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Only God Forgives (2013)
Only God Forgives is undeniably Refn's least accessible film, but for those able to see beyond its rough surface are in for a visceral experience like no other.
In Nicolas Winding Refn's highly anticipated follow-up to Drive, he delves into themes of morality, spirituality, perversion and religion (obviously) in the most stylistically explosive piece of art to hit theatres this year. Only God Forgives is a brilliant visceral experience that surely will be talked about for years.
A description of the plot doesn't do this movie justice, Only God Forgives really isn't about the physical story it's about the feeling Refn strategically places in your gut. Regardless the story revolves around Julian (Ryan Gosling), co-owner of a Thai boxing club in Bangkok that he uses to launder drug money with his brother Billy (Tom Burke). Both very strangely violent men, one night Billy decides to let his urges control him and murders a girl. Cue police officer Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) who takes it upon himself to punish Billy for his actions. A distressed Julian doesn't know how to handle the situation and matters get worse when his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) flies into town to deal with the death of her first son.
Ultimately the story is about a man who thinks he's God (Officer Chang) clashing forces with a man on a spiritual journey of self-discovery, avoiding violent behavior and questioning his morality, and the morality of those around him. This "clash of forces" is quite literal, making the words "Wanna fight?" not only the most dramatic in the film but also the most symbolic. Winding Refn, since Bronson, has been fascinated in heightened reality and I think that change in style has improved his films significantly. This sort of fairytale-protagonist-on-a-path-of self-evaluation-gets-mixed-up-in-the-wrong-crowd kind of thing, you know?
Though the film has a very clear plot-line, the pacing and imagery, (violent/non-violent) aren't what you would expect. It's strangely ambiguous and wonderfully subtle. Only God Forgives is as much a standard "action thriller" as Drive was a Fast and Furious rip-off; as too say all the elements are there, but that's it. Don't get me wrong, there is action in this film and it definitely earned its R-rating in violence alone but as Nicolas Winding Refn has said himself, it's about the "mental action" rather than the physical action. There are lots of shots of people looking at one another and thinking, and not having them express their thoughts verbally adds a new level of interpretation to the film; one I wildly enjoyed.
The performances are fresh and entertaining. Gosling is stiff however he does emote quite well, his unique talent of being able to hold a straight face and yet let subtle ticks and twitches give away his feelings works really well with Refn's directing and its obvious why they like working together. With approximately 8 lines of dialogue I was never confused as to what Julian's motives were. Vithaya Pansringarm and Yayaying Rhatha Phongam both deliver subtle performances as well Vithaya accomplishing a very menacing physicality and all the while delivering just a few more lines than Gosling. Kristin Scott Thomas brings in the most words per screen time, and boy are they cruel! If you've ever wondered what it's like to hear Thomas call some poor girl a "cum dumpster" this is the movie for you! Her performance is arguably the strongest but also one of the more irritating as well. I give her plenty of credit though I'm sure it's difficult to work off silence, which she does throughout the entire movie.
No matter how you feel about the acting or plot, even the negative reviews have to admit how beautiful this film looks and sounds. Refn has always been known to have gorgeous cinematography and a very unique vision for his scenes. While I found the sound effects to be a little lack-luster compared to the rest of the film the soundtrack is stunning. Only God Forgives orally borders the line between thriller and horror, which in turn sets the tone of the movie quite nicely. Cliff Martinez continues his streak of brilliance; following Spring Breakers with this striking electronic score that can only be described as haunting.
If you know anything about Refn you know he's afraid to do the same thing twice, so in order to ensure he wasn't duplicating Drive (which he originally planned to do AFTER Only God Forgives) he made this film as tonally different as possible. Some consider it a downfall of his, sticking with the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" motto however I personally consider it personal innovation – which is never a bad thing, Tarantino does it all the time. Something a lot of directors should practice. I think after winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival with Drive people were expecting Only God Forgives to be somewhat similar, especially considering it featured the same lead as our non-verbal protagonist; this my friends is the base of all the hatred and misunderstanding towards the film. Maintaining a 3.5/10 average from critics is absolute nonsense, and I'm ashamed of the audience at Cannes that booed this film with the filmmakers in the room.
Every frame handled with sheer artistic precision Only God Forgives is undeniably Refn's least accessible film, but for those able to see beyond its rough surface are in for a visceral experience like no other.
Our Rating: 9.0/10
Let me know on Twitter @thejoshl what you thought of Only God Forgives!
Hearing a harsh critique of SeaWorld only seems right coming from the people it meant the most to.
Without a doubt Blackfish is one of the most horrific theatre experiences you'll have this year. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite presents a very carefully constructed case on the effects of inhumane treatment of Orcas in captivity. The one-sided argument is that the untimely human deaths caused by captive Orcas were not their fault but rather the fault of their captors; SeaWorld, and the evidence proving this point is so disturbing and so shockingly obvious that it's no wonder SeaWorld refused to be interviewed.
The story centers on Tilikum, a 12,000 lbs. Orca that is directly responsible for the death of 3 people, including Dawn Brancheau the former senior trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando. The film explores the reasoning behind the likely "psychosis" Tilikum has experienced in captivity, and the disgusting cover up executives have tried to make.
