Noah – Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah has had quite a lot going for it ever since its production began. Following his critically-lauded films, The Wrestler and Black Swan, Aronofsky was originally set to direct The Wolverine (which ultimately went under the helm of James Mangold), but instead departed that film and decided to pursue this passion project that he had been wanting to develop for years. Paramount came into play and gave $130 Million to this incredible auteur in cinema and now, we finally see his vision of the biblical tale on the big screen. However, this film has been enduring a wave a controversy for months ever since reports from three test screenings consisting of Catholic, Jewish, and general audiences have projected negative buzz, especially from the religious audiences. Worried from these reactions, Paramount went out of their ways to appease religious audiences by placing a disclaimer in all of the film’s promotional materials – without Aronofsky’s permission. Paramount and Aronofsky had been in heated situations together throughout the film’s marketing campaign and soon led to this compromise: Aronofsky’s original cut would be released instead of the alternate cuts that Paramount had screened.

And kudos to Paramount for not meddling with Aronofsky’s original vision, for that we are given quite a remarkable cinematic experience that is truly told in – well, biblical proportions. The film just exudes breathtaking visuals, whether it is through the exquisite cinematography, or the incredible use of set design, it squeezes a sense of meticulous passion within nearly every shot. And remarkably enough, even with a budget of $130 Million, Aronofsky’s signature trademark style is still in place. Sure, the film showcases his technical sensibilities seen in his acclaimed, yet smaller-scaled films like Pi and Requiem for a Dream, but above all, it is the film’s immersible craft that sucks you in even more so than his established filmography has already proven to do so.

Now, this is definitely going to be a film that many people of faith may not be pleased with. Artistic license has been taken in some aspects of the Genesis story, particularly in the Noah character himself, and there are aplenty of Aronofskian moments that may cause the more mainstream audiences to turn their heads. But all-in-all, I feel that the most important morals taken from this story are present through-in-through. And if you were to ask me, I view this film more as an interpretation of the story rather than a word-for-word adaptation. But I feel that one should be reminded that the story of Noah was definitely darker than the story we remembered from our Sunday School days. This is the Noah that immerses you into right in the story. It’s a provocative look into the evils of mankind described in Genesis.

Regardless of all the controversy surrounding this film, I feel that Noah is a film worth seeing on the big screen. It promises remarkable performances by its actors (Crowe, Connelly, Watson, and Winstone in particular), incredible visual storytelling and another haunting score by Clint Mansell. But above all, it’s the first blockbuster in the longest time that reaches deeper than just standard entertainment – it’s also one that purely demands discussions to be had after viewing it. Sure, it may not be 100% accurate, but I also don’t see it as one that preaches against faith. But I will say, that it is the most thought-provoking film of the year thus far.

Noah earns a 4/5.

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Her – Movie Review

When asked about my all-time favorite romance film, without hesitation I would respond with Michel Gondry’s unprecedented opus, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. For me, no film has blended so much artistry, intimacy, or even the life-affirming philosophical ideals as great as that one. Inventive in its meticulous craftsmanship thanks to the surreal direction of Gondry, the limitless imagination of Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay, and such genuine, realistic performances by the ensemble. It is films like “Eternal Sunshine” that made me fall in love with film in the first place – not only as a simple form of entertainment or escapism from the real world, but as an art that can enlighten the hearts and minds of audiences all thanks to the unparalleled beauty that visual storytelling can accomplish.

You may be wondering why I prefaced this review of Spike Jonze’s Her by mentioning my unflinching adoration of “Eternal Sunshine”. Well for me, Her is not only reminiscent of that film in terms of artistry, it is also the single best romance film I’ve seen since then.

Now I have a hunch that you may be wondering why I would say such high remarks. Simply put, there hasn’t been a film within the genres of romance or even sci-fi in years that delved within the essence of the human heart alongside the ideas to why we fall in love in the first place.

Set in Los Angeles during the not-too distant future, Theodore Twombly (played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix) is an introverted, yet loveable man who lives a lonely life having recently separated with his wife Catherine. His life soon turns upside-down when he purchases an artificially intelligent OS named Samantha (portrayed by an unseen Scarlett Johansson). What starts out as just simply an assistant to help organize emails and even play video games with, a relationship starts to brew.

