Posts Tagged ‘Alex Hluch’

Film Reviews!: I Love You Phillip Morris

January 7, 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris is so good it’s hard to remember what type of movie you are watching.  That isn’t some hyperbolic statement intended to garner curiosity or to make the author (moi) seem wiser than reality would hold true, one actually comes away from Phillip Morris in such awe of the story just told that it merits a reminder that what the audience just viewed was a comedy.  A fabulous, fully-functioning comedy, but a comedy, nonetheless.

Based on a fantastical, too-good-to-be-true story, Phillip Morris revolves around a con-man’s (Carrey) life as he continually commits insurance fraud, breaks out of jail, and pursues the man he is so wildly in love with, the titular Phillip Morris (McGregor).  Carrey and McGregor fill the screen so fully throughout the entirety of this movie that there is hardly any room for anyone else onscreen.  And the amazing outcome is that it absolutely works.  Spending over 100 minutes with the hyper-dynamic couple of McGregor and Carrey is not only feasible, it’s preferred.  Short of a select few incredibly minute supporting roles that do help to push the story along, McGregor and Carrey’s frenetic entanglement of a relationship and life together creates an environment so perfect and exciting that you need nothing more than their own excellent camerawork.

Carrey and McGregor’s performances truly are what make this endeavor the brilliant outing that it is.  Not only do they perfectly capture the comedic timing and comical minutiae that make the story work so well, they also manage to create two entirely lovable, relateable characters, also.  Carrey brings Steven Russell to life with relative ease while Ewan McGregor makes a Morris into an equally versed, yet fragile romantic foil for Carrey’s Russell.  One of the biggest accomplishments of the stars (and certainly the screenwriters as well) is their ability to produce a comedy about a homosexual love affair in prison without once making the relationship feel cheap, trite, or cliche.  While the entire movie is incredibly funny, it never gives in to any cheap material about homosexuality or even the gay community, at large.  The story evolves at the perfect pace and never has any need or space to fit any banal, pedestrian humor about the couple’s sexual orientation into the grand scheme of things.  Instead, the couple feels absolutely fitting as the hectic world that they have built around themselves speeds by them.  Carrey and McGregor are adorable together and have you rooting for them as a team from the very get-go.  The chemistry that they share and the duo that they so quickly become is what gives the film such an intense feeling of charm, without which the movie would certainly be lost.

The score and cinematography both ring true to the story at hand and guide everything along to create the perfect atmosphere for Carrey and McGregor’s basically two-man show.  The true masterpiece of Phillip Morris‘ technical expertise, however, is the script.  The writing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have created an airtight screenplay that never lingers or moves too expediently.  Instead, Ficarra and Requa’s screenplay moves at just the right pace to pack year’s worth of action into a movie under two hours leaving you wanting more while simultaneously tying up each and every possible loose end or tangential piece of the narrative.  And while it would be easy to credit the story’s perfect pacing to the original book it was based off of, that simply is not the case.  What Ficarra and Requa have accomplished is a story perfectly, succinctly, and genuinely told in the language of the cinema.  Their story fully utilizes the cinematic medium, utilizing brilliant quick cuts, and edits to bring everything together.  One of the best moments of the film occurs while the camera lingers on Carrey and McGregor, slow dancing in their cells while their neighbor cellmate gets beaten, offscreen, by a battalion of cops to beautiful music.  It is an absolutely brilliant moment that is perfectly encapsulated through the meeting of imagery and sound.  Something that the pages of a book simply cannot deliver.

I started this review out by stating that Phillip Morris makes the audience forget the type of movie they’re watching.  While true that the audience may forget, I want to clarify that the movie itself NEVER forgets.  I Love You Phillip Morris never stops succeeding as a superior comedy, it just ALSO succeeds as a genuine film.  Phillip Morris is funny, touching, passionate, fulfilling, exciting, and extremely well put-together.  Great acting and great writing come together to tell a great story in one of the best entries of 2010.

Score/Soundtrack:  70/100

Performance/Direction:  94/100

Script:  93/100

Cinematography/Aesthetics:  82/100

Overall:  90/100

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Top 10 of 2010!

January 5, 2011

 

And here we are again!  Another year down and another slew of movies to comprehend and compare.  Unlike the last few years, 2010 brought a cavalcade of competent cinema that was absolutely unprecedented.  I was fully unprepared for the likes of the last few months and the intense entries into the Oscar season that began to give way as the year came to a close.  Now, as always, I’m certain that this list will be viewed as juvenile and haphazard (story of my life) but these are MY top 10 movies of the year.  I wish I could watch all of these entries over again to more properly gauge my level of enthusiasm and their prowess, however, I will stand by every one of these entries and will fight you to the death for any of them!  (Though I will admit, I give major kudos to originality and ingenuity in form over traditional cinematic bravado)  Let the ranking begin!

10.  127 Hours


Danny Boyle does so much with so very little.  In this masterful retelling of the infamous expedition-gone-wrong of Aron Ralston, Boyle makes the story of a man trapped in the desert for five days into a life-affirming, absurdly inspirational tale.  Boyle deserves immense credit for taking  a cinematically antithetical story and turning it into one of the most captivating of the year.

