Showing posts with label 3 stars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 3 stars. Show all posts

Monday, February 29, 2016

Brooklyn (2015) sets up camp in your heart

Brooklyn movie review Oh So Geeky blog
Photo Credit: Brooklyn / Fox Searchlight Pictures
Brooklyn sets itself apart by bringing a focus to immigration with an uplifting coming-of-age journey. Life is moving too fast and not fast enough for Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) whose gifted with the opportunity to migrate to the United States from her small Ireland town. Leaving her mother and sister behind to forge a new life across the pond, she tries to ward off homesickness while charting a difference course with a charming acquaintance Tony (Emery Cohen).

Finding kindness from strangers, love and her own maturity as a young woman, Lacy's story is about homesickness and coming into one's own. As a booming city and skyscrapers replace cobbled streets and small-town businesses, she acclimates to her surroundings and acquaintances. The story is wonderfully remarkable in how delicate and endearing her tale explores as immigration in the 1950s was no easy feat. The film is a touching love letter for those young hopeful settlers who anguished and dreamt of prosperous horizons in America, and braved leaving family behind in order to start somewhere else.

Two key players in making the film come to life are the Saorise Ronan and Emery Cohen. Both as individuals and a couple they bring an old-fashioned and much-missed romance between young lovers back to life. Ronan, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, brings out a splendid display of a modesty and apprehension as Lacey realizes how her heart lingers back home. As she discovers more about the world around her and herself, she grows mended sense of self. Cohen as Tony puts forward one of the most charming performances as a leading male. He's beautifully naive and kind. His spirited Italian nature matches well to Ronan's hearty warmth, as her confidence expands.

Though their romance might be the centerpiece, Brooklyn also offers a strong variety of women working, finding marriage, and making friends. Staying at a boarding house with roommates much more firm or outspoken than herself, Lacey finds a stable community around her in lieu of separating from her mother and sister. The supporting cast offers plenty of support to Ronan's Lacey as well as humor and comfort: Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), Madge Kehoe (Julie Waters), a firm boss Miss Fortini (Jessica Paré), and giddy husband-hunting roommates Patty McGuire and Diana Montini (Emily Bett Rickards and Eve Macklin), and a plausible companion Jim Farrell (Domnhall Gleeson)

Contrasting typical Oscar-bait films, Brooklyn isn't bogged down with being dramatic or setting a political tone of how our country is a melting pot of cultures. Instead, the film is wonderfully bold and vibrant, almost like a dream. Every scene is an emotional and visual delight, even if it gives you tears of joy and sadness or the rich, colorful production of her surroundings. Brooklyn transports us back to another era of the world as well as film-making.

As much as the film is about being homesick, it's also about having the patience and perseverance of having a new place to call home. Lacey is connected to people and places from both sides of the pond. Faced with the conformity of her former homestead or possibilities of modern opportunities, she struggles to decide where her heart truly lies. It can be two places at the same time but deciding which one to stay with is the ultimate clash. How her heart tugs her courage in another direction makes Brooklyn so delightful and refreshing. It's set-up camp in my heart forever.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Brooklyn? What are your thoughts?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Martian (2015) brings humanity out of lifelessness

The Martian movie review
Photo Credit: The Martian / 20th Century Fox
When I saw The Martian's trailer I was reminded of how wildly popular Andrew Weir's book was. Its cover of an astronaut whirling in red smog was ingrained in my mind because it consistently popped up on GoodReads account. The other thought I had was if I would be able to sit through 2 hours of Matt Damon. He's not a particularly unlikable celeb for me, but my family can't stand his movies or off-screen personality. Their intense dread made me apprehensive and question if I should gamble on seeing it. Despite my ideas about what the movie would be like, I still took a chance.

With The Martian, director Ridley Scott did what he failed to do with his most recent film Prometheus to deliver an engaging, entertaining story. A NASA crew are forced to evacuate their mission on Mars even after one of their own is presumed dead. Having instead survived and waking up to a barren hostile planet, their fellow man Mark Watney must forge ahead with knowledge, optimism, and limited supplies to send a signal to Earth. The story splits between Watney and his numerous attempts to make potatoes out of manure among other things, and NASA sending aid to rescue him.

Watney is one of those roles that could've been severely miscast. He's thoroughly sarcastic which makes his survival humorous despite how grave his situation seems. If the script had called for more of his wit, it could have made him annoyingly arrogant and removed our sense to rooting. This was the kind of thing I worried about: would Damon be self-indulgent with the comedy? Those worries were quickly squashed as his humor is generous without being excessive; it keeps Watney grounded from becoming a too-larger-than-life personality. He's trying to make the best of what he has, but his best weapon is optimism and hope. Watney is intelligent, hardworking, and determined; he needed to be likable too. And, Damon pulls off a good-natured performance.
"I don't want to come off as arrogant here, but I'm the greatest botanist on this planet."
My only qualm with the other half of the story is a slight one. On the one hand, Watney is doing everything he can to persevere. On the other, it takes more screentime than what feels necessary to establish how much NASA wants to ensure his rescue. Right after Watney is declared dead, the NASA Director (Jeff Daniels) and Mars Mission Director (Chiwetel Ejiofor) immediately focus on operating their new mission while making themselves look politically correct. His apparent death is a tragedy, but frankly, nothing NASA hasn't handled before and nothing NASA needed right now after dealing with government and public scrutiny. At first, a lot of NASA's efforts are based on politics, maneuvering what they can feed the press, and so on. Story-wise, it's refreshing and realistic.

However, the downside of this realism is the contrast between Watney's every effort to stay alive versus NASA's employees coming across as unsympathetic. NASA is a business and program just like any other, but I felt that the lack of personal attachment towards Watney didn't sit right. Since we don't get a look at Watney's personal life, how his family is dealing with his apparent death and then resurrection, his only contact is this program and the powers-that-be. Eventually, NASA launches into full swing and works tirelessly in maneuvering every plan for Watney's recovery. But for me, it just takes a little too long, and it made me question whether or not they were genuinely invested in his well-being.

It's interesting how Scott and his production team took what we know or assume of Mars's surface, and gave the film the visual vitality. Watney travels outside of his bright white dome into a sandy blanket of reds and oranges. When he's finally able to make contact with Earth and NASA's control room, a lot of the tones for Earth are stark blues and whites; it feels colder and more distraught than Mars, which comes across as warmer, even hot. Watney is making a home-away-from-home. He's able to explore and admire the landscape with his rover just because he can; he grows crops on a planet that doesn't grow food out of his own ingenuity; there is nobody to answer to or take commands from, which gives him a lot of freedom. But there is still that desperation to get to EarthThe way the film is framed casts focus on a singular entity across a vast, empty horizon, similar to the book cover. It's layered with peace and solitude but also pictures how high the stakes are. He has to make it there, even if it's temporary.

