22 may. 2015

Tomorrowland (6/10): An imaginative film that runs out of steam during the second half

“I want you to take me to the place I saw when I touched this.”

After having seen the trailer for Tomorrowland, I didn’t have very high expectations for it, but once I heard Brad Bird was directing this project I knew I had to see it because everything he had done up to this point was amazing. Ratatouille is one of my favorite animated films and The Incredibles was also an entertaining one. I have heard great things about his first animated film, Iron Giant, but I haven’t seen it. Tomorrowland is his second live action film after having directed the latest Mission Impossible sequel which was also quite impressive (that Abu Dhabi scene was breathtaking), so there was no reason for me to doubt Bird and I was ready to give him my full support. I’ve got to give him a lot of credit for taking a risk by directing this unique project instead of accepting to make the Star Wars sequel, and in a way Tomorrowland feels refreshingly original. Bird also co-wrote the screenplay along with Damon Lindelof (one of the writers of my favorite TV series, Lost) so I raised my interest again considering they were involved. Unfortunately this is by far Bird’s weakest film, but I still had a decent time at the movies. 

The film opens with Frank Walker (George Clooney) speaking directly to the audience and explaining what the future holds for the planet in a rather pessimistic tone, but he is constantly interrupted by a young teenager named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) who wants him to be more optimistic. So Frank begins by explaining that the future wasn’t always as bad as it looks now, and in a flashback we are introduced to that time when as a young boy (Thomas Robinson) he invented a jet pack in order to try to impress a judge at a science fair named Nix (Hugh Laurie). The only problem was that it didn’t actually fly so Nix wasn’t impressed. However, he did catch the attention of a young girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who gives him a special pin and asks him to follow them from a distance. What Frank discovers is a fascinating futuristic place where all dreams are possible. Somewhere along the way something goes wrong and we are back in the present where we are introduced to Casey’s story. She also discovers a pin similar to the one Frank was given and is fascinated by the visions she gets of this wonderful place. Destiny will lead her to search for Frank and try to find a way to return to this place, but along the way she experiences several setbacks as many people try to stop her from reaching him.

Tomorrowland begins with a very promising and gripping first half and I was completely engaged with the story. The visuals were impressive and the action scenes very entertaining. Britt Robertson was delivering a strong lead performance and the quest to reach Tomorrowland felt incredibly refreshing and unique. She shared a strong chemistry with George Clooney and her upbeat optimism contrasted perfectly with Clooney’s pessimism. There is no denying the level of ambition this film has, but unfortunately the second half of the film doesn’t deliver on the promising premise and the ending was very bland. My interest fell completely and I lamented the fact that the film couldn’t maintain that same level of intensity delivered during the first half. Hugh Laurie is a great actor, but as the antagonist he never really felt the part. The film ran out of steam and imagination pretty quickly and delivers a somewhat predictable and uninspired ending. 

The film is also pretty heavy handed in delivering its upbeat message (which is recurrent in most Disney movies) of never giving up on your dreams and being optimistic towards life despite all the negative things surrounding us. The fact that there have been tons of films reiterating the “you are special” message to young adolescents also hurts the movie quite a bit. But I did have a great time during the first hour of the film so I’m still going to give it a mild recommendation. Rafael Cassidy delivers one of my favorite performances of the film as Athena. Matthew MacCaull also has a couple of hilarious scenes playing a Secret Service agent. Tommorowland could’ve been a great film, but it runs out of imagination pretty quickly and settles for a lackluster ending. 

21 may. 2015

Ex Machina (8/10): Garland's solid sci-fi directorial debut

“Of course you were programmed, by nature or nurture or both and to be honest Caleb you're starting to annoy me now because this is your insecurity talking, this is not your intellect.”

