Sunday, January 31, 2016

Movie Review - "Brooklyn" (2015) - The Irish Downton Abbey


After watching "Brooklyn," I’ve come to a sudden realization I do not care for romance films.

Perhaps it is because I’ve never truly been in a romance with someone, but I find that love is complicated to perform on-screen. Two people not only have to love each other more than they love themselves, but have to portray months to years of chemistry within a confined amount of time and make us believe that they’re compatible with one another. Usually, the best movies with romance often make it look easy, like in "WALL-E" and "City Lights," or focus solely on that like in "Giant" or "Gone with the Wind."

Most of the time though, romance is portrayed like it is something that happens every day and that it is no big deal, when it is just the opposite. There is a lack of conviction and sincerity in the approach, like the filmmakers don’t truly believe in what they’re talking about. By doing so, it stops being a true cinematic romance and borders a soap opera instead.

At times, "Brooklyn" feels like an episode of "Downton Abbey," as the drama builds upon itself in this period piece to the point where it all must explode, ruining many more lives than it needed to if people were just a little more intelligent about their decisions.

Suffice to say, "Brooklyn" did not do much for me.

In the early 1950s, Eilis Lacey (Saorise Ronan) has been given an opportunity to move from her home in Ireland to Brooklyn, where she will be given a job and a home to live in. This forces Eilis to leave her family, friends and everything she has ever known to a foreign land where she has an opportunity to prosper.


I left "Brooklyn" feeling the same way I did about "Bridge Of Spies," it certainly wasn't a bad experience, but I won't be remembering much about that film either.

Nothing was bad about the film. It was a sufficient tale of a woman immigrating to America while still trying to be herself in the face of this new society. By the time Eilis is given the option of going back to Ireland with what she's accomplished in America and still being near her family, that is when Saorise Ronan's performance shines and we are given a struggle between choosing your roots or your chances at happiness.

But "Brooklyn" is also far too by-the-numbers. We've all heard this story so many times before about immigration, and "Brooklyn" does not do anything to stick out among the others. Aside from Saorise Ronan's role and a few of her friends, especially Emory Cohen as Toni and Domhnall Gleeson as Jim Farrell, there isn't much noteworthy about this one.


Emory Cohen added a much-needed light-hearted touch to the film, as he plays an italian plumber who enjoys Eilis' company. The two don't really have any other reason to be together, other than they're nice to each other, but Cohen certainly has fun being around her and his smile is infectious.

Domhnall Gleeson, coming off his role as General Hux in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," gives us a man who sees one last opportunity for a good life and takes every chance he can get at it. From the audience's perspective, he plays a tragically-doomed character that will be let down by something out of his control.


Overall, "Brooklyn" was sufficient, but did not provide me with anything substantial. If you enjoy romance or period pieces, then you'll like this one just fine. But if you're hoping for something more than just a pretty looking piece about immigrating to America, don't expect to find it here.

Final Grade: C+

Friday, January 29, 2016

Movie Review - "Room" (2015) - Oh hai, Room!


This is one of the greatest worst movies I have ever seen, starring Tommy Wiseau, who also wrote, produced, edited, directed and presumably gave birth to this film through his artificial womb, "The Room" is about a group of guys who, I assume, know nothing other than to toss a football around in tuxedos and...

Wait...Sorry, wrong room.

To be honest though, every time I've heard people discuss Lenny Abrahamson's "Room," the first thing that comes to mind is Tommy Wiseau's strangely detached character screaming, "You are tearing me apart, Lisa!" This is unfortunate, since "Room" has one of the greatest mother-son relationships in cinema, and proves to lift itself above the depressing scenario into a truly hopeful and optimistic film.

Jack (Jacob Tremblay) wakes up on his fifth birthday to his universe - a tiny room with little more than a bed, a wardrobe, a rug and a toilet. His mother, Joy (Brie Larson), has decided to bake Jack a birthday cake with the few supplies they've been given by "Old Nick" (Sean Bridgers). Every night, Old Nick pays Joy a visit, forcing Jack to sleep in the wardrobe.

