30 ago. 2015

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (7/10): The Original Remake.

“Well why not a space flower? Why do we always expect metal ships?”

Since its publication in 1955, Jack Finney’s Sci-Fi novel has been adapted many times for the big screen. The first adaptation was directed an year later by Don Siegel starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. The story took place entirely in a small Alabama town where some of the locals began mysteriously behaving in strange and detached manners, but more than twenty years later Philip Kaufman decided to remake this film and relocate the story in the populated city of San Francisco instead. The circumstances were different and the underlying political themes weren’t necessary so this film focused entirely on the growing sense of paranoia behind the invasion. The mystery element is gone here, because from the very first scene we witness how this strange organic life form, similar to gel spores, begins drifting from a far away planet through space until it reaches our atmosphere and is washed down by rain in San Francisco. Here the spores develop into plants with pink flowers and the people who come into contact with them begin behaving in strange ways, which is of course a result of this life form taking over the bodies. The first to notice the change is Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) who shares her concern with co-worker, Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), a public health inspector. She tells him that her husband has begun to act in a very mysterious manner and that he seems detached from any emotion. Matthew recommends she talk with his friend, David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), a renown psychiatrist. When Elizabeth goes to speak with him, David mentions that other people have come up to him with similar concerns. Their fears are confirmed when Matthew’s friends, Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) discover a strange corpse that is being formed by the plant to duplicate one of them. By this time the invasion is in full force in the city and they must find a way to escape before it’s too late. 

The original film was already considered to be quite good, but this remake is probably the most referred to when mentioning Finney’s novel. All the other adaptations after this one haven’t met the same reception. The way in which cinematographer, Michael Chapman, shot the film gave it a much more disturbing atmosphere with the skewed angles, deep compositions, and dark shadows which only adds to the bizarre qualities of the film. It is an eerie sci-fi movie with some memorable sequences (who can forget the moment that mutant dog with a human face suddenly shows up on screen?) and you never know what direction the story is going to go. Unfortunately the film is a bit outdated and the effects don’t look as great. The performances are solid, but sometimes they were over sold. Invasion of the Body Snatchers wasn’t as fun as I had anticipated it to be, and the pacing began to drag at times. I probably would’ve enjoyed this film more if I had seen it several years ago, but by now the plot is overly familiar so the suspense and the scares don’t work as well.   

Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams play the two lead characters and they manage to engage the audience and allow us to sympathize with their cause. Adams is especially cute here and she can move her eyes like no one else. Nimoy gets a very conventional role and his character doesn’t do much for the film. We’ve seen Goldblum play very similar roles as well and he did manage to get on my nerves during some of his freak out scenes. The cast delivers, but they were all far from being memorable. I can imagine the story freaked audiences out during the 70’s and 80’s, but for today’s standards it isn’t as effective.   

29 ago. 2015

Amadeus (10/10): The greatest biobic ever made.

“This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.”

As I sat there breathless staring at my screen watching this astounding masterpiece while listening to its amazing soundtrack, I couldn’t help but relate to F. Murray Abraham’s Salieri in his admiration for Mozart and his genius, although my admiration was geared towards Milos Forman’s outstanding direction and not on the actual composer himself. What a unique experience this three hour film was for me. Amadeus was a movie I had been putting off mainly because of its extremely long running time and its subject matter: a biopic about a classical music composer, but what a pleasure it was to finally get to experience it for the first time. My concerns about this film couldn’t have been so far off because this was such a rich treasure to discover. Amadeus is a timeless film, directed in 1984, it could just as well have been directed today and you wouldn’t notice the difference. Everything from the art direction and the set pieces, to the costumes and makeup, to the cinematography could rival any film released this year. I still can’t believe this was made in 1984 because it is better than most biopics made today. Just as the central figure of this movie was such a creative and talented composer, Forman proved once again to be way ahead of his peers and was a prodigy director during the 80’s. I thought there was no way he could top his marvelous work in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but he just did. To say this is one of the biopics ever made is an understatement, because it is one of the best films period. Roger Ebert couldn’t have said it better in his review when he wrote, “the film is constructed in wonderfully well-written and acted scenes -- scenes so carefully constructed, unfolding with such delight, that they play as perfect compositions of words.” Winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, the Oscars oddly awarded the more deserving film that year. 

