The Departed Movie Review: Fresh and Ferocious
Based on the popular Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, this Hollywood version pulses with energy, strong dialogues and superb performances. The brilliantly written narrative is both grittingly relaxed and violently intelligent.
The Departed Movie Review: Fresh and Ferocious
Ninja Assassin Movie Review: Splatter On, Adrenaline Junkies’ Ninja Flick
Ninja Assassin is primarily committed to its bloodletting and cool fight scenes than to its story and characters. For those who are looking for a good story and script, it’s a big letdown. But for adrenaline junkies, this movie is going to be fun.
Whiteout Movie Review: Frozen to Dullness in Antarctica
Whiteout is like the impending six months of darkness in Antarctica. Not with the chilling thrills, but with the total bore of staying inside a scientific research facility with only the endless stretches of Antarctic ice as companion.
Batman Begins Movie Review: A Great Beginning for the Dark Knight
Batman Begins is one classic Batman.
Watchmen: Deconstructing the Film in Reference to the Graphic Novel
The film Watchmen is no doubt a love letter to those who have been waiting for the graphic novel’s cinematic rendition for the last two decades.
Ocean’s Thirteen Movie Review: The Odds of Getting Guilty Pleasure
Watching the inventive and spontaneous bunch of professional men pulling off an impossible heist for the third time, Ocean’s Thirteen is a guilty pleasure to watch.
Ong-bak Movie Review: No Doubles, No Strings, No CGIs
Ong-bak presents the art of Muay Thai in a contemporary setting. Yet, it is very much inspired by the people’s carried on traditions and culture and their ancient fighting spirit.
Law Abiding Citizen Movie Review: The Law Abiding Popcorn Flick
It’s a phony social commentary that has an intriguing premise and a compromised execution.
Transporter 2 Movie Review: An Escapist Ride
Jason Statham delivers an effective role with his silent charisma as Frank Martin. This makes up his taciturn personality of being a man whose emotions seem so well under control all the time.
Sherlock Holmes takes a modern slant
By Rianne Hill Soriano
“Sherlock Holmes” is a visually stylish rush of adrenaline. Irreverent and yet true to the spirit as it is, this movie is both fun and numb, enjoyable and exhausting.
With a modern slant, this Sir Arthur Conan Doyle character personified in the big screen by Robert Downey, Jr. should find favor with audiences eager for mere action and effects above everything else. While flawed, it is at least, overall, an entertaining romp. Thanks to the arresting sound and visuals, this new take on the classic story of the world-famous detective is such a popcorn flick.
This film adaptation retains the spirit and a number of significant details from the original source material; though the purists may cringe with some altered elements to keep up with director Guy Ritchie’s modern-style reimagining of the legendary sleuth’s adventures. Now, those willing to accept the clichés and predictability in exchange for the stylish and moody treatment may have some good time then.
The story is simply another in a long line of interpretations of the Detective Holmes and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) stories. This time, it is then turned into a swashbuckling romp – with the tried-and-tested pop culture flourishes meant for those looking for action and thrill on their movie picks. The obvious millions pumped into the film’s CGI effects, set design, star salaries, among other investments on production value, are very much apparent in the film.
“Sherlock Holmes” is more adrenaline than brainpower. Ritchie’s version of old London is moody and atmospheric. He brings the iconic character to a new generation of viewers and uses the modernized makeover style primarily through slow and fast motion visuals, choppy editing, and ramping explosion scenes. Sometimes they work, sometimes they just don’t. There are times that things just get too much that there is no more breathing space with what is continuously provided on screen. There are moments of action-pleasure, there are moments of frenzied and overlong smother.
Aside from its complete predictability, the mystery itself lacks intrigue and suspense that it merely depends on technical power and star wattage to make the excitement for the film palpable to the general audience. So despite being overlong and losing much of its steam halfway through, the film still engages between the cerebral character requirements and the spectacle of popular entertainment.
Downey and Law as the Holmes-and-Watson-duo are considerably good enough to make up for the weak mystery – and they seem to take much pleasure in portraying their roles. Downey’s inherent likeability is as quick-witted as the twists and opportunities that show off his character’s genius. His interpretation of the Holmes character does not completely deviate from the Doyle canon. With his uncanny skill at inventing his own unique spin to his role, he puts a brainy, brawny detective meant to be the story’s slightly crazed superhero. And he plays the brainiac detective like a steamed machine. Law transforms Holmes’ stalwart partner, Dr. Watson, from the bumbling comic relief of most interpretations, into a cool, competent sidekick character for this adaptation. He is a rare Watson who manages to be as interesting and watchable as Holmes. Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler manages to tweak Holmes’ classic adversary into a hot and feisty action heroine. Cunning star power indeed uplifts this flick as supporting and minor characters including Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood, Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lestrade, Geraldine James as Mrs. Hudson, Kelly Reilly as Mary Morstan, and William Houston as Constable Clark make this movie offer a rollicking adventure inside the cunning world of Holmes.
While a diverting enough night out stint or DVD showcase, it is watchable and playable; however, it’s still forgettable. It’s actually a case of more adding up to less. Hopefully, the inevitable sequel will be better.January 11th, 2010 Posted by Rianne | Crime/Gangster/punk, Epic/Adventure, Film Review, Films, Flicks, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood Films, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
The Law Abiding Popcorn Flick
By Rianne Hill Soriano
“Law Abiding Citizen” is increasingly preposterous, but nonetheless mindlessly entertaining for the general public. It’s a phony social commentary that has an intriguing premise with compromised execution as required by the mainstream formula. Yes, it abides by the rules of commercial filmmaking, and this becomes its major flaw.
It is pervasively absurd yet generally appealing for those who just want to consider the high body count of its blatantly nonsensical plot. The film has its action parts laced with shocks and twists that don’t necessarily follow the laws of logic and completely demands the suspension of disbelief for them to work. Its ludicrous plot has its moments; however, its fascinating undercurrents are much less than the off-putting parts of its reactionary revenge theme. And as the logic tumbles more and more until the film’s disappointing ending, it further winds up feeling overwritten and yet underexplained. In its exploration on the flaws of law, of right and wrong, it deflates the fun brought by its interesting tagline “How can you stop a man who’s already behind bars?” by making it a complicated, ragged movie that lacks credibility in the way the story is provided on screen. With such, it really seems more of a pretentious cash cow offer that tries to say something meaningful about America’s justice system.
“Law Abiding Citizen” is the kind of movie that thrills your pulse while not quite making you think. And though the implausible plot is already a given since the very beginning, the provisions for the compelling argument provided by its story thoroughly lose their edge by the end of the film. From the script being backed up by the debate about the ethical challenges of practicing and upholding the law to the poor plotting and pacing especially by the film’s end, things get really trammeled by the endless bullets, body count, explosions… until such a play safe ending. It doesn’t live up to the expectations with Gerard Butler’s words “It’s gonna be biblical!” Yes, it could have been a still powerful enough ending that might just become the preposterous film’s redemption. But what ever happened?
The movie starts out as a potboiler with a troubling character arc and some high-octane thriller moments, then ends up as a goofy, lousy pulp with its actions quickly tipping into lame campiness. This crime drama about outrage and vengeance has jerky narrative shifts with occasional splashes of gore and action courtesy of a brainiac turned psychopath character. And the thrills just keep on coming at a relentless pace that leaves little time to ponder about them. Nevertheless, it is still able to generate some considerable suspense and a sense of dread as an implausible thriller with a few horror elements in the guise as a social criticism.
As a social statement, “Law Abiding Citizen” is a flawed attempt as a high-minded brutality trying to hold the legal system accountable for its shortcomings. As a slick cat and mouse picture, it seems too afraid to tackle the issues it brings up. There are plenty of loopholes in the script that further misguides the concept.
Director F. Gary Gray attempts to provide a visual look that creates the required coldly thrilling atmosphere. And what keeps the story hanging on apart from the movie’s basic atmosphere are some strong performances. Gerard Butler as Clyde Shelton elevates the film’s ridiculous thriller appeal into something watchable with popcorn and drinks. His sharp and invigorating performance as a psycho on a killing spree while behind bars is generally entertaining. He is able to hold some interest for the film as he outwits the authorities – until he loses it by the contrived ending. Jamie Foxx as the district attorney Nick Rice looks bored at most times. There are actually some effective moments that provide the needed emotional investment for his character, but he seems to lack that needed bravura to elevate his character further. The supporting characters do well. Viola Davis as the frustrated mayor of Philadelphia is sharp. Annie Corley as Judge Laura Burch also works. Leslie Bibb as Nick’s staff Sarah Lowell provides enough intensity. And although none of the characters have much depth, most generally move through their roles with enough skill to still keep the willing audience guessing what’s next.November 12th, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Review, Films, Flicks, Hollywood Films, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
By Rianne Hill Soriano
“Fast & Furious,” the fourth entry to the urban auto franchise, provides moments of kinetic entertainment that succeeds by supercharging the action in style. Slick and candy-colored automobiles, big crashes, revved-up emotions, macho swaggers, hot bodies, digital dashboards, automated female voices, noisy engines, property mayhem… Indeed, it’s all about the speed and crash-boom-bam for high-octane action. And on such score, it delivers admirably. It’s dumb, but it’s fun – it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise.
In the jammed landscape of mass-marketed releases, this popcorn flick is strong enough to deliver some tuned up excitement. As a speeding-wheel spectacle, it has all the frenetic charm for an attractive getaway route inside the theater. But how far it can stand to much scrutiny under its glossy hood is another story.
Tokyo Drift director Justin Lin films this one with the most flair, visual eye candy, and blood-pumping sound effects to keep it going. The film’s show-off attitude has a lot of hip-hop, hot cars, women in tight, shiny miniskirts, and macho men to satisfy the vicarious need for speed and oozing sex appeal. The opening sequence showing most of the original cast in action is the best part of the film – where both the its built-in audience and its new spectators can enjoy such loud racing scenes from wild car chases to a series of big explosions.
