On another routine day on the job Ralph Burton, a Pennsylvania miner, finds himself trapped underground due to a cave-in. Stuck underground for a few days, Harry eventually digs his way out, only to discover that the coal mine has been completely abandoned. What initially begins an odd mystery, turns into an absolute nightmare, as Harry discovers that a nuclear holocaust has obliterated everyone on the planet. Alone for weeks, Harry begins to make a life for himself but is shocked when he discovers Sarah Crandall, whose also managed to survive. At first Sarah is reluctant to befriend Harry, due to her pre-conceived racism, but they eventually form a close friendship. Things change though with the arrival of Benson Thacker, a white man, with tension that threatens to break down all the progress made by Ralph and Sarah. Ranald MacDougall's The World, The Flesh and The Devil is film that uses the post-apocalyptic setting to explore prejudice, more specifically racism. For modern audiences of today, The World, The Flesh and The Devil is bound to feel tepidly paced. The first third of the film is spent entirely following Harry, who is all alone. We see how the loneliness begins to affect him psychologically, as he begins to form relationships with mannequins as a way to cope. One of my favorite scenes involves him playing in the street with his shadow, being so desperate to engage with anything which remotely symbolizes another human being. While the social commentary centered around equality is an important one, the film's handling of the subject matter is quite clunky. The characters feel more like Caractures than human beings at times, with the film so intent on hammering home its message. The commentary centered around humanities propensity for conflict is far stronger, and fortunately makes the film worth seeing. MacDougall's The World, The Flesh, and The Devil is a post-apocalyptic film that is far ahead of its time, featuring a great central performance by Ralph Burton.
Johnnie To is an incredibly prolific filmmaker who seems to pump out movies faster than anyone these days. While always interesting, there is a large amount of variabiilty in the quality of his films which may be simply a bi-product of this assembly-line type speed of output. Fortunately, Johnnie To's latest film, Drug War, is a fast-paced, engaging piece of filmmaking that captures this prolific filmmaker at the top of his game. Drug War tells the story of Timmy Choi, a drug lord, who after being arrested by the China's Anti-Drug unit, faces the death penalty for his crimes. Desperate to save his own skin, Choi agrees to betray his former partners by partaking in
a massive undercover operation. Captain Zhang, the leader of the unit, doesn't particularly trust Choi, but he has no choice if he wants to stop one of the largest meth dealers in the region from getting his product out on the streets. What one can expect with a Johnnie To film is an assured craftsman, and Drug War is no different in capturing To's signature style of crane shots and incredibly precise camera movements that create an engaging and suspenseful atmosphere. One of my favorite aspects of the film being To's use of the surveillance cameras, which are prevalently displayed on nearly every street light and building. They are almost a character themselves, portraying the watchful eye of the authories who monitor the streets of China. This is a simple yet dynamic narrative that takes advantage of that fact, delivering an extremely fast-paced story that really has no excess fat in its narrative. The action throughout Drug War is fantastic, per usual, with To making sure to capture the gravity of death each time someone is killed. He picks his moments, but ever so often he lingers on the characters who are suffering from the wounds of battle. The relationship between Timmy Choi and Captain Zhang is dynamic, with To never letting on whether Choi can be trusted. Timmy Choi is really the main character of this film and with the way Drug War ends I can't help but summize that Johnnie To has great disdain for how the police negotiates with bad guys, declaring that if you negotiate with the devil you are bound to get burned. Timmy Choi is a cowardly character for sure, but the film also suggests a very primitive aspect of survival in the way he does whatever it takes to stay alive. Johnnie To's Drug War is a fast-paced and engaging crime story that highlights a master of the genre at play.
Billy and Nick are two successful salesman who find themselves out of a job only because of the digital age. Jobless and without any tech skills they are desperate. In a last ditch effort to make something of their lives, the pair apply to Google, going into their internship program which inevitably changes their lives forever. Shawn Levy's The Internship is a film that has gotten a bad wrap due to the fact that it is the ultimate product placement film. The fears are definitely valid and early on I found it quite distracting but it doesn't make the film bad. Fortunately, after awhile it becomes less problematic because the viewer becomes engrossed in the story. With the Vince Vaughn & Owen Wilson team one knows what to expect, with plenty of witty banter and Vince Vaughn doing what he does best. The film isn't hysterical by any stretch but its an enjoyable and surprisingly endearing experience. As one can imagine our two protagonists are surrounded by young adults, half their age, when they enter the program and early on the film uses this ridiculous generational gap to provide most of the laughs. What's surprising though is how The Internship captures the optimism of society, showing how generations both young and old have different strengths. We see how Vaughn and Wilson, with their life experience, supply their younger teammates with eternal optimism regarding the ups and downs of life. In turn, the younger members show them that they are never too old to reach for their dreams. I make it sound cheesy but the film pulls it off well, with a refreshing amount of optimism that really makes the film an overall pleasurable experience. Shawn Levy's The Internship is nowhere near a great comedy but I'd be lying if I didn't say I found the whole thing quite endearing.
