The Muse (1999) - Albert Brooks
Albert Brooks' The Muse is definitely one of the best Hollywood satires in recent memory. Albert Brooks stars as a screenwriter whose lost 'his edge as screenwriter in Hollywood. His friend tells him a well kept secret about a muse (Sharon Stone) who is able to help him with his creative drought. As the film progresses we being to realize that this woman is pretty much responsible for all of the successes of Hollywood. Albert Brooks' The Mose is a satire, that keeps things rather gentile while creating a fun look into the like of an eccentric screenwriter. Sharon Stone gives one of her best performances as the droll muse, whose demanding ways begin to get on the nerves of Brooks. Its not a hilarious comedy by any means buts its charming, witty and smart enough to entertain. This isn't a profound film by any means but it features quite a few great cameos from huge hollywood icons like Martin Scorsese and James Cameron among others. The film or quasi-meta and while it pales in comparison to some of Brooks' best work, it's still a entertaining and clever satire about Hollywood.
Mama (2013) - Andres Muschietti
The day after their mother's death, presumably by the hands of their father, two young girls disappear in the woods without a trace. When they are discovered, five years later, they lack the very basic social skills necessary to live a normal life. Their uncle is determined to help them, and together with his girlfriend, they assume custody of the two young girls. As the couple welcomes the young girls into their home, they begin to experience strange things, making them question if the two girls aren't the only guests they've invited into their house. Andres Muschietti's Mama is a bland ghost story that attempts desperately to disguise itself as something far more interesting and unique. Mama starts off strong, with some rather evocative visuals that certainly establish a nice atmospheric tone but besides the unique back story, the film really fails to sustain this somewhat promising opening act. I've never been a big fan of CGI monsters and the film shows off this creature rather early and often in the film. The creature looks silly to me and while I wouldn't say the special effects are bad, they certainly aren't good, with quite a few instances where I was taken completely out of the film because of them. I found the whole film to be pretty predictable outside of a somewhat surprising twist at the ending that failed to have much of an emotional impact. Much of the film lacks any real organic scares, with orchestrated music at every turn telling the viewer when they are supposed to be scared. Oh, and maybe I am just being overly critical but Jessica Chastain's emo character was pretty damn silly and an unnecessary character angle, though she did a fine job in the acting department. Mama is a film that for the most part failed to live up to its interesting premise, being another generic ghost story.
On the streets of Vienna during World War I, a prostitute wanders the streets looking for her next client. She is approached by a man, who offers her a job she was never expecting. The man turns out to be a high ranking officer in the intelligence agency who offers her a job as a spy. Given the codename "Agent X-27" our heroine proves to be invaluable because of her femininity. As her superior puts it, "A man's brain cannot accomplish nearly as much as a woman's charm", leading Agent X-27 to seduce and ultimately betray enemy officers for the sake of her country. Things get far more complicated though when she falls in love with one of her targets, a Russian spy. Josef Von Sternberg's Dishonored may sound like a dated melodrama by its plot description but in fact the film is emotionally subtle and not soapy at all. Sternberg's decision to not let this film soak in melodrama is a testament to the respect he has in the stakes which exist in the espionage world. Dishonored is not nearly as accomplished or interesting from a visual standpoint as some of Sternberg's best work but the film still is well composed. There are some very well choreographed tracking shots and some pretty impressively edited transitions, especially for the time. Sternberg really had a great eye for compositions, knowing when is right to punch in on certain elements, as well as when to let the frame breath. Dishonored is a cold and subdued film, especially given the narrative, but it captures the ultimate act of love (sacrifice) in a way that seems odd but is still quite emotionally resonant. The film could have done a little more to express why Agent X-27 is comfortable in her own death, but for the savvy viewer it won't be that hard to comprehend. Sternberg's Dishonored certainly touches on the uncivil nature of the espionage world but the strength of the film lies in this unique and fascinating lead performance by Marlene Dietrich.
John Carter is a perfect example of a film that gets treated completely unfair by the media, who deem it a complete failure before it even gets released to the public. Yea, the marketing campaign wasn't exactly aces either, but this was a film that was deemed a failure before it even was released. There is this notion in the industry that money defines a film's quality, and while there is no denying its importance, they are not as highly correlated as one would think. I'll say it right now, John Carter was a better film than other blockbusters to come out around the same time like Hunger Games, for example. I will be the first to admit that the film isn't great by any means, but it's a solid adventure film that does a good job at taking the viewer on an epic adventure to a mystical world. One of the main things that I really liked about this film is that it really did not cater to the audience in it's narrative, really unfolding in a way that isnt very typical for a big blockbuster movie. Early on in the film, it's borderline confusing but I believe this was all part of the plan to put the audience into Carter's point-of-view The special effects are solid and the action is decent, though not exceptional. The character of John Carter is a reluctant hero, and I thought Taylor Kitsch did a good job in the role. This is a fun film that really got unfairly treated by the media, and it's a shame cause as far as big budget spectacles go, its one of the better ones.