Down to its very essentials, Fast & Furious’ main selling point is its all gleaming surfaces and muscular detailing. Add up its already established fan-base being one of the most successful franchises of the ’00s, and what you got is a nitrocharged flick that is brainlessly bright as the muscle cars it celebrates. But on the other hand, especially to those who demand for both the palpable thrills and a smart story executed well down to what’s inside the hood, there isn’t much of a solidly fine story to boast of. For the wider potentials of the series, it is rather unfortunate that the plotting and the more emotional aspect of the story don’t ignite enough to boost the trip past a fan-base joyride. And some issues on spatial incoherence are still obvious to the keen-eyed.
The original stars on the forefront are Vin Diesel as the charismatic thug Dominic Toretto and Paul Walker as the determined cop Brian O’Conner. Along with the rest of the major cast of the franchise, the story becomes a speeding reunion vehicle for them as they push the pedal against rival street racers and a Mexican druglord. And for the fun and frantic action with the racers zipping through crowded thoroughfares and utilizing GPS technology, this hard-hitting, satisfying action fare is well worth the price of admission for the seeker of speeding adventure.
Overall, F&F is an entirely acceptable retooling of the franchise for a satisfying experience for those who enjoy four-wheeled chases, big explosions, and slick violence. They sure make the movie fun to watch. And if you’ve enjoyed this ride before, you’ll probably enjoy it again – all for the speed.April 13th, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Action, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Review, Films I Like, Flicks, Hollywood Films, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
Action in Sentimentality
By Rianne Hill Soriano
“Taken” is a bizarre mix of sentimentality and briskly paced action. It is not as smart as Bourne nor as classy as Bond, but its sheer entertaining action offer is occasionally fun like one’s favorite junk food. It’s fun while it lasts.
Preposterous but gripping, this exciting ride for action junkies provides a shallow pleasure that works. It’s a popcorn movie with a sheer intensity on display. Going straight from the eyes and ears to the adrenal glands, its elements come together in a way that they deliver something more appealing than the expectation for such a single-minded genre picture. It may look like a mindless track-down, shoot-’em-up kidnapping thriller, but its spatially energized standards, reckless thrills, and bone-crunching and ass-kicking action are undeniably entertaining. Indeed, it can be one big screen guilty pleasure.
At virtually every turn, the film feels like it’s an efficiently hardcore action film with the feel of an 80′s flick where the hero fights the ferocity of a dozen men. What it lacks in plausibility, originality, and political correctness, it makes up for with its essentially indomitable force courtesy of lead actor Liam Neeson. He makes the breathtaking pace matching the well-crafted but improbable action set pieces.
The film’s premise is obviously a little shaky. On one hand, this exploitation thriller about sex slaves and human trafficking is a grim, violent, and predictable tale. Thanks to its fast-paced high-octane seediness, there is no enough time to ponder on the plot holes or question the theme and the bigoted portrayal of vicious Albanian gangsters and sleazy Arab businessmen while watching. But given the style, treatment, and story, it is not forgivable skipping certain points of logic such as the girl being into a really high dose of drugs a few minutes ago, or perhaps, an hour ago, then all of a sudden she gets completely sane in the arms of her estranged father. So goes with the airport moment of the reuniting family where the same girl who has been to a major trauma of a dead girl friend, illegal drugs, sex slavery, and murder acts like nothing, as in “nothing” ever happened. She even goes to have her voice training as if she had amnesia after the drugs in her blood and the shock of becoming a sex slave in Paris. Now, this is not an excuse for cinematic or creative license anymore. It’s actually more of a commercial intention, but it just doesn’t work for those people who have brought their brains inside the theaters.
As the caffeine an action fan needs, “Taken” is crudely crisp, ruthlessly efficient, and deeply insane in its usual vengeance hunter plot. Its breathless speed gives it a precisely high tension terrain. It is fun without being too artsy or being ultimately brainless in making the typical action hero a superman at the far edge of believability. For this, it becomes a fairly involving and satisfying action thriller.
The energetic mayhem is the major selling point of this film. Director Pierre Morrel, in collaboration with his cinematographer Michel Abramowicz and editor Frédéric Thoraval, is adept at using quick, claustrophobic cuts that despite the worrying overtones, the film’s entertainment value still rises to the occasion.
Neeson brings credibility to the film just by simply playing as a father on a mission, slick and soulless as he dispatches each of them with implausible ease. He delivers a typically compelling performance for such a muscle-bound role plagued with the dumbest villains on screen. Armed or with bare hands, he chops down thugs and other low-level criminals peddling flesh in Paris both with riveting action and patriarchal sentimentality. He drives the story as he beats down anyone who stands between him and his kidnapped daughter. Another praiseworthy thing about Neeson is how he is able to hold on to his character to make the story worth watching while making the other members of the cast still work for the story. Indeed, Neeson turns this relatively generic flick into an above-average action entertainment offer.
“Taken” is a no brain, more muscle treat. It works as an intense action flick and revenge thriller with an illogical plotting that is saved by its efficient hero. And with all its jaw-dropping action sequences, it is a shallow pleasure at best.
For the rounds of action
For it to work, “12 Rounds” should not be taken seriously. It aims for an audience who just expects cool explosions, crash-and-burn spectacle, breakneck speeding, and a ton of action set pieces. If you go in with low expectations, it gets to elevate itself a bit as a second-rate action flick that you can get swept up with through its crash-and-explode craziness.
“12 Rounds” is a clear example of sensational style over underbaked substance – but it strangely keeps a certain charm to it – thanks to the visual skills of its craftsman Renny Harlin. Amidst its being a by-the-book, multi-cam spectacle, it is packed with a reasonable audio-visual flair having enough action and thrills to make it, at least, modestly entertaining. It may be ultimately preposterous in its usual movie elements, but it has the spade of energy that brings out some suspense-filled moments in between the action and artifice. And being powered by enough pure adrenaline, there are some minimal spaces that can be used to forgive a number of its gaping plot holes.
Harlin utilizes the architecture of its locations and his formidably muscled lead character to keep the intensity going. It makes the film occasionally blood-pumping amidst the fact that the horribly written script tries to put a tragedy to the film almost every time. Add up the nonsensical demeanor of its story and this revenge game definitely loses much points. Nevertheless, the camerawork by David Boyd, editing by Brian Berdan, production design by Nicholas Lundy, and music from Trevor Rabin try to save the film from the pits of “the totally worthless action flicks.”
This brainless but energetic action picture revolves around the character of Detective Danny Fisher (John Cena) who discovers his girlfriend Molly Porter (Ashley Scott) has been kidnapped by an ex-con he caught a year ago. And he would have to successfully complete 12 challenges in order to secure her safe release. The wrestler Cena fronting the movie renders a kind of low expectation for the acting department already. He resembles a character coming from video games more than what can suit best for this kind of film. But overall, he still gives a pretty neutral deal through some air of likability on how he handles his character. Aidan Gillen as the fast-talking villain Miles Jackson is passable for such kind of role. Ashley Scott is an attractive leading lady, but on the acting part, she is quite disappointing and lacks much emotion and personality for her role. And the rest of the characters like Steve Harris as Special Agent George Aiken, Brian J. White as Det. Hank Carver, and Gonzalo Menendez as Special Agent Ray Santiago are merely your usual paper-thin characters. Actually, some may reach the level of useful, fun, or interesting, but they are still mere clichés seen for a thousand times in the big screen already. Nothing new really.
For the rounds of action, this movie may have an audience. But for those who can’t handle brainless flicks, this is not a good recommendation.April 7th, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Action, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Review, Flicks, Hollywood Films, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Directed by: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen
“The International” is a handsome thriller, just not a riveting one… It’s actually a mixed bag: it boasts of slick composition and some elegant thrills; but it garbles with its loose threads and globe-trotting nature.
This adult espionage drama/large-scale thriller seems more interested in conversational dialogues and aesthetic framing of shots than capitalizing in the characterization and action. On the outside, the film looks tautly paced and sophisticated. It opens with elaborate set pieces, cool-toned frames, and breathless momentum. The cityscapes look impressively intricate and detailed. It pushes itself as an intriguing political puzzler centering on a powerful European bank with ties to arms dealers. Sadly, after an hour of intrigue, thrill, and chase, the script sharply strays from the meticulous artistry of its beginning. It may have some effective moments and aspects, but it goes in and out of its potential. And its elements never get to unify into a coherent whole; thus, leaving the general audience feeling kind of empty and unable to manage things to a satisfying close.
“The International” focuses on the link between terrorism and big business with style, promise, and topnotch camera work. The set and production designs serve as principal performers in this technically stunning work with a TV commercial slick look. In collaboration with his director of photography Frank Griebe and production designer Uli Hanisch, director Tom Tywker of “Run Lola Run” and “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” fame utilizes his shots with camera movements and angles that set the mood early on. Initially, the verbal encounters and hard stares between characters put a lively visual quality to the film. The way he frames and pans along the beautiful designs of places like the Guggenheim Museum, the IBBC headquarters, the rooftops of Istanbul, the ancient buildings, and the bustling streets adds to the glossy, high finance conspiracy thriller that the film is.
The unsettling intensity of the seemingly endless, mind-blowing shoot-’em-up piece at the Guggenheim Museum works through its good use of cinematic suspense. However, Tykwer seems much more interested in the architecture and the rest of the film’s stylish physicality than the growth of its characters. The story’s theory of insidious capitalism is interesting, but there are no compelling and/or touching relationships to make this much more meaningful. The screenplay is more than partly to blame. For every burst of energy and eye-catching visuals, the convoluted script merely falls into the groove of a conventional conspiracy flick. And though the story starts out well – catching the viewers’ attention with the bank’s deceptive and shady practices and building up a healthy dose of paranoia as well – the story lets itself off far too easily. Instead of focusing on how the bank creates slaves-to-debt while steamrolling its way through politics, corporate power, organized crime, weapons acquisition, and how the whole process works, the film just vaguely brushes over the issues in favor of generic plotting.
Clive Owen makes a semi-believable hero as Louis Salinger, an Interpol agent who attempts to expose a high-profile financial institution’s role in an international arms deal. Just when he manages to find witnesses in trailing the business practices of one of the biggest banks in the world, the IBBC, they either end up dead or manipulated into silence. With his action hero appeal, he brings a determined, serious demeanor to his character. Naomi Watts as Manhattan District Attorney Eleanor Whitman lacks personality. She just merely delivers a typical career woman with a family – without a trace of her district attorney role to serve the required deal in the story. She gets a useless character that losing her presence wouldn’t change much of the story. Most of the cast struggle with poor character developments as well.