While SeaWorld naturally refused to be interviewed, the films perspective mostly derives from former trainers/employees of SeaWorld and other various experts. Their experience working with Orcas - most having dedicated their lives to it - is truly heart breaking. Presenting the theory, the evidence and finally a solution to the topic at hand, Blackfish is a marvellous story that will have you as tearful as the trainers that sincerely care for the well being of the creatures.
Blackfish doesn't just show a bunch of disgruntled former employees bashing SeaWorld either. The greatest technique employed in this film is its use of footage from shows featuring these trainers when they were younger. There's something so mesmerizing about watching the smiling young trainers play with their best friend while hearing their older self reminisce in voice over. Hearing a harsh critique of SeaWorld only seems right coming from the people it meant the most to.
While we've always known Orca's are intelligent creatures Cowperthwaite dedicates a lot of the film to demonstrating their capacity for emotions as well; watching them over time build connections with their trainers and each other. So by the time they show us their capture and captivity and witness the pain felt the whales, Tilikum especially, we know that their violent behavior is a direct result of SeaWorld. Killer Whales having never harmed a human in the wild.
I want to go through every point made by the movie but I won't. You need to see this for yourselves. The facts aren't what drive this film, the emotion behind them do. This is one of those movies you just won't stop talking about, and for the subject matter that's the best compliment it can receive. In the end sharing this information is what's going to help these Orcas.
Between the gripping footage and the distressing stories Blackfish effectively proves its point. There are very few movies like this; a must-see. There is no way after seeing this movie that you'll ever want to go to SeaWorld again, and for the sake of the animals that's the only thing we can do for them. Since it's made quite clear; the only thing affecting their decision-making is: how many Shamu dolls and tickets they've sold.
Let me know on Twitter @thejoshl what you thought of Blackfish!
The Conjuring (2013)
With virtually no sex, no gore and no cursing The Conjuring earns its R-rating on scares alone.
Who would've guessed that the director of Saw would end up being the most inventive horror filmmaker working in the industry? James Wan brilliantly takes us back to the retro days of horror, delivering an extremely stylistic, visually striking horror film that stands tall amongst the classics. With virtually no sex, no gore and no cursing The Conjuring earns its R-rating on scares alone.
Set in 1971, The Conjuring focuses on the married paranormal researchers Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren, who lecture at colleges across the US on all the interesting cases they come across. Just as they're thinking of retirement cue the Perron family; parents Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor) are scared for their lives and the lives of their 5 daughters claiming there is something evil in their now Rhode Island home. It doesn't take long for the Warrens to discover that the Perron's are being tormented by something supernatural, but what is it, and what does it want?
In short: The Conjuring is the most terrifying film I've ever seen. Trying to erase his name from the "torture porn" crowd has proved difficult for the director of Saw, however without a doubt he's finally done it. On looks alone this movie should be a PG movie, which would normally be frowned upon by the horror junkies, but despite having no sex, no gore and no swearing, James Wan's latest film has been slapped with an R rating anyway. If you're wondering how frightening it actually is I think the MPAA has spoken on its behalf.
Most horror films these days climax somewhere in the middle; and in turn everything that follows doesn't really have the same affect. In The Conjuring there is comic relief brilliantly placed throughout to bring you down from your own climax so they get another chance to build your fear up and startle you again. Wan understands the psychology behind tension and builds suspense through mere scene construction.
While obviously taking notes from the Exorcist and The Amityville Horror, the inspiration for this film derives from real case files from the Warren's, which is still their most famous case to date. Straying away from the ironic style made famous by The Cabin In The Woods, nothing on the surface of this story seems inventive, but I assure you the way in which this film works makes it one of the most creative films in recent memory. One thing I've always loved about James Wan is how he manages to take something so unoriginal, like the haunted-house- possession story in this case, and shows it to us like we've never seen it before.
The scares, pacing, sound design and camera work can only be described as precise. Together James Wan and cinematographer John Leonetti (responsible for the look of Insidious as well) give us a fresh visual style that, unlike most horror films, include a lot of wide shots AND movement. The cinematography is absolutely stunning, and not relying on shaky cam for its realism leaves a rather unique feel to the movie, separating it visually from any other movie you can narratively relate this to.
One issue I've always had with recent films in the genre was that they revealed the demons too much. Insidious and Sinister are examples where they hooked me to the story and then showed me too much. Fear of the unknown is the greatest thing a horror filmmaker has on its audience and Wan has definitely learned from Insidious. In The Conjuring the apparitions aren't revealed to the audience until way late, and even then they're far away or out of focus. Letting us use our imagination is what makes this film truly horrifying, and I think horror filmmakers should be taking notes from Mr. Wan.
This film is everything I wanted it to be and more, my only complaint about the movie isn't even something wrong with the film. Once again marketing has screwed us over and the trailer for The Conjuring reveals way too many of the scares. I avoided most of the trailers for this movie on command from James Wan's twitter account but it's hard to miss TV spots. I wish I went into this with a fresh mind so if you still haven't seen the trailer and want to see this film, please stay away from any of the marketing!
Ultimately the overall production value allows The Conjuring to stand out in an otherwise rotting genre. The acting is impressive, the practical effects are perfect and the classic 70s feel Wan was going for make for a great time at the movies. This is the first must-see film of the summer.
Our Rating: 9.0/10
Let me know on Twitter @thejoshl what you thought of The Conjuring!
Pacific Rim (2013)
Pacific Rim is a stunning mindless action film, but in the end that's all it is; a mindless action film.