Amadeus couldn’t have a more suitable and meaningful title, taken from Mozart’s middle name which in latin means “loved by God,” the film explores the tormented relationship he had with Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), the court composer of Austrian Emperor, Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones). Salieri was so passionate about music that he begged God to make him the best composer the world had known by promising to remain chaste and devoted to Him. We learn this during a confession he is giving to Father Vogler (Richard Frank) after having attempted to commit suicide and confessing to being responsible of Mozart’s death decades ago. The film is told in flashback as Salieri narrates what an impression Mozart had made in Vienna during his youth. He was eager to meet this prodigy who God had blessed with such an immense and unique talent, but when Mozart (Tom Hulce) is finally invited to perform at the Emperor’s court, Salieri is shocked by what he discovers. Mozart is a childish and vulgar fellow with an obscene giggle that only seemed to mock everything he believed about God’s immaculate and pure music. Feeling betrayed and confused as to how God could allow this hideous being to be blessed with such an amazing talent, he makes it his personal vendetta to defy God and bury Mozart’s career. 

The film centers on themes of artistic genius and creativity as well as professional jealousy and uncomprehended talent. The universal theme of man against God is also tackled throughout the three hour runtime. These themes are perfectly explored and balanced with comedic moments scattered throughout, which allow the pacing of the film to move at a pleasant beat.  Very seldom do you find such a perfectly balanced biopic that manages to remain comic and tragic at the same time. Some of the success of Amadeus must be attributed to the gorgeous location in which the movie was filmed. Choosing Prague to depict the mid 1700’s Vienna was a perfect choice and the stages where the Opera scenes where performed were simply mesmerizing. Forman also allowed his actors to retain their American accents which was another intelligent choice. There is no need to give the actors silly English European accents if you are going to have them speak in any other language other than the original. The screenplay adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s Award winning stage play was also a hit because the dialogue in this film is truly inspiring and I can recall several great quotes from it.     

The two lead performances in Amadeus are incredibly powerful. F. Murray Abraham took home the Oscar for best lead actor and he will forever be remembered for his role here as the frustrated and jealous Salieri. The inner conflict he experiences as he easily goes from admiration and bewilderment to hatred and jealousy while listening to each composition is outstanding. Tom Hulce is just as great playing the titular character. Never in a million years would I have cast him in a role like this, but it only added to the underlying theme of looks and talents not always going well together. Hulce’s cheerful and giggly demeanor slowly grows on the audience as he is first presented as an irritating figure, but gradually begins to appear more sympathetic, and our initial alliances with Salieri begin to turn while he grows darker. These are now two of my favorite all-time performances. I could go on writing about this amazing film, but I feel no matter what I have to say about it, it’s simply going to be another mediocre review of an incredibly masterful film. There are no words that can justly describe this film, so by all means if you haven’t seen this masterpiece go check it out.         

“All I wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing... and then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn't want me to praise him with music, why implant the desire? Like a lust in my body! And then deny me the talent?”

28 ago. 2015

Little Boy (4/10): Little Inspiration and originality

"Do you believe you can do this?”

Little Boy is a family friendly faith-based film, and that usually means it’s going to be overly sentimental and manipulative, which proved to be the case once again here. These films aim so hard at being inspirational, that they end up accomplishing the opposite. Alejandro Monteverde’s film is completely generic and it follows the same beats other movies in this genre tend to hit. From the overbearing narrative which spells out everything that you are about to see and allows you to see the twists coming a mile away, to the cute child actor performance who is impossible not to sympathize with, and the overly heavy handed preachy message that is repeated throughout the movie. Non-demanding audiences who simply want to have a good time with their families will enjoy this because it looks nice, but there is no substance to it and the formula is repeated once again. I didn’t feel uplifted or inspired by its message because it lacked originality. The film forces you to feel a certain way about each character instead of allowing you to make up your own mind about them. It’s a shame because the cinematography was solid and there were some great actors involved, but the producers played it safe and gave us a generic film which will easily be forgotten. If you want to inspire and move your audience, then actually try being inventive and taking risks instead of centering on an overly melodramatic premise.  

