Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

Noah

Movie Review #733

noah

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel. Produced by Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, Arnon Milchan, and Mary Parent for Protozoa Pictures and Disruption Entertainment, presented by Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises. Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Nick Nolte, Mark Margolis, Leo McHugh Carroll, Marton Csokas, Finn Wittrock, Gavin Casalegno, Nolan Gross, Skylar Burke, Dakota Goyo, Ariane Rinehart, Adam Marshall Griffith, and the voice of Frank Langella. Uncredited cameos: Joseph Basile, Clem Cote, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, and Joseph Garcia Quinn. Premiered in Mexico City on March 10, 2014; in Berlin on March 13, 2014; in Madrid on March 17, 2014; in New York City, New York on March 26, 2014; in Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Dublin on March 29, 2014; in London on March 31, 2014; and in Paris on April 1, 2014. Distributed by Paramount Pictures in wide release on March 28, 2014. Rated PG-13: violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content. Runs 138 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

Director Darren Aronofsky has always managed to fascinate me with his inventive approach to story. I’ve seen his entire oeuvre (save for “The Fountain”), and he’s always found my gratitude in reusing the same setup. The idea is that, once a character grows obsessed with something, he or she is on a path toward self-destruction.

Thus “Noah” is a Biblical epic told from the stance of a psychologist. It’s definitely not the view of a historian, and as a psychological representation of the titular character, it’s truly riveting. The film can be properly separated into three acts: Act I, the Preparation for the End; Act II, the End of Mankind; and Act III, the Creation of the New World. Or, for those who would rather look at it as a flood story than as a biopic, the three acts are the Omens, the Flood, and the Aftermath. Either way, Noah is more likeable than any choice character from Aronofsky’s canon. He’s a good-natured, kindhearted family man. The script and Russell Crowe’s performance intertwine to make this man natural and relatable to us. Additionally, the written effort from Aronofsky and Ari Handel offers an elaborate, convincing vision of the Biblical hero.

For every second of its two hours, eighteen minutes, “Noah” has our undivided attention. The film engages mainly because of its dark, intense, and unconventional look at the antediluvian patriarch. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the third act is rattling and absolutely brilliant. The climactic moments have us at the edge of our seats, even if that’s what we most expect, given the adrenalizing finales Aronofsky conducted in “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) and “Black Swan” (2010).

“Noah” features a distinct array of fantastical elements. Many of these are there to enhance the mystery and miracle that we find in flood story that encompasses four chapters of the Book of Genesis. Sometimes, however, the movie gears toward something of a high fantasy. It has good intentions in that latter area. We’re introduced to the “Watchers”. These are angels that were sent to earth to protect the innocent from evil. It gives them enough credibility that they freely admit to Noah how hopeless they feel, thanks to how corrupt the earth has become. A great idea, but it’s difficult to see how an angel can look like a walking pile of rocks. Whether this was a CGI problem or a script problem, I felt strangely as if I were watching The Lord of the Rings.

In substance, “Noah” is a psychological drama. In style, it’s a Biblical epic. Clint Mansell (“Lux Æterna”) composed the score, which matches up precisely with not only the movie’s demanding and ambitious nature, but also Noah’s demanding and ambitious character. Same for the set decoration and the keen-eye editing. Best of all is the genius Matthew Libatique. Underrated as he may be, Libatique has taken the reins once again with his magnificent cinematography. When Russell Crowe tells his family the story of Creation, every one of these elements comes to a peak and is absolutely breathtaking. I do guarantee that “Noah” is a beautiful, touching piece. For those who enjoy solid, crafty entertainment, “Noah” should be seen, and for all the cinematic beauty it offers, it deserves to be seen at the theater.

OF INTEREST: Darren Aronofsky directed five feature films before he directed Noah. Adjusted separately for inflation, the combined budget of his first five films is less than $67 million. Noah alone cost $125 million to make.

NOAH IS IN THEATERS.

The Wizard of Oz

Movie Review #727

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Directed by Victor Fleming. Uncredited directors: George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, and King Vidor (director: Kansas scenes). Screenplay by Noel Langley & Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf. (Adaptation: Noel Langley. From the book by L. Frank Baum.) Uncredited writers: Arthur Freed, William H. Cannon, E.Y. Harburg. Uncredited contributing writers: Irving Brecher, Herbert Fields, Samuel Hoffenstein, John Lee Mahin, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Jack Mintz, Ogden Nash, Robert Pirosh, George Seaton, Sid Silvers. Uncredited additional dialogue: Jack Haley, Bert Lahr. Produced by Mervyn LeRoy, presented by MGM, produced by Loew’s Incorporated. Starring Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Pat Walshe, Clara Blandick, Toto, and the Singer Midgets (also credited as The Munchkins). Premiered in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12, 1939. Distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer in wide release on August 25, 1939. Re-releases: April, 1949 (limited); June, 1949; June 17, 1955; November 6, 1998 (re-mastered version); September 20, 2013 (limited, 3-D version). Rated PG: some scary moments. Runs 102 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

