Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Inside Llewyn Davis

Spoilers are marked.

In this 2013 film, the Coen Brothers Joel and Ethan take us on a musical tour of a week in the life of a downtrodden folk singer named Llewyn Davis in 1961 New York.

"Llewyn and the Orange Tabby" new band name, called it!

Llewyn used to be part of a duet, but now he must try to make it as a solo act, and it's not going well. He is played by Oscar Isaac with enormous amounts of melancholy, and real talent on the guitar and vocals. He probably sings more words than he speaks in the whole movie, but watching him silently plow through a very bad week isn't as depressing as it might seem to be. The script and Isaac's performance puts us and our understanding right where the title promises us we'll be, with masterful subtlety.

The supporting cast is full of acting and singing talent too. Carey Mulligan plays the meanest character I've ever seen her do, and she's not subtle about her antagonism either like she is in Northanger Abbey. I was surprised and impressed. But I shouldn't have been surprised, because everything she does is pretty impressive. Justin Timberlake is there too, and incidentally, I finally have an answer for if I'm ever asked what my favorite song of his is.

"We... are not amused."

John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, and Adam Driver all make small appearances too, but with no less fully developed characters. There's also a cat, and the most talented cat-actor I've seen (not to mention very cute) and I'm not even kidding. That cat was brilliant -- or perhaps rather the directors did a fantastic job getting what they wanted out of it.

There were two main things I liked very much about this film. The second I didn't really realize until after the movie was over, but the first I got full enjoyment out of while it still ran: the music. Folk music, actually performed by the actors who appeared to be performing it. As a Coen Brothers movie, it's no surprise that this film might have very good music to it, but this one even more so than others because it really was a musical -- in the most realistic way a movie can be a musical -- there was a song sung in the film at least every ten minutes by a wide variety of characters and they were the most easily enjoyable parts of the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed every single one of them, but this one below was just too funny and stuck out so much that I have to share it -- though the more serious songs are definitely better musically:

The second thing, that I only truly enjoyed once the film was over, was the symbolism. There is some very fascinating symbolism in this movie -- and not only for the audience, because we are inside Llewyn Davis, the symbolism is something he sees too, and is, in retrospect, a very important part of the film. 

This going to take some Spoilers to explain, so skip over this next paragraph if you wish to avoid them.

Llewyn's singing partner committed suicide before the film even began, and the plot revolves around Llewyn trying to move on from that -- trying to become a solo act. But more than that, he is trying to make peace with his friend's suicide, and trying to understand him, because he realizes he didn't really. Llewyn is accidentally stuck with his friend's parent's cat, and that orange tabby becomes a symbol of Llewyn's misunderstanding of his friend, and the baggage his death left him with. That's why when he goes to Chicago to try and land a solo gig, he feels that he must leave the cat behind, and then while driving there hits (or imagines to hit) and injure a (the) cat -- feeling like he's betraying his friend by trying to move on. And that's why, once the cat is safe back with its owners, and Llewyn finally finds out what its name is, he suddenly has closure and begins to come into his own as a solo artist.

Great cinematography.

For the most part this film moves along unassumingly with absolutely no pomp or circumstance and no obvious purpose, but then, the way it ended was quite unexpected and made all that previous uneventfulness suddenly leave a large impression on me. That rather outstanding wrap-up, combined with my better understanding of the meaning of the film afterwards raised a film that was undoubtedly well made, and pretty interesting, and pretty entertaining, up to a fantastically unique and invitingly thoughtful film that made me think and get more and more out of it, hours after the credits had rolled and the last tune had been sung. And that's a movie and a mind I can appreciate being inside of.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hollywood Hitmen

Hollywood Hitmen is a 30-minute, one-episode comedy web-series that you can watch on YouTube -- or just below, for your convenience -- about two L.A. based hitmen and their adventures of finding, keeping, and, well, executing jobs. Starring Agent Carter's Enver Gjokaj, and Maximilian Osinski.

Also created by them.

It's a bit like Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog in that it's not quite a TV show, but way more than just a YouTube sketch. It's also similar to Dr. Horrible in that it's totally hilarious and original. There are so many great jokes and gags packed into these thirty minutes. The sense of humor is light in tone (but sometimes dark in style) silly, very satirical, and the perfect amount of aware and self-deprecating. I could go on for paragraphs listing all my favorite moments, but that's probably not a good idea; just watch it and see for yourself.

If it were rated it would definitely get an R for a high language count, which was a negative for me, but the first and last of the whole thing. It was made over a weekend, the script was improvised, and everyone in it is obviously having a fantastic time, and it really comes out in the finished product, and rubs off infectiously.

Here it is: Hollywood Hitmen: 30 minutes of sharp, quick, funny fun!

Okay, I can't resist, so here are five favorite moments off the top of my head (Spoilers):

Pushing grass out of the way in slow-mo.

