Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Two Faces of January

In the 1960's, an older man (Viggo Mortensen) and his young wife (Kirsten Dunst) touring Greece make friends with a young tour guide (Oscar Isaac) who's also a small-time con man. And when trouble occurs, they all go on the run together. And as the trouble gets deeper and the tensions get higher, trust goes completely out the window.

The biggest problem with this movie is that Oscar's hair was straightened for a strange and unknown reason.

What we are left with is a low-key suspense thriller building slowly around these three characters, to a not shocking, high or vibrant peak, but to a peak nonetheless. The story is based on a novel, written in 1964 by Patricia Highsmith (author of Strangers on a Train, and The Talented Mr. Ripley), and I'd be very interested to know if it's considered an accurate adaptation. Particularly if it's faithful to the tone, because it's very different tonally. As a film, it's not as exciting as you'd expect a thriller to be, not mysterious enough to be just a mystery; too light for a hard character piece and too straightforward to be a straight up drama. It's a very unique mixture of all of these aforementioned genres, but not in a way that is readily appealing to the typical Netflix-browsing viewer. The people I watched it with didn't think of it too fondly.

It doesn't set very high goals for itself, but what goals it does set it then achieves flawlessly. I'm hardpressed to think of one single flaw in this movie, from any angle; but at the same time, its whole being is just not the quality of a flawless movie. That being said, it caught my attention effortlessly, and gliding along in it unpredictable way, held it while adding to my interest all the way till the end.

Cool 60's Aragorn is cool.

That probably had a lot to do with the actors. I'm not much of a fan of Kirsten Dunst usually, but her character here was different enough from her usual fare that I forgot about that for a while. And the two men, Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac, are definitely on my list of favorites, and their performances were both quite involving. Mortensen does the complicated character actor bit, making a sharp and deep character that makes you forget that he's ever played some guy named Aragorn. And Isaac, who's a relatively new favorite of mine, impressing yet again with a character that has both the charm of the leading man, and the edge of something much more complex. All three actors find the right balance of getting you involved in their character, and leaving you in doubt of whether you should be.

That is something that could also be credited to the script, which seemed well-refined and was just complicated enough, or, perhaps even the original novel. The style of this movie is not so much in the plot or characters, but comes through mainly in the overall look. It all starts out light, and clean and brightly saturated, and as it progresses slowly get darker and dirtier. This effect was achieved in makeup, hair and costumes (I must mention that I loved the 60's style costumes) all the way through to lighting and filming. But the whole time the filming was and stayed quite elegant and pleasant to watch.

Blending in.

I would definitely recommend this film, but only for those who think they would enjoy a film like this. It's a psychological thriller, full of realistically complicated characters and their dilemmas, examining the way their minds work. But all in a way that is light. Mellow, but light. The "psychological" part simply makes you think about the characters and their motivations, and the "thriller" part just keeps you interested. Perhaps it should have been publicized in a more accurate way, but with The Two Faces of January, it seems the more accurate you are, the more complicated the description gets. I watched it for the actors, and found much enjoyment in it from more than just them. So, as to description, the simplest and easiest way for me to describe it is this: it is a good movie.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Paper Towns

Spoilers are marked.

This story, adapted from the 2008 novel by John Green, is from the perspective of Quentin, a nice but kinda geeky high school senior who is totally head-over-heels for his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegleman. Margo is basically the most amazing and popular and epic person there is, and sometimes she disappears randomly and goes on grand adventures, always leaving clues to her whereabouts. When she leaves, and leaves clues for Q to find, he is determined to do what no one else has done for her, and find her.

I adored the book. I liked it better than The Fault in Our Stars. (In spite of a considerably more rocky content terrain.)

It's sad, but I'm going to go ahead and say it: this adaptation does not meet the great levels of the source novel. In many ways, it's not even close. Then, in some other ways it's exactly on, only those are the points that are less important.

Quentin is played by Nat Wolff, and he is Q, through and through. That is, his looks and mannerisms are perfect. However, though he looked perfect, he couldn't bring Q to life; through him we don't get to see into Q's mind and heart. Maybe he had it in him and just wasn't given a proper chance to play the part to the level, but the fact remains that the most alive version of Q is still on the page. I loved Wolff's performance is TFIOS, but this one was not done justice.

At the same time, he was the character that was portrayed with the most justice.