Words could not describe how excited I was for Pacific Rim. Yes, it was a blockbuster about giant robots fighting giant monsters, but between Del Toro directing and all the early praise it was receiving from critics and filmmakers alike I went into the early screening extremely giddy. I'm sorry to say I didn't leave the theatre with the same enthusiasm.
In 2013 a wormhole known as "The Breach" connected our world with another, letting monsters known as "Kaiju" invade earth. Millions of people were killed and entire cities were levelled After years of defeat in the war against the Kaiju the governments of the world joined together and developed "Jaegers", giant fighting robots sort of Mighty Morphing Power Rangers meets Gundam. We pick up in the year 2025 with the Jaeger program failing as bigger and deadlier Kaiju are coming out of the Breach. With not much time left the governments call together the last of the Jaegers for one last final showdown in Hong Kong.
I really wanted to like this movie. In fact I wanted to love it but I didn't. For the opening 30 minutes I was really into it, the quick news flash wrap up of the Kaijus first landing and the invention of Jaegers led me to believe this movie was going in a different direction than the trailer showed and I deeply wanted it to. Since there was so much praise for this film, there had to be more to it, right?
There wasn't. Everything plot-wise was given away in the trailer. The only thing that trailer didn't show was the bad dialogue and over-the-top acting (arguable). There is lots of intentional comedy, which worked fine, but the rest was the bad kind of cheesy; the kind where you can't tell if they made a mistake or not. While I'm sure people are going to tell me it was intentional I can't say that it being intentional really makes it better in this case. I'm a huge fan of that meta/self-aware style but only when they use it to say something, to drive their theme or message home and I can assure you the overall message in Pacific Rim was not driven forward by ironic poorly delivered dialogue.
Despite the overall negative tone of this review I actually ended up having plenty of fun with the film and I will say that it is an awesome monster movie. The overall production was quite a marvel to watch. The visuals are breathtaking and the soundtrack/sound design compliments the visuals masterfully. There is no doubt that Del Toro has left his visual signature all over this film. The soundtrack wasn't a bunch of dubstep noises either, which was one of my only concerns going into the film originally. There was actual score and it built up the emotion of the scenes better than most of the actors did. I would say that this film is highly enjoyable,as long as you don't go in expecting more - which I will admit is difficult if you've read any early discussions on the film.
I put most of the blame on myself. I'm sure if I didn't hype this movie, and didn't read all the early praises I would have had a much better time with it. That's why I'm giving this film a decent rating, since I firmly believe it's my fault for not being in the right state of mind. The way people were reacting made me expect that this would be more than the trailer, more depth to it, you know? Pacific Rim is a stunning mindless action film, but in the end that's all it is; a mindless action film. I guess it's my fault for expecting more.
I can't stress how much I wanted to love this film enough. I REALLY love Guillermo's work however this just didn't do it for me. I'm sure this movie will find its audience and I'm also sure my review will get ripped apart by his fans. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing it again in a different mindset. I think I'll like it more the second time.
Our Rating: 7.0/10
Let me know on Twitter @thejoshl what you thought of Pacific Rim!
More reviews at themoviebloggers.com.
The Way Way Back (2013)
This is as loving and hilarious as a coming-of-age narrative gets
Now Oscar winners; Nat Faxon and Jim Rash take on the cliché summer coming-of-age story, and do so with so much wit and charm it's hard to not smile through the whole thing. This film has many layers of well-observed truth that make it a pleasure to watch. This is as loving and hilarious as a coming-of-age narrative gets.
The movie opens with the potential stepfather Trent (Steve Carell) driving Duncan (Liam James) – who happens to be sitting in the way, way back of the car WINK, Duncan's mom Pam and his daughter. They're on their way to Trent's beach house to spend the summer, but before they get there with Duncan's mom his daughter asleep, Trent asks Duncan what he would rate himself on a scale of 1-10. Duncan, as shy and insecure of himself as he is, suggests he's a 6; Trent quickly corrects and tells him he's actually 3 in order to nudge him out of being shy. This quickly introduces the audience to the relationship that sets our frustrated teen on his journey. From Duncan's insecure point of view we watch this group of people try to merge as a family. We see what should be a fun summer in Cape Cod turn into humiliation for Duncan, so to avoid his "family" he sets out on a bike ride and meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), manager of a nearby waterpark who notices Duncan's need to be away. He offers him part-time employment at his park and combined his laid-back joking attitude, eases Duncan out of his shell f insecurity rather than insulting him. Duncan works there secretly to keep it HIS special place and in the evenings returns home to be with his parents and their friends.
You don't have to be a shy teenage boy forced to spend his summer in cottage country with his mom and potential step-dad to appreciate The Way, Way Back, but I'm not going to lie, I was this boy; and that added a whole new understanding of this movie for me. My mom was a single parent until we moved in with her boyfriend (now husband) who happened to live in cottage country, hell I even have a hunch like this kid does. Due to how relatable this film was to me I hope I can convince some of you of how accurately this movie portrays the frustration and humiliation Duncan feels, and his need to find a safe place.