Asking directions in a disguised voice.

The "action movie" moment, complete with theatrical screen dimensions.

"To be continued... Right now."

Mexican standoff put on pause to talk about girls.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

R.I.P. Underappreciated MCU Characters

This list is of dead characters of Marvel movies and TV shows, so obviously, there are spoilers within -- Spoilers for Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, Daredevil, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man. (Since Ant-Man is a new movie, and least likely to have been watched by some, I put that entry eighth and last.)

They didn't die saving the world, or even destroying it; they just died in the crossfire. Here are some of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe characters who died thankless deaths, afterthought deaths, or just plain died too soon:

Antoine Triplett
Played by B.J. Britt
In Agents of SHIELD
Agent Triplett showed up on AOS at the halfway point in the first season -- and was gone at the halfway point of the second. Besides his turning into stone and then crumbling away being overshadowed by Skye and Raina turning into Inhumans, Triplett's death is sad because he was a lighthearted character that had easy and fun chemistry with the other agents -- especially Skye -- and it seems a waste to kill of a descendant of a Howling Commando with so little pomp and circumstance.

Roger Dooley
Played by Shea Whigham
In Agent Carter 
Chief Dooley's death was built up to be a sucker punch, but wound up being underwhelming as everyone else hardly stopped for a breath before moving quickly on to their saving the world duties, and I even forgot that he had died at all. It was just poor timing on his part.

James Wesley 
Played by Toby Leonard Moore
In Marvel's Daredevil
"We don't say his name." Wesley is the faithful servant of Wilson Fisk; mysterious and well-characterized, even as a side character. I would have happily watched him stay by Fisk's side as long as Fisk ruled Hell's Kitchen, but, sadly, he underestimated Karen way too much, and it got him a few unfortunate holes in his chest. Wesley is a prime example of a character dying too soon, but, to his credit, his death is what pushed him over the edge of being an interesting character, to being a great and memorable character, and a favorite of mine.

Jasper Sitwell
Played by Maximiliano Hernandez
In Thor, The Avengers, Agents of SHIELD and Captain America: The Winter Solider
Agent Sitwell is a particularly sad case, because after being around and assisting Coulson ever since Thor, and even starring in a Marvel One-Shot, he suddenly is revealed to be a Hydra agent in The Winter Solider. After being kicked off a building by Black Widow and saved by Falcon as a humorous interrogation technique, he is unceremoniously pulled out the window of a speeding car. Just goes to show you what happens when you join Hydra... but at least two more heads grow in his place.

The Other
Played by Alexis Denisof
In The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy
The strange bluish guy who speaks for Thanos and has two thumbs on each hand seemed to be pretty powerful guy in The Avengers while he was threatening Loki. Not many people can do that so confidently and get away with it. So maybe his death was a long time coming, but I admit that when Ronan breaks his neck without a second thought in Guardians, I was much more sad and disappointed than I was supposed to be.

Pietro Maximoff
Played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson
In Avengers: Age of Ultron
He certainly wins most heroic death of the bunch for saving Hawkeye and a little boy, but Pietro's death was way too soon for me after he was a bad guy for most of his one film. I suppose it is the best way around his being so overpowered, but I and Wanda will miss him dearly. (Any chance of his coming back somehow?)

Played by Paul Bettany
In Iron Man 1, 2, and 3, The Avengers, and Avengers: Age of Ultron
He appeared in the most Marvel films before his death, and yes, I know that Vision effectively is JARVIS, but technically, he is not. The computer program JARVIS is no more, evidenced by Tony using a program called FRIDAY at the end of Ultron. Sadness of this this is dispersed fairly well though, because Vision not only sounds like Paul Bettany, but he looks like him too. Still, a moment of silence for everyone's favorite snarky computer should be in order.

Played by an ant/CGI
In Ant-Man
The flying ant who serves as Scott's miniature ride hardly even gets his name before he's shot out of the air by a bullet meant for his rider. There is short pause in the action to commemorate his untimely demise, and we are left confident that Scott feels as sad over his death as we do, but once things move on, we're not supposed to look back. But we will never forget you, Anthony!


Which of these characters will/do you miss? And did I overlook anyone? With these types of characters it certainly is an easy thing to do!

Saturday, July 18, 2015


This review is Spoiler-free.

Don't worry; I'll refrain from the size jokes.

Ant-Man is the newest Marvel flick, and it's been a while since we've seen a solo introductory Marvel film. The solo film's style should reflect accurately the character of the hero it features, and it's an important task to get right as it sets the tone for that character for the rest of his movie career. In that, and in many, many other things, Ant-Man knocks it out of the park.

Standing in the tub trying to get the full view in the bathroom mirror. Things we can all relate to.