I’ve been reading a lot on the history of film, and as you might guess, “The Wizard of Oz” is a staple to this subject. This wasn’t the first movie musical (in fact, movie musicals were a huge trend all throughout the 1930′s), but it was the first movie that dared to go into a completely new realm of special effects, and it came around when children’s movies were only in bloom. So it’s not surprising that the production was difficult. What’s surprising is how difficult everything turned out to be. Looking at a small portion of it, there were five directors. One is credited, and that’s Victor Fleming, but George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, and King Vidor also helmed the project. Remarkably, the film coheses of L. Frank Baum’s timeless story. In fact, an extra flow of beauty swarms in when transitioning from Vidor’s Kansas scenes, into the fantastical Munchkinland.

Although the movie was universally spat upon in its initial release, “Oz” has become one of the most belovèd films by all ages. If you haven’t seen it by now, my review will not be the one to convince you. Can you claim to have a childhood? An adulthood? I’m not saying the movie’s the greatest movie ever made, but it’s certainly a must. It’s a matter of momentary mistakes that keeps me from hailing the movie as perfect. What makes it a classic is the fact that, 75 years after its release, it’s still one of the twenty, if not the ten most cinematically, historically, and culturally important movies there ever was.

And importance doesn’t always imply entertainment for a film as old as seventy-five years, but that is undisputedly the case here. The screenplay, written by almost twenty individuals, can be most accurately assessed as wonderful. Among its most enthusiastic deliverers stand Judy Garland as Dorothy, Terry as Toto, Frank Morgan as the titular fellow, and most especially Margaret Hamilton as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West. As for the friends Garland meets on her way to see the Wizard of Oz, they’re debatably the three most crucial features to her journey, the story a westernized individual knows as well as his or her own date of birth. They’re the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, portrayed respectively by Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr. I’ll note the first two for their enthusiasm, but as far as Lahr, the enthusiasm goes disturbingly over the top. Over time, though, some things just manage to lose what initially made them great, and that might explain why Lahr’s performance seems so awful nowadays. It’s a wonder the entire rest of “Oz” stayed intact over seven and a half decades.

Tomorrow’s Review

All Quiet on the Western Front

THE WIZARD OF OZ IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, VHS, AND LASERDISC.

Son of God

Movie Review #722

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Directed by Christopher Spencer.  Writers: Richard Bedser, Christopher Spencer, Colin Swash, Nic Young.  Produced by Richard Bedser, Mark Burnett, and Roma Downey for Hearst Entertainment Productions and LightWorkers Media.  Starring Sebastian Knapp, Greg Hicks, Diogo Morgado, Darwin Shaw, Amber Rose Revah, Matthew Gravelle, Joe Wredden, Paul Marc Davis, Rick Bacon, Fraser Ayres, Said Bey, Adrian Schiller, Paul Brightwell, Simon Kunz, Sanaa Mouziane, Anas Chenin, Roma Downey, Daniel Percival, Noureddine Aberdine, and Idrissa Sisco.  Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation in wide release on February 28, 2014.  Rated PG-13: intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence.  Runs 138 minutes.

“Son of God” is director Christopher Spencer’s way overblown attempt to make a Biblical epic.  The paradox here is that it’s so exaggerated that we can see why the Ghost of Cecil B. DeMille might wish to rise from the grave to take the reins on this project, but its exaggeration is so pitiful that we can also imagine that DeMille might wish to cometh anew simply to empty his bowels upon the script.  Let me give you an example.  There’s no doubt that this director wants to cover several years.  I mean, yeah, that’s from the fact that he’s trying to make an epic, but look at the beginning of the movie.  We get such short snippets of Noah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Saul, whoever, that the first five minutes just seems like a trailer for History’s miniseries The Bible.  I didn’t watch The Bible when its ten episodes were on television, but from all the rave that one got, I’m so surprised to see how poorly its apparent followup, “Son of God” , turned out.

Am I mincing words?  Apologies, I’ll be more direct here.  “Son of God” is a very preachy Sunday School lesson.  And it’s more of that than it is a movie.  Not so surprisingly, this feels more like a TV movie.  Way to follow up The Bible miniseries, but come on, a theatrical release?  It’s got poor marketing, among a lot else that’s equally poor.  I guess there is a plus.  If you’re one of those people who reads books and then sees the movie right after, then ends the world over the fact that the movie wasn’t faithful enough, this two-and-a-half hour feature is pretty darn faithful to the Books of the Gospels.