The story take place during the Second World War in a beautiful California town. It is narrated by the protagonist who recalls his life during that troublesome period as an 8 year old boy who due to his short height had to deal with the bullying and teasing from other kids his age. Pepper Flynt (Jakob Salvati), who the people in town call Little Boy, has a solid relationship with his father, James (Michael Rapaport). He can ignore all the bullying when he is surrounded by his father’s love and devotion. His mother Emma (Emily Watson) and his older brother London (David Henrie) are all fond of him, but he adores his father above all. Things take a sharp turn for Pepper when James is sent to War and he is left on his own waiting for his father’s return. He is touched by a sermon given by Fr. Oliver (Tom Wilkinson) about the power of faith and how someone with faith the size of a small mustard seed can move a mountain. He and his dad were fans of a comic magician named Ben Eagle (Ben Chaplin) and when he comes to town during a performance, Pepper is invited on the stage as a volunteer and performs a magic trick which convinces him he too has special powers. Confused by this event and Oliver’s message, he puts his faith on his father’s return. Oliver gives him a list of things he must do (feed the hungry, visit the prisoners, clothe the naked, and so on) if he wants his faith to work. At the end of the list Oliver adds one last thing: befriend a Japanese. This because after the Pearl Harbor incident everyone in town was verbally assaulting a Japanese immigrant named Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), including Pepper who was relieved to see some of the bullying heading another direction. The film then centers on this odd pairing between the two and after a series of coincidences and random events Pepper begins to truly believe he has the necessary faith to bring his father back home. But has Oliver gone too far by making him such a promise and giving Pepper so much hope? If the film would’ve cared to explore that question in more depth, we could’ve had something interesting, but instead it settles for the easy way out.  

Despite all the familiar themes this inspirational film tackles, I did have a major problem with its message. The way it handles faith and compares it to something like magic is troublesome. This film tries to do what most religions do, which is tell us that faith has to do with how well we perform. In other words, you need to do a certain thing or follow certain rules if you want faith to work. Which is basically saying that it is all about you and how you perform. I don’t agree at all with that view about faith and find it extremely problematic considering the film is geared towards a faith-based audience. However, I never judge a film for its message so that is not why I’m criticizing the movie. Its fault relies on its generic style and melodramatic storytelling. Talented actors such as Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson are given nothing to do, and even Kevin James is inexplicably in this film playing a role that could have easily been cut out of the film. Jakob Salvati as the lead delivers in charm and sweetness, but we are forced to sympathize with him and that didn’t allow me to enjoy his performance. Little Boy is overly sentimental and that is its greatest fault, but I guess that is what one would expect from family friendly films like this that try too hard to inspire its audience.       

19 ago. 2015

Eden Lake (5/10): An uncomfortable but effective horror thriller

"Follow the blood!”

James Watkins’ feature directorial debut is an unsettling and gruesome one in which a young couple decides to escape the hectic city life for a romantic weekend at a remote lake side. The beautiful location will soon contrast with the horrors the couple will face as we get several early warning signs that things aren’t going to go exactly as they had planned. From the moment in which Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender) arrive at the town and are pulling up to a local restaurant another vehicle cuts in front of them and steals their parking space. The local people aren’t very friendly and there happens to be a group of young adolescents nearby led by Brett (Jack O’Connell) who act very disrespectful towards them. At first Steve and Jenny ignore them because they are here for a romantic and peaceful getaway, but after being provoked by these young kids he stands up to them. The kids are even more disrespectful and pretty soon things begin to escalate and brutal violence ensues. 

