Decades Blogathon – Scream (1996)

1996

 

Welcome back around to the second week in Decades, a blogathon in which me and my good friend and inspiration Mark from Three Rows Back are asking bloggers to weigh in on their favorite films from decades past, films that were released in a year ending in ‘6.’ We’ve been posting a review per day, re-blogging each other’s posts (with the exception being this weekend where we took some time off). I had the chance to write my thoughts on Shane Black’s newest film, The Nice Guys. If you missed that piece you can find it here.

But today we have an exceptional piece from the one and only Zoë, who’s the genius behind The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger. It’s a site I have been dedicated to for some time now, and if you want to go visit it here you will soon see why that’s the case. She’s here to talk about horror-comedy classic Scream


Scream movie poster

SYNOPSIS: A group of teens are pitted against a masked murderer that tests their knowledge of horror movies. – via IMDB

Thank you guys for letting me indulge in re-watching Scream. I don’t know how I would have motivated it to anyone without this Decades Blogathon 😛

Alright, alright, alright! Let me get to talking to a movie that I absolutely adore. Scream. Gosh, I watched this so many times as a kid I damn near wore out the VHS. I had way too much fun with this all the time. I have always had a soft spot for horror/slasher films, whether they are good or bad. This one? It is one of the better ones. I know that it has been mocked and ragged on for ages, but Craven gave us something beautiful when we got this.

Pretty much everyone knows the intro, I am sure. Not much should in theory be a secret there… I think. Anyway, within minutes, you get the setup. Open with Drew Barrymore making herself popcorn, getting a strange call, which starts funny but ends in a terrifying fashion. Recipe for something amazing. End it with an insanely brutal murder and staged corpse scene? Winning all the way. The Scream franchise touts some horrifying deaths, but hers will forever remain right up there for me, because it really set the tone of what was to come in the movies.

Scream ghostface mask

Scream is way smarter than it is given credit for by most. The movie knows exactly what it is, and doesn’t beat around the bush about it. It is in your face honest, and tackles all the conventions of horrors/slashers up until that point, and yet still masterfully crafts a film that feels fresh and new. Obviously these are things that became more clear to me the older I got. Back in the day, it was all about the silly jokes, the phone calls, and Ghostface. Let’s not even pretend. Then I grew up, and got to see exactly how clever Scream actually is. It’s gory, it balances humour and horror, and it does so with great finesse.

Scream bad movies

As for the cast, I thoroughly enjoy them all. You don’t see many of them that much anymore, because they were the reigning nineties champs, but they all did what they were to do. Neve Campbell was perfect to play sweet, innocent, emotionally damaged Sidney, the virgin, and David Arquette is the absolutely adorable Deputy Dewey, and I will always love him. For reals. What a sweetie. Courtney Cox owned in her role of the bitchy and unscrupulous Gale Weathers. Skeet Ulrich was also the perfect pick for Billy, a little dodgy and strange, but rather entrancing nonetheless. Fan favourite Randy Meeks was helmed by Jaime Kennedy, and his character will always be important to the end. He was the one who told us what was happening, who shared the rules and etiquette of survival and the perfect crime.

Scream Gale gets punched

Another thing I enjoy about this movie is how quotable it is. It doesn’t get old, and you are bound to find someone who recognises some of the obscure references and quotes you can yank out of it. That is something that I always appreciate in movies, the ability to stick with you, via imagery or some infinitely awesome quote. The score also complements the movie every step of the way, and all the little references make this film a little gem. I loved the humour here, too, which at times was really dark, and other times really silly. I am glad that it was Craven who helmed this film, as he balanced this out. Apparently other directors that were considered initially viewed Scream as more of a comedy than anything. Phew. Luckily it didn’t go that way!

Scream rules

Overall, Scream is still a highly entertaining watch, even after all this time, and peddles tons of humour, horror, and gore. If you haven’t seen it (*cough cough* TOM), I would highly recommend checking it out! Obviously I am a fan, and I know I am not alone on that front!

Housebound

Housebound movie poster

Release: Friday, October 17, 2014 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Gerard Johnstone

Directed by: Gerard Johnstone

Housebound heralds the arrival of a creative new talent in Gerard Johnstone, and though not always the most confident, his feature film debut functions as a perfectly harmless distraction that adds a few amusing wrinkles in the fabric of haunted house horror.

It centers around a young, moody twentysomething — Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) — who gets caught in the act of trying to relieve an ATM of its contents. Because of her recidivistic tendencies she’s sentenced to eight months of house arrest, a light punishment all things considered. But this means she’ll have to put up with her irritating mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and step-father Graeme (Ross Harper) — gasp, the horror! The former seems to think the house is possessed by spirits, while the latter utters nary a word as he’s never been a talkative fellow.