From an outsider’s perspective, the film’s premise may come off as pretty obscure. But it is a credit to Jonze’s incredible direction and screenplay that not only analyzes the human spirit, but also serves as a social commentary on how outsiders may view other people’s relationships along with the ever-growing disconnected society that continuously spend their lives on technology. I mention the outsider’s perspective because what makes relationships so beautiful is that no matter what others may see differently, it is the intimate interaction between you and another individual that makes it so precious. And that’s what Jonze flawlessly accomplishes when we see Theodore and Samantha interact. Sure on the outside it may seem abnormal to some, but when you finally get to know both of these characters, that outsider’s perspective is thrown out the window once you realize that this relationship may possibly work despite Samantha not having a physical form.

And that’s why this film leaves you in such a whirlwind of emotions and philosophical questions to ponder over. We often rely on technology to help us with our needs – whether it is through assignments needed to be accomplished, information desired to be researched, and of course social interaction. And as we see with Theodore and Samantha’s relationship, it permeates within it all and is only amplified to 11 thanks to the sentient nature of Samantha. But really, even though Samantha may be “the perfect girlfriend” and may satisfy Theodore just as a complicated human relationship would, it is through their own experiences where the audiences come to realize that technology will continue to advance and unfortunately, humans are only capable of so much. And regardless of what may seem satisfying to Theodore in this situation, in the big scheme of things, his relationship with Samantha is strictly based on their vocal interaction. And it is through those conversations that we as an audience feel the realness of their togetherness. But unfortunately, language is limited and communication is more than letter and word combinations. And while communication is vital to a healthy relationship, there is still so much desired by the human heart that Samantha just cannot satisfy. Sure, they both attempt to reach those levels of their romance, but only to reach awkwardly unsettling results.

Her reminds us of what we are missing out on in our lives because of our fixation with technology. What should be used to explore more about what society can be capable of has been almost bombarded by satisfying ourselves whether it is through emotional or even physical desires – only to be reminded that it was all thanks to simulations that satisfy temporarily and only feel real, yet isn’t real.

When the credits started to roll, the tears wouldn’t stop flowing. I was in a state of overwhelming emotions that I haven’t felt ever since “Eternal Sunshine”. And it was all the more evident knowing that I stayed through the credits wanting to read all the names that have taken part of this awe-inspiring masterpiece that I will continue to remember for as long as I continue my passion for not only film, but life. I can go on and on about how much this film has resonated with me as a person, but seriously, just as I expressed above, language is limited. All I can do now is to implore you to go see this film. This is not only 2013’s best film, it is one of the best films of the decade and truly feels so perfect for the times we are living in right now. It’s a film that I can now put as a companion piece to my all-time favorite romance film. Thank you, Spike Jonze. Thank you.

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Her earns a 5/5.

Hanks and Greengrass have nothing but smooth sailing with “Captain Phillips”

Whether or not the events depicted in this film are portrayed accurately, or if the actual Captain Richard Phillips is even close to the heroic mantra that Hanks effortlessly portrays him as, it should be known that as a Hollywood semi-biopic, it is a given that liberties will be taken for better cinematic effect. And thankfully, Greengrass fantastically gives us that with Captain Phillips.

It helps that after directing the last two Bourne films in the original trilogy and the incredible 9/11 drama, United 93,Greengrass manages to blend in the best elements of those films and putting them into one thrilling package. Captain Phillips in its essence is a drama with remotely nonstop tension throughout, much akin to United 93 whereas it also applies the incredible action spirit that Greengrass’ Bourne films have.

And the other force that helps bind this film together is Tom Hanks, who is a revelation in this film by not only giving the best performance of his career since Robert Zemeckis’ “Cast Away,” but by perfecting the ideal “normal man” who has been put into a life-or-death situation. And whether or not the real Captain Phillips was anything like what Hanks portrayed, there is no doubt in the audiences’ mind that Hanks projects so many emotional layers that are especially evident within the film’s closing 15 minutes.

