Friday, August 29, 2014

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For (2014)


Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Powers Booth, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd, Jaime King, Lady Gaga

Sin City (2005) is to me, one of Robert Rodriguez finest days behind the camera, it was sheer cinematic perfection, the mood, the images, the words, everything flowed with amazing finesse and clarity. So of course when I heard that Rodriguez and Miller were teaming up again for a sequel, I was more than excited. True, Robert Rodriguez can be a hit or miss type of director, but you have to admit, when he’s running on all cylinders, the guy can make some damn entertaining movies. El Mariachi (1992), Desperado (1995) From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Planet Terror (2007) and Sin City (2005) are all high watermarks in his career. And let’s not forget his more “for the hell of it” films, like Machete (2010) and Machete Kills (2013), two great examples of the fun b-movies that Rodriguez is so good at making. Here’s a guy who understands Pulp Fiction, not the Tarantino movie, but the concept. He knows how entertaining over the top violence can be. To top things off, he’s got a kinetic style of storytelling, with a high emphasis on never letting the audience get bored. He wants to give you that shock, that cheap thrill, he wants you to chuckle and stare in awe at the screen. And on this aspect, Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For delivers the goods.


This time around we go back to the seedy underbelly of Basin City via four short stories all written by comic book mastermind Frank Miller. The stories are: A Dame to Kill For, Just Another Saturday Night, The Long Bad Night and Nancy’s Last Dance, which by the way was a story written specifically for the film. On this sequel we get to see many of the characters presented to us in the first film, like Marv, Nancy Callahan, Dwight, Gail, Hartigan and the evil Senator Roark. We are also presented to a whole bag of new ones like the wonderfully conniving Eva, played by Eva Green. She’s the ultimate seductress, using her sensual powers to get what she wants, seducing her way to anything. Welcome to Sin City, a place where nobody is squeaky clean. 


Going back to Sin City feels like I never left, the characters, the images, everything holds a certain familiarity to it. The film still has that distinctive black and white look and the characters talk in that special unmistakable Frank Miller talk. It’s cool to see the same characters again, the only thing you have to be ready for is that certain characters are now played by different actors, for example, the character of Dwight, who was played by Clive Owen in the first film, is now being played by Josh Brolin.  The character of  ‘Manute’, who in the first film was played by Michael Clarke Duncan is now played by Dennis Haysbert. Devon Aoki, who played deadly little Miho in the first film, has been replaced by Jamie Chung, and so forth. They are still the same characters, it’s just different actors playing then. Good news is that since they are all Frank Miller comic book characters, they still look and sound the same, you might not even notice the changes so much.


So this film is interesting because its half prequel, half sequel. Some of the stories take place before the first film, some after the first film. This is the reason why we see some characters who died in the first film back again, the most notable example would be Marv, who dies electrocuted in the ending of the first film. Marv is featured prominently in this film, which is a good move in my book since he was everyone’s favorite character from the first film. He looks just a bit different, but he’s still good old pill poppin’, head chopping Marv. The last story in the film, called Nancy’s Last Stand is a good old revenge tale with Nancy looking to avenge the death of Hartigan, the detective that saved her from being raped, and “the only man she ever loved”. So yeah, you’ll feel like your revisiting your favorite, fucked up friends. This is the nature of Sin City, it’s not a pretty place; these aren’t wholesome characters. The stories that Frank Miller cooks up for these Sin City graphic novels are about greedy, selfish characters, hatred and revenge pour out of their every pore.