9.  Never Let Me Go


Mark Romanek made a big splash on the screen this year with this film, which delves into themes of humanity, fate, and despondency at the hands of one’s own demise.  All against the backdrop of a beautifully filmed, beautifully performed script.  Never Let Me Go reaffirmed Andrew Garfield’s, Carey Mulligan’s, and Keira Knightley’s prowess all in one fail swoop.

8.  True Grit


Being the second Coen brothers movie I have ever ACTUALLY enjoyed, True Grit put multiple stereotypes of mine to rest.  I was concerned about ANOTHER overly hyped Coen flick, I was concerned about another update of a classic western, and I was concerned about a story with a cliche, precocious, young female protagonist who comes across as seemingly unflappable.  But when you realize that the Coen’s entire body of work details the lives of larger-than-life characters that are seemingly unflappable, you begin to forgive this mini masterpiece for its very few flaws.

7.  The Kids Are All Right


Easily one of the best pieces of acting this year, the raw talent in this film makes me question how more fuss wasn’t made over it.  Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are irreplaceable in this comedy about the inner-workings of family and the importance of love, understanding, and functionality in the face of adversity, stress, and life’s constant ambiguity.  Did I mention that the performances are incredible?

 

6.  The Social Network


One of my more traditional choice for the year, Fincher’s techno-epic about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is truly as efficient as the hype made it out to be.  With a spot-on score produced by Trent Reznor, and cinematography that would make lawn-mowing a fascinating, IMAX-worthy venture, the film is almost incapable of NOT delighting audiences.

5.  I Love You Phillip Morris

Ironically, this may be the most contested movie on this list, as it does have its fair share of tonal anomalies and inconsistencies, however, Phillip Morris simply cannot be overlooked as one of the most adventurous and insightful picks of the year.  It takes risks and utilizes techniques just as well as 127 Hours and The Social Network, both.  It merely uses them in different regards and for different outcomes.  Not to mention that the performances are absolutely fabulous.

4.  Kick-Ass

Again, this film can be RIDICULOUSLY tonally inconsistent at times.  It can even leave viewers borderline disenchanted and at a loss.  But for fans of the genre, and just movie geeks in general, Kick-Ass lives to deliver both a send-up of the entire superhero canon, as well as overtly-indulgent entry in and of itself.

3.  Toy Story 3

If you would have told me that a three-quel to one of the biggest Disney franchises of all time would make my top 3 of ANY year, I would be forced to furrow my brow at you in extreme doubt, but Toy Story 3 is one of the most adroit offerings that Pixar has put out since…well, I guess since Up.  Still, it speaks incredibly highly of a studio that is capable of making sequels to films without losing any of the magic and without giving in to any sense of pandering or desperation.  Pixar should literally be a class that all film executives at EVERY studio should have to take.

2.  The Fighter

Going into this movie with little to no expectations of what I was about to see gave way to easily one of the most enjoyable movie-going experiences of this year.  David O. Russell truly knows how to make an incredible film, both critically and for mainstream audiences.  Visually arresting, with performances that are EASILY Oscar-worthy (I’m looking at you, Christian Bale and Amy Adams) this entry came out of nowhere and proved to be my second favorite of the year AS WELL AS my technical #2.  The film simply cannot be denied as a masterpiece on multiple fronts.

1. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

If you ever wanted to confirm my absolute geekiness, look no further than this #1 pick.  Is it a stereotypical selection?  Sure.  Is it a smidge over-praised by moi?  Perhaps.  But I simply don’t care.  Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World was easily my favorite movie of the year and easily one of my top 10 favorite films of all time, as well, perhaps even top 5 (I told you I was willing to acquiesce that I may be a bit blind to this movie).  Everything about this movie takes the extravagances of previous cinematic treasures and expounds upon them.  I challenge you to find a faster-paced, funnier, better-choreographed film that speaks so directly to an entire culture and properly adapts six graphic novels into a story under two hours long.  Did that sentence just blow your mind?  Well that’s how you feel for the entirety of the movie, even after the tenth viewing.  I know from experience.

P.S. And to be fair, here is a list of the most-talked-abouts that I have yet to see:

_The King’s Speech

_Shutter Island

_Waiting for Superman

_The Town

_Fair Game

_Mother

_Tangled

_Despicable Me

_Catfish

_Blue Valentine

_Animal Kingdom

Film Reviews!: 127 Hours

January 4, 2011

Danny Boyle has a knack for this thing called “making films.”  He’s one of the few directors who is capable of fully integrating the “crowd-pleasing-epic” and the “critical success”.  And all my jumbled, mixed-up grammar aside, he has an incredible ability to tell a story succinctly, while packing in as much cinematic extravagance as possible.  His work stretches the boundaries of storytelling while managing to not alienate anyone in the audience.  In Boyle’s latest, 127 Hours, the director of Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, and 28 Days Later, utilizes many of his signature techniques to keep a film that could have potentially been disastrously boring into an absolute masterpiece.