“The International” doesn’t take a full swing towards greatness. The concept is workable. The execution is smooth. But the result is inconsistent.March 9th, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Action, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Review, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood Films, Suspense/Thriller, War/Spy | no comments
Pulling the push away
“Push” provides that escapist charm for mainstream consumption. For the undemanding audience, it is stylishly silly but oddly cool at the same time. It plugs in an “X-Men-meets-Trainspotting-meets-Heroes template” in its techno-pounding action for cash-in promises. It’s fun teen stuff. It’s trippy action fest. It’s a dopey genre flick.
This style-driven movie set in a chaotically cinematic Hong Kong plays out with paranormal parameters to push its action sci-fi personality – keeping the trend to the superhero film craze without having the typical comic book or graphic novel to adapt. And with its giant pile of loose ends, it’s quite a clue that it intends to be a franchise starter – with the sequel almost a sniff away.
Melding on the kinetic clichés of the genre, “Push” is dressed up with a few paranormal frills, generic shoot-‘em-up thrills, and effects-laden action. It’s actually a derivative of those time-mangling sci-fi/superhero thrillers that seem both complicated and superficial in value and polish. Long on style but short on substance and logic, it falters not just in having nothing much compelling to say but also because of its confusing and unnecessary plot loops, poor dialogues, muddled use of alternating settings, paper thin characters, lackluster performances, and some ostentatious action sequences. In short, it has more style than story. Nevertheless, the lack of a convincing, overarching plot can possibly work for some viewers. For those merely needing an outlet for escapism, it can serve as a brain vacation for the overtaxed Oscar-wannabe films. Interestingly so, some of its disparate pieces fit clumsily together, that at one point, the overall effect still provides a certain flair in its shallow demeanor.
“Push” is engagingly photographed but dramatically inert. Director Paul McGuigan utilizes the location and space to make the characters convincingly move around its Hong Kong setting. On the surface, its catchy special effects, stylistic production design, and vibrant cinematography put a palpable level of energy. The jittery editing and shaky camera provides some frenetic jolt and pacing. However, the worn genre elements, meandering plot, imploding character development, and some plodding action highlight the screenplay’s obvious logical flaws and incomprehensible twists that the interest for the whole film becomes inconsistent. Its jumbled parts are in search of a whole even until the very end.
Hiding from the clandestine U.S. agency called The Division, Chris Evans as the mover Nick Gant leads a band of American expats and locals with telekinetic and clairvoyant abilities. Remembering the last words of his mover father before seeing him murdered from years back, he teams up with Dakota Fanning as the teenage watcher Cassie Holmes who needs help in saving her also watcher mother. Putting a romantic subplot to the story came the character of Camilla Belle as the pusher Kira Hudson who is being chased by the Division’s leader, also a pusher himself, Henry Carver, played by Djimon Hounsou. On the support to find the “this and that” of the story, they meet a number of folks with paranormal abilities including Cliff Curtis as the shifter Hook Waters and the rest of the gifted characters called sniffers, bleeders, shadowers, etc.
The acting doesn’t compensate for the messy, incoherent plot. The script is filled with inane elements that are mostly found in superhero television programs – cinema has its own bearing in terms of making a quality execution. And the inclination to too much discussions and explanations takes away the more exciting parts of this genre flick. Evans delivers a mediocre performance with his underdeveloped main character role. With her superficial characterization, Fanning seems to be trying to get the rhythm right even until the film’s end. Belle is quite a blank page herself in her rendition of such an explicit but weightless character. And the intended romantic chemistry between her and Evans is never in evidence. The Asian characters put flavor to the film. However, just like their American counterparts, they are treated in cartoonish ways that their potentials are wasted by the sloppy script that skimps on character and story.
“Push” pulls away the good stuff at most times. Though there are some things meant to entertain, there are more resentments on how much better it could have been – especially with the threat on its hanging ending quite implicit in its promise of a sequel. And it would take some real pretty “push” (powerful mind control) to convince the audience that the movie carries out great ideas hitting the best quality mark.March 9th, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Review, Flicks, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood Films, Religion/Mystical/Supernatural, Sci Fi/Cyberspace, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
Like Wine at Its Best
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Brian Haley
Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” proves to be an ideal platform for the actor/director/writer, who, at 78, still commands the screen with another character-driven opus. It represents the culmination of this Hollywood icon’s screen power with an apt story grasping on the compassion and universal human flavor of a career-summarizing film work. It may not be perfect, but it works in many levels through the hands of a master craftsman honed by time and experience. His directing and acting have reached a level of maturity – comparable to that of an excellent wine – in this compelling dramatic story refined with a vintage touch of humor.
Such a story is challenging to pull off for the big studios in terms of being a vehicle for box office earnings. And it’s clear that only particularly talented stars of high caliber, charisma, and bankability can make such a provision realized in the big screen. In this case, “Gran Torino” is an unlikely tale made plausible by Eastwood who is truly at the top of his game in the twilight of his career. It unfolds effortlessly into his diverse canon of work. And just like Walt Kowalski’s passion for his Gran Torino, Eastwood’s own film engine is still purring as well as it did during his prime.
A thoughtful rumination that continues the film artist’s continuing, remarkable late-career surge, the story provides a good venue for Eastwood to tease out the many layers that make this character drama satisfying both in its realism and its dramatic license – capturing an engrossing snapshot of a human saga about a character letting go of the past, making the most of the present, and accepting how the world now is not the world he grew up in. It utilizes a sublime character study of a man who knows more about death than living, and discovers redemption at the most unexpected times. It shows the belated flowering of a man’s better nature as he realizes how people can lament change all they want, but ultimately, what’s gone is gone. And what’s more important is what they leave behind. As he goes deeper through the racial clashes within his neighborhood, he also shows a more positive outlook on how Americans of different races grow more open to one another during these contemporary times. From an angry, lonely, bigoted old man, his heart softens through his relationships with the members of a Hmong immigrant family living next door. From here, he journeys on with his questions on responsibility, vengeance, love, sacrifice, and goodwill.
In this part modern-day Western, part vigilante flick, this entertaining film hybrid about urban American multiculturalism boasts of a riveting study on anger and violence and the guilt and shame shadowing them. For all its neat moral and psychological elements, the manner in which the topic of violence is approached puts both irony and sophistication to its bluntness and sincerity. “Gran Torino” boasts of crusty humor, heart, and conscience through the undistracted momentum on its storytelling. Its details give much resonance as it provides the laughs when it wants to be funny, earns empathy when it wants to be affecting, and makes the viewer think when it speaks its mind –amidst its many textured and tangled complexities, its intimate moments, and its jaw-dropping emotionality. Both Eastwood’s performance and direction veer from broad melodrama to broader comedy and back again as he loads his film with intelligent scope of ideas and deep themes without falling prey to ostentatiousness in the many issues explored in the story. He directs and acts with remarkable restraint and doesn’t allow moral instruction to dilute the entertainment value of the film. He skillfully gets far beneath the surface with gun-happy action, beer-soaked reflection, and fueled car defiance that could only be sold by a powerful artist connecting to the viewers through his heroic acts and lawless encounters. He also crafts a careful balance in utilizing offensive words and racial slurs being justified for the screenplay’s needs without being offensive beyond the dialogues in the story – where cinematic license doesn’t push for true insolence against races outside the cinematic box.
With Eastwood on the driver’s seat, “Gran Torino” grinds through its gears with an efficient muscle car yarn of filmic power while putting in both an entertaining and reflective caricature of things he has done before. An “Old man Dirty Harry” (a deliriously dark and funny self-parody that can provide nostalgic fun for “Dirty Harry” fanatics) is one way to describe his miserable racist character Walt Kowalski, a disgruntled Korean War vet who begins to question his negative opinion about his Hmong neighbors. Kowalski sets out to reform the young Hmong teenager who tried to steal his prized possession: a 1972 Gran Torino. Immersing himself to the Hmong culture of his neighbors, he makes his own life-changing realizations along the way and becomes a surrogate father-mentor to the vulnerable Hmong boy. Walt Kowalski has many of Eastwood’s own iconic qualities; thus, he redefines what it means to be a grumpy old man, specifically on the big screen. With the nuanced, textured actor Eastwood has become, the role becomes a terrific vehicle for him.
Embellishing his trademark “Dirty Harry” snarl, along with the exasperated grunts, contemptuous growls, and persistent curses, Eastwood delivers a stunning performance as an angry war veteran who gives young punks and gangsters a stink-eye precision of fear and antagonism against him. His racial epithets are preposterously entertaining all throughout. His raspingly geriatric brusqueness, antipathy, and animosity insist of a character of being a right bastard who then changes through the course of events of his life and the lives of his neighbors.
The novice cast are a little uneven, especially Bee Vang as Thao Vang Lor, who generally works for his character except during the latter part of the film where his breakdown/moment scenes look too annoying and amateurish. There are other clunky parts especially with the story’s often predictable personality; but overall, the characters still come through in unexpected ways. Supporting performances from Christopher Carley as Father Janovich, Ahney Her as Sue Lor, Chee Thao as Grandma, John Carroll Lynch as Barber Martin, to the rest of the Kowalski family, the Hmong gangbangers, and the minor acting stints, the filmmaker in Eastwood allows his characters to provide worthy performances meant for the story’s valuable requirements.
“Gran Torino” is defiantly old-fashioned in its mood and feel while being a heartfelt topical urban drama with a rueful comedy of enlightenment. It is occasionally endearingly self-indulgent, and despite its obvious shortcomings, it is nevertheless effective and affecting. Though not perfect, the many aspects of the production come together to make things work – the screenplay, cinematography, production design and art direction, editing, music, sound design, and acting performances. With a story that’s easy to relate to, Eastwood’s directorial aesthetics puts vigor to the film and effectively utilizes relaxed paces and bursts of intensity while keeping up with a style that’s pleasing to watch for most people.
