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Archive for the category “Movie Reviews”

“Iron Man 3” (2013) Review

I wasn’t really hyped to see Iron Man 3 when the first trailer was released. Truth be told, I enjoyed the first two Iron Man films, but didn’t really think they were that amazing by any means (the same goes for The Avengers). Sure, Robert Downey Jr. is a perfect fit as Tony Stark, but the films often felt high on style, low on substance for me. With Iron Man 3, Marvel has gone in a different direction – this entry features less Iron Man and more Tony Stark. Does this change work for or against the new film?

Looking at the plot, Iron Man 3 succeeds in focusing more on its characters. This helps make each event more impactful, as the viewer can connect with the film’s characters. Good thing, then, that Iron Man 3 has some great new characters. The Mandarin is a well constructed character (played perfectly by Ben Kingsley) and Harley is played nicely by the young Ty Simpkins. Still, not every character is great, and the main villain, in particular, is underwhelming in motive and characterization. Despite that though, the cast as a whole does a great job bringing the characters to life and Robert Downey Jr remains an absolutely perfect Tony Stark.

This focus on characters causes a shift in typical “superhero” film content. The majority of the plot is centered on Tony Stark outside of his suit. That is not to say that there isn’t any action in the film (there is, and it looks awesome), but there is much less of it. This will certainly turn off some fans, though this change was a breath of fresh air for me.

One thing "Iron Man 3" always has going for it is Robert Downey Jr. - he has always been a perfect choice for the character and fit the personality of Tony Stark perfectly.

One thing “Iron Man 3” always has going for it is Robert Downey Jr. – he has always been a perfect choice for the character and fit the personality of Tony Stark perfectly.

As far as the other components of the film go, the cinematography is fairly standard. There are some incredible shots during the more frantic action sequences, and the chaos looks beautiful. Despite this, you know exactly what to expect going in, and the presentation of the film does nothing to break free of the general “superhero blockbuster” standards. This goes dually for the soundtrack, which features some intense compositions, but again feels like I’ve heard it in every other Marvel hero film.

In the end, Iron Man 3 combines some genre standards and adds a few twists to them (mainly its focus on characters and not on action). This works in the film’s favor, as this newest entry into the Iron Man series feels more fresh than its counterparts. Despite its many typical pieces, the formula of sarcastic humor combined stunning action sequences works for Iron Man 3 (as it did for its past entries). What sets this third film apart from and ahead of the previous two is its choice to take a risk and focus more on Tony Stark and less on Iron Man. It’s just a shame that a better central villain wasn’t present, or even some better characterization. Thus, as it stands, Iron Man 3 is the best entry in the series (for me), but still lacks the pieces it needs to move from being a good film to a great one.

Final Score: 6.8/10

“Hop” (2011) Guest Movie Review

Hop Movie Poster

Every now and then, I love to watch an animated movie that’s just silly and fun. “Hop” was definitely a treat of a movie. I can’t say that it ranks up with some of the classic animation movies in the last decade such as “Finding Nemo” or “Monsters, Inc.”, but I can say that it was a light, feel good movie that is perfect for young kids, and even adults who just want to feel like a kid once and a while (like me!).

The computer-generated animations were wonderful. Technology has really come a long way, especially for these animated movies. The colors and visuals of all the candies of Easter Island were brilliant and made you want to swim among the masses of jellybeans and marshmallow peeps. The soundtrack was a bit odd with some very dated songs that brought back memories for me, but would have no effect on young children who weren’t alive for such bands. The rock songs related well, because obviously E.B. was dreaming of becoming a drummer in a rock band, but I still think they could have chosen some better songs, or guests artists – Like who the heck are the Blind Boys of Alabama?!?

Carlos and Phil were two of the many characters who brought some dimensions and additional storyline to the film. Phil is also one of my favorite characters, he’ll definitely at least make you crack a smile with his antics!

Carlos and Phil were two of the many characters who brought some dimensions and additional storyline to the film. Phil is also one of my favorite characters, he’ll definitely at least make you crack a smile with his antics!