In 1985, Dr. Mudd, a man known to be a Confederate sympathizer, hears a knock at his door in the early hours of the morning. An injured man appears at his door with a broken leg, needing instant medical attention. The injured man who Mudd helps turns out to be John Wilkes Booth, leading Mudd to convicted for conspiracy in the murder of Abraham Lincoln. At first Mudd is sentenced to hang with the other conspirators but at the last moment his sentence is changed to life imprisonment. He is sent to Shark Island, a brutal penal colony, where he is sentenced to life imprisonment. John Ford's The Prisoner of Shark Island is a convincing and emotionally exhausting experience about the wrongfully accused Dr. Samuel Mudd. The film exposes how in the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination this mob mentality consumed the American people and the courts themselves, making Dr. Samuel Mudd a tragic victim of circumstance. We are shown just how important Lincoln was too so many people through this hatred, making Mudd's innocence, though quite obvious to the viewer, impossible for the common folk to even realize. Ford spends the time necessary to make Dr. Samuel Mudd a sympathetic character, capturing how even though he was a confederate sympathizer by no means meant he supported John Wilkes Booth. While it's easy to be sympathetic of Mudd's plight, the film uses Mudd's daughter and wife to masterfully create an emotionally devastating retelling of Mudd's conviction. Per usual, Ford's direction is top notch, with the hanging sequence being one of the true highlights. The way Ford composes this sequence - the perfectly timed compositions, the constant drum roll, etc. blend together to make a tension-filled sequence. When Mudd arrives at Shark Island, Ford uses darkness to great effect, showing the isolation and solitude Mudd was forced to live in during his time at Shark Island. My biggest complaint of the film revolves around Mudd's father, a character who comes off a little too silly and over-the-top for my taste, seemingly brought in for comedic relief. John Ford's The Prisoner of Shark Island is another great history retelling from the master director himself.
Shira, a devout Hasidic jew, is the youngest daughter in her family. They live in Israel where religious law is the absolute. Shira is about to married to a very promising young man around the same age but when her 28 year-old sister, Esther, dies during childbirth, everything changes. Esther's death leaves behind her husband, Yochay, to care for the child by himself. When Shira's mother learns of Yochay's plans to leave the country with her only grandchild, she proposes a match between Shira and Yochay. Rama Burshtein's Fill The Void is a compelling and skillfully executed domestic drama exploring the connection between tradition and free will. One of the strongest aspects of Fill The Void is its ability to transport the viewer deep into this devoutly religious world. The film is very neutral in its approach, never showing any bias either way but simply opening up the world to the viewer. The film features a very unique, almost hazy aesthetic, that along with some interesting lighting and focus decisions give the film a very angelic feel that fits the film perfectly. Almost every character throughout Fill The Void has a strong emotionally storyline from the main protagonist Shira, to smaller characters like Frieda, a woman who sees her dream of marriage dwindle day by day. The weight of the decision revolving around young Shira is incredibly poignant and the film understand this, doing a good job at showcasing the incredible burden such a young woman has to carry. Rama Burshtein's Fill The Void effectively transports the viewer into the protagonists world, making it a touching and somewhat tragic piece of filmmaking
Taking place in the near future, The Purge shows us an America that is almost completely free of crime, with unemployment teetering around 1%. Much of this success is attributed to The Purge, a 12-hour period once a year where all crime is legalized. This gives the average citizen a chance to express all their anger and hatred but some question the real reasoning behind this yearly event. On the night of The Purge, a wealthy family somewhat unintentionally harbors the target of a murderous group of psychopaths, which in turn makes themselves a target of the group's rampage. James DeMonaco's The Purge is a classic example of a concept being much stronger than its execution. The film's concept has a lot of potential, given the obvious moral/social commentary, but unfortunately much of it is wasted in this film with a skin-deep, superficial commentary that doesn't really say much. The Purge is full of the typical horror tropes of the genre-a homestead beseiged by psychopaths, poor character decisions, etc. but some of the decisions of the characters in this particularly movie, especially the two children, are just nonsensical and laughable. There is an incredibly awkward and unnecessary subplot revolving around the Daughter's boyfriend that goes absolutely nowhere, and the film relies heavily on the 10 year-old son to dictate the moral conflicts. I didn't find myself invested in these character's fight for survival and outside of a pretty fun, creepy performance by the leader of the psychopaths, the characters are wholly uninteresting. The Purge tries desperately to be a satire about class conflict between the rich and the poor, but while it's an interesting concept, the film never takes it anywhere poignant or profound. I guess basically what I am saying is James DeMonaco's The Purge is a film that far too gimmicky to support its ambitions, instead coming off as an incredibly dumbed down film that gives its audience no credit.
