Tag Archives: hollywood

Inland Empire – Review

11 Aug

Recreating nightmares and mental decay is not an easy task, but David Lynch has always stepped up to the challenge. EraserheadLost Highway, and Mulholland Drive all have the same nightmarish feeling, as if you might fall asleep later that night and have a dream that plays out exactly like these movies. Of all of Lynch’s films, I feel like Inland Empire encompasses his career perfectly and really makes you feel like you are part of a nightmare. That being said, this isn’t his best film, but it certainly can be said that this might be the strangest movie I have ever seen.

Inpos

Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is an actor whose time in the spotlight has ended, so when she lands a roll that might restart her career, she is ecstatic. The film is called On High in Blue Tomorrows and is being directed by Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons) and her costar is Devon Burke (Justin Theroux), a man with quite a conspicuous sex life. As she gets deeper and deeper into her character, and her relationship with her costar seems to be getting closer, Nikki starts losing track of what is happening first, now, and later. Soon she can’t even begin to tell her life from the character’s leading to a complete psychological breakdown.

I’ve been putting off this review for a little while because the thought of reviewing a David Lynch movie and really giving it justice is a little intimidating. Much like his other movies, Inland Empire has many different interpretations and themes to explore, and everyone’s view of the whole can be very different. The first time through, it may seem like this movie makes absolutely no sense, but in the days to come and you think about it more, or even watch it again, things in the movie start to piece together and an idea will begin to form. Like Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive, I found Inland Empire to be quite frustrating.

una-scena-di-inland-empire-45944

 

All interpretation aside, I have to say that I have a newfound respect for Laura Dern as an actor. Her performance demands a lot, from screaming and crying to manic laughing and then to calmness, maybe all in one scene. I can imagine that David Lynch is not the easiest director to work with, being in his own head and all, and even Dern has said that she isn’t entirely sure what the movie is about. Justin Theroux has said the same thing. Imagine acting on a movie where you really don’t know what it is about. That’s a tricky thing to do but they both pull it off very well and pull you into the “story,” despite how difficult it is.

This is where the review might get a little spoiler-ish because I want to talk about things in the film. You have been warned. Ok. In my opinion, Inland Empire is the story of a woman who is struggling to find a character that she is unable to tap into. Much like in Black Swan, she gets so obsessed with finding the character, that she sees herself becoming the character. At first it starts with scenes where we don’t know it’s the movie within a movie until the end of the scene to the point where nothing is really decipherable. This leads to the nightmarish world of Nikki’s mind. There’s still a lot that I’m not sure about, like the woman watching the television and the rabbit sit-com that we keep seeing. This just means the I’m going to have to watch it again.

500full

 

I can’t really say if Inland Empire is good or bad. It’s sort of one of those movies that redefines your definition of a good or bad movie. I will say that Inland Empire is art, through and through, but saying it’s entertaining wouldn’t be doing it justice. This is a terribly uncomfortable experience that you can’t help but staying focused on it, no matter how difficult it is. Fans of David Lynch will love his deepest, darkest trip into the fractured human mind, but anyone looking for a narrative that makes perfect sense will find no happiness with Inland Empire.

Advertisements

Modern Times – Review

28 Jul

Charlie Chaplin is a name that has become synonymous with silent comedy, and I would say comedy in general. From his beginnings at the Keystone Film Company, Chaplin has made audiences everywhere laugh, cry, and stare in bewilderment at the physical feats that he would do for his pictures. They weren’t just shallow comedies, either. Chaplin had a way of injecting searing social and political commentary in his films. One of his most famous films is his 1936 silent (?) comedy, Modern Times.

Moderntimes

 

Set in Depression-era California, Modern Times tells the story of the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin), who’s trying to survive in the industrialized world. In the beginning, he works as a factory worker who’s repetitive job becomes to much for him, and he has a mental breakdown. Nevertheless, he loses his job at the factory and meets a young Gamine (Paulette Goddard). Together, they travel the city and look for work in all the right places, but can’t seem to make any money or keep their jobs due to the world around them.

Chaplin considered this one of his most important projects, to the point where he became obsessed with making it perfect. In fact, he started sleeping at the studio and only left work with the sound recorders when Paulette Goddard begged him to. After traveling the world to promote City Lights and meeting with important friends in many different countries, Chaplin saws firsthand the conditions of the modern world and how machines seemed to be taking over.

Annex - Chaplin, Charlie (Modern Times)_01

 

Visually, this movie is a masterpiece, and not just in how the aesthetic sense, but also the excellent sight gags. The outstanding set pieces all look great and larger than life. In the most famous scene of the movie, and one of the most famous images to ever come from film, shows Chaplin getting caught in giant cogs, making him literally part of the machine. Another great scene shows the Tramp trying to do some good and give a flag back to a truck driver, but is mistaken for being the leader of a protest. The exteriors all look appropriately, well, depressing.

