My Review: Taxi Driver (10/10)

"You talking to me? Well I'm the only one here."

If you look up the word 'masterpiece' in the dictionary, Taxi Driver is its definition. Not only does it appeal subjectively to audiences but it is a complete film in all the technical aspects as well. It has a stunning cinematography capturing the dark and dirty streets of New York City, a gorgeous and eerie score that accompanies the action perfectly, some amazing camera angles and shots, perfect editing, and some of the greatest ever performances you will see in a film. Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver is a visually stunning film that happens to be one of the greatest character studies of all time. There have been hundreds of films focusing on characters suffering from some sort of traumatic experience from war, but none have captured that complex mental breakdown as well as De Niro's Travis Bickle. Much of the credit has to be given to screenwriter Paul Schrader who suffered a similar mental breakdown and dealt with it by writing this amazing and somewhat autobiographical script, but De Niro and Scorsese took it even further by doing the best work of their careers. There isn't a single scene in this film that feels out of place and De Niro plays every note perfectly. There isn't a better character study about a Vietnam war veteran than Travis Bickle who slowly descends into psychotic behavior as he isolates himself from the rest of society and decides he has to try to do something to clean the filthy streets of New York. 

Imagine a man who has served as a Marine in the Vietnam war only to come home and find that not only does the country he has served not appreciate him, but it has become a filthy and dirty place. That is such the case with Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who is mentally unstable and suffering from insomnia. He decides that he might as well work as a taxi driver since he spends all night driving around anyway. We don't get any flashbacks about his experience in the war, but he is clearly disturbed by the deteriorated society he lives in. He finds it incredibly difficult to interact with anyone, but in the midst of all the filth and darkness there is one person who shines a ray of hope for him. The only redemptive quality for Travis in this city is Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), who works for the presidential nomination campaign of Senator Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris). He invites Betsy out for a cup of coffee and she accepts. They share some sort of bond, but he messes up when he invites her to the cinema and takes her to a porno movie (he's so disconnected with society that he thinks it's what normal couples do). That is where their relationship ends and he completely breaks down. He becomes fascinated with guns and decides he has to clean the streets of New York. One of the first steps he takes is trying to save a twelve year old prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster) from her pimp and lover, Sport (Harvey Keitel), but his mind is clearly troubled and there seems to be nothing that will put it at ease.

Taxi Driver is my favorite Scorsese film so far and I can't believe it took me so long to watch it. I can see how this film clearly resonated at a time where American society was clearly disturbed after the events of Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, but the film has transcended the test of time and it continues to be a disturbing portrait of a mentally ill man dealing with isolation. It's a wonderful film that somehow speaks to audiences differently. It has all the qualities of an art house film but somehow it has found a mainstream audience (probably thanks to Robert De Niro's stunning performance). After having seen several clips of this film I always imagined it focused on this taxi driver following around Iris, but that was actually only a small part of the film. Jodie Foster is so great in those short but memorable scenes that she is in almost every highlight of Taxi Driver. The real star however is Robert De Niro who gives such a believable and natural performance of a troubled and complex man. Taxi Driver is one of the most powerful and groundbreaking films that I've seen and so much has been written about it already. It's a unique experience and one that everyone should go through!


My Review: Groundhog Day (9/10)

"What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?"  "That about sums it up for me."

