Tuesday, June 30, 2015
This Woody Allen film is like a "Seinfeld" episode, if they removed all the character and comedy. Just a lot of pointless chatting that amounts to basically nothing.
"Hannah And Her Sisters" is one of the prime examples of why I often cannot stand Woody Allen's work. His films feel like they're always working up to that last joke, where everything comes together and gives the audience one big laugh. But the problem with that is Allen seems to forget that we have to wait for an hour and a half to hear that punch line, all while we have to listen to his annoying ramblings about his fears of having a brain tumor or how he needs proof that God exists and that he doesn't see a point in living if there isn't anything definitive.
There were points in this film where I found myself saying "Shut up" to Woody Allen being a nihilist hypochondriac. There is nothing redeeming or enjoyable about a character who won't stop talking about how much life sucks or complaining about how his life is terrible.
I think the point where I started to not care about "Hannah And Her Sisters" was a scene where Holly (Dianne Wiest) and April (Carrie Fisher) go around New York City with this guy they just met. After touring some buildings in New York, the group then spends at least two minutes arguing about which should be taken home first, as they work out the details of traffic, miles and city streets.
They spend what feels like an eternity discussing traveling through New York City.
I understand that "Hannah And Her Sisters" is supposed to be more of a piece on life and have it move at a normal pace, while the characters talk like normal people. But that's boring. That is merely our reality, when film is supposed to be reality taken to its most extravagant extremes. What is the point of a film where nothing interesting happens?
This isn't a film, it is a family slide show extended to an hour a half.
I can see why others would enjoy "Hannah And Her Sisters," but I am not one of them. This film is annoying, unfunny and not gripping at all. It reinforces my stance that Woody Allen can be a tedious filmmaker - He has his share of gems, but you have to be really patient while you get through his irritating work.
Final Grade: D
Saturday, June 27, 2015
Everyone has that one movie they watched more than any other when they were a kid. That film that kids never got tired of, and could watch on repeat with the biggest smiles on their faces. The movie that fills them with endless joy, bringing them back to some their happiest moments of childhood.
My best friend admits that film for him is Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Bloodsport," while my sisters will happily say Disney's "The Fox And The Hound," which we never owned a physical copy of and just choose to keep renting from Blockbuster, even though buying it probably would have saved us some money.
For me, I can honestly say that the film I watched the most as a child was Nicholas Meyer's "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan." I watched this classic science fiction tale of the Star Trek crew more than any single Godzilla film, Disney animated picture or television shows on Nickelodeon. At a young age, I was entranced by the space battles that felt like two titans dueling it out, while ending in a struggle to out run a bomb that threatened to kill every one of these beloved characters, giving us one of the saddest moments for any child to watch.
But as I've grown older, I've revisited this film while attempting to remove the nostalgia goggles and see if it holds up. Each time I watch "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" now, I have grown to love it even more as it tells a literary-worthy tale of aging, revenge, loss, acceptance and mortality without ever trying too hard.
Set a few years after the events of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," James T. Kirk (William Shatner) has been promoted from Captain to Admiral and now sits behind a desk, while he watches young cadets who "don't know how to steer (the spaceship)" hop around the galaxy. Meanwhile, the crew of the USS Reliant searches for a barren planet to test a controversial device on and accidentally discovers Khan (Ricardo Montalban), who was stranded on this rock in space by James Kirk fifteen years ago and never bothered to check up on him. Khan, a genetically engineered super solider, uses his intellect to take command of the Reliant and begins his plan for revenge against Kirk.
Harve Bennett, the producer and story writer for "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan," had never watched a single episode of "Star Trek" before making this film. So, unlike J.J. Abrams, Bennett decided to watch every episode of the original series to understand what would make a good "Star Trek" movie. He ultimately decided to tell a Shakespearian space opera that would begin with a simple image - An aging Kirk, on his birthday, surrounded by cadets just coming out of training.
Kirk admits early in the film that gallivanting around the universe was a job for the young. That he no longer fits that mold and he should try to find a new place for himself in the universe, much to the dismay of his friends, Dr. McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy). He is reminded that commanding the Enterprise was what he was good at and he loved more than anything else. But he knows that, in his old age, he is more likely to make mistakes and endanger his crew.
What Kirk didn't count on was that the mistakes he made in his youth would come back to bite him, especially Khan.
Khan is the best singular villain in the Star Trek universe, because he is the antithesis of Kirk. Where Kirk is brash, innovative and charismatic, Khan is cold, calculating and would not hesitate to snap your neck. This is amplified when you realize just how much Khan despises Kirk, the man who left him and his entire crew to die on a lifeless planet.
One of the most important shots in the film is a glimpse of Khan's bookshelf, where we see books such as "King Lear," "Paradise Lost," "Dante's Inferno" and "Moby Dick." With how much time Khan had on his hands, there's no doubt he read those novels endlessly while he watched his crew slowly fade away and used those as the inspiration to mount his revenge on Kirk. Afterall, he was prince on Earth at one point, much like Satan was in "Paradise Lost," who had fallen to the lowest depths, shunned from the rest of the world.
Now that Khan has a ship and the means to mercilessly pursue Admiral Kirk, he has become Captain Ahab. And he must obsessively hunt down the white whale that wronged him. No matter the cost, no matter what gets in his way, Khan will stop at nothing to see Kirk burn.
"I've done far worse than kill you," says Khan to Kirk. "I've hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you."
Another point that Harve Bennett realized about the original series of "Star Trek" was how Kirk always cheated death, or escaped death by the skin of his teeth "and patted himself on the back for his ingenuity" but had never faced death before. This is shown in the Kobiyashi Maru test that all Starfleet trainees must take, which is a no-win scenario that is more of a test of character to see how everyone reacts to an impossible situation, where death is inevitable.
