Archive | October, 2013

Cube – Review

31 Oct

When a movie is labeled as one that will completely mess with your mind so that you will feel fried by the end, I automatically have interest. I love the feeling of a cool puzzle film taking what I think I know and turning it into something completely different. That’s the main reason why I wanted to see Cube. I was excited to feel trapped in this place that is shown, but all the while make me go crazy. Well, unfortunately this film is a missed opportunity in most areas and definitely does not classify as a “mind-fuck” movie.

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Seven people wake up and find themselves trapped in a bizarre prison. Essentially it’s a huge cube filled with thousands of smaller cubes that act as rooms throughout.  The thing is, many of these rooms have lethal traps in them that will brutally kill them if they enter the room. At first, the most dangerous thing that faces these seven people are, in fact, the traps. As they get closer and closer to the edge of the cube, the main danger is their own clashing personalities and their different fears, which eventually escalates to violence among them.

The idea of this movie is really cool and certain themes really stand strong. For one, the allegories to actual prisons are really cool, with all of the characters and their personalities named after real prisons. Also the mystery surrounding the cube is really neat, and being left in the dark about its origins along with the characters trying to escape makes for some really interesting theories involving aliens and government cover ups. At first, I was pretty disappointed that we never quite know what the deal is with this cube, but I’ve learned to really appreciate that mystery.

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So that’s everything that’s cool about the movie. The rest… is garbage. The first thing that struck me that I didn’t like was how much of an eye sore the set was. As Cube went on, I got used to the set design, but in the beginning it was just distracting. I know many would argue that it’s really cool, but it just hurts my eyes. Another huge problem was the acting. Now, the movie was made on a budget of $350,000, so it would be near impossible to hire a bunch of known actors to fill the parts. The people they have though are just annoying. The way that the lines are delivered are cringe worthy to say the least.

But you know what? I don’t know if it’s the actors’ faults. I think it might just be the god awful writing. Writer/director Vincenzo Natali obviously has a talent for thinking up cool ideas, but when it comes to writing characters and their dialogue, he needs a lot of help. Every single character is annoying to the point where I could hardly put up with any of them. The dialogue is HORRENDOUS. Another huge problem is that the main gimmick was the traps, but we don’t even get to see a whole lot of the traps and the carnage that they create.

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Cube was nothing but a huge let down, especially since I was really excited to see it. I was promised to have my mind melted, since I read about this movie on a list of “mind-fuck” movies. This was just stupid. Ok, that’s a bit harsh. The whole idea of the cube and the mathematics surrounding the whole thing is real cool. The weight that anchors this film in the seas of mediocrity is the asinine dialogue and annoying characters. Cube may be interesting to some, especially fans of The Twilight Zone, but it’s a missed opportunity that would be ok if you missed.

Following – Review

31 Oct

Christopher Nolan is now officially one of those names in the film industry that everyone knows, and with good reason as well. With films like MementoInception, and The Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan has established himself very well. But even film makers as great as he need to start somewhere. Kevin Smith had Clerks, Darren Aronofsky had Pi, and Nolan has Following. I compare Following to the other two films because it is also filmed in black and white with a super low budget, two things these famous first films also share.

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A Young Man (Jeremy Theobald), who goes by Bill, is an aspiring writer who attempts to get inspiration for characters by picking people at random and following them for a little bit just to see where they go. He has a very specific set of rules that he uses to make sure he doesn’t get caught or become too obsessed. Of course these rules are all broken when he meets Cobb (Alex Haw), a thief whose motives lie mainly in learning what people are about and changing their lives. As Bill becomes more involved in Cobb’s “work”, he slowly becomes an obsessive thief who gets involved in ways that he never should. What Bill doesn’t know is that everything that is happening around him all serves a bigger purpose that he knows nothing about.