Many positive things have been said about Alex Garland’s directorial debut, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise considering he has written several successful screenplays in the past. His three previous collaborations with Danny Boyle (Sunshine, 28 Days Later, and The Beach) had to be heavily influential in his learning experience. In my opinion, writing a clever screenplay is one of the most important aspects of a film so Garland already had a halfway decent movie with his original sci-fi script. What did surprise me however, was the look of the film. The cinematography by Rob Hardy was gorgeous, showing the stark contrast of the beautiful location with the inclosed heavily secured home of powerful CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Nathan is the owner of the world’s largest internet company, which is basically a search engine similar to Google. He has secretly built a robot with artificial intelligence, called Ava (Alicia Vikander), that he keeps hidden in his reclusive residence. In order to test its AI, Nathan decides to award one of his employers, a young coder named Caleb (Domhall Gleeson), the opportunity to spend an entire week at his private estate. Once Caleb arrives, Nathan introduces him to Ava and explains the experiment to him, which is basically a Turing Test in which he will have to decide if  his creation actually has a conscious of its own. 

After having been exposed to the large amount of land Nathan owns through an aerial shot taking place in a helicopter, the film takes place almost entirely in an enclosed space in his residence. This allows Garland to focus the screenplay on the relationships between the characters, setting the claustrophobic tone of the film (similar to what he did in Sunshine). The dialogue is gripping and sometimes heavily philosophical, but there are several undertones that the story is getting at here. It is what has made Ex Machina such a critical success because everyone takes something different out of it. It may be a slow building film, but the unnerving score composed by Geoff Barrow keeps you engaged with the story. Without entering into spoiler territory some of the underlying themes I took out of the film were that of the creator versus creation (with references to Frankenstein), masculinity trying to overpower femininity, and there were even a few attacks towards corporate espionage. Its hard to ignore a film like this that manages to subtlety explore some of these issues and speak to audiences in different ways. 

The performances are as important as the screenplay here considering the action takes place in such an enclosed space, and Garland’s screenplay allows the cast to deliver solid performances. Oscar Isaac stands out as this reclusive CEO who you know can’t be trusted. There is always tension when he is on screen and there is something unsettling about him. Gleeson plays the role of Nathan extremely well and his scenes with both Isaac and Vikander are interesting. Vikander nails the role of this artificially intelligent robot with wonderful physical and voice work. These three characters interacting with each other are the highlight of the film and it all leads to some interesting twists and reveals along the way. I’m not the hugest fan of AI films, but this one kept me engaged thanks to the wonderful performances and solid dialogues. I do have to say that from the moment in which Ava puts on a dress to impress Caleb, I would’ve failed her in the Turing Test because there is no way a woman would so easily know what to wear without complaining she didn’t have anything to put on for that day. Alex Garland has delivered one of the smartest sci-fi films of the year, but it is more of a philosophical drama so if you are expecting an action film this isn’t for you. 

Thesis on a Homicide (6/10): Ricardo Darin elevates the familiar material in this atmospheric thriller

“Details. It’s all in the details.”

Fresh after the success of The Secret in Their Eyes, Ricardo Darin stars in another criminal suspense thriller that attempts to recreate that similar slow building atmosphere. Directed by Hernan Goldfrid, Thesis on a Homicide, begins with a lot of promise thanks in large part to Darin’s charismatic performance as Roberto Bermudez, a criminal law specialist who is teaching a two month course to recent graduate lawyers. He has just published a well received book in the field as well and that is how we are introduced to his character. He is an intelligent and well respected man, but his work has affected his personal life as he lives on his own after a failed marriage. He takes a particular interest in one of his students who has come from Spain and whose parents he was a close friend of. His name is Gonzalo (Alberto Ammann) and he seems to fit a particular psychological profile that troubles Roberto. He feels like Gonzalo is one of those arrogant rich kids who wants to prove he can commit the perfect murder. When a murder takes place in the parking lot of the Faculty of Law, Roberto becomes obsessed to prove that Gonzalo is behind the crime. This obsession leads him to few hours of sleep and at the same time he ends up putting Laura’s (Calu Rivero), the victim’s sister, life at risk when he uses her as bait to reach Gonzalo. This obsession gradually makes Roberto lose his mind and it becomes an interesting psychological character study building on the suspense.

