Saturday, December 31, 2011
Adapted from the children's book of the same name, in addition to it being adapted into an award-winning Broadway play, the central focus of the film is on a horse named Joey, who is raised by a teenage farm boy (Jeremy Irvine) in the English valley after his father (Peter Mullan). However the dawning of WWI leads to Joey being sold to the British Army, and the horse embarks on an epic journey across a period of four years,as he touches the lives of soldiers on both sides of the war, and also bringing together a more heartwarming relationship between a young girl and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup).
Spielberg and his filmmaking crew used fourteen horses to play the role of Joey, and they all bring a mix of impeccable training and heartwarming appearances to the table. It's been quite a year for "animal acting" during this year for film, but all of the horses manage to nail down the physical emotions in the most authentic way possible.
The human acting in this film is good overall, even though the film does switch in between stories several times in the 146 minute running time. Jeremy Irvine holds his own to a considerable degree as Albert, as he never goes too over-the-top in the "heart string pulling" scenes his character endures. Tom Hiddleston,though in a minor role as a British Army officer, manages to deliver a reserved performance of compassion and grace much like Spielberg's handling of the film.
As far as technicality categories go for this year in film, nothing except for "The Tree of Life" gets much better than this. Janusz Kaminski's cinematography is beyond breathtaking as he and Spielberg create shots of immense scale and great attention to detail. The set pieces, especially for the WWI sequences are established in fantastic detail, whether its the variety of colors in the setting, or wide camera angles which expand the film's scope to a greater degree.
With this film, John Williams continues to show why he's the master in creating some of the most emotionally moving scores in cinema history. With scenes that already deliver on the heartwarming family movie scale, Williams takes them further with his soothing and inspiring opuses. Williams may be 80 years old, but he has continued to show decade by decade since the late 1970s on why he's one of the most masterful composers in Hollywood.
Steven Spielberg directs this film with his classic scope for breathtaking set pieces and sharp attention to detail. Even though many of the scenes attempt to emotionally move you, Spielberg succeeds with them unlike most contemporary filmmakers would, because of his long background working with these themes in the past. In addition, Spielberg makes the WWI battle scenes very intense with the tight camera angles, especially during the scenes depicting trench warfare.
While this may stand as another Spielberg gem, it's not a perfect film, though. For example, there's one short story involving two German brothers and the horse that didn't have an emotional or interesting enough impact compared to the rest of the vignettes the horse goes encounters. Additionally, the fact that this film is based on a children's book ends up highlighting numerous instances of lazily written dialogue between characters.
Despite a few minor nit pickets, "War Horse" highlights the magic of director Steven Spielberg's epic scope, in addition to showcasing the illustrious talent of his longtime technicality collaborators. This film is bound to a be an Oscar contender, but the film's huge amount of "heart string pulling" scenes will divide the overall response. However if you're a devoted fan of Spielberg's movies, there's little doubt that you'll be disappointed.
Final Grade: A-
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The Mission: Impossible series is one that I surprisingly have never bought into during my life as a cinephile. However, I'm up to see just about anything that Tom Cruise stars in. I've always been aware of how his public persona has an overall sharply divided response from the public, but it has never really created a tough effect on me because I mostly focus on his acting instead. The best thing about the Mission: Impossible series is that none of the films are direct sequels of the previous entries, so it's accessible for the average filmgoer to get into this franchise at any one of the "Missions."
IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team composed of Field Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Tech Agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are set up on a mission in Moscow where the Kremlin is bombed, and they're framed for the apparent terrorist attack. The IMF secretary (Tom Wilkinson) and Chief Analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) inform Hunt that the President has initiated "Ghost Protocol", which means the IMF has been disavowed. Hunt and his team, along with the addition of Brandt accept the mission of tracking down the real culprit behind the attack, which takes them on a mission that to exotic locations which include Dubai and India.