The film reminded me a lot of Alexandre Aja’s High Tension for its gruesome violence, and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games for its dark depiction of human behavior. Eden Lake is also reminiscent of 70’s horror films. There are many brutal and unrelentless scenes that made me feel uncomfortable, but I have to admit that I cared for the characters’ wellbeing so I was engaged despite having to turn my face away during some of the torture scenes. The film is well paced and thrilling and the performances are pretty solid, but I can’t recommend it because it was just too violent and dark. Why even watch this movie then, you may ask? Because of Michael Fassbender who I could watch in absolutely anything. He is one of my favorite actors, and this was one of his early films, but it one of his weakest roles. This film came out the same year as Hunger and Fassbender got all the attention for his role in that movie, so I had overlooked this horror thriller. I was also surprised to find out that Jack O’Connell had a supporting role here considering what a breakthrough he has had in the last year. His performance here is so villainous that I want to go back and watch Unbroken just to see him suffer. There is something wrong about wanting these young kids to get what they deserve, but they are so hateful that audiences won’t be able to help it. Kelly Reilly has also made a name for herself, starring more recently in the second season of True Detective alongside Vince Vaughn, and here she plays the lead character. She surprisingly stole every scene she was in despite playing a character who made some very poor decisions.

As effective as Eden Lake is, I still can’t really make up my mind if I cared so much for these characters of for the actors. I was engaged because I wanted Fassbender to teach the kids a lesson, but I can’t say if the film would work without a well known and likable actor. This British film has inspired remakes of several similar themed movies which in turn probably inspired this one and opened the doors for their new versions, such as I Spit on Your Grave (1978,2010) and The Last House on the Left (1972,2010). Eden Lake may seem as pretty much a standard horror film that follows the basic genre formulas and cliches, but it does have a shocking finale. It is effective and accomplishes what it sets out to do, but since it is not my type of film I didn’t get much enjoyment out of it and it did bother me that some of the decisions made by the characters seemed to be so ridiculous that they can only be explained as serving the plot. It is a very upsetting film and fans of the genre would probably be very pleased with it.          

18 ago. 2015

Robot & Frank (6/10): An original futuristic take on aging.

"The human brain, a lovely piece of hardware.”

Jake Schreier won the Feature Film Prize at Sundance in 2012 for this original dramatic comedy and it’s easy to see why. There are few films in Hollywood that deal with aging and when they do they are usually handled in an overly sentimental or poorly manner. By simply looking at the poster alone, I thought I knew what this movie was going to be about: an odd pairing of a grumpy old man refusing to accept the assistance of a robot but who would eventually get to befriend it and accept it. Robot & Frank however was nothing like I expected and the story had a very original premise with a strong central performance from Frank Langella. It also stands out in its depiction of the future, which seems much more believable and approachable than most futuristic dystopian movies. It is a simple movie that approaches the subject of aging in a rather simple but realistic manner. 

Frank (Frank Langella) is a former jewel thief who has served time in prison, but is now living on his own in an upstate New York town. His son, Hunter (James Marsden) takes long drives to come visit him during the weekends to check up on him and during one of those visits he brings him a robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to assist him. The robot specializes in healthcare, but Frank isn’t too keen about having him around. Not knowing how to shut if off he eventually gives in and allows it to do the chores in the house. During the course of the movie we realize Frank is beginning to have trouble remembering things (showing early signs of dementia), and that is why his family is concerned for him. His daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler), is a philanthropist who is always traveling to foreign countries but also tries to check up on him when she has a chance. Frank’s robot wants him to begin a new project in order to improve his health and it believes that Frank should take on gardening and establish a daily routine. But Frank has other ideas, he wants to plan for a new heist and he easily convinces the robot that it is a good idea. Susan Sarandon also has a supporting role in this film as a local librarian that Frank frequently visits, but there isn’t much of a romantic arc. The film is basically a dramatic comedy centering on the relationship Frank forms with his robot and how his family deals with his illness. 

Langella is the true stand out here and he carries this movie with his solid performance. There were moments were the pacing seemed to drag, but his character simply captivated me and got me through some of those patches. I had some issues with the ending as well, which seemed a bit too neatly wrapped for a film that basically was staying away from genre formulas and conventions for almost its entire runtime. But for a film that centers on a relationship between an old man and a robot it does feel quite fresh in that unlike with most sci-fi films, here there is no conflict as to if the robot will develop a consciousness or not. It never seems to be an issue here and he constantly reminds Frank that he is not alive. This isn’t a man versus machine type of movie, it is more interested in showing how technology can help improve our lives as is the case with Frank, although there are of course dangers implied with it, depending on how we use this technology. The screenplay focuses on that intimate relationship between Frank and his robot, and that ends up being the highlight of this film.        