There are films that don't necessarily need inventive and artistic camera shots, or groundbreaking special effects, or even gorgeous cinematography to be considered masterpieces. Sometimes a film like Groundhog Day comes along with a smart and charming story with performances and characters that are so well developed that it automatically connects with audiences by reaching for the heart, and turning it into an instant classic. With a premise that might seem boring due to the fact that the lead character has to repeat and live the same day over and over again in a small Pennsylvania town, director Harold Ramis manages to catch our attention by creating interesting characters and through a witty script he introduces important themes such as existentialism in a rather refreshing and light way. It is a very spiritual film without ever feeling religious. In a way the story reminded me of Dickens' A Christmas Story where you have an egocentric and arrogant character who is transformed once he experiences a supernatural event. In Groundhog Day the transformation is much more subtle while at times it does go to dark places. Ironically Bill Murray went on to play Scrooge in one of the many adaptations of Dickens' classic tale. Murray is the heart and soul of this film and although he is hard to like at the beginning of the film there is something about his performance that keeps us interested in him. This isn't one of those laugh out loud comedies (I don't think I laughed at a single scene), but it is so charming that it is impossible to resist and it leaves you with a smile on your face during its entire running time. Once it ends we realize how philosophical this film really was, but Ramis kept us so entertained that we didn't really pick up on it until the very end.

The original screenplay for Groundhog Day was co-written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin. It centers on a weatherman named Phil Connors (Bill Murray) working as a TV meteorologist for a local Pittsburgh station. Phil is an arrogant narcissist who is expecting to work for a more important broadcasting channel soon. On the eve of Groundhog Day, he is sent to the small town of Punxsutawney to cover the annual festivities along with his producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell), and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott) with whom he doesn't get along very well. Phil hates this assignment which he has covered over the past four years so he doesn't put much effort into his report. After covering the event an unexpected blizzard forces the roads to close so Phil and his crew are stuck in Punxsutawney for another day. The next day Phil wakes up and realizes he has to relive Groundhog Day all over again and he's the only one that notices that the day unfolds in the exact same way. Everyone else seems to be living the day for the first time, but he finds himself stuck in the same day over and over again like if he were trapped in a loop hole with no way out.

The premise seemed boring for me at first considering I thought it was going to repeat itself too many times, but Murray's character is so fun and he relives each day in so many different ways that it managed to keep me entertained. At first Phil feels like he has gone mad and tries to rationalize things, but once he realizes his fate he decides to take advantage of it. Being the self centered person he is, Phil lives knowing he wont have to suffer any consequences, but eventually he grows tired of this hedonistic lifestyle. He feels so desperate that he tries to commit suicide in every possible way, but no matter what he does he still wakes up the next morning reliving Groundhog Day. Eventually Phil gives up on living for himself and begins looking at others and caring for them. He begins to find purpose and joy in life in helping others. Ramis has made a deeply spiritual and philosophical film without the audience realizing it at first. It could have become tedious and preachy, but it never does because the characters are subtly transformed and the growing chemistry between Phil and Rita is believable. Ramis found a way to reach out to our hearts and remind us that life isn't about living for ourselves, but finding pleasure in helping and caring for others. Groundhog Day is a movie about self-improvement and becoming a better person and I can't think of a better actor to have pulled it off so well as Bill Murray did in his transformation here.


My Review: Snowpiercer (8/10)

¨Know your place. Accept your place. Be a shoe.¨

I was pleasantly surprised at how well Korean director, Joon-ho Bong, made the transition to this his first English language film because the style and tone of the film still felt entirely Korean despite starring some well known Hollywood actors. I enjoyed this film so much that I ended up watching it twice and that is something I rarely do. Based on the French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige written by Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is an ambitious dystopian sci-fi film that despite having a very absurd premise works really well thanks to Bong's direction. It has some great performances with memorable characters, several exciting action scenes mixed with bizarre comedic moments, and a thought provoking metaphor on classicism. It is a bleak film but Bong handled the material so well that it kept me engaged and interested. Unfortunately the film does suffer from a rather unconvincing final act, but for most of its running time I was so entertained that I wasn't too disappointed.