Anyway, despite my musical ignorance, I still thought the movie was fun. The storyline was nothing too deep, but still enough to be heartwarming and have deeper meaning for young children and kids. It presents a number of wonderful messages to kids, such as do what you love, respect your elders (even when you don’t want to) and to always believe in yourself.  Though I found it cute, Will did make a point as we were watching that the movie has many stereotypes in it. The worker chicks were Latino or Hispanic while the Easter Bunny or boss was British, along with a few others throughout the movie. On another note, the acting was mediocre, which is expected in an animated film. It wasn’t the best, but nothing that your kids are going to complain about.

It was the perfect movie for a relaxing night with the kids and to help excite the children for Easter. I really enjoyed the movie even as an adult, but there are definitely a number of other animated movies that I would prefer to this one. Have a few laughs with your family or loved ones and check “Hop” out for yourself, especially with Easter just around the corner and let me know what you think!

Final Score: 7.0/10

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (2012) Review

Perks of Being a Wallflower poster

To preface this review, I will say that I never read the book this film recreates nor knew anything about its story prior to viewing “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. That being said, the film as a whole is rather average. It certainly has its good parts, but has many flaws as well that tend to not be easily overlooked in the context of the entire experience.

Starting out, the plot of “Perks” is interesting, but becomes underwhelming. It focuses mainly on a high school freshman who befriends two unusual seniors who take him under their wings and into their group of friends. I have never been a fan of overly exaggerated high school scenarios, and this certainly fits right in with the teen angst feel. While the plot that occupies the majority of the film is decent, there is, however, a deeper story than that which is presented throughout most of the film. Once this deeper story is revealed, it is unexpected – not in a good way, but in a way that lacks the type of development that makes these revelations impactful. Again, I haven’t read the book so I don’t know if anything changed for the film (though I doubt much did since Stephen Chbosky, the original book’s author, also directed the film). The ensuing scenes spiral quickly and feel underdeveloped – a poor change compared to the rest of the film which develops its characters very well. In fact, the characters in this story are what really make the story work. They have such intricate personalities and their actions feel genuine. Without them, the plot would drag and fail to draw the viewer in.

In mentioning the characters, I must speak about the cast who brought them to life. The young group of actors and actresses in the film do a very good job of making everything feel natural. From Watson to Miller to Lerman, there is a talented bunch on display here that it is a shame that the plot fails to hold it together in the final section. Still, despite the plot fumblings, it is hard to find fault with any of the performances in “Perks”.

While its overall plot is interesting, "Perks" handles its most weighty story haphazardly, making its conclusion sloppy in its execution.

While its overall plot is interesting, “Perks” handles its most weighted story haphazardly, making its conclusion feel sloppy in its execution.

Outside of the plot and cast, the other pieces that make of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” are generally well done. The soundtrack has its mix of tracks from Sonic Youth to David Bowie, while the cinematography has its fair share of nice shots. The dialogue is well-written, yet has a pretentious feeling to it (like dialogue trying to sound smart only for the sake of seeming complex). On the whole, though, there is little here that really lifts the movie to above average, nor makes up for the stumbling finale.

For those with interest in “Perks of Being a Wallflower”, I’m sure you will enjoy the film. Honestly, it is a great effort up until the final quarter or so of the film, once it reveals its main plot twist. From there the film unravels and can’t put itself back together, marring the overall experience. Still, the characters, acting, and soundtrack are great and keep the majority of the film interesting.

Final Score – 6.2/10

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Second Opinion:

“Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a wonderful film. There is a great cast, a wonderful soundtrack and cinematography work, but most importantly it has a storyline that is truly refreshing for me. Though it may not be the perfect storyline, and did have some obvious flaws when it came to how the story was laid out and timed, it was still enjoyable.

