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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review: Faraway


Faraway (2014):

Synopsis – The legend of a world right in our world’s shadow, one of Gods and Demi-Gods, sends Audrey to the Philippines in pursuit of treasure and legacy. Along the way she teams up with 2 plucky Filipino youths and an American expat who is also looking for a new lease on life. Danger stalks the adventurers from the very beginning, as where treasure is involved, bandits are sure to follow.


FULL DISCLOSURE: I know the film maker. I worked with Mr. Randal Kamradt in a local stage production. I played Ranger Rick for those of you dying to know. Back then we chatted a little while about film, and he mentioned he was a film maker. I said I would love to see his stuff, and we pretty much left it at that. A few years later, I got a message from Mr. Kamradt, inviting me to see the film he had made recently. Naturally I was super happy to get a chance to see his movie, so I took him up on his offer! After I watched, I was told that when I reviewed it, I should keep the kid gloves off. So here is what I’ve got, after trying my best to remain objective and unbiased. Being unbiased is impossible by the way; Faraway is a true indie film after all. No one wants to kick the little guy. The makers of this film tried to make an action/adventure movie on a tiny budget, and what they came away with is pretty damn good considering that. Faraway leans more toward an art film than anything Hollywood produces. I prefer my films arty most of the time, but trying to make a low budget action movie was really ambitious, and the production suffers sometimes because of that. That being said, the effort alone is admirable, and I cannot wait to see future works from these film makers. Hopefully many others will get to see their work soon as well.

What I Liked:
-Beautiful cinematography is seen throughout the movie. The Philippines is apparently full of lovely looking places, despite how it is often portrayed in films as grimy and unruly. Even the towns in the film have a charm to them. If I had to guess where money went in the movie, I’d say in the camera equipment.
-I gotta say, the score is pretty good for a low budget film.
-I am a fan of the use of non-professional actors. Both of the Filipino leads are non-professional, and I think they both did a fantastic job. Especially Genelyka Castin as Hazel. She knocked it out of the park in my opinion.

What I Didn’t Like:
-Frankly, making my critical opinions known on a low-budget film like this really feels like a cheap shot. BUT, I said I would treat this seriously and so I will. So here are my complaints, and these are all the minor nitpicks: Editing was a little off sometimes; some of the shots were out of focus; most of the night time scenes were much too dark, obscuring the action; the sound sometimes dipped out to inaudible levels; the main actress sometimes seemed tired of what she was saying. Argh, I feel like an ass for pointing this stuff out. It really doesn’t detract that much from the movie; they are just things I noticed.
-Here is my only unapologetic complaint: Nick Medina in the first part of the movie is hamming it up big time. He is supposed to be a screenwriter who has run away from Hollywood so he can have the freedom to write without the pressures of the system, but he doesn’t come off as someone who has experience doing that at all. I think he does an excellent job of playing someone who has “gone native” and blends in with the environment of the Philippines settings. His character has becomes a local, and because of that he is perfectly suited as a guide in the adventure. After Medina settles into the guide role, he becomes quite enjoyable in the movie. I realize that this is supposed to come off as an evolution of his character, but he is too over the top in the beginning.
-I don’t know if the movie is actually rated by the MPAA, but if it was it would be an R for language, violence, and suggested sexual content. I think that the language and violence does a disservice to the film, because otherwise it is a very fun adventure film that would be appropriate for any age, a la an Indian Jones movie. A lot of F-Bombs are thrown around, and they aren’t needed.

What I Hated:
-No, no, nothing warrants any hate this time. Sorry, dudes.


Verdict:
I don’t know when people will get a chance to see this movie, but I can say if you want to see a fun adventure movie with some fantasy elements, made by a promising film maker, then you can’t really go wrong. KEEP IN MIND, this is a low budget action movie. Set your expectations appropriately and you can’t go wrong.

http://www.faraway-film.com/

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Review: Under the Skin


Under the Skin (2013):

Synopsis – An outsider pursues men for unknown purposes. Through her eyes we see humanity in a new light. What was once common becomes strange and alien.


Sarah and I went to see this at the local theater downtown. We had been eagerly waiting for it to come to anywhere nearby, as the trailer for the movie is mysterious and that’s what we like! 3 people walked out of the screening we were at (this is according to Sarah, I didn’t witness it), that’s always a good sign right? Shocking amounts of nudity (from both sexes) and beautiful, documentary style camera work wasn’t enough to keep them in their seats! As for Sarah and I, we loved it. Our minds were blown; not in a collective fashion, don’t be creepy. I feel like the world has been blessed the last couple of months, having month after month with only a few lapses between the releases of another set of must see movies. This piece of science-fiction works so well as a frightening thriller and a social commentary I can hardly believe that it is real. I want to go see it again right now.

What I Liked:
-I don’t know what you call this slow and measured camera work style, but I am a fan of it. I don’t need quick edits for continuity, I rather enjoy seeing a shot being held, forcing the viewer to take in everything that can be taken in. It emphasized the almost robotic nature of the protagonist.
-Scarlett Johansson made this movie. Not literally, I mean that she was the perfect choice for her role. She holds herself in a way that is reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator, except every once in a while she must pretend to be a normal person, showing the smallest facsimile of emotion. When in the second half of the movie puts her in even more of a position of being introduced with the unfamiliar, you cannot help but be on her side as you would be for a child discovering feelings and “tastes”. Something needs to be said about her and the films representation of sexuality and power also, but I once again find myself without the intelligence to handle those subjects. While Johansson in the film is presented as a seductress, there is nothing sexy in her actions. It is a trick and one that works so well that you stop feeling sorry for her victims almost immediately.  Johansson does such an amazing job in this film, I cannot say enough.
-Whenever this movie dipped into the unhuman sections of the film, it did an amazing job of utterly perplexing me. What I saw and heard happening during these points made a strange sort of sense, but it was still completely alien to me. Alien, terrifying and fascinating. Some of it was very 2001, which of course is right up my alley.

