23/7/2014

My Review: Mood Indigo (5/10)

"This feeling of solitude is unfair. I demand to fall in love too!"

No one does surrealism better than the French, but unfortunately I'm not into surrealism and I usually have a hard time enjoying this genre in general. Mood Indigo is probably more surreal than any other film you've seen before, and despite the fantastic visuals and rich imagery used I had a hard time engaging with the characters and its lack of a strong narrative story. I was a huge fan of director, Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and despite the surrealism in that film I enjoyed the strong narrative along with the romance, but I guess a lot of that had to do with Charlie Kaufman's involvement in the writing of the script. Mood Indigo kind of feels like that short scene where Jim Carrey's character was sharing his memory from his childhood as a small scaled adult, with the exception that in Mood Indigo the entire film is like that. There are many surreal elements, like a rat sized man dressed in a rat costume running around the house, a door bell that takes a life of its own every time someone rings the bell, and there's a piano that makes cocktail drinks depending on the notes you play, among many other things (and did I mention how people's legs stretch like rubber every time they started dancing?). Mood Indigo is a great title, although I like the sound of the original French title, L'écume des jours, but the english title fits the film well because moods are a predominant element here. It is a unique film, but one that I had a hard time connecting with and got little enjoyment out of it.

Despite not having a strong narrative, I enjoyed the performances in this film. Romain Duris plays Colin, a wealthy bachelor who falls in love with Audrey Tautou's character, Chloe. They quickly fall in love and everything around them seems to blossom. That is until Chloe develops a strange illness when a flower begins to grow in her lungs. Colin will spend his fortune and do what it takes in order to save her, but little by little the happiness and brightness of his home begins to lose its intensity. Other strong performances came from Omar Sy who played Colin's overly enthusiast chef and who prepares some strange dishes with the help of a TV cook, and then there is also Colin's best friend, Chick, played by Gad Elmaleh who is in a relationship as well and is always hanging out at his home. They all give strong performances and help set the surreal tone of the film with their energetic deliveries. It was great to see Omar Sy again because I really enjoyed his performance in The Intouchables. He was probably my favorite character in this film.

Ultimately the film wore me out and I had a hard time sticking with the entire story because I wished it had a stronger narrative story. I never really cared for the characters here because Gondry was more focused on the images and the fantastical elements rather than on telling a story. This is as close as you get to watching a live action cartoon so if that is what the audience is looking for they will be pleased, but it just wasn't a film for me. 


22/7/2014

My Review: Very Good Girls (4/10)

"We got to get over this hump."

Very Good Girls was on my radar ever since I heard it was debuting in last year's Sundance Film Festival. The reason I was attracted towards this despite not knowing anything about the plot was the cast. It starred Elizabeth Olsen who I've been a fan of ever since Martha Marcy May Marlene and Dakota Fanning who I think hasn't matched that same potential she had as a child actress. The supporting cast included Demi Moore, Peter Sarsgaard, Clark Gregg, and Richard Dreyfuss so I was really looking forward to what they could do. This was also the feature film debut from director Naomi Foner who had written a couple of screenplays in the past, but is best known for being the mother of the talented actors, Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal. 

You would never guess this screenplay was written by a woman considering these young teenage girls have no personality and their entire lives seem to revolve around this guy they met at a beach. He is the only thing they talk about and both girls end up falling for him, which is pretty much the basic theme of this film as their friendship is tested by their personal feelings towards him. Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen play these young girls who want to lose their virginity before going to college. The guy they both fall for is played by Boyd Holbrook and I really wasn't a huge fan of his performance. I couldn't see why these girls would fall for him as he lacked personality and wasn't really charming either. Both Fanning and Olsen come from very different families. Olsen's parents are played by Richard Dreyfuss and Demi Moore who are very talkative and liberal, while Fanning's parents are played by Clark Gregg and Ellen Barkin and they are much more reserved. The parents don't get much screen time so they weren't really developed very well and all the information we gather from them is through the conversations the two girls have about how they view them (which is almost entirely negative). So that was a big let down for me because I was interested in what these actors could bring to the drama. There is nothing really that engages the audience since none of the characters have any personality whatsoever and not even the love triangle seems too appealing due to the lack of romantic chemistry. The film is only 90 minutes long but it seemed to drag forever and the score didn't help out either. I was hugely disappointed by Very Good Girls and I understand now why it took so long to reach a wider audience after the Festival. 