Frank Miller gets lots of heat because his stories have been deemed ‘misogynistic’ by some…in the parlance of our times, misogynistic means that his stories display a certain amount of hatred towards women? Um, I’ve read most of the Sin City graphic novels and I don’t really see that at all. Actually, I honestly think that’s just a bunch of horse shit. Let me see, if I remember correctly, Hartigan saves a little girl from being raped…how is that misogynistic? That very same girl grows up, and Hartigan once again protects her from ‘that Yellow Bastard’ who wants to rape her and kill her? This very same girl that Hartigan saved later becomes a strong female character by going out to avenge the death of the man who saved her. Not misogynistic. Some of his stories actually empower the female, by making them strong protagonists, like in Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For, where Nancy becomes a kick ass revenge hungry female lead.  Sure these are stories about prostitutes, so what, there are prostitutes in the real world so how is that displaying hatred towards women? Prostitutes are a real thing in the real world, especially in the world of Sin City. In the first film, Marv falls head over heels for “Goldie”, a woman he worships with every word that comes out of his mouth. Another character called Dwight protects Shellie from a violent, psychotic ex-lover. In any case, if violence is inflicted upon women, it comes from villains, not from the heroes who always protect the women, or love them with tremendous amounts of love and admiration. And it’s not like women are always depicted as being helpless victims, just ask the girls of old town, who can more than take care of themselves. If you ask me, Miller actually displays respect and admiration towards women, not hatred. In any case, Miller actually addresses some very real issues about women, issues that need to be addressed and talked about. So get outta here with your self righteous sanctimonious bull crap. These are stories about a town called Sin City, if you can’t take the heat, get out of hell’s kitchen. 


Truth be told, being accused of being misogynistic is the smallest of Miller’s problems; what Miller really received a lot of heat for was for a story he drew and wrote called ‘Holy Terror’; a story that at one point was going to be one of the most controversial Batman stories ever told, it was going to be called ‘Holy Terror, Batman!’ But, at some point, Miller decided this was no longer a Batman story, so he changed the main character from Batman into a new character of his own creation called ‘The Fixer’ and printed the graphic novel through Legendary instead of DC.  But originally, Holy Terror was going to be all about Batman kicking Al Qaedas ass and killing a whole bunch of terrorists. Thing with Holy Terror is that Miller lived in New York during 9/11, and it affected him in a big way, Holy Terror was made as a direct response to that. Miller has gone down as saying “I can tell you squat about Islam, I don’t know anything about it. But I know a goddamn lot about Al Qaeda and I want them all to burn in hell”. So yeah, his public hatred towards Al Qaeda garnered hatred from many. Miller knew this was going to happen. He labels the book as “Propaganda” that is “bound to offend just about everybody” But then again, if we look back in time, Captain America and Batman both kicked Hitler’s ass in their own time, so to Miller, having Batman kick Al Qaeda’s ass was just a way to pay homage to those classic politically charged comics and a way to comment on the 9/11 attacks. Does it show hatred towards Muslims? Or just towards a small terrorist group? Is it racist? I don’t know because I have yet to read it, but you can’t expect a review of it here soon. Whatever the case maybe, Miller doesn’t back down from his work, he makes no apologies for it, and maybe this is why as a form of retaliation, Sin City 2 has sadly tanked at the box office. I doubt everybody has read Holy Terror, but god knows there’s a couple of sites, and a couple of blogs and articles out there spewing nothing but hatred for it. It could be that this all backfired on Miller and now Sin City 2 is suffering at the box office for it.  


This is all too bad, because to me Sin City 2 is fun times, as fun and mean spirited as the first film was. Many have labeled it as “more of the same” and I have to say that I agree. To me this sequel being more of the same doesn’t bother me one bit because I love the film noir world of Sin City, if it’s more of what I loved from the first film then so be it, I welcome it. I got no problems with these stories being about prostitutes and psychotic characters, this is Sin City, keyword ‘Sin’. If I had to say something negative about the film is that the stories from the first film where slightly more shocking and darker…by comparison these stories feel somewhat less important. It’s not that they don’t chop off enough heads or that there isn’t enough white blood, there’s tons of violence and nudity to garner the film it’s ‘R’ rating, but by comparison, the stories from the first film felt like they had more of a punch to them. But whatever, Sin City light is still Sin City and the film still has enough grittiness, nudity and comic book violence to please fans of the ‘R’ rating. I’m saddened that Sin City 2 has tanked the way it has, there’s no real reason for it to be flopping as hard as it has, it’s an entertaining film. Is it that audiences nowadays have become complete softies that can’t take blood and violence in their entertainment? Has society grown only to accept PG-13 films? Whatever, it’s their loss. I hope they enjoy their umpteenth Step Up film.