The “based-on-a-true-story” premise that 127 Hours is hinged upon gives rise to a fascinating tale.  A mountain climber, Aron Ralston, tumbles into a crevasse during a routine expedition.  His arm becomes lodged in between a boulder and a canyon wall.  Trapped between a rock and a hard place (1. I couldn’t resist, and 2. That’s actually the name of Ralston’s autobiography) Ralston is forced to ration his food and water supplies and ponder his escape/entire existence over the course of the next five days.  While the story itself is quite captivating, it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to cinematic undertakings.  The crux of the adventure takes place in a desert canyon where Ralston basically re-evaluates his life and does everything in his power to break free of his imprisonment while inflicting as little damage upon himself as possible.  While this story makes excellent fodder for a book, where the author can extrapolate and work tangentially on how he felt and where his mind would wander during moments of excruciating pain, desperation, and anxiety, it’s difficult to convey such thematic devices in the world of cinema when your protagonist cannot move a single inch from the spot he’s anchored to.  All this just to say that a lessor director would not have been able to convey half of what Danny Boyle did with this story in this medium.

It’s the inventiveness of storytelling that truly makes this film such a raving success.  Boyle takes chronological economy to an entirely different level with his distribution of time to specific aspects of the story.  He spends the first fifteen minutes of the film setting the stage for the eventual accident that would change Ralston’s life forever, while simultaneously giving us a perfect dose of insight into Ralston’s character as a thrill-seeker and a competent outdoorsman.  The last ten minutes detail Ralston’s escape and his eventual rescue at the hands of a couple from the Netherlands after he rappelled down a 65 foot drop…with one arm.  What we are left with is roughly 70 minutes in the center of the film where Ralston is left to his own devices as he attempts to free himself from his stone prison.

A combination of dream sequences, moments of reminiscence, and actual attempts to free himself make what could be an awfully dull, painful ordeal (for the audience, nyuk,nyuk, nyuk) into a thrilling stretch of cinematic brilliance.  While Boyle makes use of every cinematic technique in the book, from daydreaming, to Ralston narrating for himself, to Ralston even speaking directly to his handycam that he brought along, in a confessional-style, one-man interview, no part of the story ever feels forced, disjointed, or out of place.  Boyle seemlessly interweaves these cinematic elements without losing sight of the tale at hand and without any obvious attempt of indulgence.

The score manages to echo the sentiments of the story well, without becoming a burden.  Boyle’s use of sound brings the stark reality of Ralston’s dire situation across the gap of reality as Ralston continually drifts in and out of consciousness.  Sound, more than music, aids Boyle’s vision, with one of my favorite devices consisting of the scene in which Ralston begins to sever his arm.  While a horrifying experience to watch, regardless, hearing the static, electronic buzz whenever Ralston hit a tendon became an actual device to make the viewer physically recoil.  creating a visceral reaction with a mere sound effect, a good director does make.  Finally, the score of the movie does so much to aid the climax of the film, that by the movie’s denouement the  you realize that you are being coaxed out of the summit of the climax by the score itself.  While the visuals onscreen do plenty to celebrate the ending of this film the way it should be, the musical accompaniment is what seals the package together.

The cinematography also cannot be praised highly enough.  And while certain shots of the desert and its never-ending expanses of desolation stand alone as being breath-takingly captivating, the reason for the thumbs up is the adept utilization of the cinematography itself, not necessarily the shots that are accomplished.  Being trapped with literally no room to spare, Boyle had his work cut out for him framing a film in which all the action was to take place either in a 1 foot by 1 foot square, or in the mind of the protagonist.  But no part of 127 Hours feels stereotypical as the average memory play generally does.  To further reinforce the point, the beauty behind this offering is Boyle’s ingenuity in telling a tale, and the cinematography most notably echoes this, utilizing multiple flashbacks, differing angles and cinematic techniques, and even different cameras, as Ralston turns to his personal handycam whenever he looks to document his situation.  It’s the cycling-through of techniques, the shifting of the physical lens through which the audience views the story, that keeps the dynamism of the film alive.

And finally, James Franco must be lauded for a performance that forces the viewer to invest.  Franco does an incredible job of crafting a character who is both fully competent and fully vulnerable all at the same time.  This simple dichotomy becomes crucial to Boyle’s world-building as the audience needs to feel Ralston’s competency in order to not simply lose all hope, while at the same time feeling the exasperated desperation of the character’s seemingly inevitable demise.  Franco is able to beautifully balance these two extremes while still creating a character that is both charismatic and a delight to watch onscreen.  As with Boyle, a lessor actor would have naively rested on merely his instincts and begot a more boring alternative.

With what appears to be a largely anti-cinematic story, Danny Boyle has constructed one of the best movies of the year.  By simply entertaining multiple theatrical and cinematic constructs and from focusing on original storytelling techniques, a simple story of a trapped mountain climber manages to become an inspirational epic about perseverance and the human will.

Performance/Directing: 88/100

Score/Soundtrack: 84/100

Script: 85/100

Cinematography: 88/100

Overall: 92/100

Film Reviews!: Enter the Void

December 24, 2010

I woke up today still feeling off-kilter from the previous night’s endeavor.  After seeing Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void one can only be so lucky as to call their disposition ‘slightly off-kilter.’  While I realize that every other critic has taken the opportunity to quip something along the lines of Noe’s work being an “assault,” it’s very hard to write anything adverse to this notion or even ancillary to it.  Simply put, Noe’s recent work is a difficult watch, and not strictly for its content, but rather, its style.