Balancing all of the explored issues engagingly without coming to terms with any of them or giving any imposing answers, the film’s solemn finale makes “Gran Torino” a beautifully realized film. There is the clear passion and depth for this filmmaking endeavor which makes it well worth the ride. And just like the character’s redemption in the film, it comes across Eastwood’s own career arc and it feels like a summation of everything he represents as a filmmaker and a movie star. And if the rumor of this being Eastwood’s final turn in front of the camera is true, then this film is a brilliant send off – with a classic performance that is nothing short of legendary. Perhaps, it is a more fitting way to say farewell to one of Hollywood’s most iconic and revered stars.February 11th, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Classic, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Review, Films I Like, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood Films, Melodrama | no comments
Finely Weaving a Human Drama
“Changeling” draws you from its quiet beginning, holds you through the creative steam of its compelling mystery and agonizing human drama, and keeps you through its beautifully mounted conclusion – all resonating with integrity and uncompromising emotional truth.
A gripping, powerful drama about a woman victim who struggled against the system, this long-winded cinematic retelling of a real-life case holds you through its perceptions on the capriciousness of crime and the determination of those who choose to fight it. Staged with somber exactitude, this mystery-cum-character study is intensified by its absorbing drama and engrossing tale – finely-weaved together.
Director Clint Eastwood crafts a discursive narrative and indulges realistic and complex character sketches to understand both how fragile and how essential people’s hopes for decency and truth are in a world of both love and chaos. He effectively draws a family and community together in the struggle against organized crime – from street violence to public service malpractice. For a drama about an ill-fated mother searching for her missing child, the story shows a parable of wronged innocence which has found expression in a woman’s tough experiences in a directly corrupt society. Set during the late 1920’s to the mid 1930’s, it exposes the era’s concerns which are still parallel to the societal issues of today. In collaboration with writer J. Michael Straczynski, “Changeling” boasts of a powerful story mounted to be nothing less than riveting as it uncovers the disorderly side of the period – police corruption, mental institution incarceration of women, and grisly serial murder of little boys.
“Changeling” is rich with diverse elements slowly unwrapped with significant details. It traces a good dose of the needed components of related subgenres including the corrupt-cop thriller, seeking-of-justice melodrama, courtroom drama, and political satire. For all its power, fury, and superb tension, the film marks inherently intriguing storytelling that takes advantage of the many strong emotions found within the story. Eastwood’s classical route in laboring the details of the film builds it with hammering intensity. And with a powerful central performance by Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins, along with a valuable cast coming together with rare brilliance, this emotionally gripping drama succeeds as both a compelling mystery and a period piece that still feels relevant today.
Eastwood’s directorial canon is very apparent. “Changeling” bears his personal stamp on each frame. With outstanding period detail and moody characterization, his meticulous direction tells the story without the much poorly contrived dramatics nor shocking stunts that most filmmakers fall prey to. The polished details of the era are very much commendable and work accordingly with the story’s requirements. The film’s impeccably fashioned 1920’s to 1930’s Los Angeles provides an opportunity to peer into a different era with enough creative precision. From the production design by James Murakami, to the cinematography by Tom Stern, to the film editing by Joel Cox and Gary Roach, to the original music also by Eastwood, everything works for its favor and flavor. The period costuming and vehicles, the emotional baggage, the satirical moments… all of them work together for the film’s needed language. You see the crooked cops crippling the City of Angels and victimizing innocent civilians here and there with enough emotional investment. There are many finely directed sequences showing the anguish and pain of losing a loved one, the forces of motherhood and politics clashing in front of the media, the many facets of anger, the sacrifices made in the name of truth, love, and justice, the fear of loss, the many faces of abuse, the shocking moments of a victim, the animalistic nature of a murderer, the instinctive nature of survival and saving a face, among others.
The film is uniformly well-acted. Topping the bill is the main character played by Jolie in an award-bait role that the Oscars and other award-giving bodies would definitely take a look on. Propelling the film with a beautifully measured intensity and subtlety amidst her svelte figure not very much so 1920’s, her charisma in presenting a single mother’s heart in desperate moves to find her son delivers a performance of which any actress can be truly proud of. She renders a believable and shining character overcoming the striking beauty she is endowed with which could have upstaged or distracted her acting performance in the eyes of the audience. The rest of the cast, whether on major or minor roles, makes the film a truly well-acted period piece. To name a few, John Malkovich as Rev. Gustav Briegleb, Gattlin Griffith as Walter Collins, Jeffrey Donovan as Capt. J.J. Jones, Michael Kelly as Detective Lester Ybarra, Jason Butler Harner as Gordon Northcott, Colm Feore as Chief James E. Davis, Amy Ryan as Carol, and Devon Conti as Arthur Hutchins all contribute to the success of the film in the acting department.
“Changeling” is a very good cinematic offer that just misses some outstanding points by small margins. The material is sufficiently compelling enough to override most of the film’s minor problems. On the side that the film seems made with awards season in mind, overall, it works. Although on a minimal degree, there are parts that suffer from more than its fair share of showy moments. There is a very minor concern on its deliberate pacing and contained sense of melodrama. You are impressed, but the touching part yields more on the artsy side that you generally appreciate it well, but the consciousness to the aesthetics builds a considerably thin wall against the core of the emotional attachment and the strike of the story. And this, on a small dose, hampers the complete sharing of the heroine’s pain, disorientation, rage, and grief to the policemen who have subverted their duty with staggering arrogance and misused their power for mere personal gain.
To sum it all up, “Changeling” is a mature, thoughtful, compelling, moving, and well-told adult period thriller that is sure to attract Oscar buzz.January 22nd, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Classic, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Review, Films I Like, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood Films, Melodrama, Period/Historical, Women | no comments
The Lies of Terror
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Mounted into an intricate and compelling espionage/war on terror flick, “Body of Lies” is a complicated story wanting to tell many things… It is muddled, action-packed, and chaotic, while being full of moral and political complexities that can possibly spark some serious discourse. It shows the corrupting nature of power and survival through the American point of view on the politics of war in the Middle East. As a post-9/11 cinematic offer, it’s actually nothing new for the general audience. The film merely depends on the physical action and good acting performances to level up its generic elements. Nevertheless, through its visceral nature, it provides some entertaining beats of action and a certain form of socio-political analysis for its viewers.
Based on Washington Post columnist David Ignatius’s 2007 novel about the CIA operative Roger Ferris (uncovering a lead on a major terrorist leader suspected to be operating out of Jordan), “Body of Lies” is a political action flick pulsing with shootouts, explosions, torture, terrorism, Middle Eastern political operations, and US espionage. As a meandering spy thriller, it has some convoluted and disjointed parts; yet at the same time, it has some very striking images that hit the right points about the issues questioning the ethics of espionage and counterterrorism and how the campaign against terror becomes another form of manipulation of the society for the sake of keeping power.
The film has that palpable sense of Iraq and Afghanistan war fatigue as America imposes itself in such Middle Eastern conflicts while the people involved start laying their countless agenda (both political and personal) on the table. Its sophisticated Hollywood production value clearly shows that it’s a big budget production utilizing a fairly conventional story with complex plotting and slick looks. It’s a little bit of “Syriana” and the “Bourne” movies in employing well-shot action scenes for moments of suspense and the drama of rendering its story and characters to support the story’s convictions. It is filled with a series of double-crosses, cover-ups, dubious tactics, Arabic discussions, US intelligence and politics, satellite shots, cellphone chatting, and the twists and turns on espionage work. On one aspect, the American campaign on the war on terrorism offers a certain form of evocative atmosphere with somber insights on the current role of the US in the Middle East.
Director Ridley Scott who created such signature visions as “Blade Runner” and “Alien” doesn’t provide a masterpiece or a classic this time as this movie becomes quite inconsistent in being smart, sophisticated, and striking. At times, it is full of emotional impact; at times, it offers emotionless chaos. At times, it engages with its suspenseful efforts; at times, it is not in any way involving. The mishmash of clichés provides the missed opportunities. To begin with, people have seen this kind of episodic, far-fetched story more than a dozen times – with the many variations in plotting and characterization included.
It keeps its compelling parts by having that positively high energy and tension-filled action scenes. Moreover, its Hollywood ending makes it a safe and predictable geopolitical thriller with some intelligent elements. And more than just being a bit too close to the conventions, the action scenes and the romantic subplot ends up a little unconvincing and lacking that emotional wallop to consistently hold the audience’s heart and attention.
“Body of Lies” has great acting in it. However, this doesn’t amount to making it the best it can be by the film’s end, emotionally speaking. With the major roles played by top-billed stars, it stretches its story with its multitude of characters mostly engaging the viewers with well-established characterization. There may be some shortcoming on some aspects, but generally, the establishing of the characters is one of the film’s major assets.
Overall, Leonardo DiCaprio as Roger Ferris renders a solid performance by turning what could have been a dry-like-the-desert Middle Eastern thriller into a compelling enough story about an earnest-looking CIA agent who always gets away with any kind of danger. Russell Crowe delivers well in his characterization of an overweight, amoral CIA honcho. Like with DiCaprio, his interpretation of his role is full of energy that makes a considerably generic spy thriller look more effective – through the weaving hands of director Scott. Moreso, British actor Mark Strong playing the character of a smooth and principled face of power and politics makes an outstanding turn in the film. As the suave Jordanian headman Hani, he validates his Middle Eastern leader character with both the elegance of a monarch and the hidden savage of a torturer. Golshifteh Farahanim as the love interest Aisha provides a considerable appeal as an individual character. However, the romantic tandem between her and DiCaprio is missing some flavor to make it more engaging, emotional, and believable. Actually, the physicality of the story’s romance is clear, but the emotional weight is not enough to push the relationship further.
“Body of Lies” casts a bleak light on America’s involvement in the Middle Eastern issues. As a current-events thriller, it focuses on matters of intrigue, treachery, and espionage with a plenty of food for the thought about modern day war, terrorism, and power-seeking.November 15th, 2008 Posted by Rianne | Action, Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Crime/Gangster/punk, Epic/Adventure, Film Review, Films I Like, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood Films, Suspense/Thriller, War/Spy | no comments
A Superhero Noir: The Disturbed Vs. the Disturbing
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal
“The Dark Knight” is a complex and violent tale with such an exquisite order in the chaos – between art and industry, poetry and entertainment. It is an explosively provocative film with straightforward action sequences collaborating with the character study and metaphor of what Gotham City is (both in the fictional world of its characters and the mundane world of its audience). It is a dark, disturbing, complex, ambitious, and visionary crime epic about people of courage, repressed love, firm dispositions, individual perspectives, and clashing egos.
