The Raid 2

Posted: March 19, 2015 in crime, Violent

I had been looking forward to The Raid 2 ever since hearing that it was in development, having highly enjoyed The Raid 1. The sequel picks up right where the first film left off in the storyline, which gives a nice sense of continuity. Everything I liked about the first film returned and evolved in the second film. The action scenes are far more creative and diverse – you won’t see the same thing twice throughout. As a forewarning to the squeamish, there’s far more brutality than in The Raid 1: There were definitely a few scenes that had everyone in the theater cringing and uttering exclamations. For myself only one scene involving a shotgun was excessively violent, the rest made the action aspect of the film very visceral. The one thing the sequel far surpasses its predecessor in is the plot. The story is very intriguing, giving many of the roles much more character than you’ll usually find in a martial arts movie. I even found myself empathizing with some of the villains after learning their background. In addition the very clever editing/cinematography seamlessly connect one scene to the next using some gorgeous visuals along the way. To sum up, it’s a must-see for anyone who enjoyed The Raid 1. If you can stomach the violence you’re in for a hell of a ride and I’m very much looking forward to The Raid 3 for which the stage has been set.

Chappie

Posted: March 15, 2015 in Action, crime, Sci-Fi

 

With ‘Chappie’ Frankenstein’s monster gets a titanium makeover in a science-fiction blood-spurter and would-be heart-warmer that wavers uncertainly between laughter and tears. Set in South Africa in the usual bleak future — yet again, it’s man against man, as well as machine — the movie imagines a scenario in which tin-can police march in lock step with their human analogues to roust the usual tattooed and dreadlocked gun-toting degenerates. All the aerial shots of the dangerously swarming and swelling multitudes suggest that such draconian tactics are necessary. The director Bloomkamp, working with a script he wrote with his wife, Terri Tatchell, doesn’t engage with the question of whether a police state is necessary; he just goes with the paramilitary flow. And, as an introductory flurry of news reports indicates, law demands order. To help stem the murderous tide, the authorities have deployed a force of armed robots, called Scouts, to serve as shields for their human brethren or to fire on the heavily fortified shouting masses. After the preliminaries, a protagonist emerges in the person of Deon , an engineer for the outfit that churns out the Scouts. His only colleagues who, at that point, seem vaguely sentient are his boss, Michelle (Sigourney Weaver), and a teeth-gnashing foe, Vincent (Hugh Jackman), who parades around with a gun on his belt. One night, Deon takes a decommissioned robot home and, after some Red Bull and energetic keyboard abuse, solves the problem of artificial intelligence. Enter Chappie, played with a singsong by Sharlto Copley, Mr. Blomkamp’s favorite attraction. Things go wrong like genre clockwork, and Chappie ends up in the hands of a troika of misfit criminals who decide that a smart robot would make a useful accessory to go with their pink and yellow guns, which look as finger-licking good as Valentine’s candy. The South African musicians Ninja (the guy) and Yo-Landi Visser (the woman), bring the cartoon charisma as the flashiest two thirds of this trio, with the American actor Jose Pablo Cantillo, as Yankie, valiantly thumping along as the third wheel. A well-greased matched set, Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja (the characters share the performers’ names), take to Chappie-rearing seriously and soon teach the robot how to talk, shoot and stroll like a gangsta while he, in turn, takes jerky baby steps and calls them Mommy and Daddy. It’s a crazy mess of a film, It’s a goof, as is so much of “Chappie” despite the violence, crenelated brows and choreographed grimaces. For all of Mr. Blomkamp’s attention to grim speculative fiction and its trappings (the despair, the gadgets), he often seems more at ease when things are going right for his characters or when he’s lobbing a joke. Sometimes he uses comedy as a distraction or to soft-pedal an emotion or an idea. It’s funny when Chappie watches the cartoon “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” because you see him learning, but the scene also gestures to the idea that hyperbolic masculinity is absurd learned behavior. And when Yo-Landi reads a children’s book or chatters sweetly to Chappie, something rather more surprising happens because Mr. Blomkamp has let real emotions creep in, too. This is Mr. Blomkamp’s third feature, and he’s still finding his way as a director; again and again, as in the past, he struggles with the material, a performance, an idea, the tone or just some blocking. “Chappie” is more visibly modest and less narratively ambitious than his last movie, “Elysium,” which benefited greatly from Matt Damon’s emotionally anchoring star turn as an Everyman struggling among the human-made ruins. Scaling down has its drawbacks, as some of the visible digital artifacts in “Chappie” make clear. Yet even at his shakiest, Mr. Blomkamp holds your attention with stories about characters banding together to emerge from a hell not of their own making.

