After the death of the first lady in a terrible accident, Presidential guard Mike Banning is disgraced and relieved of his duty. Attached to a desk job in the Treasury department, Mike Banning still feels responsible for the first ladys' death, longing for a chance to get back into the saddle. He gets his chance, when the White House is captured by a terrorist and the President is kidnapped, with Banning finding himself trapped within the building, secluded and alone. Antoine Fuqua's Olympus Has Fallen is a decent action film which draws heavily from the Die Hard mold, essentially being Die Hard set in the White House. The film uses similar plot points all over from the disgraced protagonist to the ineptitude of the national security team's attempt to take back the White House. The opening sequence of Olympus Has Fallen reveals the terrible accident which would leave Mike Banning disgraced and without a job. In this sequence the film spends an almost comical amount of time showing how good of a person Mike Banning is. We see how close he is with the president and his family, even to the point of showing the President's son opting to ride with Banning on the fateful night. With this rather hokie sequence we see how the President blames Banning for his wife's death, setting up the emotional backbone of the film and capturing why Banning is so desperate to prove himself. Olympus Has Fallen has a good amount of action and while the film is quite unrealistic in its invasion sequence, I couldn't say it wasn't exciting. I think what surprised me the most is how much Olympus Has Fallen doesn't hold back in showing the violence and unnecessary death which would be the result of something like this. This is a hard R film that wants the viewer to see the carnage and feel the violence and a lot about how much you'll enjoy this film hinges on that point. Olympus Has Fallen is a pretty dumb film that is essentially Die Hard in the White House but if you enjoy these types of action extravaganzas it does enough right to be enjoyable.
Terrence Malick's To The Wonder is a poetic film which sets out to dissect the ideal of love in a lyrical and profound way. The story focuses on Marina and Neil, who meet in France and move to Oklahoma to start a life together. Marina, being from France, moves across the world to be with Neil but soon after they move in with each other problems arise. One thing that is always expected with a Malick film is beautiful visuals and To The Wonder certainly doesn't disappoint. Please go see this in the theater and not on demand as this is the type of film that must be experienced on the biggest screen possible. The film is practically without dialogue, outside of voice-over which comes primarily from Marina's character, with Malick once again showing how well he can tell a story with visuals instead of the lazy tactic of using the written word. Through Malick's staging and visual design we are given insights into these characters, seeing their happiness, doubts, anger, etc. in a very raw and emotional way. I would even go as far as to call this film visual poetry, an exploration of love in all of its forms. Malick wants to understand this intangible feeling of love - why we have it, why we lose it, and how it is a part of our soul. He doesn't have answers to these questions, because no one does, but the exploring such a theme is a emotionally taxing and fascinating experience. While Malick doesn't point the blame towards either of his central characters this is clearly Marina's story and Olga Kurylenko does a great job. I'm not entirely sure Javier Bardem's character is necessary at all to the story but perhaps he represents the more tragic side of love lost to our own mortality. In a way Malick's To The Wonder reminded me of Zulawki's My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days in that they both examine love. Terrence Malick's To The Wonder is certainly not a film for everyone but I found it fascinating to watch such a great filmmaker explore the meaning of love.
Kleber Mendonca Filho's Neighboring Sounds chronicles the day-to-day life in a middle-class neighborhood in present day Recife, Brazil. The film follows a host of different characters, capturing their personal stories while interweaving them quite masterfully together. There is no main character in Neighboring Sounds, with each character being just as important as the next to tell this story that is a reflection on economics, violence, and history in Brazil. I take that back, the main character of this film is the Neighborhood, which Filho brings to life with fantastic cinematography and sound design. The camera is such an observant viewer, with Filho using a barrage of slow pans and tracking shots that really soak up the environment these individuals live in. The compositions are very beautiful but also elicit theme and emotion. The average viewer would say that Neighboring Sounds has no plot, and while that is true in the tradition sense, the film is a thematically rich experience. Neighboring Sounds lets everything unfold organically, giving the film a "slice of life feel" with its themes brimming just below the surface. From early on in the film it's apparent that these people has been affected greatly by the threat of violence which consumes many of their lives. From the way people live their everyday lives behind prison bars for personal protection to how crime is almost excepted as a part of life, the film gives off a brooding sense of dread. As the film flows towards its conclusion the viewer is left completely in the dark as to what will happen in the narrative and yet one begins to fear the worst. The other major theme outside of violence pertains to the social construct of Brazilian society with Filho frequently using juxaposition to capture this gap between the classes. The film features many characters whom are both rich and poor and we see how their lives are intermingled yet through subtle visuals we see the barriers which separate them. Neighboring Sounds never states either of these themes in an abrupt way and in doing so creates a rather impressive film that feels incredibly intimate and organic in capturing this slice of everyday life in Brazil.