What I Didn’t Like, What I Hated:
-I am head over heels for this movie. I am sure that if I wanted to I could complain about parts of it, but I won’t because it was too good to merit that kind of deconstruction.


Verdict:

A warning to people who read this and are now thinking “yeah, I’ma gonna see dat one!” This movie is not for everyone. In fact, I would be surprised if outside of super movie nerds many people like the movie. If you are going to see it for the nudity, you are going to be very bored and in the end very disappointed. If you want to see a slow paced, sci-fi mystery thriller, like you’ve never seen before? Then go check it out. Try to see it on the big screen, because it will probably work best there.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: The Vineyard (1989)


The Vineyard (1989):

Synopsis – A wine maker who seeks eternal life invites a group of young actors to his home, wining and dining them so that he can chain them up and stuff. Uh, I kind of don’t really get what was going on. Oh, and there are zombies.


One of the things us film lovers like to do is count how many movies in a director’s catalogue we have seen. There are completest out there who can claim to have seen every movie, no matter how obscure, by any director you can mention off the top of your head. Me? I can only say that for the Coen brothers and Christopher Nolan, and that’s it as far as I know. Why do I bring this up? Well, one day when I was going on one of my click-fests through IMDB cast pages, I ended up clicking on James Hong, in order to see how many films he had been in. That is a huge number, by the way. More interesting to me though was that he is credited as director for 4 movies, only 2 of which appear to be soft-core pornography! I thought to myself, now this is a director’s filmography I could conquer fairly easily! Turns out, that is only partly true. Because of the obscurity of these films, not all of them are readily available. I took the one that happened to be streaming on Netflix Instant and put it directly on my eye holes. This movie, The Vineyard… is pretty terrible. So bad, that I can see people watching it just to laugh at it. Bad acting, incomprehensible plot, digital soundtrack, need I say more? The film also leans into the soft-core area, although there is really only one scene that does that. It is a crappy horror film, and way to goofy to be taken seriously.

What I Liked:
-Well, this is a first I think. Nope, I really can’t say I “liked” anything in this movie. It made me laugh a few times, I guess there’s that.

What I Didn’t Like:
-Acting isn’t something most of the cast seemed to be familiar with, with the exception of Mr. Hong of course. Everyone in this movie must have fell off the California beach bus on its way to Cinemax’s studios for the next episode of Madam’s Closet. Seriously, the cast is all scantily clad women and dumb jocks, and of course there is one “nerd” who is actually a buff dude just wearing thick glasses. The “nerd” in this movie was one of the highlights, because someone told him he needed to be really annoying and so he speaks in a high pitched voice the whole movie. I should also note that there is one henchman who is a fat dude. He, of course, is super strong!
-What the hell was going on in this story? James Hong is a wine maker who is immortal because of an amulet that he stole from… his mother I think? Also he worships some weird God, who is only referenced to when he is at a tiny altar that we never get a good look at. And he is really old. How do we know this? Well, when he was about to kill the nerd he suddenly has a flashback where a Samurai type dude is going to kill his mom. That single flashback is the only reference to that though, so it might have just been an acid hallucination I had.  Oh, and his wine is the best, so people are always paying huge amounts o’ cash for it! What are all these details for? They don’t equal out into anything. He has a torture dungeon, a vineyard full of dead bodies, and an Asian sidekick who is not that good at fighting. It’s not worth puzzling over.
-James Hong is supposed to be a dreamboat. I’m not buying it.

What I Hated:
-Please, someone needs to go back and time and take away all the synthesizers so I don’t ever have to hear one of these soundtracks again.


Verdict:
I can recommend this movie on a single condition: If you are looking to get together with some buddies and watch a bad movie to laugh at, this one will work well. Otherwise, it is so bad, don’t punish yourself with it.


I totally forgot, there is a masquerade party! And it is hilariously awful! ARRGGHHH

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: Valhalla Rising


Valhalla Rising (2009):

Synopsis – When One-Eye is freed after years of slavery, he begins a journey that takes him over the ocean to a new world, leading a group of men who are already lost even further into the unknown.


Nicolas Winding Refn has a unique film catalogue. From Pusher to Only God Forgives, the man seems to have a narrow vision when it comes to his themes. People are animals, violent and unpredictable, and the intensity of everyday life can be terrifying. Of the films of his that I’d seen previously, all three were something special. Dark, beautiful, fantastic music, two volumes of acting (quiet and loud). His movies seem to be trying to leave the entertainment factor of film on the wayside, and focus more on craft, pure and simple. This is of course, right up my alley. Anything different is something I want to see. When I sat down to watch Valhalla Rising, I set my expectations rather high. I had heard mostly negative things about it, but the same can be said for Only God Forgives, and I loved that movie, so I figured I might love this one as well! I didn’t. The movie is fine, but it almost takes the craft I talked about to its logical conclusion, leaving a beautiful picture and not much else. There wasn’t even enough violence to make up for the empty plot, and that is something I had come to expect from Refn’s films (intense violence, that is).

