Archive | February, 2016

The Witch – Review

28 Feb

Horror movies have been in a pretty sad state recently with the constant remakes, sequels, and reboots. Does the world really need another Paranormal Activity? No, it really doesn’t. There have been some diamonds in the rough with critically successful movies like It Follows, which is one of my favorite horror movies to be released in a long time. Now we can add another intelligent and beautifully made horror movie to the rankings of modern horror classics. This movie is Robert Eggers’ debut film The Witch. Without rambling too early on in the review, let me just say that this is exactly how horror movies should be made.

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In the year 1630, a Puritan man named William (Ralph Ineson), and his family are removed from a religious plantation. The family decides to start a new life by building a house near a large forest and living off the land and the blessings they believe to receive from God. The entire family dynamic is thrown when baby Samuel is kidnapped and killed by a witch lurking in the woods near the house. After another incident in the woods harms William’s middle son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), William’s wife Katharine (Kate Dickie) places the blame of witchcraft on their oldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). As the days press on, the black magic of the witch torments the family more until the morning they finally reach their breaking point.

Like I said before, The Witch is a prime example of how horror movies should be made. Since the very first frame there’s a feeling of dread and claustrophobia. I’m not talking about claustrophobia in the sense that the family is constantly in an enclosed space, but claustrophobic in the sense that they are completely walled in by the literal interpretations of their religious beliefs. Throughout the course of the movie, the characters all make these incredibly naïve and outlandish choices and accusations, all because they depend so heavily on God’s divine intervention and judgement. This extremist mind set is almost as scary as the witch that is cursing the family, and it mirrors real life in eerily similar ways.

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What I think really makes this movie is the subtlety of it all. Scenes in The Witch very rarely get loud. Instead, the intensity and feelings of terror come from the silences, what can’t be seen, and the inability of the family to escape the tortures that are destroying them. Isn’t the monster lurking in the dark scarier than the one that you can see plain as day? Sure it is, because your imagination never fails to show you the most horrific possibility. Isn’t the overwhelming feeling of dread and helplessness more terrifying than a jump scare that you could see coming a mile away? Once again, of course it is. The Witch doesn’t rely on getting your adrenaline pumping to keep you entertained. Instead it completely infects your body with a spirit of uneasiness that may come back to haunt you when you least expect it.

Something became quite clear about this movie within the first five or ten minutes. I’ve didn’t watch the trailer for this movie, so maybe it was in there, but I had no idea that all of the dialogue in this movie is written in and spoken in old English. It took a little bit to get used to it, but once it did I really appreciated the effect that it had on the movie. It gives The Witch a very authentic feeling, along with the costume design and cinematography. It’s also really impressive that all of the lines were delivered with such ease. At no point was I confused about what they were talking about. I have to give much respect to all of the actors in this movie, but mostly to the younger actors who pulled off the dialogue just as well as the adults.

I went into The Witch not really knowing what to expect. I was just curious about it because all of the hype it got at the various film festivals. Now that I’ve seen it, I can definitely say it’s one of the better horror movies released in a very long time. It’s a very smart approach to the genre, both in the writing and execution. Robert Eggers has made a great start to his feature film making career, and I really hope he explores the horror genre some more. Plain and simply, The Witch perfectly encapsulates how a horror movie should be made.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead – Review

25 Feb

Noir is something that will hopefully never go out of style. It’s far too cool to just disappear off the face of the earth without a trace of hope that it may return. There’s so many interesting things you can do with the noir genre, and Mike Hodges’ I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead certainly does something different to it. Hodges may best be known for directing the British gangster classic Get Carter, so it was exciting to see what he would do with a more modern gangster/noir film. Well, the result is many things. It’s weird, boring, tedious, and strangely thought provoking.