Unfortunately the talented cast is wasted in this film and not even my appreciation for Elizabeth Olsen engaged me. I didn't even like her character very much here and much less the rest of the cast. Olsen has to find better roles because her latest films haven't exploded her potential very well. I was amazed to see how little Demi Moore and Richard Dreyfuss were used in this film; there could have been a better movie somewhere if they were given more importance. The lack of personality from any character just makes this film even more boring and tedious. There have been so many good coming of age films over the past year that this film simply fails to reach the bar that was set so high by Kings of Summer, The Way Way Back, and The Spectacular Now.  This could have been an opportunity for two strong female leads but they simply didn't have much to work with.


21/7/2014

My Review: Bad Words (4/10)

"What was your favorite word?"

Jason Bateman is a funny guy although his films are usually hit or miss with me. Bad Words was a miss. I just couldn't get into the premise of this film considering Bateman plays a 40 year old guy competing in the largest spelling bee competition in the USA against a bunch of young and intelligent kids. Sometimes these sort of ridiculous premises work extremely well in comedies, but this film was just too mean spirited and offensive for my taste. I didn't find any of the jokes funny and the relationships Bateman's character has with the people around him never felt believable. There is some mystery revolving around the main character's intention for entering this contest, but once it was revealed I didn't think it added anything to the movie. I will give some credit to Jason Bateman (who also directed this film) for casting himself against type considering he usually plays the nice guy and here he plays a hateful and racist character. I just didn't find any situation funny in Bad Words and I don't think we can call a film hilarious only for pushing the limits on swearing and calling kids and their parents names. Perhaps it was just not my type of comedy, but it never worked for me and I was disappointed with Bateman's directorial feature debut. 

Kathryn Hahn plays the journalist who is supporting Bateman's character in the spelling bee competition. She knows the story will sell  and since Bateman found a loophole in the competition needing a national journalist to back him up she willingly decides to help. The relationship between both characters is probably the weakest link in the film and I never found any of their interactions funny. Rohan Chand plays one of the competitors in the spelling bee who befriends Guy (Jason Bateman). At first Guy wants nothing to do with him, but pretty soon a relationship develops which turns out to be the heart and soul of this film. Chand plays a sympathetic character but I really wasn't too comfortable with his performance. Not even reliable actors like Allison Janney and Ben Falcone are given any opportunities to shine here. Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood for a comedy, but I don't remember laughing at any particular scene here. I did feel a bit uncomfortable with the strange relationships between each character and I simply found Bateman's Guy too hateful to want to spend more time watching him on screen.


20/7/2014

My Review: Dawn of The Planet of The Apes (8/10)


"Apes together strong!"

A decade has passed since the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt's 2011 film that successfully rebooted this once beloved franchise from the late 60's) and now we find ourselves in a completely different world. The genetically evolved apes have built a new home in the San Francisco woods and continue to be led by Caesar (Andy Serkis). They communicate through sign language and several can speak. The simian virus that broke out at the end of the first film has practically wiped out the human race and it's been two years since Caesar or any of the apes have seen any human activity. But there are survivors living in the ruins led by a man named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and in order to restore power they need to gain access to a nearby hydroelectric dam in ape territory. Caesar's lieutenant, Koba (Toby Kebbell) hates humans and recommends killing them, but Caesar is wise and wants to avoid war. He gives a few men, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), permission to work on the dam only for a few days, but this short lived time of peace hangs on a very thin thread.

Matt Reeves was given the director's chair for this sequel and he doesn't disappoint. It's just as entertaining and smart as Wyatt's Rise. There have been several strong blockbusters that have come out this year and Dawn deserves to be considered among the best. What this film does right is focus on the apes allowing us to sympathize with their cause. Andy Serkis delivers a powerful performance once again and he owns this movie, although I would have to say that Kebbell's Koba is so memorable that he may just be the best villain in a film this year. The humans don't get much attention in this film so of course there is very little character development going on with them. Jason Clarke plays the most sympathetic character and perhaps the only human worth carrying about in this film. I was a bit disappointed that Gary Oldman wasn't given more screen time or a heavier role. Reeves also cast Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee with whom he worked with in Felicity and Let Me In respectively, but they don't have much to work with here either. The true stars of the film are the apes and there is a significant upgrade in the CGI compared to Rise. The apes look and move in an authentic manner. Dawn has everything going for it, great visuals, a fantastic score, a smart script, and some fantastic action scenes. We spend so much time with these advanced apes that by the time we see them riding on horses and carrying machine guns the entire premise seems plausible. 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of those rare smart blockbusters where the action and visual aren't the only aspect of a film that has been given some thought. The apes are given personalities and the tension between the two sides is palpable. It isn't just a lame excuse to give us great visuals and cool looking action scenes; it is much more complex than that, and by doing so it creates much more tension. We are entertained just as much as we are forced to think. They have managed to turn a franchise I really didn't care for at first into an engaging and gripping one without ceasing to entertain the audience. When you spend some time creating believable and complex characters and combine them with cool looking action scenes you have the recipe for a successful movie that will leave audiences entertained and engaged at the same time. Their eyes won't be the only thing that are blown away, but their minds as well. And that is what Reeves and his team have managed to do with this franchise. It is sort of a Shakespearean drama combined with fantastic action scenes that are shot really well (there is a rotating shot from the point of view of a tank that was spectacular). I had a great time and I'm sure most audiences will as well.


18/7/2014

My Review: Calvary (8/10)

¨ I've always felt there's something inherently psychopathic about joining the army in peace time.¨

Calvary is director, John Michael McDonagh's followup to 2011's The Guard which also happened to star Brendan Gleeson in the lead role. This time Gleeson plays a Catholic Priest named Father James who is   threatened during a confession by someone who we don't get to see. This man claims to have been sexually molested by a Priest several times as a kid and although Father James is a good and decent Priest he must take the fall in order for a statement to be made. Father James is given one week (or so this man claims) before being killed on the following Sunday on the beach. The father is troubled by this threat but he must continue doing his parish work during the remaining course of the week. We follow him as he has some deep conversations with the different members of the small Irish town they live in. It's a very interesting premise that hooks you from the start and has you wondering which of all the troubled people in the town might be the one who has threatened this goodhearted Priest. However the film works just as fine without that premise because the interactions between these characters is the true center of the story. These are all broken men and women who the Father interacts with and most of the conversations are deep and spiritual. Calvary isn't a film about religion, but it does have some important things to say about faith and virtues. It is very well written by McDonagh and the screenplay is rich in dark comedy; perhaps one of the best things about this movie. This is a film that could be very easily adapted to a stage play because the written material is superb and carries the movie on its own. Calvary also benefits from the beautiful scenery of the Irish coast line and a wonderful supporting cast. This is a film that sticks with you and one I wouldn't mind watching again. 