It helps that besides the stellar Hanks, we have a complete cast of unknowns, which help add to the film’s realistic feel. Whether it is within Phillips’ crew, or the intense Somalian pirates that invade, there was never a single moment where I felt like I was watching a dramatization, but rather that I was right there on that ship. And the greatness of those unknown Somalian actors deserve much praise, particularly Barkhad Abdi, who portrays our antagonist that does not evoke a generic villain personality, but thanks to the script, has many emotional layers to him that makes one interested in his backstory.

I find it interesting that this film was released so close to Cuaron’s Gravity because while they are both within completely different settings, while Gravity explored agoraphobia, Captain Phillips explored the idea of claustrophobia. And the claustrophobic feel is especially given the spotlight once the film’s second half initiates.

Some may not be in for the film’s pacing and running time, especially during the film’s second half, but when I originally believed that it went a bit too long during that time, I feel that it somehow added to the overall experience that Phillips probably had during his time inside that lifeboat. Thus, elevating the film to a height that I never expected- a height in which it revealed itself as a truly fascinating character-study of an everyday man put in one of the situations that no sane person would want to endure. 

 

 

 

Captain Phillips earns a 4.5/5

White House Down – Review

John Cale (Channing Tatum) is Capitol Policeman who has had good intentions in the past, but has always maintained a messy unorganized ethic. Usually late to events, never finished what he initiates,  you name it. Cale hopes to reconcile with his daughter (Joey King) by taking her to the White House in the hopes to earn a position at Secret Service. Cale gets rejected and lies to his daughter’s face in the hopes to not disappoint her again. To make matters worse, paramilitary invaders led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke) infiltrate the White House, Cale must step up to his inevitable John McClane archetype and rescue President James Sawyer (Jaime Foxx) and protect his daughter from eventual harm.

When it comes to Roland Emmerich’s films, I tend to go in and watch them with the mentality of knowing that the film will be nothing more than a mindless over-the-top blockbuster. As shown with Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012these large-scale popcorn disaster flicks have given him a “winning” formula to bring audiences to the megaplex. Despite of commercial successes, he never really was a “Kubrickian” director and going into this film, I was hoping to enjoy myself with what could be an entertaining flick. Unfortunately, White House Down ends up collapsing on itself and unfortunately fails in more levels than you can even comprehend.

Channing Tatum poses as a likable action star. Despite of his obvious John McClane-esque outlook right down to his character’s name being John, and the white-beater shirt, he remains a charismatic, entertaining lead. Tatum and Foxx share a terrific chemistry with eachother throughout, even though Foxx does not seem to fit the “presidential” figure. But while their camaraderie remains entertaining throughout, as for the rest of the ensemble cast, each performance levels around average-to-poor. Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a serviceable, but disposable nonetheless performance as does Richard Jenkins, Jason Clarke, and James Woods. Joey King as Cale’s daughter, Emily definitely shows signs of needing more assistance with her acting chops and Nicolas Wright as a White House tour guide is legitimately awful in his role.

White House Down is riddled with a sloppy direction by Emmerich. This is mainly evident through the film’s tonal inconsistencies throughout. There are many scenes in which the film goes for a light-hearted action feel while there are also sequences that attempt to have the film be taken as serious and tension-filled. Those two different tones when put together mesh into a poorly balanced film overall, also being devoid of any tension, as well as having a few instances of unintentionally funny scenes.

James Vanderbilt’s script is almost a marvel in terms of how outrageously goofy it is. Embarrassing dialogue is heard throughout, leading me to have a double-take with a few of these quips due to their absurdities. The film is also riddled with cliche after cliche after cliche, right down to the character archetypes and what you expect to see with films possessing the Die Hard formula. Also, the motivation that drives James Woods’ character proves to be pretty offensive in a political and moral standpoint, that it almost left me infuriated at both Emmerich and Vanderbilt to even have the guts to give Woods’ character such an absurd ambition.