The plot did have some unique twists that added to the depth of the movie. Though there were those over dramatic high school scenes, such as the new kid sitting alone at a lunch table, or getting beat up in the middle of the lunchroom with no teachers around (all of which NEVER happen in real life), it didn’t distract much from the quality of the story. Despite some flaws, it was truly a movie that I enjoyed and could watch again and again. It gave me that feeling of reliving your teen years – the depression, the bullying, the unknown, trying to fit in and finally the overwhelming realization that you don’t need to fit in to feel loved and accepted by the friends around you.

 I really enjoyed the story, the acting and the soundtrack, which made it such an enjoyable movie for me. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys similar style movies, nothing too over the top trying to make you think; yet nothing too flat like most romantic movies or comedies. See it for yourself and let us know what you think in the comments!

Final Score: 7.7/10

“A Separation” (2011) Review

A Separation poster

I have been interested in seeing “A Separation” for a while now. This Iranian drama focuses on the separation of Nader and Simin, a married couple who have decisive views regarding care for Nader’s father and moving outside the country for the sake of their daughter, Termeh. With this simple basis, the film evolves nicely into a much more complicated situation as the fates of multiple people and families become intertwined after a series of serious accusations take place. On the whole, “A Separation” is a unique film with a ton of potential that gets held back by some development and design flaws.

The first thing worth noting is the cinematography, as Farhadi’s skill becomes apparent in the opening scene. Here, Nader and Simin are embroiled in a discussion regarding their divorce with a judge. The camera angle takes the point of view of the judge’s eyes (as the judge remains off-screen, and the scene is done in one continuous shot. This opening sets the pace for some skillful camera movement and scene design. Every scene shows such close attention to detail, while still managing to add to the depth of the story, including the closing credits that take a similar, yet evolved, approach as the opening.

This is not the only category that Farhadi succeeds in. His tale of two couple’s struggles, their children, and how their families’ fates become linked evolves slowly and follows an unpredictable path that keeps your attention. The plot manages to raise an emotional response in the viewer at many points, as each characters’ struggles are touching with most audience members having some sort of connection in one way or another. Where the plot stumbles and the movie begins to lose its steam is in the length of this story. At many points it is extended for too long, with some unneccessary scenes and sluggish plot resolution. Another negative lies in the ending. I have no issue with the actual ending scene (though I’m sure many will), as I felt it was pretty clever and right in line with the theme of the rest of the film. What the issue happens to be, however, is the lack of resolution regarding the characters not directly involved in the conclusion. The stories of those outside of Nader, Simin, and Termeh are left hanging, leaving a sense of incompleteness to the plot despite its overall great development.

The single shot, opening scene of the film is very well done and sets the stage for the great acting and tense story that are about to unfold.

The single shot, opening scene of the film is very well done and sets the stage for the great acting and tense story that are about to unfold.

To make the plot that much more powerful, Leila Hatami and Payman Maadi give incredible performances as Simin and Nader. In fact, the entire cast does a great job of giving every scene, whether calm or intense, a natural and completely believable feel. The characters are written well, and the acting gives them tremendous depth. All around, great performances are given in “A Separation”.

With these pieces in place, “A Separation” has a lot of potential and at its best has no problem holding the viewer’s attention. There are many positives that can make the film an easy recommendation, but it’s lengthy, dragged out story and poorly developed ending hold it back from ever reaching its peak. Still, anyone looking for a tense drama that feels like a breath of fresh air in the drama genre should enjoy “A Separation”.

Final Score: 7.5/10

Best of 2012 – The Year in Review

Best of 2012

We have now reached the end of the year, a time that we can now look back and think about our favorite moments of the year. I will use this post to capture my favorite experiences of the year, looking at my personal list of the best movies, games, and albums of the year. I will award the best movie, video game, and album with “___ of the Year” honors and also give out some special awards and mention runners-up. Let’s begin:

Top 5 Films of 2012

5. Cloud Atlas

4. Looper

3. Beasts of the Southern Wild

2. Prometheus

2012 Film of the Year

Moonrise Kingdom poster

1. Moonrise Kingdom

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Top 5 Video Games of 2012

5. Mass Effect 3

4. The Walking Dead

3. Far Cry 3

2. Journey

2012 Game of the Year:

358162-borderlands-2

1. Borderlands 2

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Top 5 Albums of 2012

5. Sigur Rós – “Valtari”

4. Circa Survive – “Violent Waves”

3. Bloc Party – “Four”

2. Caspian – “Waking Season”

2012 Album of the Year

btbam-parallax-ii

1. Between the Buried and Me – “The Parallax II: Future Sequence”

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Runners-Up and Special Awards

Sleeper Hit of the Year

Caspian - Waking Season

Caspian is a band that I know many are not familiar with. Post-rock in and of itself is a niche genre, yet there exists so much talent and great music within its sounds. Case in point, Caspian’s latest release, “Waking Season”. I have greatly enjoyed their past work, with “You Are The Conductor” being one of my favorite post-rock albums. Yet, “Waking Season” astonished me with its wonderful progressions and its ability to evoke so much emotion through its sounds. Do yourself a favor and listen to “Procellous” or “Halls of Summer” and experience the wonder that Caspian has to offer in this album (that few will hear, I’m sure). You can see my full review of this album here.

Disappointment of the Year

With controls that remain clunky, repetitive gameplay, and an extremely poor ending, the much-anticipated Assassin’s Creed III is an average game that could have been so much more. You can see my full review here.

Surprise of the Year

I had low expectations for Argo going in, and was completely surprised to experience a tense story, exceptional writing, and some great cinematography. Argo is a great film, and if not for my soft spot for sci-fi (Prometheus), would be one of my Top 5 Film of the Year.

I had low expectations for Argo going in, and was completely surprised to experience a tense story, exceptional writing, and some great cinematography. Argo is a great film, and if not for strong competition, would be one of my top 5 films of the year (full review, here).

The Couple’s Choice Award

Ruby Sparks Poster

Award and discussion courtesy of my fiance: “‘Ruby Sparks’ is the perfect film for a date night. Its unique storyline and fun-loving characters make it a film that brings something to the table for men and women alike. It has romance, comedy, and drama all wrapped together in a well-written script. Every guy or girl has dreamed of creating their perfect other half, and this film displays both the positive and negative aspects to having someone tailored to your exact specifications [not that I’m complaining 😉 ].”

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And with that I bid farewell to 2012 and look forward to 2013, a year that seems to have a good deal of interesting projects in store (“Bioshock Infinite”, “The Last of Us”, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, “Man of Steel”, and “The Afterman: Descension” are a few of those that I am looking forward to). I hope you enjoyed this past year of great releases as much as I have, and hope you all have a happy and healthy New Year.

“Django Unchained” (2012) Review

Django_Unchained_Poster

There is a section in my film library for all Quentin Tarantino films. His past films have all been thrilling, with not a bad one among the bunch. That being said, I have been looking forward to “Django Unchained” for quite some time. The combination of spaghetti western and Tarantino’s style completely captured my attention my first time seeing the trailer. Is this one of the best films of the year, and where does it stand amongst Tarantino’s other work?

I have to start by saying that this might be my least-enjoyed Tarantino film. “Django Unchained” is a mixture of classic Tarantino highs and some very poor lows. Leaving the theater, I was unsure of how I really felt about the film do to this stark contrast in quality. In the end, the good outweighs the bad, but not enough to bring the film to the same level as other Tarantino classics.

I will admit I have always felt the weakest aspect of past Tarantino films has been the plot. His films have great characters that drive the film, but the storyline the characters are involved in is not all that great. “Django Unchained” is no exception. The first sequence of the film wraps up a short storyline regarding one set of bounties. From there on out, we follow a western-style, Civil War era re-imagining of the German “Broomhilda” legend (something that is plainly spelled out for the viewer in one scene). Yet, for the average plot, the characters are greatly detailed and make the almost 3-hour journey worthwhile. Each character is fully three-dimensional, and have their own reasons and mindsets that grow and evolve throughout the film (though I still felt like Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen came right out of the Clayton Bigsby “Chappelle’s Show” skit).