Margo is even worse. The thing is, I'm not sure anyone could have played Margo; how do you cast a person who is indescribably epic, beautiful but not typical, and the epitome of awesome, who everyone wants to be friends with? Answer: you don't. But you can definitely do better than Cara Delevingne. She's not a terrible actress, but she's no Margo. She doesn't impress us with the idea that she is an at all remarkable person, let alone an understandably popular one. Margo's unique draw manifested in the book mostly by her way of speaking -- she speaks like John Green writes -- with unabashed poetic feeling, and with elegance and charisma. Here, she dryly drones out shortened, unembellished versions of her animated speeches and they float to the floor like so much blank paper.

-- Spoilers --
Then, the point of the story was destroyed by having her real self not be so different from her fake, paper, "awesome" self. She doesn't get mad at Q for finding her, she doesn't callously not call her family; she doesn't show that she's a selfish, cold, uncaring and faithless individual; she comes across just as nice and fake as before. Her real side is too fake, and her fake side is too real.
-- End --

Is this who teenagers aspire to be like? Should they?

The supporting cast that includes Austin Abrams as Ben, and Justice Smith as Radar all had the required quirks described in the book, but it was like they and the filmmakers were just going through the motions because they had to, and not because they really cared. A small exception for this goes to Halston Sage as Lacey; she had a moment or two more of genuine success than the guys. Radar's girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair) had an expanded role for no good reason. She was good as far as the rest of them, but wasted more time than her contributions were worth.

Adaption-wise the plot basics were there, but the themes were mostly flip-flopped. This movie took the bold and harsh, but true and moving statements from the book, and changed them so that they meant the exact opposite. Only some basics of a few main themes were left intact, but not to the level of boldness it needed. Dark, gritty things were lightened; deep, heartfelt things were made shallow. Any kind of urgency or importance was totally, wantonly gone. The film also went out of its way to keep as much inappropriate content as it could, sacrificing time that could have been full of meaning for empty dialogue that wasn't even funny most of the time.

I would much rather they'd change the plot events and keep the themes and, you know, the story's point.

As to the non-adapting parts of the film-making, there was one interesting shot that had style, and one fun cameo, and a few highlight scenes and moments; the rest of the movie was confusingly dull and muddled. It droned -- like a toy helicopter that doesn't have enough battery power left to get off the ground. I don't know whether or not the director, Jake Schreier, should be blamed for this, but he seems the most likely option. It was nowhere near as lively, sharp and open as it should have been -- as the novel was. It just sits in the book's shadow. Or it is the book's shadow -- it has nothing more to offer, only less. I'm sorry I have to be so hard on this movie. It's really not a terrible film; only in comparison with what should have been. I can't see it without that influencing me, and neither would I chose to if I could.

Paper Towns is not much more than a paper movie of empty entertainment, with teenagers doing their typical empty teenage things, trying to convince you that that's what fun is, and that's what living is, and love is; preaching that you should be real, and all the while on the inside being just as paper as any other empty teenage dramady.

Friday, August 7, 2015

5 Female Characters Tag

1.) List 5 of your favorite female characters (book or screen).
2.) Tagging other people is optional
3.) If you are tagged link back to the person that tagged you.
4.) Link back to Revealed In Time

Choose one character from each category:
1.) Protagonist
2.) Villain
3.) Superhero
4.) That I would want to be friends with
5.) That I wish had better development

Thanks to Ivy Miranda of Revealed In Time for tagging me for this! I had a lot of fun deciding on and writing about these ladies.


Mattie Ross
Played by Hailee Steinfeld

This goes for the book Mattie too, but to me Steinfeld's portrayal of her was so close to perfection that the two are pretty much indistinguishable. What I love about Mattie is her no-nonsense attitude and tightly focused attentions. She has one goal for the whole story, and will not be pulled off into rabbit trails or be otherwise dissuaded from pushing stubbornly on towards that goal. She is extremely mature for her age in some ways, but in others is embarrassingly naive. Like all great protagonist, she is brave and kind. She is very guarded, but with the few glimpses we get into her heart, we can see that it is full and deep. Though she is not a traditional protagonist you'd expect out of a fourteen-year-old girl, nor the traditional protagonist of a western tale, she is easy to understand, and easy to love and cheer for.


