Posted on 3/16/14 10:05 PM
"Laws change. Societal systems crumble. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, it is a plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all." - Bass
A great achievement on many levels, 12 Years a Slave a stirring, emotional journey. Bolstered by a castful of powerful performances, what appears to be the journey of a single man becomes a reflection of society as a whole.
Based on a memoir written by its protagonist, 12 Years a Slave follows Solomon Northrup as he gets torn from his life as a free man and put into the brutal system of slavery in antebellum Louisiana. This straightforward plot allows for a deeper delving into of what characters and situations we have, a nice change from the globe-trotting blockbusters that are so prevalent nowadays.
Stylistically, the film is unblemished. A bright, unfiltered view of 1850's Louisiana adds to the realism. The brutality that was so common in that time is kept just out of the screen, with the camera glancing over, rather than lingering on it, leaving its results painfully up to our own interpretation. What does get shown onscreen is subtle. The little spurts of blood flew out from whippings, yielded a greater effect to me than the massive geysers of the stuff as seen in 300 and the like.
Most importantly, this tale about a single man and his struggles becomes an exploration of many sides of society. We see some of the slaves submitting to survive while others rise of in defiance. With the slave owners, more interesting dynamics occur. With Benedict Cumberbatch's Ford, we see a sympathetic and caring man who blinds himself to the inherent evil on which he stands. Epps, portrayed by the brilliant Michael Fassbender, gives us true, pure evil, who exploits anything and everything for his own, selfish gain. The contrast between our primary characters is also stark. Patsy is broken and on the verge of giving up, while Solomon refuses to forget what he had before. All of these characters create a fascinating collage of beliefs and mindsets that are still relevant today.
In the end, we get a unflinching look at the brutal world of slavery. It is a reminder of what people have been through and what people have triumphed over. But the most significant and heartbreaking part of this film is when it reminds us of how people are.
Posted on 3/16/14 10:05 PM
It's probably bad that I came out of this movie thinking about how great Noah looks. Undoubtedly, the relatively straightforward tale of a man tasked with saving the planet in the face of a flood will work better than the mess of a film that Son of God is.
Cut from what was apparently a relatively successful series covering the entire Bible, Son of God brings the focus to the life of Jesus of Nazareth and all of his accomplishments. This in and of itself is a problem. Despite cutting out the first half of Jesus's life, the filmmakers still end up with a massive amount of material to work with. Unfortunately, they try and cram all of it in. As a result, we get Jesus and his pack of disciples galloping from miracle to miracle, with essentially nothing to bridge the gaps in between. This works terribly. What we are left with is a superficial glance at all of the deeds of an intriguing man and no exploration of what was behind them.
As Jesus, Diogo Morgado does not work. He comes off as naive, uncertain, and dumb. He fluctuates between dead serious and hopelessly astonished. Unfortunately, he spends most of the time as the latter, which results in a bunch of moments where dramatic developments are rendered moot by the childish astonishment upon Morgado's face. The rest of the cast is rather underused. Most of the disciples come off as background characters, doing nothing more than filling the necessary quota of followers. Mary Magdalene tagged along incessantly and becomes ridiculously hysterical by the end. Two brighter spots were Potius Pilate and Nicodemus. They add a bit of a sense of conflict to a movie devoid of it.
With its rather bold title, one would expect Son of God to at least explore the titular character a tiny bit. Alas, this is not the case. This heavy handed film gives a quick glance at everything in a vast story without giving meaning to any of it. Things are left open to interpretation, entirely so, with no hints at some possible explanations. As a result, we are forced to make our own connections to them. I, for one, kept on thinking of Monty Python's excellent Life of Brian. "Blessed are the cheesemakers" might not be what Jesus said, but it's still more than anything that is said in this film.
Posted on 3/08/14 05:47 PM
"For glory's sake, for vengeance's sake... war!" - Xerxes
A somewhat unnecessary, yet moderately entertaining addition to the world of 300, Rise of an Empire adds some new, exciting elements but fails to capture the excitement and aura of the original.
Revolving around everything that was occurring before, during, and after the Battle at Thermopylae, Rise of an Empire serves as a good exposition for the ancient Greek world, covering a good deal more than the Sparta-centered story of 300 did. However, this more expansive scale results in less exploration of elements, giving this film a more hurried and superficial pace, for better or for worse.
Sullivan Stapleton makes for a decent lead, as the troubled Themistocles. He brings a cool, calm demeanor to the role, a good contrast from the boisterous, macho bravado of Gerard Butler's Leonidas. However, this lack of passion results in not much for Stapleton to play with. Some hints of Themistocles's flaws are played with, but never really expanded upon. On the other hand, we have the wonderful Eva Green, who gives us a very good performance as Artemisia. With an intriguing background story and a fiery passion, she is undoubtedly the best part of this movie. Other supporting characters have little left to do. Xerxes, unfortunately, is mostly sidelined throughout the film. A new father/son relationship between two of the Athenians is predictable and uninspired. An intense sex scene ends up being the best character exposition scene. The rest is really just all blood and glory.