Speaking of characters, two things Tarantino has always done so well are getting the best out of his cast and creating some excellent dialogue. Here is where “Django Unchained” soars. Christoph Waltz captures the same brilliance he did in “Inglorious Bastards”, Jamie Foxx is a great fit as Django, and Leonardo DiCaprio gives the best performance I have ever seen out of him. Further, the dialogue exchanged between the cast is expertly crafted. In fact, I’d go so far to say that this is the most well-written movie of the year (ahead of “The Sessions”). These two pieces – acting and dialogue – are two major high points of the film and help drown out the lesser aspects of the film.

I'm not a big DiCaprio fan, but Leo gives an incredible performance as Calvin Candie, one I'd say is the best of his career.

I’m not a big DiCaprio fan, but Leo gives an incredible performance as Calvin Candie, one I’d say is the best of his career.

One of these lesser aspects is the pacing. I have no issue with the nearly three-hour runtime, but rather with how the story is spread out over this time span. The first sequence of the film, revolving around Django and Dr. Schultz meeting and first bounties, moves so swiftly that neither character has time to really settle-in and develop (the quality dialogue does not make up for character development). This stands in stark contrast to the “Broomhilda” branch of the story, which feels entirely too drawn out compared to this rushed intro.

Another negative is the thematic tone and feel of the film. There are scenes that play too lightly with themes that should be serious, and others where seriousness takes hold over sequences that could be lighter in tone. The film just doesn’t seem to strike a balance with what it wants to do. One minute you have a theme that is played with humorously and soon after, the film expects you to take the exact same thing seriously. This detracts from the plot as well.

One last piece of the film that needs to be mentioned is the soundtrack. This is a perfect example of the wide spectrum of quality throughout the film. On one hand, we have tracks like the opening Django theme song that are absolutely awesome. On the other, some hip-hop tracks that come out of nowhere and do not fit the tone of the scenes.

I’m still divided on “Django Unchained”. Part of me enjoyed the Tarantino feel throughout the film, including the incredibly over-the-top final action sequences [Side note/warning: Most of the film is over-the-top in the violence and controversy departments, even by Tarantino standards]. But for all the great scenes and dialogue, there are many things that bring the overall film down. It is by no means a poor film, but measured against Tarantino’s prior history, “Django Unchained” falls short.

Final Score: 7.2/10

“Sound of My Voice” (2011) Review

Sound of My Voice Cover

 

After seeing “Another Earth”, I knew there was something special about the lead actress and co-writer, Brit Marling (you can read my review of that wonderful sci-fi film here).  In “Sound of My Voice”, Brit does double duty again, both co-writing and starring as the cult leader, Maggie. The plot is relatively straightforward – a substitute teacher, Peter, and his girlfriend, Lorna, look to infiltrate and make a documentary exposing cult leader, Maggie, who claims to be from the future, as a fraud. Maggie claims to have traveled back in time to prepare a group of people for a coming civil war apocalypse. This is the film’s central premise, but not where its magic lies.

While this plot setting is a nice set-up for the film, the best and worst parts of this story are in its ambiguity. Throughout the film, there are many pieces of information presented at the viewer, and none of these neither truly confirm nor deny Maggie’s claims that she is a time traveler. Thus, as the film progresses, the viewer feels just like Peter and Lorna in that we are trying to figure this situation out for ourselves, as well. The spell that Maggie is able to cast upon her followers seems quite real, yet our rational side denies that there exists any truth to her stories. This feeling of being unsure is exactly what you are supposed to feel.

