Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Come Fill The Cup


Come Fill the Cup is a bit of strange one. The film begins as though it will something akin to The Lost Weekend as we follow a newspaperman, played by James Cagney, fall into the lower depths of alcoholism. About a third of the way in though he's already hit rock bottom and come back up again in short order. The film then instead extends to the man helping a rich man suffering the same problem, but unfortunately for the both of them a gangster wants the rich guy dead. It becomes a thriller suddenly. The thing is despite the rather scattered nature of the film, it's  actually pretty good in every aspect. The performances are solid and each side of the story is well done.  Now the film does flow rather strangely, but within its strange thru line it never becomes bad. All sections are good even if they don't make absolute sense being pieced together in this way.
3.5/5

Blade Runner


Blade Runner is unquestionably a visual masterpiece. Again like in Alien, Ridley Scott's vision is awe inspiring. As he utilizes the visual effects, the lighting, his camerawork, his production design, his costumes all to craft a spellbinding world, that feels absolutely lived in as well. The appearance of the film is one of the most, if not  the most, influential elements of cinema from the 1980's. Now the film has been accused  of style over substance by some, which that  criticism in itself I  don't think is necessarily that damning to a film. The film I feel does  provide substance though in a way you don't  expect, and is even a trick of sorts. The main story of the policeman Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, hunting down rogue replicants may seem rather cold for the most part even within the romantic  element given the closing of the film. This seems an intentional juxtaposition against the far more emotional story of the lead replicant, played brilliantly by Rutger Hauer, who seems the villain but might just  be his story after all. The ideas exploring the humanity of the artificial life are fascinating and in the end rather powerful with a death  scene that ranks among the very best ever to grace the screen. I will admit  the first  time I watched the film I was perhaps taken aback by its style and approach, which is far more cerebral in nature. On subsequent re-watches  though I've come to appreciate the inner emotional substance within the visuals, which in the end may be as daring as its stunning surface.
5/5

Prometheus

Prometheus is another film I also might have benefited from having not seen the previous films in the series before I saw the film. I had no real connection to the Alien series therefore my expectations were fairly non-existent. Well again  I enjoyed this film even if there are abundant problems.  Many of the character actions make no sense, there are a few questionable performances, Guy Pearce as Mr. Burns (mostly for  the casting) and Tom Hardy's clone (just without the acting talent). The film though  worked for as just a rote sci-fi thriller with splendid visuals, which is elevated by a strong leading turn from Noomi Rapace and a memorable  supporting performance by Michael Fassbender. Ridley Scott's actual  direction is on point for the most part the problem with the film is the problematic script. It just  is  rife with plot  holes and  underwritten characters. The film though has  enough thrills to make  up for it, and I  found it paced fairly  well even though  it doesn't build  to the sort of stunning conclusion you'd expect from an Alien film.
3.5/5

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Alien 3

Alien 3 is perhaps the most hated of all Alien sequels, though not due to its quality on a whole, but rather the way the film begins. The film opens with the death of the apparently much beloved Hicks and Newt, whose rescue had been a pivotal part of climax of the previous film. Even poor Bishop's is disconnected in a pitch black scene. That might seem a regression but it is actually a progression in terms of creating the last act of the trilogy. If the first film was defined by birth, the second by war, the third film is death. The film takes place on a bleak prison colony where all men are essentially there until they die, except for a few hapless guards, and a good natured doctor though with a troubled past. The dire place only goes grimmer with a new alien coming to life, and an accounted for face hugger. I find the film works within the context as the final act of Ripley's story, rather than as the a sequel to Aliens. It redefines itself back to a more claustrophobic thriller, though I would argue different than the original, in a way a more emotional story about accepting the end. The film is not flawless, the lame CGI would prevent it from being so, but in its assembly cut it does present an effective horror film with a powerful human story within it. This is well realized through Sigourney Weaver's incredible performance, and a memorable supporting cast including Charles Dance as the doctor, Charles S. Dutton as the spiritual leader of the prisoners, and Paul McGann as a prisoner with a particularly twisted mind. David Fincher's vision can actually be seen in the palatable atmosphere, even if there are a few times where it gets slightly muddled by obvious interference. It is not the cleanest closer to the trilogy, but I actually find it to be a fitting one in the end. I will admit though that I possibly benefited from watching this film before I ever saw Aliens, and in doing so I could only see what the film had to offer as itself.
4.5/5

Monday, November 28, 2016

Aliens

James Cameron took the reigns of Alien from Ridley Scott for Aliens, a sequel that perhaps could be used to define a great sequel. Aliens takes the brilliant approach of modifying the genre of the first film from a straight horror to action horror. I know some just say straight action but that undercuts the sequences, so expertly crafted by Cameron, that are so genuinely unnerving. It has to be said that this easily Cameron's best screenplay. Cameron takes off what was previously established in the first film and brilliantly builds off of it in new directions through the introduction of the space marines including a far less deceptive robot, as well as in terms of expanding the xenomorphs through the addition of a Queen. The success of the writing goes beyond concepts though. There is so much life in the well drawn characters with so many unforgettable lines throughout. It is also worth mentioning, which so many seem to forget, is the film builds Ripley's arc from sole survivor to true hero in such believable and effective fashion, aided of course by Sigourney Weaver's great performance. Of course the whole cast is great, including the sometimes derided Bill Paxton who deserves all the credit for his "game over" adlib. There is such a vibrancy in the characters, that some actually went onto define a certain types in later films, like Jenette Goldstein's Private Vasquez. The action and the effects both come together, yet never for a moment do they override the emotional connection to the characers. The film is one of the best sequels ever made as it successfully takes the franchise in a new direction into a different genre while making an almost equally captivating film in that alternate genre.
5/5

Monday, November 14, 2016

Alien

Looking at Alien is quite something as it might be the most overachieving film of all time. Just in terms of its central idea it’s a monster in a house thriller, but the house just happens to be a spaceship. The film knows no such simplicity, even though the plot itself does technically hold true to that form. The screenplay though isn't simple. I don't just mean that in the twists and turns, which should not be hand waved as the several twists in the film are some of the most effective twists you'll see in any film. It also cares so much for character. Although most of the characters are going to be killed, they are not just there to be killed. We learn about each of them as people, and there is real dynamic across the crew. Of course this is helped greatly by the film having one of the greatest ensembles of all time. There is not a wasted performance everyone adds something extra with how honestly they inhabit their characters in this film. Then there's every technical element of the film all utilized brilliantly by Ridley Scott's masterful direction. His vision takes the film to even greater heights as it crafts this world that is terrifying, awe inspiring, and lived in all at the same time. Alien as a horror film is encased in the atmosphere of a cold space, underlined with a tension and scares that few films can emulate, whether it is Dallas's lonely walk through the air vents or Kane's rather unhealthy meal. As a horror film is arguably the greatest of all time, yet it is also simply one of the greatest films of all time as well. 
5/5

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Cromwell

The English Civil War has the material for what seems could be a masterpiece, well Cromwell's not quite that. I won't disparage the film too much though because that does not mean it's bad either. The film reduces some of the complexity, the religious element is underplayed here, to make it more about a struggle for freedom in a more general sense. This makes Cromwell a fairly straight forward figure, as man who wants to do what is right, and Richard Harris plays him as basically a reluctant hero. The more interesting character is in Charles I played with great nuance by Alec Guinness. The depiction of the war it has a bit of fun with the parley, and the battle scenes are effective though not awe inspiring. The best portion of the film is actually after the war is over and the film allows for a bit more complexity as the winners struggle to decide what to do. We also get the most emotional scenes through Guinness's portrayal of Charles as a good man, but a bad leader. Cromwell is a good film, but I do hope they'll make a great film out of the events some day.
4/5

Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever marks Connery's not so triumphant return to Bond. I mean Connery's there but he might as well not be at times. He's very detached most of the time, which means he's only still better than Roger Moore in all of his Bond films. There isn't anything inspired about this effort and there is a lack of fun for the most part. This Blofeld has nothing to offer, and though Charles Gray isn't bad in terms of his performance. The film is in particular a let down when one considers its predecessor On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which only major fault was Bond himself. What probably stands out most in this version is Jill St. John, just because she offers a lively presence compared to Connery's low energy one, and the ridiculous stereotype hit men after Bond throughout the film mostly because of just how over the top they are. There are worse Bonds, but this is not a very good one.
2/5

Thunderball

Thunderball, as opposed to You Only Lives Twice, stands right as a real middle of the road Bond film. Connery is good not great, the set pieces are pretty good, and the story more than serves its purpose. It's one where nothing about it stands out to the point that you'd ever say that was the best of Bond, but it's a film where you can watch it with ease. It's has enough entertaining Bond spectacle to be sure. Bond films can be more with a more devoted Bond, and a better villain. We don't get those here, but sometimes enough is enough.
3.5/5

You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice was the first last Sean Connery Bond film, an odd statement but true due to Connery retiring three times from the role before it permanently took. You Only Lives Twice has several of the earmarks of a lesser Bond. Connery isn't exactly giving it his all, the action set pieces are not all that spectacular, though not bad, and the majority of the film is going through the motions. The one part of the film that seems against this is our Blofeld played by the very talented Donald Pleasance, even though he's good, he's also barely in the film. It's a film that is easy enough to watch, but honestly the most memorable part of the film, outside of Pleasance, is the worst part of the film. That being the bizarre sequence where Bond goes undercover as a Japanese man through some terribly unconvincing makeup that apparently is just as unconvincing to the film's villains. 
2.5/5

