I am in the process of wrapping up my Master's in English and I hope to become a teacher. If I get a job as a teacher, I hope to show films some of the time because I feel films are, in some ways, a valid from of literature and are worthy of study.
I have always loved movies. But I have not started reviewing them until recently. I cranked out a bunch over the summer and spent most of my time not working watching all sorts of movies I have been meaning to see.
Some of my favourite directors include David Lynch, Martin Scorcese, Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, and Alfred Hitchcock.
Like my reviews? Disagree? Drop me a message. I am always up for a lively debate.
Seriously though, Sam Raimi's "Oz the Great and Powerful" had the potential to be a great fantasy film: great concept, interesting plot, amazing visuals, and a good choice of actors. Instead, we are given another "Alice in Wonderland;" a 200 million dollar exercise in mediocrity. A lot of fluff with no substance.
As I mentioned, the visual effects are incredible. It is one of the few films I can think of where the 3D is actually useful and complements the story. Starting the film in black and white was a nice throwback to the 1939 classic.
But beyond this fluff and dazzle lies poorly executed melodrama. The main culprit is Mila "Shut-up Meg" Kunis who plays the future Wicked Witch of the West. The attempt to make Theodora a sympathetic character falls flat. Rather than feel sorry for her, you just think of her as a whiny, naive, easily-led child (Shut-up, Meg.)
Additionally, there was potential for Sam Raimi to get back to his Evil Dead/Drag Me to Hell roots and really ham it up with some comic violence and perhaps some scares. To be fair, he kind of achieves this later on with Evanora (Rachel Weisz who was a high point of the movie), but it's too little too late. Sam Raimi, I think, does not work well within a high budget (i.e. Spiderman 3).
The movie focuses more on visual bombast than it does on quality plot and writing. Perhaps they should have refined the script first before amping up the fluff, a classic Hollywood manoevure.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" marks an audacious and beautiful debut for rookie director Benh Zeitlin. Being a big hit at Sundance and Cannes, where it won the Camera d'Or for best first feature, Zeitlin's film has earned major praise from critics and garnering four Oscar noms.
"Beasts" follows Hushpuppy (Quvenzahane Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) as they live in squalor in an area known as "The Bathtub" and battle the elements of nature as large creatures known as Aurlochs close in on them.
Zeitlin has a clear aesthetic eye. The cinematography matches perfectly with the magical-realist quality of the film, definitely making it one of the more beautiful films I have seen this year. The shots depict what is essentially a wasteland that is surrounded by swamp and water. At the same time, the film highlights the fantastical, from a child's sparklers to ten-foot tall boar-like Aurlochs stampeding across the countryside. And Zeitlin pulls triple duty as director, screenwriter, and composer. He hits the right notes, so to speak, with matching the music to the setting and adding a hint of whimsy that complements the film exceptionally.
I was also impressed with Wallis's performance as Hushpuppy. The depths she delves in her character is extraordinary, especially when consider that she was five years old at the time of shooting. She is strong-willed, courageous, and brave, but at the same appropriately exhibits the right amount of fragility typical of a girl that age.
Despite the great performance, and amazing job ensuring an aesthetically pleasing experience. I was very troubled by the hyperbolic nature of the dramatic element and utilization of stereotypes to convey the story. Zeitlin lacks subtlety and really aims, to borrow a term from the internet, to "hit you right in the feels" hard. And what better way to achieve this by having a drunk, unintelligent, abusive black man as a father that hangs around with white trash as the main character's father? And what better way to achieve this overdramatic nature by having a sweet, naive child that faces this abuse to be the centre of the story? I am not saying that this undermine Wallis's performance, nor does it undermine the cast. Rather, it undermines Zeitlin's direction and script. Instead of coming across as sympathetic, the films viewpoint borderlines on condescension.
Superficially, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is a visual wonder with a fantastic performance. But under the surface, the films uses tired sterotypes in a rather unsympathetic manner, ultimately making what could have been a fantastic film a mediocre one.
Everytime Quentin Tarantino releases a new film, you know you are in for bloody good time. Now that the lame joke is out of the way... 'Django Unchained' is pretty much what you expect from a run of the mill Tarantino movie: racial epithets thrown around like no one's business, necessary unnecessarily blood explosions, over-the-top acting, and just the right amount of dark humour.
The film follows the exploits of the titular Django (Jamie Foxx) and his quest to find his love Broomhilde (Kerry Washington). He is freed by dentist/bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who Tarantino always brings out the best of) to join him in hunting down bounties. Along the way, the pair encounter different malefiscents (such as Don Johnson, and Jonah Hill) until they finally meet up with the slave owner holding Broomhilde (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his house slave (Samuel L. Jackson).
Tarantino picks up where 'Inglourious Basterds' left off with another revenge narrative suitable for the spaghetti western motif. His ability to modernize a seemingly retired genre works well, despite some people critiquing that "there were no slaves in the Wild West. Why make a western?" Why not? The movie explicitly does not take place exclusively in what we know as "the West." Rather, Tarantino is merely borrowing the style for his own means. It is very much in the spaghetti western tradition: excessively evil bad guys, a tale of revenge, gritty violence, damsel in distress. And it works wonders.