What really makes The Martian work is knowing its limitations. In the wake of trending space movies, it doesn't try to stuff our faces with one man's exploration of time, space, and love through the universes via heavy symbolism and 'science'. I still appreciate you Interstellar. Nor, does it throw us to the brink of space vying for one person's nearly impossible survival. I absolutely love you Gravity. Scott's film stands by itself by bringing back a quality to cinema that I think has been missing for a while - nothing, not even space is going to stop humanity from uniting together for a cause, from supporting and rescuing one of our own. Sometimes in a sea of space movies where people are thrown to the unpredictability and hostility of a frontier we love to dangerously explore, it's just nice to see no one got left behind.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen The Martian? What are your thoughts?

Monday, October 19, 2015

28 Days Later (2002) brilliantly infects the zombie genre

28 Days Later movie review
Photo Credit: 28 Days Later / Fox Searchlight Pictures
Zombies are "in" right now, thanks to mega-popular comic book/tv series The Walking Dead and films like Shaun of the Dead. In 2002, the undead was just coming back onto the scene thanks to a revitalizing spin from director Danny Boyle,

28 Days Later isn't exactly about an undead apocalypse. A virus causing a violent rage unleashes when an animal-rights groups' mission to rescue lab-tested monkeys fails. People don't die and come back as zombies though, as is the lore of the genre. The rampant disease spreads when uninfected humans come in contact with the carriers with contaminated blood or saliva. Instead the infected become animalistic having no conscious and are ignited with a bloodthirsty rage, but aren't technically flesh-eaters.

Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital smack dab in the middle of the post-apocalypse. The streets are barren, the government has fallen, and the world appears to have emptied of any human contact - except for a stubborn and headstrong survivor Selena (Naomie Harris), and a father-daughter duo Frank and Hannah. Jim quickly learns the rules to surviving. If you are bitten, you're less than a few heartbeats from becoming one of them. Unless you've got no other choice: don't go anywhere alone and only in daylight.

Unlike the carnivorous savages people turn into once they are infected, the film itself doesn't try to be downright horrifying, but it definitely is. The opening scenes of Jim waking up to an isolated and unaware of the desecrated world, walking around a deserted London, is enough to put anyone on edge. Most of the film isn't out to make you jump from your seat but has the power of making you question what people are capable of when the end of days has arrived.

Jim (and his partnership to Selena) is one of the best and most hopeful dynamics of the story. The rules of civility changed the second he woke up from his coma and he has no other choice or chance but to commit to his and hers survival. He struggles to hold onto his old self but has to face the risk of becoming barbarous to stay alive. Though made to look physically shriveled and weak, Cillian Murphy is simply enigmatic. He's frail physically and emotionally, but he has a capability to make you feel like there's still a fire burning inside him somewhere.

Selena, played by the awesome Naomie Harris, is refreshing as a female character overall. Having endured loss and adapted to the eye-for-an-eye lifestyle she's been forced into, she is stubborn and pragmatic. She doesn't put up with any threats that might kill her - not even Jim at some instances. But, she isn't just kick-ass, or defensive, or holding on the edge of her rope; she's also vulnerable in taking a chance on Jim and what their life can be like in the post-apocalypse.

Acquiring shelter, food, and protection is one way to keep breathing one more day, but re-establishing normalcy and finding your family might be the best way to persevere. Their union makes us question if you have to turn into an animal because of other shady survivors and the "undead".

Boyle's film is not necessarily gory, but it's still unsettling because of his examination: the many ways humankind degrades when faced with a societal fall like this; what the fear of a disease will turn people into. This is a limited-character drama told with a rock anthem of survival. A grungy, urban violence is its setting, obviously devastating and gritty. Through a steady momentum of thrills, the film has pausing moments of poetry and hope of the future. Despite how many threats, both human and non-human, ravages what's left of civilization, there is still glimmers of benevolence, love, and generosity left. The characters just have to hang tight on, day by day.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen 28 Days Later? What do you think?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cinderella (2015) kindly reimagines a classic fairytale

Cinderella movie review
Photo Credit: Cinderella / Walt Disney Studios
Cinderella has been reinvented numerous times. A story of a young girl whose parents passed away and is left to serve her wicked step-family. Banished from attending a grand ball held by the prince, a fairy godmother makes her dreams come true. Once again, the Disney company re-imagines their classic animated film into a live-action delight.

As the titular character, 25-year-old Lily James glides into center stage as Ella giving a wondrously charming performance. Being cast a role in a Disney film for a character of such an iconic reputation is like winning the Hollywood lottery. She's innocent and charming, but also a grounded fresh face offering delicate charisma. Holding onto her morals as the heroine, the British native brings a truthful, inner peace rare as the main character whose animated version has left a signature influence.

In trying not to compare the original Evil Stepmother to her version, it was hard to shake the former's chilling influence. Despite a lack of screentime in the 1951 classic, one gaze from that animated was mesmerizing and menacing.  In contrast to the wholehearted virtuous Ella, a contemptible heel can be feared with Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett). Abandoned with two brutish, spoiled daughters and a void of love by her deceased husbands, Blanchett becomes a spiteful and jealous villain. Tremaine is not evil just for evil's sake, but she did leave me wanting more wickedness.

Many movie-goers may be attracted to princess's stories because of our belief and hope in true love. The romance shared between Ella and Prince Charming (Richard Madden) is not superficial, like a two-second glance that escalates into rosy, perfect relationship to end all relationships. Instead, their courtship is rooted in his admiration and intrigue by her goodness and even a bit of her spunk. There is no rescuing by him from her tormented home life, but a doting bond which ends up with a heavenly finale.

This 2015 take gives a broader story not only on the young girls' upbringing but her counterparts in Charming and Tremaine. Left with a hopeful imprint by her mother to have courage and be kind, the story has depth as well as sincerity. It is easily a quality that could have been too sentimental to remain believable, but with the right director, the film is not too saccharine to be cheesy.

Director Kenneth Branagh creates a fine live-action adaption. For those who are a passionate fan of 1951 original, there's enough to make this one stand on its own as well as pay a respectful homage. His production is vibrant bringing to life the characters and story many of us have grown up with. Even if we've all experienced happily ever afters before through film, here's another joyous escape into the world that is ultimately kind, courageous and utilizes a fair bit of magic to pull off.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Cinderella? What are your thoughts?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) excels on all cylinders

Mad Max: Fury Road movie review
Photo Credit: Mad Max Fury Road / Warner Bros Pictures
Re-imagined from the 1980s cult series, creator George Miller sets a new standard for old dogs being given a new life in Mad Max: Fury Road. Utilizing what he didn't have nearly thirty years ago, Miller amplifies his recreation - stunts, music, shooting locations, cast, and script - to the max.

