Month: October 2015

The Shawshank Redemption – Review #50

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Oh, how do I even start?

The Shawshank RedemptionThe Shawshank Redemption, directed by Frank Darabont, tells the story of Andy Dufrense. He’s sentence to 2 consecutive life sentences for the murder of his wife and her lover. He is sent to the Shawshank State Penitentiary, where he meets Red, the guy who can get you anything. What follows is a tale of friendship, prison, and most importantly, hope.

You know, I’ve heard of The Shawshank Redemption way before I decided to watch it today. I knew about because it’s considered one of the best films ever made by just about everyone. Top 10 movies ever made? Chances are it’s on there. What left me confused though was that I never heard why. Most people just say it is. So I went into this movie with some expectation and a smidge of skepticism. And I must say, the people weren’t lying. This is one of the-if not the-best films I have ever watched.

The Shawshank Redemption is ultimately a tale about never giving up, and director Frank Darabont portrays that beautifully. This was him directional debut, and you seriously cannot get a better start than this. He shows the life in prison meticulously and the stories that come from it, from Brook’s life after parole and the roof tarring convict crew of ’49 to Andy’s eventual escape are all oozing with delicious lighting and atmosphere. Hell, he makes eating jail food with fellow inmates feel cozy.

While the performances here are all great, it’s Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman that make this movie. Tim is Andy, the wrong-fully convicted banker. His relentless drive of hope and freedom makes this movie. And if that’s not enough, we have Morgan Freeman as Red, who befriends Andy and helps him, albeit unknowingly, with his escape. He also serves as the narrator of the film, and his soothing voice and narration works so well with the film. This was a decade before he was known as the voice of God, but you can already see where he will go. Oh, and special mention must go to James Whitmore, whose screen-time may be short, but owns every part of it. Don’t check his IMDb page for who he plays, just don’t.

Honestly, what I write here doesn’t do The Shawshank Redemption justice. Words can’t describe just how effective the film can be. You can just cut to a scene of Andy, Red and friends chatting during food-time, talking and joking about what’s happening, and within seconds you feel for them. Hell, you start laughing with them about their going-ons. It’s a shame it didn’t do that well at the box office, but then again, it came out the same week as Pulp f**king Fiction. It also would’ve been nice if it won at least one Academy Award from its nominated 7 categories, but Forrest Gump happened. Are those 2 films better than this one? I can’t say. They appear in top 10 lists as much as The Shawshank Redemption does too. I would say I heavily recommend it, but that was pretty much a given. Get yourself a Blu-ray of this movie, sit down, and watch it. You’ll do yourself a great service for doing so.

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Inherent Vice – Review #49

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I don’t have an opening quip for this one. My mind’s still dazed.

Inherent ViceInherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is this look at a private detective named Doc. He goes through his days smoking pot and doing f**k all. During one of those days, his ex-girlfriend Shasta comes to his place out of nowhere and asks him for help. What follows is this seemingly convoluted and absurd mess of a case and a melancholy look at a romance that is on its last legs, if it’s even still alive.

This movie, uh… ok, what PTA does very well is set up an atmosphere. Just imagine, It’s 1970, the hippie craze is at its end but remnants of it are still around. PTA is able to set that scene up with flawless technique. He’s only 7 features in in his career, but he’s already garnered big name recognition and this film shows you why. No wonder people call him a prodigy. There’s this almost constant haze that hangs in the air, and even if it’s not shown, you can feel its presence. This movie made me feel high is what I’m saying.

Plot-wise, the story is pretty close to the Thomas Pynchon book it’s based on, so saying the story’s hard to follow is an understatement but it’s also redundant. It’s lack-or little use-of a constant narrative adds to this sense of confusion that PTA is trying to invoke. It makes no sense, and that, in of itself, makes sense. Not only that, this movie is strangely humorous, although it’s more of a snort and chuckle type of humor than the hearty laugh type of humor. The jokes in this movie comes from its visuals, from how the characters movie their faces when they talk to I think.

The cast of this movie is excellent, but the best performer in this movie is its main star, Joaquin Phoenix as the P.I. Larry “Doc” Sportello. Hideous facial hair aside, he’s able to breathe dazed air into his role, which in other hands could’ve been dull as hell to watch. His glassy eyes and constant look of confusion just adds to Doc’s laid-back persona. To describe each of the other characters singularly would take the word length of this review to the thousands, however, so I’ll stop here. There’s just too many characters to go into detail about. What’s important to know though is that while the movie is filled characters, none of them feel out of place in the setting nor story. Within minutes PTA is able to establish a connection between characters that both the audience and main star have just met. He’s a pretty smart guy like that.