The film opens with a lot of promise and I was engaged with Darin’s performance. He is one of those few actors who can turn a weak script into an interesting and compelling movie. This isn’t an intelligent thriller, but it works thanks to his lead performance. Unfortunately the build-up doesn’t fulfill its promise because the ending feels forced. The film tries to be an intelligent thriller focusing on the law system, but it never really delves deep into the subject matter and everything is slightly touched upon. The thriller never feels like it could stand out on its own because it seems to borrow heavily from other films in the genre and you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen this same plot in numerous other movies. The film does a good job at establishing the atmosphere during the first half of the film, but once the behavior of Roberto becomes overly obsessive it is apparent that each decision he makes is forced to move the story along. I felt like some of the liberties the director took with the character were too manipulative and out of character. The final fifteen minutes of the film are very disappointing in that way and everything seems rushed, which doesn’t work at all in a film that took so much time to build the atmosphere in the first place. Calu Rivero delivers an interesting performance although there isn’t much for her to do here. This is Darin’s film and he makes the screenplay work to the best of his ability, but the rest of the characters are all underdeveloped.  

I couldn’t help but feel that the cinematography was very pretentious at times. It looks good and has some interesting angles, but after a few minutes you realize there isn’t much purpose to these shots other than to show off the director’s talents. It becomes distracting at times and it really didn’t add anything to the story. There are a couple of dream sequences that didn’t work either, but I’m being a little to critical of this film because for the most part I was entertain and intrigued. The suspense works, but unfortunately the final payoff disappoints and you are left with that bittersweet taste in your mouth. When it comes to Argentinean cinema, Ricardo Darin is already involved in its most important films, but this isn’t one I’d recommend. Skip this and watch The Secret in their Eyes or Nine Queens if you haven’t had a chance to see Darin. He’s a talented actor who has refused over the past decade to work in Hollywood, but if you’ve seen Argentinean films you probably have an idea of what a great actor he is.  

16 may. 2015

Mad Max Fury Road (9/10): Geroge Miller's vision perfectly executed in this action pounding orchestra of a film

“As the world fell it was hard to know who was more crazy. Me... Or everyone else.”

To describe George Miller’s fourth post-apocalyptic Mad Max film as crazy would be an understatement because it is one of those rare over the top and unique action films that keeps you at the edge of your seat during its entire runtime with fantastic car chases and inventive fighting scenes that feel like a breath of fresh air in an era dominated by CGI effects. The visuals absolutely stun you and Miller’s amazing vision of this apocalyptic wasteland is beautifully captured through the camera. It may have taken 30 years for this sequel to be released, but it is a huge improvement over Beyond Thunderdome and it manages to build on what The Road Warrior had achieved by introducing a much more chaotic world and colorful characters. Fury Road works both ways as either a sequel or a reboot, and it erases most of the problems I had with Max’s character in the previous film. This is a return to what Miller had done in The Road Warrior, but with a much higher budget to work with and that allowed his vision to be fully fulfilled here. Three more Mad Max films are already in the talks and I can’t wait to embark with Max on his next adventures. This is going to be a very difficult film to top and so far it’s the best 2015 has to offer.