Across a dry, broken wasteland, we are thrust into a good ole fashion cat-and-mouse chase. But this showdown isn't an ode to Tom and Jerry cartoons.  Dropkicked into a post-apocalyptic world, desert buries any semblance of society as we know it. Gas and water are the new currency, and everyone has gone mad.

Immortan Joe is a ruthless God whose followers worship the steering wheel, imprison innocent people to be his blood donors, and will do anything to reach immortality. Straddled to huge trucks are his furious warriors on teetering poles and done-up battle cars. Their war songs blare from flame-throwing guitar players and drummers. Rebels Max (Tom Hardy), Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Joe's precious brides try to outrun his troupe through onslaughts of motorcycle mavens, dictators of other territories, and the barren environment that's destroyed everything.

Tucked inside all of the heart-pounding action are inviting moments of insight into our heroes. Max suffers nightmares and hallucinations of his former life filled with unspeakable terrors, and Furiosa dares to return to her childhood land to gain a little redemption. Escaping Joe's tyranny is the first step to a "better" quality of survival, but then it becomes something more; a mutual pact of trust, respect, trying to help the other find a place to call home, even if that isn't tangible. Beyond the action is a band of lost souls meeting in the middle to find stability and atonement in the sand-like ashes of this wretched domain.

The cast conveys so much with so little dialogue. The seamless choreography is ingrained into the production with the stunts but also the casts' performances. There's no doubt that Hardy will become an even bigger star since it's his (debatable) break-out role in Inception. Theron, quite simply, is a perfect storm on the brink of imploding or exploding; complex, raw, and fierce. And, the women, also known as the Breeders, and Nux (a worshiper of Joe's), aren't reduced to meek background players. Each brought their own strengths to a team that bonds, not easily, but with steady confidence against a barbarous villain.

Most of the film thrives on adrenaline between Max and Furiosa attempting to leave Joe and his merry men behind in the dust. This reboot is flashy, but its appearance offers more than what meets the eye. Not only does the story trust us to go on its wild ride, the special effects are just not for eye candy; each slice of action is impressive stunt-wise and propels the wickedness. Explosions are exciting, but he allows enough space and screen-time to absorb what's going on, even if sometimes it feels overwhelming to comprehend the magnitude of its madness.

Good guys versus bad guys are the big draw for action films, and many can be filled with cliches or violence for violence sake and/or weak characters. A balance of both male and female characters that aren't held back or down is often what's missing for movies that just want to parade bullets firing on all cylinders without a strong context. Max Max: Fury Road is high-velocity opera set in the West boosting its characters and fans into high gear for nearly two hours. Even if Max may be the title of the film, it's really everyone's show. And it's all very, maddeningly, kick-assingly, lovely.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Mad-Max: Fury Road? What do you think?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Twister (1996) is the supreme disaster flick

Twister movie review
Photo Credit: Twister / Warner Bros
Tucked into the disaster genre under classics like The Poseidon Adventure (1972) or flash-in-the-pan epics like 2012 (2009), Twister remains popular twenty years after its original theatrical release. Instead of focusing on an end-of-the-world or survival against nature plot, this flick is all about facing one of nature's awe-inspiring sights in order to understand its mechanics.

Jo (Helen Hunt) and Bill (Bill Paxton) are estranged storm chasers trailing several twisters across Oklahoma before their rival (Cary Elwes) beats them to the punch. Wrangled together by a contentious divorce, they lead a crew trying to release a data-gathering instrument to transmit tornadic behavior.

The film is as much of a love story as it is an action movie. Jo's passion for how tornadoes work was brought on by a tragedy during her childhood. Her near-obsession, now as an adult, affects her marriage and drives her daredevil ambition. Awesomely played by Hunt, she doesn't pull punches, knows how to get under Bill's skin, knows what she wants and gets it done. Like the cyclones, she takes command of every scene and everyone around her.

On the other hand, Bill is not diluted to a white-knight trope. Having accepted becoming a weatherman and planning to remarry, his stubborn, ambitious, and hot-headed nature pits him against her on always having the final word or being right. This also the biggest attraction they have towards each other. Though Paxton's acting may be a bit over the top at times, he and Hunt share good chemistry. Both characters have strong personalities and neither one softens who they are but try to make it work. It's refreshing.

Though Bill and Helen are as big of stars as the twisters, the supporting characters aren't flat or one-dimensional. With the exception of Melissa (Bill's fiance), she is the only real fish-out-of-water character who gets sucked into chasing tornadoes. Played by Jami Gertz, even she gives a sympathetic performance of being forced into the field for the first time and truly understanding what Bill did for a living.

Though their crew doesn't have deep arcs or development, they have a genuine presence in supporting Bill and Jo as revered leaders. There is a sense of camaraderie between all of them. Perhaps the biggest stand-out is a young Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Dusty, the eccentric adrenaline seeker. He has some of the best lines. Even the showy villainous role of Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes), whose greatest crime is going the corporate route and adapting their design of Dorothy to his own, doesn't feel like an empty role.

As much the film offers in terms of over-the-top '90s gold, it also harbors awesome special effects. Rather than being overwhelmed with CGI, which provides technical aspects that couldn't have been achieved in real time, the added force of on-set effects takes the green screen components to another level. Director Jan de Bont was adamant that the actors had on-set obstacles to play off until the tornadoes were digitally added in. He employed seven giant wind machines and two specially rigged jet engines to blow 200 mph winds as well as water (for rain effects). During the biggest chase, a two-story home and 18-wheeler were dropped by cranes into the actor's path. More impressively, Hunt and Paxton performed a myriad of their own stunts and suffered a laundry list of injuries.

With six major action scenes evenly paced, the movie does not feel overwhelmingly violent. The chases not only play to will they or won't they be able to disperse their data-transmitting equipment successfully but will Bill and Jo end up together. Every chase is spotlighted in its own way growing bigger in scale, more intense, and raising the stakes for the characters. Mark Mancina's score combines original score and heavy metal bands, adding a hardcore element to the adventure.

Twister has been one of my favorite summer movies, if not, one of my favorite movies of all time. One of the greatest wonders for this movie is just how many fans accept the fallacies of its science. It's not accurate, but blockbusters are meant to be a fun ride. Too many try to pack in a thin story that is burdened with a green screen everywhere and a variety of characters without any real objectives or chemistry. Twister isn't too ambitious that the effort doesn't pay off or fall to be too goofy that it's Sci-Fi channel unwatchable. The movie may not be perfect and doesn't depict twisters as correctly as many would like, but damn, it's fun and surprisingly doesn't suck. If you watch, hold on for your life!

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Twister? What do you think?