All of the many scenes in the film, ranging from intense and repulsive to subtle and ambiguous, all can be interpreted in different ways, depending on how you feel about Maggie. This is a wonderful touch, and due to some great writing, you are kept on the edge of your seat with each new test and revelation. Yet, for how great the vast majority of the film is, the ending suffers. I don’t mind ambiguity in endings, as when done right, they are wonderful (as in “Another Earth”). Here, however, the film ends short of developing some of its characters enough to be able to create a coherent puzzle at the end. With out spoiling anything, some characters, outside of Maggie, seem like their words are not truthful either, yet we are not given enough interaction with these characters to make any interpretation of their actions, and how they play into the story as a whole. I surely hope the sequel talk for this film is true, as there are many pieces that could be explored.

Brit Marling is a natural pick for the role of Maggie. The ability to draw the audience in during her monologues in "Another Earth" makes her perfect to act as the central figure of a cult.

Brit Marling is a natural pick for the role of Maggie. The ability to draw the audience in during her monologues in “Another Earth” makes her perfect to act as the central figure of a cult.

Outside of the story, the acting is nicely done. Brit Marling is just as wonderful as she was in “Another Earth”. She becomes wholly believable as Maggie, playing the role with such skill that the audience is drawn into her “spell” just as much as her followers. The supporting cast does a nice job lending more credibility to the story.

One thing I didn’t notice throughout the film was its soundtrack. This is not necessarily a downside, as I think the quietness throughout many scenes fits nicely, as most scenes take place in the solitude of the basement of a home. Speaking of the basement, there is some nice cinematography in the film. The ability to create such tension in the environment and development of the story with half of the film taking place in a single basement requires just as much out of the director behind the camera, as it does of the writing and acting, and Zal Batmanglij does a nice job with such a small budget and minimal environment changes.

“Sound of My Voice” is an interesting sci-fi film. It is a simple premise filled with ambiguity that leaves the interpretation of its pieces completely in the hands of the viewer. You are left having to go with your gut in how you feel about Maggie and her story, and that is the biggest strength of the film. Yet, with all this ambiguity, it leaves its story too open that when the ending strikes quickly, the viewer is left with fundamental questions that need to be somewhat answered to create a fully cohesive story. Despite fumbling at the end, Brit Marling remains a talent to watch out for in the future, one whose next collaboration with Zal Batmanglij, called “The East”, I am highly anticipating.

Final Score: 7.4/10

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012) Review

The Hobbit Poster

I have been looking forward to these last few weeks of the year due to three film releases I have been highly anticipating, “The Hobbit” being one of them (“The Impossible” and “Django Unchained”, the others). Yet, I have been cautious about getting my hopes up for this film. I thoroughly enjoy the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but have had worries as to how Peter Jackson was going to stretch one book over 3 films (3 approximately 3-hour films, at that) and what pacing issues would occur. Does “The Hobbit” live up to the excellence of the original trilogy?

Let me start by saying that the scenes are still epic, many characters return, and Gandalf is still awesome. The cinematography is absolutely stunning throughout the film, and there are plenty of astonishing set pieces and some aggressive camera work. Every movement is captured wonderfully at the increased frame rate of 48 frames per second. Further, the CGI work is incredible as well.

On top of the visuals, there is also some great sound work. The soundtrack consists of high quality epic fantasy fare, complimenting the highs and lows of the journey, and the voice acting for the CGI characters is well done. Yet, where the sound design and editing really succeeds is in the clashing of blades, cries of animals, and environmental noises. The action sounds (and looks) so nice that it really brings the journey to life.

In terms of plot, “An Unexpected Journey” follows the path of the original Lord of the Rings films as a trilogy. Certainly some scenes could have been cut to cut down on film length, but I don’t think the film really feels long at all. That being said, my uneasiness over pacing was for naught. The movie may be slow in the beginning as it builds its background, but once it begins moving, it is paced well. The journey of Bilbo, Thorin, Gandalf, and the dwarves is not on the same scale as that of the original trilogy, but has a personal touch, combined with nice embellishment of high fantasy genre standards, that make it compelling to watch. The one downside I can say for the story is that for all the great interwoven stories, there is no resolution to any of them in this film. I know this is a trilogy, and the ending has me anticipating the next film, but I wish some story would have been resolved to make this feel like a more substantial entry for a trilogy.