I heard one reviewer say that Following was Memento on training wheels and I think that is a very good way of putting it. Make no mistake, this is an outstanding effort by Nolan and his crew, especially as a first feature film. The budget for this film was $6,000 and was shot over the course of a year since the people on Nolan’s cast and crew had day jobs and could only film on the weekend. Considering this is a 70 minute movie shot on 16 mm, it’s a pretty ambitious project.

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Much like how Memento is essentially told backwards, Following is broken into three fragments and mixed up. The story doesn’t necessarily have to be presented like this, and it can be argued that it’s a bit over the top, but I personally enjoy the way it’s presented. Piecing together this film is very interesting and the way the characters are so different in every fragment builds suspense in a very interesting way. Nolan turned what could have been a film with a very straightforward narrative into something of a puzzle film.

The only thing that doesn’t sit well with me about this movie is the attempt to make the story a lot bigger than it really should be. The film really works best when it’s more of a psychological character study surrounding the two thieves and their views on society. Then, as the film goes one, we learn that there is a much bigger conspiracy going on that is nowhere near as interesting as the smaller piece of the story we are shown in the beginning. I thought this movie was just going to be a psychological journey of one man who gets sucked into an obsession that he can’t control. Unfortunately, what is actually going on is pretty unbelievable and turns the story into something totally different.

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For a first effort at a feature film, Following is a great start to Nolan’s illustrious career. There are major flaws in the story, but they certainly don’t ruin the film. The cinematography an 16 mm film make the movie look really cool in that low budget kind of way. Of course, this isn’t really something Nolan was going for. It really was very low budget, which makes it an even better movie to appreciate. You can tell from watching Following that Christopher Nolan was going to be a force to be reckoned with.

King of New York – Review

24 Oct

Abel Ferrara is one of those anything goes kind of directors. He has a knack to show gritty urban scenes and not hold back the violence or any other sin or vice that goes along with that lifestyle. He’s also really proficient at turning the black and whites of morality and turning them into one big gray area. A prime example would be his film from 1990, King of New York, a kind of Robin Hood tale if Robin Hood lived in New York City in the early nineties and was a figurehead in the criminal underworld.

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Frank White (Christopher Walken) is a very powerful and very wealthy player in the criminal underworld of New York City who has just gotten released from Sing Sing prison. Upon his return, he meets with an old associate, Jimmy Jump (Laurence Fishburne), and his gang to get back to business. This time, Frank believes he is reformed and begins robbing and killing criminals because he doesn’t like how they do their business, with the prime goal of helping to fund the construction of a hospital. Some police officers (played by Victor Argo, David Caruso, and Wesley Snipes) don’t like Frank’s tactics and wage an illegal war against him since traditional legal methods have proven unsuccessful in bringing Frank down.

King of New York is an entertaining movie, but definitely not perfect by any means. In fact, it’s pretty far from perfect. What makes this movie memorable is its strong headed style to show all of the drugs, violence, and sex that happen within the course of the story in graphic detail. A lot of film makers would opt to censor this, or at least tone it down, but Ferrara and his writer, Nicholas St. John, are perfectly comfortable showing the brutality of these criminals.

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The main problem with this movie is that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. There are scenes where I felt like I really needed to take the content seriously, but the way it plays out seems like it exists mainly for pulp entertainment. The lighting, the set design, and even the characters all seem very over the top, but the themes of drug use and gang violence are all played as very serious things. This makes the movie very uneven. The film also moves at such a break neck pace that I can’t really fully understand and feel for the complex characters that make this film what it is. Everyone is very complex, and I really want to appreciate their characters, but I didn’t feel like I had the time.

Back to the positives, however, I dare someone to watch this film and not completely love Walken’s performance. He has this way of really enveloping himself in his character to the point where you as the viewer are convinced that you are no longer watching Christopher Walken. Just look at The Deer Hunter. While i did complain about the contrast between the realism and the complete disregard for realism both in the same movie, I will say the over the top scenes are really entertaining. The gun battles and big car chase are really fun to watch, and the strange, almost Argento-ish, kind of lighting in some scenes is real eye candy.