17 ago. 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd (6/10): Far from The Hunt

"It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language chiefly made by men to express theirs.”

Thomas Vinterberg decided to follow up his critically acclaimed 2012 film, The Hunt, with this adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel set in Victorian England. It was a sharp change of direction for Vinterberg considering what a great small crafted character study The Hunt was. Far From the Madding Crowd is more focused on the narrative and therefor the characters aren’t explored as well, but the romantic story is still quite engaging. It centers on a strong and independent woman played by Carey Mulligan. Her name is Bathsheba Everdene and despite her humble upbringing she inherits a large amount of farming land from her uncle. She is determined to restore the land’s productivity and in order to do so she hires a sheep farmer named Gabriel (Matthias Schoenaerts) who used to own a small piece of land next to her place. He had borrowed some money to pay for the land and buy some sheep, but after a terrible incident his fortune is reversed and is forced to sell the land back leaving him with nothing. Prior to this reversal of fortune for both Gabriel and Bathsheba, he had proposed to her but she kindly refused claiming she had no intention of marrying. Her strong independent female role isn’t something audiences are used to seeing in films set during this era which made Mulligan’s performance quite special. Once her character settles in her new home, two other suitors show up: William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) a wealthy senior and Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) a charming Sergeant who she unexpectedly falls for.    

I wasn’t familiar with Hardy’s novel so I can’t say how faithful David Nicholls’ screenplay adaptation is. Unfortunately I found the pacing a bit hurried and the story was jumping from one scene to the next without letting us get to know these characters. From the very opening scene it is clear that Bathsheba and Gabriel belong with each other. Schoenaerts completely steals his scenes and along with Mulligan they are the only two characters who are portrayed as strong and perseverant characters. By the time Sturridge and Sheen show up on screen they have no chance of getting the audience’s sympathy because they are already rooting for Gabriel. Troy takes a villainous turn very early on without much explanation and William is simply a dull and boring character despite his good intentions. Juno Temple has a small supporting role, but her prior relationship with Sturridge was underdeveloped. There is a scene where her character shows up at the wrong church for her wedding day and so Troy is left stranded in the altar, but it wasn’t handled well. There are also several twists and surprises along the way, but they weren’t as shocking as they could’ve been considering these characters weren’t developed well. The film was trying to get from one point to the next in a rather quick pace because the audience is simply expecting the two main characters to get together and nothing else seems to matter. 

Vinterberg’s greatest accomplishment was casting Schoenaerts and Mulligan in the lead roles because they had great chemistry together, but it also turned to be the film’s downfall since it was so strong that we could care less for the other characters. The cinematography was gorgeous and it helped that most of the film was shot outdoors because nature was perfectly captured here by either the sunlight or the heavily charged grey skies. Those were the two main reasons why I ended up enjoying Far From the Madding Crowd despite being disappointed by it. The Hunt was one of my favorite films of 2012, so I had high hopes for the Danish director in this English film, but they weren’t met. Far From the Madding Crowd is powered by its lead performances, but unfortunately the narrative was unnecessarily rushed and that hurt the film.  

15 ago. 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 (6/10): The stakes are higher, the jokes recycled.

"This could very well be the greatest conflict between America and Germany in our nation's history!”