P.S. And, as for that cow scene:
Real-life storm chaser Vince Miller gives high marks to the special-effects wizards who brought the cyclones to life. "There's a scene in the movie where a cow flies by," says Miller, a one-time consultant at the Weather Channel. "I've never seen anything like that. But there was a tornado in South Dakota in the '60s filled with flying rocks. It turns out the rocks were a herd of cattle. (x)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Birdman (2014) simply soars

Birdman movie review
Photo Credit: Birdman / Fox Searchlight Pictures
Is it the act of creation that gives us fulfillment, of living in the moment, or how big of an audience we reach? Questions like this not only taunt artists but everyone to a certain extent. In such a media-based world, it's easy to wonder, obsess, or curiously peek into what is said of "the thing". So often we cross a line over living in the constant comparison of high notes to our accomplishments, the success of others, and past pinnacles of success held up by generational prestige. We all get lost in expectation and admiration. The whole world is striving to be relevant yet can't shake the state of mind that constantly questions how and which ways we truly matter.

Best known for having starred in a fictitious Birdman franchise, Riggan Thompson's career (Michael Keaton) and his personal life has fallen into shambles. Trying to matter again, he is directing, starring, and producing in his own Broadway show that he has adapted. The production of his play grows more dangerous and weak as he tries to shed a two-decade old alter-ego that claws at his self worth.

Every character in Birdman battles the big question mark of when they have finally "made it". Thompson's daughter and assistant Sam (Emma Stone) is a recovering addict whose disinterested attitude shadows a lack of validation she never received from her father. World renown actor Mike (Edward Norton) only finds the truth of a moment when he is on stage, and elsewhere, his life is uncontrollable.

Through Thompson and his supporting players, Birdman touches on so many themes, mostly related to creativity, ego, and the medium of film. Actors are sucked into the Hollywood machine of the superhero genre and are considered wasting their talent. Actors who try their hand at theatre are overlooked for their fame because they don't understand "the craft". Critics label and bastardize those who do what they cannot. It also satirizes that inner voice that beats us down and also drives us our ambition. We never really know when we have finally made it, and instead of that weighing us down, Birdman helps us surrender.

It's really no secret why Alejandro González Iñárritu's film took the reigns of the Academy Award season for 2015. The camera seamlessly moves in one long take similarly emulating how life is constantly moving, transitioning from moment to moment; always active, alert, and rarely missing a beat. Yet in little spaces of the production, like how we pocket our thoughts and experiences on our electronic devices or packed away in dusty, forgotten memories, the camera may pause for a second for the characters or scenes to take a breather. It's not overwhelming, begging for attention or used as mere decoration.

What the film does so flabbergastingly well is how seamlessly everything is part of the whole. For such probing themes, the film balances between drama and comedy but never vilely takes jabs at anyone, especially Thompson. The cast itself is truly exemplary from from the main award show frontrunners like Keaton, Norton, and Stone to Naomi Watts, Zach Galifinakis, and Andrea Riseborough. Each one gives a performance that are complex portrayals of people who are so strongly trying to be validated but remain so inherently frail. So much of the atmosphere, performances, and script is vivid, animated, and it challenges you to keep up.

Essentially, nothing about what I can say about the film, or any film, can ever really summarize the film itself. It's hard knocks to praise only one individual aspect of it. I'll admit that heavy philosophy and symbolism can feel redundant since many films in the recent past have hit on fame or living up to dual identities as brought on by the struggle of being talented or not feeling enough. Birdman's attachment towards ego, identity, critics, and audience, breaks down that repetitive conversation by not letting the subject matter becoming a downer, or trying too hard to be intellectually stimulating and massively appealing/entertaining. It hits all the right production, intellectual, and emotional notes. Birdman simply soars.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Birdman? What did you think?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Wild (2014)

Wild movie book review
Photo Credit: Wild / Fox Searchlight Pictures
Experiences have a way of building up inside of us, especially ones that are traumatic such as repressing the loss of a loved one or causing pain onto others as a way of trying to deal with our own. We also make choices that feel are beyond the point or opportunity to be reconciled.

At the tender age of twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed loses her mother unexpectedly to lung cancer. Faced the absence of the glue that held the family together, Strayed is alone and overwhelmed with grief. Suffering from a heroin addiction, sleeping with multiple partners, and divorced from her husband, she attempts to reconcile her bereavement by trekking Pacific Crest Trail - a 2,650-mile hike spanning California to Washington.

Raw, vulnerable and transformative, Wild is a rare unfiltered film centering a female protagonist and her quest for redemption. Based on the best-selling memoir (one of my favorite books last year), director Jean-Marc Valle's latest film brings the author's journey to life with organic showmanship.

Valle's vision for Wild treads deep into the visceral absorption of grief, compassion, and self-acceptance, and how nature can gift or we can give ourselves the opportunity to examine how we may be lost. It's almost a dizzying experience to become so enraptured with the unvarnished vulnerability which Strayed not only exposed to us in her memoir but how the director captures her story without kid-gloves. Strayed's torturous physical quest shoulders the haunting memories that consume her, and through finely-paced flashbacks, has the unique ability to make us lose ourselves in that sorrow. Though the cinematography is breathtaking, the environment is never a forced idyllic paradise. The story's conflict itself is not about the obstacles Strayed faces on her travels, nor even making it one from destination to another, but the inner journey she is forging one step at a time.

For Strayed, many events in her life were beyond her control. As a child, she watched her mother recover from a physically abusive relationship with an alcoholic husband, and as an adult, had to help her mom during her illness. In-between, they were best friends locked in a relationship of perpetual daughterly entitlement and motherly optimism. To help her deal with the loss, Strayed tries to temporarily fulfill her anguish such as quickies, brief affairs, and drugs. The hike becomes a freeing shift from the doubts and remorse that held her hostage to  face what it means to forgive herself and be forgiven.

A great credit to the film's vulnerability is Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, both who deliver honest and gritty performances as Strayed, and her mother Bobby, respectively. The former portrays her protagonist over a variety of ages from teenager to young adult, all with an intense range of adolescent annoyance, emotional despair, and finally, liberation. Witherspoon's performance is nothing short of refreshing and layered after a few years of her work seesawing between critically praised and scorned. The latter is only scattered in the film primarily in Strayed's flashbacks, but magically conveys a mother's affirming love in her daughter and utmost faith in the world despite the battles she's faced. Not a scene shared between them or filmed separately goes unwasted. Both I dare say are more than worthy of the 2015 Oscar nominations they nabbed.

Quite literally living out in the middle of nowhere, I'm still plagued by the sound of the rest of the world, and sometimes even worse, my own mind. My most freeing moments is when I can silence it all by surrounding myself in nature. Ambitiously, Strayed is in search of, not a happy ending, but a better ending for herself and the one her mother always hoped for. Refreshingly, it's a wake-up call to those who plague themselves with doubts or regrets.  I don't think anyone should go entirely unprepared to hike the coast without training or knowledge of the great outdoors, or that everyone reaches whole peacefulness from a hike, but the story - both the book and the movie - prompts us to ask if could we find ourselves away from the invasive outside world. What if we gave ourselves the opportunity or an adventure to seek what might bother us underneath the surface and let it be?