Added to Kylie’s suffering is the fact she’s been fitted with an anklet that will alert authorities, the seemingly lone wolf Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), if she tries to leave the premises. What’s a girl to do if she can’t go out every night and burglarize the shit out of everything with her wayward friends? I guess just sit there and pout.

Credit Johnstone for casting an atypical lead in his first film, and O’Reilly for selling her character’s detachment from society. Unfortunately she’s too good at it; it’s a little hard to root for her when she begins experiencing some of the things that has recently sent her mother into hysterics. Completely insensitive to the needs of others, Kylie isn’t someone who seems ready to change their ways and would rather mope around for the next few months until the shackles have been lifted. Or am I just overlooking the fact that perhaps her cloudy disposition is part of the comedic appeal?

One thing that’s more frustrating than Kylie’s selfish behavior is the dynamic between her and Amos. As she slowly comes into an understanding that the house she finds herself in has a dark history — it once served as a halfway house and was the site of a grisly murder — she has trouble convincing anyone else of what’s going on. But . . . wasn’t her mother the one phoning in to a radio show to publicize her paranoias? And why isn’t Amos believing her? He oscillates between being overly protective of the young woman and skeptical to the point of accusing her of lying about everything she’s going through.

Alas, Housebound becomes one of “those” movies — the kind where everything we witness apparently comes at the expense of our protagonist’s credibility. Her frustration becomes our frustration. That is, until things take a turn for the worse when Kylie and Amos together turn their attention toward a suspicious neighbor, whom they believe could be responsible for things going bump in the night. As we’ve expected all along there’s more to this scene than what meets the eye.

Johnstone’s debut is fascinated with the concept of seclusion and secrecy, applying it to elements both physical and conceptual. As I’m obligated to keep spoilers out of my reviews to keep my readers from turning on me in a quick and hostile manner, suffice it to say his technique is what sustains the entertainment rather than the actual, tangible elements themselves. Even if Housebound gets a little too overexcited in its grander reveals — people living inside walls notwithstanding — perhaps it’s best to resist the urge to overanalyze. Like Kylie, maybe it’s in our best interests to sit back and just let this phase run its course.

things get a bit messy for Morgana O'Reilly and Rima Te Wiata in 'Housebound'

Recommendation: Housebound serves as another welcomed entry into the steadily growing marriage between comedy and horror. It does enough to satisfy casual horror fans who like their stuff more on the light-hearted side though it features a few grisly scenes and enough blood to satiate more serious horror watchers. Not a perfect film but it’s solid enough to make me want to come back for more. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 107 mins.

Quoted: “I am not the only one who thought there was a ghost in this house, Kylie. In fact, you used to be so terrified you could not sleep.” / “Yeah, I also used to think the Moon was made of cheese. It is called childhood.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Creed

Creed movie poster

Release: Wednesday, November 25, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Ryan Coogler; Aaron Covington

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Perhaps it’s the fact that Creed feels more akin to a warm family reunion than a cold cash grab that unnecessarily extends a beloved boxing franchise that has allowed it to curry favor with both critics and audiences alike. The end product certainly doesn’t stand on shaky legs, with early responses seeming to indicate this could be a Dark Horse for Best Picture next February.

Underdog story manifests as a reunion in more ways than one, throwing on-the-rise actor Michael B. Jordan back into Ryan Coogler’s ring for the second time following their collaboration on 2013’s emotional gut punch Fruitvale Station. Meanwhile, an aging Sly returns to Mighty Mick’s Gym for the first time since he abandoned his responsibility to maintain it; it also re-teams Jordan with his The Wire co-star Woody Harris, who plays Tony “Little Duke” Evers, one of the young boxer’s many assistant trainers. Needless to say, Creed benefits greatly from the coziness of familiarity.

This is the tale of the rise of Adonis Johnson, illegitimate son of the legendary Apollo Creed. He adopts his mother Mary Anne Johnson’s last name early in the film even after (or perhaps due to) learning that his father lost his life in the ring at the hands of Soviet brute Ivan Drago. Donnie’s introduced as a rather angry child with a knack for getting into fist fights.

We flash forward to the present where a muscular Jordan is preparing for a brawl in a hole-in-the-wall Mexican arena. He holds down a job at a securities firm in Los Angeles before up and quitting it to pursue boxing full-time, much to the dismay of Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). It’s a matter of time before Donnie tracks Rocky down at his Italian restaurant in Philadelphia.

“Train me,” he insists. “No,” Rocky replies.

Then of course Rocky starts training him, scribbling down on a sheet of paper a series of training exercises that Donnie captures on his cell phone for later use. But you know Rocky will be drawn back to the ring, only in a different but no less effective capacity. Coogler builds the relationships in such a way that even all of these potential eye-roll-inducing developments pay great dividends. This is a massively enjoyable film, reminiscent of the pure entertainment value of Ridley Scott’s most recent effort. It remains to be seen how much pull it’s ultimately going to have down the stretch when it finds itself squaring off against the likes of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming western thriller, critically acclaimed dramas such as Brooklyn and Spotlight or the various other stand-outs from earlier this year.