What I Liked:
-I confess. I am mad about Mads. Mads Mikkelsen’s unique face and very reserved acting style appeals to me greatly. And since the rest of the country seems to agree with me at this point I suppose I don’t really have to justify my opinion. I do wish he had more than 2 expressions through. There is smile and there is no smile. All the expression an actor of his caliber needs I suppose.
-The cinematography is very lovely, although there really isn’t anything too special about the locations of the film. Most of the movie is shot almost documentary like, holding focus in one direction as the actors move about or sail on a river. The cinematography manages to make the unexciting environments of the films somehow fantastic to observe.

What I Didn’t Like:
-The film feels like it is missing at least 30 minutes of content, and therefore context. It’s supposed to come off as a fever dream or acid trip, and I can certainly see that direction (Vikings and endless oceans have certainly been in a few of my nightmares), but it still doesn’t make up for the fact that the substance that holds your attention throughout the film turns out to be ultimately hollow. The depth and nuance that make Drive and Only God Forgive work so well are just not here beyond the surface.

What I Hated:
-I can’t really remember what happened in this movie. When that happens I can usually point to things, like I was looking at my phone or someone was talking to me, as an excuse. Here, I think there was just nothing but smoke left for my brain to hold onto afterward, and smoke dissipates.


Verdict:
I am mostly negative on this film, but I am not sorry I watched it. I don’t feel like I wasted my time. It was very pretty to look at, and the acting is very solid. It might be a nice film to put on if you are showing off your new big screen and speaker set, otherwise, unless you are Mads Mikkelsen completest I can’t recommend the film.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: Hannibal


Hannibal (2001):

Synopsis – Clarice Starling continues to pursue Dr. Hannibal Lecter as he avoids the police and other parties that are very interested in making Hannibal pay for his crimes.


Everybody who’s anybody has Hannibal fever right now. That show on the teletube is pretty darn good if I do say so myself. I recently missed an opportunity to see Silence of the Lambs projected, and so I was prompted by that to seek it out on the small screen. I found it, it’s streaming on Netflix right now, but I also found that the sequel was streaming as well. Hannibal from 2001 was directed by Ridley Scott, a man whose name is no longer said with any optimism in the film community. Whether we are talking about the backlash from all the love that Gladiator got back in the day (a movie I still like, but is nowhere near perfect) or his many recent mediocre films such as Robin Hood, Prometheus, or The Counselor, chances are you aren’t going to hear any positive words used in conjunction with his film making ability. We have to reach back in time to Alien or my personal favorite Blade Runner to even see why this guy was on people’s radars in the first place. Since I had not seen Hannibal I decided to give it a whirl, setting my expectations fairly low but holding out hope for some glimmer of greatness. The film met my expectations, but did not exceed them in any way. Disappointing is the appropriate adjective.

What I Liked:
-I always like seeing Gary Oldman in a movie. Every movie he is in gets extra points even if the rest of it is terrible. In this film, I did not at first recognize him as he was wearing that hideous face piece, but eventually I figured him out by his voice.

What I Didn’t Like:
-Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs was terrifying, even when behind his glass cage. In this movie, he seems mostly harmless and silly. If he is on the FBI’s most wanted list, why would he assume being in another country would give him any sort of assured freedom? He doesn’t even go to a country where he wouldn’t be known, he goes to freaking Italy, and becomes a lecturer! For the super smart and scary man he is supposed to be, Hannibal sure does some dumb stuff.
-I feel like I harp on actresses more than I should, or perhaps I am too sensitive about it because I am around a feminist every day. Either way, Julianne Moore, bless her heart, is a poor substitute for Jodie Foster. I don’t know if it was Foster’s wide eyed new recruit act that sold her as Clarice Starling or what, but for some reason Moore tries to play her as a veteran agent how still manages to do dumb things and it doesn’t work. Honestly, Moore wasn’t given much to do, as the plot focus way too much on the other characters. Hannibal is what we remember from Silence of the Lambs, but that movies is all about Clarice and it is better for it.
-The whole search for Hannibal segment of the film is pretty damn boring. By the time he is captured and brought to ugly face dude’s estate it didn’t matter how exciting they thought the climax would be, I had already lost all interest.

What I Hated:
-For a rated R film, it really felt like it didn’t have any teeth. The murders were not exciting, the action was pointless, and pigs? Really? I’m sure being mauled by them might be a genuine danger, but there was nothing thrilling about the scene where they are unleashed. Even the ending scene where Ray Liotta gets what is coming to him was not worth the wait.


Verdict:
I don’t have to tell you that this movie isn’t worth watching. I’m pretty sure it’s well known. But just in case, let me assure you: IT’S NOT WORTH YOUR TIME. Go fly a kite or something. Or rewatch Silence and bask in that glory.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: A Clockwork Orange


A Clockwork Orange (1971):

Synopsis – A young asshole goes too far one day and ends up tossed in the slammer. He then undergoes an experimental procedure which turns the tables, making him the victim for a change.


I like Stanley Kubrick movies, but sometimes I don’t get what the hell I’m seeing when I am seeing it. This happened to me the first time I saw The Shinning. I remember putting the DVD from Netflix into my DVD player, watching it, and then wondering what the big freaking deal was. I have since watched it again (on the big screen which was amazing) and a few other Kubrick films, and now have a good grasp on how amazing a director he really was. Naturally, not having seen A Clockwork Orange, I set my expectations high when I added it to the April list. Now that I’ve seen it… I’m honestly at a lost. I’d love to immediately say that I loved it and it’s another masterpiece from Kubrick, but in reality I didn’t really get it. If it’s solely a commentary upon society, then sure, I can probably eke out some understanding if I put some homework into it. But as a rule, I don’t think movies should make you work for appreciation like that. So on a later date I will give this another try, but right now I feel like I am grasping at straws trying to find the majesty.