Snowpiercer takes place in 2031 after a failed global-warming experiment has frozen all of Earth and wiped out all life. The only survivors are the passengers of a super train travelling across the globe with a perpetual-motion engine. Designed by Wilford, an engineer who knew the experiment would fail, the train has been running for 17 straight years and a social class system has developed as the passengers of the rear end live in extremely poor conditions. Here we are introduced to a young man named Curtis (Chris Evans) who is trying to come up with a plan to get past all the security guards in order to reach the front section where Wilford is presumed to be. He isn't alone on this quest as most of the passengers are upset for the abuse they've suffered and the extreme poor conditions in which they are forced to live in. A wise old man named Gilliam (John Hurt) who helped Wilford design the engine, has been helping Curtis rally the men together. Curtis's good friend, Edgar (Jamie Bell), is also awaiting the moment to begin their revolution as things begin to get worse once the guards take a few kids away from them. Tanya (Octavia Spencer) and Andrew (Ewen Bremner) are among the victims whose children have been taken away from them so they are also eager to attack. The first step of the plan involves freeing Namgoong (Song Kang-ho), a prisoner who has a special gift for unlocking the doors to each section, but the task won't be easy as the guards will do what it takes to make sure they stay at the rear section of the train.

Bong has directed several successful Korean films like The Host and Memories of a Murder, and in his first English language film his style remains untouched. Despite having some scenes that borderline in the ridiculous he somehow manages to balance those moments really well. For example there is this huge action scene that he has set up between the rebels and the guards who are awaiting them with axes. The bloody and violent confrontation begins, only to be interrupted as the train is approaching a bridge which serves as a landmark for the New Year. The fighting stops for a few seconds as everyone begins the countdown and admires the view of the outside world from inside the train, then the violence and mayhem continue. There are several moments like this where Bong perfectly balances these gorgeously crafted choreographed scenes with moments of quirky comedy and twisted sense of humor. The best example of this type of humor comes from the two characters played by Tilda Swinton (who is unrecognizable in this film) and Alison Pill who are terrific and steal the few scenes they are in. I really loved that classroom scene that felt completely out of place with the dark tail section of the train. I think it was those goofy moments that I enjoyed the most in this film. It was a great sensory experience to get to follow these characters through each section of the train and I have to give Bong credit for his visionary style because as our heroes progress to the front of the train things begin to get more and more bizarre and you never know what to expect. The film is short of being a masterpiece because the final 30 minutes are disappointing, but as a social satire Snowpiercer worked better than other recent sci-fi films like Elysium. It is a very weird and strange film, but it is really good and I enjoyed it even more on my second viewing.

My Review: Rushmore (10/10)

"The secret, I don't know... I guess you've just gotta find something you love to do and then... do it for the rest of your life. For me, it's going to Rushmore."

The Royal Tenenbaums has always been my favorite Wes Anderson movie and I always thought it was because it was the first one of his that I had seen, but it can officially move over now because I have a new favorite: Rushmore. This film was so charming, the soundtrack so cool, and the characters so well developed that I was completely in love with it once the credits started rolling. Not only is it my favorite Wes Anderson film, but it also belongs on my all time favorite list as well. I am a sucker for coming of age stories and this was a great one with perhaps one of Anderson's best developed characters from all his filmography: Max Fischer. All of Anderson's films have a similar style with offbeat and quirky themes and a hyper reality where the characters sometimes resemble those we imagine in our heads when we are reading a fantasy book. At times they are hard to connect with because they seem to belong in another time and place, but Wes manages to draw us into his world kind of like in the same way we are drawn to a theater play. That is why I also loved the special touches from Anderson as he incorporates school plays with wonderful productions into his movies. I think Rushmore is his most complete film with a charming ending, a memorable odd couple pairing, and a weird love triangle that features some of Anderson's most romantic work (similar in that sense to Moonrise Kingdom). As much as I enjoyed his first film, Bottle Rocket, it was Rushmore where he truly defines and finds his style with those production designs that seem taken from a stage play or a colorful children's book (especially seen in the scenes where Max visits the principal's office). I absolutely fell in love with Rushmore and this will be the measuring stick for Wes Anderson's films from now on.