Because how we deal with death is just as important as how we deal with life.
But we learn that Kirk took the Kobiyashi Maru test three times, and beat the simulation by reprogramming it. In other words, he cheated. Because Kirk doesn't like to lose.
Yet, when Khan arrives, Kirk must lose. He must finally face death and the vengeance of the man that he wronged. The mortality that he has so carelessly tossed around is now facing him with a weapon that could destroy an entire planet.
All of this reaches its boiling point in the scene that is now famously parodied, due to Shatner's delivery of his frustration with Khan, as he screams at the top of his lungs with his eyes nearly popping out of his skull. But in the sequence that follows, Kirk reflects on the life that he could have had if he settled down with Carol Marcus and their son David, instead of one with Khan hunting him down and a young crew that is dying thanks to him. Shatner speaks barely above a whisper, and is able to speak louder than his screams as he realizes that he is old and worn-out.
I bring all of this up to show that, even without the action sequences that I loved as kid, "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" is able to tell an elaborate and well-thoughtout story that reflects the characters from the television show, while also making them more human in the process. People often remember this film for the submarine-like duel climax in the nebula and the heart-breaking ending, but now I find myself being enthralled in the conversations between Kirk and Saavik (Kirstie Alley) as much as the space battles that flow organically from the plot.
Overall, "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" is one of the glowing examples of my evolution through cinema. As a kid, I loved this film for its action, effects and suspense. But, as I grew up, I began to see there was so much more that it had to offer. From the Shakespeare-like story, to the catchy score by James Horner. This shows that some films get better with age, while others get better while you age.
Friday, June 26, 2015
The unfortunately sad truth about "Soylent Green" is that most people only remember the film for its twist ending, though said ending has been ranked as one of the best twists in all of cinema. But it is too bad because "Soylent Green" does have a bit to offer outside of that twist.
In particular "Soylent Green" has a sickening atmosphere that matches the all too realistic future setting. Ask most scientists what is the biggest problem that humanity must face in the future, and every answer you'll get will come back to the same instigator - overpopulation. The world was not made to support seven billion human and growing, and as a result our resources will slowly being to dwindle, our environment will fade away to support the incoming supply of humans and poverty will set in for most societies.
"Soylent Green" takes the problem of overpopulation to its ultimate conclusion - 40 million people living in New York City, most animals are extinct including the animals we use for food, 30 million people are without a job, and even the people that do have income and a place to live have never seen vegetables, meat, books or a hot shower. There is a sick green mist throughout most outdoor scenes, as if the air is polluted, giving the film a feeling that everyone is sick and dying, including the planet.
It paints a drastic picture of a future where survival is everything, even if it means stealing from others who are more fortunate. The main character, Frank Thorn (Charlton Heston), has a decent job as a detective, but takes every opportunity he can get to steal from the rich so that he and his friend, Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson, in his last role), can enjoy the small things that remind them the earth was once plentiful and beautiful.
For this reason, the twist ending seems almost logical from a business stand point. The Soylent company is fighting to save the human race from extinction, and is using the resources that they have left to do so. It just so happens that those resources are unethical and immoral.
"Soylent Green" is one of the few science fiction films that depicts a future that seems so real that it is frightening. From the crowded hallways of apartment complexes to the inability to move through the city without taking an hour to go one block, there is this fear that we are not too far off from that if we continue to populate without considering the ramifications.
Final Grade: B
Thursday, June 25, 2015
This movie has taught me one important lesson - Adam Sandler can be funny in a movie, when he has zero creative control over the film.
Sandler has not been funny in cinema since "Happy Gilmore," as each subsequent film from him and his production company, Happy Madison, seems to get worse by being more pandering than the last.
To put it simply, Happy Madison and Adam Sandler have turned into the Michael Bay of movie comedy, by appealing to the lowest common denominator and having an onslaught of insulting race or gender humor, or just sticking with fart and poop jokes.
But then I remember how talented and hilarious Sandler was on Saturday Night Live and in films like "Punch Drunk Love," where his only job was to entertain the audience, and had no input behind the camera. The same can be said for "Hotel Transylvania," a film that should have failed on paper.
Here is the cast of voices for this animated Halloween flick: Adam Sandler as Dracula, Kevin James as Frankenstein, David Spade as the Invisible Man, CeeLo Green as the Mummy, Selena Gomez as Dracula's daughter and Steve Buschemi as the Wolf Man. What could turn this around? How about the director, Genndy Tartakovsky, the man behind "Dexter's Laboratory," "Samurai Jack," many episodes of "The Powerpuff Girls," and co-creator of the "Star Wars: Clone Wars" mini-series.
Tartakovsky has always taken advantage of the animated genre, in particular the speed and movement, especially how unnatural it can be. Which fits perfectly for a hotel full of monsters, ghouls and abominations. "Hotel Transylvania" works because of the insanely fast pace of the comedy that never seems to stop. Every second the film is throwing new visual jokes at you, like bumping into a range of monsters in the hotel lobby as it sets off a chain of events that send magic spells and parts of Frankenstein everywhere.
The voice acting, though sporadic due to CeeLo Green and Selena Gomez, hits the nail on the head, with Sandler surprisingly being the standout performance. Not once did it feel like it was Adam Sandler doing a funny voice, but Count Dracula being an overprotective father that truly cared for all monsters. Sandler disappears in this role, which is a first for him.
"Hotel Transylvania" was a fun ride, with a great visual sense of humor and a creative animated premise. Though there are some scenes that feel out-of-place, especially near the end and the odd musical choices throughout, there is a genuine love for monsters and their legacies. The film takes full advantage of its setting and characters and takes ever opportunity to throw something new at us.