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Will Graham (Clive Owen) was a notorious gangster before suffering some mysterious mental breakdown that prompted to leave London and start a new life as a drifter devoid of any complicated moral responsibilities. This decision to leave town is met with the risk of leaving his irresponsible brother, Davey (Jonathan Rhys-Myers) to fend for himself. After a night of partying and an especially brutal encounter with a car salesman named Boad (Malcolm McDowell), Davey is found dead in his bathtub of an apparent suicide which prompts Will to return to London to get to the bottom of what happened to cause Davey to do such a thing. Coming back to his old city starts some trouble with his old friends, relationships, and enemies, but Will’s main goal is to track down whoever is responsible for pushing his brother over the edge.

As far as gangster movies go, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is about as minimalist as you can get. The pace of this movie is deathly slow and the overall mood is so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. Along with the whole noir aspect, there’s also touches of New Wave and British Realism thrown in, which is an odd combination to mix with noir. I’m not saying this is really a bad thing, but it does make for a movie that isn’t really too much fun to watch. The not even two hour run time feels stretched to the lenghths of Goodfellas‘ run time with so many scenes of quiet conversations and brooding moments of Will walking down the dark London streets. Since there are so many scenes like this, the conflicts of the movies often feel minimized to a huge degree.

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When I say that there is very little conflict in this movie, I sort of mean it, but at the same time I recognize the other kinds of conflict. For example, we hardly see Boad in the movie. He gets maybe 10 minutes of screen time in total. There’s also another gangster that feels threatened by Will’s return, but we only ever see him talking to people in his car and nothing ever really comes out of his storyline besides an ending that serves to confuse the viewer. The conflict really lies in Will’s character and his troubles readjusting to life in the city while also trying to stay clear of his criminal past. This is hard since he wants revenge for his little brother. This movie’s really about inner conflict and regression, rather than a simple revenge story. Like I said before, this movie isn’t really fun to watch. It’s more fun to talk and think about it once it’s over.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a pretty deep movie, but it’s important to remember that just because a movie is super slow doesn’t mean it’s super intelligent. There are plenty of interesting points in this movie, but the execution of them feels so slight that they might as well not have happened at all. The main force of pain for Davey is one of the most daunting things to ever happen to somebody, and it’s something that I don’t see in movies too much. There’s a very interesting premise that almost makes up for the whole movie. The rest of the ideas and conflicts either get fixed to soon or conclude in the most enigmatic of ways. I get that was the whole point of the movie, and I’m not meant to feel satisfied at the end, but I don’t know, it just didn’t feel right.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a strange exercise in low key film making and it’s one that doesn’t really mix all that well. The acting and the dialogue is all great, and the premise takes a story that could be generic and makes it more interesting. The only problem is that it movies too slow, thinks it’s making a much bigger and complicated statement than it actually is, and resolves conflict too easily or not at all. It’s not completely ruined or wasted, but I wanted a little bit more out of it. I can’t really recommend watching it, but some people may find it interesting.

Casualties of War – Review

21 Feb

Some of my favorite war movies are these grand, sweeping spectacles with dazzling set pieces and all star ensemble casts added in just to make the entire experience feel even bigger. My prime example would be Saving Private Ryan, but films like Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers also fits the mold very. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Casualties of War, which is an example of a much smaller and personal conflict that occurred during the Vietnam War. This certainly doesn’t make for a less harrowing movie, especially under the direction of Brian De Palma, but the fact that this story actually happened makes it all the more intense.

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Max Erikkson (Michael J. Fox) is a fresh Vietnam recruit who is actually ready to serve his country overseas. He is put in a small squad of close knit soldiers led by the beloved and respected Sgt. Tony Meserve (Sean Penn). After his closest friend is killed in an ambush and with his tour coming to an end, Meserve starts losing his grip on the entire situation and decides that his squad is going to go to a nearby village on their next mission and kidnap a girl (Thuy Thu Le) to use as their slave along the way. The only person in the squad who sees how crazy and wrong this is is Eriksson, but the desires of the squad completely overtake any sense of right and wrong leaving Eriksson to get threatened and harassed at every turn. When the time to bring justice finally arrives, things only become more complicated when Eriksson’s superiors blindly turn away from the facts.