This wonderful and witty screenplay written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson begins with a dream sequence where Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is in math class solving an extremely difficult equation and thus saving his classmates from ever having to open a math book again. His friend, Dirk (Mason Gamble), awakes him just before a millionaire industrialist named Herman Blue (Bill Murray) is about to begin his chapel speech. He has two sons in Rushmore Academy, one of the most expensive and prestigious schools in the country. Max is fascinated by this man's speech and so at the end he introduces himself to Herman and the two form a special bond together. Max is in love with Rushmore and his entire life revolves around the school and he finds in Herman someone who has achieved the success he's aiming for, while Herman is a disillusioned man who has lost his purpose in life and sees in Max someone determined who enjoys life. Up to this point one would think Max is the perfect student, but the school's headmaster, Dr. Guggenheim (Brian Cox) explains to Herman that he actually is the worst scholarly student due to his involvement in dozens of extracurricular activities (such as being the editor of the school newspaper, president of the chess, astronomy, beekeeping, and French clubs, captain of the fencing team, and director of the school play). Unlike the rest of the students, Max isn't a wealthy kid, his father Bert (Seymour Cassel) is a barber, so he's a scholarship student that is about to lose it due to his bad grades. Max and Herman's friendship is tested when they both fall in love with the widowed first grade teacher, Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams). This is were the thin line between friends and enemies begin as Max and Herman begin a feud over Miss Cross.

What makes Rushmore stand out above other Wes Anderson films (I have liked all of them) is the great pairing of Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray's characters. Both of them, despite having completely opposite personalities, complete each other because they see in each other what they want to become. Max aspires to be successful in life and doesn't want to become a barber like his father (that is why he always lies about his profession), while Herman despite having it all is completely disillusioned with his marriage and spoiled children. Max's passion for life is what captivates Herman because it is what he has lost. This bond is broken once Rosemary enters the picture and they both become infatuated with winning her love. Max will do anything for her, including building a giant aquarium in the school's baseball diamond or directing a successful play. Max is my favorite character despite not being entirely likable, while Murray's portrayal of Herman is sensational. He delivers one of his best and most memorable performances and shines in each scene he shares with Max or Rosemary. There are several hilarious lines and quirky moments that also balanced out perfectly with the more subtle emotional and romantic ones. This film has a lot of heart and Anderson really delivers here with his unique style (a lot of his trademarks can be found here like the slow-motion and wide angle shots, the inclusion of at least one Rolling Stones song on the soundtrack, the underwater shot, and the influence of the Charlie Brown cartoon). It's an inspired film and Anderson creates a unique world that at times seems distant from reality, but somehow he manages to create these rich characters that are easy to identify with or relate to in such a way that they manage to touch us without being overly sentimental.


My Review: Bottle Rocket (7/10)

"I learned more in the 2 months I spent with Mr. Henry and this crew than I learned in 15 years of academic study."

Bottle Rocket was not only the feature film debut for director Wes Anderson, but it was also the debut for Owen and Luke Wilson who both gave inspiring performances. This is where it all started for Wes Anderson and despite not being a box office hit he slowly built a reputation for himself by remaining unique to his quirky sense of humor. Many criticized the fact that these characters didn't seem real, and that is probably true for all of Anderson's film where he focuses on dysfunctional characters with a whimsical sense of humor. Anderson's comedies are very different and they aren't for mainstream audiences, thus the reason why the screening of this film scored the worst test screening points in the history of Columbia Pictures during that time. I am glad Wes stayed true to his style and didn't sell out because his next films share similar trademarks which he began establishing in Bottle Rocket. This is perhaps his most normal looking film if you take into account the cinematography, but the quirky sense of humor is pretty much the same as well as some other technical aspects of the film (the font title cards at the beginning and the slow motion shot at the end). The same can be said for Owen Wilson who kind of plays this dumb but nice guy character in most of his comedies. It's not Anderson's best work, but his quirky style began taking shape with Bottle Rocket. 

