Friday, October 24, 2014

John Wick (2014) Film Review

So imagine that some stunt coordinators that helped make films like 300, The Matrix, V for Vendetta, Fight Club, Spider-Man 2, and many more decided to get together and make a movie. That movie would be John Wick. Now normally a movie like John Wick sounds like it would slip under the radar but surprisingly at the beginning of this week the film was picking up some pretty positive reviews. So I thought it would be worth a shot especially hoping that Keanu Reeves would give a great performance because I am a big fan of his. When Keanu is on his game then he can make any movie enjoyable and entertaining. Just look at The Matrix, Constantine, and Bill and Ted's! Plus I have never heard about stunt coordinators turning to directing so I was definitely fascinated to see what they could bring to the action drama. Also its really fun to go into a movie knowing absolutely nothing about it with zero expectations. Finally in world full or sequels, reboots, and rehashing of the same material repeatedly, its refreshing to see an original story on the big screen.

John Wick is written by Derek Kolstad and directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, and William Dafoe. The film follows the infamous hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) who now lives in retirement and trying to stay out of the game. His wife has recently died from an unnamed sickness and in his state of grief receives a late gift from his wife before she passed: a puppy. Just as John starts to overcome his grief, he runs into a young mobster (Alfie Allen) who decide to break into his home, steal his car, and murder his new puppy. He finds out that the young mobster is the son of his old boss and he will do anything and kill anyone that stands in the way of his retribution. Now in rage, John Wick decides to get back into the hit game and get his revenge on the mob boss' son.

Dear White People (2014) Film Review

There are different approaches that films take to discuss race relations in our world today. Two of my favorite films, American History X and Fruitvale Station, take a harsh, dark, but realistic look at how it affects the individual. Then you have over the top comedies like Undercover Brother or Guess Whose Coming To Dinner take use humor to open up the discussion. What if a movie decided to take  mix of both of these worlds, a little bit realism look at race while also having fun and making some great jokes that also make a commentary. Somehow Justin Simien has been able to beautifully combine these two approaches to create one of the most original and honest films about identity that brings a breath of fresh air to cinema. Something that opens up the conversation and reminds us that there are more problems than we are willing to realize. Movies are all about perspective, the perspective of the writer's ideas on the world and its characters or the perspective of the audience that the director chooses for us to see, so I love seeing movies that give me people's perspective about the world around us. I can only see and fully understand my own perspective but film allows me to at least absorb someone else's outlook for a few hours. Especially as a White Christian Male, I seriously enjoy being able to see director's and writer's perspectives so that I can open my mind and expand my horizons. That way my views on the world, life, and people can always be growing, changing, and maturing the more I consume.

Dear Black People, written and directed by Justin Simien, follows a group of African American students at a predominantly white Ivy League university. One of them, Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams), a shy and unsocial homosexual, is try to get a spot as a writer on the main campus paper while also trying to find a place to live where his fellow residents won't verbally abuse and embarrass him. Sam White (Tessa Thompson), a passionate and outspoken media major, start growing in popular through her radio program "Dear White People" in which she blatantly calls out everyday racist tendencies of whites but by also speaking out against the oppressive school system her fellow African Americans are experiencing. We also follow a hall president who lives in his father shadow and a young lady who decides to make herself more ghetto in hopes to land a spot on a reality show. These students have to navigate college life while dealing with a white majority campus and trying to discover who they truly are on the inside. At the same time a college residency house choose a risky and racist party theme that could cause campus to implode.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I'm So Excited! (2013) Film Review

One of the unfortunate things about living in the States is that at times it can very hard to go see international films at the theater. While every once in a while a cinema will decide to pick up a few from the Academy Awards nominations list, even some of the biggest international films of the year rarely come to the states. Even then you can only catch them if you live in one of the few major cities around the United States. Still thankfully for Netflix and the Internet I am able to catch some great international films even if it may be months or years after their initial release. That said Pedro Almodóvar is one of my all time favorite directors. Ever since I was introduced to him at film school, I have been fascinated and in awe of the man's use of color, wonderfully written characters, and engaging worlds that get better by each film. Plus his range of is quite impressive being able to do both hardcore dramas and knee slapping comedies to an exceptional level. My two personal favorites being Talk To Her and The Skin I Live In, I cannot suggest enough to spend some time watching his films and enjoying watching a mastermind work behind the camera. His most recent film, I'm So Excited!, had me hooked from the first trailer. It had been a while since we had seen a true comedy from Alomodóvar tackle a comedy and I was hoping to see more over the top creations from this man's mind. While I wish that theaters near me would pick up Almodóvar's films, something is always better than nothing.