But soon after, Joy puts her faith in Jack now that he's five years old and tells him the truth. There is a whole world outside of Room, not just empty space like she had told him a long time ago. Joy was kidnapped by Old Nick seven years ago, forced into Room, a tiny tool shed converted into this makeshift home, and she has no way of getting out without knowing the code. Joy needs Jack's help in getting out of this hole, but Jack is unsure about leaving the only world he has ever known.


And I'm sure Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero are out there talking about how beautiful Lisa is somewhere in there.

When I heard about the story for "Room," I was immediately turned off. It sounded like a depressing tale of an innocent young woman being forced away from her home to be little more than a slave, while making her son become a part of this world as well. But what I got instead was a film that nearly made me cry at how these two were able to take these shriveled husks of lemons life has given them and turned it into the sweetest lemonade you have ever tasted.

Jack lives a happy and most carefree life, as he tells these elaborate stories about every object in Room. From the vast ocean in the top of the toilet, to his hand-crafted egg-snake being the longest creäture in the universe. Jack is content with living the rest of his life inside Room, because his imagination is able to run wild in this place. In place of knowledge of the outside world is a bottomless pit of enthusiasm and excitement over what the day will bring next.

As for his mother, Joy is constantly haunted by this existence, but finds a way to be optimistic for the sake of Jack. We learn later in the film that she had no purpose in life until Jack came along, giving her a reason to fight and hope that tomorrow would be the day she would finally escape and allow her son to experience a worthwhile life. This is anchored by Brie Larson’s performance, who is haunting at times in her vacant stares, as though she’s been drained by the last seven years, but still finds the energy to play with Jack.


Most of "Room" is shown from Jack’s perspective, as we hear his inner monologue explaining the situation as if he were a knight fighting a dragon, with extravagant details as though from classic literature. His childhood innocent not only elevates the story, but gives the film its added punch when Joy tells Jack the truth and we watch as reality shatters and is replaced by love for his mother.

What I’ll remember the most about "Room" (aside from the disappointing lack of Tommy Wiseau’s sweet love-making), is its constant need to look for the light inside of a dangerously dark situation. It is as if we’re watching a sequel to a much grittier tale, like "Gone Girl" or "The Gift," only now our characters have clawed their way through tragedy and find a sliver of hope, and cling to that with a vice grip.

Overall, "Room" is one of the most uplifting films of the year, held together by performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, along with spectacular direction by Lenny Abrahamson. Credit must be given to the cinematography, for making the room feel tiny and claustrophobic at times, while others it is vast and almost endless. We are given a film about the acceptance of being trapped, yet never giving up on the fight for freedom.


Final Grade: B+

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Movie Review - "The Big Short" (2015) - The Power of Money

big short poster

Full disclosure: This movie was not aimed for me. As a result, I did not enjoy it at all.

This is the risk of making a movie like "The Big Short," which spends most of its run time discussing Wall Street tactics to breaking into the system and making big money off of the collapse of the American economy. You are immediately alienating most of your audience, the ones who do not completely understand the financial structure of Wall Street.

For me, most of "The Big Short" was like listening to the techno-babble on "Star Trek," where the show will create new forms of technology that the audience has never heard of to solve a particular situation. I got just as much out of hearing about C.D.O.'s and hedge funds as I do listening to multi-moldo reflection-sorting.

In other words, because I'm uninformed about these events, I'm also uninterested and uninvested.

Even after watching this film, I couldn't even begin to tell you how these group of men capitalized on the collapse of the housing market.

I can tell you that each of these gentlemen has little respect for the system they work in and have more than their fair share of mental problems. From Christian Bale's inability to interact with others, to Steve Carrell's tendency to snap at anything that might be faulty, to Brad Pitt walking around as though the apocalypse is one day away.

Left to right: Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

When "The Big Short" chooses to focus on these characters attempting to rejoin society, that is where the genuine comedy comes from. These are the guys that will bring down massive corporations to their knees, yet one of them can't go outside without wearing a mask over his mouth. It is too bad there are so few of these scenes.