The screenplay was co-written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson from  a short they had made a couple of years earlier. The film opens with Dignan (Owen Wilson) trying to help his best friend, Anthony (Luke Wilson) escape from a mental institution. Dignan has designed a great escape plan, but what he doesn't know is that Anthony can leave the institution upon his free will considering he voluntarily signed up for it after he had a nervous breakdown from exhaustion. This opening scene clearly establishes that Dignan is less sane than Anthony. He has established a long term plan for the two involving a criminal spree. The first step is robbing Anthony's mother's house but they can only take a few valueless items. The idea is that they get some criminal experience so they can catch the attention of Dignan's former boss, Mr. Henry (James Caan), who is sort of a legend in the criminal world. Next they plan a bookstore robbery, but this time they will need a getaway driver so they convince their friend Bob (Robert Musgrave) to join them. After successfully achieving their plan they hide out at a nearby motel where Anthony falls deeply in love with a Paraguayan maid named Inez (Lumi Cavazos). This is where the dysfunctional group of friends breaks down and things take a turn for each one of them.

Bottle Rocket was on Martin Scorsese's list of his top 10 favorite movies of the 90's. The quirky sense of humor isn't for everyone, but fans of Wes Anderson's comedies will really enjoy this considering it was the birthing point of some of his technical achievements. It may be less depressing and cynical in tone than some of his other comedies, but the whimsy characters he creates are very familiar. You can clearly see the fascination he has for exploring these dysfunctional relationships of dorky middle to upper class people. It's a refreshing film and very different from your standard buddy comedy. It's witty and despite not having many hilarious moments, the film does manage to keep a smile on your face for most of its runtime. For a debut performance Owen Wilson really shines on screen and delivers his lines with perfect timing.  I really enjoyed this offbeat comedy although I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who isn't a fan of Wes Anderson. I always recommend my favorite, The Royal Tenenbaums, to people who haven't seen any of his film.  


My Review: Rio 2 (6/10)

"We are not people, we're birds. We have to get out into the wild and be birds."

Director Carlos Saldanha takes us back to the colorful world of Rio in this sequel that takes place mostly in the Amazon jungle. I enjoyed the first film for the animation and how beautiful they made it look. Rio 2 is probably my least favorite animated film of 2014 so far, but I still have to give it a pass for the gorgeous animation. The film looks beautiful, it's a shame that the characters aren't as well developed. I wasn't a huge fan of the plot either, but the animation is so breathtaking that it is worth it. Adults might not have as much fun because it isn't as smart or witty as other recent animated films, but kids will enjoy this for the colorful characters. Of course like in most sequels you have to try to outdo yourself, more characters are introduced and ultimately the film just felt too crowded and the subplots and new characters didn't work very well. They kind of took me out of the movie, but the Amazon jungle is so gorgeously captured that I still had a decent time with this. I'm giving this a mild recommendation, but there isn't much more to this sequel other than that. 

As for the plot, the film continues to center on the surviving blue macaws that are living in a special reserve in the city of Rio. Believed to be the only surviving birds of their species Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) have formed a family of their own and have three kids. Things take an unexpected turn for them when they discover that there might be more macaws in the heart of the Amazon jungle. They decide to travel to the wild jungle to meet up with the rest of their kind. They are not alone on their journey however, as Nigel (Jermaine Clement) is waiting for the perfect moment to have his revenge along with his new sidekick, a venomous frog named Linda (Leslie Mann). Once they arrive they are surprised to discover that among the surviving birds there's Jewel's father, Eduardo (Andy Garcia), who is happy to have found Jewel again. However, Blu has trouble adopting to the lifestyle of the wild and his father in law doesn't seem to take a huge liking of his city ways. 

The sequel has some funny moments and I chuckled a few times, but the plot was weak and predictable. It felt a bit long and dragged at times. It also felt too preachy with all the ecological messages and I could have done without those subplots with the humans tearing down the trees. Most of the characters are back from the first film and a lot of new ones were added although I really didn't care much for any of them. There are some fun musical moments that helped me get past the more tedious moments but overall I didn't have such a good time as I did with The LEGO Movie or Mr. Peabody & Sherman. The film is not even as close in terms of being witty, but it does look more beautiful and kids might enjoy it more for all the colorful scenes and the choreographed musical numbers. By the end of the film I kind of felt tired and exhausted, but the kids seemed to have enjoyed it.