I'm So Excited! is written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar starring Javier Cámara, Pepa Charro, Cecilia Roth, and many more. The film follows the crew and passengers of an airliner that has had a malfunction and must make an emergency landing. It is up to the attendants to entertain the passengers and keep them distracted from the danger of the situation. After many drinks, soon we start learning secrets about all the passengers and the crew as well. We learn about a girl who believe is a psychic and wants to lose her virginity on the flight, an alcoholic steward who swears he's off alcohol that also loves doing musical numbers, a famous actor trying to reconnect with his suicidal ex over the phone, and an old dominatrix that wants to make a written complaint about the service. There is more but these are just a few examples of some of the over the top and hilarious characters in the film. We follow them all as they go through the turmoil of finding a way to land and hopefully survive this flight that's unlike any other.

Mysterious Skin (2004) Film Review

I like what Steve McQueen, the filmmaker not the actor, said about his film Shame. "Shame is my response to being lost." I feel like a lot of my favorite movies explore the topic of being lost, following characters who are trying to find their way in life either through good or bad decisions. My all time favorite film Requiem For A Dream and a recent favorite of mine Happiness are similar in that they bring us into the worlds of these people that we would never try to understand otherwise. The reason these films intrigue me is because they are trying to explore and understand the why behind these people. Why does someone fall into drug addiction? Why does someone have countless sex with prostitutes and girls but then can't actually get it up with someone who is interested in him? Even if the movie doesn't exactly answer all the questions it brings up, its creating that discussion with yourself and your friends and helps us realize that there is always more to people than what they present at the surface. That is where Mysterious Skin comes in as another example of a film trying to explore the why behind it's two main protagonists. Being a Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan I wanted to see him in an indie project before he hit it big and hopefully watch a compelling, honest film at the same time.

Mysterious Skin is a film, written and directed by Gregg Araki, that follows Neil McCormick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian Lackey (Brady Corbet) from the young ages of 8 years old and then to when they are young adults. Both boys played on a little league baseball team and were unfortunately sexually abused by their baseball coach. Neil remembers everything about his coach and grows up to be a homosexual prostitute, hanging out on playgrounds to find old men looking for young guys. Brian on the other hand cannot remember anything about his coach and suffers from amnesia because of the trauma he received. Instead he believes he was abducted by aliens and experimented on leading to a minor obsession with UFOs and extraterrestrials. Throughout the film we follow Neil as he dives deeper and deeper into the world of gay prostitution and Brian who tries to find out what happened to himself when he was 8 years old and why he can't remember it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Happiness (1998) Film Review

One of the biggest complaints about Marvel's impressive line up of films is that you don't see much variation in plot. We are introduced to our hero, they make mistakes that put them in life threatening situations, they learn from their mistakes, then finally pull themselves together just in time to defeat the big bad guy trying to destroy the world. While I can understand how this predictable plot and story beats throughout the film can make the films somewhat boring for some viewers I still find it to be a fun joy ride. Plus Marvel does this structure better than anyone else in the industry. Now that said, it still gets a little disappointing when you notice big Hollywood films follow the same story structure time after time, it feels like when you watch the trailers that you can already tell everything that is going to happen. It's this that make independent movies that are not held down by the constraints of the Studio system so fun, entertaining, interesting, and refreshing to watch. It is nice to see someone's original vision brought to screen without someone telling them to change things for the sake of making money. That's what make Happiness so refreshing to watch, a film that has characters that you would never ever see on the Hollywood big screen and asks its audience to look into a dark part of humanity without sugarcoating it. Its a daring and brave piece of cinema and the most bizarre movie I have seen in a long time.

