Sunday, June 25, 2017

TiMER - 7 stars out of 10

TiMER - 7 stars out of 10

“TiMER” takes an absolutely amazing sci-fi concept and adapts it to be used in a romantic comedy.  And surprisingly, it fits!  The idea of having a timer that counts down to a significant life event is fascinating.  I have always felt that “In Time” took this amazing concept and completely blew it.  Lo and behold, “TiMER” already existed and perfectly executed the idea.  It will prompt self-reflection on whether you would want to know if you could, what happens if you fall in love with someone who isn’t your soulmate, and whether there is a preordained plan for us to meet the right one at the right moment.  It has the style of a rom-com but the story operates on a much deeper level.  The characters are well-written to make us care about their fate, with the acting of Emma Caulfield, Michelle Borth, and John Patrick Amedori helping the characters feel relatable within the sci-fi context.  While I enjoyed the film, I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone.  It could be a perfect PG-13 comedy for parents and their teens, but then they throw a ton of unnecessary f-words into the script that limits its family appeal.  If you are tired of the romantic comedy equation, “TiMER” takes the genre to another level with its unique story.


[Pictured: Would you want to know? The story raises some really interesting questions]

Friday, June 16, 2017

Trash (2014) - 7 stars out of 10

Trash (2014) - 7 stars out of 10

"Trash" is an unexpectedly interesting foreign film whose story is twofold: its unique crime storyline keeps us on edge while serving as an expose into the difficult lifestyle for the poverty stricken people of Brazil.  It is far fetched at times but never goes beyond a reasonable stretch of the imagination.  It may seem odd to have a Portuguese cast alongside Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara, but it makes sense within the context of the story.  These stars are actually outshined by their Brazilian costars, Selton Mello (the corrupt cop) and Rickson Tevez (Raphael).  These actors provide the emotional intensity the drives the entire film.  There is no weak spot amongst the deep cast of foreign actors.  The story is fairly predictable yet satisfying in that we encounter a few surprises but everything is resolved in a familiar way.  I appreciate the theme of doing what is right no matter what it takes.  Most of us would take the reward and avoid conflict but the moral compass of these characters is inspiring.  I didn't appreciate the portrayal of the missionary priest as a swearing alcoholic.  I understand that the character needs to be rough around the edges to make a difference in the slums but the character would have been much better if he was a saint at his core and chose to get his hands dirty when necessary.  Beyond the acting, the film is beautifully filmed as a travelogue of the varying socioeconomic areas of Rio de Jeneiro.  "Trash" isn't the greatest crime adventure that you will ever see but if you enjoy the genre, you will be very happy with the way that it plays out.


[Pictured: The inclusion of interview segments creates an interesting stylistic feel while fitting perfectly into the plot]

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Blair Witch Project (1999) - 7 stars out of 10

The Blair Witch Project (1999) - 7 stars out of 10

"The Blair Witch Project" unintentionally became one of the most important films of the 90’s.  It is an anomaly in that its importance to its genre supersedes its actual quality.  This film changed the found footage genre forever, establishing an unprecedented amount of realism within and surrounding the production of the film.  Let’s take a step back and explore the concept before we explore the actual film.  Three actors (playing the role of student filmmakers) travel deep into the Black Hills of Maryland to create a documentary about a legendary witch.  For the duration of the film, the actors were literally stranded and completely lost in the woods.  Behind the scenes, they would follow a GPS to hidden film canisters that would provide clues to their next location and individual instructions to help them to develop their characters.  Onscreen, a combination of improvised acting and pure terror creates an atmosphere that is absolutely surreal.  The terror came from the production crew who, unbeknownst to the actors, planted creepy props throughout the woods, scared them with noises throughout the night, and deprived them of food to elicit realistic, emotional responses.  The characters are never heard from again but their equipment and video footage is discovered in the woods a year later, which is what the audience is watching.  "Unsettling" is an understatement.  To further enhance the nonfictional narrative, one of the first internet viral marketing campaigns was employed to make potential audience members believe in the truth of this legend.  This included a website that listed faux police reports and evidence to portray the documentary as truth, flyers at film festivals with contact information for anybody who had information on the missing actors, listing the three actors as “Missing, presumed dead” on IMDB, and even a historical tv special on the Blair Witch legend that was aired on the SciFi Channel.

The film’s significance cannot be overstated but the film is far from perfect.  The concept leads to large portions of the film where nothing really happens, though it is all part of the buildup to the very end (which many argue is anticlimactic but I believe perfectly ties the story together).  My main issue is the extreme amount of profanity.  I understand that the actors are trying to portray the tension and terror of being lost in the woods, but most of it is unnecessary (134 f-words and 62 s-words in 81 minutes).  It is also frustrating that during the scary sequences, there is so much shaky cam that you can’t really see what is going on.  Again, this makes the story believable but causes the scene to lose its intensity.  So why do we love to watch 81 minutes of film where not much happens?  Because the concept is so unique and the emotions are so raw that the line between fiction and nonfiction is completely blurred.  This simple film had a budget of $60,000 and went on to make over $248 million at the box office.  “The Blair Witch Project” may not be most peoples’ cup of tea, but the influence of its found footage style and viral marketing campaign can still be seen in the popularity of films like “Paranormal Activity” today.