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King of New York is completely uneven and an absolute mess when it comes to character development and a strong plot. What makes this movie interesting are the thematic content, brutality, and the performances by Walken and Fishburne. I can’t see this movie being taken very seriously, but I would be so bold to put it in a cult classic category after doing some research on it. I’d definitely watch King of New York again, and I’d even go so far as to say it is an inspiration for some of the projects that I am working on.

Assault Girls – Review

23 Oct

With a title like Assault Girls, I was really expecting to see some absurd Japanese B-movie action. Writer and director Mamoru Oshii has already made a name for himself with anime films like Ghost in the Shell and Urusei yatsura, but Assault Girls is his first live action feature film. Well, to be honest, I can’t even really call this a film. This is a landmark review, ladies and gentlemen, because this is, without a doubt, the worst movie I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of stinkers (Geisha Assassin in particular held the spot for a while).

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After a global thermonuclear war, a popular lifestyle choice in the new age of technologic enlightenment is to participate in a massive virtual reality video game where the aim is to hunt down and kill giant sand whales. Gray (Meisa Kuroki), Lucifer (Rinko Kikuchi), and Colonel (Hinako Saeki) are three battle hardened gamers who are each trying to reach the end boss and win the maximum amount of points. They each learn that they are going to have to team up to take down the boss, so the three girls and a drifter named Jäeger (Yoshikatsu Fujiki) being their hunt to find the end boss and defeat it.

Don’t be fooled by the summary. This movie has no plot. If a plot was a skeleton, then all we really have here is a rib cage. There isn’t even a full backbone to support this monstrosity of a “movie.” Clocking in at only 70 minutes, this film doesn’t have a long time to really engage the audience, so it has to really be good to catch our attention. Well, there really is nothing good about this movie if you haven’t guessed. From the start I had to sit through this pseudo-intellectual narration about the new technologic renaissance. As if this wasn’t bull shit enough, it hardly even ties into the movie! Why even have it? It takes up 10 minutes of a 70 minute long movie!

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The trailer looks promising enough. I did notice that the CGI was pretty subpar, but that’s sort of to be expected with a movie of this kind. Even films like Machine Girl and RoboGeisha have shoddy effects, but they’re at least really fun movies! There’s a part in this movie that takes at least 15 minutes of just the characters walking through the desert with overly dramatic music playing over it. This is where the movie tries to get thematic and deep, I guess to match its ridiculous “philosophic” voice over from the beginning. Too bad the characters exist just as much as the story, so I started to skip ahead just to get past all the walking. For a title like Assault Girls, there’s a lot more walking around than there is actual action.

When there is action, it’s almost cool. The huge guns they use look cool and sound cool, and the giant sand whales are passable. The redemption of the movie would have happened at the end when the characters are fighting the main sand whale that’s supposed to be the end boss of the game. The fight, however, lasts about five or six minutes and is so sloppily done and without any tension that I couldn’t believe is was supposed to be the climax. It was, indeed, the perfect ending for such a terrible movie.

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There’s moments when I began thinking Assault Girls was going to be cool and this review would turn out a lot different. But, to my chagrin, it only gets worse as it goes along. This is, without a doubt, the worst movie I ever sat through. The honor used to be held by Geisha Assassin, but at least that movie tried to deliver what it promises. Assault Girls was disappointing on every level, and that’s putting it mildly. I can’t even say it was so bad that it was good. It’s just plain terrible and, in my opinion, hardly qualifies as a movie.

Donnie Brasco – Review

19 Oct

Mob movies have the difficult job of presenting some reprehensible characters to us, and then they have to make us like them. That’s what makes gangster classics like Scarface and the first two Godfather films so good. Coincidentally, both of these films star Al Pacino, and so does Donnie Brasco, a mob film that’s based on a true story that has potential to be a classic, but is unfortunately a film I would characterize as a B-gangster film.