Gandalf is as freaking badass as ever. Ian McKellen remains (and has always been) an incredible actor.

Gandalf is as freaking badass as ever. Ian McKellen remains (and has always been) an incredible actor.

Lastly, I will say that the acting is above average. Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis remain perfect as Gandalf and Gollum, and Martin Freeman does a nice job in his role as Bilbo. The band of dwarves are standard for their parts, but nothing too special. But, I still have to again praise Andy Serkis’ motion capture talent. He is the premiere mo-cap talent in the industry and it shows each time he is involved with a project (here, Gollum is wonderfully animated as always, despite his minimal screen time).

Overall, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is shaping up to be a nice trilogy and worthy prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The film does not quite reach the magic of the original films (yet) – the setting, scenes, and story are missing the grandiosity of those films, and the characters not as compelling – but it is still a great high fantasy adventure. Those fans of the Lord of the Rings should very much enjoy the film, along with fans of high fantasy settings.

Final Score: 8.0/10

Side Note: I saw “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in 3D, a viewing experience you know I am not a fan of. However, I have to say that this is the first film I’ve seen that the 3D does not actually detract from the viewing experience (outside of a few first scenes, where blurring occurs with some swift camera movement and quick shots), and at times actually looks quite nice. It is by no means necessary to see the film in 3D, but don’t feel hesitant if you are not a big 3D fan.

“Drive” (2011) Review

Drive Poster

Far too often are action movies focused solely on achieving the biggest explosions, unbelievable car chases, and one-against-the-world type heroes. These films lack the desire to have a plot any more complicated than the villain doing some kind of villainous deed to warrant the hero’s need to see him apprehended. “Drive” takes a different approach to the genre. Here, we have an unlikely hero who, in trying to help out a neighbor, becomes involved in a deadly situation.

One thing becomes obvious as you begin to experience “Drive” – there is minimal dialogue throughout the film. The conversations that do occur are beautifully written, and at times the silence is perfectly suited, but the film does begin to feel barren at times without more interaction. This has a direct influence on the plot of the film.

The plot itself is smartly constructed and wonderfully paced. Ryan Gosling plays a stuntman who also works as a mechanic and a getaway car driver. As he begins to get involved with his neighbor and boss, in trying to get away from his dirtier business, he becomes embroiled in a complicated mob scheme. It is nice to see a (somewhat) ordinary person become the hero through a series of events involving people he just wants to help. The film has some nice twists throughout and is always in constant motion. Even with the minimal dialogue, the relationships between characters are nicely developed and have you invested in their fates. Yet, I still feel that with some more dialogue, some scenes and relationships could have been even better. The movie still succeeds with this approach due to the wonderful work by its cast. Gosling and Mulligan complement each other well, and the villains, Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, suit their roles perfectly.

Gosling and Mulligan manage to create some great on-screen chemistry with minimal conversation.

Gosling and Mulligan manage to create some great on-screen chemistry with minimal conversation.

As far as the cinematography goes, there is some great camera work that really accentuates the slick car chase sequences. Even when the action stops, the camera manages to add a nice layer of style to the film. One thing it also captures as well is the brutal violence in various scenes. There are some intense moments and Refn never shies away from showing every grisly detail.

Lastly, one other thing that detracts from parts of the film (like the dialogue) is the soundtrack. At certain points, the soundtrack is wonderful, varying from pulsing synths to laid-back clean tracks. Yet, some scenes have odd choices for sound, and in a film staying low on the dialogue, a more prominent and fitting soundtrack is needed to help give each scene some more weight.

Among the generic action and crime dramas being released, “Drive” stands out with its intelligent writing and plot. Though there some missteps with the dialogue and soundtrack, the film strays from the norm and successfully creates a refreshing crime drama that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.