V/H/S 2 (2013) - Various
In their search for a missing student, two not-so-honest private investigators break into the student's house where they come across a large column of TVs with a collection of VHS tapes littered about. The television screen crackles with images of static white noise but when the investigators begin to view the cassettes, the true horror begins. While with all compilations one can expect variations in quality, I didn't like V/H/S because all the segments were bland and uninteresting. Fortunately with V/H/S 2, the segments are far more fun, brutal, and unique. The First Segment "Phase 1 Clinical Trials" is a rather silly concept involving a man who is adjusting to a post operation where he was given a robotic-eye implant. With the implant he begins to experience strange things, like seeing the dead. The segment has a few good jump scares but it's a rather pedestrian concept that lacks any true terror. Next up is "A Ride in The Park' a more generic concept about a biker whose morning is interrupted by zombies. This segment is much more fun than the first segment, featuring some pretty sick and twisted imagery as well as some pretty intense and creative camerawork. The story of this segment is able to expand in an effective way which is impressive given the found footage limitation. The third segment "Safe Haven' is easily the best segment of the film. It follows a group of documentary filmmakers who convince a cult leader to let them film his commune. This segment has all you want in a horror short being creepy, brutally twisted, and unique. This segment also appears to be the longest segment of the film, as if the group of filmmakers realized ahead of time that this was by far the strongest concept. The last segment 'Slumber Party Alien Abduction' is about exactly what it sounds like and consists of probably the best imagery of all the films, though it's also the most nausea-inducing. V/H/S 2 is far better than its predecessor and outside of the rather uninteresting opening segment, it's consistently entertaining and frightening.
Megan is a seemingly normal high school student and member of the cheerleading squad whose lack of romantic enthusiasm for her boyfriend convinces her super conservative parents that she is slowly becoming a lesbian. This leads her parents to form an intervention which ends with her being shipped off to True Directions, a camp for gay leaning teenagers who are deprogrammed of their homosexual tendencies. Megan doesn't believe she is a lesbian but when she meets Graham, a fellow patient, she beings to realize she actually does like girls. Jamie Babbit's But I'm A Cheerleader is a funny, stylistic satire about homo-sexuality and the stereotypical gender roles that exist in our society. But I'm A Cheerleader has an intentionally campy tone, seemingly intent on poking fun at the social establishment which deems homosexuality as wrong or not normal. Stylistically the film has a lot of energy from both an editing and direction standpoint, using lots of interesting and unique compositions to set this playful tone. My favorite aspect of the film revolves around its aesthetic which is super heavy on pastel colors such as pink and blue. Blue and Pink are the colors known to represent males and females respectively, and the film uses this to its advantage by pointing out the silly stereotypes which exist in the pre-defined gender roles of society. If I had one complaint about But I'm A Cheerleader it would revolve around Natasha Lyonne's lead performance as Megan. Don't get me wrong, Natasha is fine, I just thought she was miscast in the role to begin with. Jamie Babbit's But I'm a Cheerleader is very funny but how it exposes the ridiculous nature of general roles is what makes it a strong and somewhat profound experience.
Going into 21 Jump Street I assumed what I usually do when going to see a very hyped comedy- it would be a let down. Much to my delight, 21 Jump Street is as good as I was
lead to believe if not better. With comedies I tend to find that a few jokes carry the film but with this film there really wasn't one joke that stood out from the other. From start to finish, 21 Jump Street is a laugh riot that feels very streamlined, giving an immersive action comedy experience that delivers on pretty much everything it promises. The creative forces behind this film really did their homework and it shows. This does not refer to just the writing either, as there are quite a few scenes where the cinematography and/or editing reference other films of the genre in unique and fun ways. 21 Jump Street is loaded with homages, satire and parody of the action-comedy genre, and it's done in way that is both very intelligent and hysterical. It's a very self aware feature and actually does a pretty great job at capturing the social landscape of high school. I will say that I never found Channing Tatum to be a particularly gifted actor, but he surprised me in this film, showing a natural ability with comedic timing. If I had a complaint it would revolve around some of the more dramatic plot points that just feel unnecessary to the film. Honestly I am just nitpicking in this criticism as 21 Jump Street is easily one of the best studio comedies of 2012.
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