Most of the time is spent on Bale, Carrell, Pitt and Ryan Gosling slowly realizing that the housing market is on the verge of collapsing, using this knowledge to their advantage and want to make millions from other people's suffering. They face challenges along the way, like Bale's superiors constantly asking where nearly $1.5 Billion has gone, or that Carrell and Gosling's deal keeps changing.

All the while, the film hardly ever takes a moment to explain exactly what is going on.

I say hardly, because there are a few strange scenes in "The Big Short," where the film will stop to have celebrities explain some aspects of Wall Street. These include Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining default credit swaps, Anthony Bourdain to talk about the housing crash a bit better, and Selena Gomez playing blackjack.

These were the scenes that I enjoyed the most. Not because they explained more about this nonsensical business, but because they were so out-of-place and random that they always caught me off guard. Part of this might have been the conviction and sincerity in what Margot Robbie was saying, that she believed every word while taking a bath and drinking champagne. Any time one of these scenes happened, they stole the show.


But the sad thing is that these scenes don't do what they're supposed to do - Inform the audience. By the time these cutaways were finished, I couldn't remember what they talked about. None of the information stuck in my head, because I was so off-put by how random and unexpected those scenes were.

Yet, I can admit that I was not the target audience for "The Big Short." I know little to nothing about investments, banking and Wall Street, so most of this is lost on me. I can appreciate its attempts to bring this subject to a larger audience, but I feel it was not done well enough or accomplished much better in films like "The Wolf Of Wall Street."

If you have a basic understanding of how business and banks work, then you should understand "The Big Short" and enjoy it much more than I did. And even if you liked similar films, such as "The Wolf Of Wall Street," then there are at least parts that are a joy to sit through.

Final Grade: D+

Friday, January 22, 2016

Best of 2015


And with another year in film coming to end, it seems appropriate to finish it up on my awards for the year. This will be different from my top ten films of the year, as these will be the films that stuck out in my mind for various reasons.

But first, let’s answer the question of "Was 2015 a good year for film?"

Since I’ve been writing reviews, it seems like every year of cinema has gotten better than the last. 2013 had three or four stand-movies to make it a good year, 2014 was a great year with five or six films that I still love to watch, and this year was even better. Most of the cons of 2013 and 2014, like the lack of good comedies and over abundance of effects-filled movies, were fixed in 2015. We got several laugh-out-loud comedies, like "Spy" and "Trainwreck," films with more practical effects, like "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "Star Wars," plus a nice mix of stand-out horror films and better effects in movies overall.

And while there were more than a few movies that grinned my gears, I can think of at least eight films that I would have no problem watching times in the future. I go into a bit more detail about that in my top ten films of 2015, so be sure to check that out. Any year where more than five rewatchable and respectful movies come out is a fantastic year for cinema, so I would call 2015 a massive success.

With that said, let’s take a look at the best (and worst) of 2015. Beginning with…


Biggest Surprise "Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation"

Going in, I did not expect much out of this one. Tom Cruise is getting far too old for these types of roles, and the "Mission: Impossible" franchise seemed to be running out of ideas after the third film. But, much to my amazement, "Rogue Nation" dwelled less on stunts and more on complex character moments, giving Tom Cruise enough room to play both hero and villain. Each action piece was unique, and the pacing makes each one gripping and exciting to watch. This is not only the best film in this series, but the best spy film of the year.


Most Technologically Impressive "Ant-Man"

In a year full of technologically impressive films, this one was tough.

Usually, I like to give this award to the film that transports us to a fascinating new world. But this year, while films like "The Martian" and "Inside Out" did just that, they always felt close to home. So I’m giving this one to "Ant-Man," for making our world feel foreign. This film was at its best when making every-day objects feel like weapons of mass destruction, especially on a toy train set.


Most Fun In Theaters "Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens"

This one is a no-brainer. If you didn't have fun with "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," go see it again. It only gets better on the second and third viewing. Trust me, I learned that from experience.


Sleep Inducer "Run All Night"

It certainly didn't help that I saw this one at 11 o'clock at night, after a long day of walking miles through an anime convention. I'm pretty sure I tuned out half way through this "Taken" clone.
You know, I haven't even seen "Taken." But now that I've seen so many films like it, I feel it would ruin my first experience of the film that just about everyone seems to love.


