257 posts tagged Movie Reviews
END OF WATCH (2012)
There’s never a dull moment in the life of young LAPD officers. Whether it’s going head to head with drug cartels or responding to what seem like the most mundane dispatch calls, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) sweep the streets of South Central LA witnessing some of the worst that the city has to offer. End of Watch is a gritty crime drama that explores the trials and tribulations that cops face on a day-to-day basis, set against a backdrop that is uniquely Southern Californian. Wrought with tension and filled with riveting performances, it’s one of the best buddy/cop movies I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a great raw energy to the film that makes it fascinating to watch, and the dynamic between Brian and Mike is fun and entertaining, making it easy to endear these characters to the audience. Incorporating guerrilla style filmmaking added a layer of realism to the story that was interesting and not at all distracting. Writer/director David Ayer did an excellent job balancing nail-biting action with heartwarming scenes of brotherly and family bonding. The film also does a really good job presenting the protagonists in a pretty pragmatic light. While there definitely was an effort to make them likable and easy to empathize with, they weren’t put on a pedestal. There were moments when the supposed heroes were shown at their not so best, emphasizing the idea that while they may occasionally save people from burning buildings or chase down the scum of the earth, at the end of the day they are still human.
It must be said that Michael Peña is one of the most underrated actors out there today. He is incredibly talented and, most of all, versatile - floating effortlessly from genre to genre. Peña and Gyllenhaal put on some of their best performances in End of Watch, and the perpetual ray of sunshine that is Anna Kendrick is always a delight to watch. Natalie Martinez, Frank Grillo, America Ferrera, Yahira Flakiss Garcia and Cody Horn are also honorable mentions. What I liked most about the performances was that they seemed so natural and believable. The chemistry and rapport between Gyllenhaal and Peña, undoubtedly established by their months of preparation and training together, was instantly visible and undeniable, never coming off as artificial or scripted. I also thought the film had an interesting method of approaching social issues like race relations and tensions in a very diverse city like Los Angeles. While it largely avoided making any sweeping general statements about these matters, End of Watch certainly didn’t back down from showing disturbing situations that one would expect to see on primetime news. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the film, however, is the fact that it makes no attempt to preach for or against hubris, which is usually something that cop movies tend to do. Instead, it really just echoes the sobering opening lines of the film, which is that cops are always in extreme danger no matter what they are doing, and that their best ammunition usually lies in the trust they can place in their fellow officers.
I’d read some reviews that point out how the film has a gimmicky and inconsistent use of the documentary style, and I wholly disagree with them. I don’t know exactly where some of these reviewers got the idea that this film was going to be made entirely guerrilla-style. To me, the trailer made it quite clear that the movie was just incorporating different ways of viewing the events that transpire, which is an entirely sensible approach. It allows viewers to be flies on a wall during these gripping situations while also mixing up the points of view, which kept things pretty interesting. Being hung up on consistency of style, especially for a film that is otherwise completely solid in its execution of the story, is a flimsy excuse not to like it, in my opinion. I thought the use of guerrilla style worked well in the film and I didn’t find it overdone or cumbersome at all.
End of Watch has all the ingredients to make a fantastic film. The script is taut but also funny, and the production design perfectly mirrors the rough neighborhoods these officers are combing. The characters are fully-formed and well-written, who spout dialogue that give interesting insight into their frames of mind. It’s a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat, but it also has plenty of moving moments that make audiences appreciate the service these men and women in uniform are doing every day. It’s also just a really great story about the fraternal bond two people from totally different backgrounds can share, and Gyllenhaal and Peña do an excellent job in making that readily apparent as well as enviable. End of Watch is a film I would have absolutely no qualms recommending.
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2013)
"The place beyond the pines" is the literal translation for Schenectady, the Native American name for the city where Derek Cianfrance’s third feature film is set (and it’s also the writer/director’s hometown). The name will surely take on a new meaning for those who have seen the film. And to those who have indeed seen it, The Place Beyond the Pines could also be interpreted as the point of no return, the edge of a cliff, and that point past the crossroads when we’re seized by regret, but we know full well that it’s too late to go back. And that’s what Cianfrance’s new film is about: a story of two men from drastically different backgrounds, brought together by an incident that changes both their lives in immeasurable ways. Despite the intimate setting of rural New York and the endlessly relatable working-class neighborhood, there is an epic feel to the film indubitably fostered by its unique approach to the idea of generational struggle and, in a much broader sense, life’s cyclical nature. Cianfrance’s sophomore effort, Blue Valentine, was widely acclaimed for its earnest and intimate look at the dissolution of a relationship. The innovative filmmaker has taken that same formula and applied it on a much wider canvas with his story of fathers, sons and consequences. The result is a moving piece of near biblical proportions, with a theme that assuredly strikes home and a weight that stays with you even after you’ve left the theater.