Rating: 4 out of 5  
   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)


I grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon show; yes I’m one of those dudes who can sing the opening credits song by heart. The cartoon show was silly to the max, but my preteen heart loved it. I think we all love silly things when we are kids and the turtles cartoon show was one of the many silly things I loved. Later, I discovered the original Turtle comics done by Eastman and Laird, the original turtle creators. Now those were cool comics! Action packed sci-fi fantasy with awesome artwork, in these comics, which were the seed of what we now know as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, we were presented with a decidedly less silly (though no less fun) version of the turtles. The turtles in these Eastman and Lair comics were the true turtles. Sometimes I wish the movies would embrace that sci-fi fantasy side of the comic book a little more, but alas, the films still haven’t gotten entirely there yet. In those comics the turtles would travel to other dimensions, drive flying cars, you name it. Eastman and Lairs comics where really out there. 


I remember back in 1990, when they announced that a live action turtles film would start production, the first question that popped in my head was how they hell are they going to pull that off? The idea of talking mutant turtles seemed impossible to translate to live action in my mind. Remember, this was way back in 1990 when movies had little to no computer animation, so my doubts were valid. But surely enough they pulled it off. I remember that first time I saw the turtles on the cover of Comic Scene magazine…I was flabbergasted! They actually pulled it off! They brought the turtles to freaking life! Jim Henson and his creature shop worked their magic, and suddenly there before me, on the cover of this magazine were the four turtles, looking more alive than life itself. It was magic. And that first film still holds a magic to it for me. It’s a simple film, it only cost 10 million to make (can you believe it?) and it had this charm to it. The turtles had charisma, they had personalities. They felt real, tangible. They were there. How do these new Turtles compare to the old ones?


Well, for starters, these new turtles are entirely computer generated images, so not an ounce of what you see on screen is real, which sucks for me because to be honest, what I liked about the originals was that they looked “real”. But whatever, there’s no stopping computer generated images, they’ve completely taken over films, so I’m not gonna fight it anymore. The way they are making movies now is entire sequences are computer generated, and this new TMNT movie is the best example of that, there’s entire sequences that are computer generated! I mean, literally, entire scenes that go on and on and on without a single tangible thing on screen, it’s crazy. It doesn’t stop shocking me how much this happens in todays cinema. In my opinion computer generated images are taking away something from the art of filmmaking which used to be all about shooting something with a freaking camera. Now a huge chunk of a film is never filmed, which is a contradiction if you ask me! But when it’s well made it works, and on this film for the most part the computer animation is pretty spot on and good. So once you get past the idea that you’re not seeing actors playing the turtles, but instead computer generated images, well, I kinda got used to it. My main preoccupation was that they wouldn’t be able to transmit the turtle’s personalities and that we’d end up with a bunch of generic characters ala the Transformers films. Well, I’m happy to inform they did. Still, I felt I got more personality from the portrayal of the characters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990).


I guess the big difference between the 90’s film and this one is the budget. The filmmakers behind this new turtle’s film had many more millions at their disposal, and it shows. By comparison, the first film is a small film, yet what made the 90’s film work so well was the chemistry between the turtles themselves and the story, which was about brotherly love, respect…the first film wins in this respect. It has more warmth, more depth, more character. This new one is all about the action and the effects, sure we get some back story, but it’s missing the heart. It failed to connect with me in that way that the first one did. I mean, how about that scene in the original in which the four brothers are mourning Splinter and suddenly his spirit appears in front of them in the camp fire? The four turtles cry and laugh together knowing their master is alive…it’s such an awesome scene with so much heart. Where is the equivalent of that on this new film? There is one scene where the turtles are about to die and Raphael goes on an emotional burst and tells his turtle brothers how much he’s always loved them, but that’s about it. We needed more heart on this new film. And for that, you need a script that goes for the heart, so I guess we could blame the script for not having that warmth that the first film had in spades. It’s why you end up liking the turtles, because they love each other in spite of their differences.    