I wouldn’t advocate calling “Son of God” a terrible movie so readily as I would support calling it an amusingly bad movie.  All right, it is terrible, but hey, I was entertained.  How can one not be entertained by a movie that earns more laughs than many modern comedies?  Just watch Jesus and his disciples converse like they’re modern Americans, in their proper Australian/British accents that we stereotypically associate with movies that want to be, uh, legendary-like.  Every “yep,” “doin’,” “goin’,” “ya,” and the pronunciation of “brother” like “bruthah”–it’s all terrifically funny.  (I just kinda wished they’d gone into “oi” and “mate.”  I’d be clapping and jubilantly choking on my popcorn.)

It’s not just the script or the director’s choice not to direct the actors.  The acting had me laughing pretty hard, though I have to admit, I was kind of saddened that the worst actor was saved for the beginning: a Magi.  Or a wiseman, but surely not in the performing field.  I’ll give Amber Rose Revah a hand for her half-decent performance as Mary Magdelene.  She looks like Sandra Bullock, and she’s not just a lookalike.  She’s basically Sandra Bullock minus the Oscar win.

Enough fun and games, though.  The casting choices are rather confusing.  There’s one disciple who we can tell apart from the rest of the bunch, and that’s because he’s bald.  Everyone else looks the same.  The story is narrated by Peter, but I had to really think back to the beginning to place which one was him.  They’re all just roundheaded men with curly hair and large beards.  It wasn’t until Judas killed himself (which, in this rendition, seems pretty sudden and unexplainable) that I realized which of these guys was Judas.

Jesus is identifiable though.  He’s the one who appears and draws up a thought like, “Jesus, trim your hair!  You look like you’re Jared Leto.”  It’s safe to say that if he was, we’d have a good performance.  The depiction of Jesus is not as a man who we want to follow, and again, Peter narrates this story, so that’s rather odd.  What makes it odder is that he’s, in fact, depicted as a pompous asshole.  Yeah, it’s a pretty unconvincing role Jesus has.

Maybe I shouldn’t settle with Peter narrates “Son of God” .  He details the whole movie.  As in, it’s not about Jesus, so much as it is about Peter’s yearning to be like Jesus.  Maybe a better title is Guy Who Wanted to Be Son of God.  The way Darwin Shaw acts out these aspirations are rather amusing.  It’s like watching a little kid try and become Superman, particularly at the end when Peter tries to reenact the Last Supper.  Hey wait, isn’t reenacting the Last Supper sacrilege?  How come Peter lived?

Not everything is terrible about “Son of God” .  A great deal of it is, but that’s only leading up to the finale.  Even if it’s not enough of the movie to make it all that memorable, “Son of God” improves drastically in acting, camerawork, and direction near the end.  The one absolutely cinematic sequence in the whole thing is when the depiction of Jesus’s 40 lashes (we see 14) is juxtaposed with Judas’s suicide.  Yeah, this is the Crucifixion, and it’s quite a way of showing it to us.  The PG-13 “Son of God” received puzzles me so much.  This is just barely less bloody than “The Passion of the Christ”, as I remember that one.  In fact, if there’s one thing that reduces theater walkouts and saves the custodian from having to clean up vomit off the floor, it’s the camerawork.  The sequence lasts maybe twenty minutes, and we cut away only from the most bloody.  As in, just don’t show Jesus’s hands or feet when they nail him to the cross.  Come to think of it, forget what I said about not having to walk out of the theater.  “Son of God” is unintentionally funny and all that, but that’s not exactly a good thing when it’s overlong and covers religion, which is nothing if it isn’t a serious subject matter.  If I were anything but a film critic, I would have strolled right out and demanded my money back.

Tomorrow’s Review

TBD

SON OF GOD IS IN THEATERS.

Nebraska

Movie Review #720

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Blue Lake Media Fund
Bona Fide Productions
Echo Lake Productions

Distributor: Paramount Vantage
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish

Directed by Alexander Payne. Produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa. Written by Bob Nelson.

Rated R by the MPAA – infrequent profanity. Runs 1 hour, 55 minutes. Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2013; at Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival and Vancouver International Film Festival on September 26, 2013; at Hamburg Film Festival on September 28, 2013; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 3, 2013; at New York Film Festival on October 10, 2013; at London Film Festival on October 11, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 13, 2013; at Chicago International Film Festival on October 16, 2013; at Austin Film Festival on October 25, 2013; at Thessaloniki International Film Festival and Cork International Film Festival on November 9, 2013; at Stockholm International Film Festival on AFI Fest on November 11, 2013; at Napa Valley Film Festival on November 12, 2013; at Ljubljana International Film Festival on November 13, 2013; and at Camerimage Film Festival on November 18, 2013. Limited release in the USA on November 15, 2013. Wide release in the USA on January 24, 2014.

Starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach. Also starring Mary Louise Wilson, Rance Howard, Tim Driscoll, Devin Ratray, Angela McEwan, Glendora Stitt, Elizabeth Moore, Kevin Kunkel, Dennis McCoig, Ronald Vosta, Missy Doty, and John Reynolds.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

“Nebraska” takes some time to get going, as far as its story, but there’s one thing that’s almost impossibly evident from the very beginning. From the opening imagery (a Paramount logo that stands as stock footage from the 1950’s) all the way up to the final shot (a depiction of Bruce Dern and Will Forte driving off into the distance), the movie is thoroughly graced with the most breathtaking landscape shots you’d find of the rural areas the father-son duo travel. It’s all filmed in the Beautiful Black and White, which can be (and, in this case, is) the very definition of the Nostalgic Now. For proof that such a paradox does exist, “Nebraska” is very much worth watching.

And let’s admit, the plot isn’t a story you see everyday. Can we truly say that we’ve seen a comedy-drama, or anything for that matter, about a father and a son who go cross-country for the possibility of a million dollars? (I say “the possibility” because sweepstakes are involved.) I sure don’t think that story’s the most usual one. This isn’t a new idea for director Alexander Payne, though. Remember “Sideways”? Yeah, the one about the guys who went a-ways just for some good wine. That’s kind of what this reminded me of, in its humorous side. Because no one goes all the way from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska for a million-dollar scam. Oh and remember “About Schmidt”? The sentimental side of this movie seemed to put Bruce Dern in Jack Nicholson’s shoes as he searches his past. It’s a good bit of familiar territory.

This is more of a sentimental movie, however, so comparisons to “About Schmidt” seem significantly more welcome. (The acting, as well, is of a very similar caliber, particularly from Bruce Dern and June Squibb.) Rarely does it go overboard with its heart. It’s atmospheric in a way that’s compassionate, with characters that ultimately surprise us with how much they care about each other. No, this isn’t the dysfunctional family we saw in Payne’s “The Descendants”, but June Squibb (the mother) does not seem very approving of her son taking her husband, who likely has Alzheimer’s, to chase his dream. Actually, she doesn’t seem to approve of anybody, and there’s some good comedy that seems to result from this. “I’m going to go pay my respects,” she says, convincing husband Dern and son Forte to come with her to the graveyard. It’s not long before she finds the headstones of everyone of her deceased in-laws, and starts mocking their lives.

Indeed “Nebraska” is a flawed movie. There’s product placement left and right. Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Miller Lite, Coors, Coors Lite, Vizio, Kia, Mountain Dew, Bose, Onkyo, and more. You don’t really expect that of a movie so reminiscent of cinema’s Golden Age. But if there’s any one scene that best exemplifies the movie’s stronghold of beauty through all of this, it’s that graveyard scene. Or the fifteen minutes of finale. Eh, let’s go with both of ‘em.

Tomorrow’s Review…

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

NEBRASKA IS NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.

The World Is Not Enough

Movie Review #690

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Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions Limited presents…

Studio: Danjaq LLC – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) – United Artists
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corporation (MGM)
Country: UK – USA
Spoken Languages: English – Russian

Directed by Michael Apted. Produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Story by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade. Screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein. Characters by Ian Fleming (uncredited).

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence, infrequent sexual content. Runs 2 hours, 8 minutes. Premiered in the USA on November 8, 1999; in Singapore on November 12, 1999; in Malaysia on November 16, 1999; in Iceland on November 19, 1999; and in the UK on November 22, 1999. Wide release in the USA on November 19, 1999; and in the UK on November 26, 1999.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

I’ve mentioned it now and then, but I’ve never exactly clarified that my reviews do indeed come from my taking notes on movies. Sometimes I’ll end up taking two whole pages of notes, front and back. Others, I’ll finish with six or seven notes in total. It appears that my notes on “The World Is Not Enough” filled the whole front side of legal paper. I suddenly feel like I’ve killed trees, because I could have narrowed all but one or two of my comments on the film down to one word: silly.

In fact, that one word is so prominent throughout this nineteenth episode of the James Bond saga that I’d have to watermark the sheet with a giant, boldly lettered “SILLY.”

But for the sake of not sounding like a total imbecile, I’ll avoid using the word “silly” to excess.

