With a magnetic leading man whose demeanor and look almost carries the… MoreWith a magnetic leading man whose demeanor and look almost carries the film by itself combined with excellent cinematography (lighting sets a strong look and the camerawork is exciting and simple yet stylish), THE MAN FROM NOWHERE excels in areas that we expect it to (action, thriller, tenseness) and falters in areas that we hoped it would not but still does (cliche story, some caricature villains). The visual style in this Korean thriller is top-notch and truly elevates the film while a few lighthearted filmmaking moments provide enough comedic relief to add fun to what is otherwise a dreary premise - from the brilliant execution of our protagonist jumping out a window and landing in seemingly one shot, to the deft action and fight scenes that unravel in a no-bullshit manner, and to instances of very appreciable dialogue (most by our main villain) during moments where viewers are probably thinking the same thing (one example occurring during a car ride in which the villain is on the phone with our protagonist and calls out the moments of silences and the eventual hang-up - a fun strategy by director Lee Jeong-beom to diffuse overly dramatic tendencies). Won Bin is electrifying in his role - his performance is muted but painful while aided by sharp costume design that increases the presence (and coolness) of his character. It has its flaws and head-scratching moments, but overall, this film is a strong addition to South Korea's growing list of powerful and riveting revenge crime thrillers.
There is something quite elegant to MR. HOLMES - a feeling that is… MoreThere is something quite elegant to MR. HOLMES - a feeling that is fleetingly whimsical yet one that is certainly hard to pinpoint. It is a strange film in which its purpose is a mystery but its result a success; the plot is not that exciting but rather more a calming joy as we watch a delicate and convincing Sir Ian McKellen immerse himself in the character as he goes about teaming with a curious youth (played impressively by Milo Parker) while fighting old age, memory loss, and an unsolved mystery. Though the reasons for making a film that shows an elderly Sherlock Holmes is initially kind of baffling, what Bill Condon has done is invigorate the narrative with a composed visual style along with a very patient (but not slow) pace that only strengthens its themes of retrospection and life.
Although it is a charm to watch given the Spielberg-Hanks reunion as… MoreAlthough it is a charm to watch given the Spielberg-Hanks reunion as well as a script which co-credits the Coen Brothers, BRIDGE OF SPIES proves to be an all-in-all solidly-made film that is entertaining and more or less satisfying, but unfortunately a piece that plays too safe to transcend. SPIES features some smart and masterful filmmaking - as evident in its strong visual storytelling, well-crafted one-on-one exchanges, and clever editing (some amazing match cuts as well as Spielberg and DP Kaminsky's usual soft, glowy lighting amidst beautiful end frames to precise camera moves) - in addition to a steady yet immersive performance by both Hanks and Rylance. However, the film lacks the much-desired impact upon its delivery of turning points; the narrative is fancied with surprisingly funny moments and pleasurable scenes but the plot becomes a bit too easy - the grip never holds on, the sense of danger never reaches its potential, and likewise the end result is not as powerful as it was building up to be (Hanks' character appears to negotiate his ways through obstruction that operates more on its bark than its bite; there is a Cold War level of fear that tags along as opposed to being imposed and infused - with a Spielberg staple, trademark sentimental music, that does little to help). In the end, taking into account the genre of Cold War spy drama/thrillers, Spielberg's latest is simply a solid entry that services quite well but falls short of greatness.
Jia Zhangke's STILL LIFE is a prime example of the effectiveness of… MoreJia Zhangke's STILL LIFE is a prime example of the effectiveness of observational filmmaking and how the weight of the subject alone (and its themes) can not only propel but impact the drama forward. Although it seemingly presents two separate narratives following two different characters traversing a bleak but exquisitely framed developmental atmosphere (small villages directly affected by the Three Gorges Dam project that make for cinematic locations), the film unfolds with care and precision by never forcing dramatic elements and allowing the viewers to learn, feel, and decide as they go; both characters go about their way with a sense of clustered urgency as we learn the ways in which the society has impacted their personal lives, relationships, and families - we know and see just as much as we need to (a credit to a superbly tight script). This is a film that rewards the viewer once the credit rolls - allowing the punch to reveal itself gradually as the grounded, painful, and raw message sinks in. It is, in fact, a devastating realization, and likewise a great film, that is bolstered by Jia's patient approach, unintrusive cinematography and storytelling, and bold commentary on a specific aspect of his country's real-life issues.
Not only is SPECTRE one of the worst Bond films to come out in recent… MoreNot only is SPECTRE one of the worst Bond films to come out in recent years (and easily the weakest from the Daniel Craig era), but it is also one of the more frustrating action films in recent memory. Aside from a few positives (Craig still looks really cool; the first half of the opening scene is phenomenal; the locations are amazing; and the cinematography top-notch), SPECTRE is riddled with a preposterous script that aims to go more personal and way deeper but instead becomes muddled, confusing, and nonsensical; nothing really mounts to anything, and the stakes are raised but the reasoning is fatally flawed - it does not add up, and it requires viewers to suspend too much of their disbelief (the villain is a joke who makes big and bold claims but predictably falls right into the ultimate cliche for all action film villains; the love story is not only unearned but downright cringe-worthy; and logic is thrown out the window regarding basic character motivations and consequences). It is expensive but sloppy filmmaking - the set pieces are huge and action sequences elaborate, but even then it becomes repetitive, unoriginal, and nothing we have not seen before (the stuntwork is great but the creative design of the fights offer almost nothing fresh); if the narrative is a lost clause, at least we can rely on great action - this is not the case for this film.
What these recent Craig-era Bond films have established is a grittier, more realistic, more humanistic style - a feat that is deservedly praised. What SPECTRE has done is bring back (perhaps unknowingly) the stupidity, emptiness, and campiness of what the last few films (specifically CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL) have worked so hard to extinguish. The result is a mess of a film that is excruciatingly long and a movie-watching experience that grows more and more frustrating as it progresses.
Breaking away from conventional biopic structure, LOVE & MERCY is a… MoreBreaking away from conventional biopic structure, LOVE & MERCY is a well-crafted and deeply-intriguing examination into the life and mind of a uniquely-talented yet tortured individual. While Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys makes for a strong central character - with Paul Dano giving an off-kilter performance that further solidifies his skill in tackling emotionally-complicated subjects as well as a resurgent turn by John Cusack, Bill Pohlad's directorial debut displays a surprising discipline towards characterization as it never allows the narrative to stray too far, thus providing a film that is insightful and sympathetic yet filled with smooth editing, fun music, and a distinct and very fitting visual palette. Specifically, the scenes of Wilson's recording sessions in the studio with both his band as well as the studio musicians are some of the best moments in the film; they effectively give viewers a glimpse of authenticity and a seemingly exclusive behind-the-scenes access despite it being a re-creation - undoubtedly an impressive execution.
Ramin Bahrani's 99 HOMES is one of the most gripping and painful yet… MoreRamin Bahrani's 99 HOMES is one of the most gripping and painful yet honest films of the year - the writing is crisp and impactful and hits to the core; Garfield and Shannon immerse themselves as two opposites who find themselves working side-by-side (and it is brilliantly both a joy and unsettling to watch); and the scenes that portray eviction in which Bahrani conjures up reveal the ambivalence of humanity at both its cruelest and weakest and is downright provocative and morally challenging. This is determined cinema at its finest - a film that takes a real-life situation and raises the stakes higher and higher, invoking utmost empathy and likewise a heartfelt cinematic experience.
One of the more iconic films of its decade, THELMA & LOUISE brought a… MoreOne of the more iconic films of its decade, THELMA & LOUISE brought a feisty and empowering sense of fun to the table with its ever-intriguing title leads (Sarandon and Davis make for an unpredictable and complementary duo) as well as strong supporting turns. Though it is fitting for some to analyze it solely with regards to its feminist themes and characters, the film stands on its own as a road movie that employs an adventure-filled script through beautiful locations and gradually growing stakes; a worthy addition to Ridley Scott's credits despite a rather disappointing payoff and an iffy (and rather, empty) message in terms of what it all stands for.
THE MARTIAN is a success because it presents its sci-fi scenarios with… MoreTHE MARTIAN is a success because it presents its sci-fi scenarios with care and plausibility, it keeps the plot simple and moving, and it anchors itself with a strong lead actor in a character who is both relatable and charming, resulting in a film that is accordingly thrilling, visually dazzling, and surprisingly funny. Although the narrative itself does not necessarily present anything new - we've seen this scenario before - and the story is quite predictable, Ridley Scott's latest benefits from both a strong script that keeps momentum flowing and an especially nuanced performance by Damon; it carries a much different tone than other recent space dramas and for that, it is justified and comes highly recommended.
Although it paints an intriguing tale of redemption given its rather… MoreAlthough it paints an intriguing tale of redemption given its rather unlikable protagonist, TSOTSI ultimately suffers from an awkward pace that often stymies the momentum while raising too many questions regarding believability. Gavin Hood directs newcomer Presley Chweneyagae to a difficult and bravura performance - the best part of the film - but the film's strength in its title character of Tsotsi eventually becomes its biggest weakness: the entire plot never surpasses its risky premise, both redemption and forgiveness are not earned for Tsotsi (and viewers), and the film fails to bring enough to invoke sympathy. Just when we are about to be drawn in, the tone either takes a phony shift or a character's action withdraws the intensity - a shame considering its strong first act.