Peter Greenaway's Darwin is a revisionist biopic that chronicles the life of Charles Darwin in an incredibly meticulous way. The film is split up into 18 tableaux, with the film covering everything from the details of Darwin's birth, to his publication of his Theory of Evolution, and ultimate death and burial at Westminster Abbey. With of runtime of under 60 minutes, Darwin was made for British television though it's hard to tell given the film's approach. Each of the 18 tableux are filmed in single long takes, with compositions that beckon to the time period. It's similar to how one would watch a stage play, with the camera simply serving as a window into Darwin's world. That isn't to say the film isn't a visual feast, with Greenaway using a few instances of surreal imagery and sumutous art design to create a beautiful film which still features Greenaway's trademark Mise-en-scene. As involved as Greenaway's Darwin is, the film doesn't really set out to give a biopic of Darwin in the traditional sense but rather encapsulate how Darwin's experiences shaped his theories and subsequently the world. With a somber narration encapsulating the whole film, it's more intellectualy driven than emotionally driven in informing the viewer of Darwin's life. Don't get me wrong, the film does touch on Darwin's relationship with his wife as well as their children, but even in dissecting these relationships the film demonstrates how Darwin's mind was never at rest, always questioning creationism, evolution and our existence in general. Peter Greenaway's Darwin is an academic dissection of Darwin's theories as well as the subsequent politcal & relgious upheaveal they incited and while it certainly isn't for everyone, those interested in Darwin's theories should certainly seek this film out.
Simon, a fine art auctioneer, has recently came into a tremendous amount of debt thanks to his gambling addiction. In an effort to clear these debts, Simon teams up with a criminal gang to steal a Goya painting estimated to be worth over 25 million pounds. While the initial heist seems like a success, Simon suffers a blow to head which leads to a loss of memory including where he stashed the painting. After torture and threats of even more extreme violence fail, the gang's leader Frank hires hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb to try and find the location of the hidden painting locked somewhere in Simon's psyche. Danny Boyle's Trance is a film that attempts to confuse the viewer and blur the lines between truth, suggestion and deceit. The film does a good job at keeping the viewer interested and guessing throughout the running time, taking its time to reveal meaningful details in organic ways not driven by what the narrative deems necessary. In a way Trance could be described as having a disjointed point-of-view as it becomes increasingly confusing as to what is truth and deception in Simon's broken subconscious. Boyle's hyper-kinetic style is certainly prevalent throughout Trance with lots of unique compositions and camera angles that effectively disorient the viewer, really bringing the viewer into this disjointed point-of-view and letting them experience it themselves. While there is much to like in this dreamy atmosphere of Trance when Boyle finally reveals what is going on to the viewer I felt more cheated than fairly tricked. It's an interesting deceit but the film doesn't give the viewer nearly enough with this quazi "twist" ending for anyone to truthfully and honestly see it coming. While Danny Boyle's film is trippy and interesting, I feel he missed the mark at delivering something intellectually stimulated, opting more for a cheap parlor trick.
After the death of his wife, Gary Farrell is left alone to take care of his
young son. On his $45 per week salary as a truck driver, Gary struggles to send his son to a military school, leading him to enter a heavyweight boxing tournament in the hopes of winning the $500 grand prize. While Gary is unquestionably raw, he wins the tournament with the help of his trainer, Pop, opting to make a career of boxing. After a short time Pop molds Gary into a true contender but soon after the quick rise to fame clouds Gary's judgement, threatening to derail him and destroy everything he truly cares about. Sam Newfield's The Contender is a run of the mill story which suffers somewhat from its abridged running time. Much of the film centers around the rise and subsequent fall of Gary, who lets fame and fortune bloat his ego and ultimately disappoint his son, the person who he cares about most in this world. Being barely over 60 minutes in length, the film's a little too fast-paced specifically pertaining to Gary's fall from grace. All of the narrative beats are touched on but I found the running time to be too suffocating, taking a lot away from Gary as a character. We see his rise and fall, and it makes sense, but it never feels as natural as it should from the character perspective because of the short running time. From a technical perspective, I wouldn't go as far as to say The Contender was groundbreaking for the time, but the film uses some nice transitions and editing to capture Gary's rise to stardom. The Contender features some decent fight choreography, though it would be deemed cheesy by today's standards, with the smokey,cloudy ring being my favorite aesthetic decision. The Contender by and large brings nothing to the table which the average viewer hasn't seen, though that doesn't mean it isn't a decent story of neglect and ultimately redemption.