Its reverence for everything that has come before is both a blessing and a curse. It means newcomers get to share in the experience fans in 1976 reveled in without really having to do any homework. Creed is Rocky VII, that much is obvious, but it also throws so many similar jabs and hooks it’s a stretch to call this a truly original work. There are moments during which we get the sense we’re walking in the shadows of a legend, yet when other sequences beget the euphoric triumphs of Gavin O’Connor’s family feud Warrior, the negatives are somehow easier to shake off. When Rocky warns Donnie that he’s “seen this fight before,” we believe him yet we still have to see it for ourselves; that terrible sinking feeling be damned.

Creed‘s soundtrack thumps with original and familiar beats alike. Its hip hop-heavy focus helps set the feature apart; these songs are all attitude. They represent the spoken portion of Donnie’s near poetic, fully meteoric rise to fame as he soon finds himself taking on the light heavyweight world champion “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) in a Liverpool-based match-up for the ages. Tessa Thompson, who inserts herself into the narrative in the form of neighbor-turned-love interest Bianca, a musically-gifted young woman, contributes her voice to a few tracks. She also is a welcomed presence though her character’s career aspirations get lost in the shuffle all too quickly.

And of course this wouldn’t be a complete review without mentioning Stallone returning to these hallowed grounds. The film finds a galvanizing power in his physically broken, emotionally burdened Rocky Balboa. I suppose if Creed stands for anything other than the mesmerizing power of professional boxing it’s the vitality of family, even if that unit has been cobbled together from undesirable (and highly unlikely) circumstance. The most potent conversations take place between trainer and boxer when they have a disagreement over whether or not they’re actually a family at all. Watch Sly struggle to hold back tears as he rattles off the losses he’s experienced in the past.

I wasn’t prepared for the gravitas this unusual acting duo offers up, but that’s what I took home with me after witnessing the reinvigoration of a franchise that once looked to be hanging lifeless on the ropes.

Rocky and his protege atop the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Recommendation: Creed rests on tried-and-true formula but in the process it manages to focus on the emotional power of a legendary character being brought back to life by a possibly never-better Stallone. It finds new life in Jordan’s gung-ho Adonis Creed and I have to admit I wasn’t prepared to be carried so far away from the seat in which I sat over the course of this two-hour journey. The blueprint for future installments has seemingly been laid down. If you’ve been a fan of the Rocky franchise this is a must-see.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 133 mins.

Quoted: “This guy right here, that’s the toughest opponent you’re ever going to face. I believe that’s true in the ring and I believe that’s true in life. Now show me something.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

McFarland USA

mcfarland-usa-poster

Release: Friday, February 20, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Christopher Cleveland; Bettina Gilois; Grant Thompson

Directed by: Niki Caro

Is this the part where I openly admit to becoming teary-eyed watching a Disney film? Or is that just way too honest?

. . . . . hello . . . ? Guys . . . . . . ?

Ah well, whatever. Good chance I’m just talking to myself now, but nonetheless it’s nice being reminded of how many ways movies can offer surprises. Family-friendly McFarland USA is the most recent example, transcending mediocrity while still relying on shopworn techniques to construct its story, one that is as wholesome as it is sensational given its drawing upon real life events.

Kevin Costner is a disgraced high school football coach named Jim White who finds himself having to relocate his family to Nowheresville — er, excuse me, that’s McFarland, a tiny Californian town few maps have ever bothered mentioning — as he seeks another coaching job at a high school that’s predominantly Hispanic. Although hired because of his football résumé Jim suggests to the school’s principal, much to the chagrin of Assistant Coach Jenks (Chris Ellis), that McFarland High start up a cross country running team. He sees in several members of the squad some serious talent, but talent that’s more useful off the gridiron. Having no experience coaching track or cross country before Jim’s chances of finding success are pretty apparent from the get-go, but it’s not until he manages to corral seven young boys, including the unstoppable Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) that a real opportunity begins to present itself.

McFarland USA begs comparisons to the inferiorly budgeted and marketed Spare Parts, a production featuring George Lopez that shines a light upon four young Latino high school students possessing brilliant minds but lacking the financial and societal support needed for their potential to be fully realized. Trade intellect for athleticism, Arizona for California and a talk-show host for a seasoned action star and you get the latest effort from director Niki Caro. The drama at times mirrors that of the kids of Carl Hayden High, in particular a scene in which Jim White drives his rapidly rising young star athletes to the beach so they can have their first glimpse of the ocean. It should be said that this sequence is handled with much more grace and passion but it’s difficult shaking that feeling of déjà vu if you’ve sat through both films.