Jean-Pierre Melville's Two Men in Manhattan is the filmmakers only foray into America. The film takes place in New York City where a french journalist (played by Melville himself) is assigned to track down a French diplomat, who after missing a United Nation meeting, appears to be missing. Together with the help of a booze-filled photographer, they follow any lead they can, searching through nighttime New York for any clues. Jean-Pierre Melville's Two Men in Manhattan is a noir-type detective story which raises fascinating ethical questions revolving around journalistic integrity. Much of the film follows these two men as they travel throughout the city in search of clues. When they finally discover what has happened to the foreign diplomat the film raises the ultimate journalistic question, which is still incredibly poignant even today. The men have a chance to further their careers but in doing so they will sullen the reputation of a well-respected and overall good man. The film argues that the truth is not always for the greater good, and the notion that the public has the right to know, completely depends on the circumstances. I've always loved films in which foreign filmmakers capture New York. There is a romanticism involved, and Melville's lens is in full exploration mode, looking over the city and giving the viewer a unique viewpoint. This can also be said for some of the smaller background characters and situations, with the film consisting of quite a few scenes of very generic American-isms. One thing that surprised me about Two Men in Manhattan is just how comedic it was, with quite a few well-timed comedic moments that really give the film a nice light feel amongst the serious subject matter. The two main characters really play off each other extremely well, with Pierre Grasset's performance as the photographer really stealing the entire film. I was incredibly happy to be able to see this rare Melville film on the big screen and while it's one of his more obscure titles, it's an important film that's themes still ring very true to this day.
Taking place in a Chilean sex hotel, Valentina Mac-Pherson & Patricia Correa's The Woman and the Passenger is an intimate portrait centered around the maids who work there. These woman are completely unphased by the environment in which they work, sharing their lives with the viewer as well as their views on love, romance, marriage and sex. The Woman and The Passenger is a film with lots of promise, but unfortunately it comes off as more a story revolving around the maids gossip than any profound themes. The film is quite comical, with the woman routinely oblivious to the moans and groans which echo throughout the hotel, but I was really hoping for more substance. The aesthetic of the film is by far it's greatest attribute, with an abundance of well composed static shots that effectively establish the setting of the film, capturing the details of this strange world which is just part of these woman's everyday life. The juxtaposition of their work with the sex trade is a powerful idea, with the film containing a few great moments of interest, with some of woman speaking about their marriage and the relationship between love and lust but unfortunately they are few and far between. I would almost argue that The Woman and the Passenger is simply too short to engross the viewer in its themes but at the same time I question if the story has enough going for it to begin with. Valentina Mac-Pherson & Patricia Correa's The Woman and the Passenger has a fascinating premise but unfortunately it just doesn't have all that much to say.
The Davidson family is having a nice get-together at their beautiful winter home in the middle of the nowhere. Not quite the most loving family, they have all agreed to reconnect over the wedding anniversary of their parents. When the family comes under attack by a vicious gang of killers, they have no choice but to try and fight back. I haven't been a fan of much of Adam Wingard's work to-date, but You're Next is a fun and refreshing take on the home-invasion horror genre. The film is loaded with death and violence but what makes it so much fun is the animosity among the siblings of the Davidson family. The film balances this line between comedy and horror throughout much of its running time, with these siblings bickering at one and other even after they come under attack by the masked killers. The violence is quite inventive and the narrative features a good amount of twists and turns that certainly add to the experience. The visual design is decent but the film's best attribute is its score, which creates most of the atmosphere and mood, delivering the scariest moments as well as the most thrilling. You're Next is a film that one should go into knowing as little as possible, just don't expect something mind-blowingly unique. This is not nearly as groundbreaking as some have lead me to believe, but it balances senseless violence, dark comedy and mayhem very well, giving the viewer a very fun experience.
Nick Conkin is a NY detective who lives by his own rules. Divorced with two young children, Conklin is gouged for alimoney by his ex-wife while also being under scrutiny by his superiors for allegedly stealing confiscated drug money. He is given a small chance at redemption when him and his partner are assigned to escort Sato, a Japanese mob boss, back to Japan to stand trial. Upon their arrival, Conklin and his partner, Charlie, are tricked into releasing Sato to his own men. Now in a foreign country, the two men will stop at nothing to track down Sato and bring him to justice- leading them right into the middle of a Yakuza gang war over a massive counterfeiting operation. Ridley Scott's Black Rain is a fish out of water storyline which finds American renegade, Nick Conklin, in the middle of a culture he doesn't understand. Conklin is an incredibly brash and headstrong individual whose tactics aren't the most noble. The cultural differences of America and Japan play a major part of this story, with Nick's relationship with Japanese officer, Mashario, being where many of the themes originate. The actual narrative surrounding the counterfeiting operation is rather bland but it's the relationship between Mashahiro and Nick that makes the film worth seeing. These two men have completely different viewpoints on how to conduct policework. While Mashahiro sees a clear distinction between right and wrong, Nick doesn't see things nearly as black and white. This leads to the heart of the story, where Nick and Mashahiro become friends, with each being able to help the other grow as police officers and men. The aesthetic of Black Rain is gritty, with almost exclusively dark hues that are only brightened by the neon signs of Tokyo. The film has a few really nice compositions but on the whole it doesn't really jump out at the viewer from a visual perspective. Ridley Scott's Black Rain is a film that definitely suffers from some of the dated cheesiness of the 1980s, but the thematic elements revolving around justice make it a decent way to kill two hours.