THE HOST (2013)
As much as I despise the Twilight series and despite the abysmal reviews it had been receiving as well as the film’s mishandled marketing (more on that later), I was willing to give Stephenie Meyer’s The Host a chance. Normally I don’t pay attention to movie ratings anyway; sometimes bad reviews even have the opposite effect on me, and I end up enticed to the theater instead. I went into this film with pretty low expectations. I didn’t know much about it save that from its trailer, it seemed like a tween version of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. While the film certainly has its problems (including a very rushed first half and dialogue that left much to be desired), it ended up having a rather interesting premise, which did ultimately entertain. There were glimmers of promise in the material, which made me wish that the film had taken a slightly different approach instead of focusing on love triangles (in this case it was more of a weird love square, really) that seem to be a favorite trope of Meyer’s.
The film is set on an Earth that has been invaded by an alien race. Instead of decimating the planet and its inhabitants as audiences are used to seeing in alien invasion movies, these aliens have instead taken over the bodies of humans, preferring to “experience” the planet and the species’ way of life before moving on to another world. When the aliens inhabit a human body, some of the more resilient hosts continue to exist inside, fighting back in a way, as is the case with protagonist Melanie Strider (played by Saoirse Ronan). In an attempt to save her loved ones, Melanie sacrifices herself by jumping out of a building, in the hopes she would be killed and her memories not be used by the implanting aliens (called Seekers) to fish out the remaining resisting humans. The ploy fails, however, and Melanie survives and becomes a host. But the alien implanted in her, called Wanderer, is unable to overcome Melanie’s strong will. The story turns into a battle of wills for both alien and host. Melanie is intent on protecting her family and what little is left of the human resistance, and Wanderer is trying to prove to Melanie that she is not a hostile force without betraying her kind.
G.I. JOE: RETALIATION (2013)
There are mindless action movies, mindless, fun action movies… and then there’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation, a film that manages to be so asinine that the mindless overrides the fun and all you’re left with is a really sad case of moviegoer’s remorse. Not even the supremely awesome Bruce Willis could save a pitiful script and an incredibly convoluted plot. The sequel to 2009’s notoriously bad The Rise of Cobra follows the elite military Joes as they seek vengeance after they are left for dead and framed. Their mission entails uncovering a conspiracy involving the highest order of the American government, the return of an old enemy, and nuclear war, all in a Joe’s day’s work. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Adrianne Palicki, D.J. Cotrona and Byung-hun Lee, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a challenge for the action lover in everyone, full of dialogue that tries too hard and a plot that tries to be much more intricate than it needs to be. You can go into this movie with low expectations, but G.I. Joe Retaliation doesn’t even bother to exceed that. The result: 110 minutes of your life you could have spent playing Bioshock: Infinite instead.
LES AMOURS IMAGINAIRES (2010)
Xavier Dolan’s sophomore effort is a 100-minute Urban Outfitters commercial, featuring pretty people in sharp outfits posing against a backdrop of moody pop music. The film, about best friends who fall for the same guy, doesn’t really traverse uncharted territory, but one can’t deny that it is impeccably shot. Intertwined in the plot are a series of interviews of different people in the throes of love. The message: that love can make people do crazy things, even jeopardize a long-standing friendship, as in the case of Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri), both bowled over by charming mutual acquaintance Nicolas (Niels Schneider). The best friends spend most of the film competing for Nico’s affections, showering him with various gestures of love that seem to amount to nothing. The ending is rather interesting and features !bonus! Louis Garrel, but the rest of the film seems to be more focused on what looks good rather than exploring the characters or the story. There’s a lot of unnecessary, slow motion, runway model scenes that after a while started becoming a gimmick. While the film looked lush, indeed, I wished that the characters were a little bit more fleshed out. All in all, aesthetically pleasing (aside from some of the gimmicky shots) but a little lacking in character development and overall story.
