Fresh off the enormous success of Avengers, Iron Man 3 had a lot to… MoreFresh off the enormous success of Avengers, Iron Man 3 had a lot to live up to. The result is a film that is more a direct sequel to Avengers than Iron Man 2, done with good charm, strong action scenes, and a continual humor undertone. It never really defies the conventions of blockbusters, but delivers on all the elements one would want to make a truly enjoyable summer action movie.
One of the strongest elements of Iron Man 3 are the interesting set pieces we see, with the action being done in a very effective manner. The dynamics of the suit themselves are done very well, with truly spectacular action scenes befitting of any good summer blockbuster, with solid integration into the story itself.
The performances are also predominately strong, with Robert Downy Jr. bringing his characteristic sarcastic charm, bringing weight to every scene. This is met well with Ben Kingsley, who brings a lot of comic relief to the role. The problem, however, is that we don't see the sort of character-arc and development that we've seen in other Marvel movies, with Downey never seeming to evolve to quite the extent we would expect. Many of the supporting characters, notably Don Cheadle and Gwneth Paltrow, don't have much new to bring to the table, often feeling very secondary to the story.
The script and plot of the film are a mixed bag. The twist of the film is done well, and is especially refreshing. I also loved how the opening scenes were executed, hinting at later developments, but being well integrated with the entire film. The plot as its unveiled, however, is familiar. The struggle never feels as big as one would think necessary for a film like this, with the exact details of the scheme never making a lot of sense, never being fully explained. There's interesting elements, but a lack of complete cohesion. That said, the film never loses its sense of humor, and has a number of dramatic and humorous recalls to the previous films (namely Avengers), and thus works well within the overall series, if it doesn't necessarily distinguish itself.
Overall the film is consistently fun, which is what the franchise has always been good at delivering. Plot deficiencies aside, there's plenty of humor, action, and good acting to keep you engaged.
Decadent, incoherent, slowly paced, and simply bizarre, Paperboy is a… MoreDecadent, incoherent, slowly paced, and simply bizarre, Paperboy is a disaster of a film. Part pulp, neo noir, melodrama, and camp, the film is a weird mix. Throw in a narration and a supporting role by Macy Gray, and you have a recipe for a really bad film.
The Paperboy does have a few things going for it. For one, the performances seem to be tonally consistent, and are 'good' from the standpoint that they are all appropriately melodramatic, and work well within the context of the film. Everyone is crazy, compulsive, intense, and illogical. Matthew McConaughehey, Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, none of them phoned it in. The cinematography also looks good, and the film generally does a good job of having an atmospheric tone.
The trouble comes from the script and direction of the film. While set-up initially well, the film becomes a meandering mess close to the halfway mark. The supposed 'plot', the murder of a sheriff, is seemingly tossed aside for interchangeable scene after interchangeable scene of weirdness and sexual perversion, and for no apparent purpose or reason. None of it makes any sense. It's as if the entire film is just an excuse for bizarreness for the sake of camp. Yet, the film never seems to want to completely veer in to camp, taking itself very seriously. The problem is, of course, there's really nothing of substance to make one take it seriously.
Because of the disjointed nature of the film, and the weak direction, Paperboy feels relentlessly endless, even at its standard running time. There's no sense of purpose to anything being put on screen, everyone's talents feel wasted in what ends up feeling like an X rated made-for-tv movie, with the target audience of perverts and people of no discerning taste.
The western genre embodies many different sorts of films, from typical… MoreThe western genre embodies many different sorts of films, from typical shoot 'em up adventures, to more nuanced films that seek to convey commentary within the western framework. Hombre is a fantastic example of the later, representing a late 60s western that features Paul Newman as a Native American. The film is an intelligent western, concerned with characters, dialogue, themes, and thus is uniquely situated within the genre, having an amount of ambiguity that is very uncommon for that time, and puts most modern movies to shame.
Hombre features excellent performances from all around. The notable one is of course Newman. Though the blue-eyed Newman lacks the physical characteristics for an Indian, his performance more than makes up for that. The way he embodies his character harkens back to early Eastwood westerns, with a strong presence, conveying a lot even in silence. There is really not a weak link to be had in the supporting cast, with Diane Cilento having some terrific work as an outspoken and headstrong frontier woman.
What I appreciated most about the film was the script. The dialogue was simply tremendous, with exchanges that were intelligent and felt real. The characterizations were strong and multi-dimensional, far surpassing many of the clichéd characters we are often treated to.
Though the film's methodical pace and concern with characters, as opposed to action, may turn some off it's really a grade A western, and a must see for any fan of the genre.
In what essentially amounts to a film version of a good Locked Up… MoreIn what essentially amounts to a film version of a good Locked Up Abroad episode, Holly Rollers tells the story of young Hasidic Jews who were recruited to smuggle ecstasy from Europe to the United States. Specifically, the film looks at the inculcation of Jesse Eisenberg's character to this new lifestyle.