In Fury Road, Tom Hardy replaces Mel Gibson for the lead role of Max, a wondering warrior who’s still coping with the loss of his wife and son as he travels through the post-apocalyptic deserted wasteland. The film begins with a group of bandits chasing Max who eventually capture him and take him to The Citadel, where a ruthless leader named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) controls the water supply for the masses that have gathered below the heights of the mountain where he is based. Joe doesn’t just control the water supply, he also has a large army of War Boys who he has trained to sacrifice themselves willingly for his service, farming women who breed their breast milk, and even several beautiful wives to give him children. Joe has created quite an empire, and Max has been enslaved to serve as a blood donor for the injured War Boys. We are introduced to this crazy place and its rules as Joe sends his trusted lieutenant, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) on a local errand with her fuel filled rig to Gasland. However, she  decides to take another route and her intentions are soon revealed. She is helping some of Joe’s wives escape from their enslavement promising to lead them to the green lands. When Joe discovers that she has betrayed him he sends all his boys out on a desperate chase and that includes Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of the War Boys who is using Max as his personal blood bag. Nux chains Max to the front of his vehicle and brings him along the desperate and nonstop chase that ensues. For the next two hours Fury Road is basically one extensive chase that will get the entire audiences’ blood pumping.  

I’ve praised Miller’s vision and his direction, as well as the spectacular action set pieces he has crafted, but it wouldn’t do this film justice if the cast didn’t receive its share of praise as well. It isn’t easy to fill the shoes of such an iconic character like Mad Max, but Tom Hardy pulled it off in a very convincing matter. As much as I like Mel Gibson, I have to give Hardy a lot of praise for delivering such an entertaining performance. He is one of my favorite actors working today. It was also great to see Hugh Keays-Byrne back in a Mad Max film playing a different character this time, but he absolutely nailed the menacing role of Joe. Nicholas Hoult was also a pleasant surprise, but perhaps the greatest addition to this franchise was Charlize Theron’s Furiosa who injects the film with a very much needed feminist tone. Theron delivers perhaps the strongest and most memorable role in the movie and she is one kick-ass action star. It helped that she got a lot of action scenes where she actually got to do something instead of being the damsel in distress. The look of the film is also breathtaking, and the way that Miller envisions this world is simply fantastic. The cool vehicles are built from all sorts of scrappy metals and materials you’d collect in the wasteland. Everything about this film is simply fantastic and the action scenes don’t disappoint one bit. You will feel the rush from the very opening scene and it will continue long after the credits begin to roll. Fury Road is the best film of the franchise.   

15 may. 2015

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (5/10): Almost worth it for the Dome sequence alone.

“Now, when men get to fighting, it happens here! And it finishes here! Two men enter; one man leaves.”

Everything I loved about the first Mad Max sequel is what is missing in this third installment, Beyond Thunderdome, which is the weakest entry of the trilogy. I was surprised to discover that this film was so warmly received by critics in 1985 when it came out because I felt like they changed the entire structure of the series and the Max character. Whereas Mel Gibson played Max as a quiet and antisocial character in The Road Warrior, here he seems to enjoy chatting with others and transforms himself into a completely different person. Beyond Thunderdome also lacks some of the spectacular choreographed vehicle chases that the previous films had and which made the franchise such a hit. It isn’t until the final 20 minutes of the film that we actually get these spectacular chases and by that time I really didn’t care too much for the characters. It’s unfortunate because George Miller’s vision of this post-apocalyptic world is intelligently designed, but somehow the characters and the story arch take some absurd turns. The film itself seems like it’s divided into two separate movies. In the first half we are introduced to Bartertown, a civilization that is being built in the middle of the dessert, and then the second half takes place in the middle of an oasis where a group of young teenagers and children are patiently waiting for a savior to lead them home. These two stories didn’t feel like they belonged in a same movie together and the film takes an incoherent turn from what it was doing in the previous Mad Max movies. This seems to be a much more family friendly film and somehow the producers convinced Miller to include the Max character so they could bank on the success of the franchise, but it feels like a completely different story.