Film I Need To See Again "Spotlight"

I respect "Spotlight" far too much to only watch it once. This film deserves as much attention as it can get, for being so loyal and dedicated to the truth, much like the journalists covering the story.


Funniest Film "Spy"

I rewatched "Spy" recently, and the comedy still holds up as much as it did when I saw it in theaters. The scene where Melissa McCarthy verbally destroys Rose Bryne's character in the airplane is her crowning moment of comedy, combining her talent of insults, imagination and spunk. This film makes the best use out of McCarthy's talent as both a comedian and an actress, while still giving plenty of great moments to Jason Statham and Jude Law.


Biggest Disappointment "Joy"

A film that I had looked forward to since the first trailers came out, and what we got was the story of a bored housewife making a mop, while everyone around her either ruins her dreams or watches soap operas.



Most Forgettable "Southpaw"

After watching "Creed," I had utterly forgotten about seeing "Southpaw." That film was the most cliché, predictable and by-the-numbers film of the year, with no stand-out performances, even from the lead actors. At this point, "Southpaw" has become nothing more than the butt of a joke.


Most Overrated "The Revenant"

If this is the most overrated film of the year, then you now it has been a good year for cinema. Because there was a lot to like about "The Revenant." Leonardo DiCaprio's performance, the breath-taking cinematography combine with so many long takes to show case the awe of nature, and the atmosphere of isolation.

However, the pacing is excruciating at times, making the experience almost sleep-inducing at times. Since "The Revenant" came out the same year as films like "The Martian" and "The Hateful Eight," this one seems almost forgettable.


Most Underrated "Kingsmen: The Secret Service"

Even I had forgotten about this one for a while, since it came out so long ago.

While I did say that "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" was the best spy film of 2015, "Kingsmen: The Secret Service" was the best spy film that did not take itself seriously in the slightest. This one takes the most ludicrous action sequences, villain schemes and long-winded speeches from "Spy" and "Spectre" and amps it up to 11. Yet, it never looses its sophistication, especially with Colin Firth's character. Though there were sequences that didn't make a lot of sense, like the all-out violent scene, and I still don't know why Samuel L. Jackson's character had a lisp, "Kingsmen: The Secret Service" was a blast and a hidden gem from this year.


Best Performance Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in "Creed"

This might be the biggest surprise of 2015. In a year where we get stellar performances from Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron and any role from "Spotlight," it is Sylvester Stallone that comes away with the greatest performance of the year.

Stallone gives us a tortured and beaten soul that has given up on life, until life gives him a second chance to prove that he is still useful in this world and can continue to fight. At times, Stallone seems low on energy, but there is always that hidden power laying underneath each line of dialogue.


Most Anticipated Film of 2016 The Japanese Monster Films to be released, in particular "Godzilla: Resurgence"

At this point in time, there isn't a lot I'm looking forward to in 2016. Right away, we have "Kung Fu Panda 3," "Deadpool" and "Hail, Caesar!" Later on, we have "Captain America: Civil War" and "Batman Vs. Superman." But if I had to pick a movie to be excited for, it would be every monster film being planned for 2016. And there's a lot.

There's a Ultraman movie being planned for later this year, a new Gamera film has been tentatively planned for a 2016 release, and most importantly, a new Japanese Godzilla film, titled "Godzilla: Resurgence."

Not much is known at this time about the film, but given that Toho wants to make this Godzilla even bigger than the 2014 Godzilla, while still maintaining his roots to the 1954 film, is at least promising. While the new suit has already thrown a lot of people off, I think the suit is terrifying. This is a Godzilla that has been decimated by the atomic bomb, as shown by his massive amounts of teeth (in strange place no less) and the large burn marks all over his body, and yet is still alive. It's almost tragic in a way, a creature that should have died a long time ago, but is somehow being kept alive to suffer, and share that suffering with millions of people.

Count me in.


Worst Film of 2015 "Krampus"

This was the only film that truly hurt me this year. "Krampus" is anti-fun, as if it is taking something away from you as you slowly descend into a tedious rage. It wasn't funny, nor scary, and was about as whimsical as an icicle through the eye. I really don't care if it is faithful to the legend of Krampus, because that does not make the viewing experience any better.