Tom Cruise delivers as Ethan Hunt, mostly due to how accustomed he's become to playing this character in the three previous movies. In addition to nailing down the expected charm and charisma he exhibits in nearly every movie he stars in, he does all of his own stunts including his character scaling the Burj Khalifa (aka The Tallest Building in the World). For an actor who's about to hit 50 and can still do his own stunts in big action movies, Cruise has a lot of guts to do that and it improves on the realism of his character due to the complete lack of stunt doubles. Paula Patton and Simon Pegg hold their own very well alongside Cruise. Patton not only delivers on being the sexy eye candy, but also performs very well as one very badass femme fatale when it comes to her fighting scenes. Simon Pegg provides great comic relief as Benji, and his background as one of the best British comedic actors currently working today enhances his spot-on comedic timing,too. Jeremy Renner though, manages to stand out compared to the rest of the supporting cast. He plays the only character that has an important back-story to the film's plot and he manages to deliver his scenes on a dramatic level that is sufficient enough to this type of film without exaggerating it to a point of pure over-the-top acting.
Brad Bird directs the film with a very solid visual style for a live action film debut as he constructs some of the most adrenaline-fueled action sequences I've seen this year. In addition, he chooses to shoot the action in a serene style like Justin Lin did with "Fast Five", which is a great switch from the majority of the action films we get with the obligatory shaky cam. Usually a 2 hour 13 minute film would drag if not handled well, but Bird's direction creates a fast pace of transitions between scenes that never bore you from the action taking place.
For an introduction to the Mission: Impossible trilogy, Ghost Protocol could not be any better. The film delivers on the escapist entertainment you'd expect from a film like this, and not expect anything more from its audience. If you do plan on seeing this film during its theatrical run, this is one that must be seen in IMAX format, because the film's action sequences are absolutely stunning to look at, in addition to the base of the sound making your heart pump in the most intense action set pieces.
Final Grade: B+
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Three horny high school students (Michael Angarano,Kyle Gallner,and Nicholas Braun) receive an online invitation from a woman who invites them for a group orgy. Unbeknownst to them though, the woman is Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo), the daughter of the cult Five Points Church Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), who he and his followers are immense opposers on the subject of homophobia. She spikes the beers she gives the three teens and they're transported to the church to be killed for their "sins." However, the ATF and police arrive at the scene which sparks a deadly shootout between the Five Points priest and his followers. Basically, the first half of the film draws heavily upon the real-life religious extremist group Westboro Baptist Church led by the infamous priest Fred Phelps, and the second half derives mostly off of the famous 1993 Waco,Texas, ATF siege on the Branch Davidian ranch which ended in a deadly shootout killing almost 80.
The real blame of this film,though,is unfortunately placed on writer/director Kevin Smith. His choice of departing from his usual directing style of just keeping the camera still and having his characters let loose on the genius witty dialogue he writes is completely abolished for an overload of poorly explored themes,constant hand-held camera work,and an overload of dialogue that just bores you instead of making you laugh. For instance, the movie presents several themes mostly in the categories of homophobia,extremist cult religions,and a possible satire on the kooks of the Westboro Baptist Church. To be truthful, the people of that church are the people I hate the most in America because I'm part of a military family, and the fact that they picket military funerals creates the biggest "F*ck You!" I have towards anybody in the world. However, Smith seems to not have the slightest clue on how to fully utilize all of these themes in a coherent manner as they jump from one to the next every scene, and never revisits them for the rest of the film. There are scenes of dialogue that should be interesting, but instead several conversations occur where I just wanted a new scene to occur because the lines spoken are boring and tedious. And when the second half rolls around to the big standoff, Smith believes that killing off characters by surprise will be a shocker to the audience, but since all of the characters in this film are either unlikeable or barely do anything rational to the plot in their short screen time, you'll figure out that you simply won't care at all. Finally, his attempts at incorporating humor fall so flat that it does no justice to a film that is already deteriorating at a rapid pace from being anything okay. On a brighter note though, I did dig the grimy setting of the film where almost every shot is very gray and grim in its look.
Final Grade: D
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is a pot smoking pizza delivery boy who confides himself to a very basic slacker lifestyle. Meanwhile, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) are two dim-witted criminals who concoct a plan to murder Dwayne's lottery winning father (Fred Ward) so they can inherit his fortune. The duo calls up the pizzeria Nick works for, and of course Nick is the one to show up. He gets attacked by the two and has a bomb vest placed on his chest which will detonate in 9 hours unless he robs a bank to pay for the hitman who will kill Dwayne's father. Nick teams up with his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), and what ensues is a fast-paced buddy action-comedy.