That being said, the battle scenes are relatively well down. The fight choreography is excellent and the inclusion of naval warfare makes for some great ship to ship battles. The only problem is when things become a bit much. Blood gushes excessively throughout all the fights, coming out as big, dark blotches of thick fluid. It's all rather unrealistic and distracting, undoubtedly part of director Noam Murro's attempt to stay true to the style of 300. Also, the enormous amount of war clashes that occur throughout the film take away any build up or suspense.
Overall, we get a decent movie that tries to capture the soul and tone of it's predecessor, but ends up taking it a bit too far.
Posted on 12/26/13 10:02 PM
Yet another solid addition to Peter Jackson's Middle Earth saga, Desolation of Smaug manages to clear up some of the deficiencies of its predecessor but still doesn't quite reach the highest levels of the series.
With all the exposition done with in Unexpected Journey, Desolation drives along at a steady pace, moving characters from location to location with speed and branching off to a subplot when the scene needs to be returned to. All in all, it's far more exciting than Unexpected Journey.
Desolation of Smaug explores the latter part of the dwarves' journey, from Beorn's home to the Lonely Mountain. This last stretch of the trip covers a vast number of locales, such as Mirkwood, the Elven kingdom therein, Lake-Town, and the vaults of Erebor. In addition, Gandalf's exploration of Dol Goldur adds another mysterious environment, one that works to connect this movie and the original trilogy. In this wide variety of locations, several new characters are introduced. Tauriel and Thranduil, from the Elven kingdom, are the most intriguing additions. They each seem to have a rich story and bring a certain gravitas with themselves in each scene. Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman adds a more serious but important tone to the second half of the film. Orlando Bloom makes a welcome return as Legolas, giving us some of the most memorable fight sequences of the decade.
Lastly, we have Smaug. The dragon everyone has been waiting for. And the wait was worth it. Rendered on an enormous scale, Smaug is probably the largest dragon film has ever seen to this point. His voice, provided by Benedict Cumberbatch, rumbles through the theater, adding to his vastness and dominance. In contrast to the orcs, led by Azog, who gets some interesting developments in Desolation, Smaug is inevitable, something the Company must confront rather than flee from. As such, many passions get aroused, leading Thorin, and consequently, Bilbo, down new, unexpected paths, drawing things up to the epic conclusion of the trilogy, due out next year.
But for now, Desolation of Smaug is all we have. And it is quite enough.
Posted on 12/05/13 02:57 PM
The finest entry in Phase 2 of Marvel's Cinematic Universe so far, Thor: The Dark World finally delivers what this year has been lacking: a good superhero movie.Earlier this year, we were given Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and The Wolverine, all of which had their own problems. While Thor 2 is not perfect, it delivers something closer to last year's double whammy of Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises than we have seen at all this year.
Thor: The Dark World picks up shortly after Avengers, with Loki being put in prison for his crimes and Thor flying about the galaxy restoring peace in the wake of the Chitauri invasion. A new threat emerges when Jane Foster inadvertently activates an ancient weapon, the Aether. This in turn awakens Malekith and his dormant army of Dark Elves. What ensues is an entertaining trek through the Nine Realms.
Plotwise, things are very straightforward. Sometimes, even a little too straightforward. We are never really given a good description of what the Aether does exactly and why Malekith wants to plunge the universe into darkness. The audience is just expected to accept that the Dark Elves are a threat and that their plans must be stopped. Whether for better or for worse, these plot details are blanketed with enough humor to match The Avengers.
Chris Hemsworth is reliably solid as Thor. His character arc isn't quite as interesting as it was in the first one, but he still does a fine job. Natalie Portman gets more to do as Jane Foster this time around, while Anthony Hopkins's Odin and Idris Elba's Heimdall are given smaller parts. Kat Dennings as Darcy is as humorous as ever. However, the best performance comes from fan favorite Tom Hiddleston. Loki is as charming and captivating as ever and the chemistry between him and Thor really plays out well. Unfortunately, this focus on Loki may have prevented newcomer Christopher Eccleston from properly developing Malekith, the new villain. While he and his army of Dark Elves look great, they lack a good backstory to make them less two dimensional.
Visually, the direction of Alan Taylor has had an immense impact on the film. The shiny Asgard from Thor is replaced with a grittier, stony environment. The fights this time are more like battles, which play out on an epic scale, especially the climatic battle that adds an unexpected but amazing element that hasn't really been done before.
Thor: The Dark World is a solid entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first in what will hopefully be a fruitful winter movie season.
Posted on 11/23/13 05:05 PM
An improvement on the first film, Catching Fire puts forth some intriguing ideas and concepts, but fails deliver the excitement that one would expect from a gladiatorial style bloodbath in a contained arena.