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Special Agent Joe Pistone, aka Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp), is an FBI agent working undercover to infiltrate the Bonanno crime family. His in with the family comes in the form of a low level lieutenant, “Lefty” Ruggiero (Al Pacino), who is getting upset that he’s been with the family for thirty years and was involved in 26 hits, but still hasn’t gotten anywhere. Donnie is quickly introduced to Sonny “Black” (Michael Madsen), the head of the group. Donnie soon becomes well liked by the family, and he begins to lose sight of what his life really is, as he falls deeper and deeper into the character of Brasco, and distances himself from his family.

I honestly can’t say too much about Donnie Brasco because I really just found it to be a completely mediocre movie. Critics have praised this movie for it’s realism and performances, but it really doesn’t achieve anything new that hasn’t been done in better gangster films. What I will actually remember most from this movie, and what is really annoying, is the tough talk. It almost lampoons gangster talk. If I had to hear “forget about it” one more time, I would take the DVD out of the player and use it to cut my own head off.

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The few things that stick out as positive are Pacino’s performance and the period design. Al Pacino is no newcomer when it comes to gangster films, and his performance as a softer , tired kind of gangster is a welcome change after his malicious Michael Corleone and Tony Montana. It’s a very heartfelt performance that really saves the movie from being completely unmemorable. The period design is also really nice. Taking place in 1978 to around 1980, this movie really does a great job of setting the New York and Miami scenes up to make them look as authentic as possible, from the cars to the music to the clothes.

There just isn’t anything in this movie that will put it in the upper echelons of gangster films. Goodfellas and Casino have great characters with excellent dialogue and artistic shot designs. Scarface exists as almost pure entertainment featuring a comic book style gangster story that is just so much fun to watch. Donnie Brasco falls in the area between Carlito’s Way and Kill the Irishman, although if someone asked me to choose from these three, I’d choose Kill the Irishman.

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Thank goodness for Pacino. If it wasn’t for him, this film would be nothing. It may look nice and have all the elements of a solid gangster movie, but everything just falls flat. Johnny Depp and Michael Madsen do nothing special and the story is not the least bit exciting, which is weird considering all the material the film makers had to work with. From my research, the adaptation of the true story isn’t even that accurate. Well if Donnie Brasco isn’t accurate or entertaining, why would you want to watch it?

Sexy Beast – Review

17 Oct

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more curious name for a movie title. It doesn’t really have too much to do with the story, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make you want to know what it’s about. Well, to put it simply, Sexy Beast is a British crime film that does border on comedy at times. There is one part of the movie, however, that is remembered the most about this movie. It isn’t the heist and it isn’t the main character. It’s Sir Ben Kingsley in one of the most terrifying performances of film history.

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Gal (Ray Winstone) is retired, and loving it. He has a beautiful house, a beautiful wife, and great friends who just add to his relaxation and comfort. That is, until one night at dinner they mention they will be getting a visit from an old friend. Enter Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), their old partner in crime who is now a part of a heist being prepared by the mysterious Teddy Bass (Ian McShane), and Don wants Gal on the job. As much as Gal persists, saying that he is retired, this only fuels Don’s determination, who has no filter or limits to what he will do to get him to do the job.

As much as I’d like to start off with talking about Kingsley’s performance, I’ll wait till a little later to mention it. First, lets talk about the writing. The dialogue in this film is note perfect and quick as a whip, which is pretty essential in British crime films. It the talking isn’t as fast as it is tough, than the writing isn’t really respected. Not only is the writing tough and quick, but there’s a lot of comedy that is questionable to laugh at. Don comes in, and we can’t help but laugh at his sociopathy at first. As the film goes on, though, the tone gets much more serious and the laughing slows down.

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Still not time for Ben Kingsley, yet. Bouncing off what I said about the writing, Sexy Beast is pretty unconventional in plot. We say it’s a crime movie about a heist, but the heist has really very little to do with the movie. The movie is more about Gal trying to keep Don off his case and doing something crazy in the process. But we still can’t forget about the heist, because that plays an important part, too. In comparison to the story with Gal and Don, they whole robbery seems kind of glazed over. If anything, I wish that was a more important part of the story, or on the flip side, I wish that was show even less. It kind of lingers in a gray area where it’s not shown enough, but is shown too much for me to not care about. In this respect, Sexy Beast feels very uneven.

