Tag Archives: movie

Checked Out: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer is an interesting mix from beginning to end. A South Korean produced film, based on the french graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”, and starring American leading man Chris Evans, Snowpiercer is a uniquely international production and is all the better for it. The film is a look at a dystopian scifi world with a twist, the world has become so cold and frozen that life on the planet is all but extinct. The last remnants of humanity reside on a train which stays constantly in motion, circling the planet one cycle every year. The train is a self-contained ecosystem designed to support the last of humanity. Unfortunately, even in the apocalypse money talks and there is a class system on the train, the rich live near the front and the poor live in the back. One group has an easy albeit somewhat pointless life while the other lives in cramped, filthy squalor.

Led by Chris Evans and John Hurt the cast is fantastic in this film. Tilda Swinton does a wonderfully bizarre take on the train’s official mouthpiece “Mason”, a role which was originally written for a man and was unchanged once Swinton signed on. Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer are great supporting characters along with Korean actor Kang-ho Song, they’re used just enough to keep us interested without taking attention away from Chris Evans’ lead performance.

The South Korean production shows through whenever action is on screen. The fight choreography has the raw, mad feel of fellow Korean film Oldboy (the original not that remade garbage). Fights are fast and furious, close quarters fighting is all you can do in a train after all. The choreographers managed to make each action scene feel like a different experience even with the handicap of an enclosed and simple location (Just gonna say Torch scene here, once you’ve seen the movie you’ll understand). A film set entirely in a train could get incredibly repetitive but the production design does a great job of making each train car, while still similar in basic size and dimensions, a unique setting from car to car. Whether it be the housing of the poor, to a school car, all the way to the engine, you will believe that a small city’s population could live on this train.

When it comes right down to it Snowpiercer is not an especially unique film. It boils down to a story about class warfare, the have-nots Vs the haves. There are some interesting turns it takes along the way but for the most part we’re seeing an allegory for what the world is and what it should be. Some of its messages are a bit heavy-handed at times but that seems to follow most dystopic science fiction. Where the main subtext might be the poor vs rich a more interesting subject that gets brought up in the film is balance. Not the balance of 1:1 ration of every person is as worth while as the next like most stories would normally present but a balance where lives are weighed based on status and numbers. How many people can an ecosystem support? Of those people how many should be the “elite” and how many the “gutter trash”? If the choice is between only a few living or everyone dying are we right to make those decisions? Are we monsters for weighing the worth of human life so frankly and callously? Most people will probably have a knee jerk reaction and answer what they feel the most “PC” answer, but if you give yourself a moment and really think about the decisions and scenarios that are presented in the film, in the context they are shown in, while your answers may not be the same as the characters in Snowpiercer you just might be surprised at what you would say when the truly hard questions are asked…

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

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Interstellar

Once in a while a film comes along in every generation that is life changing, a piece of artwork that will stand the test of time as a shining example of what film-making can be. Interstellar is not one of these films, but damn does it want to be. Interstellar is a movie about a lot of things. Our place in the world, our future on or off of that world, respect for science ( namely the space program), our duty to our race and our love of our families are all subjects this film concerns itself with. That’s a great many directions for one movie to go and it shows.

With a bloated run time of just under three hours Interstellar is Christopher Nolan’s longest and possibly most uneven film. It’s pacing is awkward and abrupt with an overly long first act it takes forever for us to get to what we all came here for, space travel. While the scenes on earth aren’t completely terrible there are easily fifteen minutes of them that could be truncated or cut entirely. John Lithgow and Mackenzie Foy are a bright spot of these scenes as McConaughey’s Father in law and daughter respectively. The early scenes on earth are well grounded, a very believable future version of earth, it sprinkles some details about this earths history without hitting us over the head or talking down to the audience.

However these scenes are drawn out and can seem a bit cliché at times. Also certain plot points that come about, mostly how McConaughey’s “Cooper” gets involved with the expedition comes off as overly simplified and then we jump straight to the mission, no training is shown or spoken of at all. I suppose in the future space travel is liking riding a bike, plus where are we going to fit any training in a three-hour movie? We might have to miss one of the several Dust storms we get to see, heaven forbid!

That being said the Dust storms are done fantastically, the effects here, like the whole film, are top notch. It’s also a very interesting direction to go for a pre-apocalyptic earth, rather than nuclear war or the normal reasons we get a much more likely and for me that much more frightening scenario of falling food production and dust storms ravaging as our foe. No bad guy here, just lack of human foresight and unalterable mother nature.

Once we get to the actual mission the film really takes off ( pun intended). The visuals are incredible, a definite must in IMAX if you have the option. The sound design has gotten a great deal of press coverage and its easy to hear why. Parts of the film sound muddled or drowned out by the mix of  sound effects and vocals. I however did not have any issue with this, the scenes where the actors are hard to hear seems to me completely intentional. The dialogue they are delivering in these moments is not really important, whats going on in the rest of the scene is the real focus. It also illustrates what the characters are hearing in those moments as well, sometimes when a rocket is going off yes it is hard to hear people and that makes things for pilots that much more difficult and frightening. I found one particular moment amazing as engines were throttled up the bass was beating so hard I could feel it in my chest almost like experiencing G-force speeds, it was almost difficult to breathe.

Moments like that through the film are part of why when taken as a whole its a tragedy things don’t come together more even and cohesive. The middle two-thirds of the film are by and large amazing, but the beginning and end of the film don’t really reach the same heights. The last fifteen minutes or so feel rushed, like Nolan didn’t have an ending and then had to make something up on the day. While not the worst ending you’ll ever see there are plenty of questions and plot holes left glaring at us when the dust settles (see what I did there?).