I wish I could be more generous to this film other than to say that it’s nice to see a lack of shaky-cam action and that sometimes the over-the-top absurdities can sometimes be mildly entertaining, but that’s all that can really be said in terms of anything White House Down can positively offer. Despite Tatum and Foxx’s chemistry, the film falls apart just as the White House does with average-to-poor performances, sloppy direction, tone inconsistency, lack of tension, absurd script, and offensive character motivation. White House Down was far too stupid for me to enjoy and at an overlong running time of 137 minutes, it felt as if the credits would never start rolling soon enough. Save your money or go see something else. Definitely one of the worst movies of 2013 as of late.

White House Down earns a 1/5.

Monsters University – Review

Back in November 2001, the geniuses at Pixar Animation Studios brought us Monsters, Inc. Introducing us to Mike and Sulley, one of the studios’ famous dynamic duos. The film was not only a commercial success, but was hailed by critics and audiences alike thanks to the film’s lovable characters, laugh-out-loud humor, and genuine heart, and to this day Monsters, Inc. remains one of my favorite animated films. Now, Pixar invites us to Mike and Sulley’s college experience in this prequel, Monsters University, in which we first follow Mike, our mutated tennis ball-looking friend attends MU to pursue his dream of becoming a scarer, the most respected position in a monster’s possible career field. There, he meets Sulley for the first time, whom we realize is apart of a highly respected family in the scaring business. Mike has worked his entire life to become a scarer while Sulley never studied a page, feeling he doesn’t need to due to his family’s name. And once we witness these two first meet, we have our two heroes use their respective differences to overcome their rivalry and compete with their fraternity, Oozma Kampa, to win the Scare Games competition.

As much as I adored the original Monsters, Inc., I was not as excited for MU as much as I would have liked to, and for two reasons. First, Pixar has been on a string of 2 disappointing entries into their otherwise fantastic filmography. After the abysmal Cars 2, and the mediocre Brave, this studio has been sliding down due to its reputation of making some of the best animated films being made today. Also, the film’s trailers and TV spots, while not necessarily anything awful, weren’t really doing enough for me to get pumped other than seeing the characters from my childhood that I love. But going into the theater, I still had a glimmer of hope because even though Pixar’s last two films weren’t great, they were still the geniuses behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Up. Not only some of my favorite animated films, but even all-time favorite films in general. Pixar has shaped much of my childhood in terms of filmmaking and storytelling, so despite my reservations, I remained optimistic for MU. And I am more than happy to say that Pixar has taken a step right back on track. Monsters University is simply terrific.

As usual with this studio, the voice acting for the characters is top notch. Billy Crystal and John Goodman reprise their roles as Mike and Sulley respectively and gladly bring them back to life on the big screen. Their chemistry in the first film was brilliant, but now seeing the two characters when they weren’t best friends  but rather bitter rivals was truly interesting to see thanks to Crystal’s comedic mantra, and Goodman’s deep, lovable voice. The film’s voice ensemble is also comprised of Steve Buscemi, who reprises his role as the original film’s villain, Randall, Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble, as well as other actors like Joel Murray, Nathan Fillion, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina, among others. Every single vocal performance in this film is of high quality, and done without the feeling of seeing the actors performing in the recording studio.

Unsurprisingly for a Pixar film, the animation in MU is stunning. The character designs for all the monsters onscreen are all visually creative, and the colors just bounce right off the screen, being a feast for the eyes. In just normal shots, there is always something in the background going on, giving the film a sense of ongoing excitement throughout, which is thanks to director, Dan Scanlon. Scanlon truly makes MU entertaining whether visually, or through his script also co-written by Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird. The majority of the jokes thrown out ranges from a chuckle up to a full-on laugh, not only through the film’s dialogue, but also due to the new memorable characters introduced. Whether it is Dean Hardscrabble, or the Oozma Kampa fraternity, the combination of their memorable character designs and lovable personalities make them a welcome addition to the world of Monstropolis. Monsters University also has the ultimate nostalgia-factor for those who grew up with the original and constantly rewinded their VHS tapes. The film’s subtle throwbacks such as the appearance of the Monsters, Inc. facility, or even a few surprise cameos from the other memorable characters from the original will leave fans in delight.