What I Liked:
-As with any Stanley Kubrick movie, I got to experience some pretty great visuals.
-Malcolm McDowell is of course amazing. You hate his character; you have to because he is so despicable. Yet there is still that little love you have for him. He is rotten to the core, but he seems so intelligent in his rottenness. This is a movie that is served very well by its voice-over.

What I Didn’t Like:
-I don’t know why this is a problem for me, but I didn’t like that I couldn’t get any sort of grip on what kind of world they lived in. It’s a place where gangs seem to be able to rape and pillage as they seem fit, yet there is some sort of law enforcement and punishment system. Oooooooooo, I am getting something! Nope, there it goes.
-As I said, there are some great visuals in the movie, but what I wanted was to be blown away. I wasn’t, like I had been with The Shinning or 2001. This might change after a rewatch, but I can’t be sure, and that makes me sad.

What I Hated:
-Nada


Verdict:

Chance are if you know about this movie you know if it’s something you are going to want to watch. It’s pretty good. I wish I had more to say.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai


Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (1999):

Synopsis – Ghost Dog is hitman who lives by a self-imposed code, modeled after the ways of the samurai. After fulfilling a job for his boss, he finds that his bosses boss in none too happy, and that he is now squarely in the sights of a group of rather inept mobsters.


I don’t want to jump to any crazy conclusions, but I think I might love Jim Jarmusch. Wait, let me rephrase that. I might love Jim Jarmusch’s directing style. Of his films that I have seen, a dark sense of humor is consistently felt throughout each narrative. The first of his films that I saw was Broken Flowers. I remember I was still madly in love with Lost in Translation and walked into the movie expecting more of the same, simply because it starred Bill Murray. I HATED Broken Flowers. I had not yet reached the ability to tell the difference between and actor’s style and the director that made the film. Sofia Coppola and Jim Jarmusch, I know now, are two directors playing in completely different playgrounds. So now I love Jarmusch movies, so I guess I owe Broken Flowers a rewatch. Also… I think I gave away my review already. Read it anyway, please?

What I Liked:
-This movie is funny. So many goofy, off the wall things happen in this film I often found myself chuckling. Whether it’s the stereotypical Italian mobsters interacting with each other or Ghost Dog talking with his French pal in the park there was just a lot of funny being thrown around. A lot of funny action happened too. Ghost Dog somehow comes off as a pro despite being overweight and not particularly fast. When you see Forrest Whittaker walking down the street with his bounding pace, somehow blending into the background everywhere he goes, that is funny enough alone.
-I really like the way Jarmusch handles a story. He doesn’t shy away from details, like mobsters watching old cartoons or Ghost Dog repeating his habits when lifting a vehicle (I mean stealing a car, not literally lifting a vehicle like Hercules). This emphasizes humanity in my opinion, making these characters more than characters. Making them people.

What I Didn’t Like:
-You know, even though I am pouring on the praise and saying how much I love Jarmusch, this movie isn’t very important. I wasn’t looking for transcendence when I sat down to watch this, and I didn’t get it. I got perfectly decent movies that happened to tickle my funny bone. That’s all I need sometimes.

What I Hated:
-Once again, not hatred here.


Verdict:

This movie isn’t for everyone, so please, if you decided to watch this based on my praised be prepared to hate it, not me. I had a lot of fun with it, and I will watch it again over the years I’m sure. It is just a weird little dark comedy with a lot of style.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

April Week2: I Post What You Did Last Summer


Can you imagine if I did post what you did last summer? What kind of SCANDAL would that cause? Let's see, last summer I was at school getting my certifications... OOOOOOOO. Yeah, I'm boring.

So, how was your week? I'd like to tell you something exciting happened in my week, but 1; That would be too much a change from my regular BS and 2; Nothing happened. The most exciting thing I did was babysit and set up some speakers for the TV. WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. But I did watch some really great movies. I've been throwing caution to the wind when it comes to my movies watched to reviewed ratio. I am behind by 4 films I think, but that's ok. Hell, I still haven't written up Rear Window yet. Anyway, this is what I reviewed this week!


I am going to be a little self critical here and say I'm not satisfied with some of how of these reviews came out. I always try to take notes during a film, but when it's really good I usually forget. So after I am done writing this stuff up I suddenly remember stuff I wanted to talk about. It's not really important, but I like criticizing myself. It's like a hobby. 

I hope you all have a great week. Watch a movie or two. It'll make you happy.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review: Days of Heaven


Days of Heaven (1978):

Synopsis – A man and his “sister” run away from the big city to find work out in the fields. When the owner of the fields, a handsome young man, falls in love with the “sister”, the protagonists find themselves in a morally compromising situation that they may not be able to resist.


Movie #3 in the April Film Project
When it comes to films directed by Terrence Malick, I've never really got what makes them so special. Beautiful visuals/cinematography, sure, but I can get that kind of stuff from other films. In my opinion, the man takes the concept of “show and not tell” and goes crazy with it, leaving morons like me struggling to understand what is happening in the story. I am not the kind of person who can sit back and just enjoy visuals (he types this knowing that his favorite film is currently 2001: A Space Odyssey, making him a giant hypocrite), I love story way too much. I can appreciate the belief that the audience is smart enough to fill in the blanks, but I think that Mr. Malick let’s himself stray too far by assuming that we can relate with the tales he unravels through visuals and small amounts of dialogue alone. Days of Heaven does not suffer from this problem. I was able to follow and enjoy the movie as an entire experience. And enjoy it I did. Along with the other films in the April Film Project I've seen, this is truly another diamond of a film, with only a few flaws to its shinning surface.

What I Liked:
-Well, I guess it goes without saying if you've seen any of Malick’s other work that this film looks fantastic. POV shots from the top of trains, wind rippling through the fields, that house, beautiful and ominous. And of course all our actors are good looking, but the way the camera seems to find each of them at a perfect angle is pretty astonishing. It’s one thing to be pretty; it’s another to look like a work of art.
-Malick’s subtlety of story is usual one of the problems I have with his films, but not with this one. We hear enough snippets of dialogue, combined with the voice-over narrative and the visual storytelling, to understand a cohesive and relatable story in the film. I don't think much of this movie is left up to interpretation. We see actions, we see consequences, and it all looks really good.
-I love the soundtrack/score of this movie. I don't know if it is all famous works, but there were songs in the movie that I have heard 100 times in the trailers for other films. The music fit everything perfectly.

What I Didn't Like:
-If I had to complain about one thing it would be the voice-over narration. While I wouldn't call it intrusive, it certainly didn't feel necessary. In fact, if they got rid of that, they might as well get rid of the scenes of the sister reflecting back on the story while she is bedridden. It certainly doesn't do the actress any favors by trying to force her voice to sound older. I complain about voiceover a lot don’t I?

What I Hated:
-I preferred being one of those people who just didn't like Malick movies. Now I feel like I should see all his stuff.


Verdict:

You want to see a visual masterpiece that is romantic and powerful, while still remaining subtle and mysterious? Bingo, we have your movie. If you decide to watch it, put it on the biggest screen you have and put the volume at a decent level, then sit back and let the film wash over you.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Review: The Conversation


The Conversation (1974):

Synopsis – Harry Caul is a solitary and private man, but only when it comes to his own life. His work requires him to eavesdrop over anyone dictated to him, and he is a master of the game. When a job he has taken begins to stink of a cover-up, Harry finds that his curiosity in the matter only rewards him with more exposure. But he won't stop till he knows what is what no matter the expense.


Movie #2 in my April Film Project, The Conversation is one of a handful of masterpieces that Francis Ford Coppola directed before he lost his edge. And by edge I mean he stopped making masterpieces specifically, he still does decent work from time to time (I am only speculating, I haven't seen one of his recent movies). Although I had heard of The Conversation before, I can’t really place the person who told me about it. It’s true that I have spent a lot of time reading about film and film works that I should invest my time in, but I feel like an actual person told me “You should really watch this movie.” Perhaps that person, like Harry Caul in the film, prefers to be hidden from society and I was lucky enough to get any info from them at all. Either way, I am super happy I got to see this film. This is going to make me sound really stupid, but having seen Enemy of the State quite a few times I felt this joy upon seeing Gene Hackman play a much quieter version of his character from that Will Smith movie. I haven’t watched Enemy in years, I’m sure it doesn't hold up.

What I Liked:
-In a film that focuses so much on what people observe, everything is done right in sound and camera departments. The small and contained shots when Harry and his companions are being secretive serve as a counter to the wide open, sweeping shots of the 70’s whenever Harry is out in the open and is exposed to any amount of observation himself. As for sound direction, I can only say that everything worked perfectly for the movie. I am not an audiophile; it’s something I need to study more.
-This movie plays around a lot with what you are seeing as a viewer. We are made to see things that may only be in Harry’s mind, but at the moment they seem just as real as anything else that happens. Are they the visions of a man who has become so paranoid he cannot help but envision exactly what his mind is imagining? Are they real? We as viewers are turned on our head and even in the end when the plot is revealed one cannot be sure what was true and what poor Harry had only made up in his paranoid daydreams.
-I did not recognize John Cazale, and all it took was a pair of glasses. Not I can see why Superman got away with it for some many years!

What I Didn't Like:
-There were a few moments when the soundtrack was a bit jarring, but even at this point I can’t really remember exactly when I was bothered. A minor complaint.

What I Hated:
-Nothing.


Verdict:
The Conversation is an excellent movie, but I don’t need to tell you that. At this point it’s history. But maybe you are like me and you hadn't really heard about it before. If you want to see a great thriller, please check it out. It’s currently streaming on Netflix!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: Theatrical Cut of Blade Runner


Blade Runner (Theatrical Cut) (1982):

Synopsis – Decker is a former police officer who specialized in the “retirement” of replicants (androids). Having retired himself, he is once again drawn into work when 4 special replicants appear on planet Earth and begins causing havoc in Neo-Los Angeles.


Why does Blade Runner have such a special place in my heart? It’s not like I watched it as a kid. I am pretty sure I saw the movie for the first time in my 20s. There is a burning coal smoldering constantly in my film lover’s soul, and occasionally the flames are fanned into a blaze that leaps out of me at the mere mention of a film. Examples of this would occur for movies like The Celebration (1998) or Inside Llwewyn Davis (2013). Blade Runner has almost the opposite effect for me. Thinking about, watching or talking about Blade Runner has a cooling effect on my spirit. It brings a peace of mind and body, returning me to the wonderment of a child and leaving me vulnerable. I keep my love for it hidden, and when I find some else who also loves it, I still do not let them in entirely to see how I really feel. Blade Runner is my secret happiness. It is the perfect film for me.

This time around I watched the Theatrical Cut of the movie, which I had never seen before. If there was one thing that could have ruined this movie for me, it would have been if this was the only version of the film. Thank God for director’s cuts!

What I Liked:
Listen, a breakdown of this movie is not going to go well for me. You want to what I liked? EVERYTHING. But, everything as a singular subject has equal parts perfection and imperfection. It all becomes perfect to me as a whole. So let me see what I can do.
-I ran a funny little poll recently on Facebook. The question was about whom was the more alluring figure: Sting from the movie Dune or Rutger Hauer from this movie. 100 percent of the answers were Rutger Hauer, and if you have watched the movie you know why. The man positively oozes virility, even when he is at his craziest.


-I read a criticism that the movie doesn’t have a plot, it’s just a series of events that happen. If anything, this film might have too many plots! I would love a full movie about any of them. The story of Decker, the story of the inventor of the replicants, the story of the replicants themselves, the story of the doll maker, the story of Neo-Los Angeles. So many tales that intertwine into the perfectness that is this movie.
-One of the things that used to bother me about the movie was a specific scene, where Decker is aggressive with a woman under duress, taking advantage of her. While this is still a completely sexist and somewhat uncomfortable scene, I now know this is a troupe of film noir. Bogart did it, Mitchem did it, and now I know why Ford did it.

What I Didn’t Like:
-nothing falls into this category. However…

What I Hated:
-As I said earlier, this time I watched the Theatrical Cut of the movie. If this had been the only version ever produced, I don’t think I would love it nearly as much. The voice over by Harrison Ford in the Theatrical Cut is ATROCIOUS. It was as if Ford was sitting in the room with me, and every once in a while he lifted up a microphone and commented on what was going on onscreen. His voice came in from a different universe, and all of a sudden I wasn’t watching my favorite masterpiece, but something more amateurish and stumbling. It was a violation to my senses, and honestly offensive to me. Thank God it goes away for the most part at the midpoint, only to rocket back at the slapped on alternate ending.


Verdict:

I have said my piece, so you know how I feel about the movie. I love it through and through, and it has never let me down. I’d say that if you have never seen the movie before, don’t watch the Theatrical Cut. Watch the Director’s or the Final Cut.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: A Woman Under the Influence


A Woman under the Influence (1974):

Synopsis – A wife and husband try to keep control of their family life, while the wife begins to lose control of herself in various destructive ways.


Movie #1 in the April Movie Project, I have only seen one other movie directed by John Cassavetes. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was a different animal than most cinema, one where the adjective “raw” actually fits quite perfectly. The characters in the movie were sleazy, and human, and way too familiar for comfort. Cassavetes seems to be able to get performances out his actors that leave every bit of falseness to the side. Watching A Woman Under the Influence was another raw experience, but domestically based and therefore much more relatable/disturbing. I am going to stick with my normal breakdown categories, but to say I liked any part of the movie seems a bit strong. To be more accurate, I was fascinated by it.

What I Liked:
-There is a reason I only mentioned 2 actors in a movie filled with great performances. Gena Rowlands does some absolutely astonishing work in this movie. Her character is a woman so broken, so downtrodden and depressed it tears at your heart. When a person acts the way she does in this movie, it cries for the kind of help that is not in the average person’s hand. You see her acting childish and speaking to herself and all you can do is look in horror because this isn’t the act of an attention seeking simpleton. This woman is DAMAGED. And she is getting no help.
-I love Peter Falk, and after this film that love was simple doubled. If you are used to seeing the man only playing Columbo, like I was, this role is a gigantic eye opener. The depths of love combined depravity he put on display made me hate him so bad. I could have jumped on to the screen and kill him sometimes! But other times he would be so gentle and honest, so caring that he became a shade of gray on the sunny side, another completely mixed up soul in the mixed up universe of this world. There is no other way to put it, he was brilliant.
-There is nothing false about the world that Cassavetes sets before you. Although I cannot imagine watching this movie again right now, I know I am going to want to go back and take a look at that side of cinema again.

What I Didn’t Like:
-There is something sticky about John Cassavetes’ films. This opinion is based solely on the two I have seen of course, so I am jumping to a conclusion a bit too prematurely. Never the less, after both times watching one of his movies I felt a little bit soiled. It was as if I had just peaked through the window into someone’s house and saw things that were secret, and secret for a good reason. The only reason that this observation is under “What I Didn’t Like” is because the feeling is unsettling, but it is also quite marvelous.

What I Hated:
-Nothing.


Verdict:
This is an extremely intense movie and I will recommend it if you are looking for something different than what Hollywood does, even the indie side of Hollywood, and if you can stand seeing a woman hit. It is one of the most “mature” movies I have ever seen.

I think this film is regarded as Cassavetes’ best film. If so I can completely see why. I do intend to watch this movie again, study it a little like an interesting insect and poke at my concept of film until I am satisfied with my basic understanding.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014):

Synopsis – Captain America finds his trust tested when S.H.I.E.L.D., the shadowy organization that polices the world turns out to be a little shady (get it?). Then some dude with a robot arms shows up, and he kicks a lot of ass.


As I established in the Thor: The Dark World review, I am a Marvel comics nerd. Watching these movies are my opium. I can’t tell you how many random asides and mentions from the characters on screen got my pulse racing with excitement. Several times I leaned over to Sarah and whispered what was essentially nonsense to her, getting me that look that says “I'm happy you're excited, but I don't know why.” I really wish that Sony and Fox would just get with the program and make some sort of deal with Marvel so that their movies could mix-it-up with the main Marvel films. Spider-man should be running into the Avengers! The X-Men should clash with the Hulk! Ghost Rider should continue to have movies that relate to nothing! I pretty much loved Captain America 2, even if I can see that it’s not a perfect movie. Perfect for me though? Yeah, pretty much, but I am TOTALLY biased. Here’s a little breakdown:

What I Liked:
-I think the way Marvel fleshes out its film’s stories is kind of brilliant. When I left the theater initially, I thought I had seen a very well-crafted story. Now that I have had more time to reflect, I realize that no, there really wasn’t much depth to the plot at all. But that doesn’t really matter, because it was all a super awesome ride. To really tear down the plot and examine all the pieces individually is to invite the flaws to overwhelm the picture, and consequently my enjoyment of it. Not worth it when it comes to an action movie like this.
-Chris Evans continues to impress as Captain America. Compared to his work as The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies he is practically Shakespearing his way through this work. He might just be now forever cemented as the character in my brain, the way Christopher Reeve is for Superman.
-They handled their social and political commentary in the movie pretty damn well. Sarah pointed out to me after the movie that they had pleased the left wingers by siding against global surveillance, while pleasing the right wingers by calling it Communism/Socialism. Plus, you get a guy like Robert Redford in there, who is a staunch liberal, playing one of the heads of the biggest policing force on the planet (Also pointed out by Sarah. She’s much smarter than I). For a big budget movie like this, I don’t think taking both sides of a debate could have been handled more smoothly.
-Falcon, man. Falcon was my favorite thing in the movie. I would love to see a whole movie just around that character. Anthony Machie plays him cool and relatable, simultaneously out of his league but ready to take the challenge head-on anyway. More Falcon, please?

What I Didn’t Like:
-I like Scarlett Johanssen as an actress, and I like seeing her in these movies, but there was something a bit off about her performance this time around. I can’t really put my finger on it. Maybe she was just exhausted from doing 40 movies at once. She has 2 in the theater right now and another one coming out soon (The other films are Under the Skin and Lucy).

What I Hated:
-Once again, as with Iron Man 3, I find the amount of gun violence in these films abhorrent. I realize that this might make me a crazy person. It’s all in an action movie after all, and it is based on previous work that also features a lot of gun play. Even so, I can’t separate myself from my role as uncle to 13 nieces and nephews, no matter how hard I try. Kids watch these movies, and kids get influence by what they watch. I don’t think I would let my child see this film, at least not till they were older.


Verdict:

The fact is I really enjoyed Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I may even go see it again at the theater I liked it so much. Also, I missed part of the movie because I had to go get the management at one point so they could kick out the assholes that were using their cell phones (that didn’t work out of course, but at least I tried). Anyway, go see the movie in the theater if this is you cup of tea, because it is really good stuff.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

April Week1: The Lego... Post. Yeah.

Another week, a few more films. I have already started the April Film Project, I just haven't written any of them up yet, because I am a slacker. But hey, 5 movies this week! That's pretty good right?

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Halloween
Jane Eyre
Heartland
Thor: The Dark World


There's what I wrote up the last week. Sorry for the short post, but I'm a boring person by nature. I hope you have a great week!


FYI: The title for this post comes from my nephew Jack. So blame him.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Review: Thor: The Dark World


Thor: The Dark World (2013):

Synopsis – Thor has been cleaning up the 9 realms and making everything cool again, when suddenly (!) a new threat appears in the form of a dark elf who is hell-bent on returning the universe to a state of total darkness.


I don’t know what it is about the Thor movies, but I really like both of them. Something about the clash of cultures between the scientists and the Gods just tickles my funny bone in the right way. And for some reason whenever Kat Dennings says something I cannot help but laugh! She is great at delivering lines.
What’s that? This isn’t supposed to be a comedy? Listen, if this had just been a straight action movie, then why would I have bothered watching it? In almost every Marvel movie that’s been released, the minute I stopped caring is the minute the action got turned up to 11. I’m a weirdo, what can I say. This movie has a fair amount of action, but it really is mostly a comedic movie, containing different levels of the “fish out of water” troupe and snarkiness. So I can see why some people didn’t like it, and I don’t fault them their opinions. I loved it.

What I Liked:
-This movie made me laugh, a lot. Whether it was Loki quipping, Kat Denning quipping, or even Natalie Portman quipping, for some reason the humor of the movie was right up my alley. And of course, an action movie where people are thrown around is bound to have some physical humor. All of which worked for me. Lastly, there is the funniest thing in the movie in my opinion…
-Stellan Skarsgard is fantastic in this movie. If you haven’t seen it, I don’t want to spoil his first scene, but I was laughing so hard I was crying. Imagine the guy from Good Will Hunting, now doing the performance that this film required. Every bit with him was great in an already super fun movie.
-As a Marvel comics nerd, I have to say that the stingers at the end of the movie made me so happy. Both the one that hinted toward the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and the one that put a nice bow on Thor: The Dark World were magical to me.

What I Didn’t Like:
-Everything did feel kind of rushed, plot-wise at least. I suppose the studios thought they couldn’t hold the audience’s attention for a longer movie in Thor-land, but I totally disagree. I would have loved a longer sequence of Natalie Portman’s character walking around with Thor in Asgard and interacting with different Gods and demi-Gods, but I’m a nerd, so there’s that to consider. Also, a little more fleshing out of the villain couldn’t have hurt.
-SPOILER: They kill off one of the characters, and it ends up feeling very halfhearted. It really doesn’t even work as motivation for the other characters. It was just a way for one of the actors to exit from any other film obligations.