This sequel to the 2012 surprise hit, Pitch Perfect, marks Elizabeth Banks’ feature directorial debut where she reprises her role as Gail, one of the announcers during the a Capella competitions. I was a huge fan and defender of the original film, which I found hilarious and entertaining. It was directed by Jason Moore, who decided to pass on this sequel to direct Sisters, a film coming out later this year starring Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Screenwriter, Kay Cannon, is back however giving the female characters a strong and independent voice. The original film was a huge vehicle for Rebel Wilson who stole almost every scene she was in and it proved that Anna Kendrick was a solidified star who could be a lead in a comedy. No one really knew she could sing so well and after her success with the Barden Bellas she went on to star in several musicals (Into the Woods and The Last Five Years). She had always delivered strong supporting performances (Up in the Air being my favorite), but after Pitch Perfect her value has sky rocketed. It was an interesting choice to allow the incredibly gifted Elizabeth Banks to direct this sequel because it only adds to the female empowerment in this film. Like most sequels it fails in trying to out perform the original by making the stakes bigger, but it does manage to do some things right to at least make it worthwhile.  

Anna Kendrick is back as Beca, one of the leaders of the female a Capella group, Barden Bellas, along with Chloe (Brittany Snow). For the past three years they’ve been the national champions and have been invited to many events along with the rest of the female members: Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Stacie (Alexis Knapp), Cynthia (Ester Dean), Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), Jessica (Kelley Jakle), and Flo (Chrissie Fit). During one of those events in which they are invited to sing in front of President Obama and his wife, Fat Amy has a wardrobe malfunction and the Bellas are expelled from the circuit. They are replaced by the extremely talented and flawless German group known as Das Sound Machine (DSM) led by Kommissar (Birgitte Hjorth Sorensen) and Pieter Kramer (Flula Borg). In order to reclaim their status and be invited back into the circuit they find a convenient loophole which allows them to compete in the a Cappella World Cup being held in Denmark. If they want a chance to save the Bellas they will have to do what no other American group has done before: bring home the title. Emily (Hailee Seinfeld), the daughter of a legend from the 80’s Bellas, is the latest addition to the group. Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Ben Platt and Anna Camp are also back from the original film playing supporting roles as well as John Michael Higgins who is Gail’s co-anchor again. 
The formula from the first film is repeated once again, although this time with much higher stakes. Some of the recycled jokes work well, for instance the politically incorrect commentaries from John and Gail, some of Fat Amy’s lines (although it isn’t as nearly as fresh as the first time we saw her), and the fantastic Riff-Off hosted by David Cross with some great cameos from the Green Bay Packers. I think the riff-off in both films are probably my favorite scenes in each movie, but this one really stood out for me thanks in most part to how great the DSM group sounded. As long as the film centered on the rehearsals, riff-offs, and competitions it was a lot of fun, but what didn’t work this time around were the individual filler scenes involving Beca’s internship, Fat Amy and Bumper’s relationship, Emily and Benji’s embarrassing flirtation, the lazy latino lines delivered from Flo, and so on. The music was the highlight of the film and it did end on a high note, but the narrative wasn’t very appealing. The film could’ve benefited from a little more DSM.

14 ago. 2015

Cube (6/10): Gripping atmosphere, but poor performances

"That's the real challenge. You've gotta save yourselves from yourselves.”

Shot in only 20 days with a hand-held camera in a single 14'x14' cubical set and a very low budget, this minimalist Canadian sci-fi horror film has become a cult favorite for many. Directed in 1997 by Vincenzo Natali, this was his first feature film and it still remains as one of his most popular ones, although Splice has also been warmly received by critics and seen by many more people thanks to its much bigger budget. He’s also directed several TV series, including Hannibal which in my opinion stands out for its cinematograpy. Natali also co-wrote this original script with Andre Bijelic and Graeme Manson (creator and producer of another hit series, Orphan Black). For its minimalist approach, Cube does manage to stand out and deliver several thrills along the way, but five minutes into the movie I feared I knew what direction the story was heading, and unfortunately it did, so it was a bit of a letdown. However the journey was quite a pleasant and gripping one, so the movie did flow at a strong pace and I was engaged with it original premise.