As for the film’s flaws, they’re not necessarily monstrous (sorry couldn’t resist), but they’re mainly nitpicks. First off, the film’s actual story structure is kind of safe, especially for a Pixar film. It’s the traditional rivals-becoming-friends story that we have seen countless times, and knowing the film is a prequel, it’s harbored with the audiences’ knowledge of where Mike and Sulley will end up at the end. But surprisingly enough, for a prequel, Monsters University retains a really good sense of investment, especially in the film’s third act, in which prior to its initiation, what feels like the film’s ending truly pulls the rug right from under the audience, leaving them curious to see what happens next, which results into an absolutely phenomenal tribute to classic horror movie tropes and cliches that shows Pixar at its creative heights not only through animation, but through storytelling. And I absolutely loved the way the film concluded, while being a satisfying ending while remaining realistic but encouraging within its overall message: even if you find yourself at the bottom and people may tell you that it is impossible for you to reach your aspirations, with enough persistence and determination, you’ll find yourself at the top.

I really cannot say anything else I didn’t like out of this film other than that I feel as if Randy Newman’s score was not as good as his previous score for the original film, and that about a third of the jokes missed the bullseye. But if those are the only criticisms that I have, then it truly proves that this movie is a blast at the movies. Monsters University is a more-than-welcome step back in the right direction for the creative geniuses at Pixar. Thanks to the terrific voice acting, pristine animation, entertaining humor, nostalgia factor, and nice, non spoon-fed message. Truly a breath of fresh air for animated films.

PS, the latest animated short attached before the film, entitled The Blue Umbrella, is absolutely beautiful. Its a true staple of how beautiful animation done right is as an artform, even if there is no dialogue.

Monsters University earns a 4.5/5 rating.

World War Z – Review

World War Z is a sci-fi/horror film based off of the novel of the same name by Max Brooks. The film is directed by Marc Forster, book adapted to screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof, and starring Brad Pitt in the leading role. Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a retired UN employee who leaves his family to embark around the world in the hopes to find a cure to a worldwide zombie pandemic that keeps growing and growing by the day.

This film has been plagued (no pun intended) with plenty of production troubles, forming into a disaster movie becoming a disaster itself. Delays in production, uncertainty about the appearances of the zombies, extensive reshoots, a 3D post-conversion, and of course, going way over budgeted. It’s somewhat shocking to see that this film finally has made it into the big screen and that I just watched this film merely an hour and a half prior to me writing this review. When I first heard this film was being developed back in 2011, having not read the book I was intrigued by the premise and Pitt as the lead. However because of the troublesome production, this film somehow wiped itself off my memory. It was not until this year’s Super Bowl TV spot where it came back to my mind and I had actually seen footage to this once elusive film. Unfortunately the film looked pretty poor with its apparent overuse of CGI and the film’s trailers following that did not help either. And having the production troubles still on my mind, I remained skeptical for World War Z. Thankfully, it’s not the absolute disaster I once anticipated and is actually more enjoyable than what I expected.

Brad Pitt is a true movie-star, not only with his star-power and heartthrob public image he presents, but through his actual acting talents as well. Pitt truly carries this film as his character Gerry in which he poses as the main force that leaves the audience invested with the ongoing apocalyptic events. When needed to be genuine, he sells it. When needed for action-presence, he sells it. Pitt’s performance is legitimately remarkable for this film and is definitely one of the best aspects of this film. Also, knowing of the tumultuous production, it’s impressive to see Forster do a passable job as director, as he gives portions of the film with a great sense of tension, particularly in the film’s final 30 minutes, to which I was literally gripping to my seat due to the nonstop tension during the climax.

Unfortunately, while the film’s 30 minutes were terrific (despite of a rushed, brushed over ending), the film suffers from a film feeling too overblown for a story that would have worked better as a more District 9-level budget and possibly focus more on the human dynamic and building more on the nonstop tension witnessed in the film’s concluding climax. The film’s actual money-shot scenes in the marketing campaign with the piling zombies going on top of eachother as well as the movie’s big action set-pieces are proven to be run-of-the-mill kind of action we’ve seen countless times before. Interestingly enough, the smaller-scale of the film in its third-act was what this film should have been like the entire time. I truly believe that the overall Summer-Blockbuster that this film really is in the big scheme of things bring the film down from what could have been a great action/horror thriller into just a fairly decent one.

