Thanks for your patience…

4 Sep

To those who may or may not care about this blog:

I am sincerely sorry that I got so sidetracked.  As you can see, two of the promised reviews have finally been added.  A Despicable Me 2-parter is on its way tomorrow, and The Devil’s Backbone should be up before too long.  Other movies I would like to include…include:

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)

The Prestige (Christopher Nolan)

Amadeus (Milos Forman)

That’s all for now!

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“The Desolation of Jackson”: Why “The Hobbit” is changing (and why that’s okay)

4 Sep

The Hobbit I have read…gone, it is. Consumed…by Peter Jackson.  Well, sort of.  Premiering this December 13 or thereabouts, The Desolation of Smaug is to be the second of a planned three-parter called The Hobbit.  Oh, you’ve heard of it?  Originally published in 1937, the novel remains vastly popular today, due largely in part to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films bringing it to huge pop-culture status.

I’ve fully accepted that there will be changes made to this book, and that life will go on.  Heck, I loved An Unexpected Journey, as you can read below.  I just can’t kid myself that this is not the book I read.  It is an immensely stylish, immensely fun adventure of a prequel that beats the hell out of Star Wars Episodes 1-3 (and 6, for that matter).

I highly doubt that Tolkien would have liked these movies.  I know, I know: “Tolkien died in 1973, how could you know what he would or wouldn’t have liked?”  I’m taking an educated guess supported by the myriad of gratuitous changes made in the Rings movies, the exponential increase in alterations and extensions made for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and the July trailer for The Desolation of Smaug.

Peter Jackson and his New Zealand team have been fairly silent on their new masterwork ever since the trailer was released.  I suppose that might have something to do with the fact that they are still post-producing two enormous films back-to-back, but I can’t shake off the feeling that this movie will prove even more divisive among fans and viewers than all four of its Jackson Middle-earth predecessors.

For one thing, we can expect new characters who were never in The Hobbit (such as Legolas) or never in any of Tolkien’s work (such as Tauriel, Elvish for “forest-maiden,” played by Evangeline Lilly).  For another, Jackson and his fellow screenwriters Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh still need to resolve the monster issue (literally) of Azog the “Defiler,” an orc with a metal arm who was supposed to be dead before the events of the movie.  I predict that he will be dispatched by Thranduil in the battle of Mirkwood.  If I’m right, I’ll give myself a pat on the back and buy myself another box of movie candy.

But there’s more.  The Hobbit, himself, Bilbo Baggins, played by the incomparable Martin Freeman, is only featured in about three shots of the entire trailer, with dwarves, elves, and orcs front and center, doing all manner of leaping, jumping, and attacking.  To paraphrase my grandfather’s philosophy, modern movies are nothing but men doing double back-flips out of burning buildings and landing on top of police cars, unscathed.

I, for one, am also looking forward to Thorin Oakenshield’s gradual descent into madness after such a nice bro hug with Bilbo at the end of Part 1.

https://i1.wp.com/static.hypable.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/hobbit-desolation-of-smaug.jpg

The first official picture of Desolation of Smaug, from at least one year ago.

Now You Don’t–A Review of “Now You See Me”

4 Sep

My sister can be a genius on certain occasions.  One such occasion was when she convinced my entire family to see the heist film Now You See Me, as opposed to splitting up into smaller groups and viewing what probably would have been lesser movies.  To be fair, I knew very little about the genre, and I had heard nothing of the director (Louis Leterrier) prior to stepping into that theater.  The cast is mainstream enough, however, and those familiar with names like Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, and Woody Harrelson will find plenty of old faces here.

In fact, Now You See Me is one of those films that I like to call “star-studded,” as it also features the Dark Knight double-act of Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman!  The basic storyline is simple enough to follow, yet like any good “magic” movie, there are plenty of surprises.  Without giving anything away, I can say that this movie plays like a pop-culture version of The Prestige (a fantastic film that I just got around to seeing, and hope to review some day).  Now You See Me is not light-hearted, but it is whimsical in the sense that its quartet of con-magicians laugh in the face of danger (and INTERPOL agents).