But where Spare Parts had the difficult task of selling audiences on the magnitude of the motivation required for these immigrant youths to compete in something as obscure as an underwater robotics competition, McFarland USA embraces its broader audience appeal by crafting a sense of warm community and fictionalizing a rallying cry behind an upstart sports team. Cross country running makes for an interesting twist on an all-too-eager-to-inspire genre. At the risk of scribbling out yet another cliché, we’ve been beaten over the head more than enough times with the pressures, heartbreaks and pitfalls of football stardom. As an avid sports fan, I say this not because my goal is to mislead anyone but because it’s simply true: football dramas are far too easy to find.

It’s also no secret Disney prefers creating cinema that values community-building rather than the destruction thereof, and McFarland USA continues in that tradition. As the Whites transition from minority status in a town where no one’s a stranger to another, to becoming the reason McFarland begins receiving recognition amongst the more affluent surrounding suburbs there is a surprising amount of satisfaction gained in experiencing the growth, both personal and communal. Jim goes from being jokingly nick-named ‘Blanco’ to being revered as Coach as a series of growing pains galvanizes the group over the fall of 1987.

Added to this, Caro’s ability to homogenize these two cultures cohabiting within the Californian border. We see Jim’s eldest daughter Julie (Morgan Saylor) entering into young womanhood upon her 15th birthday during an extended vignette that serves as a highlight of the film when her father throws her a “quinceañera,” and her burgeoning romance with Thomas (arguably the best runner) furthers the notion that this family is not likely to abandon McFarland, even if Jim may have better job prospects on the horizon given his remarkable achievements. The respect between both groups is something that helps to balance out the film’s fixation on competition during the race day events.

There’s nothing truly original about McFarland USA, and yet the film excels in delivering entertainment and packaging an inspirational true story unlike many mainstream sports dramas have in recent memory. Anchored by wonderful performances from Costner and Bello in tandem and visually enhanced by a vibrant Disney color palette — this is a beautifully shot film, with particular emphasis on the landscapes during the races as well as the costume design — you might find yourself every now and then counting cliches but at the end you shouldn’t be too surprised to find yourself secretly cheering.

gohippitygohumpters

3-0Recommendation: McFarland USA relies on some old-hat filmmaking techniques but that doesn’t distract from the pure enjoyment of watching this town come together. There is so much to like about this one that anything less than a solid recommendation just wouldn’t be fair. Any fan of Kevin Costner shouldn’t pass this one up, either.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 129 mins.

Quoted: “That’s not Danny Diaz. . !”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Chappie

chappie-movie-poster

Release: Friday, March 6, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Neill Blomkamp; Terri Tatchell

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp

The nonsense that is Chappie makes one sorely nostalgic for the days of Elysium and awkward Jodie Foster performances. At least in that semi-disappointing spectacle we were teased with the notion of leaving behind a civilization that Neill Blomkamp clearly despises. Here, no such escape is possible.

Six years ago there spiked an irregularity in the heartbeat of the contemporary science fiction flick. District 9 represented a revolutionary leap forward, in its case coming damn close to confirming the notion that we are not alone in the universe. While the framing device wasn’t exactly revolutionary — documentary-style footage of the conflict between mankind and alien life — the Johannesburgian director’s blend of visual panache with hard-hitting themes such as apartheid and political corruption reestablished a healthy pulse for the genre. Sharlto Copley’s descent into madness as he found his body evolving into that of a ‘Prawn’ following his contact with the aliens’ biotechnology remains unquestionably Blomkamp’s most emotionally engaging story to date. It is unfortunate that within the span of three admittedly unique films Blomkamp’s ability to inspire and provoke meaningful conversation is trending in a similarly ugly way.

If you don’t consider yourself much of a student of pessimistic filmmaking then it’s perhaps best you don’t attend the school that Blomkamp has established. I certainly wouldn’t advise the more optimistic to check out his latest lecture, Chappie, a punishing and unenjoyable lesson in how human beings are really terrible creations and that artificial intelligence should be regarded as an improvement. Granted, this is a director who has grown up in a part of the world that hasn’t exactly given him reason to champion our species, but the cynicism on display in his latest is tough to justify. At the very least, the marketing campaign touting it as a relatively uplifting experience is an exercise in false advertising.

Chappie pivots around the notion that a robot can reflect the best and worst of mankind if exposed long enough to the elements. Not exactly the most novel concept if we want to consider things like RoboCop and Terminator, but the titular character here is nevertheless compelling. What surrounds him, then, manifests as a metaphor for how variations in one’s upbringing ultimately impact the individual as an adult.