Best Film of 2015 "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Oh, what a film! What a lovely film!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Paul's Top 10 Films of 2015

2015 best of

Another year in film has come and gone, and I would go as far to say that 2015 has been the best year for cinema of the 2010s thus far. Genres that had gotten worse over time, especially horror and comedy, got wonderful additions this year with movies like "Unfriended" and "Spy." Summer blockbusters were some of the best they've been in years, with specific emphasis on "Ant-Man" and "Shaun The Sheep." While there were films that I did not care for, like "Jurassic World" and "Ex Machina," and other films that were downright terrible, like "Krampus" and "Jupiter Ascending," I've come to expect a range of good and bad from cinema these days.

As such, I've decided to do away with my Top 5 films of the year to expand this into a Top 10, since there were so many wonderful films to come out this year. These will all be films that I've previously done reviews of, and I'll be linking each of my picks to their corresponding reviews. So if you want my expanded thoughts on each film, be sure to check those out.


Number Ten: "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation"

I might have written this film off in my initial review as another spy film, but as I thought more about the most recent entry in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise, the more I realized how solid it was. Each action piece was fascinating to watch, the pacing is perfect, the acting is some of the best in the series, and the story is both convoluted and personal, something we haven't seen in this group of films before. That gives "Rogue Nation" its own personal touch that I felt was lacking in the previous films. Something that hits home for our characters and makes their journey all the more satisfying.


Number Nine: "It Follows"

This one makes the list for having one of the most unusual and terrifying monsters to hit the screen in years. A creature that is transferred through sex, and will stop at nothing until the person it is hunting has been killed. This is a monster that can be anyone or anything, but the scariest thing of all is that it walks towards you. Not running or sprinting, but a never-ending walk. As if this thing knows that it doesn't need to go any faster than that. Eventually you will have to stop and rest, but this thing will not. This gives "It Follows" unbelievably tense pacing, where every scene leaves you tense and nervous about what might be around the corner.

steve jobs

Number Eight: "Steve Jobs"

"Steve Jobs" is a modern-day tragedy, about a man who fought the standard norms of life and was mocked for his innovative thoughts. About a man who wanted to make a name for himself in the world, at any costs, but is so self-absorbed in his own ego that it astounds him that others don't agree with his methods. Michael Fassbender gives the role of Steve Jobs enough vulnerability while still keeping the intellect, to give us a man who wants to change the world so badly that he abandons his own. We watch as this man becomes an innovator, but also what it means to change the world.


Number Seven: "The Hateful Eight"

This is the middle-ground between an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, a Sergio Leone western and everything that is cool about Quentin Tarantino. Certainly the most minimalistic film on this list, we are given a film that relies on its characters, writing and the pauses between their breaths. We hang on each of these dasterdly-no-gooders next actions, waiting for that classic Tarantino style violence to show up, only to savor every moment they make us wait. When "The Hateful Eight" wants to give us a violent show, it is one I'll never forget. When it isn't being violent, the film is even better.


Number Six: "Spotlight"

The movie that I respect more than any other this year. While not the most exciting or innovative film of the year, "Spotlight" is one of the few films I can think that stays honest with the "Based On A True Story" statement at the beginning of the film. As such, we watch as journalism wins over corrupt people and against the odds of a massive organization and the disbelief of an equally large city. We watch as these people give up everything, including their social lives and families, to fight for what they believe in and because they know this will help more people than it will hurt. Because they know that journalism gives the voiceless something to say and cheer about. And "Spotlight" gives power to those that need it the most.

creed poster

Number Five: "Creed"

I would go as far to say that the best performance of 2015, leading and supporting, goes to Sylvester Stallone reprising an aging Rocky Balboa, a man who has lost everything and has nothing left to fight for, only to find that there is more to life than fighting. Who knew? In a year where we get wonderful performances from Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lawrence, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, that Stallone would be the one to have the most heart and strength in his performance. This is not just about Rocky becoming a mentor, but Rocky seeking redemption in a world that he has given up on. The first "Rocky" was about second chances and that the American dream is still alive. In "Creed," Rocky is given a second chance at life, and wants to share that knowledge with others. This is a heart-warming tale of with some of the best performances in a year full of outstanding roles.