Final Grade: B+
Monday, June 22, 2015
I freely admit it - I don't care for musicals. At all.
There are a multitude of reasons for this, but it usually comes back to my lack of knowledge and understanding of music. It's not that I think music is bad, but that I do not care for most of it. Musicals often fall into the same category, as they end up relying more on the musical numbers in the film and not telling a good story.
In fact, most musicals I've seen are just excuses to sell their catchy tunes. That the story bits and character interactions between are just small bridges to get to the next number.
However, perhaps I have watched the wrong musicals. Because if they made more movies like Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's "Singin' In The Rain," I would not have a problem watching as many musicals as I can get my hands on. While I may not enjoy most musicals, I make a gigantic exception for "Singin' In The Rain," because there is not a single moment in this film that does not make me smile or laugh. From the lavish and colorful musical numbers, to the chemistry between our three main leads, to the abundance of zany and off-the-wall comedy. To say there is never a dull moment in this film would be an understatement.
It is the late 1920s in Hollywood, and things could not be looking better for dynamic romantic silent duo of Don Lockwood (Gene Kelley) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), even though Don can't stand her and Lina saw in one of her fan magazines that Don was going to propose, so it must be true. But after the release of their recent film, the head of the studio reveals something that everyone laughs and scoffs at - talking pictures. He also announces that Warner Bros. will be making an entire film with it, "The Jazz Singer."
One of the guests calls it a novelty and says it will never take off. Don's best friend, Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) points out that people said the same thing about the horseless carriage.
As time goes on, people crave more talkies, so the studio head is forced to make Lockwood's next film, "The Dueling Cavalier" into a movie with sound, much to the dismay of the film crew that is told to "do the same thing, except now they talk."
As demonstrated with "Ed Wood," I adore movies about the filmmaking process, and "Singin' In The Rain" covers possibly the best and most damaging era of Hollywood - The end of the silent era and the beginning of talkies. Most filmmakers didn't know it then, but the invention of sound changed the way that films would be created. Before that, everybody had to act with their eyes and expressions, despite the lack of connection with the audience. Now that sound began to trickle into people's ears, that barrier between film fiction and reality seemed a bit thinner.
"Singin' In The Rain" chooses to take a more romanticized look at this era, with optimism and hope towards the future. That this is better for filmmaking and will end up giving audiences pictures that they can enjoy and want more of. One point that is stressed early on is that many of Lockwood's silent pictures move, act and feel the same. That if you had seen one, you'd seen them all. But Lockwood uses this to his advantage when sound comes around and puts all of his talents to use.
Which leads me to what I love the most about "Singin' In The Rain," Gene Kelley. There are many superb talents out there that can claim they are the triple threat, able to act, sing and dance. If this film is any indication, Gene Kelly blows all of those actors out of the water. In acting, he is charismatic, full of joy and wishes to spread that happiness to everyone around him. When singing, his voice glides through the air, smooth but carrying weight behind it, as if it could cut through fog. But Kelly is at his best when dancing, as he puts everything he has into his movements and tap shoes. At some point, I was afraid that his shoes would catch on fire from how elaborate and lightning fast his feet moved.
Gene Kelly put his entire body into this performance, as if every action he made was to awaken Sleeping Beauty so that she could live her happily ever after.
Many sequences in "Singin' In The Rain" are done in long, uncut takes, which adds to the technique and skill needed to pull of Kelly's dance numbers. Several shots last more than a minute of Kelly dancing in a rainstorm or jumping off couches.
Speaking of uncut sequences, "Singin' In The Rain" has one of my favorite scenes of all time. Though the titular scene of Gene Kelly sharing his love of the world in the rain is still masterfully executed, the best scene has to be Donald O'Connor's extended musical number, "Make 'em Laugh."
Adding O'Connor to the film was a much needed breath of relief and gives the film its best comedy. His "Make 'em Laugh" sequence is many extended takes of visual slap stick, which includes getting hit in the head with a big piece of wood, slamming into a brick wall, doing several running kung-fu-like jumps off set pieces, and spinning in a circle on the ground while laughing hysterically. And all while singing about how he is in show business to entertain people, and that the best way to do that is through laughter.
Even when "Singin' In The Rain" isn't enthralling us with elaborate musical numbers, the comedy never ceases to give me a good belly laugh. For example, Lina Lamont is happily absorbed in her own little show-biz world, where Don loves her (he would rather kiss a tarantula), she has power over how her pictures turn out (the director can't even keep the record on pace with the film) and everyone loves her in everything she does, including talkies.
It is too bad that she has the voice of Minnie Mouse on helium combine with cat claws on a chalkboard. Even after going through speech treatment, she can't pronounce the simplest line without sounding like the windows will shatter at any moment.
Poor Jean Hagen. That voice had to be murder on her throat, because she was murdering her own movie when she talked.
Here is an impressive tid-bit about "Singin' In The Rain" - Aside from one song, every musical number in the film was taken from a different MGM musical from the past, including the title song. All of these now famous pieces of music were not created for this film, but were merely incorporated to create one coherent musical.
The only number that was made for "Singin' In The Rain"? "Moses Supposes," the song that Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor sing during speech treatment.
This adds another level of appreciate to "Singin' In The Rain." Sometimes it is more difficult to take an existing song and find a way to work it into the movie than it is to make a new song that can be custom-made for the film. It makes "Singin' In The Rain" not only appreciate the 1920s, but also the many musicals that created these catchy tunes.
"Singin' In The Rain" is the only musical I can say that I truly adore. The film exudes cheer and enthusiasm for cinema. The musical numbers are lively and brightly-colored, the comedy never ceases with Donald O'Connor and Jean Hagen, the story of 1920s Hollywood is portrayed in an optimistic and heart-warming way, and Gene Kelly is something that everyone needs to see to believe. This is one that never fails to be fun and joyous.