The prologue was a mess. Everything from the gun barrel opener–in which Pierce Brosnan could have posed much better–up to the moment James Bond drops off a hot air balloon to save his head from catching on fire with the rest of the hot air balloon, it’s all just a cluster of unexplained, unexplainable, and completely random bits of action. They seem to flow into each other as if they were one action sequence, but truth be told, if it weren’t for those fancy, über-cool gadgets of Bond’s, his villains would have already a) outsmarted him beyond any possibility of a plot, or b) killed him. Lucky for him, he not only has all the right gadgets, he has them with him at the opportune times. Which means he’s either a lot smarter than he seems to be, or Q (his quartermaster in charge of the high-tech stuff) has him prepared for absolutely anything that might occur.

That’s the first fifteen minutes of the movie. What follows, thankfully, is a lot more enjoyable. The title sequence is a lot of fun, with the mesh of psychedelic imagery and a song (as you might guess, called “The World Is Not Enough”) from the Wisconsin grunge band Garbage. Contrast with the remixed Bond theme, which actually is garbage.

Nothing is really as much fun as the title sequences after this. The plot is highly unusual for a Bond movie, so it puzzles as much as it excites. Why would MI6 assigning Bond this mission to keep Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) safe, when clearly, Bond would’ve taken this up as a personal vendetta anyway? Am I wrong to say that basically, they’re promoting a personal vendetta, all of a sudden? Why is M (Judi Dench) only concerned that Bond will end up sharing a bed with Elektra? How does nobody at MI6 have the slightest clue that Elektra’s dangerous? Why is M behind bars?

The movie seems to rush its action sequences in without even thinking. Moments of this movie are exciting, especially when Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards take the stage, but many action scenes can really hurt the film. Things blow up when Bond goes skiing with Elektra. I mean, they come from the sky, pummel to the ground, and blow up if they don’t land safely, if that makes more sense. Still, skiing? I mean, I don’t have a problem with skiing, but come on, we need an explanation, especially when things just suddenly start exploding. This was the first collaborative “Bond” screenplay from Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. They’re still working on writing the hero’s adventures, as of “Skyfall”. I’d have to guess that there’s one reason they weren’t immediately fired after writing a completely goofy debacle like “The World Is Not Enough”: the innuendoes. Conversation is solid here, but innuendoes are really the icing on the cake. If you’ve been wondering why this doesn’t garner any lower a grade, there you have it.

Tomorrow’s Review

The Hangover

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, VHS, AND LASERDISC.

Hit the jump for an announcement regarding the 2nd Annual Cinemaniac Awards:

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127 Hours

Movie Review #689

This review is dedicated to anybody who likes the phrase “between a rock and a hard place.” I use the idiom a lot, but I never thought that it would mean “in a situation that requires drinking my own waste product, using a video camera to lower my self-esteem, and amputating my arm.” Losing sleep, all right.

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Fox Searchlight Pictures presents…

…in association with Everest Entertainment…

Made in Association with: Dune Entertainment
Studio: Pathé – Cloud Eight – Decibel Films – Darlow Smithson – Big Screen Productions
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation – Fox Searchlight Pictures
Country: USA – UK
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Danny Boyle. Produced by Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, and John Smithson. Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy. Based on the book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” by Aron Ralston.

Rated R by the MPAA – profanity, infrequent disturbing content, infrequent violence. Runs 1 hour, 34 minutes. TIFF premiere on September 12, 2010. Premiered at Telluride Film Festival on September 4, 2010; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 16, 2010; at Austin Film Festival on October 26, 2010; at London Film Festival on October 28, 2010; and at Denver International Film Festival on November 5, 2010. Limited release in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York on November 5, 2010. Limited release in the USA on November 12, 2010. Wide release in the UK on January 7, 2011; and in the USA on January 28, 2011.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

“127 Hours” is a realistic adaptation of Aron Ralston’s memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place. The latter title is perfect as a seven-word descriptor of the story. Ralston is hiking for fun one day, when he slips at a canyon, falls through, and finds his dominant arm caught between a boulder and the canyon wall. Not much really happens in the story, but it truly is a gripping drama, harrowing, perilously depicted, with all 127 hours (that’s five days, plus an extra seven hours) of this predicament encapsulated neatly into ninety minutes.

The gears behind this movie is James Franco’s performance. His depiction of the hero makes for an amazing true story and a rather poignant tale. He’s downright transformative and sincere in his portrayal, and he depicts the increasing lack of self-esteem most painfully. Okay I guess that’s not exactly painful to watch, once you get to three minutes of Ralston sawing off his arm with a pocketknife.

This is Danny Boyle’s movie. I didn’t enjoy his “Trainspotting” nearly as much as “Slumdog Millionaire”, which just goes to show that even in his weakest efforts, Boyle is a master of style. “127 Hours” is as stylish as most independent dramas might get. Not only are titles well designed, the entire title sequence is oustandingly designed, shot, and edited. The use of split-screen is incredible. The set design looks a bit like a set, though I could very well be dead wrong; no harm, no foul. The cinematography, conducted by Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle, is entirely convincing. Documentary look, jump cuts to impressively explicate the passing time. What really stands out, despite all of this, is A. R. Rahman’s musical score. Simply put, this is what makes the movie so much tenser.