Scott Lang is a burglar. He very strictly only does non-violent crimes of sneaky thieving and even takes cues from Robin Hood. But he still gets caught. We pick up as he's just finishing his three-year stint in prison, and he's determined to go straight -- for his daughter. That doesn't work so well though, and eventually he decides to take just one last job -- for his daughter. But this job of burgling one Dr. Hank Pym's house gets him way more than he ever asked for, and exactly what he needs; a chance to become the good guy, save the world, and be a good dad -- for his daughter.

"Save the world" sounds exactly like what you'd expect from a Marvel flick, and it's true that the fate of the world hangs in the balance in this plot, but, it hangs in the background. There's no immediate danger of aliens or robots actively destroying the world. I say this not because it features a guy who shrinks, but because it's true; Ant-Man is just plain on a smaller scale than any Marvel film so far. And I love it. 

A smaller scale never means there's any less heart.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a superhero spy movie; Guardians of the Galaxy was a superhero space movie; Ant-Man is a fantastic superhero heist movie. And heist movies, by definition, do not make a lot of noise. It was wonderfully refreshing to not see massive destruction and hordes of casualties in this one; but at the same time, when, say, a suitcase, or a miniature city gets completely obliterated, it gives the impression of the superhero destruction and delivers on all the visual thrills that entails -- just without all those bothersome consequences.

Paul Rudd at the lead of this film is just as cool and charming as you would expect out of the newest Marvel movie superhero, but his Scott Lang has a lot more to him that I did not expect; being a new and determined convert to the ranks of "family man" for one. For Scott it's more about his daughter than anything else, and that's a particularly sweet thing to see in a movie like this. He also gives the impression of just being a regular guy better than any of his super predecessors. His hard work and determination makes him worthy of his superhero status, and his charm and humor makes him a lovable lead for the film.

He was also automatically cool, as a burglar... but he probably would have been cool anyway.

Michael Douglas is the resident movie veteran, so of course he is great. Dr. Pym is the creator of the Ant-Man suit, and is Scott's mentor and trainer, but he has plenty of his own character development to worry about, and some of may be a bit contrived, but he handles it all like the pro he is. Evangeline Lily is Pym's daughter; source of much snark and cynicism, and the general greatness we've come to expect out of her. She is fun and involving and lovely, and a little bit deadly. The villain is Corey Stoll, and he does a fantastic job with what he has, but doesn't get to go quite as crazy as he is capable of and I was hoping for. Still he was a classically sinister kind of villain which was great, and was very well-dressed.

When you look this good, you really should rule the world.

And Judy Greer was there, as Scott's ex-wife and mother of his daughter, and I liked her so much I felt kind of sad that there didn't seem to be any chance of their getting back together. Bobby Cannavale was her fiancé and a cop, so of course there's clashing between him and Scott which helped makes things more personal and closer to home. Hayley Atwell and John Slattery also make appearances as their Peggy Carter and Howard Stark. Plus there's one very fun surprise appearance that I won't ruin.

Evangeline, hard to recognize under that hair.

Scott's team of fellow burglars is Luis (Michael Peña) Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Dave (T.I.) Used mostly for comic relief, they were all funny, and helpful to the plot to boot, but Michael Peña stands out for miles and miles with his scene-stealing and hilarious character. At least a little bit of the credit for his hilarity though, has to go to the writers for writing that one awesome gag and knowing who to give it to for the best effect. There were several writers -- Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, the great Edgar Wright and even Paul Rudd himself -- so I don't know who gets credit for that bit, but I get the feeling it goes to Wright. The director Peyton Reed also certainly deserves props here too.

Three funny dudes.

I knew I'd love this movie, and I was right, but what I couldn't predict was why, and how differently I love it from the way I love other Marvel flicks. This movie reminded me of what I loved about movies as a kid, and made me feel like I was that little kid again; being thrilled by the sheer inventiveness and involved in the classic, old-fashioned-type plot events. I was even slightly more shocked at the little language and slightly disturbing violence than I normally would have been. Things that I would normally find too silly I suddenly found easy to forgive as well, and even sometimes quite easy to accept and enjoy, just because the movie itself embraced and wasn't ashamed of the silliness. I feel sentimental about this movie, like it's a childhood favorite, and I only saw it yesterday.

One cool thing I didn't expect was how much the ants were used. They were totally helpful and unique, and yes, pretty darned cute too.