This movie works on so many different levels; the script is beautifully written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash – who both make appearances as employees at the park – and even more beautifully acted. Great performances here by Liam, Steve, Toni, Rob, Maya, Anna, Sam and both the directors. This well-rounded cast really sells this story, and each character has their moment. As always Sam Rockwell impressed me as he nailed it as the mentor/father figure, every time he was on screen there was a big smile on my face. Not just because he's a funny guy (which he definitely is) but because you can sense his affection for Duncan, and you can see he knows exactly how to help the kid and at the same time treat him as an equal. Their friendship is the foundation of the film.
"The Way, Way Back" is an extremely truthful account of an adolescent being told to grow up by a bunch of adults who can't seem practice what they preach. The sense of realism in this film is what really brings it to life. With movies like Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring trying to show my generation how terrible we are, it was nice to see a film that was on our side. It captures the right emotions at the right time and explores not just their cause (like Spring Breakers and the Bling Ring) but also their solution.
The directors drawing inspiration from their own lives leaves the film feeling very genuine. The obvious comparisons to Adventureland have been made, and while I enjoy both films telling this story from a younger age group I think really sold it for me. Seeing the same struggles tackled from an even harder age was more interesting to me. You see Duncan looked down upon by not just the adults but the teens as well; being stuck in this situation mid-puberty is way more humiliating for the teens and thus much sweeter when we're presented with the moral.
The story doesn't stray away from the clichés, it indulges in them and combined with the strong direction and performances, this film will have you fantasizing of a carefree summer. Wickedly funny, wonderfully entertaining and loaded with lessons in respect and understanding without a doubt makes "The Way, Way Back" the best coming-of-age film this year and the movie I will now turn to when I want to dream of summer.
Despicable Me 2 (2013)
Move aside, Pixar. We've got our animated film of the summer.
Move aside, Pixar. We've got our animated film of the summer. The less-despicable- more- lovable sequel provides non-stop laughs from start to finish all the while maintaining the wit and charm of the original.
In the sequel to 2010s unexpected success that was Despicable Me we find our former baddie Gru (Steve Carrel) living the single dad life, more focused now on his jam/jelly business and making sure the fairy princess shows up to Agnes' birthday party rather than freeze rays - though he does hold onto his villainous past. It's not too long into the film before Lucy (Kristen Wiig) unwillingly drags Gru to the headquarters of an organization known as the AVL (Anti- Villain League) where he is asked to use his expertise as a villain to track down a new bad guy who has stolen a top secret liquid that turns any creature into a mindless, indestructible killing machine.
As much as the plot takes its time getting to, the story ultimately here is Gru finding love; this time in that of a woman. Between the constant set-ups by his neighbor and some flashbacks of his childhood we get the idea that Gru isn't really good with women. Throw in a girl like Lucy that's just as wacky as him and we've got an interesting love story.
The film does a great job introducing new characters and gadgets yet still referencing enough from the first film for the audience to ease into the changes. Just like the original film the amount of physical comedy is off the charts, it's really what differentiated it from the other animated films. Don't get me wrong there is plenty of dialogue–based humor but there is also consistent slapstick style comedy happening throughout the film like a repeated montage, one of Gru giddy with love and the other dismal with heartbreak. This is also the best use of repetition I've seen all year, constant running gags some of which are still running from the first one.
One running gag I'm sure the studio didn't expect to have the impact it did was the Minions. Those little pill-shaped babblers were crowd favorites in the original and are now back and bigger than ever. They receive just as much screen time as any of the other major characters and succeed at being tremendously hilarious both off-screen and on-screen. While there isn't much to quote from (mostly because they don't speak English) it's fair to say they make the whole movie.
The voice work is great; Steve and Kristen both have great unique tics in their voices, which the animators played off of extremely well. It was nice to see Russell Brand return as Dr. Nefario as well, a voice that has always astounded me, being so far different from his natural one. Steve's is clearly different as well but it's quite easy pick out verbal cues.
Despicable Me 2 is enjoyable on so many levels, it does a good job of giving the adult audience plenty of shout-outs and still being kid-friendly. Tons of euphemisms I'm sure kids won't understand but the adult humor is almost always delivered along with a piece of slapstick for the kids so no one in the audience ever feels left out.
Despicable Me 2 is one of the most anticipated movies this Summer and it has lived up to the hype. The plot is rather predictable but there are enough surprises to keep people intrigued. It has its heartfelt moments with the kids, and with some of the new characters but what makes this run smoothly from beginning to end are the Minions and their ridiculous antics. They'll have you crying with laughter from the opening scene to the sequence during the credits. While being far from despicable, Despicable Me 2 is just as much fun as the original.
Our Rating: 8.0/10
Let me know on Twitter @thejoshl what you thought of Despicable Me 2!
The Bling Ring (2013)
A vibrant portrait of a society thats culture is so lost it's hard to decide who you hate more; wannabes or celebrities.
Sofia Coppola gets it, she gets this social media generation. How do I know? I'm part of it. I know girls like this; the types that don't believe something exists unless it's been posted on their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. In her latest film The Bling Ring, Coppola gives us a vibrant portrait of a society thats culture is so lost it's hard to decide who you hate more; wannabes or celebrities.
I was lucky enough to attend an early screening of The Bling Ring tonight and if there's one word I could use to describe this film it would be: precise. Every edit intricately planned to have a purpose. Upon the first time viewing I don't blame people for missing it. The Bling Ring is intentionally scattered, as if the film itself had a serious case of ADD. The attention span of the edit is about as long as the attention span of our narrators. At times when the narrative shifts focus from one character to another the edit changes with them. If you watch it closely you can almost see the film as a thought process, how each character relives the crimes.