Beyond Thunderdome begins with Max (Mel Gibson) traveling through the dessert having his vehicle towed by a group of camels when all of a sudden a plane flies so close to him that it knocks him off the road. In a matter of seconds the pilot, Jedediah (Bruce Spence), jumps off the plane and steals his vehicle while his son flies the plane back home. Max is left with nothing in the middle of the vast wasteland. Fortunately he discovers that there is a nearby city called Bartertown where travelers exchange goods. The city is ruled by Aunty (Tina Turner) who is trying to bring back civilization after a nuclear war has nearly wiped out the entire population of the world. Of course in order to build this civilized city she governs the place by controlling the population with soldiers and slaves. She can’t run the city on her own however, because the city needs energy which is powered by Master Blaster who is using pig manure to produce methane. Master Blaster is actually two characters, Master (Angelo Rossitto), a midget who rides on a giant’s back named Blaster (Paul Larsson). Master is the brains, while Blaster is the brute force. Auntie wants Blaster out of the picture so she can control Master along with the rest of the city on her own. That is where Max comes in handy because she soon discovers that he is a talented warrior who might just be able to defeat the monster. He promises Max vehicle and gasoline if he accepts to face off Blaster in a death duel inside the Thunderdome, the place where all problems are settled and justice is served. The film takes some unexpected turns along the way leading Max through the dessert once again where he is saved by a group of tribal children who seem to confuse him for Captain Walker, a man who supposedly promised to lead them back to civilization. 

The film suffers an extremely rare tonal shift once Max arrives at the oasis where the tribal children live, but it never ceases to entertain. The Thunderdome scene is by far the best action sequence of the movie and the film is almost worth recommending just for that. It’s an inventive fight scene that is expertly choreographed and shot through some great camera angles. The final twenty minutes of the film are action packed, but it comes a bit too late. It’s in these action scenes that George Miller’s direction seems to excel, but the narrative structure and character development does suffer as the film tries to bring all these different archs together in an unconvincing and none-cohesive manner. The sequel seemed to have lost the heart and soul of Miller’s previous visionary post-apocalyptic world, but I’ll still give the film credit for trying to do something completely different from the previous sequel. Unfortunately that inventiveness didn’t pay off and I would’ve preferred Miller stick closer to the world he had envisioned in The Road Warrior. I didn’t care too much for the villains in this film either and that is why I found this to be the weakest entry of the series. 

14 may. 2015

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (9/10): A sequel that builds and improves on their predecessor.

“I remember a time of chaos, ruined dreams, this wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called Max.”

After having enjoyed Mad Max, I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with its sequel, but The Road Warrior actually blew me away and I found it to be a much better film than its predecessor. I had thought that Mad Max had already established the post-apocalyptic world in the Australian wastelands, but in Mad Max 2 the world has become much more chaotic and there is no room for civilization whatsoever. It’s still a low budget film, but director George Miller had more room to work with here and establish his vision of this crazy world. There is also more character development and despite not being entirely convinced by Mel Gibson’s performance in the first film, I found him much more charismatic here and I can now understand why he became such a bankable actor during the following decades. There is actually a better story in The Road Warrior which plays out like a Western. Mel Gibson plays the loner Max who doesn’t say much and seems to only care for himself. He arrives at an encampment where the few surviving members are trying their best to keep things civilized despite being surrounded by a group of violent bikers led by Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) who are in need of their fuel refinery. Max makes a deal with the leader of the camp, Pappagallo (Michael Preston) to bring a truck back to the camp that will allow them to haul the tanker in exchange for all the gas he can take with him. Max is their only hope and he exits the compound while trying to escape Humungus and his men. That is how in a way the film follows the basic Western genre conventions with this mysterious man showing up as the only hope for the somewhat defenseless campers against a threatening enemy. However, Miller changes the horses for fast paced vehicles and guns for crossbows and sharp boomerangs. There aren’t any cowboys or indians here, but rather all sort of wacky and crazy characters using whatever objects they’ve found in the wasteland as their wardrobe in this post-apocalyptic world.