A discarded police droid is “brought to life” by tech genius Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) who sees an opportunity to instill consciousness in a machine. He brings his newly-created Artificial Intelligence software to his boss, Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver, in a role/performance reminiscent of Foster’s Delacourte) who of course shoots down the idea to install it in the defunct machine. With a middle finger aimed at his superiors, Deon goes behind her back and creates what will soon be dubbed ‘Chappie’ by a pair of thugs (South African rap duo Yo-Landi and Ninja, collectively known in our reality as Die Antwoord). The former is quick to establish quasi-maternal instincts while the nasty Ninja’s loathe to treat the thing as an intelligent form of life, putting it in harm’s way every chance he gets.

After all the mocking and physical suffering Chappie endures — he gets lit on fire and his arm sawed off in a scene that impressively makes us cringe — which parental style is going to have the most profound impact upon him? What’ll happen when Chappie’s metaphorical balls drop? When he is able to fully tap into his own consciousness? The narrative hits its fair share of high notes as a notable change within the droid redirects it away from its heretofore abusive upbringing, sending Chappie out as a black sheep amongst a field of hungry wolves in a quest to find out why he is what he is. But the characterizations of everyone, including Chappie’s well-intentioned creator, lack inspiration. In fact the most interesting way to describe the majority is having a cold metal block where a heart ought to be. It’s not that the performers fail to live up to the characters; it’s vice versa.

And Hugh Jackman’s sadistic Vincent Moore couldn’t get out of the picture fast enough. Hell-bent on controlling the robotic police force that is in turn responsible for controlling citizens, he is one brute force who has no real motives and a terrible haircut to boot. He’s most representative of Blomkamp’s disregard for coloring people in shades of grey. There are no shades of grey in Chappie; people are vile and that’s just the way it is. Jackman’s is twice the caricature Copley’s outrageous but much more enjoyable rogue agent Kruger was in Elysium. He’s the type of villain who hints at a climactic gunfight from miles away. His prized possession is a gigantic remote-controlled robot goofily named ‘Moose’ that makes its sole appearance in the film by blowing everyone away with ease.

Regarding the kind of performance art he and his counterpart have been creating over the years, Ninja believes “people are unconscious, and you have to use your art as a shock machine to wake them up. Some people are too far gone. They’ll just keep asking, ‘Is it real? Is it real?’ You have to be futuristic and carry on. You gotta be a good guide to help people get away from dull experience.”

hugh-jackman-and-dev-patel-in-chappie

1-5Recommendation: 2015 represents a low point in Neill Blomkamp’s career, but even with Chappie‘s ability to repel through unlikable characters and a consistently oppressive tone, one can do a lot worse when it comes to contemporary science fiction. There exists a level of intelligence in his films that shines through in Chappie but it shines the weakest in this one, there is no doubt. If you are a fan of his previous work you probably should see this but give the theater a skip. Rent it at home where you have the power to pause and return to it later.

Rated: R

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “I’m consciousness. I’m alive. I’m Chappie.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Spare Parts

spare-parts-movie-poster

Release: Friday, January 16, 2015 (limited) 

[Theater]

Written by: Elissa Matsueda

Directed by: Sean McNamara

Well-intentioned but also thoroughly cliched, Sean McNamara’s strict adherence to the inspirational Wired.com article ‘La Vida Robot’ still manages to surprise with an atypical performance from George Lopez.

Lopez plays Fredi Cameron, a substitute teacher whose inexperience with the troubled Carl Hayden Community High student body is predicted to eventually overwhelm him. A grilling interview with the principal (Jamie Lee Curtis) suggests he should take his engineering mind elsewhere. His character is actually an amalgamation of real-life instructors Fredi “Ledge” Lajvardi and Allen Cameron and is a personality that meshes well with Lopez’s kind eyes and warm smile.

Mr. Cameron decides to tough it out and soon discovers a group of students with some unique talent, the likes of which are doomed to be overlooked in favor of the statistical probability their undocumented status in the States will lead them down a dead-end road. There’s Oscar (Carlos PenaVega), a senior with aspirations of joining the Armed Forces after school and whose confidence masks his deep-seated fear of being deported; Lorenzo (José Julián), a 16-year-old with a penchant for getting into trouble on the streets but more importantly a mind for building and designing things; Cristian (David Del Rio), a genuinely good kid whose youth belies one of the sharpest minds in the community, possibly in the greater Phoenix area and whose home life has him living in a small shed off to the side of the house; and Luis (Oscar Gutierrez), a quiet and unconfident young man undoubtedly conscientious of his physical size and self-assessed lack of practical skills.

The foursome rally around an extremely amiable Lopez even as he’s somewhat reluctant to invest his own time in the school’s robotics club. He sees the kids desperately need some direction, but it’s not until he’s finally won the support of a cute colleague (Marisa Tomei), who believes the students don’t need any more misleading, that Mr. Cameron realizes his passion for engineering can actually marry with his desire to help others. The robotics club sets their sights on the underwater robotics competition hosted at the University of California, Santa Barbara where they will have to pit their $800 robot, built out of PVC piping and nicknamed ‘Stinky,’ against teams with arguably more talent, confidence and community support and most assuredly more financial aid.