My Review: Hunger (7/10)

"I have my belief, and in all its simplicity that is the most powerful thing."

Steve McQueen's feature debut, Hunger, is a realistic and brutal portrayal of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) activists who are protesting their miserable treatment at the Belfast prison known as The Maze. Hunger is a challenging film to watch due to the brutal and unflinching portrayal of such a dark period in our recent history. If you have a weak stomach then you might want to stay away from this film because it is really gruesome. The way McQueen's camera captures the events and allows the images to tell the story is truly remarkable. We get extreme close ups of characters faces and hands that tell us a lot more than words possibly could. The film doesn't actually center on one character as it begins by following one of the prison guards as he goes off to work, then we are introduced to one of the prisoners who has just arrived at the Maze and is refusing to wear a prison uniform, and finally the film focuses on Bobby Sands a prisoner who is protesting their treatment with a hunger strike. What he is looking for is political prisoner status and despite their efforts they have been refused. The images in Hunger are disturbing but powerful. Of his three films, Hunger is possibly his weakest one, but it is still an extraordinary movie. He has perfected his craft with each upcoming film and is slowly inserting himself among my favorite directors. 

Steve McQueen and Enda Walsh's brutal screenplay centers on the battle between the IRA imprisoned activists and the British guards that took place in 1981 in the Maze prison of Northern Ireland. It opens with  a scene of a prison guard (Stuart Graham) heading for work. His knuckles are full of blisters and before he gets in his car he checks that there are no bombs hidden under it. It's an interesting way in which McQueen portrayed the constant threats and fear of retaliation the guards were under. Once he arrives at the prison we are introduced to Davey (Brian Milligan), a new IRA prisoner who is refusing to wear his uniform and claiming for political status. The guards refuse to listen to him and lock him up with another prisoner named Gerry (Liam McMahon). Their cell is smeared with excrement all over the walls and the conditions are pitiful. It's their way of expressing their resistance towards the brutal treatment they receive from the guards. Their efforts are useless. Halfway through the film we are introduced to another IRA prisoner, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), who has decided that the best way they can protest is by beginning a hunger strike. In a memorable scene between Sands and a visiting priest (Liam Cunningham) we hear his reasoning for behaving this way.

The performances in this film are really amazing, Michael Fassbender especially as he undergoes an incredible physical transformation. I think his work in all 3 films with McQueen are absolutely breathtaking. He is perhaps one of the best actors working today. The scene between him and the priest which is about 17 minutes long is shot entirely on a single take and it really stands out in the movie. In a film that has very little dialogue that long scene worked extremely well and the dialogue was extremely well written. The rest of the cast also deliver a strong performance, but it isn't until Fassbender shows up on screen that the film truly picks up and engages us. Hunger is carefully crafted and McQueen uses every single shot to such an incredible effect that those images speak more than words. Hunger may be disturbing for most audiences, but it is extremely well made and hugely effective.


My Review: Pi (7/10)

"When your mind becomes obsessed with anything, you will filter everything else out and find that thing everywhere."

Darren Aronofsky's first feature film, Pi, was a unique and experimental movie that cemented his status as an auteur director. Even in his latest big budget film, Noah, his unique and creative voice shined through. Just like his characters, Aronofsky seems obsessed with discovering what drives them. His films are a psychological character study in which he delves deep into their minds in order to try to discover what leads them to their self destructive behavior. In the surface, Pi may sound like a boring film dealing with math and numbers, but Aronofsky sucks you in from the beginning with his very unique style of film making including some crazy chase scenes shown in fast motion and a strange soundtrack. The cinematography in dirty black and white sets the tone of the film as well, although I didn't find it quite engaging. It's amazing what Aronofsky did with such a low budget and it won him special recognition. He won for best director in Sundance in 1998 and an Independent Spirit Award for his first screenplay. He also proved Pi was no one hit wonder as his following films were all received with warm praise by the critics. Aronfofsky's unique personal vision is reflected in each one of his films and if you go back to Pi you will find several similarities and trademarks that were already established from the beginning. If Pi were my first film from Aronofsky I might have enjoyed it even more, but I think he has perfected his craft in films like Black Swan and The Wrestler.