Some (*cough* Armond White *cough*) have criticized SamJack's fantastic role as the deliciously evil house slave Stephen. This role, however, is clearly one of his better roles and definitely one Jackson rightly relished. It is evident that Jackson drew on his experience as a former Black Panther to emphasize Stephen's devotion to Calvin Candie. Candie is another character some have criticized, yet I find him one of the best as well. It is so refreshing to see DiCaprio play against type so well. Like Schultz did with Col. Hans Landa in "Basterds," DiCaprio has fun with character and fleshes out some particularly lascivious idiosyncracies in Candie (whom I would bet lusts after his sister HARD).
Say what you will about the gratuitous use of racial epithets, over-the-top violence, Jamie Foxx's upside-down dong, or Tarantino's horrendous acting, it is all classic Tarantino. It all might seem unnecessariy, but within the context it works almost too well. Don't let its near 3-hour running time scare you, it is worth the price of admission and should rightly be lauded.
It is rare that a director hits all the right notes with their first film. Every now and again you get a "Reservoir Dogs" or an "Eraserhead" or a "MASH" where they hit it out of the park. But for every "12 Angry Men," there are several "Shallow Graves" and "Bottle Rockets" where a director is still finding their way. Such is Stanley Kubrick's first feature "Fear and Desire."
A group soldiers find themselves behind enemy lines and are trying desparately to get back to base. As the pressures of war wear on one of the soldiers, they stumble upon an enemy base where a mad general resides. The soldiers must decide whether to strike a strong blow to the enemy or to escape back to base.
At a taut 60 minutes, the film is thin on plot and character development. The storyline is not too simple, but Kubrick at this point simply did not have the experience. He doesn't take the time to flesh out character neuroses nor does he develop any sort of tension that would make this film a more exciting and engaging one. As a result, the characters are rather flat with only brief glimpses into their true character.
Yet, despite its shortcomings, there are surfacings of typical Kubrickian themes and styles. In the soldier Sidney (Paul Mazursky), we see the how the pressures of war can ravage the mind. This theme, however, is better played out in his later films, mainly "Paths of Glory" and "Full Metal Jacket." We also are shown a mad man with authority. In arguably the best scene in the film, we see the enemy General philosophizing about war to his dog. It is reminiscent of future incompetent and mad authority figures in "Paths of Glory" and "Dr. Strangelove."
One thing that is evident from this film is the consistent quality of Kubrick's eye for beautiful photography. Like some of his great works, like "A Clockwork Orange," or "2001: A Space Odyssey," he effectively sets up his shots well. He does well to capture the intensity of the soldiers and conveys the setting in an uncanny manner.
Until recently, this film was rarely seen and it was one of two films Kubrick made that he disowned (the other being "Spartacus"). However, an edition has been released on Blu-Ray and DVD recently that warrants exploring. Compared to Kubrick's works as a whole, it does not live up to the quality that Kubrick produces. But it is absolutely worth watching, if only to see the surfacings of Kubrick's future genius.
What Rope proves about Alfred Hitchcock, probably more than any of his other films prior to his classics like Vertigo and Psycho, is that he was truly a filmmaker ahead of his time. This taut, claustrophobic thriller may be one of his more underappreciated films, falling between his time working under Selznick, and his boon from the mid-50's onward.
Rope focuses on two college friends and a murder they commit right before they host a dinner party for friends of the murdered young man. The film takes place solely in their apartment and sees their dinner guests, consisting of the murdered man's girlfriend, father, aunt, former best friend, and their old boarding schoolmaster (Jimmy Stewart), drift in and out of the apartment. Hitchcock weaves together approximately 95% of the film's action in one seamless take, focussing on the movement in the room, for example, while the audience overhears a conversation. For 1948, this technique is certainly avant-garde and a clear preview to the likes of Robert Altman and David Mamet. Hitchcock had already proved his ability to create a great thriller with films like The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Spellbound, and Notorious. But it is his artistic freedom with this picture and using the tension of the setting that really makes Rope a standout. He masterfully alludes the homosexual bond between the murders with great relish. The highlight of this allusion being right at the beginning after the murder is committed and the dialogue afterwards sounding like post-coital awkwardness (After Brandon turns the lights on, his partner-in-crime says "No, leave them off"). Being the late-1940s, it is shocking that such overt expressions of homosexuality got by unchecked. Thankfully, it did. And the film is better because of it as it adds sexual tension to the already claustrophobic and nerve-wracking situation presented.
Based on a play, Hitch does the right thing in making the setting very much like a theatrical production and it adds to the tenseness. The audience is aware that the body is right there in the chest the entire time. With the guests all sitting around it talking philosophically about death, murder, and superiority within the human race, it adds a darkly comic element to the film. But when the maid starts clearing off the table, your heart starts racing as you think that the maid will stumble upon it blowing the whole macabre display wide open. Yet, it is the professor (a great Jimmy Stewart) who starts piecing things together and questioning the purpose of the dinner party.
The professor, unwittingly, had an influence on the boys to commit the murder. Part of his theory is that creatures, including man, are justified in killing each other to weed out the weak, a sort of social-Darwinist view on murder. When he finds out that his theories have been put into practice, he comes to grips with the effect of his ideas if they are put into practice.
Rope, then, is more than just a thriller. It is, in fact, a deep and layered film that only someone like Hitchcock could pull off in the 1940s. He cobbles together a tense, taut, and philosophic movie that also entertains and keeps the audience captivated. It's further of what everyone already knew about Hitchcock: he truly is the master of suspense.