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Has Pixar ever disappointed us? Have they ever run out of ideas that are imaginative, thought-provoking and entertaining? Because I'm hard-pressed to think of anything that Pixar has done wrong.
Even Pixar at its worst, particularly "Cars" and "Cars 2," still found a way to keep itself fresh and innovative, even with the main character being voiced by Larry The Cable Guy. In those films, there was a sense of child-like innocent that felt like you were playing with toy cars and coming up with these crazy stories about why they're racing. These might have just been gimmicks to sell toys, but at least they had good morals.
And that is Pixar on their off days.
In my opinion, Pixar can do no wrong. They have given us some of the most beautifully animated films of the last two decades, that are always smart, caring, funny, moving, innovative and colorful, all without an air of smugness or superiority. Pixar's films are at their best when they appeal to your child-like whimsy and wonder of the world, but also treat you like an intelligent adult without spoon-feeding you everything.
While Pixar has been relatively quiet the last few years, mostly producing sequels, their most recent work, "Inside Out," finds them returning to their roots and giving us a story that appeals to everyone, while still giving us the charm of films like "Up" and "Toy Story."
The story of "Inside Out" follows the childhood of a girl named Riley, but from the perspective of the emotions in control of her mind, Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyills Smith). The five of them work together to make sure that Riley leads a good life, even if all of them have differing ideas of how Riley's life should be operated.
Imagine this as "Boyhood" but from inside the head of the boy. And then animated by Pixar.
What I love about "Inside Out" is that these feel like the proper emotions that only wish to make Riley happy. Joy is blissfully ignorant but is always an optimist and very proud of how Riley has turned out, while Fear is afraid of Riley stepping on a crack in the sidewalk yet keeps everything in line to make sure that she doesn't do anything reckless.
The conflict arises because the emotions are still new to all of this and do not want to work with the others. All of them are hotheaded (especially Anger) because all they see in the world is their emotions. Why should Disgust have to cooperate with other emotions when there is nothing but gross and rude things in the world?
This isn't just the conflict in one little girl's head, but in all of us.
Everyone finds themselves wrestling with their own emotions, to the point where it seems like they are in control. Who we are and what we do is dictated by our own feelings and how use those emotions. This moves "Inside Out" out of the realm of fantasy and makes it a relatable story about understanding ones feelings and not letting one emotion control you. That the best experiences in life come when let the full range of emotions out, even the negative ones.
Outside of that, "Inside Out" has the usual Pixar charm of taking outlandish scenarios and putting as much imagination and thought as possible into it. We see every part of Riley's brain, and how her memories, dreams, subconscious and core thoughts run. Never does this feel tedious or repetitive, as each new part makes the human brain sound fascinating. From the movie-like production of her dreams, to her subconscious acting as a jail to her deepest fears.
The human brain is this constantly busy community that works like a well-oiled machine, fuelled by memories and purpose.
"Inside Out" is the best Pixar film since "Up" and easily ranks among their best work. This is by far their most imaginative film, setting an entire film inside the head of a girl, yet still able to make this epic chase around her never-ending maze of memories and save her defining characteristics. With a great sense of humor thanks to Bill Hader and Lewis Black, a vibrant color scheme that compliments the ongoing conflict, and a poignant message about emotions that anyone can understand, "Inside Out" surely will not be forgotten any time soon.
Final Grade: A-
Friday, June 19, 2015
How anyone reacts to this movie will depend entirely upon how you feel about the musical numbers in "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic." Because this movie is entirely about those songs, down to the plot revolving around a battle of the bands and the villains gaining power through singing.
Personally, the songs in "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic" are my least favorite part of the show, as they're not often catchy and add little to the episode that wasn't already there. As a result, I did not care for the majority of "Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks."
The first film at least a bit of charm to it, with the pony version of Twilight Sparkle being turned into a human while learning about how to act like a person, all the nods and references to the show and the dynamic relationship between Twilight and the villain, Sunset Shimmer. Now all of that is gone in the sequel, with no defining character moments and the film ends up repeating many of the same lessons the show already took care of, like knowing when to ask for help or to never take things too seriously.
The only bits that were amusing were the ones in the pony world, where the animation and color scheme compliment the environment and quirky nature of these characters. It still freaks me out that many of these characters are supposed to be human, yet have blue, pink and purple skin. It works fine on magical otherworldly ponies, not so much on people.
If you have not watched any of the television show, do not bother with "Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks." If you didn't like the first film, this one will not change your mind. But if you enjoy the musical numbers in the show and liked the first film, then this one will be just fine.
Final Grade: D+
Thursday, June 18, 2015
When I say the word "perfect" what comes to mind? Perhaps it is a baseball pitcher throwing a perfect game. Or maybe it is a movie that you enjoyed every second of (we'll be getting to a few of those later in this countdown). It could be the view of a sunset or sunrise, giving you something to cherish for the rest of your life.
But one thing that does not come up often are people. Life, at any point in our existence, has never been perfect. Everybody has flaws, quirks, bad days and negativities that even they probably don't like about themselves, though they'll try to deny it. To say otherwise would be like looking at a beautiful color picture in simple black and white.
Nobody is or ever has been perfect. Life simply does not work that way.
This is the ultimate moral behind Gary Ross' 1998 feature "Pleasantville," among many other messages and comments. A film that not only pushed technical boundaries, but one that manages to seamlessly blend drama and comedy, and being a satire of 1950s family sitcoms without ever drawing attention to it.