The screenplay written by Darren Aronofsky and Sean Gullette centers on a mathematical genius named Max (Sean Gullette). He's a number theorist who believes that nature can be explained through numbers and that there are patterns that can emerge from it. He is working on discovering these pattern through the stock market and considering all the variables involved. He works in his home through a homemade computer he has developed. He locks himself in his small apartment and becomes obsessed with discovering these patterns while also worrying that people are spying on him. He suffers from terrible headaches that sometimes lead him to delusions so he is currently on medication and at times its hard to decipher if he is really seeing things or imagining them. One of the few people Max interacts with is Sol (Mark Margolis) who is his former math mentor. He worries about Max's obsession and asks him to take a break, but Max is determined to discover the pattern that could unlock the mysteries of nature. The other person who Max interacts with is Lenny (Ben Shenkman), a Jew who is currently working on the numbers from the Torah. As Max becomes more and more obsessed with unlocking these numbers the crazier things get for him.

I really enjoyed this film despite the fact that I knew where it was heading. Although his characters are very different in every film the resolution is very similar and the ending is always open ended for the audience to interpret. Pi marked the beginning of Aronofsky's love affair with Mark Margolis who has been in every one of his film as a secondary character. He was the only face I recognized in this film as I was unfamiliar with the rest of the cast. Sean Gullette gives a very convincing lead performance but the rest of the cast aren't as great. You could tell Aronofsky had a very limited budget to work with, but he did marvels with it. Pi is a clever film with some memorable scenes. I never thought a film about math and numbers could be so thrilling, but it is because Aronofsky manages to put the character in the center and turns it into a psychological character study.


My Review: Dorian Gray (5/10)

"I am what you made me! I lived the life that you preached... but never dared practice. I am everything, that you were too afraid to be."

Dorian Gray is the third film Oliver Parker has directed based on the work of one of the greatest Irish writers of all time, Oscar Wilde. "The Picture of Dorian Gray" is Wilde's only written novel and perhaps one of his most famous works which was censored at the time due to the source material. It has become a masterpiece for Wilde's sharp critique towards the aestheticism of Victorian society. This double life that Wilde's novel captured perfectly didn't really resonate with me in the film. I found it un-engaging and dull with characters that weren't developed really well. Dorian is completely hedonistic and there was nothing about him that made me believe that the people would be so sympathetic towards him. This double life he lived wasn't explored as well in the movie because everyone saw him as he really was, young and beautiful but completely hedonistic. Lord Henry Wooton's influence on him is the main theme in this film as he is the one that introduces Dorian to this lifestyle which he immediately embraces. Despite its good production, I felt the film wasted its potential and lost its appeal quickly. 

The screenplay was loosely adapted by Toby Finlay. The film begins with the arrival of the young Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes) to Victorian London. He has inherited a huge estate from his abusive grandfather. Dorian is a nice and naive young man who is quickly swept away with the charismatic Lord Henry Wooton (Colin Firth). Lord Henry also feels attracted to Dorian and reminds him to take advantage of his beauty and youth because it won't last forever. He introduces Dorian to the several pleasures the city has to offer. Lord Henry is married to Lady Victoria (Emilia Fox), but he isn't faithful to her. Lord Henry's artist friend, Basil (Ben Chaplin) also feels admiration for Dorian who hires him to paint a special portrait of him that will capture his youthfulness and beauty. When Basil finished his painting, everyone is entranced by it and it becomes one of the painter's best work. Dorian adores it so much that he makes a pledge saying that he will give his soul to maintain that youthfulness forever. As he becomes more and more obsessed with the painting he begins living a life of debauchery and hedonism. Nothing affects him, as the painting absorbs all his scars and unveils what his soul truly looks like. Dorian hides the painting and lets everyone see him as this beautiful and youthful young man.