Locked in a struggle for Gotham City’s soul, “The Dark Knight” transports the viewer to an alternate yet recognizable realm. This is matched by a kind of moral complexity that is not usually associated with comic book film franchises. Director Christopher Nolan lets the film’s spectacular action scenes seem like the natural consequences of the conflicts between characters; which is then parallel to the contemporary state of this age’s terrorism-obsessed actuality. The setting may be Gotham, but its landscape is transformed into a series of disquieting issues that effectively place the conflict between the tortured good and the contented chaos seen in the world’s past, present, and perhaps, even its future. Gotham stands in for any of today’s nations, superpowers, terrorism, and the rules of law and order. From these thematic explorations, it digs through the ideas of heroism, human nature, and fragile morality. Its riveting psychological thrill creates a masterful drama and tragedy shaking both the conscious and sub-conscious. And its disturbing darkness brings about the unconscious rants and raves of human hearts wrenched by the restraints of the society and the corrupt system that dominates it.
“The Dark Knight” weaves a high level of bond between the outcast hero and the outrageous criminal. Its emphasis on plot and character development is very much apparent especially if compared with most comic-book film adaptations. It goes darker and deeper than any Hollywood movie of its comic-book kind with a diverse impact on art, literature, and human emotions. Indeed, with the uncontested hype and the exhilarated artistry of this pitch-black thriller, it is a rare pop-culture oddity that shall certainly keep both comics fans and uninitiated audiences equally happy. This film is subtle and powerful that it renews the audience’s faith in adaptations and sequels.
“The Dark Knight” is one of the most hyped movies to date with its marketing and promotion, the success of its predecessor (also crafted from Nolan’s aesthetic lead), the manic zest seen on the teasers/trailers especially of the late Heath Ledger’s The Joker, and the untimely death of Ledger who undoubtedly makes history with his jaw-dropping performance as the malevolent villain. Irregardless of the tragic loss of his life too early on, he has marked himself as one of the best classic villains ever to appear in film. For an acting talent tragically curtailed, it is rather a deeply felt loss that his life has come to an end at a very young age; but this film bringing such an extraordinary performance from him should be the best way to remember and acknowledge him.
This film earns much respect for Nolan’s creatively intelligent direction, he and his brother Jonathan Nolan’s engagingly psychological screenplay, Wally Pfister’s pin-sharp cinematography, Nathan Crowley’s brilliantly dark production design, Lee Smith’s formidable editing, and James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer’s zealous music. There are many excellent moments and action set-pieces from the initial shots of dizzying, vertiginous overhead scenes of glittering skyscrapers and minuscule streets to the electrifying fight scenes that exude modern wages of fear – everything is crafted with absolute brilliance that never runs out of fuel. The film’s energy is deeply felt until the credits begin to roll. Moreover, a delightful addition to the magnificent experience is a healthy amount of IMAX footage, which significantly adds to the thought-provoking meditation of being on a personal and gruesome tour of Gotham. Truly, the powerful technical and thematic elements, the huge IMAX sequences, and the endearing performances give this “Batman” a truly great commanding feel.
“Dark Knight” ably stands on its own with or without Nolan’s first offer of the franchise – “Batman Begins.” He has definitely crafted this newest “Batman” film with a remarkable impact that clearly presents the title character’s wavelength with a valuable understanding of how a crisis of such magnitude could affect good men trying to do the right thing. While the caped avenger stands for the good of Gotham in the place of the police force and its counterparts who are unable to keep up with their duties given the various circumstances, the questions of what is good and what is right become such genuine topics for debate and pondering.
Christian Bale plays such a well rounded Batman and Bruce Wayne. Countering him is Heath Ledger’s The Joker whose cruelty and cleverness becomes such a fearsome combination. Facing each other from opposite ends, they create a mesmerizing and unforgettable completeness to the story. They both turn in superb performances with a sensitivity of making their characters work together to make the best out of the already high quality material.
Bale continues to maintain both the elite gentleman demeanor and the intense and misunderstood cape crusader character in the world of crime and chaos.
Ledger’s manically creepy, unhinged, deranged psycho role takes evil to a new level. With The Joker’s anarchist mind, his ability to make a clown into the most terrifying character takes the audience’s psyche for a twirl in the same way as he gives both the cops and the crooks nightmares in the film. He remains mysterious with his every eye contact, every gesture, every delivery of words – all getting under the viewer’s skin the way they get into his victim’s throats. While providing humor amidst the terror, it is impossible to not have chills for the valuable screen time he has for the film. Some may say that his untimely death becomes the ultimate source of hype for The Joker, but I beg to disagree. And what makes everything more riveting is the fact that there is just no more chance for him to explore all the roles he could possibly tackle if he were still alive.
Aaron Eckhart is equally good as Gotham’s new District Attorney Harvey Dent. His transformation into Two-Face ably assumes the mantle of fine performance and characterization. Maggie Gyllenhaal deserves praise for taking over the role of Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes as she provides such a strong-willed character blending perfectly with the rest of the characters in the film. Supporting roles including those of Gary Oldman as Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox all deliver tour de force performances to further solidify the film’s greatness.
As the film circles on Wayne’s weariness and loneliness, Harvey Dent’s transition into Two-Face, and The Joker’s mysterious heart and soul, this superhero story’s dark unpredictability goes beyond the typical epic standards. The characters are disturbed in their own ways, and they effectively extend their lives, issues, questions, and struggles to the audience.
“The Dark Knight” is every inch a classic superhero noir.September 2nd, 2008 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Classic, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood Films, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
Shooting Up the Dirty
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Common, Martha Higareda
Directed by: David Ayer
The dirty cop story of “Street Kings” implicates a culture steeped in violence and self-preservation. A mirror to the exhausted theme and premise about playing by the rules by getting dirty to surviving the system, this action noir plumbs depths of cynicism about contemporary police life through the eyes of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
As a film about corrupt cops and their milieu, “Street Kings” takes you to the increasingly brutal scenes and bursts of violence within the conventions of corrupt-cop movies. Director David Ayer (who also wrote “Training Day”) adapts a James Ellroy story through the collaborative screenplay writing of Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer, and Jamie Moss. Showing the bullet-riddled nightlife of Los Angeles and the moral ambiguity and compromised honor of policemen, this tight, propulsive action thriller’s familiar story about corrupt cops running amok keeps up with the crooked moral backbones of the issue it confronts. It creates visual pages navigating 109 minutes of the dark corners of corruption and dishonor. It traps its characters in cynicism and amorality while living within the latticework of corruption.
Though it still feels like a thousand other police thrillers, in one way or another, the film is viscerally compelling enough for the basic thrills and dramatics of implementing a predictable story arc into a moderately intriguing routine policier. The suspense and tension is decent enough for the grimness and depth of its story. For those who are after the joy of slam-bang violence, cynical shootouts, profane talks, bloody body counts, and badass coppery, “Street Kings” gives some involving ride.
“Street Kings” glamorizes the very behavior condemned by the issues it intercepts. And the film could have worked much better if it has not just focused on the fast-moving, gritty, and bullet-riddled conventions of the genre. It could have elevated itself further if it has crafted its command of story within the playgrounds of the fear and danger that pushes honest people over the edge of corruption.
As a blood-splattered action drama that revolves around the one good cop at its center, this genre item attempts to evoke the big, shiny action pictures of the late ’80s and early ’90s – like a throwback to the heyday of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger and the hints of actioners like “Training Day,” “L.A. Confidential,” and “Dark Blue.”
This film’s backstabbing plot keep you interested enough as the story progresses. However, there are clichés and laughably dull and hammy tough-guy dialogue scattered over particular instances in the story as the male characters take turns mowing down each other’s principles and shortcomings with regards to each one’s own pseudo-knowledge about the nature of evil and survival. Moreover, the seemingly one-dimensional aspect of its characters becomes another area where it falls a little short in pushing itself to the ranks of the classics of the genre.
Keanu Reeves as the haggard, broken down LAPD veteran Detective Tom Ludlow works in a Special Vice Squad Unit while suffering from depression since his wife died. On top of that, he gets into a major friction with his former partner, Detective Terrance Washington (played by Terry Crews), who is then murdered in front of him in such a very unlikely incident. From here, Ludlow goes on a wild and reckless quest through the mean streets of Los Angeles to track down the culprits and get justice for Washington. Forced to go up against the cop culture he’s been a part of his entire career, he leads himself to question the loyalties of everyone around him. Given such a plot, Reeves in this weary hero role is something to buy. Crews keeps up with the character requirements as Washington. Forest Whitaker as Ludlow’s supervisor Captain Jack Wander utters some comic lines in between the action and confrontational scenes as he interprets a role of a veteran cop from the ranks brandishing what a true-blue corrupt policeman needs to keep up with. Hugh Laurie as Internal Affairs Captain James Biggs completes the script requirements to complete the story. Chris Evans as the earnest rookie Detective Paul Diskant delivers as an instant subordinate to Ludlow who falls towards a particularly ill-fated ride.
“Street Kings” clearly shows “the police side of getting dirty.” The film simply brings nothing new to the ‘bad cop’ subgenre with its hackneyed dialogue and machismo; but it’s main potential is keeping the action crisp, gritty, and nasty with a deeper story than the usual crime flicks and police procedurals.April 20th, 2008 Posted by Rianne | Action, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Review, Hollywood Films | no comments
A Neo-Western Mind Game
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald
You may never look at a coin toss, or an air gun, or the way to fix a bullet wound in the leg, or a hunt in a motel, or the aftermath of a car crash… the same way again. You might also find a new way to utilize an oxygen tank or robbing a store without getting noticed.
Here’s a film about how easy you can enter the world of bad men and how hard it is to escape it. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen make a dark and bleakly comic vision of a violent culture in this film, the Academy Awards Best Picture for 2007 “No Country for Old Men.”