Monday, November 7, 2016

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part II

The second half of Deathly Hallows is also the final installment of the series. Now first with the negative, this film unfortunately struggles with a few elements from the book. The final battle is such a cluster that certain character deaths seem but afterthoughts. It also has that downright abysmal epilogue. The unambiguous epilogue itself was poorly conceived to begin, and it is worse in the film due to some very distracting attempts to age the young cast, past those problems though the rest of the film is pretty great. It is thrilling in its initial scenes with the raid on the bank, it is downright heartbreaking as we find out the truth behind Snape all along, and it is rather inspiring as certain character finally get their due particularly one Neville Longbottom. David Yates work does not disappoint for the most part nor does the work from the legion of British thespians particularly Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith. It is conceivable that a stronger finale could have been crafted; however this is still a worthy end to the series. 
3.5/5

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part I

Ah the film that began the breaking of single novels into multiple films. Now this might have led to a very problematic trend I would not say that it is completely unwarranted here. It would have been best to just make a Lord of the Rings length finale, but as it stands the two films are warranted in that I would argue there is not filler material to be found. This film standing as the first of the series conclusion though does reveal a few problems one in faithfulness to the source and unfaithfulness. For example in terms of unfaithfulness the film completely ruins Peter Pettigrews's final act by reducing it to a joke. In terms of faithfulness the film ends on what should be the emotional devastation of the death of a character, this is somewhat diminished by that character having been reduced in the previous adaptations lessening the impact of his demise, having said all that this film does have much to offer. Again David Yates's direction is on point and is particularly effective in creating a real feeling of paranoia as our heroes seem as alone as ever. This film makes use of its additional time in the time in the woods, which is essential to the final bonding of the central three, as well in its animated sequence depicting the Deathly Hallows. My personal favorite moment is when the three infiltrate the Ministry of Magic with a downright brilliant performance by David O'Hara as Harry in disguise. This film shows the end result of a natural progression made by Yates to a darker film as the danger is more real than ever in this film. It might not be a wholly satisfying film on its own but it is a satisfying first half of one. 
3.5/5

Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince is an entry where the end begins, and the actual terror of our main villain becomes evident. The film itself is again well directed by David Yates though has a certain mix in terms of various elements. Now problems here simply comes in the child performances as the relationships advance but are hindered by a few things that prevent them from resonating as they truly should. One part is the adaptation which hinders the characters of Ron and Ginny. Both are underdeveloped due to Steve Kloves's fascination with Hermione, to the point that he takes all of Ron's good lines and gives them to her, and boils his character done to saying "bloody 'ell". The problem continues though as the proper pairs just don't quite have the chemistry unfortunately. Now this aspect of the story still is not terrible by any means. Where the film does excel is following Harry and Dumbledore as they try to quietly defeat Voldermort by deciphering the man's past. There is a real sense of urgency and power to these scenes as we and Harry see Dumbledore in a darker shade. The growing sense of dread is felt, and Voldermort comes to life most as a villain when we do not even see him. The film ends with a key moment to the series as a whole. In this adaptation it is a bit of a mixed bag. The moment itself has the impact it should but the aftermath seems rushed in order to keep the film's run time down. It's a shame as this is one point in the series where they would have earned taking their time a bit. It doesn't ruin the film, but it keeps it back all the same.
3.5/5

Harry Potter and The Order of Phoenix

Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix marked the first Potter film directed by David Yates who went on to direct the rest of the series. It must be said Yates seems to find just the right balance in his work. He might not be as daring as say Alfonso Cuaron but he's never as standard in the way of a Chris Columbus. He has a vision for the material, and that vision just often seems right. There is a definite atmosphere created through his work, and has a real eye for giving each new setting a different life while still feeling like part of the same universe. Now having said all that it does not mean the man's incapable of a wrong choice, far from it, but he has a good grasp on the world. This film I don't think offers the most compelling narrative all in itself. There is a certain sense of filler as much of the story is devoted to a training montage. It is mostly building a storm for the last two entries, made three by the films. What does make it stand out is through its terrific alternate villain in Dolores Umbridge played brilliantly by Imelda Staunton. She's a delightful fiend, though the film is not nearly as thrilling when she's off screen. The character relationships are a bit static here, and the scenes of the Death Eaters seem more like a warm up. That can be said for much of the film as we receive no major resolutions outside a death that always felt a tad haphazard to me. Nevertheless as entry that is the series itself turning its wheels a bit, it is still a rather entertaining film. 
3.5/5

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire once again changes directors this time giving Mike Newell the chance to offer his own unique vision for the wizarding world. Unfortunately his vision is well kind of odd. There are some choices here that just kind of boggle the mind. I suppose they begin with the long haircuts on the boys, which I don't know what that was meant to add, but it does not add much. The strange choices do not end there though as we are given the infamous moment where the kindly Dumbledore interrogates Harry about his name coming out of the Goblet of Fire by physically assaulting him and yelling in his face. I have to imagine that was Newell, and not Michael Gambon since that moment goes against everything else we've seen from the character up until that point or after it for that matter. Then there are the little things like the horribly awkward transition to a rock band during the ball scene which caused me to think another film had been spliced in the first time I saw the film. I could go on, but I'll just also mention David Thewlis, yeah what was that exactly? That's not to say this is a terrible film. Technically speaking this one where they take out quite a bit of unneeded fat from the novel, I don't think we really needed 12 years an Elf randomly thrown in there, and there is fun to be had from the Harry Potterverse's version of the Olympics. There's Brendan Gleeson as the teacher who seems to take a liking to Harry, Gleeson is always a good thing. Unfortunately the missteps do overwhelm to a certain degree diminishing the effect of certain moments that could have been highlights of the series. The return of Voldermort in particular, though while not bad, potentially could have been something unforgettable in say with Alfonso Cuaron at the helm. The film perhaps indicated where a director could go wrong, and perhaps that contributed to why we'd get a single vision for the rest of the series. 
2.5/5

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban marks the third installment in the series and a major jump with Alfonso Cuaron taking over the reins from Chris Columbus. Cuaron is another league as a filmmaker and it shows from early on in the film. The atmosphere is far more palatable than ever before, which is especially important given the sense of paranoia created by the central plot of an escaped fugitive as well as due to the ghostly dementors. Take just for example the first scene where the black dog appears. The sound design, the editing, the music, everything comes together in creating a real sense of fear. The film goes beyond anything seen in the previous two just in sheer filmmaking and that is because of Cuaron. There is a real fascination with the world itself that Curaon creates, even with the overarching darker tone, as he takes times for this smaller moments of beauty, that are the signs of a great director at work. The story is at its most gripping here as Cuaron executes pivotal scenes so well, particularly the time bending climax that could have been blundered severely in the wrong hands. Now as excellent as Cuaron's work is for the most part the film has a few missteps. The work from the kids still leaves a bit to be desired unfortunately in some pivotal moments such as when Harry finds out what he believes Sirius Black did. There is also the introduction of Sirius Black, which despite being played by Gary Oldman, comes off as a bit much in order to create a fake out. These missteps are few and can be overlooked in favor of the greater achievements of the film. 
4.5/5

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets

The Chamber of Secrets is the second entry in the series and it even further illustrates the limits to Chris Columbus's work as a director. He has nothing to add to what he did in the first film, as his attempt at adaptation is to try to take the book verbatim. This leads to the film only leaving out a few bits of the book, and leads the film to an almost three hour running time. A long running time is fine if it calls for it, but by the end of the film it becomes repetitive. Columbus keeps everything excessively straight so there's a real lack of panache to the proceedings. The positive elements are still quite prevalent though, the score, the actors (now with Kenneth Branagh, and Jason Isaacs joining the troupe), and the story is there technically speaking. The impact of pivotal scenes are diminished since Columbus essentially makes everything as important in his refusal to make his own statement on the material. There is also a problem brewing (no pun intended) with this film in Steve Kloves's writing. This film begins the wrecking of Ron as a character as the street smart wizard of the group, in order to further prop up Hermione in a needless fashion by giving her pivotal lines that were Ron's in the book. Again even with these problems the source material is there, the qualities of the first film are there, and it is enough to still make it a decent film.
3/5

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone is the first entry in the series and it's interesting to see what exactly it accomplished. Now there are problems. It is directed by Chris Columbus, who I'd say is a better writer than a director. As director I'd describe his work as the standard for a standard kids movie. Of course I'd actually say this isn't too problematic for the simpler story of this film. What the film does well is get things going. It effectively set the basis for the aesthetic elements of the series, though more enterprising directors would take this further later, and it contained of course John Williams's wholly fitting score that now is synonymous with the series. It also began the intelligent use of extremely accomplished British thespians such as John Hurt, Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, and of course Alan Rickman. Now there are problems the visual effects here in particular leave something to be desired, and the child acting is bit rusty in spots. The thing is though even with its fault it works, and most importantly it set off the series on the right foot.
3.5/5