The thing is, though, is that this is not a completely silent picture, unlike Charlie’s earlier work. Much of the sound that is heard comes from phonographs and the sound of the factory boss hollering through a television. This is to show how technology is even changing Hollywood, with the introduction of sound in its modern devices, and also how Chaplin viewed this introduction to sound as not being the correct way to go. In what should be seen as one of the most important scenes in film history, the Tramp actually gets his own time to be heard as he sings a gibberish song in a cafe and pantomimes what the story of the song is.

ModernTimesEnding

 

Modern Times is an important statement on the conditions of the modern world, trying to keep up with it all, and the increasingly difficult life of workers. This is also a film that has stood the test of time with its comedy that never gets old and themes that still resonate all these years later. In my opinion, Modern Times is a must see and must laugh film that everyone should experience at least once in their life. Charlie Chaplin surely was something special.

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.

The-Artist-poster

 

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.

1205-lrainer-the-artist_full_600

 

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.

artist6

 

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.

Argo – Review

1 Mar

It’s hardly even an opinion to say that truth is stranger than fiction. There are some things that happen in this world that make me stop and say, “How could someone ever think of this?” Now take a film like Argo, which is based on the true story of the Canadian Caper in 1980. Again, how could someone ever think of this? The story is so hard to believe that I almost dismissed the movie, but in light of overwhelmingly positive recognition, it was about time I gave it a watch.

Argo2012Poster

In 1979, the American Embassy in Iran gets over run by protestors who are demanding the return of their exiled leader for his prompt execution. Many workers are held as hostages, but six manage to escape and take refuge in the home of a Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). The CIA brings in an expert in exfil missions, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), who is at first unsure with how to go about a rescue mission. It comes to him one night. Enlisting the help of Hollywood make up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), Mendez heads over to Iran under the guise of a film maker doing location scouting. With the escapees acting the parts as film makers, the group attempts to leave Iran in plain sight.

Just writing this small summary, I find it hard to believe that a lot of this actually happened. A portion of it is definitely dramatized and the roles of the Canadians are downplayed while the roles of New Zealand and Britain are left out all together. Affleck said this was to keep the film at a quick, but steady pace and I can agree with him there. This movie does feel very Hollywood in a couple of ways. For one, it is partly a satire of the Hollywood business, but the entire feel of the movie feels like something that would have been made in the classical period in film history.

argo

It’s become quite clear with Gone Baby Gone and The Town that Ben Affleck is a much better director than he is actor. To me, his acting is nothing special, including his performance in this. His “character” is very passive in this movie up until the end, which was when I really got into his performance. His directing is impeccable, however. With Argo, my opinion about Affleck has only gotten better. This is a completely different film than his previous two, which only proves that he is versatile and can cover any number of genres. Speaking of genres, Argo quite clearly blends a few.

It’s actually kind of amazing how well this movie combines a human drama, a political thriller, and a satirical comedy. A lot of movies try to do this, but they unfortunately don’t always measure up to what they’re trying to accomplish. I feel like I reference Hitchcock a lot in this blog, but with good reason. Think of North by Northwest and how it’s a thriller, but also an excellent comedy. Argo works just as well. I laughed as hard as a bit my fingernails. The writing is sharp, witty, and smart.

Argo-Affleck-as-Tony-Mendez

 

Argo has swept the awards this year, and I think with good reason. It was an excellent film about an incredible true story. It’s expertly written, directed, and acted (especially Goodman and Arkin). I’m content with this movie winning Best Picture, amongst other Academy Awards, but I can’t say it would’ve been my choice. I’m still going to stick with The Master as my favorite film of 2012. Still, Argo is an excellent movie that deserves all of the recognition it is receiving.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – Review

25 Apr

Unfortunately, there really is no way for me to say this next statement without sounding like a pretentious douche bag, but I’m going to give it a shot because it has to be said to preface the review for Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. I’m absolutely sick and tired of the predictable, humdrum, and fearful styles that film makers implement nowadays, especially the Hollywood types. These familiar structures that are seen in many different mainstream movies are boring if not completely unoriginal. It takes a truly bold and talented film maker to take these conventions and manipulate them into something totally different. Shane Black does this with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and at the same time, mocks the overused mainstream formula.

As far as petty thievery goes, the world has seen better than Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.). When one of his attempts ends up with the police hot on his tail, he finds his escape through an audition to be in a Hollywood movie, and is actually considered for the role. He is flown to Los Angeles and put under the wing of Private Investigator Perry van Shrike, nicknamed “Gay Perry” (for reasons you can probably guess, in order to prepare for the upcoming role. He is soon mixed up in a bizarre web of crime involving a millionaire producer and his daughter, and the lovely girl from back home, Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan).

Shane Black is most known for writing the Lethal Weapon movies and is arguably one of the forerunners in the modern day action scene, although he went awhile without making a film. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is his directorial debut, and it is clear that he has talent in both the writing and directing areas of film. The dialogue in this film is quick, witty, and sarcastic from beginning to end. Some of the humor is easy to pick up on, and some requires the viewer to be paying attention to get the joke.

As I said before, this film exists to entertain the audience, but also to call out modern film conventions and formulas, and make a mockery out of them in a clearly tongue-in-cheek way. From the get go, Harry Lockhart establishes himself as a terrible and completely unreliable narrator by forgetting something important to the story and needing to go back or simply by saying that a certain scene seems unnecessary. This film is also very self-aware in the way that a few characters talk to the audience and give them advice. It’s a really funny tool used by Black, but these are just a few ways this movie plays with certain formulas. This film also succeeds in calling out the Hollywood/Beverly Hills culture and making a joke out the way these people live, and the ruthlessness behind the film industry.

In certain sections, the film tries its best to be really cool, in the sort of Ocean’s 11 or Snatch kind of way. Unfortunately, this is the area where the movie is pretty weak. This film tries really hard to belong in that subsection of crime films, and it doesn’t really work very well. I went into the movie expecting something like the aforementioned movies, but got something totally different. Luckily for Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, what I got instead was just as good, if not a little better, than what I was expecting, even though it had the potential to fall flat on its face.

The chemistry between Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer is fantastic and makes for some exceptionally hysterical bickering. This helps the audience sort of keep their head on straight and laugh while trying to make their way through the way too convoluted plot. I really enjoyed all of the scenes in the movie, but I don’t feel like I completely can wrap my head around everything that happened in the movie. There are so many twists and additional plot points that happen and the pace of the movie is so quick, you have to be paying very close attention to the characters and situations in order to firmly grasp the plot.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang may be convoluted and tries to hard to be cool, but the comedy, dialogue, and characters hit a home run and make this film a fantastic piece of self-aware entertainment. For anyone who is sick of the repetitive formula of most Hollywood films or if you just enjoy snappy wordplay, then Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is right up your alley. It’s are really good movie that I can’t wait to watch again!

Build-Up to The Avengers – Captain America

19 Apr

Well, this is it until The Avengers comes out in a couple weeks. I really could not be more excited, and it’s worth saying that this is a movie I’ve been dying to see since i was 7 years old. I’ve always been a Marvel guy who has been in love with the characters my whole life, and now comes the review for one of my favorite super heroes of all time, Captain America: The First Avenger. Did it live up to my expectations?

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a tiny, sickly, and extremely patriotic citizen of New York in the early 1940s. He dreams of being able to go to Europe and fight for his country in WWII, but his size and health permits him from doing so. Fortunately for Steve, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) recruits him, much to the disappointment of the cynical Col. Chester Philips (Tommy Lee Jones) and to the joy of British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Altwell) to be a part of a new experiment that will be used to create super soldiers to fight for America (which was hinted at in The Incredible Hulk). So Steve Rogers is transformed into the super soldier that is Captain America. At first, he is only used for American propaganda purposes, but soon joins the fight in Italy against the evil Nazi Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), better known as the Red Skull.

After seeing this, I am totally ready for The Avengers. This movie really had everything that a great super hero origin story needs. There was terrific build-up leading to both the experiment that gives Steve Rogers his super abilities and to the unmasking of the Red Skull. I was really looking forward to how these two things were going to be handled in Captain America, and I was not disappointed in the least.

Chris Evans gives a fine and sincere performance, and I can’t think of anyone else that would fit the role of Captain America better, but Hugo Weaving and Tommy Lee Jones are the real scene stealers here. It seems that the character of Johann Schmidt/Red Skull were made for Hugo Weaving. He acts here with such glaring malice that it’s impossible not to take your eyes off him whenever he’s on screen, and I could argue that he is the best Marvel villain portrayed in a movie yet. Then again, the Red Skull has been one of my favorite villains since I was a kid, so my opinion might be a little biased. Besides his performance, the make up for this character looks absolutely fantastic. Tommy Lee Jones hams up his grumpy persona yet again, but he made me laugh a lot, so mission accomplished there.

Captain America: The First Avenger has a really old timey, pulp look to it that I really love to see in movies. Another example with a style that is seen here is in the fantastic and under appreciated film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The CGI background with its different tints of brown, gray, and blue give this film a great atmosphere.

As much as I love this film, it is not perfect. The pacing in the beginning started out great, and I really enjoyed the work they put in the character’s backstory, but once Steve Rogers became Captain America, the film slows down for a little bit before the action gets picked up again. The parts I’m talking about are when he is being used as a piece of American propaganda. I understand that they put this in the film because that’s what Captain America originally was: a piece of propaganda in the early 1940s.

The history, the characters, the effects, and the action makes Captain America: The First Avenger an above average superhero flick. It’s popcorn entertainment with more heart than most summer movies. Captain America has been one of my favorite heroes for years, and it was really exciting to see him in a movie. There was another Captain America film made in the early ’90s, but it was pretty atrocious and didn’t capture what Captain America is all about, which this one did. I definitely recommend this film.

Now I have to wait until May 4th for The Avengers. Expect a review for it right after I get back from the theaters.

Traffic – Review

4 Apr

Steven Soderbergh has been around for quite a long time and has made a variety of different films, but in 2000, Soderbergh released a film that would be both heavily influential and controversial. Traffic is gritty, tough, emotional, and aims close to home.

Traffic is an epic tale that includes multiple story lines and characters involved one way or another with the Mexican drug trade. Javier Rodriguez (Benicio del Toro) is a Mexican police officer who finds himself and his partner tangled in a web of corruption between the sadistic General Salazar (Tomas Milian) and the notorious Tijuana Cartel. Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is a judge from Ohio who is elected head of the Office of National Drug control. Amongst his new responsibilities, Robert is struggling to help his daughter, Caroline, with her drug addiction. Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzman) are DEA agents who’re working together to bring down the drug lord Carlos Ayala. After his arrest, his wife, Helena (Catharine Zeta-Jones) dives deep into the underworld in order to get her husband out of prison, even to go so far as to hire a hit man (Clifton Collins Jr.) from the Tijuana Cartel to assassinate the main witness in her husband’s trial (Miguel Ferrer).

After watching this film, I felt sort of like I did after watching Syriana, although Traffic isn’t quite as difficult. Just because it isn’t as internationally intriguing as Syriana does not mean it is not as important. This is one of those films that should be shown in schools, despite it’s graphic depiction of drug use and the violence that it causes between nations.

At many points throughout the movie, the viewer gets many opportunities to observe the U.S./Mexican border. The story lines flow seamlessly from one country to the next with clever uses of lenses, filters, and cameras to signify where we are and how we should be feeling. The Mexican scenes are shot with handheld cameras with a grainy yellow filter to help the viewer feel the heat and grime of the drug underworld. The film stock of these scenes also gives them an older look that almost makes them look like scenes out of an experimental film. The Ohio and Washington D.C. scenes have a blue filter which I feel shows the coldness and artificiality of this type of government lifestyle. The scenes in San Diego appear to look the most normal, except with the reds heightened a little bit, for reasons I’m not too sure of. Needless to say, this film looks fantastic, and I think it’s rare to see this kind of attention to detail in films of this kind.

The story lines in Traffic slightly intersect, but not as much as you might expect. The point of the film is to show how this diverse group of characters play their part in the bigger story. At times you will see certain characters walking by each other or sitting in the same room, but they will never interact with anyone outside of their own story line. That is an interesting choice and works better than trying to force these characters to meet and interact with one another. For me, the most interesting story line is the Wakefield storyline because it has to do with the smaller battles that drugs cause and how they can not only tear nations apart, but also families.

There are many talented actors in this film. Benicio del Toro actually won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and it is deserved. It can be argued that his character is boring and monotone, but that is appropriate for who he is and the viewer can easily see the trouble the character is facing just by looking into his eyes. Michael Douglas also gives an incredibly moving performance, but I personally think that the scene stealer in this film  is Erika Christensen, who plays Douglas’ daughter, Caroline. We never hate this character even though she puts her parents through hell. We sympathize for her and want to see her get through her troubles, even though we don’t have much hope.

Traffic can arguably be considered the first modern epic. After this film was released, we saw many films like it, for example Crash and the aforementioned Syriana. Saying this film isn’t important in both the thematic sense and the historical sense would be a very bold statement to make, but I don’t think I would meet anyone who would say that after seeing this film.

Traffic is without a doubt a modern day masterpiece and only further defines Steven Soderbergh as one of the better film makers of our time. I also stand by my point that this film should be shown in schools. It neither condemns nor supports the War on Drugs, but it certainly alludes to the fact that it can not be won. Every story line is strong and interesting, it looks beautiful, and it is true to life. I definitely recommend this film.