Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Galaxy Quest

It's really hard to find a comedy nowadays that's, y'know, funny. Most comedies from recent memory rely on sex jokes (and sexist jokes). They really need to focus more on jokes that are actually funny.

Dean Parisot's Galaxy Quest is graciously one such comedy that's actually funny. An affectionate parody/homage to Star Trek, the film is a fun little adventure for anyone. You simply don't find most like Galaxy Quest nowadays.

I think what makes Galaxy Quest so amusing is that the characters know how ridiculous some of the situations are. (One particular moment towards the end springs to mind.) With any other films of this nature, the characters won't bother to question what's happening. With Galaxy Quest, they're insanely genre savvy.

Speaking of the characters, the actors are very good. Tim Allen wonderfully captures the smug nature of his role. Sigourney Weaver is amusing to watch as the blonde bimbo. (And looks pretty damn good for her age then, I might add.) I love how deadpan a majority of Alan Rickman's lines (as well as his perpetual "I'm in hell" expression). Though my favorite performance came from Sam Rockwell, embodying the most paranoid one-episode extra ever.

Galaxy Quest isn't the greatest thing ever (though it feels like it at times), but it is really entertaining. It's basically a Star Trek movie not associated with Star Trek. So if you felt underwhelmed by the new Star Trek movie, go and check out Galaxy Quest. (Oh, and if you're wondering, several actors associated with various Star Trek TV series approved of Galaxy Quest.)

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mickey One

Whenever an actor or a director makes their big break, many of the films they made beforehand usually get overshadowed by said big break. (Let's be real. How many people have seen any of Peter Jackson's pre-The Lord of the Rings films?)

Take for instance both Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty. Penn only had four films to his name whereas Beatty was still trying to make a name for himself as an actor when they made Bonnie and Clyde. As every cinephile knows, that film was responsible for paving the way for the New Hollywood era. But Bonnie and Clyde wasn't the first film Penn and Beatty did together. Go back two years, and you'll come across Mickey One.

Mickey One is a film that was particularly dark for its time. And even though it's a comedy (albeit one with dark humor), the so-called jokes reflect the era. (This was released amid the very tumultuous decade that was the 1960s.) It showed a time of uncertainty and paranoia.

The film also reflects on an existential nature. It shows how Mickey feels trapped by the society he's a part of, a common theme for most films of the decade. He's a loner amid an indifferent world, trying to be recognized. (The result is bittersweet at best.)

Mickey One in toll isn't anything that revolutionary but you can see a few benchmarks later seen in Bonnie and Clyde. Beatty proves here that he can be a viable actor rather than just another pretty face. But all in all if you can get a hold of this film, it's worth a look.

My Rating: ****

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Dead Zone

David Cronenberg is certainly a diverse director. He's dabbled in a number of genres: psychological horror, gross-out horror, surreal drama and not-so-domestic drama. I personally prefer the latter category, but many prefer the first two.

His 1983 film The Dead Zone fits somewhere between the first and third categories. Based on the Stephen King novel, the film chronicles a man's life following a debilitating car crash. (Amusingly, this was years before King's own.)

Many of Cronenberg's films from the 1980s focused on the surreal nature in life. (Videodrome, The Fly and Dead Ringers are the main contributors.) The Dead Zone isn't any different from those titles. It shows how strange life can become for some.

The star of The Dead Zone is Christopher Walken, who is actually the kind of actor Cronenberg would cast for one of his films. (Seriously, just look at him.) Not long after his deserved Oscar win for The Deer Hunter, Walken continues to show his abilities as an actor. There are many times throughout the film where he's just absolutely scared of what he's seeing, and Walken displays it fantastically.

Despite the work from Walken and the many unsettling elements early on, The Dead Zone feels like something's lacking by the end. I'm not sure what it is though. Of the Cronenberg films I've seen, this felt like the weakest among them. Oh, and there's also a really sleazy performance out of Martin Sheen too.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Blow Out

What is it about conspiracy films that keep the masses enthralled? Is it the mystery lurking beneath the secrets, just waiting to be revealed? Is it the people trying to solve the mystery? Those trying to keep it hidden? Regardless of the reason, it captivates audiences.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out is another film of the genre. Knowing De Palma's certain style, it comes as no surprise that there are allusions to Alfred Hitchcock throughout the film. But there's more than just the occasional shout-out to the Master of Suspense.