Noe’s 154-minute epic chronicling the AFTER-life of a Tokyo-based drug dealer maintains an unrelenting visual and audible affront on the audience.  With a constant, nagging strobe effect, Gaspar makes the gaudy neon glare of Tokyo all the more unwavering.  For what he clearly seeks to accomplish, it works, however, the methodology behind this choice remains ambiguous.  While I cannot champion unique editing and production concepts enough, Enter the Void utilizes techniques and forms that seem to be entirely antithetical to the story being told.  The general feeling becomes that Noe is simply recycling his favorite cinematic devices from past endeavors (i.e. Irreversible) that he feels comfortable with and that he is certain set him apart.  These cinematic constructs feel tacked on, not organic in and of themselves.  The story’s methodical, reflective, contemplative pace doesn’t really lend to the persistent annoyance of the strobe effect.  The strobing, in fact, typically took away from the story’s unfolding, as the audience is continually pulled out of the action onscreen and made cognizant of the visual barrage Gaspar is clearly perpetrating.  And while it can be argued that this was his end intent, one would think that Noe went to an awful lot of work in story building and production design only to purposefully distract and detract from the piece onscreen.

The performances are interesting from a technical standpoint as two of the three main characters are not actors in a traditional sense, and this film is their actual onscreen debut.  Oscar, through whom the entire story is told, presents almost no persona to grasp any semblance of character off of.   And while it can both be argued that he is constantly in a d drug-induced mental fog OR that NOE wanted the audience to be able to implant themselves as the main character, there are far too many personal moments in the film’s reflective story that require some sort of response from Oscar.  Big, ridiculous moments that deal with incest, loyalty, personal, psychological trauma, separation, loss, and love make this film far too intimate and individualized to argue that the audience should be able to implant as the character.  Oscar has far too much baggage and emotional investment in the story to merely serve as an empty canister for the audience.  Further, even if that was his goal, the audience cannot function well as their own hero when every element of their story is so sincerely drawn up for them.

Meanwhile, Alex, the other non-actor played by Cyril Roy, does a well-enough job to not merit any harsh criticism on his performance.  His point of view and desires are typically clear and without confusion, and he actually comes across making stronger decisions than Linda, (played by Paz de la Huerta) the single ‘formal’ actor in the entirety of the cast of main characters.  Much about de la Huerta’s performance leaves a great deal to be desired.  The audience knows next to nothing about her adolescence (roughly ages 5-18) and when she stops off the plane in Tokyo she seems very well-disciplined and put-together.  Within the course of what then seems like two days, she divulges into a train wreck of a human being.  And it’s very hard to find any semblance of compassion or care for the character.  Her constant disaffected countenance (whether supposedly elicited by a drug-induced stupor or by her now defunct sense of self-worth) never really amounts to any sort of tangible character progression or regression or even digression.  More or less, the character of Linda functionally becomes more of an object to be desired or cared for or missed by Oscar than she ever was an actual character.

The score is something else entirely as its pulsating, rhythmic undulations constantly underline the visual effects of Gaspar’s never-ending strobe.  Its entire goal is to further herald the sickeningly methodical pace of the film, and for that it certainly accomplishes what it needs.  The problem, again, is that this never seems to coincide with the STORY of the film.  At no point during the story’s evolution does it seem to fit to have a droning, cattywampus score playing alongside the action onscreen.  It acts as a deterrent to anything meshing onscreen and seems to be an element brought in from the past that acts more as a device than any sort of cinematic complement or even addition.

If there’s one thing that doesn’t seem entirely counter-intuitive to the entirety of the production it’s the cinematography.  Noe has an incredible eye for telling the most breath-taking story possible through multiple lens’, cranes, cameras, and angles.  The midnight Tokyo cityscape is simply electric through Gaspar’s lens with all its neon glory.  While the multiple crane shots do begin to become old hat in the film’s third hour, they do provide an incredible, sweeping sensation that adds to the post-mortem crux of the story.

One of the most incredible aspects of the camerawork, however, would have to be Gaspar’s mobilization of the audience’s gaze.  When Oscar is alive, the audience sees everything through his eyes…literally.  In a first-person format, Oscar IS the camera.  What he sees, we see directly, and nothing else.  Oscar’s blinks even register and play into the equation.  After Oscar’s demise, flashbacks are generally taken in third person, over Oscar’s shoulders.  And when not in flashback, we are back to what is most likely first person, riding with Oscar’s disembodied spirit through space and time, sans blinks.  It really is a fascinating technique and works well for what Noe seeks out of his screenplay.

Despite the incredible visuals, however, Noe simply can’t seem to get a hold on the feel of the movie.  One of the best examples I can think of is the very introduction to the film itself.  The flick opens with an incredibly fast-paced, manic, epic title sequence that readies the viewer for something so grand, so crazed, so frenzied, so berserk that the audience simply cannot wait to see what’s next.  This state of hyper-stimulation and aggressive display are then transitioned into an incredibly lax, languid moment in the script that does little to ever appropriately amp up.  And that’s the entirety of this effort, visuals and audio that tells the audience one thing while the story tells it another.

Score/Sound: 57/100

Screenplay/Story: 54/100

Performance/Direction: 32/100

Cinematography: 70/100

Overall: 50/100

Film Reviews! Hereafter

December 22, 2010

Clint Eastwood has a long and storied professional history that spans across half a century and includes some of the most prolific titles of all time as well as some of the most memorable Oscar contenders of the last ten years.  His latest flick, Hereafter, is certainly not one of those aforementioned movies.