This is the End tells the story of six friends trapped in a house after a series of increasingly strange and catastrophic events descend upon Los Angeles. With the world crumbling around them, the friends see their limited supplies dwindle leading them to turn on each other as cabin fever sets hold. Eventually the friends are faced to accept the facts, this is the Rapture the bible speaks of, and they were not worthy enough to ascend to heaven. Evan and Seth Rogen's This is The End is an incredibly funny, self-referential comedy where all the actors play themselves. The film is crass, raunchy, ridiculously funny and loaded with self-loathing, as these actors illustrate a contempt for the industry of Hollywood, the superficial social privileges they are privy too, and their exaggerated personas. Like Pineapple Express, This is The End is a comedy first and foremost but that doesn't mean it throws the horror and violence aspects under the bus. This is The End has a surprising amount of horror and violence that just makes the film that much more entertaining. I would love to see the script for a film like this, as most of the comedy simply comes from the likes of Danny McBride, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, and Jonah Hill improving with hilarious results. Through all the self-deprecating humor and satire of Hollywood, the film has a surprisingly strong commentary on friendship and sacrifice as well. These characters actually go through change and while it certainly isn't the most necessary aspect of the film, it makes it all the stronger. This is The End is the perfect type of comedy that is funny from start to finish, making it hard to single out certain moments as the funniest.
Zack Snyder's Man of Steel is not your father's Superman movie. The film sets out to re-establish the origin of Superman. The film begins with a rather lengthy sequence on Krypton that establishes Superman's home planet as well as his parents and his soon to be nemesis, General Zod. This is not a Superman who from a young age knew his goal was to protect humanity, but a man who is left searching for reasoning as to why his father jettisoned him to this unknown planet. The film's narrative really begins with him as an adult but the sporadic flashbacks between him and his earth parent's are really what shapes the theme of the story. The film is really about the conflict between optimism and pessimism, with Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent being a man who is pessimistic about humanity's ability to deal with something they don't understand. Don't get me wrong, the optimism of Superman is embodied with this film, but it does a great job at questioning this unabashed optimism. Even before I saw Man of Steel I was impressed with the casting, and I'm happy to report that all the actors are really perfect for their roles. I was particularly impressed with Michael Shannon's portrayal of General Zod. While Zod is without a doubt willing to do monstrous things, he is given a surprising amount of relate-ability, as a being who is simply doing what he believes is best for the sake of his race. Most of the characters outside of Superman lack a great amount of screen time, and depth, but this was the right approach, in my opinion, letting the viewer soak-up Kal-El's struggle to belong and discover his true calling.
Tonially the film is very serious, with very little humor at all. Some will find this to be a problem but when you really consider what the story is about, It makes perfect sense to me. My biggest complaints in the film revolve around a script that at times can be ridiculously on the nose and meddling but honestly this is a pretty apparent problem in all blockbusters. The third act is definitely a little clunky compared to the first two thirds of the film but Snyder's skill in directing a mind-blowing action sequence is in full display during the later section. Zack Snyder's Man of Steel is not the best superhero film ever made but it's a strong origin story which sets up a more adult-themed Superman whose very human emotionally.
Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring takes the viewer inside the world of the over-privileged teenager whose been completely seduced by the celebrity lifestyle. Inspired by actual events, a group of teenagers living in Los Angeles use the internet to track down the location of various celebrity homes, where they proceed to ransack of all valuables. The Bling Ring does a fantastic job at capturing the vapid viewpoint of these young teenagers, giving the viewer a great window into their world and point of view. The detail that goes into establishing these characters is well thought out, capturing their propensity for social media, fascination with the latest trends in fashion, and obsession with the celebrity lifestyle they wish to emulate. These teenagers are completely void of all fear when it comes to consequences for their actions, being almost nearly blind to the fact that what they are doing is highly illegal. I found it interesting that the marketing really makes it look like Emma Watson's character Nicki is the main protagonist, while in all actuality she is more of a supporting character whose main purpose is to capture the extreme vapidness and hilarity of these insanely confused teenagers. While The Bling Ring is a very entertaining and comical experience, it completely misses the mark when it comes to telling a dramatically resonant story. The film has flashes of this, touching on how these teenagers; parents are out of touch, being enables for example, but overall it really lacks any type of theme or message. From a visual point of view, the film has a few well designed long takes but it really lacks much of an identity. The aesthetic is very bright and clean but it just didn't feel like Coppola went far enough to tell this story visually. In the end, what surprises me most about The Bling Ring is that Sophia Coppola could follow up such a rich thematic film like Somewhere with something as thematically uneventful and superficial as The Bling Ring.
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