There are also allusions to (at the time) relatively recent events in politics. (The car crash that moves the film's events forward could be a sly reference to the Kennedy incident at Chappaquddick.) There's also nods towards both Watergate and the JFK assassination. Intentional? Most likely. Interesting? Most definitely.

The star of Blow Out is John Travolta, hot off the success of Saturday Night Fever and Grease. Here, he's far from busting a move. (There's a line I'd never thought I'd type.) He's determined to find the truth, even after the police insist there's nothing to the "accident". (John Lithgow's work here also deserves a mention.)

All in all, Blow Out is good but it loses steam after a while. It is a good De Palma film (the only others I saw were The Untouchables and Carlito's Way), I'll say that. Basically if you want a pretty solid film from the 1980s, here's your film.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, May 19, 2013


We've all seen those films. Guy's in dire need of money, so what's his best solution? Why, go to Vegas and play poker of course. It's a cliche, certainly, but it's kept people coming to the movie theater regardless.

Now John Dahl's Rounders continues that trend minus the trip to Vegas. What the film succeeds in is showing the desperation of the two leads as they try to get enough money to keep themselves alive. (Oh, and I don't normally do this, but here's another review that I liked.)

Now onto the rest of my review. I'm not much for films of this nature and the plot for Rounders is rather flimsy. But the ranging performances from the primary actors make the film work somewhat. (I say "somewhat" loosely.)

The actors include Matt Damon, Edward Norton (both recently recognized for their work in Good Will Hunting and Primal Fear respectively), John Turturro and John Malkovich (who speaks with the most ridiculous Russian accent possible). Damon has the most substantial role of the quartet but Norton is the scene stealer of the four. (He did have that tendency early on in his career.)

Anyway, Rounders is an all right film. Not great but there were a few good moments here and there that I liked. Norton, as stated above, steals basically every scene he's in whereas Damon gives a good performance. It's not much to go by but it's worth a look at least.

My Rating: ***1/2

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Sally Potter's Orlando is a different kind of film from most others. It highlights the subject of gender in a way different from other films. Yet it stays to the conventions of the type of film it is (a period piece).

Now I haven't read Virginia Woolf's novel nor have I seen any of Potter's other films, but I could tell that this was an unique idea. An ageless human who lives life as both a man and a woman? Sounds like a compelling story.

Potter gives her audience a film that has a balance of decadence and simplicity. However, the balance isn't a very even one. Sometimes the decadence is too much while other times the simplicity isn't enough. Still, it's the work from the film's star that can make it work.

The star in question is Tilda Swinton, who is rapidly becoming a favorite actress. It seems fitting that she would be in a film like Orlando. This is the kind of film that can show the world what kind of talent an actor has. In fact, Orlando may contain Swinton's best performance.

As mentioned above, Orlando is a very different kind of film. It feels flimsy in some parts but it's thanks to Swinton's performance that makes the film still remembered today. If you like unconventional films, then you'll like Orlando.

My Rating: ****

Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

The one thing I appreciated the most about J.J. Abram's first Star Trek film was that he didn't make it only for the fans. He also made it for the non-Trekkies as well. (I fit very snugly into the latter category.) That shows his commitment right there.

And if you read my review of the first film, you know that I loved it and was looking forward to the sequel. So what did I think of Star Trek Into Darkness? To be honest, I thought it was just as awesome as the first one. Hell, some scenes may have surpassed those in the first one.

The stars of Star Trek Into Darkness continue where they left off four years earlier. Chris Pine keeps Kirk's cockiness in full swing throughout. I approve of Zoe Saldana having more to do here. Karl Urban and Simon Pegg are real fun to watch. (They always get the best one-liners.) But one of the two MVPs of Star Trek Into Darkness is definitely Zachary Quinto. For playing a character known for his stoic nature, Quinto sure knows how to show emotion at the right moment.

I must talk about Benedict Cumberbatch's work here. (I won't delve into too many details.) It's the small details in his performance that make him stand out. The cold, dead look in his eyes...the eerily calm tone in his voice...and nary a moment where he goes over the top. (Okay, maybe one or two towards the end.) If you've seen his work on Sherlock, you know he's great at playing the anti-hero. But here, he proves he's fantastic at playing the villain.

To sum up everything (or basically repeat myself), Star Trek Into Darkness definitely delivers. It's certainly darker than the first film (though the title alone suggests that) and the war on terror allegory throughout is interesting. And Michael Giacchino's score added so much to the film. Oh, and be sure to stick around after the credits.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Prophet

We're seen countless films where the influence of crime on people has already kicked in. What about those where said influence is starting to make an impact? Ah, now that's one story that's not very common.