Mel Gibson has very few lines in this film and he appears to be interested in himself, but his charm easily wins us over. He is in a way an anti-hero, but since he shares the same enemy in common with the campers he ends up finding people he can relate to. Max has suffered a lot and lost many loved ones so he prefers to be a loner and not make new friends. In this sequel he faces a much more menacing enemy with Humungus and his gang. One particular stand out in the villain role is Wez (Vernon Wells) who is probably the craziest character in the film. Max finds two misfit allies in the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence), who at first tried to steal from him and then became Max’s prisoner, and in a young brave boy known as the Feral Kid (Emil Minty) whose weapon of choice is a star boomerang. The performances in this film are all solid and the action scenes are incredibly exciting and intense. The final twenty minutes of the film had me at the edge of my seat and the car chases were extremely well shot. The score of the film does feel a bit heavy handed and manipulative, but considering this was filmed in 1981 I have to give it a lot of credit. I had an incredible time with this film and am even more excited for the upcoming Mad Max sequel. It will be hard to top this, but I won’t complain if it’s at least half as good as Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.

This is one of those rare sequels that builds and improves on their predecesor. The vision of this post-apocalyptic world is much better realized here and despite all the crazy characters the film still takes itself seriously. It is violent and there is actually a lot at stake, which is uncommon in action films these days. It is over the top in many ways, but it works extremely well in this world and I can’t think of better chase sequences than there are here. The film has non-stop crazy action and it’s a very entertaining experience. I absolutely recommend this!  

13 may. 2015

The Last 5 Years (5/10): A watchable Musical thanks to Anna Kendrick's voice.

“Jamie is over and Jamie is gone. / Jamie's decided it's time to move on. / Jamie has new dreams he's building upon. / And I'm still hurting.”

The Last Five Years is yet another Broadway musical that has arrived in theaters. Jason Robert Brown’s musical play was adapted by director, Richard LaGravenese, and I couldn’t help but feel that the transition felt a bit forced at times. I’m not the biggest fan of musicals, but the best thing this adaptation has going for it is the inclusion of Anna Kendrick in the starring role as Cathy. She has a fantastic voice and a charming screen presence (and one of the main reasons why I was a huge fan of the comedy Pitch Perfect). The film opens with her singing about her failed marriage to Jamie (Jeremy Jordan). We then are introduced to Jamie in the next scene in a flashback where we see the couple falling in love for the first time five years ago. Jordan also delivers in the lead role with a fantastic singing voice, and we soon realize that the film begins to intersect each scene with Cathy and Jamie’s point of view on their relationship. While Cathy’s story begins from the end of their relationship and moves back in time, Jamie’s story begins from its starting point and moves forward so it does seem a bit confusing at first as the two stories intersect with each other. This is the first time I’ve seen something like this done in a musical, but it’s been explored many times before in dramatic films (Blue Valentine is the one that came first to my mind). The songs are very well written and performed beautifully, but after some forty minutes the novelty of the experience wears off and the film begins to drag during its second half. It does get points for originality, but I wouldn’t recommend the film.

The lead actors deliver strong and believable performances and they share great chemistry so the romance works. The songs are also beautifully delivered and the lyrics are witty. The film is almost entirely sung and that is how we are introduced to each one of the characters and their own perspective on the ups and downs of their relationship. Jamie is an upcoming novelist who begins to find fame in his work, while Cathy is a struggling actress who doesn’t seem to have luck in the big city. They are both very much in love, but with Jamie’s fame the couple soon face new struggles. He has to attend several dinner parties with publishers, where Cathy feels left out, while she ends up having to travel to Ohio for smaller local stage plays there. The similar story of falling in and out of love has been drafted out in other films in the past with the differing perspectives of each lover, so it isn’t entirely unique. It is hard to sympathize very much with these characters despite the chemistry between both actors because it becomes clear that they are both heading towards different paths. The musical begins with some promise, but it dies off and becomes tiresome by the end. I wasn’t a fan of the handheld camera work either which is extremely shaky at times. 

Mad Max (7/10): A totally bonkers but entertaining experience!

“I am the Nightrider. I'm a fuel injected suicide machine. I am the rocker, I am the roller, I am the out-of-controller!”

