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All reviews - Movies (44) - TV Shows (2) - Books (1) - Games (11)

Neo-noir perfection

Posted : 6 years ago on 28 June 2012 02:35 (A review of Collateral (2004))

Crisp, neo-noir perfection, masquerading as a summer action flick but with a dark and existential core. Tom Cruise plays against his type as an assassin, a lone grey fox named Vincent sent to make five hits in a single night using any means necessary... and cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx) happens to be that means. Deftly directed by Michael Mann--who knows every nook and cranny in L.A. and the perfect angle to shoot them--he is able to breathe Stuart Beattie's poetic screenplay to life, keeping Foxx incredibly nuanced and bringing Cruise to his cold and empty peak.

"Someday my dream will come. One night you'll wake up and you'll discover it never happened. It's all turned around on you and it never will. Suddenly you are old, didn't happen and it never will, 'cause you were never going to do it anyway."

There is a lot to like about this film, but what really catches my eye is the cool lighting colors and the crisp HD film style. It makes the whole experience rather dreamlike yet jarringly vivid, and it helps elevate those action moments--you actually believe that characters can be hit by bullets, and that there are real consequences to where these bullets end up. After a long night, the sun starts to rise. The sky has an eerie glow, shadows seem lighter, and Vincent wonders aloud: "Think anyone will notice?"

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Not bad, but not good...

Posted : 6 years, 1 month ago on 21 June 2012 04:28 (A review of Prometheus)

I went into this film with a bucket full of popcorn and almost no foreknowledge of the movie whatsoever. Having seen Blade Runner and Alien, I was purely excited at the thought of a new [Link removed - login to see] movie. I expected to be launched into an entirely new setting and atmosphere, a strange new future from the mind of a noted director--however, saying I was let down at the similarities to Alien would be an understatement. The scenes go from a creepy, [Link removed - login to see] atmosphere thick with tension and a good dose of awe, until you're smacked with a heavy-handed conversation about fate and religion. While the movie as a whole never worked for me, I must say I was quite impressed with the insatiable, mechanical curiosity that seemed to drive the A.I. handyman, David--which is thanks to [Link removed - login to see]'s great performance. I rolled my eyes at the metallic "eggs" set around the shrine. I groaned at the sight of a foreign body inside a human, and scoffed as she ran away after a serious operation. I hooted when the ship rolled on its edge, and when the unlucky people below seemed to forget how to turn left or right. And when the final chest burst it made more sense, but it all felt sort of cheap... a feeling made worse when I realized I could no longer get a refill for my empty bucket o' popcorn.

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Lessons of Darkness review

Posted : 6 years, 1 month ago on 14 June 2012 05:54 (A review of Lessons of Darkness)

The landscape of Iraq after the short-lived Gulf War was torn and alien. The fires set by the Iraqi Republican Guard in the oil fields burned for weeks, thick black smoke billowing across the empty desert. In the middle of this scene, a bipedal creature gestures at Herzog and his camera team. He is unsure what sort of message is being conveyed, perhaps one of danger, perhaps threatening. Such carnage and confusion is seen as normal in the days after Desert Strike, and the enormity of the damage makes you wonder if it could ever be forgotten, ever be truly fixed. The line between beauty and monstrous is unclear, and Herzog masterfully treads through it, bringing images and sounds that penetrate into your subconscious. In the background, the strings and the chants drone on. A crew works diligently, slowly and methodically extinguishing the fires, fixing the broken piping and turns it off--one by one by one--and with all the fires now out, the crews seem to feel something is missing. Perhaps this madness is a trick of the desert, a mirage. Was this all a bad dream? Was there a point, or was this violence for violence’s sake? Oil spews high and blackens the sky and a man smiles as he throws a torch into the heart of it and the whole crew laughs in the heat of their violation.