This intense and provocative chase thriller set in the dusty southwest of America is both perplexing and engrossing as it explores man’s animal instincts and brutal senses. With a visual lyricism matching Cormac McCarthy’s cold and bleak view of humanity, it is a masterful interpretation of McCarthy’s novel into an enigmatic, metaphysical mind game with solid alternations of comedy and violence. Braced with a sensibility strongly matching the original material, this neo-western tale leaves you with your own perceptions whether such elements are real, a byproduct of cinematic minds, or a combination of them. Its sense of place and its poetic voice is both tight and organic. It has a great sense of style; and yet, it doesn’t overcome the film’s very substance.
“No Country for Old Men” exudes rich visual imagery. There is so much depth to the perception of the characters through its mise-en-scéne. It boasts of well-crafted shots, class A acting, astounding sound design, tight pacing, and masterful editing. The careful use of dead silence and sparse dialogue to produce nearly unbearable tension and a signature atmosphere of dissolution makes it an adrift zeitgeist that is shockingly effective and incomprehensibly great. It is ironic, contemplative, acerbic, metaphorical, epic, intimate, terrifying, humane, darkly funny, and deadly serious. With the Coen brothers’ evocative and ingenious writing, directing, and editing, Roger Deakins’ exquisite cinematography, Jess Gonchor’s sensitive production design, and Craig Berkey’s topnotch sound design, all the technical requirements consolidate with the thematic aspects of the film – making it an eerily quiet and bracingly violent genre classic.
The film creates an insinuation into a person’s consciousnesses and sensibilities. As it presents the essential problem of being human and the stark and grimly place one can get into with an uncontrollable force suddenly appearing, this morality tale of existential proportion allows you to absorb the details and takes you to places you don’t anticipate going to. Its haunting implications and thrilling incarnations of evil infused with touches of signature humor don’t seem like flashes of style – it makes a measured and yet excitingly tense, violent, and maturely sorrowful story of philosophical and metaphysical scales. The film is thematically consistent and it delivers something far more delicate and contemplative. It is full of unexpected twists and switchbacks, and opportunities for the audience to breathe and ponder about their own ramblings and musings. And as the story progresses, it becomes gradually more nerve-wracking as each plot point makes itself known.
“No Country For Old Men” marks the Coen brothers’ unique stamp of auteurism in faithfully adapting McCarthy’s work to their own specifications and considerable strengths. They understand the stark immediacy of this tale as they load it with realistic touches and dead calm irony. At times, the film deliberately leaves you grasping to understand what you have just seen. Their supreme command of their craft is very much apparent that the film, in one way or another, sweeps up the audience with the vision for this singular mythic masterwork.
There isn’t a performance in this film that isn’t exquisitely in key. Just like every shot and moment in the film, not a word or a gesture is wasted. The Coens’ creepy direction and deadpan humor creates such an unexpected nature on the characters and what happens to them. Javier Bardem’s unnerving performance as the chilling psychopath-hitman Anton Chigurh works so brilliantly with his realistically monstrous character. A true embodiment of a ferocious fiend, he creates a ghoulish homicidal maniac with a firm conviction on flipping a coin to determine who lives and who dies. He ups his ante by using an oxygen tank as his best friend to open locks and holding a cattle gun to kill his victims. Scary-smart and horrifyingly appealing, by now, Bardem can be considered as one of the greatest film villains in the memory of cinema. Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss is often seen in the midst of a chase and save-your-life moments. And he portrays the role right on with such effective movements, actions, and lines without being a cliché for such a traditional role. Tommy Lee Jones as the weathered sheriff Ed Tom Bell interacts with a stolid demeanor in a land of desperate men struggling beyond law and order. From his voice and eyes, there is a sorrow that is held back by his own personal and work struggles. Kelly Macdonald as Llewelyn’s wife Carla Jean Moss is also excellent when called upon. And the rest of the characters, no matter how long or short their screen appearances are, all contribute to the success of this film.
“No Country for Old Men” is a modern thriller masterpiece. As an expertly laid-out adaptation of the McCarthy novel, this is a film of unbridled power and purpose. It is indeed a stunning achievement in cinematic storytelling.April 7th, 2008 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Classic, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Review, Films I Like, Melodrama, Period/Historical, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
The Moody Epic About Mr. James
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mary-Louise Parker, Brooklynn Proulx, Dustin Bollinger, Casey Affleck
‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ is like a cinematic folk song singing with the poetry of rural America circa 1880′s. With a running time similar to the length of its title, its brave, almost 3 hours of striking audio-visual essay about celebrity culture is a haunting retelling of one of the enduring outlaw sagas in American culture.
A moody epic directed by Andrew Dominik and based on the 1983 novel by Ron Hansen, this stylish, intelligent retelling of a western myth generates the chasm between idealized outlaw legend and the unglamorous realities of frontier thievery. Within its classic Western feel, Dominik takes the familiar story, reconstructs it in such an abstract manner, and scales it big visually. ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ embraces and celebrates the mixture of admiration and envy in a story about the nature of celebrity and the superstitious need of thwarted little fans to smash their idols. With the Jesse James legend saying many things about today’s celebrity-obsessed culture, this film becomes a good study of the violence inherent in fame, power, and the celebrity status and its fan base.
Capricious, meditative, and absorbing, this visually arresting film is confident with its high quality production. It has a script that takes incredibly rewarding risks. Filmed and acted with beauty and skill, it becomes a majestic biopic that digs deeply into the character of Jesse James. After all the many films made about the subject for all these years, this film is an ambitious, mesmerizing evocation of the mystique of celebrity and the meditative deconstruction of culture’s most persistent issues: crime and fame, myths of heroism and obsession with celebrity. This take on the last days of an iconic western figure who committed dozens of robberies and murdered at least 17 people around two centuries ago seamlessly melds a probing character essay with a lyrical Western tone.
This seminal Western is a poetic saga backed up by genre elements including the meandering passage of time, wide sweeping atmospheric locations, grim and imposing landscapes, abiding loneliness, casual violence, and sense of foreboding. The haunting interior and exterior conflicts, the meticulous attention to period detail, and the subtly modulated mood shifts all combine to make a modern masterpiece of an old legend. From the direction and writing of Andrew Dominik, to the cinematography of Roger Deakins, to the production design of Patricia Norris, to the editing of Curtiss Clayton and Dylan Tichenor, to the music of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, the film delivers on the various levels of filmmaking.
The slow pace makes a minor annoyance, and sometimes, it requires patience when watching. Slightly burdened by unnecessary narration parts and minimal dullness mainly in its prelude, the running time and pacing may be a turn-off to some, but to those who are accustomed to strong writing, powerful acting, and deep storytelling, it is a productive cinematic experience with a good appeal for an art-house offer.February 28th, 2008 Posted by Rianne | Action, Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Review, Hollywood Films, Melodrama, Period/Historical | no comments
The Two Sides of the American Dream
By Rianne Hill Soriano
Ridley Scott solidly delivers a gritty and intense crime drama with ‘American Gangster.’
It may not be that groundbreaking and original in terms of concept and treatment, but Scott pumps it up with a fine dose of the grits and grinds of the 1970’s American drug wars. He cinematically retells a true-to-life story into a finely weaved cinematic tapestry about absolute corruption and its effects on the key players and the casualties of the crossfire. He recreates a story of the past and immerses the present audience into the intricate logistics of crime and drug pushing with the right pace and style for its long-form storytelling.
For all its familiar trappings, the drug world epic scale of ‘American Gangster’ makes a well-crafted account of the drug trafficking and police corruption in the early 1970s America. Though it suffers a bit from a slightly weak and convoluted first act, it takes surprising twists and turns after it – all the way to its simple and yet well-treated ending. It leverages its curve towards the unique qualities of the story and utilizes its nuances to push the best emotions for the film. Most likely, the cinematic version of Frank Lucas played by Denzel Washington may be quite softer than the real-life Frank, nevertheless, its creative license as a film offer doesn’t really go beyond what the film needs.
As a sprawling saga, ‘American Gangster’ tells an engaging story that can attract a significant audience. It’s an epic about crime and punishment with its bravura scenes having subliminal feel for myth. The film is packed with impeccable period elements and vast energy. It has a superb feel for its time and milieu and it utilizes the good aspects of the classic crime-gangster genre for a compelling film of enormous range and detail.
Ethnically diverse, ‘American Gangster’ successfully demonstrates a drug underworld organized like legitimate corporations – obsessed with competition, fair prices, and quality products – to the point where Lucas even lectures another drug pusher about the significance of ‘brand names’ and ‘trademark infringement’ in the heroin trade.
Amidst the gritty period atmosphere of 1970’s Harlem, the two powerhouse performances from main actors Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe effectively rule the screen. They both burrow deep into their characters without the cartoon crudeness and the put-on violence. Washington as the heroin kingpin Frank Lucas towers a steely grip form of interpretation to his character. He perfects his one acting face of mild displeasure and puts an ultimately valuable stamp onto this elegant man whose callousness alternates with his chivalry. Crowe as the solidly straight cop Det. Richie Roberts also renders first-rate acting while delivering his unbending and unshakable dedication for his job and the wretched personal life he deals with. And the rest of the cast bolsters such wonderfully diverse performances making the story work best for the film, and the film working best for the story.
‘American Gangster’ is a gripping double character study deftly contrasting a drug lord and a folk hero while presenting the American way of life of mobility, consumerism, and success. It presents how a heroin kingpin works with his most subtle and his most violent demeanors as a family member and a businessman, while his opposite in the society’s eyes, an ultimately straight NYPD crime buster dealing with his womanizing issues and his crooked personal life, keeps up with his role as a family man and a public servant. Indeed, this film makes keen observations on the systemic corruption and the personal attitudes of the people in the society. And it depicts the two sides of the so-called American dream.January 27th, 2008 Posted by Rianne | Action, Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Biopic, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood Films, Period/Historical, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
A Morality Play
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris
Directed by: Ben Affleck
If it were really badly directed, it wouldn’t have worked. And somehow, it did.
Admirably dark and ambiguous, ‘Gone Baby Gone’ becomes a powerful exploration of the gray areas between means and ends. It promotes an unreserved affair that manages a morally complex look at deep themes and compromised convictions. Its risky maneuvers work for its procedural take on a talky, tense, and intricately woven urban opera about emotional and material greed.