I loved the way this film was shot. It's interesting, the way we view these characters is almost in the background, as if we the audience are in fact the surveillance camera we remain distant from the people on screen not understanding what drives them or even feeling the thrill of robberies. Don't get me wrong there is tension, but only at very interesting times that aren't because of the fear of the robbery. Even scenes where they are almost caught are shown to us very flat trying to detach us from the characters as much as possible.
I've always appreciated Sofia's slow moving dolly shots and they work stunningly in this film. Rarely does a seemingly static shot hold an audiences attention, especially one that takes place outside the house that's being robbed; thanks to the sound design the low ominous tones, as subtle as they are, really drive the scenes.
Emma Watson is fantastic. The way she portrays Nicki's vacant need to fulfill her meaningless desires was striking and the accent and voice inflections made the performance all the more impressive. Besides Emma, most of the other girls are forgettable which I enjoyed; at times you can confuse them with one another because they try so hard to be the same style of person.
Another thing I loved is the amount of "selfies" these girls take. As Coppola herself said it's as if "your experiences don't count unless you have an audience watching them" and you can really feel that in this film. None of the characters really have any "moments" despite their attempts at proving it.
Overall I really enjoyed the film. The entire thing feels like this giant master plan that will need multiple viewing to take in everything Coppola was trying to say. While not as surprising as I thought it was going to be the themes explored near the end of the film were worth the fabulously detailed ride we knew to expect from the trailer.
The Bling Ring is a unique social commentary, which on the surface layer is bound to be compared to Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, both giving us their take on sociopathic young teens. Where the films differ thematically is the interesting part. You'll have to figure that one out on your own.
For more review visit themoviebloggers.com
This Is the End (2013)
This isn't just one of the best comedies I've ever seen but one of the best disaster movies as well.
That's right, the most outrageous movie of the summer that has comedians playing themselves in an over the top end of the world scenario that's made up of at least 30% dick jokes, manages to be one of smartest, most heartfelt comedies to come out in years. This isn't just one of the best comedies I've ever seen but one of the best disaster movies as well. What could possibly test friendship better than the apocalypse?
This is one of those films that's so ridiculous on the surface it's bound to cause walkouts all across the country as well people who will consider this film merely a guilty pleasure. It's unfortunate that this is the case because if you can look beyond This Is The End's shocking exterior you can see a true story of friendship and morality.
The greatest thing about This Is The End is even though they present us with so many different types of humor going on within each form, whether it is in the acting, writing or editing they have a way of hitting their mark and quickly moving on to the next one. Even if you're aware of where the joke is going they hit you with the punch line a second sooner than you're expecting; this makes even the predictable gags unpredictable.
The main thing I was worried about in this movie was the story. The trailer sold me on the comedy, I knew it would be funny but the story was going to going to make or break it. The apocalypse isn't just a gag in the film it really is a disaster movie; so with the end of the world taken seriously the comedy can latch onto the plot and take off in all directions.
I know it seems ridiculous to suggest there is good acting in a movie where all the actors are playing exaggerated versions of themselves but I'm going to do it anyway. It's hard to differentiate in a piece like this how much was written vs. how much improvised however the amount that at least appeared improvised was very impressive. A prime example of this is when James Franco is upset about Danny McBride's poor handling of his porno magazine; the dialogue back and forth is so outrageous and immature that initially I was surprised the scene made it in the film and then it just goes on and on and the pacing makes it all the funnier. If you watch closely there's a shot during the scene that's over the shoulders of Danny and Seth and you can see Seth turn away from the actors and laughing. If you can make Seth Rogen laugh at his own movie you're doing something right.
Through all the hilarity that takes place in This Is The End, never for a second does it forget what it's trying to show us. The moral of the film is strangely religious and the answer they give us in solving all the pain and suffering in the world will take you into heaven dying with laughter.
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Man of Steel (2013)
Sorry, but aren't you going to take us on a date first Mr. Cavill?
It's hard to dislike "Man Of Steel" because it does so many things right; however everything about this film screams LAZY. It's sad because clearly a lot of thought went into the story and I just wish the same amount of thought had went into the overall execution of the film.
The opening 20 minutes was unexpected and refreshing. Similar to "Batman Begins", quickly we're introduced to a story we've never really seen on screen before - the struggling Krypton. We get a well-paced introduction to why Kal-El is sent to us and how important he really is. However after the opening scene the rest of the film is paced horribly. We see Clark grow up in the laziest sequence of flashbacks you could possibly imagine and we spend WAY too much time on redundant story aspects while skipping over things that should have been deemed important. Unfortunately due to the pacing with getting to know Clark, by the time we feel we're starting to understand who he is he's handed (that's right literally handed) his suit already pimped out in blue and red and literally seconds later we're flying space with the dude. Sorry, but aren't you going to take us on a date first Mr. Cavill?
As much as we do get to see Clark through the years we don't really see him grow up. We don't see him transition into Superman which is what I was most excited for. They hammered into our skulls that this was "Superman as you've never seen him before" which I interpreted as lots of Superman not in the suit; more of a Clark Kent character study but this is not the case. This film is just as generic and cliché as the filmmakers told us it wouldn't be. It's not necessarily a bad thing, since I find Superman to be the most generic/cliché superhero to exist it actually seems rather fitting; also they do deliver it to us in an interesting way, so don't read this as entirely negative.