Happiness is written and directed by Todd Solondz starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jane Adams, Dylan Baker, and Jon Lovitz. The film centers around a unique group of individuals ranging from a psychiatrist, to a woman jumping between jobs in her 30s, an author, and many more as they try to find what they really want in life. Unlike most people, these people find happiness in the some of the darkest corners of society like calling up random people on the phone book to tell them they are worthless or being a pedofile. The film explores these characters, how they impact the people around them, why they do the things they do, and the consequences they must face for it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Snowpiercer Film Review

If you have never seen a film by Bong Joon-ho then you are missing out on one of the most unique voices out in the world of cinema today. My first taste of his work came in the form of The Host which completely caught me by surprise for being original, darkly funny, and having social commentary all while being a great monster film! The film was so good that I put Bong Joon-ho on my watch list and started going through his filmography. Then we come to present day where it feels like I have been waiting forever to finally see his newest film Snowpiercer. It has been tough waiting after hearing so much about the film, the reviews and then the controversy over the Weinstein's trying to re-edit the film, but luckily the time had finally come where this film was in theaters and we go to see the edit that Bong Joon-ho wanted to release. What also makes Snowpiercer exciting is that this is Bong Joon-ho's first English speaking film and first big budget feature. While more money and a bigger release might seem like a good thing, that isn't always an equation for success. Sometimes when a filmmaker tries to cross over to bigger films, they lose what made them such great filmmakers in the first place. Just look at what happened with German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and 2010's The Tourist. So I was hopeful for two things to come out of Snowpiercer, that Bong Joon-ho would be able to keep his voice and style that made his previous films memorable and fascinating and also that we could see another wonderful original film in a summer filled with sequels and rebranded old known products. Read on to see my thoughts on Snowpiercer

The year is 2014 where an experiment to end global warming causes a new ice age across the Earth, freezing everything insight to deadly below freezing temperatures. Fast forward 17 years and the last known humans alive left on the planet Earth are left to survive on the Snowpiercer, a 20 car train that runs on a self sustaining engine that travels around the world all year round. At the back of the train lives the lower class, where the leaders and high class of the train have stuffed most of the population in cramped living conditions. The lower class survives on protein blocks and nothing else but it seems that the back of the train has had enough. Led by Curtis (Chris Evans), a protege of Gilliam (John Hurt), the lower class rises up and starts to slowly head their way up the train hoping to reach the engine room and take the upper hand. As the upper class fights back, Curtis and the rest of the back of the train must fight their way forward before their are forced to the back of the train or even worse killed.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Signal Film Review

Being born in the 1990s, I feel like I missed out on a time where people would go to a movie theater with little to no knowledge about a film before they saw it. For example you would go in seeing a movie called Casablanca and then have your mind blown by how brilliant the movie is! I always wish I could go back in time and watch the first Star Wars film without any knowledge to have that feeling of discovery and wonder at the incredible film. As I started become a big time cinephile, I would constantly read up on movie news, rumors, watch trailers and clips, and do everything I could to learn everything about a movie before it came out. About a year ago I realized this took a lot out of the viewing experience as a lot of the film would be ruined before I even saw it. So I have pulled back and like to go into movies with little knowledge, and while that is almost impossible for some movies I was surprised this weekend to have such an experience. With nothing else to see at the theater, my best friend and I went to see The Signal without any prior knowledge and found it to be a refreshing and fun experience. Read on to see my thoughts on William Eubank's The Signal...

The Signal follows a group of three friends Nic (Brenton Thwaites), Haley (Olivia Cooke), and Jonah (Beau Knapp) as they go out on their road trip across the country to help move Haley for college. While Nic and Haley are dealing with relationship problems, Nic and Jonah pursue a hacker that was able to hack into MIT's servers. Impressed by his work, Nic and Jonah track down the hacker's IP address to find out where he lives. Taking a detour on the trip, they arrive at the hacker's location to find the place empty or so they think. The group soon find themselves abducted and waking up in a ominous location, trapped by a group with unknown origins or motives. Nic faces daily evaluations from Damon (Lawrence Fishburne) but must find a way out of the facility and save his friends along the way while figuring out just what exactly happened to them.