Showing posts with label must see. Show all posts
Showing posts with label must see. Show all posts

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 with the absence of the glue which held the family together, suddenly 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.

For Strayed, many events in her life were beyond her control, such as a child watching her mother recover from physical abuse by her alcoholic husband, as well as moments that temporarily fulfilled her anguish such as quickies, brief affairs, and drugs. Her hike becomes a freeing shift from the doubts and remorse that hold her hostage to daringly face what it means to forgive herself and be forgiven.

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 long 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.

A great credit to the film's purity is leading ladies 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 a few years of her work seesawing between critically praised and scorned. The latter (Dern) 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 surrounded by 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 her. Refreshingly, it's a wake-up call who can sometimes by 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 to ask 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 most underneath the surface and just let it all 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 paternal 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 for two hours in the middle of nowhere. 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 kind of 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.


Author Gillian Flynn has established an impressive reputation since 2012 when her novel Gone Girl flew off the shelves and captivated readers. One of her next moves was to adapt her bestselling story to film. What better voice of authority to bring such a complex narrative of two dueling perspectives to the screen than the writer herself. It's a tricky ambition that for the most part succeeds.

Who took Amy? is a subtle question behind the entire story as Nick is the major source of suspicion. Essentially, like the book, the movie is broken up into three parts. Adhering to the book's split narrative between Amy and Nick's perspectives, the masquerade of the loving husband trope is built into the first half of the film and then brutally dissected as Amy's mask is peeled away for the latter two-thirds of the film.

If it wasn't Amy's diary entries giving us a tour through their ill-fated relationship, my biggest struggle was Nick's hour, which was a perfectly-wrapped concept of Nick I couldn't buy. There are probably those that disagree with me but the novel is certainly Amy's story. The film reaches to put a stronger focus on Nick, milking him as the doe-eyed sympathetic husband than he really is in the novel. His violent and ignorant misdeeds are only hinted at from the books, elements that really made you understand how the pair almost perfect for each other. Nick and his sister Margo sneak by with a lot of trash talk towards Amy who is painted (from his perspective) as the never-satisfied precocious money-hugging perfectionist nag who deserved to go missing (maybe even be physically harmed, psychologically tormented, or killed). Some skeletons come out of his closet as the investigation seizes their property, his privacy, and good boy image. But they aren't structured in a way that we feel he is responsible for his actions; instead, the story tries to sell us that his decisions are entirely Amy's fault.

Obviously, Flynn's novel is best interpreted by her instead of a studio shadow-writer who probably would've mutilated her story. And she definitely shines unforgettable attention on Amy's multi-faceted personality. When Amy becomes the sole focus during the second and third acts, this is where the movie has a heart-racing climatic pulse. I don't feel like I'm being sold on the idea of a protagonist I should root for when he's unrootable. However, similarly to Nick, important elements of her backstory also end up in the cutting room floor such as the mistreatment of her parents, how Nick truly took advantage of her financially and sexually, and expected her to play the role of a wife who follows him around like a lap dog; things that give her grounds for how she goes missing and why. Amy, and therefore Rosamund Pink, instills such voracious energy, she finally kicks this story to a level that's full throttle.

Similar to the world-renown fantasy adventure Life of Pi, Flynn's novel was considered an impossible book to transform to film. Due to the script's subtlety, a collection of movie watchers is left labeling the movie misogynist, anti-feminist, etc. Flynn's balance relies on creating alliances that we switch to from one section to the next. Successfully, she piles on details that we don't necessarily have to question but do a double-take on their entire relationship and what parts of it were a facade. Unsuccessfully, I felt like excluded details from the book misapprehends the ambition of glorious Amy.

As much as Flynn has been the "it" girl of the thriller literary world, and now film, nothing may surpass the praise for the film's leading star Rosamund Pike (Ben Affleck stars in this too, but I'll get back to him). A lot of characters in cinema are passed off as complicated but ultimately have the range of a teaspoon. Believe it when readers and movie goers alike say that Amy is a mosaic of sophisticated complexity; a calculating, intelligent, emotional and psychological enigma-cake you can't stop gorging on.