Hereafter is the story of a retired psychic (Matt Damon) recently laid off of his  job in construction, just looking to find his place in the world while being hounded with a what he considers a psychic ‘curse’ that keeps him withdrawn and alone.  His brother (played by an alarmingly aged Jay Mohr) looks to drag him back into the psychic reading game in order to best ‘help people’ (see: make money).  Auxiliary stories revolve around a twin who desperately wants to reconnect with his deceased brother and a news anchor who experiences a touch of the afterlife after surviving a near-death experience.

The synopsis above does a good job of translating precisely what the major errors are within the film.  A lot technically happens, in Hereafter, but very little actually comes of any of it and said outcomes that do come to fruition feel forced, juxtaposed, and flaccid.  Eastwood has chosen a story that really has very little to tell, with three central characters who do little more than awkwardly bounce against one another.  By film’s end, you are left feeling unsatisfied, wishing that simply ONE of the three stories had some sort of substance to dig into.  Sadly, though, each character truly does have the propensity to tell their own, individual, 90-minute story, this is just a classic case of a screenwriter with too much to say ultimately saying nothing.

Matt Damon’s George Lonegan is the kind of tortured, hapless hero that knows the extent of his own abilities and simply cannot overcome the fears that he has associated with them.  While he’s certainly knowledgeable enough to know the positive aspects of his psychic craft, he also has clearly broken his fair share of human beings down by bringing up the past in ways they simply were not ready for.  The first girl that we see him get close to simply leaves in an emotional whirlwind after George relates a message sent to her from a relative who was too “touchy” in her past.  And while much is done to address Damon’s character’s clearly solitary, lone existence, it is the only piece of substantial acting in the entirety of the piece.  The other two main characters, young, now lone twin, Jason, played by twins Frankie and George McLaren and French newscaster, Marie, played by Cecile De France give two of the weakest performances I have seen in a theatrical release in quite some time.  They come to their roles without almost zero emotional investment and very little, if any sincere point of view.  Either the editing left out insurmountable chunks of dialogue which better flesh out these characters, or Clint Eastwood really knows how to sink a movie through a miserable supporting cast.

The score is another point of incredible weakness that merits speaking to.  Every single note that is played to underscore an action, mood, or tone in the film actually managed to bristle me out of my seat and call attention to itself.  I could not come across a single moment when I felt that the tone of the score even mirrored, let alone added to, the tone of the film.  The underlying trend seemed to be to actually put in musical underscores that were antithetical to the production progressing onscreen.  Horrible, cheesy, elevator muzak-ish guitar solos would wail as though an 80’s hair metal band was coming to the middle of their hit love ballad during the few poignant moments of the movie.  Casual outdoor establishing shots would be sprinkled with upbeat, strange, artificial musical musings that have ZERO correlation to one another.  The fact that any money was spent on this arrangement at all and it wasn’t simply composed using freesound.com ten minutes before the first screening is a testament to Hollywood’s oftentimes incompetence.

As mentioned before, the screenplay to this mess is equally frightful, and I assume acts as the cornerstone to the rest of the mess that this film becomes.  I can only assume that Eastwood and Damon both saw the potential for a sweeping character piece in this little movie.  Of course, that’s me being positive.  What probably happened was that Eastwood saw an easy paycheck and after a twenty minute read-through of the script decided that he may even be able to milk some critical acclaim out of this cow with his directing magic.  Damon, not even reading the script, but seeing Eastwood’s name attached, signed on blind, and we were given this mess.  I think the best word to sum up this movie would have to be “jilted.”  Yeah.  “Jilted.”

Score/Sound: 32/100

Screenplay/Story: 45/100

Performance/Direction: 48/100

Cinematography: 55/100

Overall: 39/100

Film Reviews!: Bronson

December 17, 2010

Bronson tries to do everything a biopic should do, and then some.  It looks to portray its subject’s life in a unique, personal fashion toying with conventions, tone, and pacing to create a story thread true to its central character.  And while, at times, the biopic manages to do exactly that with a starved, exasperated, solitary pacing, this very same element also manages to grind the film to a halt at times and forces the audience to linger on moments and points in the criminal’s life that we simply could have done without.

Granted, the biopic of a man who has spent 34 years in prison, 30 of which were spent in solitary confinement, would be hard to tell.  However, there are certainly fantastical elements to Michael Peterson’s (the titular character’s birth name) life that would merit a 90 minute feature.  Unfortunately, director Nicolas Refn, doesn’t choose to dote on those aspects.  It’s almost as if he’s afraid to let any moment of character or excitement develop for longer than a short spat of screen time.  What he may have been trying to produce were bigger moments, larger flashes in the pan, if you will, amongst the sea of monotony that coursed through Bronson’s life.  The finished product, however, eventually comes across as uncharacteristically languid and tedious by film’s end.  While we spend plenty of time seeing Peterson shipped from prison to prison, rotting away as time transpires, Refn neglects to show instances of the man’s life that the audience would love to see that are merely broached.  The robbery Peterson commits at the age of 19 which catalyzes his stint in the “hotel” as he calls it, of prison.  Also, Bronson’s 69 day stint on the outside where he allegedly took to streetfighting and fell in love with a stripper could have become, at the very least, a bit more fleshed out, if for nothing else, to delve into a few other character’s psyche.  However, maybe that would have taken away from the solidarity of Bronson’s own mental state, I’m really not sure, but that’s what one comes away with after this film.  Rather than a sincere semblance of what the director was looking for, the audience comes away feeling a bit exhausted and listless.  Even Bronson’s prison riot he organized where he earned the title of “Her majesty’s most expensive prisoner” is glazed over with actual news footage that probably entails thirty seconds of screen time.  Glossed over with a few phrases on fame.  Much time feels wasted and the overarching wish of the theatre goer is that we could have illuminated certain elements while keeping others abbreviated.