[Pictured: The iconic and most emotional moment where Heather Donahue apologizes to her family and friends amidst her terror]

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Oklahoma City (2017) - 9 stars out of 10

Oklahoma City (2017) - 9 stars out of 10

"Oklahoma City" is a comprehensive look at the events leading up to the Oklahoma City bombing as well as the aftermath of this tragedy.  More importantly, it explores the rationale of domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh and his calculated preparation for the attack.  This documentary was almost surreal for me.  These events occurred during my childhood and yet, my innocence shielded me from the details.  I knew that a bomb went off and many people died but I never knew about Ruby Ridge, Waco, the white supremacist movement that inspired McVeigh, The Turner Diaries, the manhunt in Kansas, or any of the political aspects involved.  The film is well organized with different chapters to introduce each piece of this puzzle.  It contextualizes each event within the scope of the bombing by interspersing footage of the attack between each chapter.  “Oklahoma City” provides an interesting history lesson about domestic extremist groups in the early 90’s with a constant focus on the bombing.


[Pictured: The aftermath of the bombing is still shocking 20+ years later]

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Killer Inside Me (2010) - 5 stars out of 10

The Killer Inside Me (2010) - 5 stars out of 10

“The Killer Inside Me” is a film that you’ve never heard of even though it seems like you should have.  In spite of the popularity of its lead actors and gritty modern approach, critics and audience members found it difficult to watch due to its utterly disrespectful attitude toward women.  I understand that it is staying true to its source material; however, director Michael Winterbottom made sure to show every detail instead of including the occasional cutaway to spare us a bit of disgust.  Imagine “Pulp Fiction,” only the graphic scenes are fewer and far between but thrice the length.  It didn't take long to realize that I should fast forward the explicit sexual content and graphic violence, but I didn't expect that I would skip 1/3 of the movie as a result!  The entire story is predicated on an extreme level of violence toward women that is not socially accepted, and that is why this film is generally unknown.  The strange thing is that, amidst these gut-wrenching depictions, a gripping story develops.  Casey Affleck masterfully taps into a dark place to play the dual roles of nice guy and quiet psychopath.  The rest of the acting was average with the exception of the moments when Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson endure their realistic beatings.  These scenes are so believable that people had to wait in the lobby and come back in afterwards.  One of the most interesting decisions by the director is to succeed the violence with unsettlingly upbeat music, giving us a window into the irrational mind of Affleck.  In spite of its fascinating storyline and character study, I cannot recommend “The Killer Inside Me.”  You must either skip 1/3 of the film to avoid the objectionable content or feel like a horrible person as you watch a man treat these women like animals.  Either option will leave you sitting in silence as you contemplate the film’s realism.  The imagery is powerful but goes beyond what we ever needed to see.


[Pictured: Affleck's powerful performance is clouded by shock-value imagery]

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Founder - 9 stars out of 10

The Founder - 9 stars out of 10

Once you have seen "The Founder," you will never be able to look at McDonald's in the same way.  The devious business practices of Ray Kroc are infuriating, but Michael Keaton portrays them in a very interesting way.  Ever since "Birdman" rejuvenated his career, every performance by Keaton is layered and finessed.  In this instance, his character earns our sympathy and even becomes our hero for 75% of the movie.  It isn't until the very end that we realize that his business savvy is not admirable and see him for the total weasel that he is.  I still get steamed every time that I drive past the golden arches and realize that they were stolen.  The supporting cast adds to the backwards emotions that we feel.  Heroes like the McDonald brothers (played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) and Kroc's first wife (Laura Dern) come off as annoying and unreasonable until we realize that they were the only good people in the story.  I'm surprised that this film was completely snubbed by the Oscars.  The production staff vividly captured the 1950's drive-in restaurant culture and the writers managed to turn a series of business deals into an interesting, emotional story.  While the focus is on Kroc, it is really a behind-the-scenes look at the birth of the fast food industry.  I appreciate "The Founder" for its unique story and family-friendly content, but it just might ruin McDonald's for you forever.

[Pictured: I imagine that it is surreal for the older generation to see the McDonald's of their day brought back to life]

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - 4 stars out of 10

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - 4 stars out of 10

Wes Anderson's unique style causes his films to be hit or miss with the designation as "hit" or "miss" varying from person to person.  For me, "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" is a major miss.  My disappointment was actually a surprise as I have enjoyed most of Anderson’s work.  Films like “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” offer an outside of the box look at the world but this film reads more like a parody.  And the parody doesn't really work.  The eccentric Anderson style is evident in the opening sequence and the unique dollhouse-like set, but the comedy lacks cleverness and his signature head-on shots.  There is a chance that I would have better understood the film is I was familiar with Jacques Cousteau.  I have never seen one of his oceanic documentaries so I have a difficult time assessing whether the homage properly captures his adventures.  Still, I find that the entire story leans too heavily toward the silly side of the fine line that defines Anderson’s style.  It makes sense to me that his other films have been on the Oscar ballot but this one didn’t catch the eye of the critics.  One of the hardest pieces of this film to judge is the acting.  The cast is populated by big names like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum, and Michael Gambon.  These talented actors latch onto the script’s deadpan style, which causes the overall quality of the acting to seem mediocre.  Intentional as this may be, the end result is rather boring.  You never know what to expect next as this film progresses, like the Brazilian guitarist who sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese.  Yes, I did say SongS.  “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is a mildly entertaining film but I wouldn’t judge all of Anderson’s work based on this one film.  Once you’ve seen a proper realization of his eccentric style, this film will sink to the bottom of your list as it has for most of us.

[Pictured: One of the only signature Anderson head-on shots finally appears toward the very end of the film]