The story earns points on an emotional level for its believable display of cabin fever. Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle wrote the screenplay as the perfect adaptation of Ralston’s memoir. My one problem with the book was that it didn’t feel like a series of plans to get out of the situation; it felt like a mess of flashbacks, with a couple of interludes in which we found escape plans. The flashbacks (and sometimes just visions) will be seen as hallucinations in “127 Hours”. They grow into more depressed, tragic visions as the story progresses, but what makes them so saddening to begin with is the reality that these are nothing more than visions in Ralston’s head. They’re one of few things that can distract Ralston from the fact that he could, potentially, die before escaping the canyon. We’re given ninety minutes to ponder and sympathize with his character. Apparently, and ever so surprisingly, that’s long enough.

Coming Reviews

Badlands
The Hangover
Revolutionary Road
Se7en
Sucker Punch
The World Is Not Enough

127 HOURS IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.

Hit the jump for an announcement regarding the 2nd Annual Cinemaniac Awards:

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Die Another Day

Movie Review #687

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Albert R. Brocolli’s Eon Productions Limited presents…

Studio: Danjaq — Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) — United Artists
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) — Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distribution Corporation (MGM)
Country: UK — USA
Spoken Languages: English — Korean — Cantonese — Spanish — German — Icelandic — Italian

Directed by Lee Tamahori. Produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Characters by Ian Fleming. Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA — violence, sexual content. Runs 2 hours, 13 minutes. Premiered in the UK on November 18, 2002. Wide release in the UK on November 20, 2002; and in the USA on November 22, 2002.

Featuring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond (007), Halle Berry as Jinx Johnson (Bond girl), and Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves (Bond villain). Starring Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, and John Cleese. Also starring Michael Madsen, Will Yun Lee, Kenneth Tsang, Lawrence Makoare, Colin Salmon, Samantha Bond, Rachel Grant, Ian Pirie, Mark Dymond, and Michael G. Wilson. Featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by Madonna.

Cinemaniac Reviews two and a half stars

“I thought it just went too far–and that’s from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!”
- Roger Moore

Love explosions? Well, here ya go. “Die Another Day” is really, really dumb, and since it makes the difference between terrible and decent, it’s also really, really fun. No one in cast or crew really seems to be paying much attention to the story’s logic. In fact, if something fails to make sense, expect deus ex machina to solve that problem. But the movie works, if for one purpose only: to entertain. Okay, if we consider that “Die Another Day” also wants to show us how über-sexy Pierce Brosnan is, then I guess that’s two succeeding purposes.

The movie has an alternate title in the critics’ world. Commenting on the excessive product placement, BBC and a few other sources began calling it “Buy Another Day”. I didn’t notice too much product placement, but to be fair, the marketing tie-ins were countless. If there’s anything just as distracting, it’s the self-referential humor. Bond picks up a pair of binoculars and tells Jinx (Halle Berry’s Bond girl) that he’s just an ornithologist, so he’s at the beach for nothing more than to watch birds. If you’re a relatively serious fan of James Bond, you’d probably know that the real-life person who inspired the name is an ornithologist named James Bond. Clever in some contexts, but in this one, I just couldn’t help my eyes from rolling. Another one is with John Cleese, whose portrayal of Q I have absolutely nothing against. He’s traditional, funny, and, you know, perfect. It’s just that when he appears, he has to bring back the Python days with a “flesh wound” joke. Maybe if he’d killed the Black Knight earlier in the film, I’d have smiled.

James Bond’s 20th outing is really cheesy. In the same ways, it’s also exciting. Brosnan isn’t as good as the better Bonds, but his delivery does top much of the rest of this cast, to whom he, Cleese, and Berry are a collective saving grace. He has enough charisma, to be sure. “Die Another Day” plays our as half fashion show, half video game. It’s long and soaked with innuendo and PG-13 sex. But even at 2 hours, 13 minutes, it seems worth its while.

Tomorrow’s Review

Freaks

Hit the jump for an announcement regarding the 2nd Annual Cinemaniac Awards:

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Quantum of Solace

Movie Review #676

quantum_of_solace_ver9

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer – Columbia Pictures – Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Produtions – B22
Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) – Columbia Pictures – Sony Pictures Releasing
Country: UK – USA
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish – Italian – French – Swiss German – German

Directed by Marc Forster. Produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Written by Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence, infrequent sexual content. Runs 1 hour, 46 minutes.  London premiere on October 29, 2008.  Premiered at London Film Festival on October 29, 2008.  Wide release in the UK on October 31, 2008.  Wide release in the USA on November 14, 2008.

Featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond (007), Olga Kurylenko as Camille (Bond girl), and Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene (Bond villain). Starring Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour, and Jesper Christensen. Also starring Anatole Taubman, Rory Kinnear, Joaquín Cosio, Jesús Ochoa, Lucrezia Lante della Rovere, Glenn Foster, Paul Ritter, Simon Kassianides, Stana Katic, Neil Jackson, Karine Babajanyan, Sebastien Soules, Brandon Jovanovich, Martin Busen, Alexander Krawetz, and Dale Albright.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

“Like you said…take a deep breath…make it count.”
Camille (Olga Kurylenko)

Opening up, the only thing about “Quantum of Solace” that isn’t wildly unfocused is the title animation, set to the song “Another Way to Die” by Alicia Keys and Jack White. We’re constantly being told where Bond is in heavily stylized title overlays, and in fact, it seems to be all about style. James Bond, in the opening action sequence, faces a deadly fight all across town, and he manages to escape with a nosebleed and a gash on the forehead. The editing is horrible, with jump cuts galore.

And so it continues as one, long chase sequence. But believe it or not, “Quantum of Solace” doesn’t need a line of true dialogue to bring out what it really is (and what it really should be): a direct sequel to “Casino Royale”. That was not only a reboot, but a reinvention of the series. We got a depthy look into Bond’s beginning. Now we see how Bond proceeds after the death of Vesper Lynd, whom he loved ever so dearly. We don’t see him with a Bond girl in the “usual” Bond girl-ish way for, well, the whole movie, because he’s wrought with his own grief. His anger and vengeful attitude makes this all the more tense. And when the writers get to this sentimental side of the tale, the film flies by. As Judi Dench would describe it, this movie is “bloody exciting.”

Tomorrow’s Review

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

World War Z

Movie Review #675

Click here to listen to the review

world_war_z_ver4

Paramount Pictures & Skydance Productions present…

…in association with Hemisphere Media Capital & GK Films…

Studio: Plan B Entertainment – 2Dux² – Apparatus Productions – Latina Pictures
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Country: USA – Malta
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish – Hebrew – Arabic

Directed by Marc Forster. Produced by Ian Bryce, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Brad Pitt. Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof. Screen story by Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski. Based on the novel by Max Brooks.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence, disturbing content. Runs 1 hour, 56 minutes (Unrated Edition runs 2 hours, 3 minutes). Premiered in London on June 2, 2013; at Champs-Élysées Film Festival on June 15, 2013; and at Belgrade Blockbuster Review on June 18, 2013. Wide release in the USA on June 21, 2013.

Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, and James Badge Dale.

Cinemaniac Reviews two and a half stars

“Mother Nature is a serial killer.  No one’s better.  More creative.  Like all serial killers, she can’t help but the urge to want to get caught.  But what good are all those brilliant crimes if no one takes credit?  So she leaves crumbs.  Now the hard part, while you spent decades in school, is seeing the crumbs for the clues they are.  Sometimes the thing you thought was the most brutal aspect of the virus, turns out to be the chink in its armor.  And she loves disguising her weaknesses as strengths.  She’s a bitch.”
–Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel)

You know the story. I can think of a total of nineteen movies, plus TV’s The Walking Dead, that practice the same mythology as “World War Z”, and that’s without really thinking hard. Some call this very tale the “zombie apocalypse” genre. It’s basically a blend of creature feature and disaster movie elements.

“WWZ” wants to invent, though, so it’s not just “zombie apocalypse.” I give it points without hesitation for its desire to put this in war movie/Call of Duty context. The one problem it faces is that the “zombie apocalypse” genre is so specific, so established, so common, that we need significantly more time allotted in the film t adjust to something that seems brand-new. Unless you have absolutely no skepticism of the story–the “war on zombies”–it’s a bit of a trial to get through “WWZ” as a fluent film, unless you have a large bucket of popcorn to take your mind off the occasional dull spot. The film ends assuring us that this is “far from the end,” and in fact, it feels like part one of a continuous trilogy. Doesn’t this mean that director Marc Forster (“Stranger than Fiction”, “Quantum of Solace”) should have waited just a little while before assuming we get what to expect in a zombie-cum-war movie?