This film is one of the more family-friendly, and definitely the most family-oriented Marvel films to date, but don't think that means it leaves our more refined adult side bored and wanting. It easily holds its own against the plethora of more obviously enticing and effortlessly marketable superhero flicks already in existence -- with its tongue in its cheek, its head held high, and its sights focused on its own sky-high goals. Goals that are reached with heart and humor and a determined effort. Ant-Man is a fun and fantastic caper that caters to the child in all of us. And let's be honest; if we're watching a superhero movie, we already have a child inside, just waiting to be catered to.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

9 New Nerdy SDCC Trailers

The massive entertainment event called the San Diego Comic Con spurred the (in one case unwilling) release of many new trailers videos for upcoming, highly anticipated films and TV shows. I shared the first one I saw, the Doctor Who Series 9 trailer in a separate post, but then they started coming so fast they overwhelmed me so that I could barely form a coherent thought about one before the next showed up! But now the Comic Con is over and things are settling down, so now I'm just going to share all the trailers I found interesting all together, right here, right now:

Doctor Who
Click here for my original post on this, but the gist of it is this: I love Doctor Who. I didn't love the last season. I'm still hoping to love this one. This trailer does nothing to weaken that hope. Peter Capaldi's hair finally remembered that it's the hair of a Doctor and has acted accordingly.

This is less a trailer and more a first-look clip. And as long as the setting of the late 1800's is explained reasonably, it doesn't seem like this Sherlock one-off special will be any less awesome than the past three seasons have been. They certainly are taking full advantage of the setting by having Cumberbatch's characterization match the Sherlock Holmes of the books exactly. And he delivers that first line just as brilliantly as he ever has delivered a line. John's mustache is fantastic, and Mrs. Hudson is the land-lady, and not a plot device. Everything appears to be in order, and the game is on! Or, should I say "afoot"?

I don't know if I'll ever see this, but I love the idea of it so, SO much. Alan Tudyk writes directs and stars along with Nathan Fillion, and the rest of the Firefly cast have cameos. It's about a man who starred on a tragically cancelled sci-fi series (sound familiar?) and since hasn't been able to do anything better, but just goes to sci-fi conventions, signs autographs, and bemoans his terrible fate. I don't know how appropriate the Vimo web-series will be, but it looks pretty funny at least, and I love that it's not even subtle about it's Firefly references. Language Warning for the trailer:

The Man in the High Castle
This is an Amazon series. It's an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick 1962 science fiction novel about what would have happened if America had lost the second World War. Philip K. Dick is the author of the stories that were adapted into Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, and several more, and that is a huge appeal to me. The trailer is extremely dark though, and it may end up proving to be too much, but I really really want to give it a shot, and the pilot episode is available for streaming right now...

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Or as I fondly refer to it: Bateman v Superbman: Down of Justice. This is probably the trailer that had the biggest impact on the general crowd of movie fans. And it had a pretty big impact on me too; I've never experienced the sensation of feeling anger towards a movie trailer before. Now I'm trying to decide if I should attempt to explain all the ways it angered me or not... oh, why not -- rant time!

First of all, Superman's character is still being cruelly whittled away into a sad pile of distorted and discarded goodness. He's still the man who let thousands of people die by hesitating to kill one evil man, but now he doesn't even seem to know what he should do anymore -- he won't even defend himself from masses of people who worship him as a god! The best thing to do about the Man of Steel casualty count was to ignore it, not exploit it, but I guess that's the only way they could figure to rile up the Bat. Batman is slightly better. When people he knows die from Supes indecision problem, he comes out of retirement for revenge. And if one single person dies from the resulting battle, he'll be a complete hypocrite.

The joyless, "real-life" serious tone set promises to bore with unending relentless and forced lifelessness masquerading as drama. And speaking of "relentless", the battle sequences promise that too. I love the stylized look of those scenes with the dark endless piles of rubble lit with random little fires that fill the screen with floating embers and will undoubtedly look epic in 3D... a clue: no. (I've been watching BBC's Robin Hood.) I'm trying to figure why people say that this is the best trailer they've ever seen, and I think it boils down to one thing: the magnificent music. ... Never mind, I'm not going to comment on that. I think I'm done. I'll just add that if you like this trailer, or even think it's the best you've ever seen, I'm not trying to dissuade you or say you're wrong. Opinions; to each their own!

Suicide Squad
Now THIS is how to do a inviting DC movie trailer! I know next to nothing about these characters and this story, but this trailer make me want to watch the movie it advertizes. Very much. Everything about this trailer just oozes with a slick and unforced darkly cool style. It has twice the required dosage of DC darkness but still feels unmistakeably fun. And I wonder if it will even go so far as to get an R rating? I wouldn't be surprised, but I would be disappointed if the content reached a level that I wouldn't want to see, because right now I really want to see this. This seems like DC's best chance at a "Guardians of the Galaxy" -- that seems like high praise I know, but that's just in comparison with DC's rebooted film record so far: Man of Steel and the trailer I just finished bashing. Almost anything would be an improvement.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
And HERE is a Henry Cavill movie I can actually get excited about! This trailer is 5 minutes of snappy snazzy slick vintage fun, and I am left with no doubt that the film it advertizes will be exactly the same. Need I say more? I think not. Don't believe me? Just watch:

Fantastic Four
On the side of Marvel Superheroes, things continue to be solid, and this new F4 trailer that features Reed Richards as a kid stays firmly in that vein. This movie is looking very solid. I was interested in it the moment I saw Jamie Bell and Miles Teller in the cast, but beyond that, it really is looking like a well-done reboot, steering away from the cheesiness of the last effort, but still remembering to be exciting and fun. Definitely looking forward to this one's upcoming release.