The film begins with a man (Julian Richings) waking up inside a cube-shaped room without any recollection as to how he got there. There is one door on every side of the cube, leading to other same shaped rooms although with different colors. According to the suit he’s wearing his name is Alderson. As he leaves one of the rooms and enters a new one he is sliced into small pieces by a trap consisting of thin wires. We later discover that there are more people in the cube when a small group of them find each other in one room. A police officer named Quentin (Maurice Dean Wint), an architect named Worth (David Hewlett), a doctor named Holloway (Nicky Guadagni), an escape artist named Rennes (Wayne Robson), and a mathematician named Leaven (Nicole de Boer) all seem to have woken up in the same condition as Alderson and they are fighting their way through this maze trying to avoid the traps hidden in some of the rooms. They seem to have nothing in common as their personalities completely differ from one another, and they have no idea who could’ve put them in such a place. They do decide to stick together and try using their different talents to avoid the deadly traps as they move along through the maze looking for an escape. As the story unfolds and these characters begin interacting with one another tension and suspicion begin to rise among them. 

David Hewlett who has worked with Vincenzo Natali in all his feature films gets one of the lead roles here along with Maurice Dean Wint and Nicole de Boer. The performances in this film are the weakest link. Some of the dialogue scenes seemed forced and most of the characters’ interactions felt unauthentic. The greatest problem was that most of these characters behaved in an inconsistent manner and the pressure they go through isn’t a convincing reason for it. Quentin’s character is the one who goes through the strongest transformation here and I just didn’t feel it was natural. Other than the performances and the predictable finale, I did enjoy this small film and found the premise quite inventive despite its simplicity. With a stronger cast this could’ve been a great sci-fi horror film because Natali excels at setting the right atmosphere which creates a thrilling environment. The mood of this film reminded me a lot of Saw and I’m sure it was inspired by Natali’s work.       

13 ago. 2015

Child 44 (5/10): Anti-Soviet Propaganda in case a new Cold War breaks out.

"There is no murder in paradise.”

Another of my most anticipated films of the year that failed to live up to my expectations. I usually tend to look forward to films based solely on the director, but this time I was excited about the cast: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, and Noomi Rapace. Child 44 is an adaptation of Tom Rob Smith’s best selling novel directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) set in Stalin-era Soviet Union. Of course it is easily going to be labelled as anti-Soviet propaganda considering it is based on a novel written by a British author and directed by a Swedish director. The screenwriter, Richard Price (The Color of Money), is American and despite being set in Russia no one in the cast is Russian. Child 44 feels like one of those movies that came out during the Cold War trying to prove to the Western world how awful the Soviet communist regime was. You have British and Swedish actors playing Russian characters, but speaking in English with Russian accents because it wouldn’t be as accessible to us if they had them speaking Russian. I’m not a fan of this style of film making and would much rather them stick with the original language, but we probably would miss out on seeing such a talented cast like this if that were so. The accent issue isn’t the greatest problem with this film however, the tone of the movie is inconsistent and there are several tonal shifts that simply make the story drag at times. Child 44 is 135 minutes long and you feel every minute of it. 

Tom Hardy is Leo Demidov, a Soviet military police officer who was adopted at an early age after the death of his parents. By chance he became a war hero thanks to a picture taken of him waving the Soviet flag over Berlin after their victory. Now in the early 50’s he has an important rank working in Moscow as a military officer married to Raisa (Noomi Rapace) and he enjoys sharing the story of how they met with his fellow officers. He’s idealistic and pursues anyone who is against the Stalin regime labelled as traitors. When a young boy is found dead near a train station the officials dismiss the cause of death as simply an accident, but it is evident that the kid was brutally murdered. But of course under the Soviet regime there can’t be any murders because they’re supposedly living in a perfect society. The kid happened to be the son of one of Leo’s friends, Alexei (Fares Fares), and so he begins having his doubts about the cause of death. However that doesn’t go well with Major Kuzmin (Vincent Cassel) who warns him to leave it at that. After successfully capturing a traitor named Anatoly (Jason Clarke), the officers get a list of names of other suspects from him. Raisa happens to be on that list and Leo is asked to testify against his wife and bring her in, which seemed to be a way of testing his commitment to the regime. He refuses to turn her in and is disgraced, demoted, and exiled to a small town near Moscow to serve under General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman). When another child victim is found there in similar conditions, Leo convinces Mikhail to look into it and they secretly begin investigating the case.