The film follows two high school twins, the socially awkward TV obsessor David (Tobey Maguire) and the shallow valley girl Jennifer (Resse Witherspoon), as they bicker and quarrel over the television. After a visit from a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts), the two are transported into the fictional land of Pleasantville, a 1958 black-and-white sitcom. David stresses that they blend in and not upset the natural order, but Jennifer insists on livening things up a bit and adding a bit more color to this world.
I've seen many people go different directions with the themes and message of "Pleasantville," including loss of innocence, repression, Utopian society vs. Dystopian, the rise of Communism, but I have a slightly different interpretation - Family values of the 1950s against those of the 1990s.
The sitcom values of "Pleasantville" are a direct reflection of sitcoms from the 1950s, such as "Leave It To Beaver" or "The Andy Griffith Show," where everyone is consistently happy, every house on the block is perfect with a white-picket fence, the children are wonderful at school, and the husband returns home every night at the same time to his beautiful wife, ready with a stiff drink and dinner in the oven.
In other words, the city of Pleasantville is the values of the nuclear family taken to their most extreme. Everything must seem perfect, the family must always be content and not with a single hair out of place. The temperature is always 72 degrees, the sun is always shining and the high school basketball team has never lost a game.
But this comes at a cost. Everyone is expected to play their role, no matter what they think of their job. The town's burger joint owner (played by Jeff Daniels) realizes at some point that it is fun to mess with the status quo and that he hates his job. That he would rather be painting and creating something beautiful.
Every book in the library is blank, and remains that way until David or Jennifer tell the town folk about how the story unfolds. In fact, the people in Pleasantville never bother to go any further than where Main Street or Elm Street ends. These people don't even know what sex is. They know nothing of the outside world and don't care to do anything about it. These people live a sheltered existence, possibly because they're afraid of what might be outside Pleasantville.
That world may not be perfect like them.
On the other hand, you have David and Jennifer, who have been transported from the 1990s. Their family is dysfunctional. The twins don't get along at all, with Jennifer often wondering how they're even related. Their divorced mother is constantly going out of town, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. The teachers and class speakers only bother to point out how the world is getting worse, whether through loss of jobs, diseases or global warming. It is no wonder that David likes to watch Pleasantville from a distance.
Right away though, the film makes it clear that, even though David knows everything about Pleasantville, he would rather be in his world and not in the land of a TV show. This is never explained, but rather shown to us over the course of the film.
In the 1990s, David is allowed to be whoever he wants to be. He can live the life that he wants to without having to worry about being repressed. He can be happy, sad, upset or uncaring and not live in fear of what others might think. He can be creative and thoughtful, as well as knowledgeable about the outside world. However, because there is so much to partake in, they have become desensitized to much of it.
They understand that the world is massive and intelligent, but far from a nice one.
When David and Jennifer are sent into the past, their modern day values are clashing with that of the nuclear families. Forced happiness against dysfunctional. Repression against freedom of choice. Security against knowledge.
So, which is the better set of values? "Pleasantville" lets you decide that. The film does not pick one side over the other, but rather presents both sides of the arguments, giving the good with the bad, and leaving it up in the air and allowing the audience to draw their own conclusion.
In one particular scene, David is explaining his world to his date, describing it as louder and more aggressive. His date's response is, "That sounds amazing!"
That is the moment where both worlds collide and show us a human side to both. David does not hate the 1990s, but he does enjoy the calm and predictable nature of the 1950s. While his date is enthralled with how different and exciting the future sounds. She may be stuck in a poodle skirt, but she is adventurous and curious.
It is when looking at both decades that one realizes they are both flawed, and that neither live in a perfect world. The 1950s are fearful and sheltered, while the 1990s are distant and desensitized. Many of the characters in this film think they live in the best world and that it does not need to be changed. But when everyone is perfect, that means nothing stands out.
"Pleasantville" is one of the few films I know of that seamlessly blends together two entirely different decades and philosophies to make for an entertaining piece that never gives up.
Like so many others have mentioned, the effects in "Pleasantville" are breath-taking, as bits and pieces of Pleasantville turn to color. At first it is inanimate objects, like cars or flowers, then moves to particular body parts, and then full technicolor on select townsfolk.
"Pleasantville" is one of the shining examples of using computer generated imagery to elevate the story, and not replacing actors or sets altogether. It is up there with the T-1000 effects in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," the entirety of "Toy Story" and the effects for Gollum in "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy. It is only used when there is no other option, and to tell a story that would otherwise be impossible to create.
Overall, "Pleasantville" is as vibrant and imaginative as it is relevant and thought-provoking. There is always a conflict between two vastly different points of view, offering two glimpses at American history that makes the film more poignant today than when it was released. Consistently funny, touching and always with an eye for creative use of color and brighten up the mood. One of the best uses of color I have seen in cinema.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Watching this Clint Eastwood crime thriller, I can see the influence this movie has had on cinema, especially in the 1990s and early 2000s. Every buddy cop film since then, such as the "Lethal Weapon" series or "Speed," has had one cop who doesn't play by anyones rules, always seems to be a day from getting his badge taken away, but he'll be damned if he doesn't get results. The impact of "Dirty Harry" can still be felt today, because who doesn't love watching a cop with his own sense of right and wrong?
While watching Harry track down the Scorpio Killer, a man who enjoys killing and doesn't seem to care about the money, I was reminded of "No Country For Old Men," and how the criminal mind was beginning to evolve to the point of cruelty and inhumanity. That would could not understand it, thus making the fight against crime seem pointless.
I think Harry is beginning to understand that as well, while he watches Scorpio injure himself so that the public would hate the cops and get him a better chance in court. That using the law and justice to stop these criminals wouldn't be enough, as they would find a way around it and continue their spree. In fact, they're not even criminals, but mad men. Operating outside of the law is the one true way to stop a mad man.