From visions of the past to the depraved present, Pike is a cunning presence. This is genuinely the role of a lifetime: a thoughtful dedicated mysterious actress that didn't make Amy a generic caricature of a psycho bitch; who crafted every scene as slick as a spider: graceful, hypnotic, venomous. She frighteningly weaves a chilling, dramatic, and even humorous, performance that may have to claw its way to the top of the Oscar pack instead of just being given a nod on a gold platter.

Alongside Pike is Ben Affleck starring as Nick. Often criticized for his limited acting range, the past few years has garnered more praise. Playing the husband whose mother always taught him not to do onto others as they will do onto you, he easily becomes the self-effacing man who seems like everyone's charming savior. This somewhat leaves him as the bland protagonist painted as the poor-suffering man caught in Amy's web, which he is, but there are other layers to him that could've made him more dynamic and interesting...and not quite sure Affleck has the entire chops to pull it off.

The laundry list of supporting actors can't also be easily forgotten either: Tyler Perry (as the hotshot criminal lawyer), Neil Patrick Harris (as a friend from Amy's past), and Carrie Coon (as Nick's twin sister). Impressively Amy's mother played by Lisa Banes has very limited screen time but makes the most of it. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't utilize her as much as I would've liked (disappearing from the movie almost halfway through) but her stern, disapproving, and haughty performance is truly memorable. Everyone works well within the wheelhouse they're given.

Ultimately, Flynn found a great partner in director David Fincher known for such mind-bending flicks as Fight Club, Se7en, and Zodiac. As trained monkeys who might be used to watching Fincher's films, which are obsessively laced in detail-orientation, we aim to question the intricate placing of every frame. Another director couldn't nearly accomplish the firm and experienced hand Fincher brings to this juggernaut thriller satire, which pushes one to question everything you're being led to believe.

Despite the dramatic depth Fincher's work, his filmography is filled with Who Dun Its and Who Can Do That?!s. Restrained in Missouri to two unreliable characters, we have nothing and no one to really trust. We doubt our ability of discerning who is telling the truth. Enhancing the confined setting of the Missing Amy probe is the hypnotizing soundtrack by Trent Razor and Atticus Ross. The humdrum nature of the small town is noted (with what sounds like) water dripping from a sink. When the investigation gains media attention and riles up a nation, the soundtrack amplifies with rapid heartbeats and drums. Every twist and turn of the story are etched with a calming yet leery arrangement; similarly how every scene is composed.

Walking out of Gone Girl I was compounded with a lot of thoughts: elated for conquering the long-awaited hype, satisfied with the adaptation but also nagged by something empty and feeling slightly unfulfilled. The dissolution of the Dunnes forces us to feel like we're a child in the middle of a terrible divorce; we overhear daddy and mommy's side of the arguments, don't have any say in the resolution and are firmly handed a final verdict. The transfixing experience is the anticipation of what we believe should happen; for justice to be served, a rainbow to cascade over the ****storm, and life to end unhappily ever after. Similar to my reading experience, I am enamored by the book but not entirely in love with it. Gone Girl goes far to adapt this deeply layered concept about swapped gender roles, societal norms, and media culture. In the specific case of Amy Dunne, it's good as it could've been but also could've gone further.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Gone Girl? What are your thoughts?

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) is a seventeen-year-old with thyroid cancer, which 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 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 two teenagers falling in love despite facing the inevitability of oblivion has become a cultural phenomenon. Millions of readers dote of how the novel captures a voice of a teenage generation offers a relationship centered around realistically grim circumstances and shines a light on characters facing mortal affliction. Adapted to the big screen, TFIOS 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 was knocking on Green's doors. On the top tier 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 comedy and drama while still remaining grounded. Its supporting cast which includes Willem Dafoe, Laura Dern, and Sam Trammell, also deliver entertaining and dramatically subtle performances. With the right guiding and attentive hand, the production captures the love that emanates between its pages, 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, as an in-between moviegoer, 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 and character emergence in the film is a bit 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 this couple from other pairings is the way that these characters have had to handle life's most traumatic and existential 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 infectious.

Green is often given slack for crying on-set during filming 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 extraordinarily intimate. During the three-month press tour of the cast and crew sharing praise and dedication for the movie's eventual release, the gratitude and love 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?