There’s a scene on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) in which the turtles are all in an elevator and suddenly begin to make music with their ninja weapons which was pretty cool; it reminded me of the silliness you’d find in the old Turtle movies, and in my opinion this new one needed more of that as well, it needed that goofing around from the old movies. In the old movies it seemed like the turtles never stopped goofing around, on this new one the goofiness is slightly muted. Something else I didn’t really like about the new one is the look of the foot clan. On the comics and the cartoons, the foot clan always looked like ninjas…on this new movie they simply look like soldiers with machine guns? Where’s the freaking ninjas? Ninjas were an essential part of the Turtles formula! Hello we’re talking about NINJA turtles? Why take away their ninja enemies? That was a big drawback in my opinion. Instead we get  soldiers with these weird masks…this was not the foot clan I grew up with; shame on whoever made that terrible choice. I wanted ninjas in purple and black suits, but alas, somebody decided to give them an upgrade and we get these crappy looking soldiers. Ugh. And where the hell is Casey Jones? I want my Casey Jones! He was an essential part of the Turtles! They better include him in the inevitable sequel or I’m calling the geek police.


In terms of story, I did like a few things, but despised others. For example, I thought it was very cool how they managed to mix April O’Neil into the turtles past. That was a golden move, now she’s not just a curious reporter; she was actually involved in the birth of the turtles and in their ultimate salvation. In the old ones she was just this nosy reporter who befriended the turtles. So that was cool. There’s these flashback sequences that were extremely similar to the flash black sequence in the 90’s film, where we see just how the turtles grew into who they are now, we get to see how Splinter helps them grow and become ninjas, teaching them the ways of Kung Fu. Unfortunately the whole plot about the big bad corporation trying to contaminate the city with a contagious toxin, just so they could sell them the antivirus and make gazillions felt old hat and warn; all too similar to the plot for The Amazing Spiderman (2012). Actually it’s almost exactly the same exact plot device! Even the whole ending of the film takes place on a rooftop trying to stop the virus from spreading, just like in The Amazing Spiderman (2012), hell,  on both films everything ends with a huge antenna falling down towards an unsuspecting crowd of New Yorkers! So don’t expect much in the way of originality because if you’ve seen the Amazing Spiderman, then you’ll feel like déjà vu with this new Turtles film in terms of story.


But overall, it’s an entertaining film. It’s got action, it’s got comedy, Splinter is a bit more kick ass and stern then the mellow guru one from the other films. Shredder is this giant cyber samurai…but I felt they didn’t flesh out splinter enough. Again we fall into the classic modern filmmaking technique of not giving us a memorable villain. Sure he looks cool with all those blades and the shiny metal suit, but where’s the fire? Where’s the insanity? Nowhere to be seen, instead, Shredder feels more like a tool on this one, again, like in so many modern films (like for example the new Robocop) they take away the mad villain and replace him with a villainous corporate suit; which is so blah, so less fun. So, final words this is a satisfying Turtles film, I just wished more of it had actually been filmed. I prefer the puppet wizardry from the originals; I’m old school that way I guess. Still, it’s not a bad turtles movie, it entertains and it has exciting action sequences. It just needed a few things: the real foot clan ninjas, Casey Jones and some tangibility to it. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) Rating: 3 out of 5
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) Rating: 4 out of 5


Friday, August 15, 2014

Lucy (2014)


Title: Lucy (2014)

Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-Sik Choi

They are calling Lucy a “Stoner Film” and I would have to agree, the film does have an emphasis on abstract visuals, sometimes goint into what I like to call “trippy territory”, or what a more eloquent reviewer would call “surrealism”, these are dream like sequences in the film that don’t necessarily adhere to logic or reason. Luc Besson, the French director/producer/writer behind Lucy has always been a very eclectic type of director, and one of my favorites. He’s made all kinds of films throughout his career, for example, just recently he directed Robert Deniro and Michelle Pfiffer in The Family (2013). He’s also done dramatic films like Leon: TheProfessional (1994), which I still think is one of his best. The one film in Besson’s repertoire that made me think he was the right director for a film like Lucy was The Fifth Element (1997) primarily because The Fifth Element is such an effects driven film, and Lucy is most certainly an effect heavy film. The previews for Lucy got me excited because I love it when Besson does sci-fi, he always strives to show us something we’ve never seen before. He takes his imagination to new frontiers in his films, and I love that sense of escapism he infuses in some of them. So did Besson ‘wow’ us once again like he’s done with his previous films? 