Daisy Buchanan
Played by Carey Mulligan

(Spoilers) It's a strong word to call her, but one of the main principles I base my love of The Great Gatsby on is that Daisy is its villain -- not Tom Buchanan, nor George Wilson. Daisy on the surface is a beautiful, alluring woman who is good at making people like her, and making it seem effortless. Underneath, she is as cold and as selfish as they come. She lets Jay destroy himself in his pursuit of her without a care. She is the indirect cause of his death (and the direct cause of Myrtle's) but never confesses and even never appears to feel remorse. As Fitzgerald says about her and Tom, "...they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness..." Only Tom was misled. Daisy knew everything, and everything that she was doing, and she did it all anyway. She is incredibly fascinating to me. Carey Mulligan in the 2013 adaptation makes a fantastic effort of portraying her villainous complexities, but the character wasn't written for the screen properly, and doesn't reach the heights of the Fitzgerald's Daisy.


Natasha Romanoff
Played by Scarlett Johansson

She doesn't exactly have superpowers, but she is still absolutely a superhero. After appearing in four movies she collected an impressive amount of development, doing a great job in overcoming her exclusively eye-candy role in Iron Man 2, and with her last film landed solidly at the top of my favorite female superheroes. Her Winter Soldier version gives her lots of likability and normality, but Joss Whedon's version of her is my favorite -- she's like a femme fatale, playing the bad guys with smooth elegance, and you're never quite sure if that heart on her sleeve is the real one or not. I love that she has moments of yearning for a family, but is too loyal to her job of saving the world to abandon it to satisfy those desires. I love her graceful, no nonsense hand-to-hand fighting style, and I adore that she can handle herself with all the guys, but still acts like a lady.

That I would want to be friends with:

Katniss Everdeen
Played by Jennifer Lawrence

I know. It's a strange pick. Katniss is basically the complete opposite of everything you'd associate with being friendly. She even says of herself that she's not good at making friends. I don't doubt that if I lived in her world and we had a chance at being friends that it wouldn't actually happen, but we're using hypothetical's here, and the word "want." Aside from my low chances of hypothetically getting into the affections of the great Miss Everdeen, the fact is that Katniss is one of the best people anyone could ever be friends with. Think of the people she is friends with, and how devotedly loyal she is to every single one. She may not come to care for a person easily, but once she does she cares with every last drop she has to give. Plus, I like to imagine that we'd get along. She's a very open and honest person with her friends, and if someone is honest with me, I find it easy to follow suit. And honesty without fear of losing the friendship is an amazing thing.

That I wish I had better development:

Played by Evangeline Lily

This was definitely the hardest category for me, because when I think a character has bad development, I automatically don't like them. I chose Tauriel, because I wanted to like her. I really, really, did. And some of the time I was able to. Evangeline Lily made her charming and sincere in her way, and really good at destroying orcs with style. But the hints at her romance with Legolas were weird; and her full-on romance with Kili even more so. Even her relationship with Thranduil was odd. She simply did not feel like a true Middle-Earth lady. She only served as ways and means of developing other characters, moving the plot along, and expanding the run time. Too bad, but even so annoyingly developed as she was, she wasn't distractingly bad, because the movies often matched her level pretty well.

I will tag:

And since tagging is optional, I'm sure that "stealing" is encouraged, so if you want to do it -- please do!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

New Trailer - Deadpool

The first full Deadpool trailer has arrived! I am not sharing the red band trailer (R-rated trailer). If you want to see it, it's easy enough to find -- in fact they linked to it at the end of this here green band trailer:

This is interesting to me because this is the first time I've ever witnessed a red band trailer be more popular than the green band. It worries me for the film a bit actually. I'll watch an R-rated movie, though I'm extra careful about them, and it bothers me when movies are made to be R for no good reason. Now, Deadpool would probably be terrible if they tried to make it PG-13. It definitely couldn't do without R type violence. But with them pushing this profane trailer so hard, it seems like their goal is not to make a great movie that will happen to be rated R, but to make a really, really inappropriate R-rated movie, and count on it also being great. I'm very interested to see how this movie will turn out -- but not counting on it being one I'll want to witness personally, just in case.

Judging just from this trailer, it definitely looks funny and sharp and violent, and full of potential.

What do you think of the trailer? And do you have any thoughts on the subject of the rating?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

This review is Spoiler-free.

When all seems impossible... enter Ethan Hunt.