The end result of said competition is a foregone conclusion since there’s now a film based on the story, but in getting there the journey really has to be seen to be believed. Spare Parts falls back on trope after trope but it’s not doing this to intentionally harm anyone’s image, least of all those of the student subjects. If anything — and here’s a more cynical way of considering the production — this is a career-booster for the Californian talk show host who has made a habit of providing ridiculous faces and fluff commentary on his show Lopez Tonight. Here he is putting in substantive work and it is appreciated. The actors portraying the students leave a stronger impression than Lopez, though and are the real stars of the show. Convincingly portraying the utter despair and turmoil that their individual situations have thrust them into, these relatively undiscovered actors will hopefully pick up some more work later on down the road.

Richard Wong’s gritty and saturated color palette tends to flick the dirt and grime of the Phoenix area in our faces with an effectiveness that might overshadow any other element present here. This world looks and feels real; intimate and often dimly-lit settings emphasize serious overtones that are otherwise frustratingly undermined by cringe-inducing dialogue and contrived plot development.

Spare Parts manages to sustain its enthusiastic spirit and reverence for not only Joshua Davis’ excellent in-depth examination but the team itself. It is a joy to see a visual interpretation of an extraordinary chapter in this Phoenix-based school, a school that has since gone on to receive global recognition for its technical achievements. However, that’s nothing compared to what these trials and tribulations have done for young Oscar, Lorenzo, Cristian and Luis. How do you not applaud these kids.

george-lopez-in-spare-parts

3-0Recommendation: An uplifting family drama through-and-through it’s difficult not to root for Spare Parts. It’s full of heart but also filled with a lot of things that could have been done much better to limit the eye-roll factor. And why, again, does Marisa Tomei have to be relegated to such a restricted role? Ugh. I’m getting tired of this; she’s better than this! Or, maybe not? Cliched or not, this is a story that does deserve to be watched. I give it one-and-a-half Roger Ebert thumbs up (one of my thumbs is like, turned sideways . . . or something).

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “They’re not adults, they’re kids. Every day in a hundred ways they are told they are worthless. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Jupiter Ascending

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Release: Friday, February 6, 2015

[Theater]

Written by:  The Wachowskis

Directed by: The Wachowskis

As Jupiter ascended, my patience and enthusiasm did precisely the opposite, and at warp speed, too.

After production delays stalled the Wachowski siblings’ follow-up to their impressive Cloud Atlas, I still held out hope that even with extensive CGI surgery the general experience would remain unaffected. I guess I was right. The story we’re presented — a girl, born under a starry night sky, doesn’t believe she’s worth much but as it turns out she is actually on a collision course with an unearthly huge responsibility: saving her/our planet from being harvested by a campy celestial tyrant — remains as a decent second-draft that needed more updates than the visual component of the film did. All of this is to suggest I overlooked the fact that maybe, just maybe, the Wachowskis had been sitting on their weakest story to date.

Sure, you can go ahead and snicker at a polished Channing Tatum whose Caine Wise humbles his Magic Mike on the virtue of insane hair-do’s alone. His goofy appearance makes the film ripe for parody, as do the talking reptilian villains, Eddie Redmayne’s awful performance and Mila Kunis’ lack of credibility as a planetary savior. Part of what makes a Wachowski creation entertaining as well as endearing is this tendency for their situations and characters to stay on just the right side of bizarre. Odd customs and cultures, strange dialects, occasionally clunky dialogue and over-the-top action sequences trickle their way into each one of their productions. It’s as much fun to go along with the ride as it is to nitpick over their ongoing infatuation with Asians and creative nomenclature. Jupiter Ascending, however, oversteps a line.

Jupiter Jones loses her parents much too soon, and so she’s raised in a strange and somewhat oppressive Russian household that has her waking up at quarter to five each morning to scrub toilets and bemoaning how much she “hates her life.” I think I would too with a name that may or may not imply I am a gigantic blob of gas. It’s a good thing she’ll soon be targeted by a powerful intergalactic family that has just lost its matriarch and needs a new heir. The surviving Abrasax siblings — Balem (Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth) — are squabbling over who should seize control of their estate, a sector of the universe that includes Earth. Tatum’s genetically-modified human/wolf appears in Chicago to rescue Jupiter from a random attack by some of Balem’s minions (the Keepers) once the freckled maniac learns of her existence and her true identity. The girl of course has no idea what is going on.

Funny enough, neither do we.

Her naivety swells to the point where it becomes the driving force behind the narrative. This is a little misleading because at the heart of this space opera is the need for Jupiter to find her true calling in life, and to her that means finding the one person she really loves. That’s something that overrides her desire to own the Earth. If you’re not distracted by the incredibly cool renderings of space and its myriad civilizations — toss in an intergalactic police force referred to as the Aegis for further confusion — then you might have the unfortunate luck of coming to the realization that this is all the Wachowskis have to offer here. Jupiter Ascending is a standard love story mired in overly complex mythos, poor acting and silly storytelling.