American Sniper.

Posted: January 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

(Just reviewing the film no political statements or comments on moral dubiousness here)

Although the recoil of American Sniper doesn’t have the same moral reverb of Eastwood’s finest work. Still, the action sequences are packed with zealous clarity and tense dynamism. Based on the memoir by Chris Kyle who, during the course of four tours in Iraq as a Navy SEAL, became the most prolific sniper in the annals of U.S. military history – the film exists in a black-and-white world in which only good and evil abide. In American Sniper, no Muslim punks are given even a split second to consider whether they’re feeling lucky that day; they are felled precisely and instantly by a distant marksman. Kyle’s Manichean values are instilled by the time he is kindergarten-age by a father who teaches him to be a proficient hunter, and lectures him about the ways of the world: People are either sheep or wolves, although there exist a few souls “blessed with the gift of aggression” who are the sheepdogs protecting the flock from the wolves. That’s Chris Kyle: a sheepdog with a Colt. Bradley Cooper is a dramatic revelation as Kyle. Bulked up and muscular, the actor functions here with an economy of physical artifice and language. The downside of this is that viewers receive little insight into what Kyle is experiencing emotionally. However, it’s probably also true that a sniper must maintain a certain psychological numbness in order to perform the job as perfectly as Kyle does. He’s not a one-dimensional character: We witness his macho jocularity with his military brothers, the aimless direction of his life before joining the SEALs, and his love for his wife Taya (Miller, in a thankless role) and children. Despite Taya’s entreaties, however, he re-enlists three times because his sense of duty to his comrades overrides his family responsibilities. His mantra is “God, Country, Family” – in that order. While Eastwood’s touch is most clearly evident in the film’s combat sequences in Iraq, the screenplay by Jason Hall seems to favor Kyle’s difficult reentry into civilian life. The cocksure confidence and the good-and-evil dichotomies that served him so well while in country are liabilities back home where there’s a lot more shading between good and evil. Kyle’s taciturn countenance adds to the film’s amorphousness during this section. Back in Texas, Kyle finds no sense of purpose, and his tragic, ultimate fate is left to an onscreen sentence at the end of the film. The outlandish episodes that followed Kyle’s stateside return (the widely publicized Jesse Ventura incident, among other curious incidents) are completely absent from the film, and the book’s jingoism and cultural prejudices are played down. To its credit, the film shows no interest in creating blind heroics but instead uphold the nickname Kyle earned in Iraq: the Legend.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Posted: January 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

I honestly cannot wrap my mind around how this thing got made (or at least got released in this condition). The movie starts with a plot line that you couldn’t care less about. Remember Peter’s parents from the first movie? No, well that’s because no one cared about them. Thankfully we get to see even more of their completely intriguing back story here… just kidding. It sucks a lot. The opening scenes involving them are plagued with horrible acting, choppy editing, poor directing, and bad, clichéd dialog. In fact, this trend continues through a lot of the movie. Scenes involving Paul Giamatti and his horrible Russian accent are laughable. He seems to have just stepped out of a cartoon. I know this is a comic book movie, but even in the fun world they are trying to create this just doesn’t fit. I see what they wanted to do but this scene is just so poorly done. Spider-Man is just not that funny, and again it seems to be choppily edited and poorly written. Even Gwen’s decent speech(which way too obviously foreshadows her death) is ruined by putting stupid action sequences over it. A similar scenario comes up with Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon. He seems to be confused about what movie he is in. Imagine if you multiplied Jim Carrey’s Riddler from Batman Forever ten-fold. That is Foxx’s character here. The performance and dialog is truly cringe-worthy, and he has absolutely no motivation for anything he does other than the fact that he’s crazy and loves Spider-Man (that is until he forgets his name). The Osborn family is just as bad. As Norman dies, he tells his son Harry (who we are somehow supposed to give a crap about) that he has the same disease. The whole scene is pretty bad and although they try to explain away why they spend their last moments together fighting and why they make a teenager the head of a company, that doesn’t make it better. By the time Harry and Electro decide to work together (shocker…), the movie really just becomes so horribly awful it is beyond repair. Almost every scene becomes just so laughable and the ones that aren’t have a completely different tone. It’s like five different people directed the movie. It has no idea if it wants to be serious or not. Then, with only thirty minutes left of the movie, we get this whole scene that seems to only exist to set up a Sinister Six spin-off and make Harry the Green Goblin just so he can kill Gwen and leave room for a new leading actress in a sequel. Electro and Green Goblin are then both easily defeated (and put to the side immediately afterward), and although they try to show that Peter doesn’t want to fight Harry it doesn’t really work because we only just became aware of their relationship. I honestly can’t explain how bad many of these scenes are. Throughout it, you keep asking… Was that really the best take? Were those really the best lines you could have possibly written? Was any of this even scripted? Like did you intend to make a film or did it just kind of happen accidentally and you figured “hey just stitch all this random crap together and add in some CGI…It will be fine”? Well, sorry to tell you Sony but it wasn’t. In short, this movie is a disaster. It suffers from a horrible screenplay, cheesy dialog, poor editing, and directing and acting that is good in one moment and horrible the next. It exists solely to move the dying franchise forward and to make more money. It is a heartless piece of media and, in my subjective opinion, is very poorly made. It is without a doubt the worst movie I’ve seen this year and definitely the worst Spider-Man movie.