Star Wars
And this isn't a trailer, but a behind-the-scenes featurette for the making of The Force Awakens, the main point of which, I believe is just to reassure fans once again that this franchise is in good and loving hands. And it does a great job being convincing of that fact. All the people involved in this love this world as much as any of us, and are obviously invested in making it as great as they possibly can. And they seem to be having a blast doing it. I have every confidence in this film, and can't wait to see the finished product!

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Rewrite

This review is Spoiler-free.

A washed-up has-been one-hit Hollywood screenwriter takes a job teaching a screenwriting class at an upstate New York college, and in doing so, gives his life an unexpected and much-needed rewrite.

This Marc Lawrence written and directed comedy stars Hugh Grant as said screenwriter, Keith. Marisa Tomei is the charming and spunky grown woman who is going back to college and gets in his class. J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, and Chris Elliott are his college co-workers. Hugh Grant is his usual charming and witty self, helped out by an often funny and even rarely hilarious script, and his character takes the tried-and-true arc route of "from down, cynical, and selfish, to hero who deserves that happy ending."

They had some great banter.

Tomei is endearingly and unfailingly optimistic -- but done is a totally realistic way -- and as such is a great match for Grant's dry British ways. Allison Janney is always great, and her, as the Jane Austen-obsessed stick-in-the-mud professor, she is, of course, no different. I loved J. K. Simmons who lives in a family of five women and pretends to hate it -- then never fails to cry within a few seconds of talking about them. I also have to mention Steven Kaplan who was quite funny with his nerdy hypochondriac character (though that didn't play out as much as it could have). Keith helping him refine and sell a truly good screenplay was my favorite side plot, and a great segue into what I liked most about this film...

The love of writing and movies. Indeed, with a theme like that, how could I possibly not like this movie? It doesn't give any huge, reality-altering insights into the writing or film worlds, but a love for the art is clearly present. It's sentimental about the craft it puts on display, and encouraging to anyone dreaming of pursuing life in that direction, saying that talent can be learned, and hard work and dedication always pays off in the end.

Who needs college? You can learn everything from movies!

Also, it's funny. There are, perhaps two scenes that go plainly into cliched awkward-comedy territory, and as good as Grant may be in that particular area, it's still pretty painful to watch. But it was pretty consistently funny, and a few times had me cracking up unexpectedly hard. Some plot lines were more enjoyable than others, and I thought the third act began to falter and slow alarmingly for a bit, but it regained it's footing for the end and left on a pleasant, balanced, artistic and satisfying high note.

I know a musical reference for the end of this review for a movie about writing is not ideal -- maybe I should take a class from Keith Micheals -- that guy who wrote that really great movie "Paradise Misplaced." I'm sure I could learn a lot from him.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Doctor Who series 9 - trailer!

Here's the first trailer for the 9th Doctor Who season, airing on September 19th. I didn't enjoy the 8th season (review) as much as I have other Doctor Who seasons, but I'm still excited to see if this one will improve now that the new Doctor has settled in. His hair certainly has found a groove! The only thing that I'm not at all looking forward to is Missy. Ugh. Otherwise, this teaser looks promising to me, with plenty of wibbly-wobbly sci-fi thrills.

Take a look, then tell me what you think! Are you looking forward to the new season?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Dark City

This review is Spoiler-free.

In a world... that is dark... and a city... there are mysterious aliens who experiment on the human population every night at midnight. One night a man (Rufus Sewell) wakes up with no memory, appearing to have just committed a murder, and must go on the run from the detective (William Hurt) working the case, and the aliens, and the scientist (Kiefer Sutherland) who works for them. All while trying to regain fragmented memories of the life and wife (Jennifer Connelly) he doesn't remember.

Dark City is 1998 film, written and directed by Alex Proyas.

Dark City is sci-fi noir at its most conscious. Everything at first glance seems to be straight out of the 40's but with very obvious science-fiction tones. The only thing missing is a narration, which there is some of at the very beginning, but once it leaves off, it's gone for good. I am very partial to the sci-fi noir genre, so you'll forgive me if I'm a little biased, but honestly I love this movie for its premise alone.