Or rather, enter Tom Cruise, who makes him possible; both by producing the movies Agent Hunt appears in, and by playing this epic character with determined fearlessness that pushes the boundaries of what is possible in film making. In the 5th installment of the iconic franchise that was adopted by Cruise in 1996, Ethan goes up against the Syndicate -- a villainous organization of rogues bent on destroying the IMF (Impossible Missions Force). This installment is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, and he handles this behemoth blockbuster expertly to great effect.

Epic action movie is impossibly epic.

Plot-wise not much explanation is needed. This Mission: Impossible, just like the last four, plays by the guidebook for M:I movies -- a handbook that had yet to get old in the past twenty years, so it's safe to say that it never will. "Plot" is just what happens between the guide's plays to link them all together. The guidebook requires there to be a small team working against impossible odds, antagonizing for this team from both good and bad sides, something that requires stealing, at least two chase scenes, three fight scenes, one sequence where characters wear evening attire, one or two moments where there's no escape in sight, one surprise on the audience, cool gadgetry, sharp comic relief and an epic finish -- but most importantly, stunts. Stunts that make you go "wow." And if there's one guy for that job, it's Tom Cruise.

No doubt you've seen that one big stunt in the trailer where Ethan is holding on to the outside of an airplane. And perhaps you know that stunt was real. Well, while it was the most obviously scary stunt in the movie, the whole film is full of moments just as real and just as -- or even more -- impressive. Notice, if you will, how long the underwater takes are; or that it's really Cruise riding that motorcycle; and driving that car -- and fighting and jumping and climbing as the requirement comes. But beyond being one of the craziest actors who does his own stunts in the business, with Ethan Hunt, Tom has created a fantastic, personable character, and every time we come back to see him, we love him just as much -- or even better -- than we did before. Ethan is a great, determined, caring a brave guy. The exact kind of guy you would imagine out of a man who's saved the world as many times as he has.

If the world's in trouble, Ethan Hunt is the man you want on the job!

As for his supporting team, it's never exactly the same twice, but this one is the most familiar out of all the films.

The right-hand man is Benji Dunn, played by the brilliantly funny Simon Pegg. Benji has been in the M:I films since he had a small supporting role in M:I3. He was the quirky tech support. Then in Ghost Protocol he had just passed his field exam (crazy, right?); here, he's not a newbie anymore and is featured heavily, and I honestly think it made the movie. He is now perfectly capable of throwing punches, thinking on his feet, and using initiative to help the cause and his teammates -- but always his major is in computers. I just love that this film finally gave him (this is true for both Benji and Pegg) a chance to really come into his own and show what he's made of. He may still have all the most hilarious lines and reactions, but that's not what he is anymore. I've never considered this about anyone besides Ethan, but I now firmly believe that Benji Dunn is a necessary character for the Mission: Impossible franchise. 

The progression of his character over the last three films has been a real treat to witness.

Jeremy Renner is listed second is the credits, but his character of William Brandt, who first appeared in Ghost Protocol, spends a considerable amount of time is the background, wearing ties and talking politics while Hunt and Dunn are in the field. I expected this, and expected it would disappoint me too, but it actually didn't. The character of Brandt is just geared more that way, and this film knew very well how to properly utilize its characters. Brandt is the guy who wants to play everything by the rules, and this gives him and Ethan plenty of chances to clash their opinions together. The only thing I missed from the character was that his chances to show off his action-star tail-kicking skills were limited here, while he got plenty in the last film.

Luther Strickell, played by Ving Rhames, is the only other character besides Hunt to have been in the first Mission. In fact, he was technically in all of the M:I movies, only his appearance in Ghost Protocol was just a short cameo at the end -- after the world had already been saved -- so that really doesn't count. And even here his role is limited, though at least helpful this time. Luther is a very charming and sharp gentleman, and his presence is always a useful and welcome addition. He plays a big part in making this cast feel like an old friend.

Cool cool cool.

The good guy antagonist is Alec Baldwin -- no complains whatsoever. The main villain is played by Sean Harris. Now, one of the few things M:I movies don't have a step-by-step guaranteed-successful checklist to follow for is the villain. They have ranged from the incredible terrifying coldness of Phillip Seymour Hoffman in M:I3, to... totally forgettable. Sean Harris' Solomon Lane lands solidly on the upper side of that scale. He's effectively malicious, has an unnerving confident and disconnected air to him, and plays a memorable and active part in the plot.

Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust was an addition I wasn't sure of going in, never having seen her act before, but I couldn't help growing to care for her character very fast. She had a great screen presence. Being so gorgeous didn't hurt, but it really was something about her essence that was both elegant and commanding that catches your attention -- and the camera's. She wound up being a very memorable and involving addition.

Photos do her surprisingly little justice compared to film. That dress though. So epic.

M:I movies require both heist/con events and purebred action events, but this one leans heavily towards the pure action side. There are two heists, one secret mission, and a con, but for the most part the film concentrates its focus to the action side of these. The secret mission had the classic small-time heist feel. The main heist was great -- well-planned and well-executed with that classic "just in time" tension, and minimal improv. The con was action-heavy, and epically satisfying. And in between each of those, there was a chase scene.

The format of these movies is tightly-packed awesomeness, and Rogue Nation has the most awesomeness per square minute out of them all so far. It really blows the mind how many various action-flick must-haves are included. I don't think one action cliche was overlooked to be added to the plot, and then turned on its head to feel fresh and original. You should have seen me grinning like an idiot during the big car chase. The opening was tight and stylish perfection, setting the perfect tone, and the climax was downright magnificent and it knew it.

The only impossible thing about this movie  is the likelihood of you not getting totally involved in the over-the-top awesome fun, everywhere it takes us.

The comic relief was so common throughout, with hit cracks one after the other that they gave this movie the feel of actually being a comedy. Of course Simon Pegg effortlessly steals the spotlight in this section, with the four or five topmost hilarious lines, but everyone does the comedy, and does it well. Tom Hollander shows up at one point and seems to have been cast solely for his epic comedic abilities. The comedy does fade down considerably though as the third act begins and the building drama breaks through the surface. It doesn't feel like an unnatural tone change though, because this is the way of M:I movies. When the seriousness comes, it is welcome, giving the film one last boost of energy that it rides to the end, and giving the film that deeper quality that rounds it out, and makes it the ideal, impossibly grand action adventure.

This epic, epic, smart, hilarious and totally involving fifth installment is, without a doubt -- for Tom and co. and for Ethan and co. -- another mission: accomplished.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Upcoming Movie Roundup - August

July turned out fantastically! I saw my two must-watches, and they were both even better than I expected. Ant-Man was hilarious and a wonderfully fun time (read my review here), and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation was one incredible, gleeful action sequence after another. (Stay tuned for a very positive review of it.) I didn't get to see Paper Towns quite yet though -- I'll be seeing it later today, actually.

August doesn't have a large number of film of interest to me, but of the films that are interesting, they're very interesting. There may end up being two must-sees for me this month too! Which end-of-summer flicks are you excited for? Any I don't mention? Let me know about them in the comments!

Fantastic Four
Aug 7th; PG-13
This one will only reach must-see status if the reviews come out right. As in, better than the 2005 F4. To make it interesting let's include the Silver Surfer sequel to the too -- it was a little better, but both were bad enough to be easily topped by this reboot, which is looking pretty neat by the trailers. And by "pretty neat" I mean really, very, super neat. The cast of Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell is fantastically promising, and the cool concept, science-y elements are very intriguing. I have every confidence that this team will finally live up to their name.

The Gift
Aug 7th; R
Written by, directed by, and starring one of my favorites, Joel Edgerton, along with Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, this psychological thriller I've seen floating around, but it only just now actually caught my attention. An oh my goodness -- it looks good. I mean, it looks terrifying, but really good. I don't think I would survive a theater showing, but I'll be waiting for the DVD/rental with... suspenseful anticipation.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Aug 14; PG-13
It may flip-flop around (or it may not) but right now, I'm actually more excited for this movie than I am for the previously mentioned last superhero movie of the summer. Just because of the trailer. It just looks like an absolute blast. The kind of brilliant fun that makes you laugh at all the awesomeness and then say things like, "I can't even" just because you can't find any words to actually describe all the things you're feeling. Even if it doesn't quite meet those expectations, I can't see it being any less than a movie worth seeing. Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer star with Hugh Grant, Jared Harris, Alicia Vikander and The Great Gatsby's Elizabeth Debiki co-starring.

American Ultra
Aug 21st; R
This one will probably be too much with too little interest for me to actually ever see until it's television days, but it is a good action-comedy idea, and the trailer certainly is amusing. Jesse Eisenberg is a loser stoner who is really a sleeper spy, and is suddenly activated to stylishly violent, and comedic results. Kristen Stewart is his girlfriend.