Given the name of Andrea Tonacci's film, one would expect a shoot-em up action film, but the film Bang Bang pretty much defies all classification. Andrea Tonnacci's Bang Bang follows the exploits of an anonymous urbanite as he goes from situation to situation, each being more absurd than the last. To say the film lacks all sense of narrative wouldn't be entirely accurate, but the structure is not pinned down, being much more experimental in flow. As the protagonist goes through a series of situations, he is chased by a group of wacky gang members made up of a transvestite, gun wielding blind man, and a native chieftain. Tonacci's film has a type of raw energy which I can only describe as electric, with lots of impressive camera work which must have been painstakingly complicated given the serious lack of budget. Much like Godard, a lot of this film feels improvised and an homage to genre film-making but I believe Tonacci also wanted to touch on the struggle between ones civility and true animal nature. Throughout the film, this unnamed protagonist is pursued by this absurd gang, as if to suggest they our his primal instinct looking to free him. A scene at a diner where the man begins to court a young woman being probably the best example. There conversation is very civil and intellectual, but when the gang of delinquents shows up things quickly change. Andrea Tonacci's film is brass, exuberant and challenging and while I'm sure I missed some of the more culture specific symbolism, Bang Bang is an electric ride.
In the remake to Sam Raimi's 1981 cult horror classic, five twenty-something friends become held up in a remote cabin in an effort to break one of their drug addictions. While quitting a drug addiction via cold turkey can be extremely tough, the young Mia soon discovers something far worse when the group of friends stumble across the Book of the Dead. Fede Alvarez's Evil Dead is an incredibly violent, fun and demented ride that is far from perfect, but appealing enough to fans of the original. One thing that is apparent from the onset of this version is that Fede Alvarez and company have creative an effective visual design. This is a very well crafted film, which elicits mood and creates atmosphere while also successfully disorienting the viewer. Unfortunately for Mr. Alvarez, his writing isn't nearly on the same level. The film uses Mia's drug addiction shamelessly to create a sense of mystery and doubt among the group when things go to shit and I quite frankly thought this type of disbelief went far too long to be believable. Now don't get me wrong, I could forgive this type of thing as merely a trope of the genre (dumb young kids) but the film's sentimental angle centered around Mia and her brother, David, doesn't really work either. Alvarez really does set out to make a film that rests on its own merits and while it makes a valiant effort, it still can't resist the tongue and cheek homages. Some viewers are bound to find this fun and cute, but I personally think the film would have been better if it had picked a path and stayed too it. One thing I can guarantee with this version of Evil Dead is that the gore hounds are sure to have fun, with this film being extremely violent and demented. Fede Alvarez' Evil Dead is far from perfect filmmaking, relying a little too much on generic sentimentality, but it's extremely violent, demented and fun, being definitely one of the best horror "remakes" in recent years.
This is a film that for the most part, lived up to what I was hoping it would be. Gareth Evan's The Raid wastes no time giving us plot points, or character development, opting instead to throw us us into this dangerous environment. The action is pretty much non-stop from beginning to end, but I think what surprised me the most about the film was the amount of suspense and tension which it is able to achieve in the quiet moments. There are two or three scenes in this film that are very tense and really stood out to me with the level of anxious energy they were able to elicit out of me. The fight choreography and stunts are exceptionally well done. The way it's all shot and choreographed really puts the viewer right in the middle of the action. I would argue that the knife play in Hong-jin Na's Yellow Sea is more violent and exciting than what The Raid provides, but that doesn't mean that this film wasn't a ton of fun. The story is rather by the numbers and some of the dramatic plot points, which are supposed to be shocking, come off as bland, uninispired and frankly unneccessary. That being said, if you are going to see this movie, you shouldn't care cause it delivers on a quick-paced, 100 minutes of ass-kickery.
Pedro Almodovar is one of those filmmakers who I've never been incredibly incredibly impressed with, given his reputation. I haven't seen all of his fims yet, but as of now his most recent, The Skin I Live In, is by far my favorite film of his. The major thing that stand about about Almodovar's work is his beautiufl, vivid production design. His films have a very unqiue look to them, making them easy to recognize, and together with the fact that his films tend to be unique stories set in an abnormal structure, I certainly appreciate his intentions. Matador is a film that explores the connection between love, lust and death. It's an interesting film in which every character is completely driven by their passions and desires. I found the sadomasochistic relationship between the matador and Maria to be the most interesting aspect of the film. One problem I feel that Almodovar's films have sometimes is that there depiction of the masculine and feminine overextends to the point of many characters becoming Archetypes in the Almodovar mold. No doubt, Almodovar has a keen understanding of the differences in emotions and feeling, but I think at times it just becomes a little too overbearing or dare I say one not for me. Matador is definitely an interesting, unique experience featuring some of Almodovar's best shot commpositions, but once again nothing about this film really blew me away.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.