that I was in for an outstanding visual experience, and I certainly was. From the first scene to the last, I was completely taken in by the heavily CGI backgrounds. It was cartoonish, but somehow other-worldly. It reminded me almost of a live action anime, which the director Kazuaki Kiriya’s last film, Casshernwas. So, yes, visually this movie is phenomenal. One scene in particular that takes place on a burning boat is especially enticing and can not be shrugged off.

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Are video games any good if the graphics look great but the gameplay is terrible? Is it fun listening to a well produced album if the music isn’t any good? In that same regard, is it worthwhile to sit through two hours of a movie that looks nice but has such a sloppy plot that it takes a really long time just to settle into it? No, it’s really not. When Goemon first started, I was really into the visuals and was ready to see where the story was going to take me. After the first 20 minutes, I still didn’t feel like it was taking me anywhere. Nor did I feel that way after 45 minutes. It took until the last half of the movie before things finally got interesting. This interest didn’t even last too long, and it didn’t help that the movie felt 15 minutes too long. Yes, it suffers from Return of the King Syndrome.

There’s really no redeeming qualities to any of the characters, either. I’ve seen all of these people before in many other different movies. This just adds to the continuing list of clichés that this movie has created. I called pretty much what the ending was and where each character would physically and mentally be by the end of the movie. I guess this is the big problem with this movie. Other than the visuals, it sticks so close to a mediocre story arc that is seen in a lot of modern films. I was hoping for a lot more from the story than this movie offers.

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In the end, Goemon is a very disappointing movie. It’s a two hour long formula, not a two hour long narrative. The only thing that manages to keep the film interesting is its incredible visuals. The story is flat and the characters are boring. To compare it to a movie with a similar problem, one only needs to look at Avatar The difference is that Avatar‘s visuals creates an entirely new world while Goemon only offers something pretty to look at. See it once for its effects, but a second viewing is far from necessary. Strictly mediocre glitter.