Final Score: 8/10

“Shame” (2011) Movie Review

"Shame" Poster

For those of you who have heard about “Shame”, you may have heard it is a film about sex. Interest in the film through word-of-mouth spread was largely based on two things, the films graphic sex scenes and Michael Fassbender’s man parts. Based on this alone, the film sounds shallow. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather than be about sex, “Shame” is a harrowing view into the life of an addict and his estranged sister. I will warn though, that the film earns its NC-17 rating, but it is not for shock value.

I will start by saying that the plot in “Shame” is simple at first glance, but as it progresses, slowly peels away its layer to reveal a surprising amount of depth. The characters are extremely well-developed, with actions that feel authentic and fit right into their personalities. Few films manage to capture interactions that seem natural and realistic, yet every scene flows so well and, through the actors performances, manages to bring the viewer deeper into Brandon’s life.

As the film progresses, you are drawn further into Brandon’s addiction and his relationship with his sister. “Shame” accomplishes the task of making the viewer emotionally connect with its characters, causing you to feel Brandon’s misery as his addiction begins to slowly derail his life and relationships. This works so well due to the fact that Brandon is not really a “bad” person, per se (and the ambiguity regarding Brandon and Sissy’s troubled past is another of the film’s strengths). He is one of those tragic characters that so desperately want to connect with someone, anyone, but is held back by one disgraceful part of him that has taken hold of his life. By the end of the film, you are as desperate as Brandon to see him finally experience some happiness. Without spoiling anything, however, I will say that this story is wholly bleak and tragic (not since “Requiem for a Dream”, another film involving addictions, have I seen such a hopeless story). Yet, overall, the plot is so well-constructed and draws the viewer in so well that I can only describe it as outstanding, seriously tackling subject matter that is normally left for comedies.

Michael Fassbender delivers an amazing performance as Brandon, one that should have been nominated for (and won) an Oscar

Michael Fassbender delivers an amazing performance as Brandon, one that should have been nominated for (and won) an Oscar

Moving on, away from the gloomy subject of plot, I must mention the acting in the film. Michael Fassbender delivers a superb, award-winning performance as Brandon. The role required a lot of its actor, and after seeing the film, I could not imagine anyone giving a better performance than Fassbender. The rest of the cast is admirable and does an incredible job making every scene believable and natural, yet Fassbender just outshines all of them. As much as I enjoyed “The Artist”, it is an absolute shame (see what I did there) that Fassbender was not nominated at last year’s Academy Awards for a performance that was far above Jean Dujardin’s (not to mention the film was not nominated for any Academy Awards – a major snub).

In “Shame”, there is also some very adept writing to enhance the plot and allow the cast to so perfectly capture their characters. Each scene is dripping with perfectly-written dialogue that suits Brandon’s psyche, with many words and phrases having the ability to be taken simply as they are, or in the context of Brandon’s addiction. This adds another layer to help the viewer become more connected with Brandon.

Lastly, a quick note to mention the cinematography and soundtrack for the film are both excellent as well. The camera work is great at capturing the fragile nature of Brandon’s hidden addiction, and some tracking shots (in particular on running scene) are phenomenal – not to mention the opening sequence is one of the best I’ve seen in a while. Steve McQueen does a wonderful job at capturing each character’s emotions through some close-ups of the cast’s faces (from Brandon’s internal thoughts on the subway to his depressing expressions while indulging in his addiction) and long, uninterrupted shots that allow the cast to really shine. Also, the soundtrack is not a constant presence, but at various points the mix from classical Bach piano pieces to a quite depressing rendition of “New York, New York” set the mood nicely.

In the end, “Shame” is an incredible accomplishment  of both acting and filmmaking. There are one or two sections that drag a bit, but they don’t bring the overall film down at all. The plot is a wonderfully executed, skillfully covering the theme of addiction, and fully absorbing the audience in its characters. A career-defining performance by Michael Fassbender further enhances this film’s emotional impact. If you are a cautious movie-goer, you may want to avoid this film, but for those that can stand a graphic, somber depiction of addiction and the human response, be prepared for an absolutely masterful film experience.

Final Score: 9.6/10

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