Wednesday, January 11, 2017

In Time (2011, Andrew Niccol)

What would you do with a hundred years?
The cast is pretty surprising. I've only seen "JT" in Black Snake Moan, but I thought he was adequate in this film. His acting skill might have been deficient with a heavier script, but that is another problem I had with the film. Amanda Seyfried is a hottie here before her Les Miserables fame, and her character was a cliche, but portrayed well. Again, the script I think failed to demonstrate her motivation and attitude change, but she did good with what she had. She and JT actually run a lot in this film and that kept me excited.

The action is good, no doubt. Cillian Murphy was the biggest surprise, and I think I liked his character the most and his motivations. Lastly, Vincent Kartheiser I am fond of for his work in Larry Clark's Another Day in Paradise and he looks a lot like his Mad Men character here, but his boyish face suits the plot of the movie.

The script: There are some things like what did the father of "Will Solace" do that got him killed, as the Timekeeper (Cillian Murphy in a remarkable performance) alludes to, and maybe it was intentional by Niccol, but this felt unexplored to me, unless his dad just did the same thing JT did. Nice symbolism with Will Salas (sp?), which I suppose plays to the theme of time and no rest for people living on borrowed time.

Mr. Weis pays a pretty penny to be protected.
I felt there were some contrivances and unexplained "BAMF" moments like when JT outsmarts a room full of armed thugs or when he escapes the mansion in the beginning, or how they get through all the time-zone barriers after the escape, since the movie showed the process not being so easy and quite costly the first time and why JT runs his time down and I feel like most of the script wasn't fleshed out enough, and if elaborated would have made for a more satisfying experience. Most fans from what I gather like the concept more.

"Timekeepers" use Steyr AUG rifles, like the baddies in Die Hard
I would agree with that, but I did like the film a bit more, so I will be buying the blu ray for my collection as it seems to have nice replay value for the creativity and brisk pace. The concept was neat, yet I would say I was bothered more by it than the film itself. Not much detail is given to why these people are being genetically engineered (cloning?) or why society has reached that point.

There is also a lack of cohesion with how the "time is life" system works. Is it just a visual aid for the viewer? I think not, since these people can physically see the timers on their arms, but maybe it is still just a metaphor? E.g. the rich and powerful have all the time they want, the poor and meek more of a struggle? Other minor issues like the time-arm-wrestling were vague and the actual process of how people exchange time. Sometimes people seem calm and mentally processing the transfers, like when JT gives his buddy ten years of time, but sometimes seem anxious to make sure the other person doesn't take too much time during the exchange.

The cars are pretty slick.
 The pacing: The runtime of the film is pretty short, and the pacing is a bit problematic for me. It makes sense to be quick-paced, but scene after scene felt robbed to me of tension and character development because one minute the protagonists are relaxed, the next on the run. Terminator I felt did much better, and this is no Terminator, but just an example of how you can keep tension and balance quick and slow moments better. The two lovebirds don't even get a proper love scene or any real relational development. One scene he's holding her at gunpoint, the next she's digging him. Like I mentioned, Seyfried isn't given much to work with then and I wondered why she would not make a break for it from this fellow. Overall, this movie was too short.

You could do a lot in one day's time.
The themes: Robin Hood, poor vs rich, etc. It was interesting, and another reason why the movie should've been longer. The ending feels insignificant and divisive. This might just be a political message by Niccol, but all the more reason to keep it going. The ending felt very "sequel-y" to me, similar to the sci-fi flick Push.

The more worthwhile theme that is handled better was the aspect of time and vanity, how people get cosmetic surgery, are always in a rush, like old Brooks complains about in The Shawshank Redemption, and how the rich would ironically value time and wealth so much that they miss out on what it means to "truly" live and take some time to enjoy the world.