James Marsh’s gorgeous and beautifully compelling The Theory of Everything, the true story of Stephen and Jane Hawking, is a sensitive piece of filmmaking that stands as one of the finest movie efforts of the year. Starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen and Felicity Jones as Jane, the two develop a masterful and sonorous dynamic that behaves as a naturalistic relationship that inhabits qualities of both love and sadness. They’re a match made in heaven. Also acting as a morality tale, screenwriter Anthony McCarten puts forth intriguing questions regarding love in the shadow of someone’s disability. Do you really know what is asked of you when you vow to love someone in sickness and in health? What happens when disability doesn’t allow you to love the way you want? Are you better off just breaking free if you have the chance? When it comes to biopics, people tend to automatically give credit to makeup and body language when talking about a performer. Past winners like Jamie Foxx in Ray have always felt empty as a performance but people were so tied in with the mannerisms that he brought to the role, which he often did in his stand up comedy routines. In Eddie Redmayne, we get a fully realized and tender performance. The first twenty minutes of the film, prior to the diagnosis of Hawking’s disease, Redmayne utilizes all the quick wit and charm to show what his Stephen loved the most of his work and his woman. Obviously going through the physical transformation must be rewarded. Contorting his body and learning the physical tics that Stephen Hawking has displayed in real life all ring true. Since his breakout work in Les Miserables, a role that should have landed him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, I was wary to believe I’d revisit a praising session with the young actor so soon. It’s one of the best things offered this year. When it comes to Felicity Jones, the emotional backbone of the entire process has to be awarded to her. With stunning works in Like Crazy under her belt, Jones takes upon a daunting and heavily emotional character, never afraid to have the audience dislike or be disappointed in what she’s doing. Marsh directs her to astonishing resolve. As a leading lady, Jones ignites such fiery and compelling questions not necessarily asked before in a biopic such as this. Complex and staggering in the way she decides to portray the brave Jane, Jones allows her character to grow, and both live and learn inside of her. What’s most remarkable about Jones is she makes everything seem so effortless. She’s not faking anything, she’s really feeling and becoming Jane. She locates all the emotions required of her to execute successfully. It’s a turn I wouldn’t be surprised to see runaway with the Academy Award for Best Actress. The supporting players are no shortage of talent, though secondary to this type of story. Charlie Cox was just as good in his screen time. As Jonathan, Cox lays it all out on the table, heart on sleeve, and soul bared for all of us to see. David Thewlis, Emily Watson, and Simon McBurney are all solid but brief. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten adapts his script from the book “Travelling to Infinity: My life with Stephen” which was written by Jane Hawking. Audiences like their fair share of love stories, but some of them, rather most of them, don’t like the ugly that goes with it. In real life, people make mistakes, and do things that can make some cringe. I believe some of the more questionable and controversial things during the Hawkings marriage was merely glossed over to not paint them negatively, even though the world is well aware of what went on. I’ll be honest, I knew next to nothing about Stephen Hawking and his work prior to sitting for the movie. I knew the robot voice and that’s where it about ended. If anything, the film inspires me to learn more about Stephen’s work and theories presented. All of those things are definitely given a back seat to a film that doesn’t really require them. The Theory of Everything is not about the equations or the mathematics. It’s essentially about us. It’s about love, and not just in the form of marriage. We as humans learn to love ourselves, our families, and our children. They are placed in our lives but I’m not sure how much we realize what goes into maintaining those relationships. The film makes you think of those things.