So Casualties of War may not be the grandest or most expensive war movie ever made, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t memorable. In fact, I’ll probably remember this one for a lot of different reasons. This film shows a war of conscience, individuality, and camaraderie occurring during the much larger Vietnam War. There are a lot of small things that make this movie work so well, and only one hinderance that I can think of. The entire film is pulled taut with suspense and a dreading sense that anything can happen since no one is looking in the jungles. This made for a pretty wild ride for most of the movie, and the only disappointment is that there wasn’t enough time spent on the ending of the film. That’s a pretty small complaint in comparison to all of the positives.

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Brian De Palma is a film maker every film buff knows and hopefully has a good understanding on how he makes his films. At first it seemed like a strange idea having De Palma directing a war film, but he really is a guy that can delve into any genre and after seeing this movie I know why he was the right choice. Other than way he directs his actors and gets the most out of their performances, he also has a very distinct signature style that brought a lot to Casualties of War. De Palma is known for enhancing the drama in his movie with split diopter shots, and it may be used the most effectively here. These shots allow a close up of someone’s face while different atrocities and acts of violence occur behind and around them, still clearly in view while the character may be facing away. It’s expertly used in this film.

Of course, none of this would work if the stars of this movie weren’t perfectly cast. I was mainly intrigued by this movie because I was curious to see how Michael J. Fox would play in a war film. I gotta, say I’m surprised with how much I believed his character. Opposite him is Sean Penn, as the film’s main antagonist. The way the movie’s set up, we like him just as much as Fox’s character does in the beginning, but as the story progresses, we start to evolve emotionally with Fox and start hating Penn’s character more and more. A young Sean Penn gives the best performance of the movie and works great with the much more innocent Michael J. Fox.

Casualties of War is a great but minor war film. It’s interesting to see a war movie deal with more individual crises, instead of looking at a particular battle or even the entire war as a backdrop. This is a very intense movie. It has an intense script, intense performances, and intense direction. Fans of war movies should definitely check it out for a pretty unique experience.

Deadpool – Review

16 Feb

I’ve been dying to write this review for a long, long time. This is a movie that I’ve been so excited for since it was revealed that it was actually going to happen. We’ve come along way since that test footage was shown at Comic-Con. Now we have the feature length Deadpool. Deadpool is Marvel’s most beloved black sheep, so it’s no surprise that he’s getting this kind of treatment. There was a lot riding on this movie with all of the ridiculous advertising and the fact that Deadpool fans no exactly what they want, and I’m proud to say that Deadpool is the perfect movie for this character and also the most badass Marvel movie since Punisher: War Zone.

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Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is an ex-special forces operative who now makes a living selling his skills as a mercenary to the highest buyer. One night, Wade meets the person destined to be the love of his life, Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), and the two spend many a happy night with one another. Things take a turn for the worst when Wade finds out he has cancer growing all over his body and turns to a man named Francis, aka Ajax (Ed Skrein) to undergo a highly experimental treatment that will cure his cancer and turn him superhuman. What Wade doesn’t know is how sadistic and controlling Francis is, and he is eventually horribly disfigured while also having his cancer cured and an ability to regenerate. After his betrayal at the hands of Francis, Wade assumes his new identity as Deadpool, whose mission is to find Francis and get his revenge no matter how many mutilated bodies he leaves along the way. If only he didn’t have to deal with Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand).

Deadpool is a hard movie to summarize because it’s a movie that has to be seen to believe. Anyone who has ever read a comic with Deadpool or played a game with Deadpool or have watched a cartoon with Deadpool knows that he is possibly the most unconventional comic book character ever created. This left screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and director Tim Miller a lot to work with. The possibilities to break the fourth wall, create chaos in Deadpool’s own psyche, and just have fun with complete anarchy were limitless. Luckily the film makers went all out and clearly had a blast with the material. Deadpool often times blasts into this anarchic blur of mayhem and doesn’t even let up when the end credits start to roll.