Where it goes with its premise is not at all unworthy of love and appreciation though, by any means. It keeps things simple and the intriguing mystery slowly and elegantly comes together. You may or may not approve of the ending. I personally wished for a little bit more, but also see how more rewarding content at the end means even more complications, so I definitely see why they chose the simpler path to end on. Anything more complex or lengthy would have destroyed the film's pacing and balance. Plus, you have to leave some questions for the viewer to ponder on -- it's one of the charms of the genre.

Rufus Sewell, who is probably most commonly known for playing the bad guys in so many movies like The Illusionist, A Knight's Tale, or The Holiday is the hero here, and he really should play them more often, as good as he is at the villain. His John Murdoch is a compelling lead with a dark edge that works perfectly for the movie. Kiefer Sutherland is also the opposite of what you would know his as -- wimpy, with a deformed eye, a limp, and a limping way of speaking; he evokes images of stereotypical crazy Nazi scientists -- and not a little bit. William Hurt is the perfect brazen and stoic detective for a noir mystery, and Jennifer Connelly is endlessly elegant and demure.

The aliens, known as The Strangers, and their culture lend the sci-fi element, but are also refined in their appearance, looking human except for small details; they are always tall and extremely slender, with floor-length coats to accentuate that feature; they have no hair and pale skin. They are simultaneously classic and original villains; very refined, and subtly quite unsettling. They can use their minds to manipulate matter (telekinesis with a twist, called "tuning") and that it what gives the movie its defining trait.

Tone, as you may imagine, is always dark and understated, with high-contrast lighting and filming to match. There is also plenty of action to go around, but it's not the kind of action you'd watch the movie for; there are no huge stunts or fight scenes -- it only lends a hand to make the plot more compelling. It's a little dated in the special-effect territory, but holds up well by using mostly practical effects and not going overboard for no good reason. Violence is a classic 90's R, (gore-less blood and more disturbing in the impression of it than the actual look) and there's some fairly unnecessary (if rather brief) nudity, which is bothersome, because otherwise the film barely deserved the rating it received at all (in some ways it feels like a PG) -- language is interestingly non-existent.

Like all good under-the-radar sci-fi noir flicks, Dark City has things to say, but leaves you to decipher what exactly that is. It just tells you a creatively memorable story where it's one hero versus the rest of a mysterious and conspiracy-filled world, going to save the day with an old-fashioned determination. There is just the right amount of height in the stakes to get you involved, but leaves room for all the development and drama needed to surround it and round it out. It has all the science-fiction and action you could want, with all the complexities mystery and twists therein required. It has a richly dark and quietly thoughtful center, with reflective drama, and a lovely romance. A film like this will always have my stamp of approval. No tuning necessary.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Impossible

This review is Spoiler-free.

Based on the true story of the 2004 tsunami that hit Thailand, and one vacationing family of five's struggle to survive and find each other in the destruction.

The Bennett family.

The family in real-life was Spanish, but here they are British. Otherwise the basics of their story are all very accurate, but I imagine embellished a little in some of the details. Ewan McGregor is the father, Henry, and Naomi Watts is the mother, and central character, Maria. Their three sons, Lucas, Thomas, and Simon are played by Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, and Oaklee Pendergast, respectively.

Full disclosure: I only gained an interest to watch this movie once Tom Holland was cast as Spider-Man, and I suddenly wanted to witness his acting abilities. I watched it for that reason -- and got more out of it than I expected to besides -- but satisfied myself on this front too. Tom Holland is absolutely a capable and talented actor. Most of the movie is from his perspective, and he is easily one of the most involving and relatable characters. He seems very well-trained in the craft, with lots of discipline. He delivered his lines and moved very deliberately (though the latter was a trait often obviously encouraged by the filming style and adopted by everyone) and used body language expertly and naturally. He was only slightly lacking in that he never managed any actual tears while crying.

The film follows two story lines -- Lucas and Maria in one...

And yes -- this is a crying movie. On that note: It was Ewan McGregor who impressed me most in the film, when his one very emotional scene was the most real-seeming in the movie, and the only scene that tempted me to cry along. Naomi Watts was nominated for a leading actress Oscar for her performance, and I can see why, but I can also see why she didn't win. There just wasn't enough there for her to do, but what she does do is noteworthy. The younger two boys were quite good too, but are featured considerably less than the previous three. The middle one, Samuel Joslin had one or two simple, profound moments.

... and Henry in the other, as he tries to find them while keeping Thomas and Simon safe.

This movie is very serious and wrenchingly emotional; not my usual cup of tea for a movie. But I did realize the good movie that it is. I appreciated the majority of it as high quality film making; was interested in half as much as an involving story; and even liked a fraction of that as personally memorable and enjoyable moments, details, and performances. It must have been extremely difficult to put together, film, and act in, and all of it had a definite air of high quality; it was thoughtfully scripted, expertly filmed, devotedly acted, neatly cut, and uniquely styled.