In Zombieland, director Ruben Fleischer showed a lot of promise with his ability to mash a whole bunch of genres into one movie while still making it a lot of fun. The one positive thing in his directing for this film, though, is that he gives the film a constant fast pace in which the series of events the characters go through pass by rapidly. However, I can't place the blame on him for how underwhelming the final product is, because I think the script (written by first-time scribe Michael Diliberti) contains moments of humor that are very sporadic, and the moments for potential comedy gold are replaced with scenes that feel very disjointed to the main plot of the film.
Final Grade: C
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
When I attended Comic Con 2011, I managed to catch early screenings for two films: Drive and the 3D remake of Fright Night. The first of those two I saw was Drive, which is definitely the most of all of the films they were showing around downtown San Diego during the four days of the Con. Believe it or not, this was my most anticipated film to see when I was down there, especially for the fact that it won Best Director at this year's Cannes, and that it came very close to winning the Palme d'Or over The Tree of Life. Before the screening began, director Nicolas Winding Refn along with stars Carey Mulligan and Ron Perlman appeared to give a short introduction to the film and then it began.
Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed protagonist who is a Hollywood stunt driver by day and a getaway driver for criminals at night. His boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston...hell yeah) books him a job with a new shady client named Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), while in the meantime, Gosling's character strikes up a friendship with his single mother neighbor (Carey Mulligan). But her husband (Oscar Isaac) returns home to disrupt their relationship from reaching further heights. He's in trouble to pull off a final job, though, and he recruits Driver to be his getaway driver. And that's the point where the job gets botched and the rest of the film kicks into major overdrive.
This is a very daunting challenge for Ryan Gosling's acting because his character is very silent for most of the film and it's his facial expressions that do most of the acting. However, he does a sensational job as his performance pays a brilliant ode to characters of the neo-noir genre who slowly pace their line delivery and don't even say much which makes the viewer feel more weary of what they'll do when they hit their breaking point. Carey Mulligan drives the emotional strength of this film as her performance is similar to Gosling's with the slow line delivery, but she continues to show that she's one of the strongest female actresses of this current generation in the industry. Bryan Cranston (with hair) and Ron Perlman also manage to deliver commendable performances as well, even though their characters aren't utilized as much as I thought they'd be. Albert Brooks on the other hand, is the real scene stealer of this film. He's mostly known for playing neurotic characters for most films he stars in, but here he gets to play a shady businessman that goes completely insane and slimy when things go wrong. And when things go wrong, boy does he become evil! Be on the lookout for his name to pop up during awards season because his performance is nothing short of brilliant in this film.
Nicolas Winding Refn has officially become the new Tarantino (but without the humor) of today's industry as he directs this film masterfully. Refn builds up moments of unbelievable moments of tension to before these bursts of extremely shocking and bloody violence, which really reminded me of Tarantino's style of doing the same thing in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. In addition, Refn also uses the sudden tone change in a perfect way, especially involving a scene in an elevator with Gosling and Mulligan that immediately switches the film from a love triangle to a very bloody revenge thriller. And look out American History X, because that scene just about put your curb stomping scene to shame! Newton Thomas Siegel's cinematography is breathtaking, especially within the nighttime shots of downtown Los Angeles which perfectly convey the moody tone the film takes on in the first half of its duration. In addition, the chase sequences are filmed to perfection as the camera angles used for those scenes will remind you of the way car chases were filmed back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as you can hint that the Steve McQueen classic Bullitt served as an inspiration for both Refn's directing style and Gosling's performance.
Overall, Drive is an unforgettable thriller with lots of odes to the art house and neo-noir genres in tow. Flat out fantastic performances across the board from all of the main actors (especially Gosling and Brooks) along with very stylish direction by Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive is a film that will be either an international box office hit, or one that will only be appreciated by the film geeks who have a passion for the art house or neo-noir genre. Whether or not it will fall into the realms of one of those two, it is sure to be a cult classic in the future because this is definitely one of those films you shouldn't miss because it will talked about a lot come next year's awards season.