If you have the desire to see this film, seeing it in the theater is definitely the way to go, as the experience of the large and loud makes up a lot of the wonder.  We go from Armageddon to 2001: A Space Odyssey and back again in terms of narrative and artistic quality, luckily we spend the bulk of our time in 2001. While its great to see a big Hollywood film be so pro science and pro exploration, their reach, no matter how altruistic, certainly exceeded their grasp.

5_Star_Rating_System_3_and_a_half_stars

Checked Out: Nebraska

This is the first Checked Out article of this Blog. Checked out is where I visit films that got a lot of attention when they came out and I finally got around to seeing. Being that they are older than most of the things I’ll review there will be some lite spoilers but no major plot points will be revealed.

Nebraska is the 2013 film starring Will Forte and Bruce Dern as Woody and David Grant, Father and son. The film was nominated for 6 academy awards and rightly so. It’s funny to say that the film is completely deserving of all its nominations but not deserving of actually receiving any awards its nominated for. This probably sounds ridiculous but let me explain. The film is a story about a father, a salt of the earth, old-fashioned type man, who is in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimers. Basically he’s in that point that we all have seen where at moments he’s there and the next he’s talking about nonsense or just staring into space. This particular man receives a letter that we all have gotten, a sweepstakes winning ticket… IF your number has been drawn and if you come in person to pick it up etc.

Bruce Dern is fantastic as an aging and ailing father, if you’re someone who grew up around that type of old school hard-shelled quiet type of man you will have a lot to connect to.  Will Forte also does an excellent job as a son who is seeing a shell of what his father was and balancing the empathy he feels with the frustration of taking care of a parent. The father son dynamic is really where the film shines. The two leads feel like a real father and son, you can see a lifetime of love and resentment just under the surface all the time. Bob Odenkirk does an adequate job as Will Forte’s older brother though at times his scenes feel a bit forced not quite as natural as Forte’s.

The film feels a bit unfocused though and while the performances elevate the material some, when it comes right down to it there’s not a whole lot going on here. We get some allusions to regrets by both father and sons about paths not taken or dreams not followed. We also get a hint at what their father was and why he became what he is now but there’s no singular focus to the narrative. The prize money is just a macguffin here, just there to put our characters into different situations than normal. The rest of the movie is scatter-shot, while pleasant enough it’s fairly forgettable and feels more like a great student film than a studio release.

The strongest element of the production would have to be the cinematography. The film is presented in black and white and while there is a version of the movie available in color you’d be doing yourself a disservice to not watch it in its intended format. The contrast in the shadows is gorgeous and there are some great shots of a battered and broken mid-west of yesteryear.

If you’re bored one night and come across it on cable it’s a fine way to kill two hours but I doubt it’s a film you’ll be talking about in 2 months much less two years down the road.

 

 

5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman is the kind of film that will divide audiences. There will be those that get it, and they will love it. Then there will be a vast segment of the public that will see it as plodding and boring. The film centers around a washed up actor, famous for having played an iconic superhero in the early 90’s, trying to mount a comeback by staging an extremely self-indulgent stage play. As he struggles with the idea of whether  he wants respect or fame and what that means in today’s social media savvy world. While at the same time struggling with a strained relationship with his daughter, a brilliant but self-destructive costar, and his own inner demon.

Your first thought will probably be what a perfect project for Michael Keaton to be a part of. What I wondered as I sat watching the film is would the premise still be as fascinating without the real life subtext in the back of our minds? Would the audience still relate to the Main character in the same way or would we be looking at this film in a completely different way?

Regardless of this though, the movie is a film nerds  dream. Actors, not huge stars, but well-respected and familiar actors giving amazing performances with a backdrop of one of if not the most meta of scripts I can recall seeing in the last 10 years. Every performer here is giving their A game Edward Norton and Keaton especially come off well in their roles, bouncing off each other in scene after scene. Zach Galifianakis is surprisingly good in one of the more serious roles he’s taken. If one was looking for a weakest link you’d have to probably look to Emma Stone, Not a weak performance by any means but she doesn’t get much here when compared to the great material the rest of the cast has.

On top of this we have the shooting style of the film, Designed to appear as almost all one long continuous take, While some of the transitions between takes come of as a bit obvious the overall effect is still extremely successful, putting us right there with our characters like a fly on the wall, witness to gripping human drama.

Where the film comes up short is  pacing and in its ending. The film comes to a  halt several times hanging for long periods of time on certain shots, while these are almost all for the purpose of stitching together scenes to achieve the seamless one take approach  but the long awkward pauses can tear you out of the movie and considering its odd subject matter and weird tone many people may not “get” what Birdman is trying to be.

What Birdman has is an Actor playing a character who greatly mirrors his own life, that character is putting on a play about a character who he also sees as a fractured mirror of his own situation, While the events and conversations in the film surrounding the production of said play are laid out in the same style and format of a stage production of  a John Steinbeck work  or any other similar writer of his time.

Confused yet?

On top of that, without spoiling it there are some elements that are left vague as to whether they are fantasy or reality including the ending which has divided a lot of audiences

If you can embrace the concept and see how beautifully laid out all the connections are, Birdman is one film you’re going to remember for a long time.

 

 

Pros:

– Amazing Acting

– Great cinematography

– Unique take on a traditional story

 

Cons

– Probably too meta for some audiences

– Pacing issues

– Vague ending trying to be too clever

 

Score: 4 out of 5

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars