Posted on 3/28/13 06:29 AM
After a muddled and crazily edited first 10 minutes, stoke settles in and delivers a satisfyingly entertaining thriller, although it could have been way better. While I always love when films transcend genres, this is a film that actually would have benefited from following the line of a specific genre. Director Chan-wook Park gives the film a horror feel at times, and more of a thriller/mystery feel at others, and as a result, the film inconsistent and uneasy. Nonetheless, it is still effective, even if forgettable.
Stoker revolves around India (Mia Wasikowska) a reserved high schooler who's just lost her father to an apparently mysterious death. Nicole Kidman plays her detached mother, and Matthew Goode plays her Uncle Charlie, whose existence she learns about for the first time when he shows up at his brother's funeral. India is suspicious of Charlie, but his charm leaves Evelyn (Kidman) looking the other. The plot pretty much just plays out with few surprises, but plot isn't really what matters with this kind of movie. Rather, here all that matters is the performances and the atmosphere, which, as I said above, is sort of all over the place, both good and bad.
Wasikowska's performance works depending on what kind of movie were watching at the given time. Her character is written so stone cold that there's little insight into her head to be found. But, when simply used as a pawn in a tale to disturb, Wasikowska plays it just right. Kidman plays it pretty straight as the disillusioned Evelyn, although her character takes a big turn that isn't quite developed enough to feel real. Goode gives the standout performance. Even though it's clear he's up to no good the moment we meet him, his charm practically work on us as well, at least enough to become invested in the mystery behind him.
Behind the camera, Chan-wook Park makes a lot of interesting decision, some that work some that don't. Particularly, the editing is really ambitious. Many unrelated scenes are cut together I assume to show what's going through India's mind. Sometimes the technique is affective, while others times it's just a mess. There's also a lot of inconsistency with the characters. Like I said, the characters work much better as pawns in a horror tale, and when Park treats them as such, the movie works. But when asked to understand them, it doesn't.
Now, this review may seem rather harsh for a movie I gave 3 out of 4 stars, so I'll leave with the positives. Park gives the film a very eerie, haunting mood that only a handful of directors can do. There's also plenty of provoking moments; there's one particular shot featuring a pencil sharpener that practically had me squealing in the theater. And lastly, if you look at it as a horror movie, it stacks up pretty well against most things being turned out today, both in scares and aesthetics. So while I wouldn't tell you to rush out and see it in the theater, it's definitely worth a rental.
Posted on 3/11/13 06:06 PM
Oz: The Great and Powerful has two main problems. First, in an attempt to offer an awe-inspiring journey through spectacular fantasy world, we're consequently fed an overkill amount of blatantly obvious CG effects that offer anything but a visually transcending experience. Secondly, the main characters are treated with almost zero respect, as development is kept to the minimal and the dialog given to them is just awful. The result is somewhat forgettable and somewhat disappointing waste of good material.
Presented as a prequel to the well-known series of children's novels and blatantly acknowledging the audiences familiarity with the 1939 classic, Oz doesn't offer much of a creative back-story to The Wizard Of Oz as much as it just uses the Oz name to get people into the theater to see a run-of-the-mill story. The idea is to give a back-story to renowned wizard, and explain how he came to the land of Oz. James Franco's character is Oscar, a financially and existentially struggling carnival magician looking to do more with his life. Luckily for him, destiny comes at literally the right moment via a tornado that takes him the magical Land of Oz, where upon his arrival he is believed to be the great wizard prophesized to free the citizens of Oz from the wrench of the wicked witch and what not. Oscar has to choose between keeping his newfound power, telling the truth, inspiring the citizens and yada yada yada and - spoiler alert - that's about as deep as it goes.
Along with the lazy plotline comes an equally lazy set of characters. And the performances of Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, and Mila Kunis don't bring much to the table either. Williams and Weisz have it easiest, as they're characters are so thinly written that they're pretty much allowed to sleep walk through their roles and get away with it. Likewise, Oscar is a pretty paint by the numbers character, but Franco could have at least brought some charisma to the role.
But it's Kunis who has the most to worry about. She plays Theodora, who becomes the iconic green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West after being hurt by Oscar and manipulated by her evil sister (Weisz). Theodora is treated with sympathy at first, but is disregarded later on, which makes for a puzzling and awkward experience. Kunis plays the pre and post transformation Theodora with such a strong contrast that it makes things even more confusing.
Visually there's nothing much more to say. While certainly not laughable, the effects aren't cutting edge either. Nothing is shown off in this film that we didn't know the industry was already producing. If there is a bright side to it - not just the visual side of the movie, but the whole movie itself - it's the CG characters of Finley the Monkey, and the Joey King voiced China Girl. While not revolutionary, they are both believable characters that give some life to movie suffering from lifeless visuals and performances.
The best part of the movie (besides the wonderful opening credits sequence) comes from the finale. Here it finally seems there was at least some imagination put into it. Still, everything before hand is so lifeless and uninspired that it was hard to leave the theater pleased.
Posted on 1/18/13 11:55 AM
In The Good Doctor, Orlando Bloom plays a young doctor fresh out of medical school. And let's just say he's got some issues.
The Doctor, Martin Blake, becomes allured by one his patients, high school student Diane, who has a kidney infection. Although her infection is nothing to sneeze at, Dr. Blake assures her everything is under control and quickly sends her home nice and healthy. Still enamoured by her however, he devises a plan to return her to his care.
The plot is certainly intriguing, but it takes more than just plot to make a thriller work. Bloom has the responsibility to flesh out an interesting character who despite making bad decisions, can connect with the viewer. Unfortunately, he fails to bring much to the character.
It also doesn't help that the character has little development to begin with. He hints at a desire for lots of respect, which is interesting, but that Idea is never established. I think this story would work better in a TV series than a 90 minute movie. With a back-story developed, Dr. Blake's reasoning would be clearer, and it would make for a more compelling character. In this film, he just seems like a bonehead doing stupid thing after stupid thing.
Even despite a weak lead performance, early on it has it's share of thrilling moments. But eventually, with nowhere to go, it succumbs to the clichéd route, which kills any chance it had of being interesting.
Posted on 1/17/13 08:46 PM
Frankenweenie is the type of Tim Burton movie I want to see more of. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of his entire body of work and, despite a couple misses here and there, believe he totally deserves the large following he has. Still, for the last decade a Tim Burton movie has meant nothing more than lots of flashy visuals and oversized heads, far from the Tim Burton movies of the 90's that are personal stories that entertain and move like nothing else out there can. And while he's capable of bringing flavor to outside projects - Sweeny Todd is a masterpiece - he's so much more valuable playing the dual role of storyteller and visual extraordinaire. That's why I loved Frankenweenie so much.
A remake of a short film Burton did for Disney in the 80's, Frankenweenie is a parady/homage to James Whale's Frankenstein about a child genius named Victor Frankenstein. Victor likes to spend his time making movies and creating inventions with his dog Sparky at his side at all times. However, Victor's dad, while having no issue with Victor's creative endeavors, would like to see his son step out and try something knew. This is a played-out kids movie motif, but Frankenweenie doesn't drag it along and actually uses it well. In this case, it actually helps flesh out the character, one that's safe to assume is partially based on Burton as a child.
Anyways, during Victor's first baseball game, Sparky goes after a hit ball and tragically gets hit by a car. Victor is stricken with grief and wants nothing more in the world than to bring Sparky back. Luckily for him, he learns in a science lecture that deceased animals reflexes can still be activated with electricity, giving him an idea that could bring back Sparky. In Frankenstein fashion, Victor hoists Sparky's corpse up into the thunder-filled storm, where strikes of lightening revive Sparky. The moment has been parodied so many times that I wasn't expecting it to be any different this time. This one though, is done in love for the original sequence, not going for the easy parodies but instead playing out naturally, feeling authentic to this particular movie.
Sparky's return from the dead eventually leads to a series of events that bring fear to the whole town. The second half lets Burton pay homage to not only monster movies of the 30's like Frankenstein, but also another iconic monster. Just like the creation sequence, there is so much love and respect put into it that they don't play like lame parodies, but actual thrilling entertainment. Burton pays homage to classic films by reviving their spirit into his film.
Visually, Frankenweenie is much more subtle than I expected. Instead of the vibrant, gothic tone seen in Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride, It uses a very simple, black and white landscape and a very basic design for characters. I'm glad this approach was taken, as even though explosive visuals are interesting, they also can make the viewing experience distracting and uncomfortable. The simple animation here makes it easy to just enjoy the tale. Ultimately, I just appreciated the energy and personality brought to the project, something the rest of the year's animated film lacked.
Posted on 1/11/13 07:58 PM
Since development was announced in 2011, the production of Zero Dark Thirty has been a magnet for controversy. The final product is no different, and is sure to continue to stir up debate all through its theatrical run. The current debate mainly focuses on the question of weather or not the film accurately portrays the impact harsh interrogation techniques had the finding of Osama Bin Laden, along with the question of weather or not the film is accurate in general.
Obviously, there is no way for any outsider to learn exactly how the classified ten-year hunt for Bin Laden went down and make a completely factual movie about it. The only thing writer Mark Boal can do is get as much information from first hand accounts as possible and condense that info into an understandable narrative (along with giving the story the necessary dramatic tweaks) that director Kathryn Bigelow can breath life into. As I see it, that's the case here.
ZDT is compelling and riveting all the way through, as both a drama and a thriller. The narrative is a sturdy piece of work that keeps the audience at hand. Even when scenes filled with jargon come up it manages to reel you right back in and catch you up to speed. At times it's a perfect edge of your seat thriller, especially in the final moments, which is the most thrilling sequence of the year.
Although over hundreds of people helped put together the pieces, Boal's script mainly focuses on Jessica Chastain's character Maya, an alias for a woman sources agree was instrumental in finding Bin Laden. Focusing on one character not only makes the procedural nature of the story easy to absorb, but also more dramatic. We're given more than just a procedural drama here, but a character study as well. Chastain's performance is so subtle that early on I was puzzled as to what all the hype of her performance was all about. But as the movie goes on and we see how the hunt consumes her character to the point where the only thing that matters to her is to see Bin Laden dead.
Jason Clarke is the other most memorable performance in the movie. He plays Dan, Maya's fellow agent who headlines most of the interrogation scenes. Dan serves as one of the primary counterparts to Maya. Kyle Chandler plays an Embassy Station Chief, a character that gives insight to the political motivations of the search. Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez, Jennifer Ehle, and James Gandolfini are the other familiar faces that show up and although their performances are much less interesting they do help keep the movie running smoothly.
I would have liked to see from the narrative would be a few scenes here and there to show what some of the other leads, theories, etc., were. Since we know where this movie's going to end, we also know that Maya is absolutely right. It would have been interesting to see what others in the intelligence community were thinking, and it would have made the decision to raid the compound all the more compelling.
You can have a debate on the political aspects of the film, but you can't blame the film itself for making any statements. I wouldn't argue it's not political movie, but it's definitely not a partisan movie. It has no motivations other than telling a compelling story.
Chastain has little screen time during the last half hour as it is mostly devoted to the navy seals that actually carried out the assassination, but the bits she gets at the end are when she's at her best. As I see it, Maya really about reveals what the movie is during the final minutes. All we know about Maya's past is that she was recruited at a young age. We don't know why she joined the CIA. Out of passion for her country? Just cause she's good at it? Maya has given so much of herself to finding Bin Laden that she's lost whatever passion she had for her job. The jobs become almost too much for even the most brilliant people, such as Maya. Jason Clarke's Dan goes through something similar earlier on. She doesn't quite have a grasp of what her morals are or what her ethics are. To me, Zero Dark Thirty isn't supposed to be a history lesson, a politically minded film, or even necessary great entertainment (although it is great entertainment). It's a character study that asks the question of what it means to serve your country.
Posted on 1/09/13 09:39 PM
Warm Bodies is a zombie movie that sets out to charm audiences with a fairly standard but nontheless potentially worthwhile premise. The problem is that it doesn't build off the premise, instead just solely relying on it.
It's a Romeo & Juliet tale where a Zombie named "R" (he can't remember his name; only that is starts with R) falls for a human appropriately named Julie. The circumstances surrounding R and Julie's first encounter are actually quite clever, and allow the film knock a few rom-com clichés. Thematically though, R and Julie budding romance fails to hit any notes. A zombie-human love sounds good on paper, but like any on-screen romance, things just have to click to work, and they don't here. I know it sounds silly to be critical about a lack of chemistry between a pairing that includes a zombie, but if the filmmakers couldn't find a way to make things work, the story shouldn't have been told at all.
In the third act though, the film finally finds its groove a little. I finally was laughing and enjoying myself. If the narrative had flowed as naturally throughout the whole film as it did in the last 30 minutes, this movie could have been a lot of fun.
Most people in the screening with me appeared to be pleased with what they saw. I heard common phrases thrown around like "it was cute" or "it was pretty good." This is by know means a terrible film, but one that did little to earn my pleasure.
Posted on 12/26/12 09:52 PM
For those like me who have never read Victor Hugo's 5 volume epic novel, seen the world-renowned musical, or any one of the many screen adaptations, Tom Hooper's Les Misérables will be the first experience with the powerful and moving tale, as well as the tremendous music from Claude-Michel Schönberg. Having now seen Hooper's musical adaptation, I understand full well why the musical is one of the most successful ever.
I've herd bits and pieces of the soundtrack here and there, but listening to it non-stop for 2 and a half hours is the only way to understand how brilliant it is. It's an epic score that's riveting and heartfelt at the same time, almost telling the story of Jean Valjean on it's own. And everyone involved in the film is up for the task of delivering it to new audiences, as well as those already fans.
The cast is stellar. Anne Hathaway has been getting the most attention - and by no means does she not deserve it; I can't imagine anyone else winning the Oscar this year - but lesser known Samantha Barks certainly deserves recognition. Both actresses perform solo numbers that on their own earn each actress an Oscar nom as far as I'm concerned. Both performances should make an subtle easy connection with audience members, and Hooper wisely doesn't get gimmicky with musical numbers, instead shooting simple close ups and letting the performers do the work. Russell Crowe also gives a surprising turn, one of the best male supporting performances of the year. Sacha Coen and Helena Bonham-Carter, playing their typical caricatures, fit perfectly in their roles.
Playing the lead, Hugh Jackman didn't blow my mind, but he certainly fit the part fine. There were times though, when I wondered weather Jackman was truly the best choice, and that maybe his involvement with the project has more to do with a need for a big star in the lead. Specifically, it's Jackman's solo musical numbers that lack the punch his co-stars give. However, Jackman is nonetheless solid and undoubtedly committed to the role, and doesn't affect the experience in any negative way.
Where I found Les Mis lacking was in emotional connections between characters. While a clear connection is easily established between each character individually and the audience, the relationships among some of the characters themselves aren't as moving. Specifically, the love triangle involving Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Barks' character, a major element to the story, isn't fully developed, and that slows down the second act narrative quite a bit.
I guess logically I can't really say this, since this is the only form of the story I've ever watched/read, but I can only assume this adaptation only offers a glimpse of the brilliance of Les Misérables. That said, it is a worthwhile glimpse, one that I believe will please audiences familiar with the material a not familiar. Even with its flaws, it didn't leave me unmoved, and I'm excited to dive deeper into the tale. I look forward to taking a shot at reading the novel, exploring the other film adaptations, and who knows, maybe seeing the musical on stage.
Posted on 12/14/12 04:41 PM
Silver Linings Playbook is not only one of the best movies of the year - perhaps the best of the year, my favorite so far -, but one of the best romantic comedies to come out in a good while. I wouldn't have believed you if you told me at the beginning of the year this film would be one of my favorites. I came out of the theater enthralled though, to my pleasant surprise. This film does nothing extraordinary. But that's what makes it so great. It's the kind of film that sneaks up on you as you go along, as you invest yourself deeper into the story, and get caught up in the characters.
Based on the book of the same name by Matthew Quick, Silver Linings is about substitute teacher name Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, who after spending 8 months in a mental hospital returns to Philadelphia to try to make amends with his wife Nikki. With a new outlook on life, Pat spends his time being as productive as possible with the intent to stay positive, looking for a "silver lining." One of the first things he does is get his wife's syllabus - she's an English teacher - in order to gain and understanding on what's important to her. One of the funniest and most important scenes of the film is the reaction Pat has to Ernest Hemmingway's A Farewell To Arms.
Via his journey to reconnecting with Nikki (a tough journey at that, as she has a restraining order on him), he crosses paths with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a depressed widow who unlike Pat is having a hard time seeing "silver linings" in life. It's no secret to anyone who's seen a rom-com that the two journeys are destined to converge, but it's rare that it's so satisfying for an audience to see it happen. Every moment Cooper and Lawrence share on screen is funny, charming, and moving (often in an un-traditional way) at the same time.
Is Silver Linings clichéd? Absolutely. But what separates it from countless other clichéd romantic comedies is that Silver Linings is proud about it. It's a reminder to audiences that not every movie about love has to end badly. The title describes the film's purpose perfectly. Life can be tough for some people, but there can be a silver lining. Silver Linings Playbook wears that message right on its sleeve.
Posted on 9/21/12 09:04 PM
From the first shot of Joaquin Phoenix, The Master appears headed for greatness. Why? For one, this is a PT Anderson picture, and he's given us two of the most mesmerizing character studies of the 21st century in Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. In both of those films, he presents a protagonist who deep inside holds a passionate flame of rage ready to burst out at the right moment. Anderson is a master at developing these characters, allowing the audience to slowly absorb their mindset and feelings.
Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a character that's instantly intriguing. We meet Freddie on a beach, where he and his fellow navy men are spending sometime off duty. Freddie is attempting to get drunk off of some sort of coconut concoction. Actually, we see he's always trying to get drunk as we follow his post war exploits for the first 20 minutes or so of the film. Every frame of these twenty minutes is absolutely perfect, making the character all the more fascinating by the minute.
The meat of the story though, begins when Freddie finds himself hitting rock bottom, with few options left. He ends up getting caught up with a rising spiritual movement called "The Cause" headed by the charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour-Hoffman). You of course expect that this is where those emotions inside Freddie should start coming out, and become clearer. However, things turn out not to be that simple.
The Master an intellectual film that is likely to be the most conversation-provoking movie of the year. At an emotional level though, it doesn't hit the spot. It has these big themes it's dealing with, like faith, and alcoholism, yet beneath all of that it seems to loose track of the characters. Quell and Dodd are both extremely fascinating characters, but I felt like I was on the outside looking in at them, never getting a sense of their motivations or thoughts. "What's troubling Freddie?" I asked myself. I can think of some possibilities, but I couldn't feel them.
To make things worse, the distance between the characters and myself only seems to grow as the films moves on. Midway through, Freddie has become the right hand man of sorts to Dodd. What puzzled me though, was where this connection between the two was coming from. Again, I could come up with some possibilities, but I don't want a movie to leave me guessing; I want it to show me. Why is Freddie so compelled by the cause? What are these demons that seem to bother him? Ultimately, Freddie ends up in a position where he has to evaluate his commitment to the organization as well as his future altogether, and again I was left confused and in the dark. The ending is ambiguous and I can't seem to see Freddie in a way any different from how I saw him five minutes in. I'm not asking for complete answers, just enough evidence to come up with an interpretation.
I feel it sets itself up to deliver so much that it's hard to avoid being even just a little disappointed. I do understand, however that many people will - and already have been - completely engrossed by this movie, and I will not argue with them. This review reflects not really my criticism of the film, as much as my inability to connect with the characters. I honestly envy anyone who was able to do that. That said, The Master has much to dissect intellectually, and I look forward to repeat viewings.
Posted on 9/20/12 06:30 PM
Pretty much the only place Detachment suffers is a few moments of choppy, unnatural acting. However, it's a rare drama that doesn't rely on bold, pitch-perfect performances to carry the film, but rather a brutal yet focused mindset on the real issues the film examines with honesty and no false answers to try soften the blow.
Adrian Brody plays a substitute English teacher named Henry, who is filling in for a week or so at a failing inner city high school. His first encounter with the students in his first hour class results in an unruly, disrespectful young man being sent out within minutes. Henry is completely untouched by any words thrown at him, yet not in any power-asserting way. He kicks out the student with literally no care. He doesn't tell the student to go the dean's office or anywhere specific; go anywhere, just get out of the classroom if he doesn't want to learn.
Henry is also a great teacher. His students love him even after only having him for only a couple days. He is not nourishing, but he is understanding, letting his students talk to him while keeping his distance. His most prominent characteristic seems to be the titular sense of Detachment. Henry is not the optimistic teacher we've seen in countless education based films where a teacher strive to lift his or her student's spirits up. Henry is cynic, haunted by a past not made clear but hinted at. He talks about teachers entering the field with aspirations to make a difference, build future leaders, and change a culture of failure into one of achievement, before running into the harsh reality that there is only so much an educator can do. We're left to wonder if Henry is talking about himself or not.
The film does not follow a conventional plot. It exists within a certain timeframe, but one that can be placed at any time at any school in the country. Watching the movie is like looking through a lens that shows a general picture of the public school system. Tony Kaye doesn't use this picture to make any statements. He's not interesting in giving any opinions. Detachment is a true work of art that takes an objective look at a vital issue without pointing any fingers, not calling for instant resolutions.
Too many dramas place too much weight on their actors to carry the film's power. Detachment hold it's own. Many sequences of dialog do not sound natural - particular scenes where Henry has one on one conversations with students - and they are the weak spots in this film. However, these scenes hardly affect the viewing experience because the film never sets itself up to be all about singular performances. What's most important is what those moments add to the story, and how they reflect reality, even if it is not a perfect reenactment of reality. That said, Adrien Brody as Henry is not to be thrown under the bus. Brody leads an ensemble that does every character justice, even with limited screen time.
Detachment is not a film out to inspire anyone or give ideas on how to fix the system. It does nothing more than what a piece of filmmaking should do: make viewers think. Hopefully watching this film will cause one to consider what really is standing in the way of inner city children and a good education, and the answer is not bad teachers or not enough funding. Can you see what it is? I guess the follow up to that would be, "can anything really be done about it?"