Overall, Inherent Vice is this a film that is able to grab you with its directing, acting, cinematography, production design, every aspect that you can think of. Watch it if you have 2 and a half hours to spare and want to slow your mind down without using any illegal substances. Just sit back and let PTA and Joaquin Phoenix blow you away. And if you don’t take my word for it, just read what these two fanboys have written about it. Everything I could write about, they already have.

Forbidden Planet – Review #48

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Holy s**t, Leslie Nielsen had dark hair?

Forbidden PlanetForbidden Planet, directed by Fred M. Wilcox, is the 50’s science fiction classic of a spaceship travelling to the planet Altair IV to discover what happened to a group of scientists that were sent there decades earlier. When they arrive, they find that only 2 people are on that planet, Dr. Mobius and his daughter Altaira. Soon, the commander John J. Adams begins to uncover the mystery of the planet, and why Morbius and Altaira are it’s only survivors.

I had forgotten that Hollywood science fiction was, for a while, fun. Most people think that the sci-fi boom originated from Star Wars, but in fact sci-fi movies have been around decades prior. Of course, most of them didn’t left the impact that Star Wars did, and the reason why can be seen in episodes of MS3TK. For the most part, the acting was terrible, the effects were laughable, and nothing of substance came from them. For every The Day The Earth Stood Still there were 5 Robot Monsters.

And then Forbidden Planet came along and slapped the sci-fi genre silly.

For one, it actually had a budget. This was one of the few times a major movie studio invested in what was considered a ‘B-movie’. Look at Robot Monster again for an example. The movie has gorgeous landscape matte paintings, colorful and well-made set pieces, and even the lesser special effects, like the exterior of the spaceship and Robby the Robot are endearing in a way. I guess it’s just the 50’s optimism working its magic. I have a thing for the abundance of chrome and over-sized public transport vehicles. If you guys have a fondness for it, just type ‘Retro Futurism’ into Google Images. Its kinda makes me feel sad, actually, like I’m watching a much better future that never was. A future where going to other planets is the same as going on a road trip. A future that will probably never happen.

Well, s**t, that went depressing fast. Back to the review.

Another difference Forbidden Planet had instead of other sci-fi films of the time was the acting. Most sci-fi flicks had hoaky acting, at best. While it’s no Oscar worthy performance, the leads do a pretty good job. Leslie ‘don’t call me Shirley’ Nielsen is the Commander J. J. Adams in one of his earliest roles. It was a bit strange seeing Nielsen in a serious serious role, but he does a legitimately good job. He is the stereotypical no-nonsense leader of the pack. Watching him is just a delight. You will not find a squarer jaw in his vicinity. The rest of the cast is pretty good too, from the deep-voiced formality of Walter Pidgeon as Dr. Mobius to the amazingly beautiful Anne Francis as Mobius’ daughter Altaira. Now yes, it could be argued that Altaira is a symbol of 50’s misogyny against woman, and looking at what she wears and what she says, she doesn’t give much for a rebuttal. But by the time you think about it you will already be engaged in its story and others characters, and won’t give a damn.

Speaking of the plot, Fred M. Wilcox does a damn good job making a plot as outrageous as Forbidden Planet‘s easy to understand and grasp to the viewer. All this talk of Krells and ids and subconscious minds could’ve have been a huge incomprehensible blurb of science terms in a lesser skilled hand, but Wilcox pulled it off. Kudos to him for that.

Overall, Forbidden Planet lives up to its reputation it has garnered. It sits squarely in the phase when science fiction movies were usually double features in drive-ins, but it had the budget and the talent to rise from becoming just another forgotten relic of pictures gone by. Its legacy can still be seen today. I mean, what do you think inspired a Mr. Gene Roddenberry to make a simple show called Star Trek over 50 years ago? If you’re into sci-fi, especially older sci-fi, watch this film. It’s 98 minutes will just fly by.

Oh, and of course, it’s a part of one of the most remembered songs in-and about-film. Cue the guitar and piano.

The Martian – Review #47

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Why didn’t they use ‘Stayin’ Alive’?

The MartianThe Martian, directed by Sir Ridley Scott, is the film adaptation of the best-selling book from Andy Weir. Mark Watney is part of a 6 man crew of the Ares III, a manned Mars mission. When a freak storm occurs, they are forced to abort the mission and go back to their ship, the Hermes. However, when Mark is hit by flying debris, he is presumed dead and left behind. He is of course, not dead and finds himself stranded on the Red Planet. And so, with limited supplies, he must find a way to communicate with NASA, grow more food, and in general a way to escape from Mars.