Due to the upcoming Mad Max sequel starring Tom Hardy, I decided to watch the previous films because I had never had the opportunity to do so. Mad Max was a surprisingly fun experience, despite its low budget and cheesy effects (which when you take into account that they were made in 1979 are actually quite good). A relatively unknown Mel Gibson played the titular role in this apocalyptic future where the Australian police force is doing what they can to uphold the law against the various menacing gangs in the wastelands. The film opens with a car chase involving a couple of cops and a cop-killer known as Nightrider. He has stolen a police vehicle and is crazily driving through the streets while threatening the police force through their radio. The stage is set for this wildly violent world set in a decaying society. Despite the very low production budget that director George Miller had to work with, he was able to pull off some impressive car stunts, which feel quite fresh now that we’ve been exposed to so much CGI. When the cops are unable to catch up to the Nightrider, Max shows up to save the day. He is a police man who has grown weary of the violence and wants out. He’d much rather spend his days in retirement with his beautiful wife, Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and their young boy. But somehow the chief and his partner Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) always manage to convince Max to stay on the force because they consider him to be the hero figure that the society needs. However, things begin to get even more hectic when a group of bikers arrive in town to avenge their friend, Nightrider. Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) is the leader of the band and they begin to spread more fear and caos in the streets. The premise is set for a fun and bonkers film.

Mad Max had all the right ingredients to become a cult-classic film thanks in most part to the fantastic direction from George Miller who made this, his first feature film, with an extremely low budget. Some of the story elements feel very familiar now, but you can’t help but feel intrigued by this apocalyptic world and the way each car stunt was executed to perfection. By the time the sequel came out, Mad Max was viewed by more people and its cult status quickly died down. And that is why now, 30 years after the third film in the franchise came out we are getting an expensive Blockbuster sequel which surprisingly looks very promising. I expected Mad Max to be more than anything a star vehicle for Mel Gibson who ruled the box office during the 80’s and 90’s with his irresistible charm, but surprisingly this break out role for him didn’t focus so much on him. It is more about the world that Miller creates, and Gibson didn’t really have to do or say much. This isn’t a film you can go back to and say that he was a star in the making because everything that made him so popular in his next films was watered down here. He gives a solid and restrained performance, but I found the performances from Hugh Keays-Byrne and Steve Bisley to be the most memorable ones. Mad Max is far from being perfect, but you can see how many modern films borrowed heavily from its violent story. Mad Max is a futuristic sci-fi film that borrows common themes from the vigilante revenge films we’ve been so exposed to all these years.   

11 may. 2015

What's Eating Gilbert Grape (8/10): A classic family drama with touching performances.

“I want Momma to take aerobics classes. I want Ellen to grow up. I want a new brain for Arnie. I want…”