One of the greatest joys in Wild is that it is decidedly un-Hollywood for a female protagonist to exert so much effort in liberating herself - from essentially - herself, and to do so because of the struggle of losing someone maternal rather than a romantic interest. The intention of Strayed's hike has nothing to do with the Hollywood fare we normally witness in a female character tangled up in romantic interests, materialism, and the outside world. It's not exactly the kind of movie that might attract a lot of attention or praise; a character sorting herself out in the middle of nowhere. But watching a character's candid heartbreak becomes an intensely rich and cathartic drama. A whole relationship between Strayed, herself, her mother, and the ghosts of her past develops, crumbles, and reaffirms itself in a few short hours (for the real Cheryl Strayed almost 100 days) - but it's the emotional and cinematic journey that will rest with me forever.
Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Wild? What do you think?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash movie review
Photo Credit: Whiplash / Sony Pictures Classics 
At the end of 2014 as I was making my Best and Worst of list, a void lingered that I was missing something great; memorable; different; an experience I thought would come with seeing Interstellar  or Gone Girl . Often, no matter how many great or good movies we see over the course of the year, sometimes what we truly count on are the experiences; a movie that makes you remember who you were with, what you were doing, how you felt when something shocked or excited or made your pulse race.

Of course not every movie is going to be a visceral experience, which is cool because they all can't make you feel emotionally cathartic walking out of a theatre on cloud nine or give you something heavy to ponder about for the rest of the day...but when a year doesn't have a marker; a movie that really stands out from the crowd, watching movies for pleasure and for blogging can feel a little bit empty and glib.

Part of me truly wishes I had seen Whiplash last year, even if it only officially ended two weeks ago. Because I don't know what will compare for the rest of 2015.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Nightcrawler (2014)

Nightcrawler movie review
Photo Credit: Nightcrawler / Open Road Films
Blood sells in the world of the evening news, and at the foothills of Los Angeles, the sharks come out at night. Known as stringers or nightcrawlers, are videogoers; men and women who chase tragedy and package their footage of roadside crashes and neighborhood crimes to television stations.

One shark hungry for the entrepreneurial life is Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a desperate but ambitious young man who finds his calling in the supply and demand of voyeurism and violence. From thief to cameraman, Bloom studiously climbs his way up the ladder of a local station selling footage he captures of car accidents and jackings and robberies. Eventually a triple-homicide is a make-or-break venture that threatens to his video gathering production out of the water.

But Bloom isn't like other cutthroat videogoers converting tragedy into dollar-sign motivated adrenaline rushes. He's a shell of a person cashing in on bloodshed like a normal person orders a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Nothing startles him. His hand is always steady on the cam ready to cash in on the next tragedy and his mind is already onto the next crime scene. Nobody gets in the way of his brass ring.

With the rise of technology and how it permeates our lives to create fame monsters, out of nothing (the Kardashians) to stealing (The Bling Ring crew), is vastly becoming a favorite subject in film. Even with the gadgets used in the movie are a bit dated, it serves to entrap us into ravenous quest of what's sellable in evening news. Like it's predecessors that question how we approach the separation of what is being created in social media, on the news, and entertainment industry, Nightcrawler takes us on a real high-stakes job of feeding what society craves for - if it bleeds, it leads.

Produced by longtime writer, and now first-feature film director, Dan Gilroy doesn't as much impose a heavy-handed question of what type of world creates a person like Lou. Instead it presents a person like Lou who is moralistically removed from his job to chase what the news or entertainment world is asking of, what he's more than willing to fulfill, and the bargaining chips he systematically puts into place to keep the upper-hand on the streets and in business. The movie asks where the line is drawn in pursuit of ratings and media clips or stories we can't turn away from.

As a ghoulish and gaunt protagonist, Bloom is one of the scariest sweet-talkers of cinema; a parrot reciting entrepreneurial mantras with chilling and enigmatic persuasion. By day, he waters his plants and merely waits for the sun to set. Then he comes alive speeding through the sprawling city streets and freeways to be the first at a crime scene. Void of empathy, he who reels and deals in mayhem and is always hungry for taking more.

A performance like this may usually be considered as a cliche sociopath stereotype we can spot from a mile away, but Gyllenhaal doesn't give a typical performance. Instead it's the refreshing praise-worthy work of an actor who gives enough to display his range without going overboard and seeing the methodology of his performance. Over the past few years, the ever-changing actor has been consistently changing his role choices, and this time around he seems to slip into Bloom so easily, it's hard to recognize the actor of long ago.

Nightcrawler is the type of movie where it's easy to get carried away on the idea of its plot or a singular performance, and wonder if it's really the film you're excited about. Gilroy's flick is dramatic, action-packed, and refreshing. Nearly flawless in its performance by Gyllenhaal and his co-stars, the films' social commentary on the complicit nature of sensationalizing humanity's barbaric side subtly hooks you. From car chases to winded monologues, and Bloom's double-sided nature, we are taken on a gripping thrill ride and are also reminded of that gruesome cultural exploitation we all participate in.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Nightcrawler? What did you think?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar movie review
Photo Credit: Interstellar / Paramount Pictures
On a futuristic Earth, our planet is slowly dying. Humankind is staving off extinction from starvation and suffocation; the crops have failed and dust bowls sweep through the last remains of working farms. A brilliant scientist Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) are convinced their last chance of survival is to explore of a wormhole discovered near Saturn's galaxy and its possible habitable planets.

Former Air Force pilot and engineer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is recruited by a secretly-funded NASA to pilot one last mission. Sacrificing himself to secure Earth's future has one deeply personal drawback. His children's generation will be the last to survive and chances are Cooper may never return; his choice gashes the relationship with his young daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy).

Director Christopher Nolan's work spurs you to watch his cerebral plots unfold over and over again. Memento teases its backward storytelling. Inception plunges into reality versus dreams, and dreams within dreams. The complexity of Interstellar's zeal is to depict Eistein's theory of relative time and space as well as the enormous conflicts of man's capabilities for exploration and love. Nolan's ambitious worlds can sometimes work against itself since his complex stories can polarize movie goers. With Interstellar, his imagination invigorates us but can also work against itself.

Under the hubbub and central plot of astrophysics, multiple dimensions, and wormholes, Interstellar works its magic by splitting the story of theories on chalkboards versus what we feel intuitively. It challenges the balance to accepting both sides of the equation. Applications can be reworked around a finite amount of equations and outcomes but humanity is more complex.

Cooper doesn't necessarily belong on Earth but he will go above and beyond what is necessary to save his family and millions of others. He embodies not only the pioneer in each of us who wants to travel the stars but also the bygone American era of discovery. His children are growing up in an entirely different era than one of his own. College is a pipe dream, and though his children are intelligent, their best chances of a future is to be a farmer just like him. Cooper's journey is about his long-gone dreams of exploration being fulfilled as much as it is about the ones who are left behind during his voyage.