This time, a larger part of the story is devoted to the events outside the Hunger Games arena, on the effect that Katniss and Peeta's actions have had on the society. The most intriguing bits of the film come here. Up until the actual Hunger Games, we are treated to a deep look into the ideas of hope and fear and oppression. After the titular games commence, we get a rushed, dull survival tale.
Stylistically, new director Francis Lawrence's smooth cinematography is a vast improvement than the increasingly popular, typically annoying shaky cam that we had in the first. The designs of the landscapes and costumes are more sleek, less glamorous, yet more grand. Overall, the feel of Catching Fire is superior to its predecessor.
The cast, as always, is splendid. Jennifer Lawrence, off her Oscar win earlier this year, gets more emotional moments as Katniss Everdeen, and she pulls it off fantastically. Among the supporting cast, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, and Woody Harrelson provide the most memorable performances. Unfortunately, many of the other Tributes, many who are given intriguing backstories, get lost in the shuffle and feel underused.
Posted on 11/02/13 10:53 PM
Ender's Game is the latest book to movie feature to land in a year full of uninspired, undesired attempts to spark a new film franchise. Fortunately, this one works.
Ender's Game follows Ender Wiggin as he makes his way through Battle School, a beautiful space station orbiting Earth, as part of an effort to put brilliant children in charge of an assault on an alien species that had previously ravaged Earth. Based off the novel by Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game cuts out a substantial portion of the material in the novel, a necessary but unfortunate change. The novel was both politically, morally, and strategically deep. The film dumps the political aspects and focuses on the strategic side, with the moral exploration coming in on certain occasions. The result is a decent, straightforward story with some moments that hint at how much more this film could have been.
Acting wise, Ender's Game is spot on. Asa Butterfield does a great job as Ender, giving us an emotional, conflicted protagonist that we can connect to. Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley do well as a pair of upper echelon military figures who are often at odds about what to do with Ender. Aramis Knight and Hailee Steinfeld come across well as my two favorite students from Battle School.
As is typical of most sci-fi movies nowadays, the visuals are spot on, with the best moments coming from the climatic battle between hordes of alien ships and hundreds of drones. While nothing is particularly new or original, what is there is done perfectly.
Once or twice in the film, we get a view of Earth from space, a serene and magnificent shot that brings to mind another successful sci-fi film of 2013, Gravity. Gravity pushed filmmaking to its limits and gave its audience an original, unparalleled movie experience. While Ender's Game does not reach such levels, it still does a fine job with its material and ultimately delivers a solid, enjoyable movie.
Posted on 10/06/13 09:47 PM
By far one of the most impressive films in years, Gravity is an epic film that must be experienced on the largest possible scale. The film tells a seemingly simple story of survival, following a pair of astronauts as they seek a way to return to Earth after their shuttle is destroyed. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney manage to craft out some fine characters in the scant 90 minutes of running time. An emotional connection is established early on and the lack of any other supporting characters only makes that connection stronger.
However, the real star of this movie is the spectacular visual effects which are unparalleled in that the entire film is set in space, an environment in which every single detail is subject to physics that must be meticulously noted. Space stations explode into thousands of pieces of debris, filling the screen. Watching various substances such as fire and water move in the emptiness of space is fascinating. The effects are never overwhelming, but are always plentiful and dazzling. If there is a film that needs to be seen in 3D, this is it.
Gravity is an example of how simple stories can have deeper meanings and of how heavy CGI is not only reserved for big budget action films. A visual and emotional treat, Gravity is a must see by any standard.
Posted on 10/06/13 09:22 PM
Red 2 was a relatively entertaining movie. It has become more of a comedy than an action since the first one. There are many great moments amid the chaos and fast paced action. Red 2 finds Frank Moses and Marvin Boggs on the run, being accused of terrorism. This leads them on a globe-trotting chase over three continents. Unfortunately, the film fails to make good use of the locations in which it dumps the characters, pushing them from place to place rather rushedly. The cast is top notch as before and they really seem to enjoy their roles. Anthony Hopkins and David Thewlis are my favorite new additions. Overall, this was a decent popcorn flick, nothing more.
Posted on 10/06/13 09:22 PM
This was ok. G.I. Joe: Retaliation doesn't feel like one movie. It feels less. The movie opens up right into an action scene and basically continues on like that for the rest. When the occasional moment of peace comes along, it feels completely out of place. The pacing is very awkward. What little story there is moves along in bursts. There will be nothing going on, and suddenly there will be a slew of developments. Its all very tiring. The action scenes are great though. They take place in all kinds of environments using various vehicles and weapons and they all feel different from each other. Its all very good except for the fact that they don't link together in any cohesive way. Although it may be lacking in some rather important areas, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is nevertheless a fun, silly ride.