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Adaptation review

Posted : 6 years, 1 month ago on 7 June 2012 05:06 (A review of Adaptation)

My third Charlie Kaufman-penned film on [Link removed - login to see], but probably his best written one. Nicholas Cage stars as Charlie Kaufman who has been assigned to write an adaptation for the book The Orchid Thief. He is having great difficulty doing so, and, as a solution, decides to write himself into the script. But his neurosis gets in the way, and on multiple occasions he hits roadblocks and completely rewrites it. It is endlessly entertaining to see how the screenplay plays tricks on the audience and even becomes a character itself. At one point, Kaufman goes to a writing seminar by McKee (at the insistence of his twin brother, Donald--also played by Cage) where Kaufman is talking to himself through voice over when suddenly McKee thunders, "and god help you if you ever use voice-overs in your script. God help you." From that point on, there are no more voice-overs. That is just one sample from it. I haven't even talked about the twin brother's interactions. Cage somehow manages to distinguish the two from each other without changing hair styles and wardrobes, but through character. You know which brother is which just by what they say and how they act. One oozes an ignorant confidence, the other is crippled by anxiety. Oh yeah, and Chris Cooper won an Oscar for his role. He deserved it. Keep in mind McKee's advice to Charlie: "Wow them in the third act and you've got a hit." Wow, indeed. You won't see it coming.

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Songs from the Second Floor review

Posted : 6 years, 1 month ago on 31 May 2012 06:05 (A review of Songs from the Second Floor)

Years ago, I was searching for a surreal film, something vast and strange and incomprehensible that I would struggle to wrap my brain around, when I found Roy Andersson’s dystopian masterpiece. Meticulously photographed and yet minimally directed, with mise-en-scène that would make even Orson Welles jealous, the film tells the story of Kalle, a local businessman who sets fire to his office in an attempt at insurance fraud. His son, whom he loathes, is unreachable—lost in himself and unable to cope with the sadness of the world around him. Or as his father says, “He wrote poetry until he went nuts!” Across the city, a magician accidentally cuts a man in half. A man is fired just before retirement. A swindler tosses his plastic product into a garbage heap, uttering, “Who could ever hope to profit from a crucified loser?” A traffic jam has not moved for days. A board of directors sacrifices a child to turn the markets in their favor, as a last resort. The priests watch on. And the ghosts of the past still wander the streets, as cold and empty as the living. I will close with a quote from Roger Ebert:

”You have never seen a film like this before. You may not enjoy it but you will not forget it.”

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Solaris review

Posted : 6 years, 1 month ago on 24 May 2012 07:14 (A review of Solaris)

Rarely does a film entrance me with the kind of atmosphere and ideas that Tarkovsky’s films do. He is the master of nostalgia, of the great struggles with reality and memory, of morality and selfishness. Can one escape a mistake from the past? How do you possibly learn from a mistake like that while simultaneously putting it behind you and out of your mind? At what point does tragedy lose its impact? In this film, Tarkovsky shows how real these memories can be for people, despite the decades that have passed. Dr. Kelvin is sent on a mission to go to the space station docked at the mysterious planetary object dubbed Solaris, which seems to be having peculiar effects on its inhabitants. Of the team sent there to research the planet's great oceans, only two remain. The rest have either left or succumbed to their ailments, tormented by apparitions conjured by Solaris. But not just any apparitions, these are personal ghosts of the individuals on-board the space station—in fact, the most personal. Kelvin, who never really got over his ex-girlfriend Hari’s suicide, now seems to have a chance to start anew, or at least find some sort of closure in this apparition… but what exactly is it? “It” knows that it is not Hari, that it looks and feels and talks and remembers just like Hari, but it is not human and cannot age and cannot die. There is a memorable scene where Kris Kelvin, stricken by a fever, begins to see Hari everywhere he looks. He cannot imagine ever leaving Hari, nor loving someone like he loves her now. But this is not Hari. Who is Hari? Did he love Hari? If Hari is dead, the only thing left of her is Kelvin’s memory of her, which is what this apparition seems to be… so is she not Hari? Is this apparition part of Kelvin himself? As Kelvin slowly becomes an island of a man, the film wraps up with what is one of the greatest closing shots I’ve seen, cementing itself as a true masterpiece that reveals the emotional and moral power of science fiction.

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The Avengers review

Posted : 6 years, 2 months ago on 18 May 2012 02:14 (A review of The Avengers)

Being a huge Joss Whedon fan, I went into this knowing I’d like it, even though I hadn’t watched any of the individual superhero’s films. I couldn’t have been more right. I am so happy that the executives at these studios finally bet big on Whedon to carry their well-defined troupe of characters, and that it is paying off. There is nothing Joss handles better than witty, good-hearted bands of misfits, and he makes this a popcorn flick worth the cash. But the real star of this movie is the only actor that wasn’t involved in any of the previous movies: Mark Ruffalo. He excells as Bruce Banner, playing his reserved self so perfectly that we almost forget what monster lives inside him. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of action movies in general, but this one is worth the money to see it on the big screen. No self-affirming speeches, no lofty ideas, no endless plotting—just a straight-up good time.

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Pan's Labyrinth review

Posted : 6 years, 2 months ago on 11 May 2012 07:21 (A review of Pan's Labyrinth)

Director Guillermo del Toro shows us what he has been working on for over a decade in this highly imaginative and visually stunning film, and it does not disappoint. Ofelia’s mother is pregnant but very ill, so they pack up and move to live with her new husband—a brutal Spanish Nazi commander. Things are not going well at the post. They are being attacked by rebels and there is a sense that the Nazi’s promised victory will not be realized. On top of this danger, Ofelia’s new step-father does not like her, and treats her as he would a bastard. This is no place for a child, so when Ofelia is alone, her imagination goes wild. She would much rather spend time in her fantasy because she is important there, and her actions are necessary to cure her mother. It is sometimes hard to watch the hardships she puts herself through, even in her fantasies, but they reveal every human’s need for some sort of control, some sort of cause and effect that they have a hand in. This is not a movie for children. It is tragic, but beautifully so. Del Toro has an eye for the fanciful and is careful not to overdo the CG effects, which is wise. But he is also a great storyteller, and this story is helped immensely by Ivana Baquero who plays Ofelia. You can’t help but put yourself in her perspective, root for her and hope that everything she imagines is real.

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The Five Obstructions review

Posted : 6 years, 2 months ago on 3 May 2012 09:45 (A review of The Five Obstructions)

Lars von Trier invites his friend and mentor, Jorgen Leth, to participate in a series of exercizes—or Obstructions—in which Leth must re-shoot his best known film, The Perfect Man. With each re-shooting, von Trier introduces a list of rules that Leth must follow, intent on analyzing not the film, but the director behind it. Von Trier sees Leth as The Perfect Man—cool, calm, in control—and he wants to upset that. He wants desperately to get Leth to peer inside himself and see the imperfections, and the weakness that one feels against such nihilistic obstructions (one of which being no shot can be longer than 12 frames). Leth, however, is clearly a gifted director, and he manages to take every painful obstruction and make it work beautifully for his own purposes. He has an insatiable creative drive that is constantly searching for new solutions, new perspectives, and when he comes back from his shoot time after time with a successful film, von Trier starts to realize that Leth is unbreakable. In his nihilistic attempts to force another to view themselves as insignificant, he discovered his own sense of elitism and pettiness, and is humbled once again by his mentor. Any fan of film analysis and production will love this powerful and acutely insightful movie.

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The Thief and the Cobbler review

Posted : 6 years, 2 months ago on 27 April 2012 06:38 (A review of The Thief and the Cobbler)

I just re-discovered this lost classic ([Link removed - login to see]), and what a wonderful reminiscent trip it was. Each frame was animated by hand with painstaking attention paid to every detail. The style is very distinct, feeling like a mix between modern animations and ancient Persian illustrations. This lends a sort of mature vibe to the whole film, which was Richard Williams’ intent. The Cobbler, who is the main hero in the film, says only three words throughout, and the Thief says not one, yet we can understand them and what they are thinking through their motions, eye movements, and expressions. However, ZigZag, who serves as the main villain, became my favorite character the moment he [Link removed - login to see]. He is simply unforgettable, thanks to the superb voice acting of Vincent Price—rhyming each and every line with a sinister smirk (Ay, Phido?). Richard Williams spent over two decades working on this masterpiece, only to lose creative control over it a year before it was released. Warner Brothers decided it needed some Disney-esque songs and voiceover narrations before they heavily edited it, and then Miramax took a turn with yet another re-edit and even more voiceovers—dubbing their film “Arabian Knight.” Do yourself a favor and watch the [Link removed - login to see]. This is a monument to the achievements of the Golden Age of animators, and it will surely stand the test of time.

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