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

X-Men: Days of Future Past

If First Class gave the X-Men series the shot in the arm it needed then Days Of Future Past proceeded to perform corrective surgery on its failing parts. This is almost close to being literal being that the film purged itself of the terror that was X-Men The Last Stand from ever existing. Now within this janitorial work it managed to actually create one of the best entries in the series. There are few problems. The villain Trask, despite having the reliable Peter Dinklage, seems wasted, and the majority of the characters in the future have absolutely no development. Luckily this is basically made for the arresting visuals in those sequences and particularly devoted performances from Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. The past sequences though are the central focus, which have a proper sense of urgency due to the Terminator style plot around Wolverine being sent back to correct the future. Although it is perhaps a bit obvious why Mystique became so important suddenly, I will say it works in this film, as they successfully used her to be the proper focal point between the philosophies of Professor X and Magneto. The film uses this well to bring about a natural conclusion that is compelling both in terms of spectacle and emotion. This is in large part due to James McAvoy's portrayal as a broken Professor X, as he gives the best performance in any X-Men film. Now in all of this though there is a real sense of fun, particularly when Evan Peter's Quicksilver shows up, and manages a proper balance of tone to craft an emotionally engaging and properly entertaining blockbuster.
4.5/5

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Wolverine

The Wolverine is the far more successful second attempt into giving Wolverine his own solo film. Of course besting its predecessor is no accomplishment at all. The whole film though is a more than acceptable solo venture. There is absolutely nothing special about it. The action scenes are good. Jackman is good, the supporting cast is fine for the most part, the plot is fine, the villain are well they're a little underwhelming. Nevertheless the film pulls through to be entirely adequate  no more no less.
3/5

X-Men: First Class

X-Men first class was set to be a rejuvenation of the franchise after the failures of  X-Men Origins Wolverine and X-Men The Last Stand, though initially is was suppose to be specifically be a Magneto origin story, that set up can be clearly seen. Those scenes are actually the strongest of the film, where director Matthew Vaughn seems most comfortable in terms of the intensity. Michael Fassbender is a worthy young Magneto, and those scenes are indeed thrilling to the point that one would imagine they could have just made the Magneto story. You certainly have the villain in Kevin Bacon baconing it up in a good way, and there is an interesting dynamic between two men of similar minds coming into conflict. The film though desires to set up the team. James McAvoy actually does a very good job of crafting his own Professor X, and actually sets up the arc he'd go on for the future sequels. The only problem is the only other X-Men who even sort of work are Beast and Mystique who both have limited roles, but they serve their purpose. Everyone else is more of just there for their power. Luckily Vaughn's style utilizes the 60's setting well and makes for an entertaining film even when they characters are not. Although even on that note the action is a little flimsy at times, almost as though Vaughn is bit lost when he can't have heads explode. The film is technically a little messy but it successfully was the injection of energy the series desperately needed.
4/5

Thursday, September 29, 2016

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins took the most popular character from the series and finally just gave him his own movie. What a waste. It is interesting to look at this film against X-Men; the Last Stand. Both films seem directed by men who did not care, though perhaps for different reasons. Where Brett Ratner was perhaps just doing his job in a way of just getting the product out without concern, Gavin Hood seems downright uncomfortable in the genre itself. There is such a lack of confidence with anything that you might connect with an action film. The special effects seem surprisingly lackluster, as though there was an unawareness of how to use them properly. There's not a decent action scene in the film. The visual are often cringe inducing whether that is the abysmal rendition of Deadpool, or the way they have Sabretooth run on all fours like a dog. All these mistakes seem of someone who just was never right for the project. Of course as problematic as Hood's direction is it is not helped by the terrible screenplay. It tries covering too much ground for Wolverine while failing to really bring any further depth to the character. The film introduces several new characters and not a single one is given any substance. Now I will say the film actually tries to do some justice to Sabretooth by casting Liev Schreiber, but the writing and direction still hinders any attempts by the talented actor. Jackman does come to play, but again everything about this film is so sloppy in terms of the direction or underwritten it doesn't matter.
1/5

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand took the noticeable improvements of X-2 over the original, and immediately set fire to them. The film is curiosity as you see what appears to be a director without passion for the material in anyway make a film anyways. Bree Ratner treats the previously established character more of a series of action figures for him to bash together. Any developments are dropped and instead we get a two dimensional showdown between good and evil. This is a film the trudges along without a care in the world. Characters are killed without care, or their character's assassinated without a reason. New characters are introduced and it is basically up to the actors for any development. For example we are introduced to Angel, played by the best American actor of his age group Ben Foster, who is there just to fulfill one requirement of a later action scene. There is no purpose to his plot. That is the case of most plots which are underdeveloped. The Dark Phoenix subplot is ridiculous reducing the character into a one note villain who glitters away her foes for no real reason. There technically could be a conflict for Wolverine, who probably got the least harmed by appearing in this film, but that is wasted by the fact that Phoenix barely plays into the central plot involving Magneto. She's often just there to the side for no real reason. Now as basically a series of sequences to bash action figures together the film even falls short. The action is most often clunky, with awkward special effects, as the fight sequences look ridiculously staged. Although there are technically a few okay elements, a few of the performances, the film is a waste and so disposable that the series itself did not mind erasing it from existence.
1/5

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

X-2: X-Men United

X-2 is the far more successful followup to the original x-men, making use of what that earlier film setup and smartly dismissing its lesser qualities. Technically it keeps the characters that did not quite work in the original film, but it reduces them in the right way actually. That is it still uses them for something, but limits the use in an effective fashion. The film shines most by embracing Wolverine even more, and though it does not go full blown comic book it disregards that pseudo apologetic tone found in the first film. The funny thing is it has a bit more fun with the concept, particularly in the character of Nightcrawler, even though it removes the needless winking to the audience. It instead finds its more humorous moments within character moments. The film though still by and large has a technically a darker tone, though never too dark. In it's effective exploring not only the potentially dangerous qualities of the mutants, but also the equally dangerous human reaction. The film thrives with its far better use of villains. Magento comes to life much more this time around by having him mostly a supporting anti-hero with a few well placed moments of true villainy. It's main villain in Brian Cox's Stryker, is a proper scene stealer, as per usual for Cox, but it goes a bit further through the relationship developed between the man and Wolverine. Just about everything is a fine improvement over the original. The action is superior, the characters are better realized, and the story if far more engaging almost throughout. I say almost because the one weakness the film does have is in its final scenes where it unfortunately sets up the third film. More on that later.
4.5/5

Friday, September 23, 2016

X-Men

X-Men is the timid first entry of the new millennium into the superhero genre. I say timid in that it is most resistant to accept its comic book background. It's costuming far more influenced by The Matrix from the previous year than the comics that birthed it, with the script often mocking the comic whether for its use of costumes or code names. This goes beyond simply style though and actually simplifies certain characters. The film is resistant to back stories, only really featuring the pivotal one between Magneto and Professor X, and just the thinnest of romantic connection between Jean Grey and Cyclops. No one really exists beyond when we first see them. For example Sabretooth is made just a one note goon, and his relationship with Wolverine is non-existent to the point that Wolverine even scoffs at the name. The film for the most part wastes the potential of the comic limiting the story even further into a particularly uninteresting plot about Magneto trying to use a changing machine against a group of world leaders. The action is not of anything of note, though not terrible, but I'd say the most memorable moment in the final climax is the terrible line about toads and lightning. The film makes mostly mistakes, focusing so much on Rogue, under developing the supporting characters, using a derivative style, and using such an uninspired plot. But hey it successfully introduced Wolverine, and in turn Hugh Jackman.
2/5

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Wizard of Oz

 The Wizard of Oz  must  be noted as a true classic. That is simply a fact simple as that. It has successfully remained a mainstay in culture from its release in 39 to now. It does not even have the complications involved with say a Gone With the Wind, due to being primarily set in a fantasy land, and its true message being that there is "no place like home". Now there is much to admire about this film. The whole cast is engaging giving appropriately stylized performances that fit the tone well set by Victor Fleming's direction, or perhaps Mervyn LeRoy's producing but I digress. The production design is some of the most memorable and iconic that has ever graced the screen. Think of any setting in the film and you can instantly recall it. Then there is the makeup which is impressive to this day, as it realizing each character in such lively detail. Then there are all the songs, not a single forgettable one. So what don't like, nothing. This film's earned its place. It's a wonderful film, and there is never a question in my mind why it is regarded as an all time classic. I'll admit I don't love it as much as some, if not many, but nevertheless I can't deny its greatness.
5/5

American Beauty

American Beauty tells the story of the empty lives of suburbanites. A subject I personally don't often find all that engaging as there often seems to be an inherent smugness from the creators of the material, as though this people are lower than them. American Beauty has that smugness in spade presenting with open disdain just about everyone. This is from the horny suburban dad, the homophobic closet homosexual (as we all know only homosexual hate homosexuals, please note sarcasm), the vapid homosexuals neighbors, the vapid suburban mom, the vapid suburban cheerleader, the vapid boss, then we get the true ones the moody daughter and the artistic son whose "poetic" lines are so ridiculous they are unintentionally hilarious. Much of this is Alan Ball's thin excessively on the nose screenplay. Sam Mendes's direction does not help as he attempts to manage the tone of the film in such a clumsy fashion. Mendes often allows it to fall into over the top comedy, unintentional or not, which never melds with his attempts to achieve some sort of higher understanding of what is presented in front of us. The problem is there is little to understand in Ball's screenplay, and all Mendes does is make it even harder to digest.
1/5