‘Gone Baby Gone’ is a thinking man’s film. It is an absorbing and complex neighborhood noir where the moral tangles of the story open up issues pertaining to the devious side of human nature. This riveting crime drama based on a harrowing Dennis Lehane novel asks some powerful questions about the price to be paid for doing the right thing and what the right thing should be or can be or must be. A tortured morality play disguised as a murder-mystery, ‘Gone Baby Gone’ keeps the book’s thorny sense of morality while adding a living, breathing, and cinematic Boston atmosphere to the story. It is a carefully constructed ethical thriller with deeply etched characters and brilliant plotting recreate unlikely scenarios with passion, depth, and grace.
‘Gone Baby Gone’ has some obviously ragged edges. Its convoluted plotting and too many twists initially inhibit clarity and make some sense of contrivance with the storytelling. Yet, it is still a decent, serious film that is capably directed and very nicely acted. And despite its limitations and few false steps, this film is steeped in atmospherics as a gritty expose of the shady shards of right and wrong – making it a keenly observant film about life’s ambiguities and nuances. The underlying moral issues are handled delicately enough to keep things afloat within its sprawling story and it effectively imparts its message.
As a debut film for actor-writer Ben Affleck, the film has merits for taking the novel into new cinematic heights. He turns the story into an unexpected emotional sucker punch by allowing layers of details to work one after the other. He captures a sense of society lost in a solidly satiric form in the midst of its all out serious theme and treatment. Under his shrewd eye, the changing emotional climate sending the story off into several unexpected turns proves his storytelling ability. And although the film’s ‘whodunit’ becomes quite predictable, the actual journey of the characters within the framework of a two-hour film allows the moral ambiguity of the characters to have an impact. Indeed, this Boston-set tale of mixed motives, selfishness, and selflessness is strong on atmospherics and moral quandaries.
Affleck shows a real affection for performers and their work with the strong performances from its ensemble cast. By marrying an intense thriller with bigger issues and a three-dimensional lead in the person of the director’s younger brother Casey Affleck, the genuine moral complexity in the film is carefully developed. Early in the film, his portrayal as the young detective Patrick Kenzie is quite questionable. But as the story progresses, you get to see the spark of moral certitude creeping into his persona and his performance develops alongside the pro-acting stints of his acting colleagues including Michelle Monaghan as his steady partner and co-detective Angie Gennaro, Morgan Freeman as the compassionate police officer Capt. Jack Doyle, Amy Ryan as the lost girl’s almost-feral mother Helene McCready, Ed Harris as the straight-up senior officer Det. Remy Bressant, John Ashton as Bressant’s supportive partner Det. Nick Poole, Amy Madigan as the lost girl’s anxious aunt Bea McCready, Titus Welliver as the lost girl’s concerned uncle Lionel McCready, among others.
Ben Affleck’s helming debut shows how bleak, wretched, and depressingly realistic moral dimensions are. ‘Gone Baby Gone’ is a tightly controlled, carefully modulated piece of drama that will keep you thinking long after. It is an absorbing and gritty story that compels you to seriously think about the complicated and disturbing elements in the society.
‘Gone Baby Gone’ is a twisty, morally ambiguous film with a classic neo-noir artistry. Its morally challenged story creates a cinematic Boston of its own without going towards the path of the culturally incorrect. A suspenseful, well-acted thriller, this aptly directed crime tale haunts because it does not offer direct answers to the issues it raises. Just like in real life, things are complex and messy, and at certain times, there are uncontrollable situations caused by external factors. And all these make the film hard-hitting, meaningful, emotional, and resonating.November 30th, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Action, Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Hollywood Films, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
An Inventive Film From a Familiar Story
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Nicky Katt
Directed by: Neil Jordan
‘The Brave One’ succeeds in bringing depth to an admittedly familiar storyline. It is a startlingly inventive and thrilling film exploring the nuances of dealing with the emotional conflicts of fear and surviving the trauma of a violent life experience. The film is compulsively fascinating with its dramatic flair as a revenge fantasy about the character journeying the route to vigilantism.
‘The Brave One’ makes a long and hard look at what it means to be a human being in an era of terrorism and senseless violence – with a post-Sept. 11 sensitivity – attempting to tap into post-9/11 anxieties and commenting on the idea of righteous payback.
The film takes a familiar genre – a vigilante revenge flick undermining a morality fable with an allegory about crime and violence spiraling into the larger scheme of things. And upon its aspiration to be something more serious and contemplative, it becomes an emotion-filled commentary on loss, revenge, and redemption. As Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) romanticizes a New York of yesteryear, she falls victim to a violent attack causing her to be severely injured for weeks and her fiancé David Kirmani (Naveen Andrews) dead. From then on, she randomly encounters dangerous situations reflecting the urban conditions of New York of long ago – not exactly the present Big Apple’s yuppie public landscape. Being an oddly dated setting as it is, Erica buys a semi-automatic handgun from a black market firearm dealer – which is highly improbable to be passed up by authorities in the present day New York security system. Moreover, the major reliance on tidy coincidences between the lives of the major characters meeting each other in all possible incidents is quite far-fetched in real life. And yet, despite such tough subject matters and questions about realism, the film is strong enough that the audience is drawn straight into the story. And its engaging treatment definitely compensates for the certain gaps in logic.
The script is incisive and witty. The elegant style and carefully weighted direction from Neil Jordan overrules the sometimes formulaic parts. Jordan attempts to shock the audience on how an ordinarily peaceful person becomes an agent of violence. He effectively utilizes the moody, desaturated lensing of his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, in coming up with a visual style that shrouds Manhattan in a foreboding dread of unsettlingly lit sequences, manipulatively subjective video camera shots, nervously swerving camera movements, and ominously subjective tracking shots. The music from composer Dario Marianelli provides effective discordant themes that fittingly reflect Foster’s psyche. The film’s music is definitely something to keep up with. The editing by Tony Lawson heightens the film’s tensed and dramatic action sequences and the very emotional, complementary, and ironic intercuts of violence, love-making, acts of self-preservation, and sure-handed personal drama. As the story progresses, it gets genuinely wrenching, but never in a heavy-handed way as the performances keep it grounded within the strength and sincerity of human emotions.
Amidst a fast series of violent plotpoints, the film is mainly character-driven. After the Central Park tragedy, Erica evolves with her tainted worldview while trying to go back to the life she used to have – mainly getting back into circulation through her work as a media personality for her radio show ‘Streetwalk’ – where she shares the recorded ambient sounds of the city and her live thoughts surrounding the life in the Big Apple. The film’s many elements and the character’s journey is reminiscent of Martin Scorcese’s classic ‘Taxi Driver.’
‘The Brave One’ is a vigilante drama boasting of a powerful Jodie Foster performance. Erica speaks in a disturbingly cool voiceover that bleeds into her sessions on the air. Her glazing eyes and thin lips communicate many thoughts and emotions in every scene. Her tensed frame and boyish moves and mannerisms become intense and electric. She unleashes her rage on the mean streets of New York with such emotional and physical baggage. She renders a compelling, emotionally raw performance with deft support from Terrence Howard as the soft, conflicted, honest, sympathetic, openly inquisitive, and by-the-book type police detective Sean Mercer. The relationship between these two unexpectedly kindred spirits takes on a vague intimacy that actually results to some of the film’s strongest scenes. With such a quiet intensity, Foster and Howard become such a riveting pair. The two characters reflect their hearts becoming purer than their experiences – preserving a certain tarnished purity and laying this bare on screen.
The rest of the characters deliver well in making delicate depictions of specific human conditions.
‘The Brave One’ takes a fairly obvious, overused movie conceit – but uses this to explore something much deeper and more real than you’d ever expect for such a film with this type of story and genre. And with its strongly internalized performances and stable directing, ‘The Brave One’ becomes an effective character study and action movie rolled into one.September 19th, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Review, Films I Like, Hollywood Films, Suspense/Thriller, Women | no comments
URGENT: We need help for our locations for a new film (factory, church, funeraria, lower-middle class apartment) to be shot on September
In line with the new independent short film (a film grant from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts) we are shooting on Sept. 2, 2007 and December 2007, I would like to ask your help in getting the right locations for the film. Due to certain turn of events, we are officially starting pre-prod today and we have less than a month for pre-prod in order to shoot the film. And so, we are seeking your help and suggestions for the following locations that we need:
- A small-, medium- or large-scale factory (within the vicinity of Metro Manila) that is primarily manufacturing such products as milk or soda or any other canned goods.
- A cinematic church or chapel with a grand opening of the Simbang Gabi this coming Dec. 16 (if possible, if we can also get the contact person and contact numbers of maybe the parish priest and administrative people of the church so we can further discuss our plans and intentions)
- A lower-middle class small house where we can shoot a “burol” scene inside the house and extend the seats and giving of “tong,” etc. outside the house. If anybody can help as in getting the art requirements for a “burol” scene as well like a funeraria where we can rent a coffin, some lights, and the rest of the stuff we normally seen during a “burol,” and maybe flowers too, we would gladly appreciate these things really.
- An apartment with a window and door beside each other and the window showing the outside of the apartment
If you have any idea for these locations that we need, or maybe you own any of these, kindly email at firstname.lastname@example.org or text at 0920-9273651 so that we can discuss the possibilities of getting your place as location. We would really appreciate your suggestions. We are paying the locations and we will fix the permits needed, but we hope that you would understand that we cannot provide the commercial rates that others get for a TV commercial, mainstream film, or a TV production. We are allotting a budget for our locations, but it wouldn’t be as high as the likes of getting a location for an advertising project. With regards to the factory, and if it’s okay, with the church location, possible x-deals and media mileage can be something to consider as well upon further discussion of such possibilities. We really need these locations “super-urgent.” Thank you very much for your time!
A heist picture to bank for
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, Carla Gugino
Directed by: Scott Frank
The moody and brilliantly inventive crime caper ‘The Lookout’ has all the right elements of cinematic tension, engaging story, tight script, heartbreaking human insights, some comic relief, and solid acting. It is a well-crafted thought piece about a young adult coping with the consequences of his teenage aggressiveness when his personal brilliance and the greater future ahead of him vanishes forever due to his acquired physical incapacity. Perceptive and edgy as it is, the film becomes a skillful and compelling character study in the guise of a heist movie. It delivers a beautifully drawn contemporary noir tale of a young man trying to make sense of the future he has lost in a world that he has to learn all over again.