All things considered, however, Bronson does do certain things well, mostly by taking chances.  The theatrical style in which the story is told does MUCH to alleviate the audience’s job of staying engaged with the story.  Without the innovative, first-person, fourth-wall-breaking, vaudevillian style in which Bronson tells his tale to the crowd, I believe that this movie would have become borderline unwatchable.  Not for any extraordinary circumstances, but quite the opposite, it would have ground to a halt in the first half.  Also, much can be said for Tom Hardy’s pitch-perfect over-the-top, grandiose performance as a performer without anything to really say to his audience.  Bronson speaks to wanting fame multiple times in the flick and only finds solace in violence and mayhem.  Hardy’s rendition of a praise-desiring circus act relying on battle to merit a response from the British populace additionally saves the film from what would have surely been eventual ruin had a weaker actor been granted the part. Further, the soundtrack to the film does MUCH to bring the story to life.  Primarily consisting of electronica and classical scores, the audible element of the film does mesh perfectly with what Refn has captured onscreen, and does much to accentuate the action.  One of my favorite flourishes is during a fight scene when the synths from the electric undercurrent of the score actually sync up to individual punches Bronson lands on his opponents.  If the whole movie was categorized by moments of character like this, it would have been a completely different (i.e. better) experience.

While describing things this film does right, one simply must condone its cinematography.  One of the key elements of the film that gave you a strikingly adroit insight into the mind of the man, the look of the film managed to give you a claustrophobic, caged sense to the entirety of the story, only ever to be saved by Bronson himself.  The visual aesthetic of the film keeps you boxed into Bronson’s world, devoid of much outlet, left only to be led and held by the man whose mind you’ve entered.  Additionally, certain shots bring so much more to the story than an individual character ever could.  One of the first shots in the insane asylum, for example, contains a long dolly shot in which we follow one inmate as he walks the length of the recreational area.  He passes Bronson, who is incredibly close to frame, so close that one could easily be forgiven for not noticing him, stops a few feet past, turns, and returns to a drug-addled Bronson who is clearly out of his mind.  It’s a simple tracking shot, but the actor’s placement, the shot’s pacing, and the reveals that the shot entails brings so very much to light as to the personality of the film itself.

Unfortunately, there are too few times in which these moments remind us of why we are watching this movie to begin with.  While I certainly acquiesce that Refn may very well have been looking to build the atmosphere of the story around Bronson’s primarily caged life, the end result simply leaves us wanting more, and not in terms of more of the same, but rather in the scope of more from the film itself.

Performances: 80

Cinematography/Aesthetics: 79

Score: 78

Script: 60

Overall:62

Film Reviews! Splice

December 16, 2010

With every fiber of my being I wanted to write this review objectively.  I wanted to use the most academic cinematic language possible and write candidly, but without bias or humor, on the film at hand.  Unfortunately, I find now that I simply cannot do that.  Splice is a movie that attempts to do so much in such a short amount of time.  And while certain aspects of the film actually shine through rather nicely and create a seamless image at times on screen, nothing can truly buoy the absurdly fluctuating tone of the film and the insane character development and plot progression.

I think my biggest grievance is with the fact that splice takes itself deadly seriously.  There are no allusions to meta-cinema or the creature horror genre to which this film primarily looks to occupy.  Which means that what occurs onscreen should either buy in to some semblance of formatted pacing, or otherwise create its own.  Splice rides a pacing and plot structure that comes across as strongly traditional.  Time and events occur in what is clearly modern day, devoid of variations.  And yet, the two main characters of Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) have absolutely NO semblance of consistency or morale of any kind.  These two characters go through so many internal, emotional transformations that it’s nearly impossible to get a grasp of who the hell they are.  Adrien Brody goes from being against the idea of splicing human and animal DNA, to catalyzing the experiment itself, to being weary of the product of the experiment, to trying to murder the product, to feeling sympathy for it, to feeling fatherly to it, to feeling seduced and sexually attracted to it, to murdering it.  In the course of a film under two hours.  And Sarah Polley’s character’s progression is not much better.  Within the course of ten minutes, Polley goes from being the ever-loving mother to the creature, to carelessly dissecting the being and playing with its genetic code.  Of course there are specific lines delivered throughout the film that are intended to give the audience SOME frame of reference to these inane mood swings, but they literally consist of Adrien Brody lecturing his wife about how the experiment has gotten out of hand and is no longer about ‘science,’ which helps launch Polley into a cold, thoughtless surgeon.  She operates on her own daughter/creature/porpoise/thing after it kills a cat.  Ridiculous doesn’t halfway describe the inconsistencies of tone.