Based on the book by Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis follows young billionaire and Wall Street giant Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) as he cruises through the streets of a sprawling metropolis in a white stretch limousine, engaging in trysts as he witnesses (and actively participates in) the fall of his empire. Packer, who has made his fortune predicting emerging markets and betting for or against different currencies, has had a sudden crisis of confidence when he realizes that life, no longer quantifiable or predictable to him, has become a chore. Although he seems excited about random occurrences and spontaneous combustions (some literal, as he witnesses a self-immolation, and figurative - political protests, threats on his life, presidential motorcades and sudden celebrity deaths among a few exciting incidents during this day), he’s also troubled by what eludes him. For one, his inability to unlock the secrets behind the yuan currency has cost him his fortune. Second, his inability to arouse his wife’s appetites - both gastric and sexual - seemingly frustrates him. His wife repeatedly refuses to have sex with him, even though Packer has control over what repulses her and yet has no desire to curb such behavior. Each time he invites her for a meal, she has no stomach for food or conversation. Finally, his inability to arouse his own curiosity has led him to determine that he no longer has anything to live for, so he becomes an architect of his own doom. Written and directed by David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis is an impeccably shot film featuring characters who talk in riddles, who are cold and soulless as they amble, resignedly, to their end. One could say it’s a film about a person’s last days, and in this particular case, the person is a character completely bored with life that he takes pleasure in engineering his own demise.
Pattinson is perfect as the indifferent Packer, spouting monotonous lines and giving off a veneer of general uninterestedness, even when he’s being notified of potentially alarming threats on his life. It’s tough to imagine anyone else playing an unflappable, yet unheroic, role. What’s particularly interesting about this character is the way he fritters his wealth away, all while “the specter of capitalism is haunting the world” scrolls past him in various building marquees and protest signs. There’s an otherworldly quality to this character that’s intriguing, and also a sense of being a figure belonging to another time. As mentioned by Paul Giamatti’s character in the film, in olden days, tribe leaders who could set the most of their property on fire were the most powerful, and in a way, that’s what Packer is trying to do: go out with a bang, in a manner worthy of tribe leaders and kings. A performance also of note: Sarah Gadon as Packer’s equally unimpressed new wife, who is a match made for Eric were it not for one iota of her that actually feels pain in the form of jealousy for his string of mistresses. The film is interestingly reminiscent of Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, whose protagonist too traverses the city in a nondescript limousine in an attempt to find some illuminating aspects of life.
Cosmopolis is certainly not a film I desire to see again, mostly due to the fact that while I found its world and subject matter interesting, I also find it difficult to sit through something that strives to be as emotionally vacant as its soulless characters. However, there is no question that Cronenberg has done a fine job on the technical side of things. Though the content is tough to sit through a second time around, the imagery is certainly aesthetically provocative and endlessly interesting. Again, very reminiscent of Leos Carax, and in some moments, oddly, even Jean-Pierre Jeunet. As someone who derives pleasure in being pulled in emotionally by a film, it was just difficult to really invest in one that is intentionally designed to be painfully, medicinally introspective and entirely lacking in feeling.
SPRING BREAKERS (2013)
Spring Breakers is a 90-minute music video about the excesses of youth and simultaneous loss of innocence. Or simply put, in Harmony Korine’s own words: “bikinis and big booties, that’s what life is about.” And oh, was there a treasure trove of both in this dizzying romp. Korine, no stranger to music videos (he directed videos for Cat Power and Sonic Youth), takes full advantage of a robust Skrillex-produced soundtrack, bigger budget, savvy marketing and the star power of the young and nubile Disney starlets leading his cast. The film follows a quartet of collegiate girls (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez and Rachel Korine) who go on a seemingly harmless spring vacation only to get mixed up with the wrong crowd, of whom James Franco’s cornrow-coiffed, grill-baring, ebonics-spouting Alien is front and center. Spring Breakers is an assault on the senses: pulsating pop music reverberate against the bodies of young, tanned spring breakers as they writhe scantily clad and inebriated on the hot sands of Florida’s beaches. There’s no judgment and no finger-wagging; only a you-had-to-be-there series of moments that culminate in a shocking, poetic end. This latest Korine film is indeed a hypersensory experience, which the auteur himself has described as a “pop poem”. You can discern some of the reason and a bit of the rhyme, but it’s really meant to be a trip; you take a hit, then sit back and watch the colors swirl.
EVIL DEAD (2013)
This sure isn’t your grandma’s horror movie.