Lucy is all about a woman who is suddenly thrust into a world of drug trafficking, a world she knows nothing about. Yet as fate would have it she ends up as a courier, transporting an extremely powerful experimental drug that makes your brain function at 100% capacity. Problem is that the packet she’s carrying burst open inside of her body! Almost immediately the drug gets into her blood stream and it isn’t long before Lucy begins to experiment what it means to have your brain functioning at full capacity. She soon starts learning everything that the mind can achieve when it is in full power! She starts developing these amazing abilities that she didn’t know she had!


So this film has many good things going for it, first off, it’s all about the visuals, Lucy acquires amazing powers and starts using them, with each passing moment she becomes more and more powerful, which offers us these awesome moments where she displays her new abilities. That’s where the strength of the film is at, in the visuals. Lucy acquires amazing powers like telepathy and telekinesis! Also, in Lucy we go back in humanities history, we analyze humanity, where we began, what we’ve evolved into, why have we done what we’ve done with the planet and all that, which was cool, and of course, all these themes lend themselves for awesome effects that brought to mind scenes from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969), actually in more ways than one. Sure, there’s the surreal element, but also because it has to do with collecting all of humanities knowledge in one super computer, which immediately brought to mind the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is also a super computer. Lucy’s plot about the experimental drug that enhances your brain brought to mind Limitless (2011) because both films play with the same idea, the only difference is that Lucy goes a bit further with the idea by entering into the realm of time travel and telekinesis.


The only real let down for me with this movie is that since it comes from Luc Besson, the director of The Fifth Element (1999), well, I was expecting something as epic and huge as The Fifth Element, but in reality, Lucy is actually a ‘small film’ with big ideas. As it is, I was expecting for the film to end with a bang, instead it ends with a whimper, and a promise of future films. It has that kind of open ending that leaves you with a huge question mark in your head. But overall, I had a blast with it, it just needed something extra to make it truly awesome. The ending leaves you wondering what’s next? Kind of like the ending for Highlander (1984) where you are left wondering what the main character is going to do with his new found powers and knowledge. What I’m saying a Besson fan might leave the theater feeling underwhelemed, but overall, Lucy’s an action packed film, with car chases, shoot outs, telekinesis, surreal imagery and thought provoking themes. Plus we have the ever beautiful Scarlett Johansson, who continues to amaze with her beauty and as a performer. I’m hoping they do make a sequel, I’d love to see where else they can go from here because I was left wanting more, which I’m sure was the filmmakers purpose from the get go.


Rating: 4 out of 5      


  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)


Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Benicio del Toro, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close

I understand why Disney and Marvel Studios saw this film as a risky venture, I mean, here’s a Marvel Comic that not many people know about, you see, Guardians of the Galaxy is not a household name like say the X-Men or Spiderman. In actuality, Guardians of the Galaxy has been an on again, off again title in Marvel Comics roster for years. It would get printed, last for a run and then get cancelled. I remember when I first came into contact with the Guardians of the Galaxy comics, it was when Marvel re-launched the comic in 1990. In that version of the group, the lineup of characters were totally different, from that 1990’s version of Guardians of the Galaxy, only the character of Yondu Udonta (played by Michael Rooker) made it onto this new film.  And wow, what an awesome comic book movie this was, for many reasons, all of which I will go into on this review, just to pump you up so you go see this one in theaters, where it deserves to be seen.

First issue of Guardians of the Galaxy (1990) 
From this line-up, only Yondu made it to the movie

On this film we meet a group of totally disparate characters who by pure chance (or maybe destiny?) end up working together to stop a madman named Ronan from destroying an entire planet. You see, he’s one of those mad conqueror types who wants to destroy everything so he can “cure” society and start everything out in his own image. In order to achieve this, Ronan has struck a deal with one of the most powerful beings in the universe: Thanos! The deal is that Ronan finds one of the ever elusive and incredibly powerful infinity gems for Thanos, who in turn, as a gesture of gratitude,will destroy an entire planet for Ronan, so he can then take over it. Problem is that the Infinity Gem in question is in the hands of The Guardians of the Galaxy! Can Ronan and his followers take the Infinity Gem from them? And speaking of the Infinity Gems, I’m ecstatic that the Infinity Gem story line has finally begun. I mean, I read the Infinity Gauntlet (one of Marvel Comics best stories ever in my book) and it really is an epic storyline…and to see it come alive, it’s orgasmic. I mean, to see Thanos sitting on his throne being all magnanimous and evil…wow, I can’t wait for this whole storyline to explode in Avengers 3, you see, reportedly, that’s what this new batch of Marvel movies are setting us up for: Avengers 3! So yeah, be ready to have a nerdgasm in your theater seat. 