Number Four: "The Martian"

Some love this film because of how scientifically accurate it is. Others love it because of the unique science fiction scenario that has lots of creativity and imagination in surviving on Mars. For me? I adore "The Martian" because of its always optimistic attitude and need to share that feeling with the audience through its sense of humor. In a world where we constantly keep getting gritty survival tales that are about as uplifting as a Holocaust film (I'm looking at you "The Revenant"), to see a film like "The Martian" where Matt Damon finds a reason to smile every morning even after listening to the same terrible disco music for hours means a lot to me. I honestly can't find a reason why anyone would hate "The Martian." Even if you don't like science fiction or Matt Damon, this is a film that anyone can connect with on an emotional level and enjoy the ride as we're taken to a far away place and shown that the human will is strongest thing we have.


Number Three: "Inside Out"

Speaking of films that anyone can connect with, "Inside Out" is the most relatable yet creative Pixar film in their entire library of emotionally-strong films. Basically, this is a story about growing up and the hardships that come with it. But it is just as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids, to show us that we don't need to hide or repress our emotions. That it is very healthy to experience emotions like sadness and fear, and at times it is very necessary to experience those emotions. This is not just a conflict within the head of one girl, but in all of us, as we try to understand our own emotions. Throw in imaginative landscape for the human brain, some wonderful voice acting and an emotionally-gripping script and you get the best Pixar film since "Up."


Number Two: "Star Wars - Episode VII: The Force Awakens"

After seeing this epic a second time, I can't remember one scene where I wasn't smiling or giddy as a school girl. Keep in mind, I'm not that big of a Star Wars fan, this is just a fun film that takes every opportunity to fill the screen with colorful characters, expansive mythology, a lavish universe and wonderfully unique action sequences. It comes across like every single person that worked on this film had an absolute blast making it, and wanted to share that enthusiasm with the audience. They wanted us to know that Star Wars is not just another action movie franchise with pretty effects and lightsaber battles, but that it is a phenomenon that begs, no demands, your attention.


Number One: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

I'm not sure what to say about this experience that hasn't already been said.

Part of the reason this gets my number one spot is because "Mad Max: Fury Road" bucks with traditional action movie clichés and becomes its own unique style. Little to no CGI, takes every opportunity to showcase beautiful cinematography in stark and unforgiving landscape, very little dialogue between the main cast of characters, women leading the charge in the bad-ass department and not needing to see the other films in the "Mad Max" franchise to understand what's going on. Every shot of this film is gorgeous to look at, whether you're entranced by the barren post-apocalyptic wastes, the heart-pounding chase sequences combine with the thrilling soundtrack, or the crazy contraptions the wastelands will come up with next.

This is the type of film that makes cinema so much fun to behold. Every aspect of "Mad Max: Fury Road" was superb, including the writing, production design, costumes, pacing and so much more. I could watch this one on repeat and never get bored with it. This is not just an action movie, but an action experience.

Honorable Mentions:

"Kingsmen: The Secret Service"
"The Revenant"
"Crimson Peak"
"Shaun The Sheep"
"Mr. Holmes"

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Movie Review - "The Revenant" (2015) - Controversy Time!


Welcome, one and all, to Paul's controversial reviews!

An event that happens just once a year, in which our lovable friend and colleague disses and rags on a well-known film that everyone else in their right minds adores, and watch as Paul is torn between the popular opinion and his own feelings.

The last time we witnessed this was with "Selma," in which I admired for its accuracy and loyalty but got bored rather quickly by retreading ground that we are now all taught in elementary school and retold every year. The year before that was "Inside Llewyn Davis," a film that, as far as I can tell, has not aged well.

This year, that controversial review is on Alejandro G. Inarritu's "The Revenant."