It’s also worth mentioning that while Brad Pitt helped make the film more enjoyable than it has any right to be, his character is the only one of this entire film that you feel invested with. To an extent, his wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters are characters one would feel invested with, but they’re only in the film for such little time. And lastly, while the actual zombies in this film look terrific as well as realistic, when they are seen in piles during the film’s bigger-scaled action sequences, they are so overtly CGI’d as well as being shown way too many times that it prevents any impact worth feeling at all.

When looking into Forster’s finished product, we have a film that is all the while an enjoyable one despite of the flaws mentioned above. While the film’s first two acts level around a 2.5-3 rating, the film’s third act levels around an enthusiastic 4. Again, had the film not been a large-scale Summer-blockbuster and been smaller but focused more on the human-dynamic with the zombies themselves being a backdrop instead of showcasing what you can do with computer-effects, on top of nonstop tension, you’d have a recipe for what could have been something memorable instead of being a simple fun action film, which it all really is by the end. I’d say if you want to see this film, I’d recommend a matinee showing at most mainly for the film’s third act. Also, skip the 3D, because it adds no effect to the film except for a darker image. All in all, a fun movie, but with my suggestions, I believe World War Z could’ve been something more.

World War Z earns a 3.5/5

Fast & Furious 6 – Movie Review

It isn’t often the case when the fifth movie of a franchise is considered the best of the bunch, but it definitely applies to the Fast & Furious franchise. What started out as simple flicks involving street racing soon took a different turn (pun intended) when 2011’s Fast Five opened that Summer movie season. Justin Lin’s film shifted the focus from street racing and instead made an entertaining flick that focused more on a heist-mission, as well as on this charismatic team of criminals, while also still interjecting some over-the-top action set-pieces. Now that Lin has come back to the director’s chair, we have the newest installment, Fast & Furious 6.

Set right after the events of Fast Five, Dominic Torretto (Diesel) and his crew have settled down after the successful bank-heist when Agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) is forced to offer the crew a deal in which he will offer them full pardons on their crimes if they will assist him in taking down Owen Shaw (Evans), an ex-British special forces officer who started an organization for vehicular warfare. Things get even more dramatic when the crew learns that Shaw’s second-in-command is Toretto’s thought-dead girlfriend, Letty (Rodriguez).

These Fast & Furious films are not meant to be analyzed in the traditional film critic, “mumbo-jumbo” knowing that they are not trying to be Oscar-worthy movies, but rather entertaining popcorn flicks. No one walks into the theater hoping to see a thought-provoking film. They come to see exciting car chases, hand-to-hand combat, adrenaline-pumping action, and even some eye-candy. And this latest entry to this franchise definitely reaches its goals and proves to be truly entertaining throughout.

 

The cast does a serviceable job, especially when it comes to their chemistry with eachother, as well as during the action sequences. They all look like they are having the time of their lives filming this movie as their chemistry blends well with the film’s light-hearted style and humor. It should also be worth mentioning that each of their stunt work is genuinely jaw-dropping to see onscreen. 

Much of the film’s success is credit to Justin Lin, who directs to film so well with his actors, but most importantly the action, which is pumped up to 11. The film is stock full of entertaining car-chases and hand-to-hand combat, and it’s nice to see that the action is not only directed well, but displays minimal shaky-cam. The film’s effects also manage to blend in both the practical and computer generated imagery successfully that it makes the action even more gripping.

As for flaws, I’d say that the film’s first third feels somewhat flat-lined, as if nothing exciting really happens until the film’s second act. Also, the film’s script is definitely not Kaufman-level, as the dialogue is somewhat mediocre, and the story does have a few plot-holes and a twist that feels so stupid and predictable. 

But then again, who really cares? This movie is called, Fast & Furious 6 for crying out loud! We all just want to see the fast cars, the awesome action, and have a grand time at the cinema, and thankfully, this film is a prime example of great popcorn entertainment. Fast & Furious 6 is a movie that begs a sold-out audience. It’s a film that you and your friends go out to on a Friday night, with a popcorn bucket and a drink just ready to have a thoroughly entertaining ride (pun intended).

Fast & Furious 6 earns a 4/5.