Debuting director and award-winning writer Scott Frank develops characters and layers details so well that this darkly engaging crime thriller also becomes a neo-noir drama and a taut psychological thriller. As director-writer, he sketches the film with a well-established structure that manages to balance subtlety with suspense. The characters are interesting and multidimensional. And though Chris Pratt’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lookout role in the bank robbery is predicted, the film does a credible job of not signaling where the story is exactly heading as it ramps up with a number of plot swings and unexpected twists and turns.
Frank commands sympathy, affection, and understanding of his characters – boldly taking time to develop them to capture each one’s emotional and intellectual intensity and numbness without resorting to overly sentimental tactics. Treating the film with an unhurried pace, a riveting tone, a yielding musical score, a chilling winter-gray cinematography, and a well-conceived camera work, the small-town setting bows down to the compelling characterizations, the straight-ahead drama, and the poignant crime story.
Character-driven as it is, the elegantly written characters are played by an ensemble cast that greatly drives the story. With or without dialogues, the characters exude intricate humanness that grabs hold of the audience. The many shades of gray create a richly drawn script supported by sharp dialogues. Moreover, the film is populated by characters that can be easily imagined to exist in real life. It’s the characters and what they say and think that really matter. And with the topnotch performances of the actors and actresses, the film becomes a truly absorbing piece.
Fueled by yet another terrific performance, Gordon-Levitt delivers a touchingly nuanced portrayal of a disabled man fighting to win back his old life. He gives a thoughtfully convincing role as a damaged soul – earning the audience’s sympathy without artifice. He makes Chris’ erratic efforts pour such a heartbreaking resignation to what he has used to be and what he wants back. The blankness and minimalist reactions that he makes, as certain memories keep drifting away, ironically bring a certain depth, complexity, and sincerity for what isn’t there – which actually brings genuine things to get there. It could have been just another damaged guy role; but he delivers with such a compelling and star-turning performance that elevates such a perceptive and intelligent portrayal into a classic piece. Indeed, with the way he has executed his nuanced roles at this early stage of his career, and having a hugely appealing combination of a Keanu Reeves physicality, a Marlon Brando/Guy Pierce acting power, and a Johnny Depp capacity for offbeat roles, this young actor is definitely a rising star to watch out for.
The supporting emotional component hinges on the friendship between Chris and the blind but independent Lewis (Jeff Daniels). Their convincing onscreen relationship makes the film work its way forward. Talent and chemistry truly gives a splendid fusion. The character Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode) carries out such a human capacity for criminal action. Deputy Ted (Sergio Di Zio) convincingly plays a striking character that is full of heart and gusto. Luvlee’s (Isla Fisher) sunny role adds a certain commercial appeal that enlightens the dark tale for a bit. The rest of the supporting characters and even the bit players offer such a good mix of performances. However, Bruce McGill as Chris’ father Robert Pratt seems a little off due to their lack of physical resemblance, that during the exposition in the story, he actually strikes as if he is the father of the husband of Chris’ sister – more than being Chris’ own father.
With all the tight plotting and meticulous character building, ‘The Lookout’ is an effective genre picture. It is an effective homage to the kind of small-scale thrillers heading the classic route. It is simple and yet intricate. It is small and yet satisfying.August 3rd, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Classic, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Hollywood Films, Melodrama, Youth/Teenybopper | no comments
The odds of getting guilty pleasure
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Michael Mantell, Elliott Gould, Ray Xifo, Al Pacino
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Watching the inventive and spontaneous bunch of professional men pulling off an impossible heist for the third time, ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’ is a guilty pleasure to watch. The usual suspects known for delivering their witty lines in effective, nonchalant ways, and doing ‘mission impossible-ish’ tasks are back with sophisticated humor, peppered ironies, comedic suspense, and contagious energy that has marked the franchise since ‘Ocean’s Eleven.’
Centering the saga on male camaraderie, team loyalty, and cool professionalism, ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’ has clear personal motivations: brotherhood in the middle of revenge. The clan is reunited again to avenge their mentor from the moral crime of his swindler x-partner.
In this third segment of the Ocean’s film series, this star-driven genre film maintains the grace and manners the franchise is known for. The gentleman heist-meister Danny Ocean (George Clooney), along with his best dressed tactician and sidekick Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) and the rest of his wild bunch return to Las Vegas – recapturing much of the spirit of ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ – to pull off another con to get even with the egomaniacal Vegas kingpin Willie Bank (Al Pacino) who double-crosses one of the original eleven, Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould). And without being exploitative of the original film’s reputation, its familiarity and interconnections become a confection of silly gags and great visuals that adhere to a clear and simple premise spiced up with a complicatedly breezy plotting.
The film looks fresh and sharp amidst the touches of a formulaic Hollywood style – and it makes up a true fun escapist heist movie. The smart one-liners and the cool references to the previous chapters, and even to the stars’ off screen persona, put the right chips on for a good deal.
From my personal list of respectable film directors, Ocean’s helmer Steven Soderbergh proves his bravura wits as he engages the audience with grand visual and aural pleasure. With a masterful touch on production values and a pace that never sags, he weaves the film’s statements with deep, serious humor. The technical and scientific aspects of the heist are so complex that they may be hard to follow, but Soderbergh knows his way around . He has a firm grasp of the technical devices to elevate the story with his splendidly staged scenes, fast tempo, and stunning framing. They all work together to keep up with the textual properties missing in the raw material. Indeed, his masterful direction and photography (under the name Peter Andrews), along with the equally-delivering staff, crew, and cast, mark both the coolness and hotness of the film.
Credit is due to the clever script from writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien (also the ones behind the poker drama ‘Rounders’). The film consists of hundreds of brief scenes where the new heist is for the sake of friendship, not money. The cool and witty dialogues build a sleek narrative momentum all throughout the film. Each of the well-crafted characters deliver lines with a relaxed wit – which makes the screenplay work to its best purpose. Danny and Rusty have the biggest parts in the script, while the rest of the gang in smaller but still well-written parts that often operate individually.
The physicality of ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’ relies on elaborate play on light and color. The whole film boosts of a rich and diverse color palette. The stylistic flourishes and ostentatious interior design of Bank’s spanking new high-rise casino named appropriately for himself The Bank boasts of bright and hot colors, mainly sumptuous golds and reds. Shot on a lavish set built on Warner Brothers’ biggest soundstage, the lurid colors, sterling sets, fabulous costumes, and illustrious props really keep up with the demands of an eye-catching Vegas. Add up The Bank’s impeccable CGI work, the absurd but nonetheless amazing twisting structure dominating the Vegas skyline yields to the film’s grand production demands. The bright and warm colors of the casino spots render effectively opposite the blues and grays of the exterior scenes. The Ocean’s troupe keeps up with the ‘cool men in cool clothes’ look wherever they are. And production designer Philip Messina and costume designer Louise Frogley should be given due credit to their enormous contribution to the film’s physical needs. So goes with cinematographer Andrews, editor Stephen Mirrione, and composer David Holmes – all complementing each other’s work for the good of the film.
The star power film reunites George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Qin, Carl Reiner, and Elliott Gould as they pull off another cool con. For this offer, the glamorous cast has a new nemesis: the greedy Willie Bank, along with his right-hand woman Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin). With Bank’s unscrupulous reputation as a ruthless casino owner, he has never imagined that the odds are against him now. With a plan that’s elaborate, dangerous, and near impossible, Danny and the gang defend one of their own in their most ambitious and riskiest casino heist to break Bank where it hurts him the most: his pockets, his diamonds, and his public image. The catalyst of the story is the old-fashioned fruit, member of the original team Reuben Tishkoff – as he is forced to retire to the hospital after the swindling moment with Bank.
Getting even is the element that drives and unifies the current story as Danny and the lot rally together to save Reuben’s honor even to the point of swallowing their pride by making an alliance with their previous nemesis Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), their last hope for financial backup. Bank’s actions give them a shared purpose to take him and his empire down on the grand opening of The Bank. The team members complement each other with their skills as they hit Bank from the littlest to the most expansive ways and means.
The film’s humor never loses the winning chips. Inclusive of the funny threads on the work are the comic scenes of ruining the hotel stay of the hotel reviewer (David Paymer) who holds the key to the coveted five-diamond rating of The Bank and the pheromone-filled scene of Linus Caldwell/Lenny Pepperidge (Matt Damon) and Abigail Sponder inside the diamond room.
Reflective and moral scenes are further marked during the last part of the film. The scene of Danny and Rusty exchanging dialogues of nostalgia referring to the Las Vegas of yesteryears nicely caps off the action as they compare the classic past with the high tech, money-driven, and crime-filled present. It becomes such an appealing scene in a picture-framed shot of the two against the trees and elegant building backdrop in a dusk or dawn setting. The moral points of the story amidst the heist and law-breaking endeavors keep up with the story’s turning point where the unscrupulous Willie Banks breaks the code and disregards the nostalgic homage to ‘Frank Sinatra’ and the ‘Rat Pack.’ The scene involving TV’s Queen of Talk, Oprah Winfrey, where Danny is caught teary-eyed by Rusty while watching the ‘Oprah,’ effectively puts some conscience on the heist-meisters while maintaining its trademark humor and avoiding the overly sentimental route. A further pay-off becomes apparent as Danny introduces to Benedict the concept of a ‘charitable heist’ – by donating millions of dollars (as the major chunk of the profits for the revenge mission goes to him in exchange for his financial backup to the project’s execution) to a charitable institution through ‘Oprah’ – to help the needy people and improve his public image at the same time. And after hitting him bad as a needed casualty to the heist, the five-diamond award real ratings man who suffers all the ill treatments is given an indirect reward of winning eleven million dollars at the airport slot machine courtesy of Rusty.
This third chapter again shows that Ocean’s is really one of the smuggest film franchises of today with its elite star wattage, sophisticated suspense and action, and nostalgia factor. It is determined to gamble its way towards the box-office – and cashing in for the franchise for the third time. All the conflicts, climaxes, and resolutions are easily given to the audience – no sweat – but it works for the very pleasure for it.
As the film concludes in an expectedly smooth airport scene with the cast’s three most physically appealing members, they say ‘See you when I see you.’ And it easily gives a subtext for the next Ocean’s film.June 2nd, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Review, Films I Like, Hollywood Films | no comments
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