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I can’t say I was really worried that the humor and action in Deadpool weren’t going to be on par with everything else I’ve seen the character in, but there was a feeling in the pit of my stomach that caused me some concern. Luckily, I really had nothing to be concerned about. In terms of the humor, it’s vulgar and obnoxious, but also can be very smart and quick witted. Deadpool isn’t called the “merc with a mouth” for nothing, and Reynolds has plenty of great lines to spit, even if it means breaking the fourth wall and bringing meta humor to a much stranger level. As for the action, well, this certainly isn’t the next Captain America. It’s so gratifying to see people explode, get decapitated, smashed, mashed, mushed, and altogether obliterated in a Marvel movie. I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Casting Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool seems like the obvious choice, and that’s because he really was born to play this role. It’s great to finally see him get a chance to really play the character after his horrendous portrayal in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Just the way Reynolds moves and speaks makes him the perfect choice to play the character. The supporting cast all did really well too. Kapičić and Hildebrand had some funny scenes and got to show off their own powers while Skrein and Gina Carano played villains that are fun to hate. Finally, T.J. Miller had some great dialogue scenes with Reynolds and provided a lot of great comedic relief in some of the more serious scenes.

Deadpool isn’t the most complex or narratively reward superhero film you’ll ever see, but it is the perfect movie for the Merc with a Mouth. It’s full of great humor, explosive action, and spot on acting. There was so much riding on this movie’s success with all of the ridiculous advertising and the long wait for the movie to actually come out. It’s just so nice to see a beloved character given such a perfect treatment in a movie. I loved Deadpool and I can’t wait to see it again.

Contraband – Review

14 Feb

In 2008, an Icelandic film was released titled Reykjavik-Rotterdam and it became something of an international hit in some circles. It was one of the most expensive Icelandic films when it was made and received plenty of awards in its home country. As America likes to do with foreign hits, we made a version of our own in 2012 and called it Contraband. What made this remake unique was that it was directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who starred in the original 2008 film. While this is an interesting directing choice and the cast has a couple of my favorite actors, the end result is nothing too memorable at all, or at least memorable for the wrong reasons.

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Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) was one of the most brilliant smugglers to ever work in the business, but has long since left his life of crime to settle down with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and their two kids. While Farrady is content with living a quiet life, her brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) is not, and soon gets mixed up with a dangerous criminal named Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). Briggs is after Andy for $700,000 after he screwed up a job, and is even going so far as to threaten Chris and the rest of his family. This forces Chris to go back to his old ways for one last job to pay back Briggs. With a little help from his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster), Farraday heads to Panama to bring back $10 million in fake bills, but what Farraday fails to realize is that there is a higher power than Briggs pulling the strings.

So the first thing I have to say about this movie is that it isn’t very original, and that’s ok. I didn’t really go into Contraband expecting it to break new ground or anything. All I wanted was to be entertained for a couple of hours. That being said, this is a pretty entertaining movie with a great deal of suspense and some cool action sequences. But honestly, it isn’t really enough to keep it all afloat. One of my more minor complaints is part of the cast. Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Foster completely own their roles and reminded me why they are two of my favorite actors. Unfortunately, Wahlberg doesn’t really have much of a personality and all and delivers a lot of his lines with the same awkward enthusiasm that he did in The Happening. As for the rest of the cast like Kate Beckinsale, Caleb Landry Jones, Lukas Haas, and even J.K. Simmons, well, they just didn’t really have too much to do.