Saturday, September 3, 2016

North

North is the very worst kind of horrible film, a terrible comedy. The "humor" stemming from a boy trying to find a new family, being helped along by modern day Bruce Willis in 1994, by visiting one stereotype after another. Of course this is not just a comedy where they don't land. The jokes go into a tail spin, run through a crowded skyscraper, killing all, fall into a nuclear test facility and cause a meltdown. The level of atrociousness is truly uh astonishing that anyone could have felt a single line in the film was good idea. As the film is not only unfunny it has a terrible mean spirited quality that makes one's stomach churn watching it. The problem is the film doesn't seem even aware of its own offensive nature, after all how could it given it ends with "it was all a dream". No one can save their rotten material, most don't even try, and the entire film is a festering pile of waste which contaminants all that it touches.
0/5

Judge Dredd

Judge Dredd is a most peculiar failure of the 90's, the same when almost every comic book adaptation failed miserably. Judge Dredd took the odd approach of taking a character, who never removes his helmet, and having him be played by movie star Sylvester Stallone who reveals his face rather quickly. The film is a rather strange combination as it does attempt to establish a world more than you'd expect given some of the other elements. The film though seemingly spent the majority of their budget in the opening scene where we get rather Blade Runneresque cityscape, which was a common occurrence in the 90's, one I can suppose commend for effort, but not inspiration. The film after this point gets into its two halves neither which work. One half you have Sylvester Stallone's scenes which are one action cliche after another, but unfortunately not all that entertaining. It also does not help that he is paired with the obligatory comedic sidekick, played to imperfection by Rob Schneider. The other half focuses on the villain, played by an extremely hammy Armand Assante, and not really in a good way. That half though creates far too convoluted of a plot with consistent, incredibly boring exposition to set up clones which add very little when the two paths meet, given that they meet in a standard 90's action conclusion. I don't think it is as terrible, as many make it out to be, but it's not good either. Also extra credit to Max von Sydow, who apparently never phones it in.
1.5/5

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie

Garbage.
0/5

Pulp Fiction

Although Reservoir Dogs put Quentin Tarantino on the map as an up and coming filmmaker, Pulp Fiction made him a landmark of cinema that was to be revisited for years to come. It interesting to examine how Tarantino's style matured with this film, and how it possibly caused him to be such a phenomenon. This is in terms of a stronger eye in terms of aesthetics, but also the way Tarantino allows his characters to breath a bit more, giving the film a far more relaxed story, even though there are three tension causing plot points behind the three main stories. All three stories that offer their own little flavor. Whether it is the forbidden romance of the first story, the complications of a man on the run, or just the hilarity following an accidental murder, yeah that's right hilarity. Tarantino allows his dialogue to shine and almost every conversation is a little gem. Tarantino manages to make them engaging, often entertaining, and most importantly helps to flesh out the characters. Well that is all except the painfully slow scene of the boxer Butch (Bruce Willis), and his girlfriend as she waxes on forever about her desire for a pot belly. That scene stops the movie right in its tracks, and I dread whenever watching the film. Luckily Howard Hawks's apparent statement that a good film had to have three good scenes and no bad ones isn't true. A film can survive a bad scene if it has enough great ones to make up for. Pulp Fiction has those in overabundance. Whether it is the initial banter between the two hitman, taking out the mob boss's wife, the adrenaline needle, Christopher Walken's one scene wonder, the samurai sword showdown, Harvey Keitel's sorta one scene wonder, and of course the diner robbery finale. The film is pieced together brilliantly as it is bursting with unforgettable moments which add up to something truly special.  
5/5

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Shawshank Redemption

Although Forrest Gump proved to be the crowd pleaser of 1994, the then box office flop, The Shawshank Redemption proved to be the all pleaser of all time. It is notable that on the top of just about every online poll stands this film. It has one one would expect from a great film. The production design, and costumes are both immaculate. Technically subtle yet absolutely accentuate the sense of place within the prison throughout the film. The score and cinematography capture brilliantly both the harshness and beauty of life itself. The acting is excellent across the board. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are both exceptional in their leading roles, while every small supporting performance adds a bit more character to the titular prison. How is it that the film goes beyond though? It is fascinating that this story about two men's friendship in a prison in the 40's apparently transcends all walks of life in terms of its appeal. Well Frank Darabont's masterfully crafts his story as a director but especially as a writer. If one desire a direct plot it has it. That being in terms of Andy's innocence, and his association with the corrupt prison warden. That certainly brings the needed tension to the proceedings, and a real menace through the villain well played by Bob Gunton. The characters are never forgotten as you feel you get to genuinely know both leads, and even have a proper association with those smaller character especially the old prisoner Brooks. It feels like you've spent time with them when the film is over and they never seem like mere ideas. Now this is one of the most inspirational films of all time, yet never feels manipulative. Darabont earns his grand moments that portray the true joys of life and freedom, as the film does not shy away from depicting the grim realities of prison life either. It depicts the struggle, it shows despair, but it allows one to see all that makes that worthwhile in the end. I hate that the film gets any backlash for its "best of all time status", since you don't need to accept it as your personal best of all time. It's just a great film.
5/5

Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump tells the story of one man Forrest who jumps happens to stumble on an assortment of important historical events. A true crowd pleaser in its day, which brought the film Oscar glory, but later disdain all the same. This has come in part due to interpretation of its exact themes, is Forrest a conformist hero? Is Jenny's story meant to be a cautionary tale against being a hippie? Does it really matter for this film? I say that because the film treats its historical connections with such a light touch. It acts more like a nostalgia trip than a deep analysis of historical events. There is some fun to be had, though some of the visual effects are awkwardly handled. Quite frankly Woody Allen pulled of the technique far more effectively with Zelig several years before. The rest of the film deals with often harsh subject matter, child abuse, AIDS, War, all with a similar levity. It is not that it does not care but it stays strict to the perspective of Forrest who sees things in his own way. This allows the film's development to be especially simplistic, which are always underlined by its sentimental score for an extra bit of emphasis. The film strives for broad emotional feeling. This is best shown through Forrest's testimony on the Vietnam war where the sound is cut off. We just hear that he said some important words about, and that we should simply be affected by it. It avoids detail much like the film despite the variety of complex topics it covers. I understand the film's appeal, it makes one feel, but I prefer a bit more depth in my emotion.
2.5/5

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire is the film that one almost everyone's heart when it steamrolled its competition to its Oscar victory. I would say that it has faded a great deal from the collective memory. The film frames its story of a young Indian through how he learned a series of questions on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". The first time I watched the film I was utterly detached from it despite wanting to see what everyone loved about it, and I pondered why. Now the acting for the most part isn't anything outstanding, but that was not the reason for its lack of success. Danny Boyle's kinetic style as usual I did not find it particularly appealing, which also was not helped by the often ugly choices in terms of the film's cinematography. Finally there's the story which is the rags to riches story, many describing it as Dickensesque. The problem with that comparison is largely the lack of any interesting characters here. It has the bland lead, and love interest you might find in some Dickens, but it forgot the colorful supporting characters. The brother is wasted as they severely underdeveloped that relationship, and then the villains are all one dimensional. The film wishes to be all about heart in the end, but it's hollow to its core.
2/5

Crash

Crash's reputation suffered terribly the moment Jack Nicholson not so enthusiastically announced its victory over Brokeback Mountain. As someone who doesn't love that film, that held no sway in my view. It's now held as one of the worst winners in recent memory. I suppose one can look at it that way given that it is not a very good film. Crash tackles racial tensions in Los Angeles by telling a series of contrived stories. Now I honestly don't mind coincidences being used as a plot device, but the problem is this sets the film up for some sense of importance rather than telling a good story. There are few real characters in the film, and even then that might have a great deal to do with the acting, in those cases. Most characters are reduced to speaking excessively knowing lines of dialogue regarding race or yelling something to increase racial tension. The film offers no real insight, racism is solved by falling down the stairs, the "bad" cop does the right thing, the "good" cop does the wrong thing. The film is a series of events without weight since it is almost impossible to sympathize with the series of thin caricatures we are given that are wrung through a series of improbable circumstances.
1.5/5

Brokeback Mountain

Well now at least one can look at Brokeback Mountain just as film past the time of controversy, which blew up during that Oscar season despite previous best picture nominees Kiss of the Spider Woman, and The Hours which both dealt with homosexual relationships before that film. Anyway just looking straight at the film itself which is tragedy infused tearjerker about two men who work as shepherds who become romantically involved. The best element of the film I'd actually say are the two lead performances, and with even having said that this is far from my favorite Jake Gyllenhaal performance. The two of them are both good, but that's not all there is to the film. I wish I could say that's what makes the film so great, but I can't. After the initial titular mountain scenes the film follows both men as they go on their separate ways most of the time, only occasionally meeting back up again to see the two together. The rest of the time we see their unsatisfied lives which are simplistic and unremarkable. That perhaps is to show how special their time was together, but it does not make the scenes feel any less tedious. In the end it becomes an often muted and flat story, which I don't think was the intention.
2.5/5