Portrayed by Matthew McConnaughey, and his daughter by Mackenzie Foy, their relationship creates the greatest emotional momentum. McConaughey recently revived his career over the past few years and earned an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club; his career continues to soar in a leading performance that is sincere and heartbreaking, even for a complex blockbuster that puts our minds to work. Cooper's daughters played by Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain is equally moving as the daddy's girl who is left behind - in what they believe - to die and coming to terms with their father's absence.

In an equal parallel relationship, Amelia Brand leaves her elderly father behind in order to carry out NASA's mission. Played splendidly by another recent Oscar winner Anne Hathaway, her relationship to Cooper acts almost as the one Cooper would've had with his daughter. Both Cooper and Brand's emotional vulnerabilities cloud the theories and options in securing mankind's futures.

Love which is intrinsically quantifiable is tested against the perimeters of their voyage. As theories and data are swallowed up and dissected for best possible outcomes, not only does the universe spar against their mission but other characters too. One actor in particular (I won't spoil here) was especially surprising and creates a heart-pounding antagonist to Cooper and Co's nearly impossible quest. Obstacles - simply put, invade all dimensions.

What proves to be a bit of an obstacle in the film's production is the complexity of the script and their mission. Both Christopher, and his brother Johnathan Nolan studied under physics expert Kip Thorne to needle out the details of what a wormhole would be like on film and how to depict accurately with special effects. Visually what's created is nothing short of adventurous, beautiful awe. However, the laws of space, time, and physics can be confusing to follow - most specifically in the third act.

In comparison to Nolan's other films like Inception or The Prestige there is enough provided via dialogue for example that you can pinpoint where the story is going and how it ends up with a mind-bending conclusion. Interstellar requires more suspension of disbelief. If you are not familiar with astrophysics, the story and narrative can hit some bumpy roads. It can be hard to keep track of the technology, time lapses, space lapses, planet locations, wormholes versus black holes, and overall worldbuilding.

The ability to turn off your brain though and watch the tangled complex trek the characters take is also a big part of the ride to enjoy; the complicated scientific nature of the film is what wondrously sweeps you off your feet and blasts you out of your life and into another cinematic sphere. Even if the science isn't fully comprehensible on its first viewing, Interstellar leaves you wanting more. As the director always manages to do, I was left feeling a little obsessed with my confusion, in love with his ideas, and hypnotized by the film's beautiful ambition.

Hypnotized might be the best word to describe what quickly became one of my favorite movies of the year. Composer, Hans Zimmer described the process of his tantalizing score as one that was as personal to Nolan's process as the director. Throughout the movie, similar to Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, the sound of silence and orchestra deepens the mood of nostalgia and the rapturous quest.

Unlike Nolan's previous work, it's hard to categorize his very personal film under one umbrella; a fallen previously high-tech society drama dealing with family dynamics and survival. Drawing intense inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey, it serves as a reminder of what good science fiction in film can be. Coop's relationship to his daughter is a soul-touching love story between father and daughter. Humankind's plunge to save each other, our passion, dedication to self-preservation, and devotion to loved ones throughout dimension serves as inspiration for how far mankind has gone and can go.

Nolan's films don't require people to not necessarily read between every single line but also slowly builds a mosaic of layers that by film's end it's wondrous how it all came together - even if it needs another viewing to piece it all together. Similar to Gravity, I walked out of the movie theatre grateful for my feet sticking to Earth's surface. Exiting out of Interstellar, I looked at the stars and was grateful for mankind's ambition to be one with them. I couldn't help but wonder what's next? It's all relative.

Rating: ★★☆
Have you seen Interstellar? What did you think?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gone Girl (2014)

Gone Girl movie review
Photo Credit: Gone Girl / 20th Century Fox
In the heart of a sleepy Missouri town, the Dunnes seem to be facing the ultimate crisis. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick (Ben Affleck) discovers his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has vanished from their home. Appearing uninterested nor fearful about his spouse's disappearance, Nick's cool exterior rouses the suspicions of Detective Rhonda Boney, the town, and then the entire nation. Following the footsteps of other classic spousal thrillers like Rebecca and Fatal AttractionGone Girl is not like most cinematic marriages.

Flashbacks expose the beginning of their romantic union, carnal desires, and dreams of the future. As the daughter of successful authors who created a children's series about her life, Amy is amazing; the Cool Girl who seems absolutely perfect. Nick is her white knight armed with insatiable charm, pandering to anyone who makes him feel like the man he wants to be. As the years tick by, and the Dunnes crash into reality, both Amy and Nick stop pretending. Like doting singletons who polish their online dating profiles and use flattering photos of themselves instead of accurate ones, their facades wear away. Flickers of domestic abuse, financial strains, and adultery emerge. The movie is not about how Amy goes missing, but how domestic entrapment, dominance, and submission reveals who we truly are versus how we sell ourselves and when the jig is finally up.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Seven (1995)

Seven movie review
Photo Credit: Se7en / New Line Cinema
Whispers of intense disappointment or adoration follow Se7en everywhere. The story could be described as a typical crime drama, but how an iconic director sets up its setting and characters is why this 1995 film is a cut above the rest.

Somber and soon-to-be retired Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is getting replaced with a younger idealistic Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt). In an unidentified decaying city, the pair investigates a bloody and gruesome set of crimes 'inspired' by the seven sins; gluttony, greed, pride, sloth, lust, wrath, and envy.

Director David Fincher is known for his dark auteur style. His films' color and landscape are bleak and the characters rarely find happy endings. Right from the start of Se7en, the plot is relentless in its threat of danger and hopelessness. Crime and inhumanity over-runs every street corner. A never-ending downpour keeps the city wet, cold, and harsh. The faces of Mills and Somerset become the only familiar and welcoming sight as these violent murders become a common affair over one week. Unfortunately, the plot nor your imagination is gifted with a break of sunshine or hope.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Fault In Our Stars (2014) demands to be felt

Book vs Movie: The Fault in Our Stars
Photo Credit: The Fault in Our Stars / 20th Century Fox
Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley)'s thyroid cancer has progressively grown into lung cancer. For the time being her condition is stable when she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) at a support group. Accepting her limited lifespan which has no specific expiration date, Grace tries to limit the relationships she's involved in by not wanting to hurt the people she loves. As she and Gus become friends, her will to avoid his attempts at wooing fail. The typical young adult genre of "love worth dying for" transforms into a story of love worth living for.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green was originally published in 2012 and has managed to stay atop bestseller's list for the past two years. The story of teenagers falling in love despite facing the inevitability of oblivion has become a cultural phenomenon. Millions of readers dote on how the novel captures a voice of a generation, a relationship centered around realistically grim circumstances, and characters facing mortal affliction. Adapted to the big screen, The Fault In Our Stars is an endearing emotional fixation and success.