As I’ve said, the movie is based on the novel of the same name from Andy Weir. The book is not your usual standard sci-fi fare. Aliens are nowhere in sight. This is hard, down-to-earth science. Usually something like ‘if I x reacts with y it’ll make z, but I don’t want z, so I’ll heat x and let that react with y, which in turn will make a. But to heat x, I’ll need to bla bla bla…’ gets looked over in sci-fi, or at least not went into detail. The novel, however, relishes in that science explanation. We want to know how to heat x. That type of story-telling of course can be considered boring to some people, and while I can see why, I personally am a sucker for these things. I deliberately bought the book and read it within a month to prep myself for the movie. And as I was reading it, I was kinda skeptical about how the film would turn out. Sciency-talk movies don’t really have a wide appeal, and to make that interesting for 2 and a half hours? Props to the screenwriter Drew Goddard and Ridley Scott for making 2 and a half hours worth of science engaging as all hell.

It’s a shame that I couldn’t watch this in IMAX, because oh my god Mars is so beautiful to look at. Sweeping shots of the desolate planet and just the overall…red of it makes it so eye-warming. And when it’s not flying around Mars, the camera is hand-held, getting down and dirty with Mark Watney and the people at NASA trying to help him. Ridley Scott really has a great eye for visuals. But then,what did you expect from the guy who made Alien?

The cast is impeccable. Matt Damon is a great Mark Watney, being able to be humorous and sarcastic, but still know when to shut up and think. The people in NASA who try to bring Watney, from Jeff Daniels to Donald ‘Childish Gambino’ Glover are all great, the crew of the Ares III, played by Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie, while having less screen time than Watney or the NASA people, still do a good job. I have no problems with the cast at all.

If I have anything bad to say about The Martian, it’s that I wished there was more sciency-talk. What I got was a more than substantial amount, and I’m very happy with I have, but I just want more. Even if it extends the movie to Satantango length, I would still watch it. Besides that, I have no negativity about The Martian to say.

Overall, The Martian is a masterpiece in science fiction, even-though the fiction isn’t as far-fetched as other movies. Definite recommendation, and a must watch on IMAX. Also, according to my fellow friends, one of Ridley Scott’s best in quite a while.

West Side Story – Review #46

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I have a feeling that people who can’t snap their fingers probably enjoyed the movie a bit less than those who can.

West Side StoryWest Side Story, directed by Robert Wise, is a 1961 musical based on the Broadway play of the same name. For the 2 people who don’t know, West Side Story is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the tragic story of a young couple who could not keep their hormones in check. However, instead of Verona, it’s New York; instead of Montague and Capulet, it’s Jets and Sharks, a Polish-American gang street gang and a Puerto Rican street gang respectively. Our Romeo is Tony, one half of the founding members of the Jets, while our Juliet is Maria, the sister of the current leader of the Sharks. They meet for the first time in a dance and of course fall instantly in love. Do I even need to explain what happens next?

It may seem like I’m crapping on the story, and for the most part you’d be right. Romance movies are definitely not my forte, especially those ‘love at first sight’ movies that I hate. Yes, I don’t even like Romeo and Juliet. I appreciate its existence and place in the literary world, but I don’t like it. That’s just not my type of escapism. I’m more Legend of the Drunken Master and less The Notebook. But, that is not being fair to the movie, so I will admit that as a romance movie, West Side Story does its job very well. Robert Wise’s distinctive use of the color red is striking and very appealing, and while they do kiss within seconds of meeting each other, at least the acting and the songs make it believable.

The song and dance of West Side Story is the combined efforts of choreography from Jerome Robbins, a score from Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics from Stephen Sondheim, which is a damn good team up if you consider their awards. Even the playwright, Arthur Laurents and the director Robert Wise have various accomplishments. The music is filled with brass and drums, and mixes traditional orchestral scores with Latin America, arguably one of it’s most famous aspects. The choreography is innovative, unique for its time and incredibly lively, And yet, I couldn’t get into it. The music I had no problem with, but the dancing was just a bit too flamboyant for me. Ballet fighting may be fun to watch, but extended periods of it get boring and repetitive. In fact, the only scene I find myself re-watching quite a bit is the ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ bit, and that’s because it has just the right amount of song and dance without it becoming a bore.

The actors, or should I say performers of West Side Story range from ‘pretty good’ to ‘slightly tolerable’. Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood as Tony and Maria are great in terms of acting, but singing slightly less so. The Jets and The Sharks are good singers and great dancers, and so are The Sharks’ girls, although Rita Moreno (Anita)’s voice can be a bit ‘eh’ in pitch. Listen to her first verse in ‘America’ and tell me she doesn’t sound a bit off.

Overall, while West Side Story is a master work of choreography and singing in film, it was just a bit too much for me. However, this is a must watch for anyone who loves musicals, if they haven’t watched it already.