Damn it if the ideology of these Abrasax weirdos doesn’t tease something greater though. There’s this almost poetic fascination with the largest celestial body in our solar system and how a superior form of intelligence may someday be the downfall of our civilization. Jupiter, the planet, is really a thing of beauty and the film can’t emphasize this enough. The visuals are jaw-dropping, even if they’re mostly dedicated to action sequences that go on a few minutes too long. But even on Earth, as Jupiter is shrouded in a cloud of bees that refuse to sting Her Majesty, the cinematography is beautifully refined.

I’d be okay with the story taking a backseat to impressive scenery had the Wachowskis not already established themselves as filmmakers who pride themselves on being able to present the complete package: stunning visuals accompanying intelligent, if not revolutionary storytelling. Everyone in awe of Jupiter and her ascent can only feel completely betrayed by this declension.

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1-5Recommendation: I’m not really sure that I do. I think I feel more comfortable recommending you save a few bucks and going to check out something else.

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 125 mins.

Quoted: “I will harvest that planet tomorrow before I let her take it from me. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Theory of Everything

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Release: Wednesday, November 26, 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Anthony McCarten 

Directed by: James Marsh

If you want to talk ambition, meet British director James Marsh. He once thought it realistic to stuff everything Stephen Hawking-related into a two-hour romantic drama. There are obvious issues with such a strategy. Not so obvious perhaps are the compromises he’s made in producing something worth watching.

Or, maybe they are. Either way, it looks like it will still be some time before we get the definitive guide on the inner workings of one of the greatest minds this world has and likely will ever see.

Marsh (Man on WireShadow Dancer) blends elements of the standard biopic with those of a romantic drama while infusing the production with at least the pretense of science. More often than not intellectual stimulation is sacrificed in favor of powerful emotional recoil at the sight of a body enduring prolonged deterioration. Yes, the experience fails to manifest as an interesting journey as much as a heartrending commitment to watching what we already are aware has happened. But it’s a perfectly inoffensive approach all the same.

Considering the number of similar films attempting to fashion glamorous takes on the lives of many an ill-fated genius or savant — Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind being one of the most memorable in recent years — it’s hard not to feel the nagging tension of having been there, done that this time around. Howard’s muse happened to be brilliant economist John Forbes Nash. The crux of that particular film revolved around schizophrenia and how it nearly eroded the passionate love shared between an ailing Nash and his fiercely determined wife Alicia Lardé. Fast-forward to 2014 and you simply change the variables. The constants remain, though: bodily dysfunction, emotional trauma, and the very human ability to somehow ignore and even triumph over it all.

The Theory of Everything plays out like the autobiography Professor Hawking will probably never write. (That’s not intended as a cruel joke, in any way, shape or form. I simply just don’t envision this man ever writing one.) And by rights, it should. While camera angles hew intimately to Hawking’s views of the world, it’s his first wife whose work has most directly inspired this particular Oscar-hopeful. Adapted from her memoir ‘Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,’ the film logically detours away from the scientific to focus on the romantic aspects of a life less ordinary.

Leaning on mush and sentimentality does not crush Marsh’s project, luckily enough. After all, he has been afforded a pair of breathtaking performances in the form of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. The pair of young performers will seem inseparable after this. In the last several weeks, a certain someone has been knocking on this blog’s door with more questions about whom he should consider grooming next for the big stage in the Dolby Theatre. Now it would seem to be the young and freckled Londoner’s turn to be called upon. What he accomplishes in Theory is nothing short of revelatory in practice.

Twisted, pained expressions dominate Redmayne’s facial features for the film’s later stages, a development made all the more heartbreaking when given his cheerful, exquisitely nerdy countenance early on. It’s one aspect of the film that absolutely demanded perfection regardless of the surrounding material or narrative flow. Redmayne understood this and courageously ran with what will down the road be described as one of his career’s most challenging and daring decisions.

This is also Felicity Jones’ finest hour. She is a force to be reckoned with alongside the towering Redmayne, channeling her inner Jennifer Connelly appropriately. As Jane Wilde, Jones exudes strength and bravery in a situation that would surely demolish both in any ordinary mortal. There is nothing theoretical about the performances here. The film radiates sincerity and the rapport between Jones and Redmayne single-handedly elevates a somewhat pedestrian narrative. That much is most certainly clear.