But fine, now we have to mention Sir Ben Kingsley. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and now Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. This is a list of some of my favorite performances in film, and it’s nice to have Kingsley on that list. His performance as Don is terrifying and hilarious at the same time. His line delivery is smooth in the choppiest way possible and we can’t help but to hate everything about him. Even by his introduction to thumping electronic music and his awkwardly quick gait, we know that we are in for a wild ride. Kingsley himself said playing Don was like getting all of his anger out, and at the end of the day he was very serene.

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So, if you’re into British crime films and don’t mind a touch of surrealism, than Sexy Beast is a cool movie. I just wish that the second half didn’t feel so uneven and rushed. Running barely even an hour and a half, it would have been better to flesh out some stuff and touch up the entire second half. Still, this is some fun entertainment that may not reach the levels of Snatch or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but it’s still a pretty cool film.

Gravity – Review

17 Oct

The thought of being lost in the middle of the wilderness with very little hope of getting home is frightening. Take that concept and than multiply it by a thousand and you might match the intensity of Gravity. Can you really find a wildness more vast and bleak as outer space? I think not. To me, the very thought of floating aimlessly in space is absolutely frightening, which would explain why I was pale as a ghost when I left the theater.

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Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a mission specialist for NASA who’s been given the job to help with repairs to the Hubble Telescope. While this is her first mission to space, it is veteran Matt Kowalski’s (George Clooney) final space walk. All seems to be going well until news is heard by Mission Control that a Russian missile strike on obsolete equipment has cause debris to come hurtling towards their positions. Disaster strikes fast causing the two astronauts to  be cut loose from their harnesses and begin drifting, caught in the earth’s gravitational orbit. Now, cut off from their harnesses and Mission Control, the two astronauts have to, somehow, find their way back to earth.

What an absolutely incredible movie. Sorry Star Trek Into Darkness. You have been knocked out of first place. Gravity is, in fact, the best movie of the year, hands down. To start with, it’s unbelievable how director Alfonso Cuarón, who has already proved his genius with Children of Men, and the rest of the cast and crew made it really seem like the audience is really in space with them. The combination of the outstanding visual effects, sound design (it’s very quiet up in space), and Cuarón’s typical use of long takes makes the weightlessness of drifting seem closer to home than ever before.

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While it is certain that Gravity will get several award nominations for visual effects, I really hope that Sandra Bullock gets recognized for her performance. My last review I did was I Am Legend, where I compared Smith’s job to that of Tom Hanks in Cast Away and Sandra Bullock’s in, you guessed it, Gravity. For the most part, she is all alone in this movie, with George Clooney only helping her out in a few scenes. The emotional weight of this movie falls on her performance and if we are able to connect with her and buy her as a character. Luckily, she gives a great performance which serves to only push us a little bit closer to the edge of our seat.

Thematically, it’s going to be difficult for someone to top this movie in terms of dread. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, there are scenes of an astronaut drifting in space, but the whole thing is very science fiction, so it’s easy to remember that it’s just a movie. Gravity is science fiction, but very real science fiction. It’s a huge step from 2001. There’s no HAL 9000 or crazy wormhole. This is just earth, two astronauts, and an orbit that keeps them trapped. To me, that’s the worst situation that I have ever seen in a film.

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Gravity stands tall next to Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim. In fact, Gravity holds its own against the greatest science fiction films ever made. This may be debatable thanks to some physical impossibilities and some die hard classic science fiction fans, but in my opinion it’s one of the best. Like I said, I walked out of this movie pale as a ghost, but at the same time I was so excited about what I just saw. Good news is I’m seeing it again this weekend. Be sure to catch this movie in IMAX or in 3D. It really adds a lot to the atmosphere. Make it your main objective to see Gravity, either way. It really is fantastic.