Looking back at Leonardo DiCaprio’s filmography I’m constantly reminded what a great actor he is. In What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, he plays a seventeen year old mentally ill kid in such a natural way that if I didn’t know this was Leo I would’ve believed the actor playing Arnie was really mentally ill. This is probably one of his standout performances and is one of the highlights of this emotionally gripping family drama. However he is just a supporting character in this film as the title character is played by Johnny Depp, Arnie’s older brother who is always taking care of him and the rest of the family. Gilbert’s father has abandoned them and ever since he has been the male role model for the family in the small community where they live. He not only takes care of Arnie, he also has to provide for the family by working in a small local supermarket. He is ashamed of his obese mother (Darlene Cates), who simply stopped caring about her beautiful body after her husband abandoned her. Gilbert also has two sisters who help out with the family chores, Amy (Laura Harrington) and Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt). The responsibility Gilbert feels towards his family has taken its toll on him and explains why he seems to be half asleep all the time. He has no time for accomplishing any personal goals or dreams and spends his few free minutes with his local friends, Tucker (John C. Reilly) and Bobby (Crispin Glover). Things take an unexpected turn when Becky (Juliette Lewis) arrives in town and the two form a special bond together. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is an emotionally gripping family drama that works thanks to the strong performances from the cast and a fantastically well written script by Peter Hedges. The film avoids feeling cliche or melodramatic and I found it to be an honest story. Lasse Hallstrom has been accused of being overly melodramatic at times, but I think that the director avoided much of those moments here thanks in most part to a well written script.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives the best performance of the film, but Johnny Depp also delivers in a very subtle way. His character doesn’t seem to say much, but the way he simply moves and speaks says a lot about him. He knows he isn’t getting anywhere in life and feels stuck in this small town, but at the same time he has responsibilities and knows that his family relies on him to survive. He is trapped in a prison he can’t get out of. He cares deeply for his family, but at the same time he resents them and it seems they have become a burden for him. The way he approaches the character is fascinating because he doesn’t have to say or do anything for us to understand how he feels. We can easily identify and sympathize for his character. The chemistry he shares with Lewis is also strong. She is in some ways the opposite of him. She is free spirited and has travelled across several states. She doesn’t have many responsibilities, and the two end up complementing each other quite well. Their relationship might not be the central theme of the movie, but it does lighten up the mood a bit. Reilly is always funny on screen and despite playing a more serious character he still delivers his usual quirky silliness to the role. All these small relationships are the central theme of the movie and the brotherhood between Depp and DiCaprio stands out above them all. I enjoyed this family drama and I’m glad I finally got a chance to watch it.  

Avengers: Age of Ultron (7/10): And the Build-up continues...

"I know you're good people. I know you mean well. But you just didn't think it through. There is only one path to peace... your extinction."

Age of Ultron doesn't live up to the first Avengers mostly because the novelty of seeing all these superheroes together has warn off, but it is still a very entertaining film with some positive elements to take out of it. First of all, the villain voiced by James Spader is an improvement over most others we've seen in the Marvel Universe. He is actually a menace to the heroes, and although Ultron isn't as charismatic as Loki, he still represents a much more dangerous threat for them so we feel there is much more at stake. The addition of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch also enhances the franchise. Olsen is an actress I've admired ever since her screen debut in Martha Marcy May Marlene, so it was exciting to see her play this role alongside other fantastic actors. Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Quicksilver wasn't used as well as he was in X-Men, but it was still fun to see him on screen. Quicksilver was the highlight for me in the latest X-Men franchise, but here he is simply another new character. It was much more fun to see his quick movements in slow motion instead of at such a rapid pace. The returning characters also enhance the sequel and make it entertaining. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man is by far my favorite character in the franchise and Mark Ruffalo's Hulk always delivers some of the best comedic moments. Age of Ultron delivers plenty of fun scenes, but it also tries to take itself a bit more seriously, and that didn't work as well for me considering I found Captain America The Winter Soldier to be a slightly better and interesting serious thriller. In summary, it doesn't match the comedy of its predecessor and it doesn't stand out as a more serious film either. The run-time does begin to feel a bit heavy, but I still have to admit that I had a fun time with the movie. There is a lot going on and with the addition of the new characters some of the scenes feel rushed and the plot gets a bit convoluted.

The main problem  with these Marvel movies is that they're getting more and more difficult to view as individual films. They seem to be always building up to something and I expected all the build-up in the previous films was going to lead to something important in this second Avengers movie, but what we get instead is more of a build-up to the next phase of the Marvel universe. Ultron presented a great threat to the heroes, but everything was rushed and it seems it was resolved all too easily by the end. It's still hard to resist a film with so many likable characters and charismatic leads, but I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed with Age of Ultron when the introduction of the main villain seemed promising. Spader's voice work stood out for me in this film as one of the best performances. I was also happy to see Jeremy Renner get much more screen time with his character, Hawkeye, as well as Scarlett Johansson with Black Widow. This is probably as close to an individual film about them we'll get. Captain America and Thor however, are underused and I really didn't care too much about them here.