Harry says at one point that he doesn't know why he keeps being a detective, when he keeps doing the dirty work and getting into trouble for it. But by the end, he knows that the world has changed, but it is certainly worth fighting for.
"Dirty Harry" also has great use of negative space, as in knowing when to use darkness to illuminate a scene. Many scenes will have Harry chasing down "punks" in the middle of the night through the darkened streets of San Francisco, where we'll often see two figures enter the darkness, but rarely see what happens until another figure exits. This heightens suspense and adds to the mystery of crime in this city.
I now understand why "Dirty Harry" is so talked about - beyond the impact it has had on cinema, it is great cinematography and world that is as intriguing as it is mysterious. Clint Eastwood plays the role much like his Man With No Name in Sergio Leone's Dollar Trilogy, a cowboy who has never seen the inside of a courtroom, while still being compassionate for human life. A great thriller that has aged well.
Final Grade: A-
Monday, June 15, 2015
I am sorry. I could not resist.
For those who are unaware of my burning love for the king of the monsters, my favorite film franchise is the Godzilla series. From a young age, Godzilla has always been my go-to source of captivating and awe-inspiring action sequences, with a monster that has always remained the definition of power and strength.
On top of that, with twenty-eight entries in the series (thirty if you include the two American films), there is more variety in the Godzilla films than any other movie franchise. From the goofy yet stylized "Godzilla vs. Hedorah," to the somber "Godzilla vs. Destoroyah," to a film that attempts to discuss modern-day issues in Japan about forgetting its veterans in "Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack," to the so bad it's good "Godzilla vs. Megalon." And all originating from one of the best monster movies of all time, 1954's "Godzilla" as it combined the feelings of Post-WWII Japan with an anti-nuclear message by making a monster that poses as a living atomic bomb.
So, needless to say, you'll see a couple of Godzilla films on this countdown.
To start things off, this is the Godzilla that has grown on me more than any other, Jun Fukuda's "Son Of Godzilla." I'll be honest, when I was a child, I despised this film. I always considered the titular son of Godzilla, Minya, as annoying, irritating and made Godzilla look uncool. But as I've grown old, there was a child-like naivety to Minya that made me smile and I soon realized that he added much more to character of Godzilla than ever before.
As I grow older, the more I appreciate and love "Son Of Godzilla." Which is odd, considering that it is the most light-hearted and comical Godzilla film. Then again, this does make it more endearing and relatable.
On a far-off deserted island, a group of researchers have been running weather experiments for months, while also avoiding the large mantis' running around the island. But when one of their experiments goes wrong, thanks to unnatural brain waves interfering with their equipment, unbearable heat and radiation is sent upon the island, mutating the mantis to giant size and able to find the source of the brain waves - an egg containing a baby Godzilla. Before the mantis', nicknamed Kamacuras, can kill the baby, the adult Godzilla shows up to reluctantly raise his adopted son to become just like him.
What I love the most about "Son Of Godzilla" is how it evolves the character Godzilla, by actually giving him a character. Before this film, Godzilla was just a monster - a living atomic bomb that could not be stopped and would fight any other monster that got in his way. But now, he has another life to worry about besides his own. And he intends to make his kid into another version of him, a cold, uncaring, unstoppable creäture of destruction.
But over the course of the film, even Godzilla begins to realize that Minya is not like him. Minya doesn't want to destroy other living beings, as he seems to avoid fighting Kamacuras, and wants to make friends with the humans on the island.
Suddenly, Godzilla has to stop being a monster, and become a mentor. One of the best scenes in the film is when Godzilla has to teach Minya how to properly roar and use his atomic breath. After Minya lets out a loud shriek, rather than his usual donkey-like noises, Godzilla nods in possible approval, but I don't think even he is sure what to think.
My favorite touch in the film is that Minya hides in fear when Godzilla uses his atomic breath. His eyes become wide, as if he is afraid of what something like that could do. Yet Minya knows he can emit that same fire, but would choose not to use it. Which is probably why Godzilla threatens to get physical with Minya when his son doesn't want to practice anymore.
One of the themes in "Son Of Godzilla" is the current generations need to protect future generations. The reason these scientists are on the island is so they can run their weather experiments, which they could use on non-fertile lands in Africa and South America to produce enough food to sustain the growing human population.
The same theme is shown in Godzilla. He is not just one creäture now, but the example for future Godzilla's'. He has to sacrifice his own needs and desires, so that his race can survive passed himself.
All of this culminates in the ending, which I hold as the best ending in the Godzilla franchise. After defeating a giant spider, Kumonga, that nearly killed Minya, a massive snowstorm has fallen upon the island. With the temperature dropping rapidly, it is becoming too cold for anything to survive. Godzilla has enough strength to leave the island, but Minya is too weak, as he stumbles in the snow, reaching for Godzilla's help.
I won't spoil anything else about the ending, other than this is one of the few scenes that reduces me to tears. Sad scenes in cinema rarely make me cry. But incredibly happy scenes where everything works out perfectly give me the biggest smile and tears of joy. The ending to "Son Of Godzilla" is one of compassion, sacrifice and pitch-perfect character development.
It is like watching a father realize how much he cares about his son. That he loves his child more than he loves himself and he would do anything to keep that bond alive. No matter what happens him, his son deserves to live his own life. This is nothing short of breath-taking and heart-warming.
The fact that any scene between two actors in rubber suits while being covered in thick snow makes me feel emotional is true test to the power of "Son Of Godzilla."
"Son Of Godzilla" is certainly the most unique and beautiful film in the Godzilla franchise. Complimented by a vibrant color scheme, great use of its island setting and a joyful score by Masaru Sato, this film is gorgeous to behold and listen to. Minya is adorable in his child-like innocence and curiosity, and gives the film the emotional punch that it needs. The monster fight scenes are tense and woven into the plot without feeling forced or unnecessary. Most importantly, this film gives Godzilla a heart alongside his awe and power.