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I’m not sure if the intended goal of Contraband was for it to be an action movie or a heist movie, because it sort of does both, but not entirely too well. There’s not enough action for this to be called an action movie and there isn’t enough planning or fake outs for this to be a heist movie. Instead it’s this weird mash up of cliches from both genres. There’s one real all out action scene and it hardly even fits into the movie. In fact, the whole middle part where Farraday gets mixed up with some random Panamanian gangster really didn’t need to be in the movie at all, which brings me to my main beef with this mess of a movie.

This movie goes all sorts of places that it has no business going to. For a while the plot goes on pretty normally, and I was into it, but then it redefined the term “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” There are far too many plot twists and contrivances that get in the way of a narrative that had all the opportunity in the world to go smoothly and painlessly for close to two hours. Instead I ended up watching a movie that is packed to the brim with stupid twists all for the sake of shocking the audience, instead of being put in to try and tell a good story. The major twist was pretty cool, but all of the other minor ones just frustrated me and made the movie feel completely broken into pieces.

Contraband tries really hard to be a highly intelligent, complex heist thriller that turns out to be nothing more than convoluted and overdone. The only real redeeming qualities this movie has are the performances given by Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Foster. They can really do a lot with shoddy material. Contraband is an unoriginal mess that isn’t really an awful movie, but it’s hardly one I can recommend to anybody.

Hail, Caesar! – Review

11 Feb

The Coen Brothers have one of the most unique voices in film and have often times taken every convention used to make a film and show you how useless they really are. Case and point can be seen in the lack of simple narrative flow and a true chaotic progression in No Country for Old Men, a movie that redefined how movies can be made. I love seeing these guys go crazy with their movies, and I’ve never been truly disappointed by something they’ve done. Thankfully, the same goes for Hail, Caesar!. This is definitely a polarizing movie that the Coen Brothers made for a certain demographic of film goers, and if you fall into that demographic, it will be hard to be disappointed.

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Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) works as the head of Capitol Pictures, and also works as a “fixer,” which means that he puts an extra special interest in keeping his actors and studio in line even if that means bending the law a little bit in his favor. On one average day at the studio, Mannix’s biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is drugged and kidnapped from the set of Capitol Picture’s next epic film, Hail, Caesar!, a film that is also under a strict deadline in terms of its shooting schedule. Now, not only does Mannix have to secure the ransom that is being demanded for the return of Whitlock, but he also has to deal with unruly actors like Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), Deanna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), and Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) while juggling demanding directors and twin tabloid writers (both played by Tilda Swinton). Just another day in Hollywood.

I laughed during this movie. In fact, I laughed a lot during this movie. In my opinion, it’s absolutely hilarious. Anyone who is a fan or has knowledge of post-war Hollywood will get a kick out of all of the inside jokes and references that are sprinkled throughout the film, but will also enjoy the backdrop and atmosphere that Hollywood was in at this time. It was a strange transitional period where everyone was under some sort of watchful eye. Hail, Caesar! captures that perfectly in the most over the top and satirical of ways. The Coen Brothers have successfully lampooned major things that I’ve read about in film history textbooks and have hilariously showed us how ridiculous Hollywood’s worst nightmares were during this time.

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The story, or lack there of, in Hail, Caesar! was a bit jarring at first, but once I got into the groove of the movie, things started falling into place. The movie was advertised as Clooney’s character getting abducted and Brolin’s character having to find him. That’s only one aspect of the movie and not exactly what the movie is about. It’s simpler to look at this film as a series of vignettes that eventually come together to tell a story about Eddie Mannix’s crazy life as a Hollywood fixer. What the Coen Brothers seem more interested in, however, is showing the lifestyle of the time and how crazy the studio system could actually be. The story kind of comes second to the characters and the era.

The only thing that I could say is wrong with the movie is that it does leave a lot of people in the dark, and that’s never a fun thing. There’s a lot of jokes and references you might miss out on unless you have a good understanding of how Hollywood operated at the time and some of the more outlandish things that were taken very seriously. This isn’t the first time the Coen Brothers have made a movie about early Hollywood that made a lot of in jokes. Barton Fink was full of references to the time period, but there was also a lot more that didn’t have to do with Hollywood that other people could get a kick out of. Hail, Caesar!, however, demands a bit more understanding of history.