Brendan Gleeson is a fantastic actor and one wishes he continue to collaborate with director McDonagh. I remembered he also gave a fantastic performance in In Bruges, which ironically was written and directed by John McDonagh's brother. These guys are great writers and know how to include a lot of wit in their dialogues. The rest of the cast is fantastic as well. Kelly Reilly plays Fiona, Father James's daughter (I know you might be thinking what is a Priest doing with a daughter because I asked myself the same question, but we quickly find out that James was once married and when his wife died he became a Priest). She is going through some difficult times, and James is trying to help her find answers. Chris O'Dowd also gives a terrific performance as one of the members from the parish whose wife is having an affair with an African man, but he seems ok with this because he can finally enjoy his freedom. Aidan Gillen (from Game of Thrones) plays the Atheist doctor, while Emmet Walsh is an old writer who is well aware that he's approaching death. These are just some of the people that Father James deals with in his community and each interaction is very rich and profound. There is plenty of dark humor balanced with a great amount of spiritual questions. I was pleasantly surprised with how well the material was handled. I can't even remember when was the last time that a Priest was portrayed so well on screen. Calvary is a powerful film with great performances and some sharp writing, and that is why this is one of the must see films of 2014. All I know is that after watching this I was desperate to get my hands on The Guard which I haven't had a chance to see but definitely will now. I highly recommend Calvary.


17/7/2014

My Review: The Other Woman (3/10)

"We got played by the same guy... do you want vodka or tequila?"

We got played once again with another familiar and cliched romantic comedy with uninspired performances, weak direction, and poor writing. I guess Leslie Mann could have used some help from her husband, Judd Apatow, because the material she had to work with here was completely unfunny, or at least she should have asked him for advice before accepting to make this film. I'm sure she had a lot of fun making this, but I wish we could have at least had half the fun watching this as she did making it. She was really annoying, especially during the first half hour, and it's a shame because she is an extremely funny actress. I've seen Cameron Diaz playing similar roles before (for example in The Sweetest Thing which this film reminded me a lot of) so I wasn't as surprised with how uninspiring her performance was. Kate Upton looked great, but that is all she had to offer in a film where she felt completely lost playing alongside Diaz and Mann. As for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, well he is much better as a Lannister. I really can't blame the actors because the material they had to work with was too cliche and their characters completely one dimensional. They were all stereotypes and their was no personality whatsoever to this comedy. The jokes are all recycled and there are very few funny moments. I wasn't expecting much from this film really, but I didn't think it would be as bad as it was.

The Other Woman (or should I say, The Other Women) lacks substance and the funniest scenes for me were the ones borrowed from other comedies I'd seen in the past. I don't know why Hollywood producers think poop and vomit jokes need to be included in all comedies, but it needs to stop because they are not funny anymore. I'm all up for female empowerment, but this isn't really the way to go. This is easily one of the worst movies of the year and I should have avoided it. We have several contenders here for the Razzies and I forgot to mention how bad Nicki Minaj was in her supporting role here. 


My Review: Under the Skin (4/10)

"Do you live alone?"

Jonathan Glazer's latest film has received much praise from critics and film lovers alike for it's artistic, minimalist, and experimental style. It's a surreal film that never feels pretentious. Under the Skin says a lot (almost entirely through imagery) about beauty and seduction and how it is perceived differently by men and women. Scarlett Johansson gives a powerful performance, but somehow the imagery didn't stick with me as it did with most audiences. I enjoyed the first 20 minutes of the film and I was creeped out with the direction it was heading as Johansson's character seduced and lured men into her van, but after she experiences a sort of inner struggle concerning who she is, I felt the film went downhill from there and lost my interest. There are many interpretations as to what each scene means and that is where Glazer succeeds considering his film has affected many viewers, but it really didn't do anything for me. The final hour of the film dragged and I felt emotionally detached despite the fine performance from Johansson and the eerie score that played a big role in setting up the  unique atmosphere of the film. I don't want to go into details because the less you know about this film the more unique of an experience you will have. Under the Skin will be on many critics top 10 list by the end of the year, and I can understand why, but it simply didn't work for me and I can't force myself to enjoy this or give it another watch. The images didn't seem to haunt me in the same way the score did. But by all means don't listen to me because you may have a completely different experience with this unique film.