The storm drains of Los Angeles make for fun scenes.
 Production design: The guns and costumes are pretty neat. I think I saw some AUG rifles. Murphy's coat was cool, his car design too, almost Knight Rider-esque, and was that a Shelby Cobra? Not sure, very 007-looking. The scenery/locations are perfect for the movie, being LA and whatnot. The mansion scene is on-point, and the costumes were pretty dapper. Seyfried's outfits looked nice, but that was another issue too: Where was she getting these clothes? There seems to have maybe been some deleted scenes showing these in-between moments.

I'm interest in the blu-ray version because I rented the standard definition, so wondering if the movie looks better and if I'll be able to see the color pallet better. Overall, nothing struck me with the cinematography, but there wasn't too much "shaky cam" and some nice overhead shots if I recall and a good chase scene.

Timekeepers are always "on the clock."
Rating: 7 out of 10

Better than it was bad. I was thinking a 6, but even with its problems, like some other critics have written, the movie still is pretty fun and surprisingly substantial. Check it out if you're a sci-fi fan. I hear that Niccol took a lot of inspiration from other films, which might bother sci-fi fans as did Oblivion. I would say this is not nearly as good as Oblivion which I gave an 8/10 but it's still not bad.

With this review done, I'll add that I haven't seen Bladerunner yet which I hear is the pinnacle of sci-fi. But I've seen other popular sci-fi-y flicks so this film peaked my interest and it was a nice experience. I was surprised that it was not a comic book.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rant about Harry Potter saga

Due to Richard Harris' passing, fans never saw his full portrayal of Dumbledore.
I'm sure this is a divisive subject, but I've always felt (increasingly so) that Chris Columbus was the best director for the series. There is something magical about the first two films. It's hard for me to put into words, but the atmosphere, the heartwarming musical score and sort of "old fashioned/ancient" style of the magic made it feel like a real world for wizards. Voldemort was much scarier as a withered old man with red eyes, raspy voice, and a nose! and with a hood as a dark wizard on the rise in the flashback scene.

The score made me feel like Harry, a young boy who has fallen in love with this new world where he has friends and people who care about him. It made me understand why he loved it so and called it home when the theme plays.

Hogwarts was actually creepy in the first two movies.
On the other side, I've heard people say that Columbus didn't make 1 and 2 dark enough or made them too dull, but I completely disagree. The forbidden forest was spooky, a giant spider, a giant snake, a mighty underground chamber, a slithering phantom and even the screaming ghost inside of a book made Hogwarts feel much spookier, richer and mysterious than the other 6 films with plenty of ominous tones looming over the future events (eg. "Mark my words, Potter, one day, you'll meet the same sticky end", "Let's hope Mr. Potter will always be around to save the day | Don't worry; I will be", "After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things — terrible, yes, but great.")

Voldemort flirts with demonic possession in the first film.
I may be giving too much credit to Columbus but whoever made these characters feel real and layered must've fallen out of favor or simply lost their touch in the other films. I mean, 4 directors? I would go as far as to say that Mike Newell better understood the series than David Yates (who made 4 of the films and somehow effectively did 6), trying to somehow find a balance between Columbus and Cauron's styles whereas Yates just made everything so much worse consistency-wise when he made 5.

Fiennes' Voldemort is no Lord Vader.
Personally I hate it when people leave projects half done. I truly wonder and wish Harry Potter had one director all the way through, or art director, cinematographer or whoever (I'm not knowledgeable about what role every person has on a crew) was responsible for making those first two films so captivating and internally consistent.

I think it would a challenge for any director to present the big world that is to become the stage for a second wizard war, but by the end of the actual series, everything felt so out of whack, pedestrian and confused with thin characters popping up in every story whose deaths we don't even get to see.