Nowadays, the story behind "Greed" is more fascinating than this already intriguing silent film. The director, Erich von Strohiem, wanted to make a movie that was more than just immediate gratification and made the audience think. What he created was his nine-hour masterpiece of a family torn apart by its own avarice, ending in a desperate duel for money in the middle of Death Valley.
However, the producers and heads of MGM Studios wouldn't allow Strohiem to début his film unless he cut it down, because they insisted that no one would want to watch a nine-hour movie. So he cut it down to roughly five-hours, but the studio still wasn't happy. They had someone else cut down the film again to a much more manageable two and a half hours. von Strohiem was understandably pissed off, as the studio had destroyed his vision and was not interested in what he wanted to use cinema to say about humanity.
It was believed that von Strohiem initially held on to the original nine-hour film, but one night, in a drunken rage, he burned and destroyed his copy of the film and his true vision of "Greed" was forever lost. All we have now is what MGM had in mind.
To be fair, MGM's version of "Greed" is still wonderful to watch, as we watch a family slowly devolve into madness and paranoia, while still using fantastic silent cinema techniques to capture so much without ever saying a word. From the cat preying on the caged birds, to the gold-tint on every valuable possession throughout the film.
Like most great silent films, "Greed" is simple yet effective. It understands the visual appeal of movies, but lacks the technology to create a truly encapsulating experience. The film makes up for that with striking images that range from triumphant to heart-breaking to downright terrifying. It knows what it wants to do, and does so to the best of its ability.
Final Grade: B+
Sunday, June 14, 2015
Before I begin this review, I would like to ask - Why do you think "Jurassic Park" was one of the most successful films of all time? Why do you think it has survived past its initial release in theaters, garner fans all over the world, inspired three sequels and made people interested in dinosaurs again?
The easy answer is that dinosaurs appeal to both young and old, but if that were the case then "We're Back!" would be considered one of the greatest animated films of all time. I think it has to do with a number of factors - The story that evokes elements of "Frankenstein," bringing the dead back to life and man playing god, to the groundbreaking visual effects that still hold up today while still using a good combination of computer effects and animatronics, and the majesty of dinosaurs while never loosing sight of the child-like wonder behind these ancient and mysterious creatures.
"Jurassic Park" is still worth watching today because it combines two vastly different worlds and lets the chaos unfold before us, while still being a milestone in filmmaking techniques, something that Steven Spielberg consistently improves upon.
The fourth installment in this dino franchise, "Jurassic World," attempts to be a modern-day equivalent of the 1993 Spielberg classic, while emphasizing the corporate takeover of this lavish and commercial plan. But in the process, most of the charm and grandiose nature of dinosaurs is lost in favor of a predictable plot and one dinosaur that can be whatever the filmmakers want it to be.
Set twenty years after the events of "Jurassic Park," John Hammond's dream of a tropical island resort built around dinosaurs has become a reality and is now open to the public. But it seems the executives want to bring in more tourists, and demand that scientists use gene splicing to create entirely new dinosaurs for a new attraction. But this dinosaur, nicknamed the Indominus Rex, becomes too intelligent for its own good, and finds a way to escape. Now it is up to the manager of the park, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and the Velociraptor trainer, Owen (Chris Pratt) to save the 20,000 people on the island.
My biggest grip with "Jurassic World" is that everything can be seen five minutes before it happens. Every line of dialogue, all the plot twists, what the dinosaurs will do, is so predictable that it makes most scenes a bore to watch.
I was sitting next to a small kid in the theater, and he was very enthusiastic about this film. He was squirming in his seat when a dinosaur was on screen, and it was clear that he didn't go to that many movies in theaters, because he was constantly talking to his mom sitting next to him. Yet I could hear him pointing out what was going to happen in the next scene, and he was always right. Even a child who hasn't seen that many movies could tell what was going to happen.
Of course every one would know that a genetically-engineered dinosaur would be nothing but trouble, but then you have the uptight business woman who knows nothing about children, the kids who are only there to stare in awe at the dinos while still running in fear of the big baddy, the forced military cliché who only sees dinosaurs as a weapon for war, the long-winded speech about playing god and how these scientists aren't mad, and ultimately you have the badass who knows everything about the monsters and does everything cool.
But wait, wasn't almost all that in "Jurassic Park"? Yeah, but in 1993 we had never seen something like that before. Now there are so many films that try to be like "Jurassic Park" that we've grown tired of it. Not to mention, "Jurassic Park" was enthusiastic about everything, leading to some suspenseful and haunting scenes.
While there are some enjoyable moments in "Jurassic World," there is nothing here that quite equals the reveal of the T-Rex from the first film. The best scenes usually involved Chris Pratt being Chris Pratt, as he mingles with velociraptors, and we eventually find out that he is the Alpha male of their hunting party.
Only Chris Pratt could successfully work his way into a Raptor herd and make it convincing and fun to watch. Which would explain why the film was marketed around Pratt riding along several Raptors.
The Indominus Rex - or iRex as I've come to know her - is one of the most contrived plot creations I have ever seen. He seems to have a bit of every dinosaur in her and more, including T-Rex,
Velociraptor, Gigantosarus, cuddle fish, frog and snake DNA. As the film progresses, they keep adding more parts to the iRex that it becomes ridiculous.
I was surprised that they didn't say this abomination of science had Superman DNA or was part-Jedi.
However, I will admit that during the first act of "Jurassic World," the iRex was an intimidating foe, without ever revealing her. This hybrid was able to figure out about the dome that surrounds her, attempts to break the glass housing the scientists and is able to fake an escape attempt without lifting a claw. But, by the time she starts killing other dinosaurs she has lost most of her character and becomes another monster on the loose.