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Life is Beautiful

Life Is Beautiful attempts the impossible which is to make a romantic comedy set during the holocaust. This idea itself might be damning for some. For me the success of the film really comes down to the actor/director at the center of it all Roberto Benigni. This is not even his skill as a director. I will admit there are some effective moments on that point in his way of avoiding the horror, yet still instilling the horror of the situation. For example when the rounding up children for death or the old people it's something that just happens. The rest of the film though focuses squarely on Benigni work at the center of the film, and actually I can see how he won the Oscar. If you love the film, as the Academy did, you'd have to support his performance. Benigni carries the film whether you want him to or not. I'm afraid I'm on the not side of things. I just don't find him particularly funny or endearing, and it only compound things that his style is take it or leave it.  The film does not work for me because Benigni does not.
2.5/5

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Elizabeth

Elizabeth seems almost an answer of sorts to Shakespeare in Love presenting a dark violent Elizabethan England in stark contrast to the often cheerful one found in Shakespeare in Love also from 98. Elizabeth is a curious film in terms of its style. It feels on one hand that it is attempting some sort of legitimate depiction of the beginnings of Elizabeth's reign as Queen. However the film is more downright ridiculous exploitation than anything else. Whether this is the depiction of Queen Mary as a grotesque creature, Walsingham as a some sort of badass assassin, its constant reminding of Elizabeth not being the virgin queen, or every catholic being a sinister spy. My favorite scene in that regard has to be when some of Elizabeth's men uncover some conspirators by finding a hidden room where they are in prayer with a priest, and it's portrayed almost as though they uncovered a meth making den. Now I don't mind exploitation. My problem here is it somehow almost feels accidental considering how every scene is given this grim deadly serious tone, which seems at odds with how absurd so much of it is.
2.5/5

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Shakespeare In Love

Shakespeare In Love is an often maligned film for defeating Saving Private Ryan, though it was the other World War II epic that deserved the notice above all but I digress. As is often the case hatred is blinding since the film has some clearly exceptional qualities. The production design, costumes and score are all magnificent. Now there is something a bit odd about the film for me. In that I rather like the elements, that don't really have anything to do with the with IN LOVE part of the title. I thoroughly enjoy the world created around the Globe theater with the actors, and the money men. There is a lot of fun to be had there. It is the film's more serious minded elements I find less successful, though not really bad either. A major problem is Joseph Fiennes is not a terribly charismatic actor and does not carry us with the sort of ease of a truly great romantic lead. The romantic plot has some stodgy bits particularly in regards to Colin Firth in a thankless role as a one note villain. Again I don't believe these elements to be terrible, and there is fun to be had here. An all time great best picture winner, no, but a bad film, also no.
3.5/5

The Pianist

The Pianist is a story of the Holocaust through the eyes of one man, Władysław Szpilman, a piano player by trade. The film works by maintaining this singular view throughout the film aided well by Adrien Brody's excellent central performance. This structure is the power of the film as it reveals the slow steps of the process of both the horrors of the war and the holocaust. Whether it is the way the Jews are slowly downgraded into status going from second class citizens, to ghetto dwellers, to eventually sent to death camps. We all get it from this one man who is often saved only by sheer luck of the draw in one way or another. The choice to keep the perspective so close is particularly effective in terms of emphasizing with Szpilman not only in terms of heartbreak of the losses he experiences, the fear of the near death moments, the paranoia of those suspecting his place, but also the dreams of something else in the piano playing moments. One of my favorite scenes is when Szpilman witnesses an outbreak of violence, and perspective allows for such a unique and harrowing depiction of warfare. It's exceptional film about a single man's survival.
5/5

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Henry V (1989)

Henry V marks Kenneth Branagh first cinematic foray into adapting the Bard, and almost seemed to encourage comparison to Laurence Olivier given that was his first film as well. Branagh seems to take a more straight forward approach. Of course the story requires a bit fourth wall breaking due to its introduction or else excise of the material. Branagh deals with rather quickly limiting this to the chorus which he keeps through a living narrator played by Derek Jacobi, who Branagh always seem to get his best from. Branagh makes a rather brilliant decision in terms of the written adaptation by including passages from Henry IV to further develop the King's relationship with Falstaff and his group of friends. This effectively realizes the transformation from the boy as a Prince to become the man as a King. This allows for one particularly powerful moment where Henry must proceed with the execution of one his former friends. Branagh crafts the arc well leading the origin which proceeds with his invasion of France. The invasion itself is handled with a focus on the often grim reality of battle, though Branagh does leave time for a bit of grandeur through the King's speech which is made particularly rousing due to the score by Patrick Doyle. It's a grand adaptation, it's not quite as strong as Hamlet mainly due to Branagh's own performance style is a better fit for Hamlet than Henry, but still a triumph.
5/5

Monday, June 27, 2016

Game of Thrones Season 6

Game of Thrones Season 6 had to pick up the pieces of the fifth season which left things far messier than they ever had been before. The certain strengths of all previous seasons, the acting, the music, all of the technical elements, were evident even in that season, and they once again are evident here. In some regards they have only become stronger with some of the actors only having become better as the seasons have progressed. This season had to make due with the lingering plot threads of the previous and make do with its source material failing to set much of a proper course, in terms of both published and unpublished materials. The plotting in this season is not nearly as tight as it had been before yet it is far stronger than the previous entry. There are missteps throughout the episodes, though few of them are so major to be unforgivable. The execution though continues to be so strong, the characters continue to develop in such a captivating fashion, that it is easy to overlook the occasional mistakes. They are particularly made up for by the high points of this season being some of the greatest peaks the show has ever achieved. This season actually ended up building brilliantly to two of the most powerful and satisfying final episodes the show has ever crafted. The show has never been perfect, this season is not perfect either. The strength of its successes far outweighs any of its failures, and this season proves there's still plenty of magic left in Westeros.
5/5

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's most famous plays but its not necessarily one of his best. It's simplicity makes it one that can easily mess up in its adaptation without the proper interpretation of the source material. Luckily Franco Zeffirelli is a bit of a master of the Shakespeare adaptation. Now visually speaking Zeffirelli adaptation are often quite captivating as he seems to attempt to represent the approximate time of the actual story in terms of costuming and sets, and just do that in a way that is visually appealing. Zeffirelli accomplishes that. Zeffirelli's skill goes beyond an effective visual representation in his interpretation of the play. One pivotal choice her makes is in the casting of the leads who are both properly young, as this version keeps in mind the foolishness of young love. It is not that it mocks them, but rather ensures a better understanding of their actions. Now even though its a tragedy Zeffirelli is mindful of lack of nuance in terms of certain elements of the story, and keeps a lighter touch with the material. It's a intelligent choice as Zeffirelli shows the bad decisions throughout the story mainly come from people just not taking time to think things through properly. This is best realized by his brilliant representation of the duel between Mercutio and Tybalt, which is as comedic as tragic, and in the end more about ego than hatred. It's in many ways a daring adaptation, almost covertly so, and an absolute success.
5/5

Hamlet (1996)

Hamlet starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh attempts to turn the Shakespeare theatrical play into a grand spectacle of cinema. Branagh's spiritual predecessor, Laurence Olivier's own adaptation took an intimate, though still cinematic, approach that pared the material down to its most basic elements. Branagh's version does the exact opposite adapting the play in its entirety in the style of a Hollywood CinemaScope epic of the 50's and 60's. This is in the sense of the grand scope that Branagh gives to the story. This is in every sense from the massive rather magnificent sets, the sumptuous costumes, the sweeping score, as well as keeping the Fortinbras subplot which forces a less intimate perspective on the events of the play. Branagh's approach to the material succeeds in his aim, but is also rather fitting to Branagh's personal approach to the part of Hamlet. Now this is not to say this approach is without pitfalls as seen with Branagh taking a note from the Michael Todd Around the World in Eighty Days rule book, which is to fill the smaller parts with recognizable stars. A few of these are distracting or downright bad, Jack Lemmon, Robin Williams and Gerard Depardieu, but I'll admit the strength of the rest, Charlton Heston in particular, more than makes up for it. Branagh choices succeed here and the complete play does add to the story particularly in regards to the character development of King Cladius and Polonius. It is an adaptation with a clear vision and Branagh successfully uses that to craft a powerful and rather memorable version of the often adapted work.
5/5

The Life of Emile Zola

William Dieterle and star Paul Muni once again team up for a biopic this time for writer/social crusader Emile Zola. For the first two thirds of the film it follows a similair structure that their previous collaboration, the Story of Louis Pasteur followed, that being various steps in the life of the man. In this case it basically follows his slow build in popularity through his writing which stems from various personal experiences throughout his life. The time is clearly imprinted onto the film as the politics of Zola are kept vague and are distilled down to the rather friendly concept of justice for all. This being the case though leaves the film itself vague since it does not delve into proper details on Zola's efforts though there is an occasional memorable scene crafted by Dieterle's direction, such as when Zola stumbles upon a large group of poor people in the fog. The film does not find its footing though until its third act which is centered solely around Dreyfus affair, where a Jewish military officer was framed for a crime he did not commit. Zola decides to champion his case and a fight for justice takes place. This is when the film comes to life as a real passion can be found through the writing, direction and particularly the performances of Muni and Joseph Schildkraut as Dreyfus. The film finds what it is about since its willing to not shy away from directly facing what its about, and it reaches towards a powerful conclusion. The film ends on a high note, but it also reminds one of how inarticulate and inert most of the earlier scenes had been. It's an uneven film, but luckily the filmmakers were nice enough to leave the bad on one side and the good on the other.
4/5