Part of the reason I did not care for "The Revenant" is the time at which it is being released.
If you swapped Inarritu's most recent film with his outing last year, "Birdman," then I would have loved this film. I would have noticed it for the scenery beauty that it is, a film about the unrelenting power of nature and one man's triumph in overcoming it with nothing but his will to live.


But because it came out in 2015, where so many other wonderful films discuss similar aspects as "The Revenant," this one comes off a bit cold. Long tracking shots uninterrupted by editing as steady and fluid action takes place? "Birdman" made a whole movie like that. A solid western about nature confining men? "The Hateful Eight" kept me in suspense from beginning to end. A tale of a man stranded, left for dead, and forced to survive in a unbelievably harsh environment? "The Martian" was the same, except that film was consistently optimistic and uplifting, where as this one is often depressing and hard to watch.

Granted, that is exactly what "The Revenant" was going for. This is a grizzly and unflinching depiction of survival, where nature can be brutal and cold one moment, but immediately turn to unforgiving in an instant. We watch as Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) does disgusting things that would make Bear Grylls turn away in revulsion, just so he has a chance to confront the man who killed his son, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

This is the most violent movie I've seen this year, and "The Revenant" does not shy away from the brutal era of de-scalping and massive piles of bone monuments.


In fact, I feel that the key scene of this film, in which Hugh Glass is attacked by a bear and struggles just to survive as his skin is ripped apart like tissue paper, summarizes up the movie perfectly, as well as my problems with it. Graphic, deep within its theme of nature's power over us, beautiful uncut cinematography, and hard to get through. When that bear bites at Glass' back or claws at it, you feel as though you're being torn apart as well. The scene is almost minimalist in its approach, as there is no music or dialogue and has no editing to speak of. This sequence relies on the violence of the wilderness and DiCaprio's performance.

But let me makes this clear - This movie is hard to get through. "The Revenant" is not fun to watch, nor is it all that entertaining, due to the rather slow pace and long stretches of Glass wandering the snow-covered landscapes desperately scavenging for food and shelter. This film is like performing chores - You don't want to do these boring tasks, but you have to in order to get to the better things.


There is little to no dialogue throughout the film, especially when focusing on Glass. And while this does add to the visual storytelling aspect of "The Revenant" and makes DiCaprio's role all the more impressive to communicate so much without saying anything, this does give us little to focus on.

Overall, there is plenty to admire about "The Revenant," ranging from themes of man's will against nature, to unbroken cinematography, to Leonardo DiCaprio's performance and many memorable sequences. But this is an instance where the parts are greater than the whole. At times it is boring, while other times the low-spirited tone makes this a chore to sit through.

Final Grade: B-

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Mini-Review: "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012)

moonrise kingdom

While watching another dollhouse-like piece from Wes Anderson, I could not help but make comparisons between the most eccentric yet beautiful film creator of our time and another auteur: Alfred Hitchcock.

When I discuss these Anderson and Hitchcock in the same sentence, it is to talk about them, not as directors, or even filmmakers, but as auteurs - They control every aspect that we see on the screen. 

They determine which way the shot is framed, how the camera will move, how the film will be edited, and most importantly, they tell the actors exactly what to do, leaving them with no choice or freedom. There is only one right film, and that is the one in these auteurs minds, every thing else just gets in the way.

As "Moonrise Kingdom" progressed, I realized that the roles of Edward Norton, Francis McDormand and Bruce Willis were not giving their own performances, but were merely acting out Wes Anderson's ideas. As a result, we get this distinctive style of filmmaking that cannot be mistaken for anyone other than Anderson.

In the end, we are left with a product that often feels other-worldly in its execution. As if this film was made by an alien who had observed human behavior but does not truly understand it, with so much blank space and vague expressions. The alien may know what it all means, but has a strange way of saying it.

Overall, I left "Moonrise Kingdom" feeling the same way I did about "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Rushmore," that Wes Anderson's style is the most bizarre yet entrancing filmmaking I have seen. It is so off-putting that I can't take my eyes off it.