The story that Holy Rollers seeks to tell is a familiar one, but one that should translate well to film. The film does a good job at the start, establishing the rigid belief system and antiquated social structure of Eisenberg's background. His introduction to the world is believable, but the film soon seems to lose its sense of build up and pace. Whereas it set up the Jewish community so well, Essenberg's rise in the drug world seems rushed, with the character arcs of those surrounding him never being fully fleshed out. It's as if the film stopped trying to distinguish itself about 1/3 of the way through, and instead opted for auto pilot.
The performances in the film are all good, with Eisenberg having an especially interesting depiction of his character, conservative, awkward, shy, but yet curious and strangely competent. The problem, however, is that many of the supporting roles never fully developed, being especially pronounced with Justin Bartha's character. The relationship between Eisenberg and Ari Gaynor is also not handled especially well.
Despite the weaknesses, Holy Rollers remains entertaining. It has most of the hallmarks of an effective drama, though it never stops to catch itself and reignite its originality.
J.J. Abrams managed to take the Star Trek franchise into another… MoreJ.J. Abrams managed to take the Star Trek franchise into another direction with the 2009 film, with a good story, strong action, charm, and humor. His new follow-up, Star Trek Into Darkness, manages to stay in that vein, offering a fun, if not as inventive, science fiction movie that is a solid addition to the series.
As is characteristic of all J.J. Abrams endeavors, the action set pieces in Star Trek are fantastically staged. Abrams has a keen sense of how to ramp up tension within a scene, and on a dime. This is complemented by great special effects, and action that is engaging, in that you can follow what is transpiring, with each action having the appropriate impact. This is in stark contrast to most action films of today, full of scenes with lots of things going on, but no discernible idea of who is doing what. Abrams avoids this, thus always keeping the viewer riveted with what is transpiring.
The theme of this Star Trek is an interesting, perhaps daring one, exploring ideas of false pretences used for conflict, and the moral ambiguity surrounding it. I thought these themes were actually well implemented within the framework of the film, representing a story that is a bit more complex than a traditional good vs. bad dichotomy, with a certain level of nuance to be had (at least for its material). The trouble, however, is that the mechanics of the plot feels very familiar and ordinary. The film telegraphs who the villains are very early, and makes plot devices which become crucial in the last ask abundantly clear in the earlier portion of the film. Thus, while the action is very well done, we are not quite as impacted by the dramatic elements of the film, because we feel like we know precisely what is going to happen. There simply isn't as great a sense of stakes as one would like.
The dialogue is occasionally stilted, as is Star Trek, but also humorous. The chemistry between the actors feels real, with the young cast injecting a lot of palpable energy on screen. The performances are also good, with Chris Pine continuing to make a charismatic Captain Kirk. It was Benedict Cumberbatch, however, who stole the show, with a phenomenal take on Kahn.
Overall a solid effort, with good action, charismatic leads, and humor, albeit with a somewhat lackluster script and plot.
All biopics face the question of how to find that fine line between… MoreAll biopics face the question of how to find that fine line between being true to life, but also being cinematic. Too many biopics fall into the category of re-telling events without finding the true essence of the story and putting it to film. In order to be a truly effective biopic, the film must work as dramatically effective outside of the factual events itself. That is to say, it must be a compelling story outside of the inherent weight that being based on a true story gives you. Though it struggles with finding this line, 42 is generally successful at being a one such biopic.
What I apprecaited about 42 the most is the actual characterization of Jackie Robinson. The film doesn't bestow sainthood on him, and shows him as an actual person, full of supressed rage. The performance by Chadwick Boseman is the single most effective thing about the film, as he completely inhbits the character, feeling very authentic. It's also full of strong supporting performances, including one by Harrison Ford, and also a hauntingly effective performance by Alan Tudyk.
42 has good baseball scenes, staging the action well, supported by good narration. It does, however, get bogged down in convention occassionally, such as one particular scene in which Jackie's home-run is met with a self-aggrandizing soundtrack and an unberably slow sequence of him runing the bases. This speaks to the biggest issue with 42, it's often too safe, feel good, and conventional for its own good. It seems to call attention to itself and its themes rather loudly, lacking a lot of subtelty. Had it had more comlex characters, too many are one-note, and more abmigutity, it would have been stronger. In addtion, the film could have been more in depth with Robinson's upbringing, with major events of his life only being briefly aluded to.
Overall, it's an undeniably moving story, and well worth seeing. As a biopic, it doesn't take risks, but does what it sets out to do rather well.
The Piano is the sort of film that does a great job evoking emotions… MoreThe Piano is the sort of film that does a great job evoking emotions and conveying its message through imagery and expressionism. The story centers around a women in an arranged marriage who, partly as a product of her obsession with her piano, has an affair with another man.
The story is a unique one, and certainly a strange departure from the conventions of current dramatic film making, being a confined story, and with no overt melodrama. It has mature themes, looking at obsession, love, and isolationism (among others). As the story is confined and devoid of a lot of 'action' (in the traditional sense), the film relies completely in the talents of the actors. In this case, the cast is fantastic all around, with Holly Hunter undoubtedly giving one of the best performances of her career, playing a mute woman. As she has no speaking parts (save a small voice over) the entire film hinges on her expression and ability to convey emotions silently. To that aim, she was phenomenal, achieving a level of depth and intensity without speaking that was uncanny. She is also bolstered well by strong supporting performances from both Sam Neill and Harvey Keitel.