Evil Dead, a remake of the Sam Raimi horror classic, is so disturbing, a lot of its images are sure to be emblazoned in your brain even after you’ve left the theater. This film may come with an R rating (which is a pretty unbelievable feat, I might add, considering its extremely violent imagery), but what it should really come with is a warning label. In this update of the 80s original, gone are the cheap-looking, latex make-up and special effects that made The Evil Dead so ridiculously creepy. In their place…well, blood. Gore. Severed appendages. Lots and lots of it. Right in the thick of all this, five friends in a secluded cabin fighting for their lives.
The original Evil Dead pretty much consisted of bad things randomly happening to a group of friends in a secluded cabin. While there was certainly more of an attempt at a plot in this update (which I liked), it’s still very much the same premise of bad things happening for no apparent reason. Jane Levy’s Mia is a drug addict who’s taken to her family’s cabin in the woods for some old-fashioned rehab. Her friends and big brother are there for moral support, swearing to do whatever it takes to get Mia on the road to recovery. When they stumble upon a mysterious, ominous book in the cabin basement and foolishly read from its contents, Mia suddenly goes haywire. Initially the friends aren’t quite sure if her antics are just side effects of going cold turkey. But they don’t have time to properly investigate, as it quickly becomes clear that there’s real evil at work rather than just a seriously bad case of the munchies.
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN (2013)
Olympus Has Fallen is an action thriller from Training Day director Antoine Fuqua, starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman and Rick Yune. Butler plays an ex-secret service agent who becomes America’s only hope when a band of terrorists infiltrate the White House and hold the President and members of his cabinet hostage. The film is essentially Die Hard in the White House, with a body count that rivals the bloodiest war movies and enough carnage wrought on the streets of Washington D.C. to make Michael Bay’s head explode. There’s not much substance to this film, but that’s really the point. It’s one of those straightforward, “what-if scenario” popcorn movies that will probably elicit a few exclamations of “YEAH! ‘MERICA!” from the audience.
Once you can properly reconcile yourself with the ridiculous idea that a place so heavily guarded as the White House can be so easily stormed upon by a flash mob of determined, bandana-clad terrorists, the ride becomes a lot easier to enjoy. Gerard Butler’s character - undoubtedly an homage to Die Hard's John McClane - elevates the film from mildly tolerable to legitimately enjoyable. It’s really hard not to like Olympus Has Fallen when Butler is dispensing a can of whoopass in such glorious, trash-talking fashion. The action is relentless and pretty violent, with the film deservedly earning its hard R rating. Stereotypes and hilarious tropes abound, especially when the villains are involved, reminding audiences that this isn’t a film that aims to make any specific (or even broad) political statements. At the end of the day, it’s just a movie that rests on the fantasy of how cool it would be if the White House wasn’t actually as impregnable as it really is, and if the leader of the free world wasn’t necessarily the most untouchable man (read: Antoine Fuqua just enjoys blowing up monuments).
The film, which also stars Dylan McDermott, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell and Cole Hauser, has a few takeaways. One: if Morgan Freeman tells you to sit down, you better sit your ass down. Second: everyone who works for government is incompetent, especially the military, who always seem to think more firepower is the answer to everything when obviously ninja skills such as Butler’s would prevail. Third: Gerard Butler is a bona fide action star who I feel like I could actually (no joke) trust with my life. And finally: you mess with
the bull America, you get the horns. Overall, it’s a film that will entertain, assuming that you can get past the cognitive dissonance inherent in some of the situations. So if you’re checking this film out when it hits theaters next week, just sit back, relax and try not to take it too seriously. Trust me. You’ll enjoy it a lot more.
IP MAN (2008)
A brilliant tale of family, honor and national pride, Ip Man is the story of a Chinese wing chun martial artist who is forced to use his skills during a time of war. It’s a moving tale of martial arts in a political context, much like Hero, although in a much smaller, more intimate scale. Donnie Yen plays the titular character, a reserved, zen-like man who believes that the art of kung fu is based on benevolence, not aggression, yet he proves that it can be employed in both ways when it needs to be. “Aren’t offense and defense the same thing?” one youngster in the film says, embodying the art of wing chun in a single line. The film has a well-paced story and strong performances, along with excellent, hard-hitting choreography enhanced by great sound effects. Although it does take some liberties with the historical details regarding the Sino-Japanese war, and some of the ADR work could have been better-timed, it remains one of the best modern martial arts films around.