What I Hated:
-I hate that it ended.


Verdict:

A fun blockbuster action movie, this movie is a quick watch that is totally enjoyable. Pop it in the player when you want to have a good time. I intend to buy a copy.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: Heartland


Heartland (1979):

Synopsis – A glimpse of the life of a woman and her daughter who move to Wyoming to work for a cattle farmer in the 1910’s.


The final movie in my March Movie Project, I certainly saved one of the best for last. My mom has always loved the Little House on the Prairie book series. She read it several times through when she was a lass, and when she was raising my siblings and I, she read it to us too. I can remember both mom and dad regaling me with the tales of Laura Ingalls as I drifted off to sleep at bedtime. Because of my mom’s love for those books, she latched on to a few films that showed the life she had read so often about. One of them was this movie, Heartland. Out of the films she picked for me, she really wanted me to see this movie the most, and it was almost impossible to get a copy. Basically, through Amazon, we had to pay a high price for someone to print us a copy of the DVD. We got our copy just before the end of the month and watched it together. My mom loves this movie, I love my mom, and now I also love this movie. Here are some thoughts on it:

What I Liked:
-It’s a very simple movie and I really liked that. Naturally there are certain complications in the character’s lives, such as dealing with the low price of cattle and a having a baby in the dead of winter, but there are plot points made larger than the others that movie can be defined by. What we got was a slice of life from this time period, showing a woman and a man (and a child, but they child is almost inconsequential to the story) living life in a rural setting before things like electricity, telephones, or automobiles were common place. They struggle for what they want, and really everything they try to accomplish is a struggle because nothing in this movie comes without hard work. It was moving to watch, and a bit inspiring.
-Conchata Ferrell was very good in her role as a poor woman who finds herself and her child suddenly in the middle of nowhere working with a man who is difficult to communicate with. Rip Torn was something else entirely. I DID NOT RECOGNIZE HIM. He absolutely transforms into his character, using an accent and changing his mannerism into a tough man who is used to a tough life, a man who won’t take no guff. It wasn’t until halfway through the movie when they showed a close-up of his face that I began to puzzle away at who I was looking at. “I know that guy” I thought. HIS NAME WAS IN THE OPENING CREDITS AND I STILL DID NOT PUT THIS TOGETHER. Really, an amazing performance.

What I Didn’t Like:
-There is an old woman, played by Lilia Skala, who shows up a few times in the movie and talks with Conchata about whatever. She has a thick accent and is almost impossible to understand most of the time. It wouldn’t be a problem if she was just someone who showed up and then left real quickly, but she has a lot of speaking scenes. And it even seems like she is speaking slower on purpose to make herself easier to understand, but it does not help in the least.

What I Hated:
-My mother didn’t remember this stuff, but there are some really brutal scenes of animal mutilation. I say mutilation, because that’s what it is to me, but what I mean is we see some cows branded and at least one that is castrated with a POCKET KNIFE. Maybe this is perfectly normal; I wouldn’t know, I’m a California boy. Oh yeah, and they kill a pig with a shot gun, and it is not fake in any way. Just a little too real for my taste.


Verdict:
I know I just listed a couple of negatives there, but I am still really happy I own this movie now. It will serve to me as a reminder of a time passed by and how lucky I am. It is also a very solid little film, and if you have a way to see it I think you should. I apologize if the animal bits are very upsetting for you. I intend to rewatch this movie many times.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Review: Jane Eyre (2011)


Jane Eyre (2011):

Synopsis – A young woman takes a job as a governess at a castle (?) owned by a total jerk face who bullies her into love. I may have added my own flair to part of the story.


Sarah’s love for period pieces tends to lead us out to the theater in pursuit of whatever new ones come out. Recently we saw In Secret which was pretty bad, but most of the time we are at least mostly satisfied by what we see. Jane Eyre is one of Sarah’s favorite movies, and I stand by that choice 100 percent. It is up there with the best looking movies in recent memory, but so much more.

What I Liked:
-The cinematography is amazing in this film. Along with the set design and costuming, you cannot help but truly be transported to the world of the movie. Cary Fukunaga may be a magical imp that carried over his powers to the TV series True Detective, because that looks just as good. They must do something to the film to tone down the colors, because everything is somewhat bleak and grayish in quality. It is still a beautiful piece of work to behold.
-Mia Wasikowski knocks this performance out of the park. She plays Jane Eyre as calm and smart, never taking it to any place over-dramatic, even though it would seem perfectly logical to do so. I mean, Jane Eyre has had a hard and mostly terrible life! A lesser actress would use that motivation as an excuse for hamming up the role, attempting to squeeze pity out of the audience any way they can. Wasikowski’s Jane has been made into a hardened and suspicious woman, not ready to trust anyone, not afraid to speak her mind when prompted to. She is no delicate flower and that is perfect.

What I Didn’t Like:
-If I have one complaint, it is how attractive Michael Fassbender is. I haven’t actually read Jane Eyre, but from what I have heard about it I understand that Mr. Rochester is supposed to be unattractive not only in manner but in appearance. I am a straight man, but even I cannot believe for one second that women would not fall all over themselves in order to get at Mr. Fassbender. Some dudes’ just got all the right stuff in the face area. He’s a great actor though, so I wouldn’t want him removed from the film. Maybe some prosthetics to ugg him up?

What I Hated:
-Nothing.


Verdict:
If you want a beautiful looking drama that features great acting, you really can’t go wrong. There are a few moments that drag, but that’s what you get from gothic literature. Totally worth watching.