Further, the creature itself, Dren, is a curious amalgamation of nothing at all.  Starting out as a highly intelligent and fast-developing creature with a penchant for coloring and playing with words, by film’s end the character has become a vampire-demon that can fly, use a scorpion tail, run with the speed of a gazelle, breathe both underwater and on land, shoot laser beams out of its eyes, and teleport through time.  Granted, I may have added those last two in, I can’t even remember anymore.  Anyway, the character seems to go completely feral rather than taking the intellectual high road (At one point it spells out the word, ‘Tedious,’ for the love of Ray Harryhausen).  During the scene’s climax, after Dren has metamorphised into a male, it actually speaks for the first time as it is raping Sarah Polley, its mother (take a second to re-read that last statement, then take another second, and read it again).  It says, “Inside you,” in a sickening, deep reference to an earlier part of the film.  But the point I’m trying to make is that the first phrase this creature says despite its clearly adept vocabulary, is an inuendo for rape and procreation.  It’s absolutely mind-boggling.

While I could go on and on about the awful up-and-down, backwards-and-forwards tone of this film and the written inconsistencies that abound, I must comment on certain things that worked really well.  First and foremost, I applaud anyone who’s willing to step into this genre’s territory and make something big, and difficult, and different, like director Vincenzo Natali chose to.  It’s very hard to do a work in this realm and it’s very easy to step off and work on lighter fare, or even, choose to not take your content seriously, almost creating a farce in the meta-theatrical realm.  Additionally, while always being the first to jump on the “CGI SUCKS” bandwagon, I will be the first to happily admit, the CGI in this film looked incredibly seamless.  The creature, Dren’s, legs were perfectly animated and never gave me the impression that I wasn’t looking at something tangible.  Dren’s face, as well, both young and older, came across as perfectly legit, never feeling produced or obviously added in.  Everything felt very honest, very physical.  And yet, so little of the monster was.  Watching the behind the scenes footage, it became apparent that the only part of Dren that was always the actress was her torso, and even then, the added things on, like a tail and wings.  It gave me great hope in the future for effects and CG work, which was something this film needed to be at all redeemable.

Overall I respect the efforts that were taken and the film certainly never fails to keep you entertained.  As far as quality spectacle, however, Splice falls quite short.  The performances are barely above average and the story just cannot be taken seriously.  The key to making sci-fi or horror or any fantastical genre work is to either establish strong character work or establish your tone and pacing and keep it within some realm of consistency or fabricate a framework of absurdism.  Splice doesn’t do any of these things well and instead opts to do all of these things poorly.

Performances: 64/100

Cinematography/Aesthetics: 90/100

Score: 50/100

Script: 28/100

Overall: 42/100

Film Reviews!: Never Let Me Go

October 28, 2010

The next time that you find yourself in the middle of a movie, knowing EXACTLY what’s going to happen next and the exact beats that the screenwriter is cultivating to get you there, just take solace in the fact that every so often we are given a movie like Never Let Me Go.  I went into this screening knowing nothing at all about the movie beforehand.  I had abstained from trailers, internet gossip, the whole nine yards.  I knew that the movie was primarily produced in the UK and nothing in this movie relishes in that of standard conventions.

Mark Romanek is given the helm as director and this work marks his third foray into full-length feature films.  The hallmark of Romanek’s work is that it always manages to invoke a sort of gritty, heartless, almost cruel realism that few directors have the capacity to engineer in their productions.  One hour Photo, shot in 2002 and starring Robin Williams, is a perfect example of Romanek’s style and how he manages to make the film’s aesthetics as central to the story as the script itself.  Known primarily for his expansive music video catalog, however, further examples of Romanek’s creative touch as it transcends mood and tone are best referenced in Weezer’s El Scorcho,  Fiona Apple’s Criminal, and Johnny Cash’s Hurt.  His incredible eye for detail and attention to not only the undertones of the story, but the overtones and all the tones in the middle, are what guides the images he captures to broadcast such a heightened sense of understanding.  Romanek truly knows how to tell a story through images and an overall aesthetic, which is exactly how Never Let Me Go manages to accomplish so much with so little in terms of production or back story.

One of the greatest accomplishments of this film (and there are many) is it’s ability to instill an overall sense of dread and hopelessness in the audience. And while many movies have the capacity to instill an audience with the equivalent mood to collaborate with the tone of their film, few flicks do so in such a masterful way as Never Let Me Go.  For it’s not the story that creates such an ethereal sense of abandon in the audience (though the story IS quite bleak), nor the dialogue or the superb writing.  The unending tone of dismay that Never Let Me Go so successfully conveys is explicitly broadcast through the heartlessness and futility found in the day-to-day lives of the movies characters, and of the film’s alternate world’s atmosphere that it has completely fabricated.  Fair warning, a bit of background into the film’s plot and some spoilers will be required to further flesh out my analysis.

Never Let Me Go follows the lives of three clones in an alternate version of Britain in which, as early as the mid-sixties, clones were regularly grown and harvested for their organs.  The story follows this love triangle of clones as they are brought up in an orphanage through their adolescence and  into their adulthood as they begin to be harvested for their organs (clones are kept alive for as many as up to three ‘donations’ on average).  The story isn’t about rebellion.  It’s not even about passive resistance, or really any kind of resistance at all.  The characters make a single attempt at preventing their own demise only to be told calmly, cooly, and in a warm, open environment that there is no such thing as a delay or an extension on life.  Once your number is called, it’s called.  So, while the characters do eventually have a mental break down, they never actually attempt to escape the fate that is bestowed upon them.  This, amongst multiple other tonal impressions, is how the inescapable sense of despairing fate envelopes the entire film and manages to drape itself over the audience, by proxy.