The most distracting thing about this movie is the way it was shot. There is a lot of consistent shaky cam throughout the film to bring this sense of realism to the story. I'm not sure which filmmaker thought this hand-held/camcorder style shooting was pleasing to the eye because it's certainly not. There are, at least what appeared to be, well choreographed fight sequences but you can't see any of it. I understand a bit of shaky cam during an action scene but this film had it when people were talking, or walking and even just to look at things. The film was also shot very dark. I don't know why but I've noticed it a lot in these large production recently that they love making it just bright enough for you to kind of make out what's there. Even during the day scenes I found myself constantly taking my 3D glasses off to get a better look at the screen. On that note I beg you guys to watch it in 2D. There are quite a few films I have enjoyed in 3D and this was not one of them. If you are interested in actually seeing what's on the screen you'll have enough difficulty with the shaky cam and dim lighting; the glasses just make it even worse.
The music was the only thing holding the tone of the film together. Zimmer knows exactly when subtlety is needed and when he needs to bring it loud. Having to follow up John Williams' masterful score seemed next to impossible, yet when I was leaving the theatre it was the only thing I could hear for the next few hours. Bravo.
I've heard a lot of complaint over the action sequences so maybe my low expectations of them were the reason I enjoyed them. While I feel at least one of the major fight sequences needed to be cut from the film and the fights were essentially just Superman and the bad guys taking turns throwing each other through buildings, I would feel bad complaining that there was too much action in a superhero movie There's just something so anti-climactic about these seemingly immortal beings throwing each other around for 45 minutes.
I found it rather difficult to relate to any of the characters but there's no question that actors are what bring this film to life. I was worried about Henry Cavill originally but the guy was great. As many of his cast members have said "he IS Superman". He looks, sounds and acts the part. Michael Shannon (who I absolutely adore) is our antagonist General Zod and he delivers this intimidating military leader that you almost sympathize with. I loved that the movie wasn't just about good vs. evil, there was this grey line of right and wrong and Shannon brings that out in his performance. However all the feels go to Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe who both play wonderful fathers willing to do anything for their son. They both stole the screen every time they were on it and it a pleasant treat to see how much screen time was given to both of them. Laurence Fishburne, Amy Adams, Antje Traue and Christopher Meloni all do fine in their respective roles but I found most of them highly under-used. Perhaps in the already scheduled sequel when (spoiler alert?) Clark is working at the Daily Planet we'll get more out of them. That'd be nice.
While the film is wickedly entertaining the story is a little too cliché, the action is a little too over the top and there is WAY too much shaky cam for me to find it great. If they had cut an action sequence and replaced it with more Clark Kent transitioning into Superman this film would have been extremely enjoyable.
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The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
Quite possibly the most ambitious film of the year - Cianfrance has secured a position as one of the best
Derek Cianfrance well known for his riveting film Blue Valentine (2010) is back at it again giving us a breathtaking look at the lasting consequences of the decisions we make. The Place Beyond The Pines is an enthralling crime thriller that stretches over generations - a beautifully crafted familial drama. Quite possibly the most ambitious film of the year The Place Beyond The Pines is about Luke (Gosling), a stunt motorcycle rider performing at a low-grade carnival. While the tattooed Gosling's carnival goes through New York he runs into an old fling, Romina (Eva Mendes) and is shocked to discover in his absence she gave birth to his child. Luke growing up without a father feels obligated to provide for his son Jason so he decides to move nearby and it doesn't take long before Luke needs more money and resorts to robbing a bank with his crooked boss (Ben Mendelsohn). As you can imagine things don't exactly go to plan once Avery (Bradley Cooper), a young and upcoming police officer, is assigned to the case. To much surprise of the audience, shortly after being introduced to Avery Cianfrance switches its narrative focus to him and his family; a very risky move however the execution of the technique is flawless. The story - now centered on Avery follows him trying to expose corruption within the department and making a name for himself. With his strong desire to essentially become his father Avery becomes detached from his wife and son. The final act of the film takes place 15 years later and focuses on two high school students Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen) Luke and Avery's kids. Unfortunately the narrative switch isn't as charming as the first one and the film loses energy it spent so long building. It's not a movie breaking issue because it is just such a pleasure to watch DeHaan (Lawless, Chronicle) on screen. Last year he became my favorite young actor and clearly he's not slowing down. Gosling once again a mysterious, talented young man who resorts to robbing people for money (Does Drive ring a bell?) does as well as usual in his performance but nothing out of the ordinary for him. He'll play this same character until people get sick of it. Cooper is the shining star of the film though. There is no person that is going to leave this film not wondering where this actor was hiding for his early career. The Place Beyond The Pines is a real game changer for him. The rest of the supporting cast stand their ground making the film extremely enjoyable. Derek's ability to bring such realism to his characters is seamlessly met with a more mature visual style this time around making The Place Beyond The Pines his finest achievement yet. The films stunning cinematography was brought to us by Sean Bobbitt (Shame), his work is just fascinating to watch; every shot handled with such precision. The film is brilliant, breathtaking and above all innovative. With this intensely layered drama of fathers and sons Cianfrance has secured a position as one of the best. This really is storytelling at its finest. 8.5/10
Danny Boyle continues on his campaign to never repeat genres - Trance falls just short of greatness
Danny Boyle continues on his campaign to never repeat genres by giving us a stunning psychological thriller that crosses so many boundaries I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable even using the word thriller - the only thing for certain is that it is definitely psychological. Borrowing elements of film noir this exhilarating ride is just short of greatness. Just as you could imagine from the title; Trance is a visual, aural and intellectual dream-like experience.