What’s less clear is how much Marsh actually appreciates Hawking himself. Regrettably The Theory of Everything ends terribly. The final scenes threaten to drown out any sense of originality on the subject, as the narrative merges with the collective populace’s impressions of the guy: he’s no doubt an inspiration. But we know this already. That’s why there’s now several movies made about him. These last shots may resonate, but they resonate for the wrong reasons. It becomes evident in Theory‘s awkwardly sweeping yet rushed conclusion (why do these stories always end in big auditoriums or conference halls?) Marsh doesn’t want to put too fine a point on the harsh reality of Stephen’s triumph. He doesn’t want to betray the public perception of the iconic wheelchair-bound professor.

That’s why he saves one of the film’s most inspiring lines for the very last moment. Too bad I can’t say the same for this review.

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3-5Recommendation: Arguably laden with cheese and sentiment, The Theory of Everything features a lot of heartbreak and cold science (of at least the medical variety) to help try to balance the equation. Two incredible performances help stabilize it a little more, though ultimately this is a movie that belongs on the Hallmark channel more than anywhere else. This is a light year away from being a bad film, but it’s just as far from being original or truly moving. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Brink! (1998)

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As the summer season of filmgoing winds down (well, sort of. . .Guardians of the Galaxy looms around the corner this weekend, so maybe that’s a premature statement) my inspired posts have really ramped up! Today’s TBT comes at you not from the brain of. . .well, me. . . but yeah, from someone else. Someone else’s sick mind is responsible for today’s throwback. And I won’t mention any names (Keith), but suffice it to say — this man has a great taste in movies! I had almost forgotten all about these campy Disney originals, until now. So, he suggested this one and, for anyone who has seen this, I’m sure they’ll also wonder how I could possibly go without talking about

Today’s food for thought: Brink! 

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Rolling brakeless since: August 29, 1998

[TV]

Ahh, Brink! Yes, the movie title with the mysterious exclamation point at the end, the one to this day I still don’t understand. I mean, why so excited? Everytime I write that title I sound more enthusiastic than I really should about a Disney channel original movie, but you know, whatever. #YOLO.

There’s a great many things yours truly does not understand, and this movie title, not to mention how inexplicably awesome the film itself actually was, are two more things I might as well add to the list.

I ain’t gonna fake it, brah. Brink! is a pretty damn cheesy movie, but it features some blasts of summer fun that time and again recall a much simpler, innocent time. The days spent careening down streets and heckling passers-by on the boardwalk can be recalled fondly for every Californian at home catching it on T.V. for the umpteenth time at 4 p.m. right after school. For those playing the long-distance game, who don’t live in California and who aren’t steeped in the rollerblading culture, it perhaps served better as a postcard from Venice Beach.

When a group of enthusiastic young in-liners led by Andy “Brink” Brinker (that’s not an awkward name at all) clash with a rivaling group of “professionally sponsored” skaters, Brink (Erik von Detten) is forced to decide who to skate for when given the opportunity to raise money for his family by joining Team X-Bladz, the über-serious and totally rad side of skating. But does he have it in him to sacrifice his friends and the simple joy of having fun while skating in order to make money? Dedicated Brink-sters tend to view this fairly asinine struggle as Anakin slowly joining the Dark Side. You desperately want him to turn back, to use reason and logic. Possibly, The Force, if necessary, to escape a lifetime of. . . well, selling out.

Of course, deep down Brink knows that “The Force” is just him having an identity crisis. He was once a passionate skater but now finds it necessary to use his talents as a way to financially help out his family. He betrays his bro’s (Brink, c’mon man), and he even endangers the life of one of them during a street race between himself and Gabby (Christina Vidal) when trying to prove who is the better downhill skater. If there really is a Dark Side in Disney’s eyes, it’s the whole selling one’s self out to corporate greed and uniformity. Ironically actual skaters view the world the same way. Unfortunately even the corporate-sponsored ones still have to fight for food, as the sport is not — as one might imagine — a highly-paid profession.

But enough of the practical talk, this is a Disney Channel movie throwback, for crying out loud. Enough with statistical probability of making it successfully in the industry (yes, the sport of rollerblading has garnered corporate sponsorship, despite what skateboarding might have you thinking otherwise), and enough with the damn comparisons to Star Wars. I just lost an entire paragraph to that metaphor. And about to lose another one to an explanation of why that was weird. Whatever.

At the end of the day, if you haven’t experienced the fast-paced, corny-as-corn action of Brink!, you’re basically missing out. And, brah, you have been for quite some time. The child in me who sat far too close to a television set still wants to think it was longer ago than 1998. Then again, that was well over a decade ago now.

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Man, it’s gotta be a burden to possess a face that looks like that . . .

3-0Recommendation: I feel like if I need to recommend Brink! to my readers, I’ve already lost the race. You’ve either seen this one or you gave it a wide berth. I’m not really sure how some of my readers would go about even tracking it down out of curiosity now, unless they are comfortable with sifting through hours of mindless drivel on the Disney channel. Although, that might be a worthwhile sacrifice if you find yourself just curious enough.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “Whatever brah, let’s blade.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.bustle.com; Google images