And this overbearing sense of dismal loss and submission does so much more than simply play into the movie’s central theme.  It helps to elaborate on the symbolism and specific messages that the film looks to project in its alternative universe.  For example, despite the fact that the characters in Romanek’s most recent endeavor have roughly half the life-span of most people, they still experience the exact same trials and tribulations, still wrestle with the same concepts of life’s futility, of love lost and unrequited, and dealing with reality as you are confined to it.  The characters in Never Let Me Go blindly accept the life they have been born into with little to no grievances, much as most do.  The story, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, works as a beautiful metaphor for the short lease we all have on life, and the way most of us waste our lives striving for mundane things or blindly accepting our fate.  Had the main characters in the story ever ventured out farther than an occasional trek into town or if they had even questioned things more than once, perhaps they could have escaped the early deaths that awaited them.

Finally, it needs to be noted that the acting and directing in Never Let Me Go help to translate the story beautifully, as well, with Kiera Knightly playing one of the most unlikeable-yet-understandable, conniving characters in recent memory.  Her portrayal of the back-stabbing Ruth rings so true as one of her sole motivations in life is to keep from being lonely.  Andrew Garfield continually reminds me why I am excited for the Spider-Man reboot, with his calm and impassioned portrayal of Tommy.  And Carey Mulligan easily gives the strongest performance of the film as the demure and complacent Kathy.  It’s certainly worth noting, as well, that the child actors in this film put on excellent performances, in addition to the star-power inherent in Mulligan, Garfield, and Knightly.

Never Let Me Go’s expert discussion of some of the most existential, overarching concepts in humanity makes it a textual masterpiece that comes alive through Romanek’s exquisite ability to create an entire universe through tone and atmosphere.  Without wasting a minute of screen time and without adding any superfluous content, which, in effect, usually ends up taking away from the original story, Romanek  and screenwriter Alex Garland paint a beautiful, haunting, and discouraging portrait of how often life is wasted on complacency and fear.

Performances: 92/100

Cinematography/Aesthetics: 85/100

Score: 67/100

Script: 88/100

Final: 81/100

Slideshow Sundays! 10/24/10

October 26, 2010

SUREEEEEEEEEEEE this Slideshow Sunday came on Tuesday, but I never said I was good at being punctual.  Onto the pics!

Conan comes back to television on November 8th on TBS and tickets have been on sale for the last few months for November and December.  Oh yeah, and when I say ‘on sale’ I actually mean ‘for free.’  Le sigh, I miss L.A.

I found this shot on Iheartchaos.com.  It’s the 8th version of Doctor Who, Paul McGann, dressed as HE believes the 8th Doctor SHOULD have, rather than how he actually did.  McGann also states that he would be more than willing to suit back up as the Doctor if the BBC ever had any desire to meet the 8th with the 11th Doctor in a multi-Doctor episode.

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp doin’ what they do best, bein’ creepy.

I feel as though I should have a Bill Murray pic in every edition of Slideshow Sundays.  I’ll have my secretary get right on that.

A young Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green in My Stepmother is an Alien.  Who knew that these two would later reunite on Buffy?  Oh, and both be superstars in the industry.  That, too.

Alice Glass doing what she does best, rocking like a 200 pound man-o-muscle while actually weighing 90 pounds.  PS best fashion sense EVER.  SER-iously.

 

Slideshow Sundays! 10/17/10

October 17, 2010

Hello, chidlers!  I wanted to start assigning days to certain posts to keep me posting on a more regular basis.  So welcome to Slideshow Sundays!  Much like people-watching at the mall, the internet is great for viewing random images that will do you no good in the outside world.  Slideshow Sundays will be my showcase of my favorite images that I have found over the past week!  The pic above is easily my recent favorite, depicting Regis Philbin and Paul Reubens robbing the M&M’s store in Times Square.  Amazing?  Of course.  ANNNNNDDDD we’re off!

What’s the report on this? (See what I did there?)  I gleaned this from The Comedy Store’s Tumblr.  It’s everyone’s favorite fashionably-biased pundit, Stephen Colbert, in his early years.

Bill Murray at the Scream Awards.  I took this from Suicide Blonde’s tumblr.  It feels as though Murray is trying to make a statement, maybe about what a Ghostbusters union over twenty years later would look like…

I’ve got Matt Smith and Doctor Who on the mind.  The sixth season is currently in production and should be airing on the BBC in the Spring.  (!)

Russell Brand.  Oh the man-crushes I have.  There is a mish-mash of entertainers who I want to base my career upon.  This man, for his style alone, is in that category.

I honestly wish I could remember where this pic came from.  I THINK I found it on someone’s DeviantArt, but it’s easily one of my favorite fanpics I’ve ever seen.  Great representation of two of my ALL-TIME favorite antagonists.

I have often woken up to this picture when I open my laptop first thing in the morning, and it seems to always comfort me.  Alice Glass has become more of an enigmatic figure than an actual person in my mind, much like Audrey, only the exact opposite.  Alice reminds me to hustle, hustle, hustle, with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a total disregard for my body and/or future.