The premise of the story is very interesting, but unfortunately this period piece takes its time to introduce each character. I’ve read that the first cut of the film was over 5 hours long and you can tell here that it hasn’t been edited in the best way because there are several tonal shifts throughout the film. Price was given the almost impossible task of adapting the screenplay of this novel without trying to leave any of the subplots out. There are several elements of the story that could’ve been ignored and which would’ve allowed for a much better pacing, but unfortunately every time the thrills began to draw me back to the story they introduced another narrative arc that drowned the pacing once again. If the film focused exclusively on the search for this mysterious serial killer it could’ve been a strong thriller because the performances in this film were all solid. Tom Hardy is great in his role and he alone almost makes the film worth recommending. Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman, Noomi Rapace, Fares Fares, Paddy Considine, Vincent Cassel are all convincing as well, but they don’t get as much screen time and some of their narrative arcs aren’t as interesting.        

12 ago. 2015

Entourage (4/10): An extended episode of the series more than a stand alone film

"Take me for a round, I last 30 seconds you'll let me take you on a date.”

It's been four years since actor, Vincent Chase, and his crew were last seen on TV, and now these characters are back for their feature film following the footsteps of other TV series such as Sex and the City and Veronica Mars. I personally wasn't familiar with the show, but I wanted to see if the film could be judged on its own (Veronica Mars succeeded to do so). In an early scene we get a summary of who these characters are through an informative newsreel from Piers Morgan. It didn't feel like it was a smooth transition, but at least it tried to introduce everyone in a simple way. Apparently the film picks up right where the series ended, Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) has recently been separated from his wife after only nine days of being married so his friends Eric (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), and his older brother, Drama (Kevin Dillon) are all joining him for a party on his boat. The guys begin planning Vincent's next project and he immediately calls his former agent, Ari (Jeremy Piven), who is now a studio head. Ari wants him to star in his next film, and Vincent agrees with the condition that he can direct it as well. Eight months later, Vincent is in post-production of his movie, which is already over budget, but he needs more money to tweak it. Ari is forced to travel to Texas to meet with the financiers, Larsen McCredle (Billy Bob Thornton) and his silly son Travis (Haley Joel Osment). Ari must agree to let Travis return with him so he can see the film and decide if it is worth the risk to lend them more money. After seeing the film, Travis tells his father it is no good, but it seems that his decision is personal rather than professional. 

As we follow Ari trying to convince everyone that the film will be a success, we get smaller subplots revolving around some of the characters personal relationships. Turtle runs into professional MMA fighter, Ronda Rousey, who he has a huge crush on, while Vince is currently dating professional supermodel, Emily Ratajkowski. Eric is being supportive of his ex-girlfriend, Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) who is expecting their child anytime now, while he is dating other women. And Drama is crossing his fingers to finally get recognized for his supporting role in his brother’s film so it can boost his fading career as an actor, while he is trying to deal with an internet scandal that has gone viral. The many subplots made this film feel more like an extended episode of the series than an actual movie, and I’m sure fans of the series will enjoy it more than audiences who come into it for the first time. I wasn’t a fan of this movie, but I will admit there are some funny scenes usually revolving around Ronda Rousey or Jeremy Piven’s angry outbursts. There are some great cameos as well of actors and athletes playing themselves, but they don’t all work. My favorite would have to be the scene in which Ari comes across Liam Neeson who sticks his middle finger at him and drives off as Ari yells “leave no Jews behind, Schindler.” 

Doug Ellin who wrote most of the screenplays for the TV series and directed some of the episodes, writes and directs this film as well. I don’t know if the series is similar in style, but I found the movie misogynistic and disrespectful. It isn’t a satire of the Hollywood lifestyle, but a celebration of it. I didn’t really care too much for these characters despite their strong bond, but I did enjoy seeing some of the cameos and film references. If you came for the cameos they might be sufficient enough to keep you entertained, but if you expected more from this film you’re in for a major letdown because the film feels more like an extended TV episode than anything else. Entourage doesn’t stand out on its own as a film and I’d only recommend it to its TV fan base. Other than getting to see Jeremy Piven play once again the role he was meant for, there isn’t much more worth recommending about Entourage.