The dramatically ominous style came with a side effect though. It was only halfway innocently enhancing, and often was also used as a gimmick to help get that high emotional and dramatic level that was wanted (and to make the film last longer). A level that was achieved fully by exploiting what involving drama was naturally there, and if you must do that kind of thing, at least have the courtesy of being subtle about it. The only thing that wasn't ever affected by calculated tweaking and enhancing was the horror element, which was about as high as it could be all by itself. A solid half of the other moments were milked for all they were worth. The unaffected moments were the ones I loved, but artificial or not, it all left quite a big impression.

It really was seriously, realistically scary at times.

Knowing that the film's purpose was to garner an emotional response from its audience was the one thing I balked at. It felt dishonest; like an elaborate trick, and it shouldn't have, because it really was a real event. I got my enjoyment from everything except letting myself get involved in the emotions and drama, but I still felt as involved as I normally am in movies, and it still left me drained. I appreciated and was impressed by more than I expected -- the natural terror, the wonder, the look at characters completely removed from their reality and comfort zones, and the involved and dedicated performances and technical world around them that made it all real -- but all from an wary and removed distance. That is, after all, the best place from which to view a devastating tsunami of peaked emotions, drama, terror, and human tragedy like that of The Impossible.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

How To Watch A Movie - now on Twitter!

In the spirit of the site I just joined, I'll keep this short. Follow me on Twitter at @htwam_sarah, and if I know you, I'll definitely follow you back!

And a happy Independence Day to everyone!

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Kings of Summer

This review is Spoiler-free.

In this summertime adventure in the great outdoors, three teenage boys, feeling oppressed by their parents and their lives, decide to build a house in the woods, and then run away from home to live there.

The kings. Patrick, Biaggio, and Joe.

Joe (Nick Robinson) came up with the idea. After his mother's death and his sister's marriage he is stuck living alone with his dad (Nick Offerman) and their relationship is nothing if not rocky. They both take out their frustration of life on each other. Patrick's (Gabriel Basso) parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) smother him with dorky and overbearing patronization so he follows Joe's lead. Biaggio (Moises Arias) is there too, but no one knows anything about him. He just followed them, like a mildly disturbing lost puppy, and neither of them have the heart or courage to tell him to get lost.

These three faithfully promise to live off the land, do things for themselves, be their own men, and make their own rules. It's a coming of age story, technically, but one that understands that independence or freedom alone is not adulthood, and a boy cannot become a man over a day, or even a summer, just by running away.

And having hair on your face definitely doesn't mean you're a man, especially if it looks that bad.

The film doesn't really say much, particularly on the front of how to come of age. In fact I'm fairly sure that it never literally says anything. No words are spoken that say anything beyond what the character speaking them is thinking. But it shows us a lot. It's harder to decipher that way, but feels more organic, and allows you to draw your own conclusions. Like these guys who go into the woods searching for something, and end up finding it in the exact opposite way the meant to.

The main portion of this movie is filled with what you might call "filler" of the guys exploring and having fun in the woods, often with spectacular slow motion or close-up macro shots. You may call it "filler" -- but watching it (especially the second time) I easily appreciated the wonder put into those sequences showing off the beauty of the earth and the bond of friendship. Or, in the later ones, the fact that no matter where you are -- woods or in civilization -- the pain of life is still the same.

The parental units. Y'all know that Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally are real-life married, right? Fun fact.

Performances are all-around good, with plenty of humor and heartbreak and everything in between. Nick Offerman, the real pro of the lot, stands out with the best performance, but the boys are not far behind. Moises Arias is mainly reserved for offbeat comic relief, though is not without his moment. Of the other two, Nick Robinson is certainly the main character, but not by too much and Gabriel Basso gets plenty to chew on as well. They are only occasionally lacking in some of the more intense moments, when the filming style gets in the way instead of enhancing the performance. Then occasionally they are quite good, both (with the help of some spot-on writing) nailing a moment or two that almost anyone could identify with.

The film is not without its darker side of teenage angst, and also has a light, sharp and care-free side of fun, jokes, and great sarcastic style. It's funny and thoughtful, sometimes simultaneously. At times you can practically feel the movie thinking, but it remembers to put the entertainment first, and does that with style and experience. The plot is built and paced classically with zero slip-ups and no obvious holes. It's not a huge save-the-world kind of deal, but it's involving. unpredictable, and enjoyable. Plus it has an all-around immaculate, detailed beauty to it that is very original and a pleasure to watch.

It's fairly ethereal... even with the guys goofing off in it all...