I went into this film with very high expectations despite never having seen a film from Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast and Birth) because I had read a lot of positive things about it. Perhaps having seen this right after the epic martial-arts action film, The Raid 2, affected my overall experience considering it is much slower in pace. Under the Skin is more about the shocking imagery and the underlying message behind each scene rather than focusing on a traditional narrative structure. Although you may not know it, this film has more in common with Borat than what you would think. It is experimental in the sense that Glazer and the producers placed hidden cameras in the van while Johansson tried to seduce and lure men into her van without them knowing it. The experiment payed off well because these were the most interesting scenes in the film, but it wasn't cohesive enough with the other controlled aspects of the film. There is just something strange about this film that didn't really work for me. I just felt alienated and didn't care much for the direction it was heading and it never got under my skin the way it has most of the people I've spoken with about it.


16/7/2014

My Review: The Raid 2 (8/10)

"In prison you'd be wise to pick a side. Loners don't tend to last long."

The anticipated sequel to Gareth Evans' Indonesian film, The Raid, lived up to expectations thanks to some fantastic action scenes and well choreographed fighting scenes (amongst the best I've seen on film). Iko Uwais is back in the lead role as Rama and the film picks up only a few hours after the events of the first movie. If you thought Rama was off the hook after fighting his way out of the building infected with criminals, then you were wrong because this time he has to go undercover and infiltrate the criminal underworld. In order to do so, first he must go to prison and win the confidence of Uco (played by Arifin Putra), the son of one of the most important Indonesian mafia bosses. Evans takes his time setting up the action and although the first hour and a half does contain some entertaining action sequences, it is nothing compared to the final 90 minute of the film. Uwais may not be as convincing as a dramatic actor, but he shines in every action scene he's in. I wasn't sure what direction Evans was going with this film at first, considering it had a rather slow build up, but once he got that out of the way there was plenty of room for fantastic action sequences. Unlike most Hollywood action films, Evans doesn't use so much editing and allows the action to flow uninterruptedly. There was too much shaky cam at times, but the fighting sequences were so well choreographed that it was impossible not to be in awe. My heart is still pumping really fast after those intense action scene, but be warned this film is not for everyone: there is a lot of graphic violence. At times I felt like I was watching a Refn film, less stylized of course but with a heavier narrative story. I was blown away with the second half of this film, but I did find the first half a bit slow and confusing. I only got to watch the dubbed version so that may have affected my overall experience with the dramatic scenes, but the action was perfectly executed.

I'm sure there won't be any other movie coming out this year that will top the action sequences in this movie. Evans knows how to deliver action and in the first Raid he was just getting warmed up because in The Raid 2 he delivers plenty of highly choreographed fighting sequences. Uwais is a star, but in this film we also got to meet plenty of other dangerous characters. Yayan Ruhian had played Mad Dog in the first film and he's back for the sequel but as a different character. An odd decision, but it was fun to get to watch this actor once again. The three villains Rama has to face off are also interesting. Of course all we know about them is that they are good fighters (there is no need for character development here). They have no name, but we identify them by their weapon of choice. Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman), Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), and The Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman) who all prove to be worthy adversaries. The film is two and a half hours long but it is justified because the action scenes are done really well and there are several interesting characters as well. I didn't think I would enjoy this film as much as the first one considering I liked the constraints and tight spaces that the building provided in the original, and although here we have several locations, Evans still manages to direct the action in enclosed spaces such as inside vehicles, hallways, kitchens, and alleys. The film is ultra violent and the martial-arts action is unlike anything you've seen before. It may be too extreme and brutal, but it is great filmmaking nonetheless.


15/7/2014

My Review: Transformers Age of Extinction (4/10)

"But when you look up to the stars, think of them as my soul."