If there’s one thing that James Gunn infused into this movie its fun, fun like the kind of fun you’d have watching a movie from the 80’s where characters always say everything joking around, nothing is deadly serious, unless it has to be? I love that about it! These characters are misfits, they aren’t picture perfect examples of what humans should be, they are what we are, jokers, imperfect yet with lots of soul, they are in lots of ways characters that we can identify with. I mean, can you identify with Superman? No, you can’t because he’s this perfect being, but with the Guardians, it’s like they went to high school with you or something. The film has an amazing cast, the core characters are awesome, but then you get all these other great actors filling the gaps like Benicio del Toro, Michael Rooker, John C. Reily, Glenn Close, this film is very well rounded out in terms of characters and performances.


This is easily James Gunn’s best film, and boy has James Gunn come a long way baby. I mean, the guy started his cinematic career writing the screenplay for a film called Tromeo and Juliet (1996) for Troma Films. He went on to direct two Scooby Doo films which were moderately successful, then he went on to direct Slither (2006), a sci-fi horror hybrid (and bonafide box office flop) about alien slugs that turn people into zombies, by the way, I had a blast with Slither. Yet now, here he is, directing a big budget, ultra successful comic book movie for Disney and Marvel. My how the worm has turned! Best part is how audiences have quickly embraced it, I mean, word of mouth on this film is so positive that it shot straight to the number one spot, and I don’t think it will go down soon! This movie is so fun I’ve seen it twice in one weekend! 


The thing about this film is that it never stops, it’s always fun and exciting, the way big budget summer movies should be. James Gunn grew up with these big action films from the 80’s, you know, the kind that put a smile in your face, the kind that had that sense of adventure about ‘em. Guardians of the Galaxy brought to mind the fun I had with the old Star Wars movies or with the Indiana Jones films. You know, that lighthearted spirit of adventure, characters going through these incredible situations, but in the end, you know everything is going to be alright anyways? Even the films musical score will remind you of that time when studios used to put these rousing, adventurous musical scores on films, thank god they brought that back for this movie. Guardians of the Galaxy may be a cutting edge state of the art filmmaking, but it’s got some good old fashion sensibilities about it and I liked that. I mean, here’s a film that has this awesome 70’s soundtrack all through out, we get characters kicking ass and taking names as David Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’ plays in the background you know what I mean? How old school is this movie, well, they actually built sets…which is something amazing. So few sci-fi films today do that, cause you know, now everything around the actor is fake. But not here! The sets are beautiful to look at, of course there’s tons of computer generated images, but there’s a nice balance here between the practical and the cgi. 


Finally, this is a film tailor made for geeks, Guardians of the Galaxy is filled to the brim with lots of little inside jokes and easter eggs hidden all throughout the movie! Keep your eyes peeled for surprise cameos. Lloyd Kaufman (head of Troma Films) plays a prisoner! Howard the Duck cameos! Hell yeah, I said Howard the Duck! Rob Zombie lends his voice talents for a character. Nathan Fillion plays a giant monster. Yes my friends, this film is filled to the brim with pop cultural references, everything from Alf to Footloose (1984) gets mentioned. Visually, this movie is very rich, so you’ll want to look at every nook and cranny on this movie, there’s lots of details and colors up on screen, another asset the film has, visual richness and an amazing color palette. So yes my friends, this is the film to watch. I enjoyed it more than many other Marvel films, like say for example Thor: Dark World (2013). Here’s the thing, Guardians of the Galaxy might have been a risky film for Disney, but watching it, you wouldn’t know it because it seems they gave this film their all, they really made a good movie. They spent many millions on a series of characters that no one knew anything about and it worked like gang busters. This movie feels bigger than films like Iron Man 3 (2013) or even the X-Men movies. Guardians of the Galaxy is epic my friends, Disney/Marvel Studios have the millions to give us the kind of big bombastic movies we want to see, let’s hope they keep making them this good.