The Story of Louis Pasteur

The Story of Louis Pasteur is an episodic telling of the life of Louis Pasteur, a chemist who made great strides in terms of the understanding and prevention of diseases caused by microscopic organisms. The film covers various portions of his career. His time in simply having germs recognized to exist to begin with, then his development of a cure for Anthrax then later a treatment for rabies. William Dieterle is an extremely capable director when it comes to creating atmosphere but he seems shackled here by the straight forward nature of this story. There is only one scene when a man is being treated for Rabies using an archaic method where one can see Dieterle usual ability. It's a completely respectable film fitting to its completely respectable subject matter.
3/5

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Lost Patrol


The Lost Patrol is short yet taught war thriller about a small British patrol after their commanding officer is killed. The group take refuge in Oasis, but find they're surrounded by a deadly enemy. The film wholly works as it sets up its characters quickly and effectively realized with a strong ensemble for the time featuring Victor McLaglen, Wallace Ford, and Boris Karloff. John Ford's direction is often the highlight though creating a real sense of place in the desert, as he creates a sense of exotic grandeur along with an eerie paranoia from the unknown. The feeling of being lost there with the men is evident, and the growing despair creeps upon you. It's rarely mentioned among Ford's films despite being such a strong indication of his talent as a filmmaker.
4.5/5

For Whom the Bell Tolls


For Whom The Bell Tolls depicts the Spanish Civil war while World War II, which involved fighting fascists, was raging. Now due to that it is interesting that one sees a film directed by ardent anti-communist Sam Wood, despite being a film about an American aiding technically the communist side of fight. This odd peculiarity probably explains the film which is also an odd peculiarity. It's a bloated film that's technically all about the attempt by the rebels to destroy a bridge held by the enemy. It takes a long time to get to that bridge. Now there are some clearly positive elements. The early color cinematography is rather unique and appealing, and Katina Paxinou is outstanding in her complex depiction of one of the guerilla leaders. The rest of the film is a strange mixed bag. The film attempts some mixture in terms of its depiction of sides, but it never quite commits. It shows those moments, yet then its moments of depicting the fight itself are often showed to be particularly romantic. It treads extremely dark territory involving Ingrid Bergman's character, but even that seems underdeveloped through the films wavering perspective. One of the biggest flaws comes in Akim Tamiroff's over the top depiction of the questionable leader of the revolutionaries Pablo. His performance limits the character into just a caricature of basically a bully where something far more complicated seemed possible. Now to be fair that too comes from Wood's direction which never makes the story feel cohesive. The various threads hang there, and the potential of the story seems largely wasted by the last frame.
2.5/5

Pride of the Yankees


Pride of the Yankees marks another turn by Gary Cooper as a man considered by many to be an American hero. This time Yankee hall of famer Lou Gehrig. The film, which premiered little more than a year after the real Gehrig passed away, gives a wholly positive portrait of the man. Of course that's not really a problem, but the film doesn't have a lot to say about him total. The baseball games themselves are given little weight, and it mostly just gives brief glimpses during various points in his career. The focal point is on Gehrig relationship with his wife, played by the always excessively charming Teresa Wright. This in itself is kept pretty simple, but to be fair it is appropriately sweet as well. The film technically does not get going until Gehrig's fatal diagnosis which is only the tail end of the film. This does allow it to end on a highpoint which is Gehrig's farewell speech, and to his credit Cooper completely delivers in the moment. The film is a pleasant enough, and moving film. It isn't much but it isn't bad either.
3.5/5

Sergeant York


Sergeant York tells the truly fascinating story of Sergeant Alvin York who performed an unbelievable feat of battle during World War I. Unfortunately the film does not tell this in an especially fascinating way. It is weighed down by its leading performance with Gary Cooper as York. Cooper is one actor I've never warmed up to, there's a few performances where his excessively low key style works, but this is not one of them. There is pivotal change in the early part of the film where York goes from an angry lout to a good Christian, but this is portrayed without nuance by Cooper's turn. He just goes from a soft spoken laid back guy who punches people to a soft spoken laid back pacifist who ends up shooting people. His performance severely hinders the first two acts of the film. The final act is the war where the a battle sequences are far less visceral and impressive than All Quiet on The Western Front which came out almost ten years before this film. This film though is part propaganda(coming out shortly before the U.S. entered WWII), so the war scenes, though they show death, are never too brutal. In doing that they're never excessively engaging either. Altogether the film isn't terrible by any means, but a far more impressive film seems possible given the subject matter.
3/5

Inherent Vice


Well if the Master was too weird or hard to follow for a viewer, Paul Thomas Anderson does nothing to ease that pain with his follow up Inherent Vice. It's a strange switch up though as this film is technically a comedy about a stoner P.I. trying to find out what happened to his ex-girlfriend who is related to a bizarre plot that involves all sorts of odd-balls. The plot itself, though you can decipher it, is purposefully left to be hard to follow through the often strange way various characters speak when delivering pivotal exposition. The film though is more about experiencing the plot than following it, which might aggravate some, but not me. This film is a concise mess of a film, in that it is all over the place yet every moment of it seem intentional in terms of Anderson's vision for the piece. We follow the PI Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) again as he goes through a strange world of drugs, murders, and a sense of strange paranoia while attempting to get to the bottom of this neo-noir. This film seems particularly true to the stoner cause, as the film itself in this one seems to be a bit high, and one just needs to enjoy the trip even if it all doesn't make sense at first.
5/5

The Master

The Master stands as a pure Anderson film, as the only way to describe would as a Paul Thomas Anderson film. This is a purity of the style he had been fashioning over his previous films. Although there is perhaps a growing split with this film, and particularly the next film I'll be getting to, I fall firmly on the positive in terms of appreciating Anderson's unique vision. This film is a fascinating examination of a battle scarred war veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), and his run in with a religious cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Along with Dodd's wife Peggy (Amy Adams) the three seem to represent the Id, Super-Ego and Ego respectively. Nothing about the film's plot or even storyline exactly results as one might expect, or some might even want as the three have curious struggle of powers of sorts as the cult tries to help Freddie and Freddie tries to help the cult. The film is fascinating in this examination of this relationship, but this is never clinical as it might sound. It goes so much further in its depiction of the broken Freddie, and how this relates to Lancaster Dodd whose own relationship with the cult is not an obvious one. The film develops never as you quite think it will yet it never stops being intriguing and engaging through its portrayal of Freddie's difficult journey to discover some sort of peace in himself.
5/5

Friday, June 3, 2016

Punch-Drunk Love

Punch-Drunk Love seems like quite the odd switcheroo as he goes from his two risky endeavors of Boogie Nights and especially Magnolia to, an Adam Sandler romantic comedy? I suppose that in itself is a risk for someone trying to make a good film given that is infrequently the description used for films starring Sandler. Now in terms of Anderson his visual panache is evident as ever, but the intent of the film seems to be to be a successful romantic comedy. That isn't quite so simple, though that is the focus, in that Anderson uses this opportunity for more than that. Adam Sandler's performance has been described as against type, but it is anything but. Sandler's character keeps two of his most defining features, he's somewhat off-beat, and is quick to extreme outbursts of anger. Anderson decides to breakdown the typical Sandler type, and examine what would create such a man, and how such a man would really be like in a more realistic setting. It is fascinating to see Anderson unravel this all the while still succeeding in crafting an endearing romance, and an entertaining comedy, thanks in large part due to a Philip Seymour Hoffman as a villainous mattress salesman. It perhaps does not achieve the heights of his other films, but the end product still is one of a kind to the point that I'd love to see Anderson take on a few other "stock" film genres.
4.5/5

Magnolia

Magnolia is Paul Thomas Anderson's third feature film and has the daring of an expert in the field. Anderson once again utilizes a Robert Altmanesque structure, though this time even looser than Boogie Nights as there is no defined lead, and no story is explicitly more important than the other. There are connections though through the pivotal theme of impossible coincidence, which is stated in the brilliant opening scene about three strange stories that were said to be all a matter of chance. This sets up the final connection based around an occurrence that seems supernatural, but is natural though again is just a matter of chance, slim chance. That final element of the film was particularly divisive for the film when it came out it seems less so now. That is only the structure, an intriguing and compelling structure yet only the structure that enables for a variety of very human stories about various different though usually desperate people living through difficult moments in their lives. Anderson once again weaves through just about flawlessly a variety of tones within this idea and never allows the film to collapse despite taking some severe risks in regards to the tone. Now, unlike Boogie Nights, there is one story I find less compelling than the rest due to a overwrought performance however I don't think that single performance is enough to weigh down film more than just keeping the film from perfection. Anderson still tries to roll the Hard Eight and succeeds in the gamble. That success is another testament to his talent, but the gamble itself is the mark of a one of a kind filmmaker.
5/5