A book that offers a sarcastic and teenagerly-honesty perspective could have had big mistake written all over it when Hollywood knocked on Green's doors. Riding on the wave of failure or success, the movie truly rests on Woodley and Elgort - not just for meeting reader's expectations but also how their characters could've been performed by other actors. On their own, and as a pair, both are charming and tender delivering a right balance of endearing comedy and heartbreaking drama. Its supporting cast, which includes Willem Dafoe, Laura Dern, and Sam Trammell, also deliver entertaining and subtle performances. With the right guiding and attentive hand, the production captures the love that emanates from readers to author, and character to character.

A polarizing aspect of this adaptation, which has held a stronghold on the media and internet for most of 2014, is the overwhelming praise the book has earned. Despite my blog's appearance, I cannot call myself a Nerdfighter; a hard-earned label Green fans call themselves. I read the book cover-to-cover more out of curiosity than any buzzworthy acclaim. I fell in love with his realistic yet all-too-optimistic world and had high aspirations that it could be a good adaptation, but I didn't harbor intense passion like many fans.

Respectfully, I was able to have some emotional distance. The movie was enjoyable for watching scenes from the book come to life and still look at it from a perspective by someone else who might be watching the movie out of curiosity. For the latter, I won't refrain from saying that in very few scenes did I feel like the camera work or pacing could have been improved. The actual romantic themes in the film are formulaic; the novel and book are not typically daring in terms of boy and girl meet and then fall in love. What is different about the pairing of Grace and Waters from other couples is how these characters handle life's most difficult crises and still come out the other end hopeful, loving, and vulnerable. There are degrees of relativity in this movie that most people might not suspect either having personally dealt with cancer/family member with cancer or falling in love for the first time. It's the emotionally rousing delivery of youth in love with all its euphoric highs and soul-crushing lows that continuously makes these characters and their dynamics so beloved.

During the production of the film, Green was given slack for crying on-set because he was emotionally compromised watching his novel being adapted. I can't say that I blame him. The story is the stuff of movie magic where as a reader most of the details you pictured were depicted straight from your own imagination. For such a big movie with unbelievably high anticipation riding on the book's coattails, the film experience is surprisingly intimate. During the three-month press tour of the cast and crew sharing praise and dedication for the movie's release, the gratitude everyone had for the material shows in all the right ways with the best cast, script, and studio for the job.

As much excitement has set the world on fire as this being a box office breaker or a love story of the decade, The Fault In Our Stars is able to come alive just as a good movie and adaptation; it's not entirely faultless but definitely funny, uplifting, and lovely.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen The Fault In Our Stars? What do you think?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Matrix (1999) walks the path of complexity and entertainment

The Matrix movie review
Photo Credit: The Matrix/ Warner Bros
Directed and written by The Wachowski Brothers, this 1999 sci-fi flick takes us into a new reality called The Matrix. The world as we know has utterly collapsed from mankind's egotrip known as artificial intelligence. Sentient machines we created betrayed us and scorched the Earth. In doing so, they subdued humans into a simulated reality and use our natural bodies heat and electrical activity as their main energy source.

The Chosen One Neo (Keanu Reeves) is a computer hacker who is shown the truth. A group of human resistance fighters led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishbourne) guides our hero to realize his potential to save the rest of the human race and end the war.

Before watching The Matrix, expectations from the film's hype since my teenage years weighed on my mind. Mostly, my thoughts stemmed from the film's glory days when it was a huge hit in the late 90s / early 2000s. Fans' fervent love made me excited but also anxious I might encounter nothing but disappointment; to only be reminded of the criticism and parodies that often plagued the first installment when it came out.

Some movies throw all the darts to the wall and let the chips fall where they may. For a percentage of films, the results don't live up to the expectations. The story falls apart, characters are reduced to flat caricatures, and there is simply not enough world-building especially science fiction movies. I was surprised to see that as ambitious The Matrix is, it all worked.

If noir and cyberpunk got it on, the results would be this movie. The opening defines the "supposed law abiding cops" versus a vixen in black attire with a major chase scene. Leather jackets replace trenchcoats. When characters are threatened, everything from the cinematography to an actor's physical movement is choreographed to move fast. When the tension rests, the production moves ultra-slow. Dialogue, action, and script all balance an unique rhythm, avoiding in-authenticity or corniness. All of the components at first almost feel too genre(s) specific to be its own original film.

As layers begin to peel, it's easy to grasp onto the matrix and let it plunge you into this engaging and intriguing science fiction ride. You begin to question what is the true matrix? what is the truth - in general - reality or what our brains are wired to compartmentalize as reality?

The cast of characters leads us on a wild chase and become the good guys to root for. Neo is the hacker trapped searching for answers to a question he has long held onto. We must trust Morpheus as the father-leader is telling the truth about a reality that seems impossible. Trinity (awesomely played by Carrie-Anne Moss) is the mysterious femme fatale carrying a major secret. The main villain Agent Smith - a sentient machine posing as a human - all but jumped off the screen as someone you love to hate or just love to love. The movie became something I loved and questioned why hadn't I taken a chance on it sooner.

The Matrix rekindled what a fun and intellectually stimulating moment in cinema it must have been to see in theaters. For such a big movie, it feels wonderfully intimate. Action sequences combined with special effects, combat fighting, and wire techniques are iconic. And, then there's that damn question again: what is truth? Is what we truly believe or what we are shown to believe? Would you (do you) accept a reality if it's a comfortable lie? The list goes on and on.

Often I feel the poorest films are the ones that have to sell a moment; one that so pushes characters and scenes off the screen to evoke sympathy, anger, or understanding - they become cringe-worthy in their force and efforts. Even though action and science fiction have grown with its use to special effects but the hiccups have grown larger too. Studios judge that audiences aren't smart enough to follow complex worlds, and stories often fall short balancing entertainment and enlightenment. In its huge collage of genres and blockbuster mechanisms, The Matrix maintains being fun and complex.

With all of the components of The Matrix brings together, fifteen years later after the movie's initial release, it succeeds on almost all of its levels. It gels in a way that the movie makes me realize how much I miss when science fiction was cool and could make me think. It's not a perfect film (the Trinity + Neo relationship I could've done without but in a world with no human contact, you're gonna love the ones you're with) but it's an enjoyable one. I was reminded of an exciting time in cinema when movie stars like Keanu Reeves were at the top of their game but weren't detracting from enjoying an engaging blockbuster. Like Neo who chooses to see the truth of reality, as the audience, we're asked to follow the white rabbit into another world that takes a while to come to terms with. It was a good decision to watch this movie.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen The Matrix? What do you think?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Rush (2013) drives home brains and brawns

Rush movie review
Photo Credit: Rush
Growing up with my cousin who liked cars and trucks,  preconceived notions about racing as an adult have become limited: cars looping around in a track a few times. NASCAR and the famous Daytona 500 never held much interest for me in terms of watching it on television or seeking out news. As far as cinema 'knowledge' about the sports genre was concerned, I hadn't had very much experience - never seen the animated Cars by Pixar, Days of Thunder starring Tom Cruise, nor any other motion picture. To be honest, I never thought I'd come across a film about racing that constructed the sport and its drivers in an interesting way that non-sports people like me could understand and enjoy.