The “Four Horsemen,” as our antiheroes are called, (based on the Biblical story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) are played by the aforementioned Eisenberg and Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco.  They are likeable in spite of their criminality–or perhaps it is the opposite: they are criminals in spite of being likeable people.  After all, can’t we forgive a bank heist if the stolen money rains down on the audience?  But they have bigger problems on their mind than moral scruples.  Could there really be a “Fifth Horseman”?  And can they pull off their third and final act in time to meet him?

The soundtrack left no impression on me, I am sorry to say, nor did the cinematography, for that matter.  Things that did leave an impression were: several well-choreographed fight scenes (including a henchman’s hand getting stuck in a garbage disposal), a suspenseful and intricate ending, and an unnecessary but funny cameo by Conan O’Brien.

https://i2.wp.com/cdn.amctheatres.com/titles/images/Poster/Large/34_now-you-see-me-poster_7B13.jpg

I don’t see them…

At this point, I guess one could ask, “What’s the point?” both of my review and the movie.  Here is “the point,” for me at least: I tend to enjoy fraught dramas and epic fantasies, and Now You See Me is neither.  It is a magician movie, but it is much more about the moral and legal consequences of using magic in a certain way.  As any Hogwarts graduate should be able to tell you, some curses are unforgivable. 

FINAL CUT:

This film tries to be intelligent and timely, but never in a pretentious way.  And guess what?  It succeeds…mostly.  The explanation of the rumored “Fifth Horseman” just didn’t do it for me, though it was clearly well-thought out rather than tacked on.  Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as J. Daniel Atlas, the “Horsemen”‘s young ringleader, so to speak, was hilarious and very impressive–that young man really has some talent, even if it seems to have mostly been devoted to comedy.  The interrogation scene stuck with me for quite a while, until I saw an excerpt of it again on–where else?–Conan O’Brien’s show!

7.5/10
–IMPRESSIVE–

A Tentative Itinerary

30 Jul

Given the fact that I now have a few people following this blog, it seems only prudent to provide a heads-up of what might be coming soon.  (Tentative Itinerary, remember).

Reviews of:

El espinazo del diablo (The Devil’s Backbone)–Guillermo del Toro

Despicable Me 2–Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud

Now You See Me–Louis Leterrier

-And (of course) an analysis of the trailer of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

If I complete all of these, and people are interested, I may take requests for reviews.

Until then!

Acknowledgments

30 Jul

I just wanted to take the time to thank everyone who has taken the time to read my film review blog.  Hopefully you have found it entertaining or at least interesting.  Eventually, I may consider expanding to short fiction and poetry.  But I still have a bunch of reviews in the pipeline…

“Death Is A Disease”: A Review of Aronofsky’s “The Fountain”

30 Jul

Just about everyone knows (or knows of) someone who has died untimely, who has slipped uncontrollably into the iron grasp of humanity’s oldest and most supreme adversary: Death.  After two frankly bizarre and unpleasant (though still gripping) movies, Darren Aronofsky decided to take a more metaphysical, philosophical approach for his third feature effort, The Fountain.  However, this film suffered over five years of delay, and by the time it was finally released, much had changed.

It was originally intended to have a far larger budget, and to star Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett as the leading couple.  Yes, The Fountain is a love story, but it is mostly a life story, and especially a death story.  However, it is not morbid.  Aronofsky achieves no real breakthrough in religion or spirituality, but he does provide us with a gripping film that reaches some level of understanding and enlightenment, at least for the characters.

Following the theme of Max, Sara, Harry, Marion, and Tyrone from the previous Aronofsky films, Dr. Creo is a man with an obsession.  His obsession happens to be the research of cancer in primates, as he races to an ostensibly altruistic goal of curing his wife Izzi’s brain tumor, which has been in remission for some time.  He spends late nights at the laboratory, foregoing time spent with his companion of limited days in a hope of giving her years more.