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Boogie Nights

Hard Eight apparently taught everything Paul Thomas Anderson everything he needed to know since with Boogie Nights there seems to be a true master at work. Now there still is a subtle growth with Anderson found in his creation of his own personal style, since with the next few films he approaches new subject matter by utilizing aspects of other filmmakers's methods, though always with his own flair. In Boogie Nights this is his Altmanesque examination of the Porn industry of the 70's and his "degradation" through the change of a decade. The film most closely Dirk Diggler(Mark Wahlberg)'s career path in the industry, but around that covers fascinating variety of the various people in the life. This is most interesting in that Anderson allows different tones depending on the character depending on the scene, and it never feels as though it seem ill-fitting despite the fact that in one given scene you can have Dirk hilariously belting out "the Touch", then another that entails a brutal murder suicide. Anderson weaves it all together just about flawlessly, and the entire film has the mark of a great director.
5/5

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hard Eight

Hard Eight is the feature film debut of Paul Thomas Anderson, and it's a rather strong showing first time at bat. This is most obvious in the opening set of scenes that open the film where the older man Sydney seems to randomly help out a young man John by showing him a neat trick to get setup as a high roller in Vegas. The entire sequence is spellbinding in its own unassuming way. Now once that ends it does not maintain that height, but that's not really saying too much. It still remains a compelling character study through Philip Baker Hall's great performance. Even though the plot develops are not exactly amazing the film succeeds on Anderson's ability as a director, his ability as a writer in terms of dialogue, and the performances of the entire cast. It ends up being more of a set of scenes than a cohesive whole the way his later films would become, but that's alright since the various scenes are still quite strong, one involving a one scene wonder by Philip Seymour Hoffman is very memorable. There is obvious room for growth to be found in this film, yet it still stands as an indication of a potential master filmmaker.
4.5/5

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Battle Of The Five Armies stands as the grand finale but it is in fact the imploding of the trilogy. Now the unfortunate part is it starts strong with what should have been the finale of the previous film in a thrilling yet emotionally captivating scene of Bard versus the Dragon Smaug. This is a successful pay off of the wise decision to expand on the character of Bard, who is nothing in the novel. Unfortunately the film gets painted into a corner by the novel itself, which is really doesn't end well. It's messy and the only way to have pulled it off would have to swollen the medicine and just have the battle skipped over like in the book. It's a let down to be sure, but the battle is flawed to begin with since our main hero is barely involved and the battle itself is too poorly realized. The third act of the novel is a mess, in that it only works if it stayed as lighthearted as the book is. That's not the case though so the film forces to realize the whole battle which takes up the whole film. It's odd how thin it all is as it stretches out about a page of writing to more than an hour of screen time. All of the expansions come crashing down for the most part, as there is no vision to unite them properly within the battle. It becomes just a mess as the characters are too frequently lost amidst it all. It still has the occasionally strong moments, Thorin in the last act of the film, but even that is diminished by the consistently poor choices made throughout. The most egregious being the focus on an unfunny comic relief whose payoff was eliminated through editing. All the flaws of the trilogy are most easily seen here, which makes for a truly unsatisfying conclusion.
2/5

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Desolation Of Smaug is the second entry into the Hobbit series and it is the best, though not flawless either. It most often gets things right though, more so than its predecessor and sequel. It importantly captures the right tone of fun in the dwarves quest which is essential to The Hobbit which is suppose to be a more lighthearted adventure story opposed to the Lord of the Rings. It also has the very best expansion in the form of Bard, whose made a great character rather than being absolutely nothing which was the case of the novel. Now there is still some unneeded additions, the love triangle is pointless, the constant orc attacks become quite tiresome, the addition of the opening flashback is mindboggling to say the least, it still focuses on Gandalf's side quest(though thankfully in its most limited quantity here). More often than not though the film does work particularly when it focuses on the main party, and Bilbo. Bilbo's initial scene with Smaug is great though even the film does make this go on for too long when the rest of the party gets involved in a pointless action scene. This one more often than not captures a real sense of fun, and it works for what it is. What's wrong with the trilogy is still quite present, but what it could have been can also be seen.
3.5/5

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey marks the beginning of the Hobbit trilogy which has been compared to the Star Wars prequels, which is not a good thing. It's rather interesting to examine the series of films to see where it is they fall short against the strength of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. One major aspect is found in the tone, which might be a natural problem for any prequel, since how does it distinguish itself from the original("sequel") while still being part of the same universe. Well that's problem one as the book itself is more lighthearted than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The film suffers in that it partially embraces this at times, particularly in the hijinks of the dwarves and Radagast, while attempting to replicate the harsher tones of Lord of the Rings in its focus on the Orc's chasing the Dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo throughout their journey. Now past the less refined tone, which does coincide with the Star Wars prequels problem though in far less extreme of a manner I feel, one obvious similarity is in the film's use of CGI. Now this seems stranger though in that the original LOTR trilogy used it heavily as well. The differences can be found though as LOTR utilized it with an effective mix of practicals where there is a far greater over reliance particularly in the villains, which takes a great deal of weight from their presence particularly in the chief Orc, who stands a lame villain throughout the three films. One element where it clearly is not the Star Wars prequels are the performances, which for the most part are quite strong, Martin Freeman in particular, and they in no way show a going through the motions the same way Peter Jackson's direction sometimes feels like. Now all films should be adaptations of the material, but the odd thing here is if they had gone to the letter of the page it would have been shorter. The choice to lengthen as long as possible was not a wise one on a whole, but the idea for a two film Hobbit made sense, three just was more than stretching. There are moments we a bit extra was more than appreciated, the misty mountain song is nice atmosphere building moment, a few instances with the individual dwarves to build character are needed, but there is plenty that is not needed. The flashbacks with Thorin could have been left implied, the story of the Necromancer should have been left off screen as it was in the novel since there's no reason to set up a film we've already seen. The film is messy in that there are scenes that find the right tone, and story elements to focus on but then there are complete wastes of time. For almost every riddles in the dark sequence there's the laborious council of Elrond scene. There are plenty of good scenes, but the film is fundamentally flawed.
3/5

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall tells the story of Henry VII's tumultuous decision to divorce his first wife, and break off from the Catholic church in order to marry the ambitious Anne Boleyn. This story has been told several times before, but this offers a new approach by placing in the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, who was often portrayed as an amoral schemer in the past iterations. An interesting approach to be sure as it breaks the events down to the nearest extremes in terms of political maneuvers given that our lead, played to absolute perfection by Mark Rylance, is a pragmatic political soldier for the King. Now the weakest elements of the show probably is in the somewhat reactionary writing basically as a Man For All Seasons. Where that made Thomas More to be the saint and Cromwell to be the villain, this series reverses the order in basically the same way. That being it plays up the heroes better historical qualities while hiding his shortcomings, while focusing squarely on the villains less savory qualities. I'd say this is the series' greatest weakness, in that More almost comes off as a straw man at times, not the mention it does force one scene not to make a great deal of sense in order to keep Cromwell as a non-torturer, Anne Boleyn's musician's confession comes from being locked in a room for a night, eh that's a bit of a stretch. However past that it's a terrific show in that it makes the story compelling through its focus on the power plays, all through the guide of a quiet yet extremely assured individual. The production is great to look at naturally as well, and very well acted almost across the board. It ends up being a rather fascinating view into the period through its unique perspective, and I certainly hope the story continues through into the rest of Cromwell's story.
5/5

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

White Heat

White Heat is a downright brilliant gangster film which stood as a triumphant return for James Cagney's return to the genre. Cagney has perhaps his hardest gangster in Cody Jarrett who is a full blown psychopath to the point that he actually seems to rather enjoy the idea of killing, even when it is his own men. Raoul Walsh gives the film a visceral sting with his deft approach to the material, that never seems to shy away from the grimmer elements of the story. The film's main plot technically centers around an undercover cop Fallon, played by perpetual second fiddle lead Edmond O'Brien, infiltrating Cody's gang. Now this element is actually well handled in that it creates some very tense sequences, but the best element of the film is the character of Cody and Cagney's portrayal of him. What I love about most of Cagney's works as gangster is that no matter how harsh they are, and Cody is particularly brutal, Cagney manages to humanizes them so beautifully all the same without making the character seem soft at all. Though the ending of the film is a marvel, my favorite scene of the film is just before that where Cody sadly confides to Fallon just how alone he is in the world.
5/5

Friday, May 6, 2016

In a Lonely Place


In a Lonely Place follows the relationship between a struggling screenwriter Dix played by Humphrey Bogart and woman Laurel played by Gloria Grahame. This all takes place around a murder mystery, where Dix's seems a chief suspect, and set in a the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. Nicholas Ray directs this all with a sledgehammer, leaving any subtly out the door, and place the most absurd elements for all they are worth. This is not helped by Bogart who does not tread the fine line needed for the man you may or may not trust. He instead plays him like a normal guy who seems to act like a psychopath for no reason other than to give the film its central conflict apparently. Now the film's style does not make it a boring affair, but at the same time it does not effectively serve the story particularly the central relationship. It makes everything seem forced in a way it did not need to be, and leaves a potentially interesting story to underwhelm.
2/5