Michael Bay is back at it again delivering a longer and louder sequel full of headache inducing action scenes. It's funny that a film like this, with no soul, puts so much emphasis in trying to convince us that these Transformers actually have one. The film felt like a parable warning us about the dangers of cloning and animal testing, but it was completely uninspiring. There was no reason for this film to be so long and at times I think that the over extended action scenes end up becoming anti-climactic. There is a scene at the beginning of the film where a theater owner is complaining how sequels are killing the industry (a clear parody of itself) and if Bay was trying to make fun of critics as old timers then I wouldn't mind being called a grumpy old man because this film was just terrible. The characters in this film are completely one dimensional and their sole purpose in this film was to allow for an excuse to jump from one action scene to the next. You have the now classic female lead role from Bay not doing anything else than looking good in front of the camera, and several attempts at humor from the rest of the supporting characters who simply seem to be in the movie in order to give funny one-liners. For every funny line, there were ten that didn't work. The film does look great; there is a beautiful scenery and cool looking CGI action scenes but it simply felt like another empty attempt at delivering a loud blockbuster. For Bay it seems like more is better, but for me with every new sequel that comes out I grow more unresponsive towards these cartoon characters that I once loved as a young kid. It's a shame because I did like the first film, but the sequels have ruined it for me.

Having Mark Wahlberg play the lead role instead of Shia LaBeouf was an interesting move considering he is more of an action star. I tend to like Wahlberg's action films, but he wasn't enough to save this film considering the real stars are the soulless giant metal robots. I also found Stanley Tucci to be a great addition although at times he did get on my nerves, but the blame for that has to be put on the poor script written by Ehren Kruger. It's as if for two and a half hours we got beat over the head with one repeated action scene after another. I don't know, the entire experience left me a bit dumbstruck and I was utterly disappointed even though my expectations were really low going into this sequel. At times I wondered if Bay's title, "Age of Extinction,"was referring to the future of blockbusters, but when I thought of what other directors did with films like X-Men and Edge of Tomorrow (to mention a few) I calmed down and realized some directors actually are making smart and intelligent blockbusters. Bay on the other hand is making the same film over and over again with the exception that they get longer and louder. Fans who are looking for this will be pleased because Bay gives you an all you can eat buffet of action scenes involving giant metal robots battling off one another while cities are being destroyed. I never thought I would say this, but Pacific Rim was a much better movie at that.


11/7/2014

My Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (8/10)

"Did he just throw my cat out of the window?"

If you were to walk blind folded into a movie, you'd only need 5 seconds to recognize you are watching a Wes Anderson film. His quirky sense of humor and stylized films are so unique that he manages to draw us in to this colorful world effortlessly. The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception, and once again Anderson introduces us to a quirky setting full of dysfunctional yet amusing characters. In my opinion there was no better setting for an Anderson film than a fictional country in Eastern Europe like the one in The Grand Budapest Hotel where these gigantic and beautiful ancient castles fit his style perfectly. At times his films feel like you are turning the page of an illustrated book from one scene to the next and that is what is so unique about his style. I am a huge fan of his films and wasn't disappointed with his latest effort although I wouldn't consider it amongst his best work (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Moonrise Kingdom are my favorites). I do acknowledge however that his films tend to grow on me upon rewatches so it may manage to make it near the top of my list in the future. Once again watching an Anderson film proved to be a wonderful and unique experience, and I laughed hard during many scenes. Anderson never seems to lose his touch as there are several memorable moments throughout the film.

No one can deny Wes Anderson's creativity and it is just a pleasure to experience what his quirky mind is going to come up with next. The dialogue is brilliant once again and several characters stand out. Ralph Fiennes in the lead role as the hotel concierge is brilliant as is his apprentice, Tony Revolori. The two have great chemistry together as Fiennes' character sort of becomes the parent figure of the young lobby boy, which Anderson always loves to explore in his films. The epic cast was brilliant as well, and it was good to see Anderson's frequent collaborators on screen together once again. They may not have much screen time, but Anderson fans will appreciate every second they are on screen (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Tilda Swinton). The highlight of the film for me were the spectacular and hilarious chase scenes through the gorgeous Alps background and Willem Dafoe's comedic performance. The way Anderson edited those scenes was extremely funny as well. I really liked the quirky soundtrack  which just added to my overall enjoyment of the film. I only wish the film would've explored the romantic relationship between Tony Revolori and Saoirse Ronan a bit more and that it wouldn't have concluded in such an open ended way. It was still a lot of fun!