For lack of a better way to explain it, The Kings of Summer is romantic about life and the mysteries and complexities it holds. It relishes the smaller moments, and while exploring the woods and the human heart alike, it sincerely considers, but lightly; and never draws any definite conclusions about these things. Maybe it's because it's missing something, and maybe also because some things -- like forgiveness, love, life, and creation -- are too wonderful to be diminished by being put into words. This story is both more and less than your average coming of age adventure.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Upcoming Movie Roundup - July

In June I got out to see Jurassic World (review), and it was every bit as awesome as I wanted and expected it to be. I also saw a May movie, when Far From the Madding Crowd (review) finally showed up at a theater near me. And as to how much I liked it -- I'm in the middle of reading the novel now.

July is chock-full of movies -- as it should be -- and contains at least two must-sees for me! What movies are your must-sees this month?

Terminator Genisys
July1st; PG-13
This one, the newest attempt at reviving the Terminator franchise, released today, so based on critic reviews, I have a pretty good idea of what to think. I'm thinking I'm going to wait for the rental. Spending any more money on it would be a waste according to the pretty terribly sad 26% on RT. The fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger is back for this one is a plus, but I don't like that Anton Yelchin's Kyle Reese was traded in for that dull hunk Jai Courtney. Jason Clark could be cool as John Connor, and I hear Matt Smith is in it, but have yet to see any evidence. And if the twist that appears to be revealed in this trailer really is the twist it appears to be, then I'm thinking I'm going to be feeling more annoyed and confused than excited while watching it.

July7th (limited); NR
In a lot of ways this movie looks pretty cliched. Humans, "destroying" the earth get booted out of control by an AI that "knows better" but is really evil and the bad guy. But, who knows, maybe this movie will be the one that finally perfects that plot by being more than it appears to be by the trailer, and then those cliches can be put to rest. Or, maybe it'll be exactly what it seems -- all the cliches, sci-fi action coolness and romance and everything. I still might very well be interested.

July 10th; PG-13
This is the big, mainstream, non sequel or franchise sci-fi movie of the month, so I kinda have doubts of how profound it will actually be, but this trailer certainly does promise lots of things. Ryan Reynolds stars as a dying billionaire (Ben Kingsley) who gets a new body so that his mind can live longer. Complications and mystery ensue. At least, I really really hope mystery ensues. And I hope it's really really complicated too -- in a smart way of course. In all likelihood though, I'm dreaming. Ryan Reynolds certainly doesn't inspire too much faith on that score. I'll be keeping an eye on reviews for this one.

What We Did on Our Holiday
July 10th(limited); PG-13
David Tennant and Rosamund Pike in a British comedy. Done. It looks totally silly and cutesy and light and airy, but I'm fairly sure that there's nothing it could do that would keep me from wanting to see it, or from enjoying at least some of it once I do. The only real question here is "when?"

July 17th; PG-13
The "when?" for this one is easy: as soon as possible. Ant-Man is my first must-see for this month, which isn't really a surprise considering it's a Marvel movie. Paul Rudd is Ant-Man, Corey Stoll is the villain, Evangeline Lily is there; Michael Douglas, Judy Greer, Michael Pena, and the list goes on and on. I've witnessed others doubting this one (my brother included) but I have a feeling about, like the feeling I had before Guardians of the Galaxy released, and I'm dying to see if I'm right about it. I don't expect it to be as good as GotG of course, but I plan on liking it. A lot. Even if it turns out to be a letdown in terms of Marvel movies, I'm sure I'll still will enjoy it, but, I'm planning on it not being a letdown, but another unexpected surprise, hilarious, epic, fun, and a unique success. Very, very, very highly anticipating this wildcard!

Mr. Holmes
July 17th(limited); PG
Unfortunately this one's not sparking interest with me. I'm sure Ian McKellen does a great job as an aged Sherlock Holmes, and the trailer absolutely looks like a well-made film in every way. But it also looks like the kind of movie I would never really bother to watch. Too sentimental and grit-less perhaps. And why would I want to see all of Holmes' mind-blowing traits and defining skills be debunked? Maybe I'll be wrong and suddenly grow some interest, but it's not happening yet.

Paper Towns
July 24th; PG-13
I certainly want to see this one eventually, but right now I can't imagine it being even close to the greatness of the book it's based on. Many of the thing I adored about the novel seems to be softened and smoothed down for the movie, and that will easily disappoint me. I'm also not sure I like the casting of Cara Delevingne for Margo. Though I do think Nat Wolff will be the perfect Q. And the story is ideal for a movie as long as they're not wimpy about it. Hopefully this one turns out even half a bold as the book, and maybe if I don't get my expectations up too high I'll enjoy it.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation
July 31st; PG-13
No chance this one won't be thrilling! Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames are back, and Alec Baldwin appears to be the bad guy. And the stunts have been dully taken up to the next notch, with Tom Cruise hanging on to the outside of an airplane as it takes off -- and you know it all real too because Cruise wouldn't do anything less! As far as I can tell the plot looks smart and fun, but honestly all my requirements for having a blast while watching this movie have already been met. Second must-see of the month of July!