Trance stars James McAvoy as Simon, an auctioneer who gets mixed up with the wrong group of thieves. Simon's auction house is selling a painting £27 million (Roughly $41 million) when a thief by the name of Franck (Vincent Cassel) breaks in and attempts to steal it. Before Franck can do so he and his crew notice the painting has gone missing and Simon is the only person that knows where it is. Unfortunately for Franck, Simon suffers a serious blow to the head during all the chaos and cannot remember where it is. After trying to divulge the location from him proves unsuccessful they turn to a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson) who can unbury any memory and that's where the audience joins in this psychological trip to find the painting. This film will leave you as hypnotized as any member of the cast was I assure you.
Dawson and McAvoy deliver excellent performances; they handle their roles with such control that every little subtle facial movement reveals more than it should, especially within Dawson's character. Vincent Cassel alongside them brings the story to full force and together with Danny Boyle they all bring Joe Aherne's gracefully twitchy screenplay to life.
Boyle interestingly enough stuck to his 18A rating not willing to dilute his story so he could hit a broader audience; the man isn't afraid to have graphic imagery in his film like other directors who have attempted the genre in a similar way (i.e. Chris Nolan, Inception). The cinematography is - as always with Boyle – beautiful and in fact rather charming in its own sense. He handles the camera with such precision it's impossible to question his cinematic choices. The coolest aspect of the film being his declaration of war on the senses with a chaotic soundtrack and fast paced editing.
The film however is not without flaws. The film so heavily relies on tricking the audience that it's actually very easy to get lost and unfortunately lose interest in the film. While I didn't particularly feel this way I can see why others would have. While I've always been fascinated by the idea of an unreliable narrator to tell your story, when you're switching between three perspectives trying to decide which one is reliable it can sometimes take too much focus away from your plot.
Besides that Trance is an intellectual delight with enough twists and turns to keep the majority of people interested. Its performances, style and tremendous attention to detail is enough make a very balanced film. If you love movies similar to Memento this is definitely something to check out.
Be sure to check out my review site: thejoshlreviews.com, and my video review of this film here http://youtu.be/xpCWBi5N6ew
Evil Dead (2013)
Horror filmmakers better be taking notes - this is how a remake is done folks
This gut wrenching, blood-soaked remake pays it dues to the source material, managing to pleasantly surprise the die-hard fans of the original trilogy while establishing its own identity for newcomers to the franchise; a true homage to the 1981 cult classic. Horror filmmakers better be taking notes because this is how a remake is done folks.
Obviously the film differs significantly in plot from original. Consider this a "rebirth" rather than a "remake". As I'm sure you're all aware the film focuses on a young girl named Mia (Jane Levy) who takes a trip to her families old cabin for a drug intervention, bringing together old friends and her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) to help her through it. Mia's loved ones swear to each other no matter how bad things get they won't let her relapse again and it's not long before all hell breaks loose when her friend Eric uncovers the "Book of the Dead" and reads a passage from it. The demon quickly latches onto the first soul it can find (Mia) and then the fun begins. The set up is actually extremely clever. So when Mia starts telling stories about there being "something" in the woods the others all brush it off as a drug addict hallucination. The demon quickly takes over Mia and makes a promise to everyone that they are all going to die that very night. It's as much a promise to the audience as it is the cast. Next we have 60 minutes of nail guns, chainsaws, turkey cutters, mirror shards and needles all being used as you can imagine. It's the most rated R fun you'll have all year.
Director Fede Alvarez doesn't let us down, he makes the cast go all out doing indescribable acts of violence to one another, each actor out doing the next pushing the R rating as far as it could possibly go. He also keeps the overall tone serious which only falls short for a bit before the climactic scene. the climactic scene being the best thing I've ever seen in a horror film.
The actors all do a decent job with the occasional poor line delivery - which I read as intentional comedy. One thing they all manage to really do well is cry out in pain. A strange talent however I couldn't believe how much of a difference the actors made to the violent imagery. They all had very convincing performances as kids getting sliced and diced by one another. Jane Levy stands out being consistently good throughout the entirety of the film – you'll be sure to see her in other things after this.
The cinematography was interesting to say the least with odd lighting choices and even weirder camera angles, which at first I didn't like but it quickly grew on me. I was really glad the 'Raimi- cam' (which I just refer to as just the Demon POV shots) were back and better than ever. That being one of many throwbacks to the originals just one I thought was worth mentioning. Unfortunately the score was rather forgettable but for everything they lack in music they gain in sound design. If you're someone who closes their eyes to avoid gore you will have no luck here, the sound effects are so good you're going to have trouble not imagining what's happening on screen with such convincing noises of bone's crushing and skin peeling. The FX in general are probably this films greatest success. Going back to the old fashion way of things and using make-up/prosthetics really shows the talent in such a CGI heavy industry today.
The film does a great job of pleasing its targeted audience however don't go into the film expecting to be terribly frightened. It's really not a very scary film, although I never found the original very scary either so I don't see this as a negative aspect. I know there have been lots of complaints about how the film isn't scary but I was glad to see so few jumps scares in a horror flick and to be honest the idea of close friends becoming demons and torturing you to death is scary enough for me.
Beware though, this film is not for the faint of heart. When I say that they pushed the R rating as far as it could go I mean I don't understand how this film actually managed a theatrical release. It had everything you would see in an NC-17 film. If the idea of gore makes you uneasy, pass on this film.
Evil Dead is a great remake to a great cult classic and I suggest anyone who is a fan of the horror genre to check it out.
Also if you are one of the die-hard fans mentioned earlier make sure to the stay after the credits. You won't be disappointed.
Be sure to check out my review site: thejoshlreviews.com
The Host (2013)
This film - being so heavily compared to Twilight - appears better than it actually is. While the film manages to convincingly convey a really interesting sci-fi concept it focuses so heavily on the teen romance that it destroys what could have been a meaningful movie. Even a rising star like Saoirse Ronan couldn't save this poorly adapted inter species make-out session.
There are very few notable performances here but Ronon, Hurt and Krueger manage to make the source material better than it actually is. In a futuristic world with so much conflict, not even including having your body controlled by an alien the main focus of the film is Ronan arguing with herself over which stale performing actor she wants. The two male leads have no personalities and don't even appear to try and bring life to their roles. Saoirse is forced to carry them from scene to scene and it is uncomfortable to watch.
The premise of The Host is fantastic and leaves lots of room for interesting themes and great character development; however just like many others before it the film touches on a few and then doesn't follow up. Instead of exploring the unique part of the film it shows the generic and cliché aspects. The technical aspects held their own but didn't bring anything interesting to the story. The special effects and cinematography were better than I expected however the sets and costumes were so dull it didn't even matter how good they were.
Niccol is a strong writer/director with films like Gattaca and The Truman Show under his belt so you can understand why I expected to find at least some that complexity in this film. His direction was the only reason I sat down in the theatre at all. The problem with his adapted script is he stuck too closely to the book - more than likely a decision by the producers. If he had been allowed to add more of his own creativity to the story and dialogue I think the film would have been much more successful.
This is the first film in a long time that I actually took a washroom break and still managed to constantly check the time so I knew how much longer I had to sit through. This film will not be the worst film of the year but it is terribly mediocre and boring.
Spring Breakers (2012)
Going to be the most hated and yet underrated film to come out this year - Korine at his finest
Mr. Korine is a strangely unique director that uses this film to bore you into understanding how a generation growing up with MTV and girls gone wild has deeply mutilated the pursuit of happiness with nihilistic extremity — however his satirical exploration leaves you uncertain whether to laugh, cry out in horror, or stare in disbelief at its overwhelmingly artistic beauty.
I watched this opening night and was shocked at how good of a movie it had turned out to be. I wasn't really sure what to expect when I walked in so it turned out to be a nice little treat, but to my disbelief when I got home I began reading up on it and all I could see were tweets and posts about it being the "worst movie ever made" and "absolutely disgusting soft core porn". I couldn't believe that these people watched the same film I did.
As far as performances go there isn't much here other than Franco. The four girls do a decent job, the most notable being Selena Gomez although her character wasn't in it for a lot of the highly regarded scenes. James Franco is the star of this film. His performance is dark, uncomfortable and most of all hilarious. He hits it out of the park in the movie managing to make people unsure whether to be uncomfortable or laugh. His character is narcissistic and insane, yet you like him. He brings so much humanity to a place it shouldn't be.
Aesthetically, this movie is absolutely brilliant. The cinematography is fantastic. No matter how you feel when you leave this movie there is no denying how well shot it is. The lighting is beautiful and adds this feeling of darkness you might normally find in a well made horror film. Normally I wouldn't appreciate that very much but it was so properly executed with the great editing and slo-mo sequences. No surprise from the sound department either; the sound design and music brought to us by the brilliant Clint Martinez (Drive) makes what seems like a never-ending soundtrack that compliments the visuals masterfully.
Under all that the movie still manages to hit its theme, just in a way that a lot of people will miss and I believe this is the key to enjoying the film. It's meant to be boring. The use of repetition is so excessive it leaves a mark. No matter how much fun these girls are having it feels very dull and boring. This is the point! If you think for a second what you're seeing on screen is supposed to make you feel excited than go watch Project X. You're not intended to feel how the girls feel because they don't understand. Throughout the film you should feel uncomfortable, disgusted and at times sad. This film (to the right audience) should be as much a horror film as it is a dark comedy.
Spring Breakers is a unique experience featuring lots of depth and style. This film will most likely be the most hated and underrated film to come out this year. I apologize on behalf of the general public Mr. Korine.
On a side note:
The film has been said to support rape culture. I know it can be hard to understand for some people but sometimes film - like a person - uses sarcasm. This is the case. The film shows lots of naked females having fun, very much trying to replicate spring break culture in Florida however the film isn't a mockery of spring break, it's about the marginalized kids who have been brought up on Disney princesses and MTV. The kids who grew up with role models like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. The film isn't meant to focus on girls losing their innocence but instead girls searching for something and realizing it isn't what they thought it was.
Spring Breakers is going to cause a lot of disagreement regardless. After reading this you will love or hate it all the same; what I won't stand for is people being unwilling to look past the surface and see this film for what it really is.
Be sure to check out my review site: thejoshlreviews.com