Tommy is literally trying to beat Death.  To cure it.  To destroy.  To kill it.  Here’s where it gets complicated: Tommy isn’t the only one trying to achieve eternal life for himself and all others.  In two parallel realities that may or may not be true, a conquistador called Tomas and a monk-space traveler called Tom (both played by Hugh Jackman, just like the central oncologist character) are looking for a Tree of Life guarded by a Mayan army, and the Mayan nebula-underworld of Xibalba, respectively.

Izzi, also known as Isabella, Queen of Spain, in the “past” story, is dying of a relapse into cancer (or threatened by fanatical Inquisitors, depending on the current storyline).  The cancer story is where I find the greatest sadness, not because of Izzi’s situation, but Tom’s. Allow me to explain.

Tommy Creo forgoes many chances to live life in the vain hope of killing Death.  More specifically, he skips his last chance to walk in the snow with Izzi, even losing his temper with her when she suggests that he take a break from lab work.  It’s tragic, really, that Tommy would rather experiment on monkeys than spend time with his wife, but that isn’t how he sees it.  Like a typical “Aronofsky-esque” hero, he ends up putting his own interests ahead of others, in the hope that he will someday be able to pay it forward for the rest of humankind.

Curiously, Izzi does not seem to be afraid of Death.  After a swooning seizure in a museum, she is taken to the emergency room, and she becomes very weak, but never scared.  It is a fitting and plausible reversal to have a terrified man and a bold woman in a film such as this, especially because Death is an indomitable foe, the great equalizer.  It is the most indiscriminate force in the world.  Yes, Izzi is brave.  However, I don’t think the word “brave” can quite sum up her love for life and acceptance of death; she realizes that there is no sense in a struggle.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much I am unlike Izzi. I fear Death, just like Tommy; and unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be making it to a nebula anytime soon.

But I digress…greatly.  Hugh Jackman gives  a very good performance, and he is a chilling portrait of the grief and rage that go hand-in-hand with human loss.  Rachel Weisz, who plays Izzi and Isabella, did not impress me as much, maybe just because she was married to Darren Aronofsky at the time, and that left a weird feeling in my mind.

Also, Ellen Burstyn (AKA Sara Goldfarb, Requiem for a Dream) is back, in a role written specifically for the actor.  On the director’s commentary, Aronofsky even acknowledges that he “just had to” work with her a second time.  What does this mean?  It means that she wasn’t necessary in this movie…though of course her performance was as strong as ever.

The soundtrack is composed once again by Clint Mansell, but it did not leave a very strong impression on me, I am sorry to say.  The leitmotif, “Death is the Road To Awe,” is probably worth a download, but it lacked the gravitas and variety of, say Requiem for a Dream, or even non-Mansell works such as the more emotional John Williams melodies.

Image

FINAL CUT:

I don’t want to ruin the faux-transcendental journey any more than I already have; and I have intentionally kept away from the past and future storylines, perhaps because I am unsure of how to interpret them.  I will conclude with this statement, however: The Fountain is a noteworthy, beautiful, and highly intelligent film, and it may well appeal even to viewers who hate Aronofsky’s other works.  It is very slowly paced, and very deliberate, so give it a good chance before dismissing it as artsy-fartsy wish-wash.

8/10

–MOST IMPRESSIVE–

“Pi”: Darren Aronofsky’s First Film Remains Sheer Chaos

30 Jul

In spite of myself, I found myself loving Darren Aronofsky’s second film, Requiem for a Dream.  It made me feel somewhat unclean and immoral, but perhaps it was all the more poignant for it.  If nothing else, it proved to be an occasionally beautiful, constantly innovative tragedy, the likes of which I had never seen.

This past Monday, I received my latest movie in the mail: Pi.  Originally released in 1998, Pi is a disturbing, black-and-white thriller only tangentially related to mathematics.  The protagonist, who is likable only because of the degree to which he suffers, is Maximilian Cohen, a shut-in genius who has assembled his own computer out of Commodore 64s and old monitors from the ‘80s.  For over six years, he has been studying numerical theory, trying to crack the stock market.

Unfortunately for Max, his diligent efforts have not gone unnoticed.  Before long, he is racing to solve a problem that may or may not reveal the true name of God to a group of persistent Hasidic Jews, or a more perfect estimation of stocks for Lancet-Percy, an organization with henchman everywhere.

Max is not a very healthy person; he suffers from frequent, possibly psychosomatic, definitely dangerous migraines that are frighteningly depicted onscreen.  The music begins to ramp up as the camera focuses on the telltale tremor of his right thumb.  The next moment, an “unsteady”-cam captures the chaos as the frame shakes, along with a series of further disconcerting close-ups.  These headaches are accompanied by nosebleeds, retching, and–as the film progresses–vivid, bizarre hallucinations.

I don’t want to give too much more away, but I do want to comment on some of the film’s notable aspects, both good and bad.  Sean Gullette, the man who plays Max Cohen, gives a decidedly average performance, perhaps reinforced in my mind by the fact that he plays the sleazy therapist who essentially rapes Jennifer Connelly’s character in Requiem for a Dream.  On the other hand, Mark Margolis, who has a very brief appearance as a pawnbroker in Requiem, plays a strong, convincing supporting role as a stroke-damaged mentor who is the only person capable of bringing sense back to Max.\

Another one of Aronofsky’s collaborators, Ben Shenkman, who plays the psych ward doctor in Requiem, gives an equally charismatic, if peripheral, role as Lenny Meyer, the Hasid who introduces Max to Torah number theory, and later thickens the plot.

Pi features frequent voiceovers by Gullette’s character, but they are so subdued and vaguely scientific that they feel totally contrived.  The only time Gullette really impressed me with his performance was during the headache scenes.  With many a shout of “NO!”, “F*CK!”, and an infantile fetal position and wailing, Max won utter sympathy from me; the character is a man whose brain appears to be literally unraveling at the seams.  There is no cure for these migraines, except perhaps for Max to stop studying chaos (and thereby stop chaos from enveloping his own life).

The production design on this film is phenomenal, considering the extremely low budget of $60,000 (collected in loans of $100 from the crew’s family and friends).  From Max’s aforementioned supercomputer, “Euclid,” to his realistic-looking injection gun for his migraines, the world might be small, but it is believable.

In fact, the whole of the movie feels nearly as paranoid and claustrophobic as Max’s life, even during the most open and natural scene, the mid-movie sojourn to Coney Island (a favorite location of Aronofsky’s).  As Max veers toward mathematical mayhem, he alienates himself from a world that he sees as threatening and conspiratorial; but the audience must keep an open mind that it could be the other way around.

Max’s next-door neighbor, Devi (Samia Shoaib), is his most constant agony.  It’s not explicitly stated whether or not he has feelings for her, but she represents the human passion–including all its flaws and attributes–that Max so sorely lacks.

Image

The end of the movie is like a breath of fresh air.  After a somewhat grisly climax, there is an Aronofsky-characteristic fade to white, and a surreal scene follows.  This scene is not unlike the Lux Æterna at the end of Requiem, or the “He loved Big Brother” moment at the end of Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Without giving too much away, let me just say that this is a new, angelic Max who breathes the tender innocence of a human infant.

FINAL CUT:

If nothing else, this film is highly original, and it definitely paved the way for Requiem for a Dream.  It is not perfect, maybe not even exceptional, but it is certainly worth a watch for someone who wants their “thriller” to be more sophisticated than the latest James Patterson book.  Rated R for language, disturbing headache/medication sequences, and one violent scene near the end, which will hit you like a power drill to the head (wink, wink; nudge, nudge).

7/10

–GREAT–