Then, came Rush. Centered around the 1970s feud between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda, (Daniel Bruhl), the film dives into the world of racing and the catastrophic dangers its drivers takes.

Tall, blond and beautiful, James Hunt is the epitome of a young English hero with the world at his feet. His family had hopes for Hunt to become a doctor, but his combative personality against their strict upbringing ushered a natural love for racing. In an act of rebellion, he capitalizes on adrenaline: racing, sleeping around, drinking and drugs. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Niki Lauda. An Austrian native, he too could settle for working for his father, however, he defies his dad's disapproval to pursue his passion for racing. His act of rebellion is to show his family that he can do everything on his own. Often his looks are compared to that of a rat; brown musty hair, an overbite, and small beady eyes. Where he doesn't succeed in the looks department, he makes up for with his cunning ambition.

The passion to be behind the wheel leads both characters to be kings of the road. Their personality differences and work ethics - brawns versus brain - drives their feud. Neither Hunt nor Lauda are strictly portrayed as the protagonist nor antagonist; each is shown with equal virtues and downsides. For Hunt, it's his constant fast-lifestyle of partying and women. On the one side, he appears charismatic, however, his night-to-night dalliances threaten his natural talent. For Lauda, it's his direct attitude, which doesn't leave him with many friends but keeps his mental well-being clean to race without any inhibitions. Both characters are driven by their love for being the best in the world, and they have different mindsets for dealing with obstacles on and off the track.

Excluding his super-stardom brought on by the Avengers series, Chris Hemsworth manages to star as Hunt as a chameleon. He's a recognized movie star first by his handsome good looks, and then by his acting ability, which is becoming increasingly underrated. Daniel Bruhl is perhaps the star of the film managing to steal every scene against his co-star and others who star as his managers and wife. Lauda - for me - due to his Germanic upbringing and straightforward personality could've easily been a caricature displayed as a robot unemotional control freak. Bruhl manages to show and passion in multiple emotional layers that truly makes him the focus of the film's finale.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspects about Rush is how the racing sequences are edited. As a movie goer who enjoys seeing the action rather than cuts around characters in combat, I do not particularly like it when scenes are spliced up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Rush's cinematography gives an equal balance of seeing the cars race zoom around the track as a sideline observer and on the road as a driver. At high speeds, through hills, and pass finish lines, you really feel like you are alongside Hunt and Lauda as they push their automobiles to maximum speeds.

Director Ron Howard does a spectacular job bringing this vintage feud to life. The storyline is engaging and swift as we watch Hunt and Lauda battle around the world against each other and their own inner demons. The accolades for this film was seriously lacking in the 2014 Oscar race; surely, it could've earned a few with Direction, Best Picture or Best Supporting Actor for Buhl. Rush is a perfect balance showcasing racing in all of its dangerous and spectacle showmanship as well as the men behind the scenes who truly risk their lives to cross the finish line.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Rush? What did you think?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Reconsideration: Chicago (2002)

1920s. Jazz. Booze. Adultery. Murderesses on death row. Aspiring vaudevillian Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) guns down her lover Fred Casley (Dominic West) after he betrays her with phony show-business connections. When she is sent to jail on a hanging case, her faces off against chanteuse Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) for the help of money-loving lawyer lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere).

Winning six Academy Awards (out of its total thirteen nominations) in 2002, Chicago remains one of the most celebrated and hated musicals of all time. Premiere Magazine named it "one of the twenty most overrated movies of all time", a type of recognition echoed on other prestigious film lists. As one of my favorite musicals, I've tried to understand if the hate is the worth the hype.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mud (2013)

Photo Credit: Mud / Lionsgate / Roadside Entertainment
Two young kids in their motor boat voyage out to an abandoned island on the Mississippi River. Thinking it'll be a day of wandering exploration, it's quite a welcoming surprise to Ellis (one of the two boys) when they meet a lean dirty straggler. He has a few cracked teeth, been living in a dilapidated boat, and owns nothing but the shirt on his back and a glock. His name is Mud.

The mysterious presence around him is what makes us itching to know more about why he is a lone wolf on deserted land. After persistent probing, when Mud finally unveils a passionate confession about murdering a man who had beaten up the woman he loves, Juniper, the intrigue doesn't dissipate. Played by Matthew McConaughey, he pours out the truth with such heartache, you can't help but take him at his word.

But we hear different perspectives of who Mud is. The boys help Mud make connections to his family and Juniper back on the homeland while helping him rebuild a boat for an escape. His father declares that his son is a foolish soul who misplaced his ambitions in life - not just love - to a woman who never cared about him at all. Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who walks the fine line of settling for Mud and wanting to escape his adoration (or even obsession), says that he is a born liar; one that tells fibs to make himself out to be something he's not. While we may not fully trust Mud, we rely on what he reveals to Ellis to be the truth - for what its worth.

The clock is ticking down. State troopers are setting up roadblocks and plastering his wanted photo all over town. And, the relatives of Mud's victim are ruthlessly searching for him as well - not even stopping at berating Juniper and Ellis in a dirty motel room in a palpable verbal beatdown. Though the story doesn't excuse the violent actions of the bounty hunters nor Mud, there isn't one character who is a true villain. Nobody carries a specific antagonist persona because everyone has something worth fighting for.

In many ways Ellis is a younger version of Mud. When his parents announce their separation, he relies on Mud's faith to Juniper to believe love exists. He's a young boy who is experiencing his first romance to an older teen Mary Pearl, who isn't exactly his other half Like Mud, he only knows the definite feeling of love in his bones. Their physical representation of devotion is swinging in on a vine and flailing their fists in protection against meddlers. They believe this might encourage their feelings to be reciprocated. It can't be controlled and hearts are trampled along the way.

Through the relationships of father and his son, a mother and son, a man and a woman, love and its limitations is weaved by how each character has their own way of protecting one another. Experience and time brings its own expression through different avenues of reciprocation. Sometimes it means standing true to the ones you love, and loving someone enough to leave them behind and go your own route.

The biggest impression Mud left with me was that it's a slow-churning movie about trust. The deep south is a culture of your word being your bond, and the movies' characters and story reflects that. Mud and Ellis' faith and companionship is what the film relies on. Every performance from Matthew McConaughey as Mud to Ray McKinnon as Ellis' father Senior carries the film to its palpable intrigue. And the test of love binds them all together from friends, lovers to children and parents. Director Jeff Nichols' complex story keeps you riding its waves from beginning to end.

Rating: ★★★