Not only was Voldemort's return mildly impressive, but it felt so much more like real life with teenage angst/frivolity on the stage instead. They were all the same length and I'd rather see a consistent and otherworldly film instead of visiting a private school for British kids in hoodies with silly "dark lords" strutting around.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Stephen King's Children of the Corn (1984)

A creepy concept with decent execution at barely 90 minutes. The film opens with a narration (a signature trait of King's stories) by little Job about how a once sweet small town in Nebraska went so sour so fast because he and his clairvoyant sister Sarah are the only youngsters that don't wield farm tools. Biblical names galore in this picture, too, because, well, Gatlin's got religion. Trouble is, the poor children should have lost it instead of losing their minds (and their parents) and seeking to reap the harvest of fanaticism.
But no worries; Sarah Connor, the mother of humanity's savior, real name Linda Hamilton, has come to town, or maybe those credentials do not extend beyond The Terminator story (also released in 1984). Along with Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton gives a satisfactory performance, but the characters lack notable substance outside of being a happy couple. She wants to get married; he doesn't. What else is new? The screenplay was on a diet.

The best part is the kids and eerie atmosphere. The close camera angles on the farm tools and children make for remarkable imagery, along with wide shots of the desolate ghost town. There is also a nice but shoddy theme about manipulation and how it can lead people to commit terrible acts.

Of course, this manipulation comes from a supernatural demon that lurks behind the rows of corn, but hey--what else from a Stephen King story! I guess Old Scratch enjoys corn on the cob and possessing Isaac, sporting devil horns and a very deep pubescent voice.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Mademoiselle C (2013, Fabien Constant)

Rating: 7 out of 10

This French documentary focuses on the making of a fashion magazine and offers snippets from the busy life of prominent fashion mogul, Carine Roitfeld, who is both quirky and intriguing.

Because I know zilch about couture and fashion, this was a nice getaway from typical movies, and attractive French women (as well as the gorgeous language) doesn't hurt! Her ballet instructor was a looker, too, as were plenty of the models who actually had some meat on their bones!

Those in the fashion world, or at least those in this documentary, say that fashion is a dream world with tasteful (or cringe-worthy, you be the judge!) clothing that we would love to see people wear in that dream world. I was drawn to this documentary due to the artsy cover it has on Netflix, and for the same reason I got a laugh out of Zoolander.

Overall, Carine I found to be rather likeable and open about her feelings. One might say vapid is as vapid does, but I appreciate art.  The reviews almost turned me away, saying it had scatterbrained editing and focused on 'soulless' fashion weirdos, but I stuck with it and it paid off! I would love to have a copy of the first issue the movie is about, since most of the shoots were eye-catching (especially the artful nude ones). Photos from the magazine are available for viewing at CRfashionbook.com and "CR Fashion Book" on FaceBook.

This is a serious but lighthearted take on the magazine production and honest glimpse into Carine's quirky character, who I'd never heard of before, offering an abundance of celebrity cameos and who's-who's of the fashion world. It was a neat 90 minutes or so.

Diana (2013, Oliver Hirschbiegel)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Very enjoyable portrait about love, compassion, discontent and choice. Naomi Watts is a constant delight on screen and she shines brighter than ever in gorgeous gowns and to-die-for hair-and-make-up. The brunette wig sequences show that Naomi's beauty is omni--oh, what's the word? Breathtaking? Exquisite?

During sad moments, Watts takes the sympathetic Princess Di and sheds a tear to remind us why the Princess was so loved. Without this wonderful and very human performance, "Diana" would not be as touching.

 The film is roughly shot in the beginning but by its end I could list a handful of scenes that were so effective at summarizing the woes of a Princess that was forever in the public eye until her woe was at last gone and the world inherited her mourning about this bittersweet existence that all of us struggle to understand. The musical score was great, and there are plenty of lines from the dialogue that I loved as well as plenty of picturesque frames.

I hope Diana found that elusive garden of love, despite her tragic route of escape not being the most desirable one. Naomi Watts admittedly wishes this picture about a "gorgeous creature" had been received better, and so do I, for it has a softness to it that carried me vicariously along into Diana's dreams. She fell, yet flew. I fell in love with her dreams.