Jacques Audiard's A Prophet is one such film that focuses on the latter to the fullest. Chronicling the rise of a prison inmate's criminal empire, the film shows how seductive the wrong side of justice can be to some people. (I clearly see now why it's a topic not often highlighted.)

The films stars Tahar Rahim as Malik, a young prisoner forced to work for the leader of a Corsican gang. He's reluctant at first but after a while (and a few beatings), Malik accepts his role in the gang. It takes less time for him to make a name for himself.

Parallels between Malik and Michael Corleone can easily be made. After all, both are men originally unwilling to start a life of crime. Though their backgrounds are different. (We're introduced to Malik as he goes into prison; Michael is introduced as a war hero.) But both men were unable to resist the seduction of criminal behavior.

A Prophet is a really fascinating film. Not many films chronicle the dark side of human behavior and Audiard provides a great portrait. Audiard also became a director I'm keeping an eye on most definitely. Wonder what else he's done...

My Rating: *****

Saturday, May 11, 2013


When it comes to the education system, there is a constant debate as to whom is to blame when students aren't grasping the things they're taught. Some blame the teachers for making their lessons too hard. Others blame the parents for not helping their kids. Like I said, it's a constant debate.

Tony Kaye's Detachment shows teachers in both a sympathetic and harsh light. They're deemed sympathetic because they try so hard to keep their professional and personal lives in order. But they're also deemed unsympathetic because they have no idea how to do that. (Then again, this is made by the man responsible for American History X.)

The students get basically the same treatment as the teachers here. They're treated sympathetically because they're expected to learn and make a plan for their whilst under constant pressure. But they're also treated harshly because they are the one responsible for their educators' stress. But it's all a matter of opinion.

I must say, the cast for Detachment is pretty phenomenal. The names among the roster include Adrien Brody, Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Tim Blake Nelson, Blythe Danner and Bryan Cranston. They're all very good (Brody especially), but a special mention to Sami Gayle is deserved.

Detachment isn't an excessively remarkable film but some scenes certainly leave an impact. It doesn't have the same shock value as American History X but it certainly tries to. Also, I love those last few shots of the film. There's a certain poetry to them.

My Rating: ****

Friday, May 10, 2013

Kinky Boots

Two early scenes in Julian Jarrold's Kinky Boots perfectly establish the two main characters when they were children. One child shows absolute joy when he puts on a pair of woman's pumps. Another is taught the beauty of the shoe. These two scenes depict who they'll become.

One of them becomes Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a transvestite cabaret singer. She knows that some people look at her in a strange way, but it doesn't soften her brassy attitude. Yet in certain moments, that exactly happens. And Ejiofor wonderfully conveys Lola's fiery personality. (He looks pretty good in drag too.)

The other child grows up to become Charlie (Joel Edgerton), the owner of a failing shoe factory. He's trying to figure out how to keep the family business alive, but he's not sure what to do. Edgerton shows Charlie's uncertainty to a level where you just feel sorry for him.

As with any film, the balance between the main characters' personalities is key. Basically every time Lola and Charlie interact is glorious. (Well, except for one scene.) The way Lola's vibrant thinking and Charlie's conventional thinking clash is a sight to be seen.

Kinky Boots isn't anything game changing or revolutionary but it's certainly entertaining. Ejiofor steals every scene he's in, especially the final few scenes. Personally, I liked it and I'll definitely be seeing it again. (It does strike me as amusing that the director would later go on to make Brideshead Revisited.)

My Rating: ****

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Withnail and I

Films with an autobiographical nature to them are frequently appealing. At times, you wonder how much is fiction and how much is fact. It's a small thing, yes, but I enjoy it.

This is the route Bruce Robinson took when he made Withnail and I. The film depicts Robinson's earlier life as a young, struggling actor. (He is depicted as the eponymous "I" as played by a pre-Doctor Who Paul McGann.) I appreciate the way McGann play Robinson's cinematic doppelganger, particularly how he shows the anxiety bubbling within him.

You might be wondering whom Withnail (Richard E. Grant) is based on. He's based on Vivian MacKerrell, a friend and former housemate of Robinson's. And upon reading up on MacKerrell, I can tell that Grant embodied him to a T. It's how he plays Withnail that stands out. He's very ambitious but equally lazy. I love it.

The balance between Grant and McGann's personalities is just fantastic. Seeing Withnail's acerbic attitude and "I"'s nervous persona bounce off each other is just a wonder. It's a small detail like that which will make me like a film more.

And that's just one of many reasons for why I fell in love with Withnail and I. Another reason would be that wonderfully sardonic script by Robinson. If you haven't seen this, you really should.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Magdalene Sisters

It's made very clear early on in Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters that the three protagonists are going to be punished severely for their "sins". Though the punishment seems a bit overzealous. (Then again, the film is set in 1964 Ireland.) The punishment in question is spending time in an asylum.

But what were their sins? Rose (Dorothy Duff) had a child out of wedlock. Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) appeared too flirtatious. And the most insulting of them all, Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) got punished for getting raped. (Boy, the morals were different then, weren't they?)

It basically comes as no surprise that life in the asylum is a living hell for Rose, Bernadette, Margaret and the other women staying there. Mullan is essentially making a prison film minus the prison. And boy, it's just as unflinching as Midnight Express.

Mullan also succeeds in painting a very bleak portrait. (The real inmates of the Magdalene asylums stated that the film toned down the abuse they endured.) The women endured physical abuse, sexual harassment and psychological torment, all within the asylum walls.

The Magdalene Sisters is an impressive film but I doubt I'll re-watch it any time soon. Not because it wasn't that great of a film but because it's just really hard to watch in some scenes. Still, if you haven't seen it, it's very much worth a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Cranes Are Flying

It feels like such a cliche, doesn't it? Boy and girl are in love, boy gets sent off to war, love between them only grows stronger. It gets hokier with each passing film.

That said, however, Mikhail Kalatozv's The Cranes Are Flying handles the now-exhausted storyline beautifully. Set in the Soviet Union not long after Germany's invasion in 1941, the film highlights the hope not just in the two lovers but also the other citizens of the Soviet Union. (War is such a horrid thing, isn't it?)

The film stars Tatiana Samoilova, who from some angles resembles Audrey Hepburn. And like Hepburn, Samoilova has talent as well as beauty. She simply shows Veronica's sadness just with her face. It's a small ability like that which makes me appreciate an actor more.

As well as Samoilova's acting, another highlight of The Cranes Are Flying is Sergei Urusevsky's cinematography. Saturated in the shadows, the film gives off an ethereal nature. Having also seen his work for Letter Never Sent (also directed by Kalatozv), I know that Urusevsky has some of the best visions in cinema.

The Cranes Are Flying is both a beautiful film and a heartbreaking one. Who would have thought back then that there could something poetic about war? (This is years before Terrence Malick did such a thing with The Thin Red Line.) I'm also fairly certain that this is now ranked among my favorites.

My Rating: *****

Monday, May 6, 2013


Whenever an actor re-invents themselves, it can go one of two ways. The career re-invention fails spectacularly and the actor's career barely recovers from it. Or everyone's jaws drop from the career re-invention and the actor gets meatier roles as a result.

The latter is definitely the case with Matthew McConaughey. For the past decade, his resume consisted mainly of romantic comedies where him being shirtless was contractually obligatory. The mere thought of him as a serious actor was laughable. (Well, at least to those who never saw A Time to Kill, Lone Star or Frailty.) Then came the one-two punch of Magic Mike and Killer Joe last year, and that decade-long image of him died a painful death.

McConaughey continues his streak in Jeff Nichols' Mud. Here, he plays the title character, a man hiding from the law and bounty hunters. He's not a viciously violent man nor is he one being wrongfully pursued. He's fully aware of what he did was wrong but he did it for a sole reason: to protect his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).

The work from McConaughey is phenomenal, and the work from Witherspoon, Sam Shepard and Sarah Paulson also deserves a mention. But it's the work from Tye Sheridan (who plays the real leading role) that simply must be mentioned. You honestly don't find performances like that very often, especially from a child actor.

Mud is one of those films where one small mistake could derail the whole thing. Thankfully that doesn't happen. Not only does McConaughey prove that he can most definitely act with Mud, Nichols shows that he's one of the best directors working today. Seriously, go see Mud.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, May 5, 2013


It's always a good sign when a film made decades ago is still relateable today. It could be something simple like politics or certain perspectives on the world. It's not too common but it's nice to see it happen.

In regards with Lindsay Anderson's If...., the subjects in question are the school environment and its effects on students. Nowadays the effects are from bullying by fellow students but in If...., the bullying is mostly done by the teachers. (No surprise that the aftermath of said bullying caused a bit of a stir back when it was released.)

It also comes as no surprise that this was released during a time where expression through violence was common. This year was 1968, a time during an ever-changing decade where political assassinations and anti-war protests ruled the headlines. Many films tried to keep their audiences' minds off recent events, but Anderson has his audiences very much acknowledge the chaos outside the movie theater.

As with every film, it takes the right actor to make the whole thing work. For If...., the actor Anderson chose to lead his film was Malcolm McDowell in his film debut. He may not look that much of a trouble maker, but there's that look in his eyes that suggests otherwise. (Is it any wonder that it was this film that convinced Stanley Kubrick to cast McDowell in A Clockwork Orange?)

If.... is a very compelling watch. Seeing people slowly getting pushed to their breaking's just fascinating to watch. Some scenes don't entirely work, but Anderson certainly shows he knows what he's doing.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Orphanage

You just don't find that many old school horror films nowadays, do you? We've gotten so used to found footage and B-movies, it's almost as if we don't know how to make a horror film relying only on scares than gore.

Thankfully Juan Antonio Bayona made The Orphanage not that long ago, so there's still some hope. Like any great horror film, The Orphanage is set in a creepy old house. (In this case, the former orphanage Laura (Belen Rueda) grew up in and now currently owns.) And like those found in other such films, this house may have its fair share of secrets.

Unlike some horror films however, The Orphanage has an emotional core. Laura is devoted to her son and it's just heartbreaking to watch when she can't find him not long after the film begins. She keeps her hopes up to find him alive and unharmed, but each passing day makes that hope die a little more.

In a way, The Orphanage isn't strictly a horror film. It could be viewed more as a domestic drama with supernatural elements in it. (Oh, and a dash of paranoia doesn't hurt either.) And as the film wears on, aspects from both genres blend into a sumptuous story. Heartbreaking and lovely all at once.

The Orphanage is an excellent film without a doubt. It has a nice balance of drama and horror that you can't find anywhere else. To put it in simple terms, you must see this film.

My Rating: *****

Friday, May 3, 2013

I Am Love

Even when one lives in a life of luxury, that life can become dull. (No, seriously. It is possible...I think.) After being around the likes of designer clothing and gourmet food, you could start to long for something much simpler.

Just imagine how Emma (Tilda Swinton) feels in Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love. An immigrant from Russia, Emma has gotten acquainted with the lavish Milan lifestyle through her marriage. But it didn't come without a few sacrifices. (Emma isn't even her real name; she doesn't remember her birth name.)

Swinton is quickly becoming an eclectic actress in my eyes. As Emma, she shows a level of uncertainly in what she desires. She wants her family to be happy yet she's not entirely sure of what she wants. (This is before she meets Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), mind you.)

I Am Love is certainly one of the more lavish Italian films I've encountered. (This is coming from someone who has Luchino Visconti among their favorites.) This can be mainly attributed to Yorick Le Saux's lush cinematography and John Adams' even lusher score. It's just the small details I admire.

Swinton's performance, Le Saux's cinematography and Adams' score aside, there's not much else about I Am Love to write home about. There's certainly a possibility that a re-watch will be in my future but for now, I'm calling it for what it is: a simple but very lush film.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Is there a particular kind of story that you like in a movie? A love story, a character study, stories like that. (I'm fond of character studies.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

BOOK VS MOVIE: No Country for Old Men

For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. This is something taught in physics, but it can be applied to life in general. This is something shown every now and again in fiction.

One such work is No Country for Old Men. The story begins when the money of a drug deal gone bad gets stolen by an outsider. His actions get him noticed not just by the police but also by a very violent hitman. (There are some things you should always leave alone. One of them is a suitcase full of money.)

Cormac McCarthy, as I learned from The Road, isn't into stories that are the slightest bit uplifting. No Country for Old Men only confirms that fact. Thanks to its bleak dialogue and even bleaker descriptions, the novel shows that all hope is lost. (Fortunately, it's not as depressingly bleak as The Road, but it's twice as violent.)

Joel and Ethan Coen's film keeps the bloody nature of McCarthy's novel very much alive. (Hey, they are the guys who made Fargo after all.) The performances from Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones certainly add to it as well. (Kelly Macdonald also deserves a mention.) And, of course, Roger Deakins' cinematography is gorgeous.

Both the novel and the film have their fair share of grisly violence. But the distinctions between the styles are very noticeable. (McCarthy is more straightforward whereas the Coens linger over the gory details.) And it's the difference in styles that made me choose the victor of the two.

What's worth checking out?: The book.