Hail, Caesar! may be polarizing and cater to a certain demographic of film goers, but this is my personal opinion on the movie and I think it’s pretty brilliant. It certainly doesn’t stand up to other Coen Brothers comedies like The Big Lebowski and Fargo, but it is far from falling into the pits with The Ladykillers and Intolerable CrueltyHail, Caesar! falls nicely in place with Burn After Reading in the mid echelons of the Coen Brothers’ filmography. If you know this history and you have a love for post-war Hollywood, this is a movie made just for you.

The Fugitive – Review

6 Feb

Isn’t it a shame that I’ve met people who firmly believe that straight up action movies do not qualify as artistic film making and refuse to label any of them “classics?” I find it hard to believe that people can still think like that when movies like The Fugitive exist and has gotten overwhelmingly positive acclaim. Based off of a t.v. series that ran from 1963 to 1967, Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive not only serves up a heaping dish of intelligent storytelling and one of the most intense performances of the ’90s, but also just a very entertaining thrill ride packed with plenty of action and adventure.

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Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is one of Chicago’s go to vascular surgeons and is also graced with a large house and a beautiful wife (Sela Ward). Kimble’s life is completely turned upside down when his wife is killed and he is charged with her murder and sentenced to death. While being transferred, the group of prisoners he is with attempts a break out which crashes the bus allowing Kimble to make his getaway and start his search of the one-armed man that is actually the perpetrator of his wife’s murder. Unfortunately for Kimble, Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), who has a reputation for being relentless, is hot on his trail, but neither of them could have guessed how deep the conspiracy that they’ve been tossed into actually goes.

There’s so many things to talk about with The Fugitive, so trying to get my thoughts evenly together is a bit of a challenge. That’s kind of a compliment in and of itself, but I digress. The most important thing to me is how the movie is written. It’s such a tight story with each scene the perfectly compliments one another. Nothing in the movie feels excessive or unnecessary, which is definitely a good thing for a movie that runs over 2 hours long. The story pretty much hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the resolution. This kept me completely into it the entire time. Not to mention the amount of grand set pieces strewn throughout. One particularly memorable sequence happens during a St. Patrick’s Day parade, which was never in the script and improvised on the spot. That’s some clever film making.

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Because the writing of The Fugitive is so tight, the whole movie just works. I can’t say that I was bored at any point throughout the narrative of this movie. That’s not to say that there isn’t any downtime, because there’s plenty that’s used to build the characters and thicken the plot in ways that it needs to be. This isn’t just stupid thrills that exist for cheap reasons. I mentioned before the memorable scene that takes place during the St. Patrick’s Day parade and how it’s a very well executed scene. There’s another scene that may actually be the most famous from the movie where Kimble successfully avoids a crashing train. The way the stunt was set up required so much planning and used an actual train that I really can’t help but admire it. That’s part of what sets this movie a step above the rest in terms of the action genre.

Finally, the performances in this movie are really something else. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones are the two big names in the movie, but there are also some great supporting cast members like Joe Pantaliano and Julianne Moore. Ford works great as Kimble and his personality makes the character feel very natural and makes him someone the audience can really root for. Ford just has a knack for making heroes seem like everyday guys. The real scene stealer, however, is Tommy Lee Jones who actually took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He really seems to be going above what he normally does and even went so far as to make up a lot of his most famous lines on the spot. That just shows how deep into the character of Samuel Gerard he really was.

The bottom line is that The Fugitive is one of the best action films ever made and shows that action films can be considered art in how they’re made and how well the narrative is constructed. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones give two memorable performances that serve as highlights of their career and was even garnered with 7 Academy Award nominations. I’m sure at this most people have already the pleasure of viewing this contemporary classic, but if not it really is necessary viewing.