Her

Posted: January 12, 2015 in Romantic, Sci-Fi
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Every truly great science-fiction film there is an emphasis on character that aims to reflect on some element of the human condition usually intended to open our minds to thought provoking predictions or eerily warn of an impending reality. We’ve seen numerous examples of these contemplative films throughout the very existence of cinema stemming all the way back to Fritz Lang’s haunting futuristic piece Metropolis and has inspired countless others in its thoughtful wake as seen in memorable cinematic creations such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, and even Duncan Jones’ Moon. Never to be a director to back away from experimental presentation or psychological study, Spike Jonze’s fully embraces this reflective science-fiction quality by peering into the deep sociable aspects of the human psyche giving us more of a prophetical reality than a fictional reflection. In his latest film Jonze creates a disconcerting yet equally endearing romance between a secluded depressive and his female operating system with an evolving consciousness, basically a HAL-9000 homage from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, that brings to light a commentary on our dependency of programmed living and our need to maintain sociability when direct communication avenues have been stricken from life’s normality. Rarely do ambitious films meet idyllically with their inquisitive potential, but Jonze has fashioned a delicately profound science-fiction contemplation that is depicted through the thoughtfulness of character alone that brims with wry humor, authentic pain, and charming revelation. Through the use of beautiful cinematography, impeccable production design, and subtle yet evocative performances, Her becomes a multilayered film experience where its character study of an isolated man afraid to become vulnerable again blends harmoniously with a truly unconventional yet naturally heartfelt romance. Jonze’s affinity and ambition for presenting psychological challenges, as he has done before with Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and especially in Where the Wild Things Are, finally collides with emotionally piercing conveyance within Her making it as thought provoking and as it is undeniably sweet. If the sole purpose of the science-fiction genre is to expound on societal, moral, and deeply psychological aspects of our human condition than Her fits soundly within that genre’s capabilities by capturing our condition’s essential need for sociability and love uncomfortably linking it with our antisocial dependency on technology.

 

Big Eyes

Posted: January 11, 2015 in Drama
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Tim Burton’s touching dramatization of the relationship of Margaret and Walter Keane almost works but somehow the dramatic arc seems arbitrary and we must accept the developments in their story as much from what the characters announce about themselves as from what we see enacted emotionally. Essentially, the husband is what we might call a pathological liar and the wife is one of the most gullible and trusting people who ever lived. The shy, self-effacing art school graduate Margaret Ulbrich specialized in painting portraits of children with big, sad eyes which she would sell at street fairs for pocket change. When she walked out on her husband in 1958 to make a new life for herself and her daughter in San Francisco, she met and married the aggressive Walter Keane, a real estate broker who pretended to be a Sunday painter but was actually a plagiarist with marketing skills who took over the marketing of Margaret’s works and sold them under his own name, first on canvas and then as mass produced posters, becoming a well-known purveyor of mid-20th-century kitsch who, as his character claims in the film, inspired Andy Warhol. Amy Adams is appropriately choked up and tremulous as Margaret but Christoph Waltz is an odd choice for Walter. For starters, the character is as American as the Great Plains but Waltz cannot entirely obliterate his Austrian accent; it colors his every utterance. Then, his theatrical mannerisms make him seem more like someone with Multiple Personality Disorder than a mere Jekyll-and-Hyde, as his wife describes him at one point. Waltz entertains us, and we are conscious that we are seeing a bravura performance, but we are not getting the human being named Walter Keane. Burton makes very good use of the singularly appealing Terence Stamp as John Canaday, a highbrow New York Times art critic who lambasts the Keane oeuvre in print, leading to a confrontation at a cocktail party – a fire and ice moment and a high point of the film. The film leaves a touching, but light impression, much like the big-eyed paintings at its center.