This does eventually lead to the best scene in the film - the final confrontation. Without giving too much away, everything that had been captivating about this film comes together to give us a moment that made several audience members applaud in my theater. If I were to recommend "Jurassic World" to anybody, it would be to watch that sequence.
Overall, "Jurassic World" is one of the most predictable films I have seen, but is not without awe-inspiring moments. While it has the scope and size of "Jurassic Park," it trades in likable characters and a Shakespearean-story of power and playing god with the plot of an average B-movie. Come for Chris Pratt and dinosaurs, stay for the cheer-worthy finale.
Final Grade: C+
Friday, June 12, 2015
Horror is a hard concept to grasp for filmmakers. Most seem to understand one aspect - capturing what scares them. But outside of that, some filmmakers believe that it is sudden jump attacks that come out of no where that scare audiences, along with copious amounts of blood and guts.
But horror, true horror anyway, comes from our own imagination. It comes from not understanding how the horror works, and not seeing the full picture. And then letting our imagination fill in the gaps. We attempt to create truth when confronted with the unknown.
Were there really ghosts in "The Haunting"? Or was it just the old house falling apart? If there were ghosts, what are the limits of their powers? Could they have really influenced everything from the start? These questions are never answered in "The Haunting," and it makes the film much more powerful, memorable and terrifying because of that.
But my personal favorite horror film remains to be one that terrified me from the first frame to the last - John Carpenter's 1982 movie "The Thing." A remake (of sorts) of Howard Hawks 1951 "The Thing From Another World," it is one of the many films to adapt the now-famous short story "Who Goes There?" about an arctic research team that stumbles across an alien in the ice, which then comes to life and stalks the team.
What "The Thing" offers that the other adaptations lack though is atmosphere, logic and true horror.
I recently watched "The Thing From Another World," and found myself unable to get invested in any of the characters. There were some moronic scientists who believed that they could communicate with the alien, and attempt to make peace with it, even though it was clear that the alien does not understand English and wants to kill everyone.
But one big difference in "The Thing" is that the alien does not want to kill anyone. The alien is the first character that we're introduced to, and it is not until half and hour in that someone dies - and the alien does it out of self-defense.
This thing is just interested in surviving. It is intelligent, and seems to cut off the research team at every point. The group thinks of a way to find the alien's location, the plan is sabotaged. Parts of its body is roasted by a flamethrower, it uses this time to sneak away and reform. The survivors plan to wait it out, it turns off the power to the base and intends to freeze up again until rescue arrives.
The most terrifying part about this creäture though? It is a shape-shifter. It assimilates other living creatures at a cellular level, destroying the host in the process, and can turn into a perfect imitation of the host. Each cell of this thing is its own individual and will react if provoked enough. All it needs is one cell to become you and want to make more people into the thing.
It is a smart, calculating and patient monster that can be anyone or anything.
On top of this, the cast of "The Thing" is just as smart and logical as the alien, if not very paranoid. And really, who can blame them? There is a good chance that everyone you work with has been turned into a virus that wants to devour you and make you apart of their being.
"If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how could you tell the difference?"
You certainly cannot trust anyone. But there are obviously more than a few humans left, as our hero MacReady (Kurt Russell) points out. If there was just him, they would all have attacked him, because they have nothing left to hide at that point. This creäture may be intelligent, but it is vulnerable and needs a place to hide.
Unlike many of the other adaptations of "Who Goes There?," these stranded men do not over think anything or attempt some bizarre way out of the situation. They are often controlled by their emotions and fear, but are not afraid to lay down their lives for the rest of humanity. All they have is their wit, individuality and some flamethrowers.
When Blair (Wilford Brimley) runs a computer simulation of the alien, he finds out that if it ever made it to civilization, it could infect all of humanity within 27,000 hours. So, in an attempt to make sure it never gets there, Blair disables the helicopter, snow-runners, the radio and is prepared to kill everyone in the station.
He knows the risks and is prepared to sacrifice himself, which by the end of the film, the survivors agree is the right thing to do.
Or perhaps Blair was infected from near the beginning of the film, and the alien did all that as a calculated risk to make sure that it could survive, while the others could not? That is certainly up to interpretation.
In fact, most of "The Thing" is left up to interpretation. What really is the aliens' motive? What is the best way to go about that? Why is it being so calculating about who it infects? For those that it does infect, when was it able to do that?
That is the problem - it is an alien. This thing is a foreign entity that does not operate on the same basic desires as anything on this planet. We don't know if it wants to eat us or use us for some other purpose. We can only guess.
One last aspect worth mentioning is the setting - Antarctica. This adds so much to the feel of isolation and paranoia. To know that, even if you manage to outrun or survive this monster, you still have the arctic freeze to look forward to. The blank white canvas of this land makes it feel like you are alone in this fight and that rescue truly is thousands of miles away.
The music is reflective of this setting, which is incredibly strange considering it was composed by Ennio Morricone, who you might recall as the composer of the bombastic and grand "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly." Yet "The Thing" has a score that comes at the opposite end of the spectrum - minimalistic, somber and other-worldly. When set against the arctic landscape, it often feels like an alien world, removed of life. There is only the cold and death.
John Carpenter's "The Thing" is an exercise in paranoia, while always being logical yet tense and horrifying. The practical effects and lack of jump scares give this a timeless quality that relies on the nature of the unknown, that what we do not see is what scares us the most. Easily my favorite horror film.
Although, "The Thing" is not actually the most terrifying film I have seen. Stay tuned, as later in this countdown, I will look at the film that scares me the most, yet is not a horror film.