Final Grade: A
Dave (Jason Bateman) is workaholic lawyer who's close to achieving partner status at his firm, but he can't catch a break in his personal life outside of work because of taking care of his three kids and wife (Leslie Mann). Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) on the other hand, is the total opposite of Dave. He's a definitive slacker trying to kick-start his acting career which hasn't taken him too far in the direction he wants it to be in. The two finally get a night to hang out together at a bar to watch an Atlanta Braves game (who are actually my favorite MLB team since I was 7) and they get too drunk which leads to them peeing in a "magical fountain" that performs the "body switch" on them when they both say at the same time that they wish they had each others lives. And what ensues is an extremely insane and raunchy comedy that sure stands alone in its genre for now.
David Dobkin does a decent job directing this film, even though the tones switch so quick between lighthearted comedy and extreme raunchiness. At least he's doing himself justice with this film from what he did by taking a step back when he directed Fred Claus in 2007. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (writers of The Hangover) pile on the cliches of this genre but make up for them by cooking up some very insane comedic set pieces, especially scenes involving a lawyer's meeting and when Jason Bateman deals with the twins in his family. Some moments in the script seem to stretch too far on the gross humor at times and there are points in those gross out gags where they just drag out for too long. In addition, the ending scenes are dragged out for a little too long as well.
Final Grade: B
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) is left with the stunning news that his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) suddenly wants to divorce him after she cheats on him with her business partner David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). Cal soon receives help from charming, womanizing guru Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) so he can redeem his relationship personality. Meanwhile Jacob has doubts about his constant pick-ups when his advances fail on a girl named Hannah (Emma Stone). In addition, Cal and Emily's son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is making advances on his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who is four years older than him. Everything soon becomes intertwined and it certainly lives up to the ultimate potential outcome of what the film's title promises. And boy towards the end does it promise!
Glenn Ficarra and John Requa direct this film with a very realistic vision as they balance the differing tones of dark comedy and human drama with great ease and never let them crash into each other in abrupt manners. It's interesting to see one of the writers of the Disney animated film Bolt be the writer behind this film, but it's a move that surprisingly works. Screenwriter Dan Fogelman's script is filled with witty one-liners for nearly every main character, but it also balances the multi-faceted story arc along with the transitions between the movie's themes involving the sweet,witty,and very realistic subject manner.
Final Grade: B+
Dylan Harper (Justin Timberlake) is a newbie to New York City when he becomes the newest art director for GQ with the help of executive recruiter Jamie (Mila Kunis). The two immediately bond and they share that they're both emotionally damaged because their relationship pasts don't have the greatest track records. To avoid the cliches of Hollywood romantic comedies, the two decide that they abide by the "No Emotions, Just Sex" kind of relationship. However, things do get complicated between both of them, and the film itself intentionally turns into a cliche but in a very sweet and funny way.
Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis have deliciously sweet chemistry between each other to carry this film. You can constantly point out moments into the film's fast-paced running time that they're both having a blast with the material they're given. Mila is very energetic and when you match that with Timberlake's charismatic charm, it's a pairing that never loses its mojo and has you laughing throughout. Besides the the Timberlake/Kunis duo, the supporting cast is quite remarkable. Woody Harrelson turns in some hilarious quips as a gay sports editor at GQ, and Patricia Clarkson delivers a commendable performance as Jamie's sweet but sometimes risque mother. But for me the real standout in the supporting cast was Richard Jenkins as Dylan's sweet but Alzheimer's stricken father. Jenkins nails down the emotional core of the film but has a very sweet scene with Timberlake that might resonate with you because of the way he delivers it. Add on some funny cameos from Shaun White,Jason Segel,and Rashida Jones,too,which were all random but all executed perfectly.
Will Gluck directs this film with a very fast pace and plays along with the cliches in one of the most creative quick-witted ways I've seen in awhile. With this film and Easy A, Gluck has turned into the best director in the present day that can take typical cliches of a certain type of comedy sub-genre, and turn them into extremely clever comedies that put a new spin on the genre it's already satirizing. The dialogue is very fast-paced and clever, especially with it's numerous instances of meta talk. Thank god for the highly underrated comedy series Community for bringing that kind of humor back to us.
Friends With Benefits is definitely one of the best romantic comedies of the year, especially for the fact that it takes the bold strategy of satirizing the cliches of its own genre. Very electric chemistry between the two leads along with some very funny and sometimes sweet performances from the supporting cast combined with Will Gluck's quick-witted direction make this one of the surprise comedies of the summer. Even if the film is one big cliche, don't avoid it because it has potential to be a sleeper hit this summer.
Final Grade: B