Rating: 5 out of 5  


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Under the Skin (2014)


Under the Skin (2014)

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Starring: Scarlett Johansson

So there are movies out there that divide audiences, Under the Skin is undoubtedly one of them. It will divide audiences who like to go see commercial films, from those who enjoy more artful fare. Films that break with the norm and try different things, different structures. Under the Skin doesn't subscribe to Hollywood formulas, we don’t have a hero trying to solve some problem, we don’t follow a clear three part structure, in fact, we don’t know what the hell is going to happen next. Director Jonathan Glazer gets a rousing shout of approval from this Film Connoisseur.


Under the Skin is the story of a sexy voluptuous alien (Johansson) who goes around town looking for lonely guys she can feed on. That’s really all I can say, you see, this isn’t exactly the kind of film that is overtly complex, yet strangely enough, even though it’s simple in many ways, it also comments on society and the world we live in. Most of all, it comments on how men will do just about anything to be with a woman, to share that amazing moment of intimacy. It speaks about how that desire can blind us and drive us. But also, it speaks about the ugly side of sex, how a man is willing to step into the world of rape and violence to get it, sad but true. It's a tragedy that we still live in a world where rape happens so often. So yeah, a “simple” movie in many ways, but if we look past its apparent simplicity, it actually comments on some very important themes.

   
Think about this film as an art house version of Lifeforce (1985), because it really is the best way that I can describe it. I know it sounds weird to compare a film like this one with Hooper’s Lifeforce, but both films are extremely similar: female alien goes around picking up lonely dudes, seducing them so she can suck the life force out of them. This is exactly what happens in both movies! The difference between both films is that Hooper Lifeforce is a glorified b-movie, while Under the Skin takes a more experimental route. It’s more artsy, for lack of a better word. But I loved how without realizing it, I suddenly felt like I was watching a movie about a space vampire! Want more similarities? Well, how about the fact that Scarlett Johansson gets naked throughout the entire film? Remind you of Lifeforce yet?  


When I say Under the Skin is ‘artsy’ by that I mean it’s that kind of film that just hovers on a moment so you can really absorb it, kind of the way that Werner Herzog or Terrence Malick. You know, where they will just linger on a vista, or stay on a moment so you’ll really get the feel of being there. It also has these long moments without dialog, in fact, Scarlett Johansson’s character hardly speaks. She only talks when she’s going to pick up a guy from the street. The film also used experimental filmmaking techniques for certain scenes, for example, there’s moments in which the alien walks into a mall, or a nightclub, and the filmmakers used hidden cameras to capture real people going about their business, in this way, the film was successful in capturing humanity in its natural habitat. You know how sometimes you wish you could tape people on the street, because truth is sometimes stranger than fiction? Well, they actually do that on this movie, the result is real, no extras, just real people. 


That the film is so different from anything out there makes perfect sense when we take in consideration that the director is Jonathan Glazer, who also directed Birth (2004), the film in which Nicole Kidman ends up kind of falling in love with a ten year old kid who is apparently the reincarnation of her dead husband, or is he? It was a controversial film when it was first released, I remember seeing it in theaters and being perplexed by it, and slightly shocked, but I also remember being wowed by the beautiful imagery. Under the Skin is not without those beautiful images, in fact, the filmmakers went out of their way to find these beautiful locations, again, Glazer did what Werner Herzog does. He finds these beautiful locations to shoot in, you’d swear they aren’t real. But they are, and they serve as a beautiful reminder of the amazing planet we live in.


While Under the Skin is a different kind of film, Glazer also shows he has many cinematic influences, displaying elements you could find in other directors works, for example you can find the surrealism and symmetrical perfection of Stanley Kubrick in abstract images that seem to come right out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. You can also find that ominous feeling you get from watching a David Lynch film, the beautiful locations from a Herzog film, in other words, Glazer loves many amazing filmmakers and puts a lot of them into his own films, but also, of course, adding his own taste and flavor to the mix. That deadly serious tone that all of his films have. This proves what I’ve always said about films, you can give the script to ten different directors, and you’ll end up getting ten, totally different films. I mean, Hooper with the concept of a female space vampire did Lifeforce and look at what Glazer did with the same exact idea, a refreshingly different film. Take it from me; if you like films that break with the norm, this is a film you should not miss. Highly recommended!


Rating: 5 out of 5


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