Final Grade: B+

Coming Next: "The Revenant" and My Top 10 Films of 2015

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Movie Review - "The Hateful Eight" (2015) - Tarantino + Hitchcock + Leone


Sometimes you don't need clever action pieces or imaginative worlds to keep the audience fascinated and transfixed on the screen. There are moments when all you need is put enough colorful characters in a room, maybe give them some motivation to act badly towards one another, and you get a film that could rival a Alfred Hitchcock film in terms of suspense and intrigue.

This is what Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" sets out to accomplish. Unlike his earlier films, such as "Django Unchained" and "Inglorious Basterds," this film is minimalistic but takes full advantage of what is given. "The Hateful Eight" takes almost nothing, and turns in into a gripping western that was suspenseful from start to finish.

Set shortly after the Civil War, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) gets caught in a blizzard after his horse dies from exhaustion. He stumbles upon a stagecoach with John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) inside with a woman chained to his arm (Jennifer Jason Leigh) worth $10,000. John intends to get this woman, named Daisy Domergue, to Red Rock but is stopped by the oncoming blizzard.

John, Daisy, Marquis, their driver O.B. (James Parks) and the new sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) are forced to stop at Minnie's Haberdashery for the night, where they come across another stagecoach full of strange people, including Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) and the inn-keeper Bob (Demian Bichir). John quickly picks up that one of these guys, or possibly more, are not who they say they are, and might have some ties with Daisy.


What I love more than anything about "The Hateful Eight" was the decision to pull back on the violence. Tarantino films are known for the excessive amounts of gore, including "Kill Bill: Vol. 1," "Pulp Fiction" and the last few scenes of "Django Unchained" just to name a few. But by telling us that these terrible people are bounty hunters, including one that makes sure his victims hang and not shooting them in the back, you set the ground work for lots of bloodshed, especially when you put eight of these cold blooded killers in one room.

Yet the film takes its time.

We know the violence is coming, but Tarantino doesn't deliver it so quickly. I don't think a single bullet is fired until the film is more than halfway over. It's like watching a hitman put a gun to someone's head, but not pulling the trigger - You're left in suspense, wondering not if it will happen, but when. And boy, when the film decides to unleash its fury, it does not hold back. Tarantino knows how to make a body being torn apart by gunfire look spectacular.

But another factor that makes "The Hateful Eight" so different from other Tarantino films is the pacing. Typically, Tarantino movies move at a fast pace, since he loves jumping around to different characters and playing with time. But here, the film moves at a slow and almost unyielding pace.

hateful eight

This gives the film a similar feel to Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, like "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly." In fact, "The Hateful Eight" felt like the opening 20 minutes of "Once Upon A Time In The West" stretched out to over two and a half hours, with lots of quiet moments of characters doing little things like writing in a book or eating, close-ups of characters faces as they survey the landscape and find out if they're safe, and the director savoring every moment as the moment where a character explodes builds up.

It also certainly helps "The Hateful Eight" compare to Leone's films when Tarantino got the same composer, Ennio Morricone, who also gave us great scores like "Cinema Paradiso" and John Carpenter's "The Thing." By combining Morricone's score with the traditional Tarantino style of music choice, we get a bombastic and atmospheric score that knows how to highlight the key moments and speaks to audience at just the right moments.


There are some problems with "The Hateful Eight" though, especially near the end. There are a few scenes that go on longer than they need to, especially ones set in the past after a big plot-heavy scene. We get this big emotional moment where most of the suspense and mystery is released, but follow it up with 20 minute explanation. Anything left unresolved is going to be lost by the time that scene is over, so that does hurt the film.

For those who are expecting the cleanest Tarantino film, that is not the case. When "The Hateful Eight" wants to be bloody, it is not only his most gore-filled movie, but rivals "Crimson Peak" in terms of squeamish moments. If you have a problem with blood or excessive amounts of violence, this is not the film for you, but then again no Quentin Tarantino films are for you either. We've come to expect something like this from him over the years.

Overall, "The Hateful Eight" is Tarantino's equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope," a film that takes its sweet time to build up every ounce of suspense. But the difference here is that Tarantino fills his film with fascinating characters doing despicable things to one another, unaware of who is using whom. Combine this with the pacing and atmosphere of a Sergio Leone film, and you get a western that is relentless and satisfying.

Final Grade: A-