Ben Barnes gives a decent performance but his character did lack more depth. It was very difficult to engage with him as he becomes completely obsessed with maintaining his youthful appearance. I couldn't see that spark that I needed to see from him to believe that all the Victorian society would become so obsessed with him. Colin Firth is a great actor and he played a key role in this film as he is the main influence for Dorian's narcissistic obsession. However I never felt this guy could have such an important influence in Dorian's life, he was lacking that magnetism. The addition of Rebecca Hall's character in the second half of the film didn't help either. I couldn't help but feel this film was missing something and it fails to draw the audience in. Dorian Gray is just too explicit in its portrayal of debauchery and nothing is left for the viewer to imagine.   


My Review: Valhalla Rising (6/10)

"I am going to show them that a man of God has arrived."

My fourth Nicolas Winding Refn film, Valhalla Rising, was as demanding as Only God Forgives in the sense that it has very little dialogue, but I enjoyed it much more. It has a very similar structure with extremely violent scenes and a lead character who doesn't utter one single word. The more films of Refn that I watch, the more convinced I am that he has a special fascination with violence. The way he exteriorizes it in his films is very different from most other directors. For example, Quentin Tarantino, another director who likes to depict violence in his films, has a completely different style where the characters are more carefully developed and always have a lot to say. Refn on the other hand doesn't care too much about developing his characters and we don't get much background about them, all we know is that they act on violent impulses. Refn always makes heavily stylized films that look gorgeous, and the Scottish mountain landscape is no exception here. The cinematography is truly breathtaking and there is something magnetic about Mads Mikkelsen's performance. The film begins with a lot of promise, although the pacing really slows down once the vikings show up. Still I was drawn to this character more than I was with Gosling in Only God Forgives. My first Refn film was Drive, which is more mainstream than the rest of his film, and I think having followed it up with Only God Forgives affected my appreciation of that film. Now that I am more familiar with his work I might be able to enjoy it more, but I can't pull myself together for a re-watch. I was convinced his films were more about style over substance, but now I'm beginning to appreciate what he does more and if you pay close attention you can come out of these films with some substance. He lets his audience interpret his work.

The film takes place somewhere around 1000 AD and we are quickly introduced to this mute warrior who they call One Eye (Mads Mikkelsen). He is a prisoner of a Chieftain (Alexander Morton) in the highlands where he is forced to fight to the death against other men. One Eye seems to have some sort of supernatural strength and also has visions of the future. A young boy (Maarten Stevenson) attends him bringing him food and water. One of the visions One Eye has allows him to find an arrowhead under the water which he eventually uses to escape. The young boy follows him and together they run into a group of Christian Vikings, who are on their way to Jerusalem. The leader of the group (Ewan Stewart) asks him to join them and convinces him that if he does he will be able to cleanse his soul and find peace. He agrees and together with the boy they embark on a vessel, but along the way they encounter an endless mist that doesn't allow them to know which direction they are headed. When the mist clears, they find themselves in a strange land with little possibilities of survival. 

The film is divided in six chapters and each one is gorgeously shot. Refn always makes stylized films that are beautiful to look at, but when the violent scenes come you want to look away. The narrative isn't always easy to follow either considering there isn't much dialogue, but a lot is open to interpretation. There are also dream sequences that Refn paints in a deep colored red. It's deep and philosophical at times, so if you are expecting a heavy action film you will be disappointed because Refn takes his time to pace this movie and doesn't always explain what he's going for. The score in Valhalla Rising is a little more subtle than in his other films where a lot of electronic music is used. It's a difficult watch, but the images will stick with you.