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is a potentially interesting story about a man in the fifties who struggles with his existence. The look of the film is interesting capturing the right refinement of the era, while conveying a certain claustrophobia towards it as well. The film also importantly never attempts to make its theme about the hollowness of the central's character feel too overt that it becomes problematic. The real problem with the film is Gregory Peck, unfortunately. The worse thing about this does not feel like a bad performance from him, he's just completely miscast. The simple problem is Peck just fits in too well, and wears that Flannel Suit perfectly. The apparent original choice for the role was Montgomery Clift, which would have been the right fit for the role. Peck just seems right at home, which is completely wrong for the character, and makes the whole film not really work as it should.
2.5/5

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

The Snows of Kilimanjaro is a film about a man reflecting on the various events of his life while seemingly ready to die from a bad infection. This film is one that I would describe as perfectly fine in almost every regard, though not especially great or memorable either. It's is one of those films I did not mind watching, the performances are fine though far from exceptional, the story is interesting enough though not excessively compelling, it's never anything all that notable but it's never anything really bad either.
3/5

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Duel in the Sun

Duel in the Sun is a film that attempts many stories. The story of a half Mexican/half Anglo woman trying to fit in a family, general racism of the period, a forbidden romance, a brotherly rivalry, the conflict of power in a town, there's even a gun toting preacher thrown into the mix. Now a film can try to cover a variety of themes and ideas, but the problem with a Duel in the Sun is it really does not do any of them well. We get parts of the stories, parts of the whole, but they never cohere into anything satisfying. This a particularly odd one in that it does not even feel like one aspect works, they all seem haphazard and all fail as one. It does not help in that the majority of the cast is either bland or hideously over the top.
1.5/5

The Virginian

The Virginian is an early western and it shows in that it is a bit rough around the edges, though not too rough. Victor Fleming proves he does have a visual eye, in terms of stills in particular, and it does feel less claustrophobic than many of the other westerns of the period. However the story is excessively standard, Gary Cooper is his usual standard bland self, and the most interesting element is Walter Huston who's a bit of fun as the villain. It's nothing special though it does stand above some of its contemporaries.
2.5/5

The Westerner

Ahh The Westerner, a great film about a hanging judge Roy Bean, played brilliantly by Walter Brennan, who has a particularly strong obsession with Lily Langtry a star of the stage. Well that's what one would say if that's what the film was about, only. There  is a fairly substantial amount of Judge Roy Bean to be found in the film, but there is also far too much filler involving Gary Cooper's bland cowboy who finds romance in the west. Everything involving the judge works, everything that does not is just very tired, and extremely forgettable. Unfortunately the film proceeds by going back and forth making for a problematic viewing experience. Luckily there is enough of Bean for one to consider the film good, but it sure would have been nice if the film had been interesting even when he was off screen.
3.5/5

Interstellar

Interstellar unfortunately continues the trend of The Dark Knight Rises in Nolan's filmography, which is allowing for a sizable bloat. Once again he does not allow for simplicity when it would be more suitable for the story. The thing is here he does have a very strong center through Matthew McConaughey's portrayal of the father just trying to save the Earth for his daughter which forces him to leave her. That story works and gives the film the emotional core it needs, and I even think it makes the film's twist work. To back that up there once again are incredible visuals, and Nolan even manages to find a bit of humor again through an unusual robot. The writing again though seems to be from the same writers as Dark Knight Rises, which is not a good thing. There once again are downright bizarre lines, particularly those about love's ability to transcend all, and extra plot for the sake of it such as Matt Damon's whole character's connection to Michael Caine's along with the extra bit of sibling conflict thrown into the climax which feels unneeded. The film is uneven luckily though the high points include some of Nolan's best as a director, even if the low points include some of his worst as writer.
3.5/5

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is a curiosity in that it appears what you get when it seems like the creative team had no one on oversight and they were just brimming with so much self confidence from their last foray to the point that it feels like they did one screenplay draft and called it day. The writing is very sloppy all over the place not only in terms of plot holes, which are the kind you do notice while watching for the first time, and just some particularly strange dialogue. The opening sequence alone is kind of how marvelous in how really ridiculous the whole thing is set up and written, to the point I must admit I get enjoyment out of just watching the absurdity of some of it. A film can have a few of these things, but this one is just brimming from ear to ear with them. John Blake figuring out Batman's identity, Gordon instantly losing his confession, the line " would somebody get this hothead out of here", the central idea behind Catwoman's motivation (so she just took Dagget's word for it?), Bruce Wayne's instant arrival back in Gotham, the list goes on. Nolan's direction though still is on point as there are still some outstanding visual sequences. The film even works emotionally much of the time even if it is overwrought in more than a few ways. The film's bloated in its attempt to top the Dark Knight's stakes, really an impossible task so they just went for an extreme. There are too many plot lines for its own good, to the point that there is a character in John Blake who could have been removed and nothing would have been lost, the same really goes for the film's last minute villain since it seems everyone felt Bane was good enough for a solo act. It takes someone as talented as Nolan to make a film like this because as an underwhelming sequel it's like none other. It does not falter in the ways you'd expect but in entirely different ways that often seem bizarre. The film I'm forced to describe not as bad because there are genuinely good elements, but even in the less successful elements still manage to be interesting in their own way.
3/5

Inception

Inception curiously is the one film by Christopher Nolan that I haven't really re-watched. Not that I dislike the film, I just have never been quite compelled to do it, so I must base this only on the initial viewing. On that this is one of Nolan's most visually arresting films. The utilization of the dream idea with the action is usually very memorable, particularly in a hall way fight sequence. Again as with all of Nolan's film it is never concepts alone and there is something personal beneath it all. Here we have Leonardo DiCaprio's Cobb as he deals with his wife's death, which is constantly reminded of by her showing up in his dreams, which is well handled though I would not say as well in say The Prestige or Memento. I also have to admit the more affecting intimate story comes from Cillian Murphy's subplot. The film works best as spectacle, though one can ask why there is not more fantasy in these dreams, they still are pretty arresting nonetheless. The film also does work as a heist, though it would not have hurt to have a little bit more comedy, with most the characters being defined by their duty in the heist leaving it mostly to the actors to make their characters stand out, with Tom Hardy succeeding the most in that regard. It's an engaging film, not perfect, but certainly never dull.
4.5/5

The Prestige

The Prestige stands along with Memento as one of Christopher Nolan's strongest films, for once again a fairly similar reason. Both films work brilliantly in their mind bending tricks, and the twists both contain are incredibly effective. The Prestige, as with, Memento is more than just trick despite being about magicians. The film stands well on its portrayal of a the rivalry between the two magicians, Borden, the one fueled by a professional motivation to strive for something new, the other, Angier, having a personal motivation to get some sort of revenge. Both are so well cast with Christian Bale as the brooding yet daring magician, and Hugh Jackman as the charismatic showman but safer individual. Their relationship is always maintained as paramount and the film explores both men's lives even in elements outside the rivalry. The film, as one would expect, is visually striking in capturing the visual detail, but also the magic of well magic. One of my favorite elements though is when it goes beyond a bit in the use of Nicholas Tesla that adds an extra bit of subtext given his own rivalry with Thomas Edison. The film succeeds in pulling the strings together to find a captivating conclusion but what I love most about it is that is not all there is to it. The twists only makes subsequent viewings all the more engaging as it earns it, and fitting for a film about magicians is it's  there in plain sight, you just don't notice it.
5/5

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Batman Begins

Batman Begins really only had to be okay to improve on its predecessor Batman & Robin. It was more than okay in its setup for the beginning of a new life for the character, cinematically speaking, by treating the material seriously. The film sought to make Batman a real person and in that cause it succeeded. It stands as the first Batman film, of the live action variety, that actually cared about the central character and not just the villains. The villains are actually the side show in this case, though a very memorable side show in Cillian Murphy Scarecrow. The villains though are only there to facilitate the story of the Batman which is incredibly well told by providing real motivation to the character, and even given real power to the very idea of what something like Batman means. Now does this film have Katie Holmes? Yes. Is it as thrilling as its sequel? No. Is it thrilling though? Yes. It sets up a believable world for the character giving him life, giving life to those around him, particularly in the case of Jim Gordon who was so wasted in all previous cinematic efforts. The film succeeds in making Batman begin again, no longer as a rubber joke, but instead as someone you can actually understand and even relate to.
4.5/5

Insomnia

Insomnia is almost the forgotten Nolan film it seems, though that may in part be due to it being a remake, however it seems fitting in his filmography given its focus on the supernatural in the natural this one being the midnight sun due to its setting in Alaska. Now I don't think the film is perfect basically in that I don't think it's especially compelling outside the central two characters. The mystery itself is wrapped up easily, with the minor characters being pretty one dimensional, what's interesting is the examination of two men dealing with their own actions. On the side of the detective Dormer I do believe Nolan slightly overplays his own hand in visualizing the guilt, given he has a devoted Al Pacino to do it. The high point though easily is Robin Williams who creates such a disturbing portrait of a man who is so off putting because he seems so sympathetic in his ability to seemingly explain his unforgivable actions. His performance and the character of Walter Finch are both fascinating. The film as a whole, less so.
3.5/5