The film is also shot very well, with beautiful cinematography. The main issue, however, lies in the pace of the film. The Piano is one of those films that either has your attention from the start and never lets go, or comes across as tedious, and ultimately never does much to beat those expectations. For me, I found the film to often be slow. I did not have enough vested in Hunter's character to be truly engaged in until later in the film, and simply felt the material was too sparse and devoid of action or conflict to translate well to film. To be sure, The Piano has a very unique sensibility, which might work well for some, but for most, I fear it risks coming across as boring. Still, a smart film with a lot of merit.
Having been put to film before, and largely unsuccessfully, an… MoreHaving been put to film before, and largely unsuccessfully, an adaptation with the visual skill of Baz Luhrman and the acting talent of Leonardo DiCaprio would seem to have the makings for a great, true to form, adaptation. What we end up with is largely a mixed bag, filled with moments that tantalize us with what should have been, but also with far too many missteps.
The one consistent praise for this film has been, and should be, its visual sense. The flair that Luhrmann brings to Gatsby is laudable, capturing the mystique, the exaggerated grandeur, and the stark contrasts of the novel. The film looks, to a large extent, like the sort of world that Fitzgerald was trying to create, or at least relate, in his novel. The parties, the mansions, the costumes, all have a sort of stylized depiction that both transport the viewer, and capture the essence of the time.
However, this visionary attitude is brought to bear to far less effective extent in the other aspects of the film. The editing is bad throughout, but is horrendous for the first two thirds of the film. Luhrmann, no doubt, wanted to create a fast-paced opening so as to streamline and add excitement to the source material, but instead he creates scenes that seem haphazardly strewn together, with an erratic pacing and editing style that is immensely frustrating. Simply put, the film-making employed is far too self-indulgent and gimmicky, and distracts from the film, feeling very disjointed in its exposition.
The film also tries far too hard to "update" the novel. This is seen most egregiously in the soundtrack of the film, which borders on bad to terrible. Playing hip hop and other pop songs, remixed to have a more 20s feel, is an absurd idea, and cheapens the film. What we see never quite seems to match up to what we hear, sacrificing the unique liberal elegance of the period's music.
The script itself is not a bad adaption, although certain scenes have dialogue which is too sparse. All in all, the dramatic elements work, but only when they are allowed to work. The performance from DiCaprio is strong, and when the focus is on him, the film feels right. It's the erratic editing and ill-executed score that undermine the film, which feels overly concerned with style over substance. The supporting roles range from serviceable to good, with Carey Mulligan having the weakest performance.
Overall, Gatsby looks great, has a good story, and occasionally works as a drama. Unfortunately, what it does right gets easily lost in the over-stylized and ill conceived framework of the film.
Fast becoming one of the most interesting directors in Hollywood, Jeff… MoreFast becoming one of the most interesting directors in Hollywood, Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), delivers another fascinating, authentic, and captivating tale. The story, revolving around two boys who come across an at large fugitive, is set against fantastic world building. The southern rural community that is shown feels real, having an underlying atmospheric tone and old style charm that characterizes the film throughout. Nichols populates this with interesting characters, engaging dialogue, and a story that never ceases to engage the audience.
The performances in Mud are strong all around, with the actors completely inhibiting their roles, and feeling at place in the world Nichols creates. It's headlined by a really strong performance by Matthew McConaughey, who has one of his best roles to date. The child actors, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, are able to do what so many child actors struggle to do, create nuance, having a relationship that never feels false.
The story itself manages to stay interesting for most of the film, with characters actig in real ways, not necessarily ways in which we would expect in conventional filmmaking. Everyone has shades of ambiguity and nuance. This is seen most keenly in the relationship between McConaughey and Witherspoon, bothing having idolized versions of each other that feel real to them, but are utterly naive to the viewer. There are also a number of subplots that give the film a real charm and authenticiy, notably Tye Sheridan's parents, having one of the more interesting family interactions put on film in quite some time.
The only weakness of Mud is the third act, which does seem to resort to come contrivances in its latter half. This keeps the story largely sweet and heartfelt, but does seem to undercut its darker tones.
An overall smart, interesting, well realized, and engaging drama.
Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park is the perfect lesson on how… MoreSteven Spielberg's Jurassic Park is the perfect lesson on how blockbusters should be made. The film is consistently tense, engaging, entertaining, and masterfully executed. It's filled with like-able performances, the people feel real, not like archetypes, and we genuinely feel their terror and amazement. Spielberg takes the time in this film to always set the stage, the action doesn't feel rushed, and the situations are organic to the events themselves, not simply thrown in the ratchet up the tension.
The 3D release is simply outstanding, unquestionably one of the best post 3D conversions ever done, rivaling that of Titanic's re-release. In this case, the 3D serves a purpose, making the film all the more life-like, and giving it much needed added dimension. This accentuates many of the animatronic scenes, and feels seamless with the rest of the film's polish. The special effects themselves have held up quite well, and are a true testament to the visionary that is Steven Spielberg.