Part of me feels like there was initially more explanation that was snipped out. It’s as if Forster covered up the blank spots himself. What I’m getting at is that “WWZ” is well-written. Brad Pitt ever so naturally plays a father who wants to take care of his family more than anything else. Even if the set design looks suspiciously more like the Big Apple, Pitt’s character lives in Philadelphia as a UN employee, and when he’s called to action on day, he has to think of the world as if it were his family. In other words, his job is now to save the world, specifically from zombies. Any transition from these action sequences into the encompassing sentimental drama, or vice-versa, varies between sudden and nonexistent. However that may be, these two tones work great in separation. The drama features believable dialogue all around. We don’t hear the word “zombie,” for example, until the forty-minute mark, and Pitt’s family chats like an actual family. If there’s one thing severely wrong with the action here, it’s that it comes along way too soon–as earl as seven minutes. Everything else about the action, however, is flawless. Robert Richardson’s cinematography makes for most of the excitement. I actually applaud it for maintaining the PG-13 action movie imminent in the veins of “WWZ”, by deftly cutting away from anything that would seem, well, horrifying. A hand-in-hand employment of camerawork and editing (Roger Barton) operates effectively during the title sequence. That opening is a series of newsreels that use contrast between blurry and sharp snapshots to form the impending title.

“WWZ” is based on a satirical novel by Max Brooks. His dad’s Mel, by the way, and such is even more reason to think that this stern approach was practically a rewrite. The dramatic viewpoint was acceptable, but to be clear, I would have much preferred the satire. It’s so much easier to bring in “something else” for the sake of comedy. Brooks Sr. did it all the time. He wouldn’t just go into the historical details of the Spanish Inquisition, he’d bring in a musical number about it. I don’t doubt Brooks Jr.’s zombie book features a likably offbeat inclusion of war themes. I’m just not compelled to read it, because this movie adaptation’s all-too-serious approach doesn’t exactly make for a memorable story.

I can say it three times if this second time isn’t enough: “WWZ” does have some fun action sequences. These zombies are frantic. They truly are (as my friend’s father put it) “’28 Days Later’ on steroids.” There’s zombies throughout the movie, but to be honest, they really aren’t the primary focus of the movie until the climax. Most of “WWZ” is about Brad Pitt’s Good Samaritan character. If that’s what you’re truly seeking, might I recommend “Captain Phillips”, in which Tom Hanks plays a selfless man who will do anything if it means steering his boat and crew out of danger.

POSTSCRIPT: Am I the only one who is especially impressed when Brad Pitt doesn’t play an antihero? Am I the only one who thinks such is rare?

Coming Reviews

Quantum of Solace
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Dallas Buyers Club
Don Jon
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Easy Rider
Frances Ha

Iron Man Three

Movie Review #663

iron_man_three_ver11

Marvel Studios presents…

…in association with Paramount Pictures & DMG Entertainment…

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Country: USA – China
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Shane Black. Produced by Kevin Feige. Screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black. Based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Don Heck and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. Based on the “Extremis” mini-series written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Adi Granov.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – frequent violence, mild sexual content. Runs 2 hours, 10 minutes. Premiered in London on April 18, 2013. Wide release in China on May 1, 2013; and in the USA on May 3, 2013.

Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, and Ben Kingsley. Also starring Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, and Jon Favreau.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

Maybe I’m missing some insight from skipping over “Iron Man 2”. Maybe you shouldn’t listen to me, because I didn’t find “Iron Man” or “The Avengers” to be anything special. Or maybe I’m right in saying that there’s a reason “Iron Man Three” is such a fun time.

The movie reroutes from mot other superhero movies. It does have a handful of exciting action sequences, especially during the forty minutes leading up to a creative finale–but this isn’t strictly an action movie. “Iron Man Three” is a comedy with big-budget accoutrements. If nothing else, the film proves that superhero movies can focus on personality and peril as one concept, not just on the latter.

This is thanks to the screenplay, which, despite its loose pacing, is terrific. Shane Black wasn’t writing the script alone, but the film is obviously his own. He also provides as the director, and in either department, he seems to be the one cinematic figure who deserves to be working with Downey. Black accentuates exactly what we want in Downey’s character: a personality that’s half Brad Pitt, half Jack Nicholson. (And, of course, wears a bunch of scrap metal.)

It’s not just the Guy Who Plays Tony Stark, though. Don Cheadle works as well as he ever has. He performs in the buddy role, a telling necessity for every Black script since “Lethal Weapon”. His job is evidently to known when to take Downey seriously. It seems pretty difficult to me. I’ll also mention the performances of Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Particularly Kingsley’s, for his transformation into the role of a figure known only as “the Mandarin.”

By now, we’re used to accepting superhero movies at face value, or close to it. But “Iron Man Three” isn’t so shallow. It’s dug beneath the face and entered mind value. A trend that began with “The Dark Knight” for blockbuster characters to have their flaws exposed–now that’s a step in the right direction. Let’s be honest, if Tony Stark is nothing more than “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” then we’ll all want our money back eventually.

Tomorrow’s Review

Radio Days




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