Iron Man 3 (2013) – Film Review

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The first thing I thought walking out of the theater is that this movie is either innovative or disrespectful; there is no hiding the fact that liberties have been taken with the entire genre in the new Tony Stark vehicle.

Without giving away any spoilers, if you look at the one liberty (and those who’ve seen it know exactly what it is),  and judge it solely on it’s merit and the merit it had in the comics, you’re going to call it disrespectful to the origins. But if you look at how it fits into the whole plot and schema of the movie, it’s a very clever device.

The movie is about identity and accountability, and of all the character flaws shining through Tony Stark, no-one can deny he’s not afraid of being known and being accountable.  Indeed, that was the whole moral conundrum that resulted in him de-weaponizing his whole company in Jon Favreau’s first Iron Man movie.  And then he goes and makes a public statement to a terrorist, even blurting out his home address (though it’s surprising that by now everyone doesn’t know where the great Tony Stark lives, especially an international terrorist).

The new Iron Man does have a boat load of humor, courtesy of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” director Shane Black. But don’t let these cover-up the depth that aches beneath the surface. Tony Stark is living anxiously after the events of the Avengers. The anxiety-attacks could have been a little better written, maybe with hallucination or more of his pain shown alongside visuals.

Robert Downey Jr. looks wide-eyed and breathes heavily throughout the film. And although he’s a great actor, there’s just not enough built-in or earned emotion for us to feel a whole lot of sympathy; and just imagine how difficult it might be for a viewer who hasn’t seen the events of the The Avengers.

Some of the greatest scenes in the movie come in the form of a young boy Tony finds in a small-town.  Their personalities are very similar and it results in a lot of spark on-screen. They quip, talk about fathers, and help each other out in a charming, big brother sort of way.

The remote-controlled armor is an odd duality. The movie’s premise promotes the idea that Tony is Iron Man, Iron Man is not Tony.  It’s an inciting moment for Tony’s third-act epiphany; he has gone too far.  He builds a boat load of armor, his technology commanding a bit too much of his attention.

The movie is an interesting exploration of the old theme of man-or-machine, even if the climax may be a bit overlong. The explosions never really end in the climax and the lack of quiet moments spliced in between the chaos creates a numbing affect. The repetition of the action sequences simply normalizes the barrage of fireworks. It goes off the rails, falling into the default mode of a standard superhero showdown.

Hitchcock Films: Dial M For Murder

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I was more entertained by ‘Dial ‘M’ For Murder’ than I expected to be. I went into the film knowing that it isn’t considered to be a top-tier Hitchcock film. It doesn’t have the exciting thrills or the grandness of Hitchcock’s Cary Grant movies, but it’s a solidly constructed character piece.

The film takes place in a single apartment loft. It is essential for anyone interested in how to properly stage actors in close quarters for a long period of time: there isn’t a single shot duplicated throughout the run-time of the film.

The pure ingenuity of the camera movement is very apparent, considering that there’s only ten or so feet to work with in a cramped loft.
Hitchcock, his DP and crew discover new techniques to mask the moving camera or dolly, making a small, claustrophobic room feel like a vibrant, perpetually-changing wheelhouse.

It involves a man, Tony, an older ‘Edward G.Robinson’ kind of individual, who wants to execute a plan to kill his wife. His wife is also harboring a behind-the-curtains relationship with Mark Halliday, a younger, more exuberant character. It’s hard to believe that Tony doesn’t know about the cheating happening all around him. Mark is constantly hanging out at the loft, quietly flirting with his wife behind his back.

As the audience, we know who the murderer is from the very beginning: we see him orchestrate a detailed plan, and Hitchcock cares about making us care about the plans details. That way, when a pin drops and the plan doesn’t go as planned, we’ll know and be watching for it.

Tony plans to take his wife’s key to the loft and hide it underneath the staircase rug. He can use his own key to get into the apartment, thus proving he didn’t give away his key.

Tony hires an old friend to retrieve the key, open the apartment, and strangle his wife. The plan goes smoothly, no stains or residue left behind. No signs of a break-in or convenient marks to aid the detectives in their search.

Eventually, through all the grey area and intrigue, Tony’s plan breaks apart completely. He now must race to insure that nobody discovers the man he just recently hired to harm his wife. Among those fighting on the offensive against Tony is, naturally, Mark Halliday, the third angle of the triangle.

A Dangerous Method (2011) – Film Review

There is a hope that Director David Cronenberg wouldn’t turn Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud into the archetypes they’ve come to define, and he definitely does not, thankfully; it’s the sharpest detour from his usual style since his standout drama “A History of Violence”. It features some great period costume details and a series of performances from loads of versatile talent, including Michael Fassbender as Jung; a psychotic storm of a performance from Kiera Knightly and some slightly subdued acting from Viggo Mortenson as Freud.

The movie is pulsating with humanity and compassion, yet still extremely engaging. It involves a patient turned-affair between Jung and Sabina, and the anger and self-hatred that ensues following the trajectory of said affair; a sort of growth in Jung’s own person, a feeling of a massive hole in the world, an absence of any real answers. Letters are sent conspicuously between Freud, Sabina, and Jung. The characters interweaving stories combined with their well-known sensibilities pulls the narrative briskly forward.

The different schools of thought between the two famous psychologists fuels a sort of competitive tension throughout. Freud says at one point, as Jung and he dwell on the deck of a ship, that he had a dream. But when Jung asks him about it, he refuses to tell him it in fear of it diminishing his authority, as he is usually the one saying what is and isn’t wrong with a person. It reveals Freud’s desire to make psychoanalysis legitimate by not following Jung’s phenomenological theories, or fairy tales, which he felt would make psychoanalysis look unscientific.

The movie was wrongfully cut off from the Oscar parade, I would say. It was very much one of my favorite films of 2011. A deep, intellectual study of psychological and sexual obsessions, as well as an enchanting showcase for Kiera Knightley’s ample dramatic abilities.

The Imposter (2012) – Film Review

The Imposter feels like it was directed by David Fincher: atmospheric, paced with a lunge, and very eerie. I was excited the minute I saw the trailer: so If you haven’t yet, there’s no point putting it in words, here:

Very intriguing, right? Well, It is: featuring a narration by the Imposter himself, Frederic Bourdin, the movie is well put together, and thrives off hiding and obscuring things for the sake of the story. Basically, the movie is fooling you as much as the Imposter.

I don’t feel right going into much detail, and that’s a testament to how well this movie was made: see it blind and you’ll be surprised.

Flight (2012) – Film Review

Flight stars Denzel Washington in a new live-action movie by Robert Zemeckis, which walks over all the sentimental tracks he’s known for. The film is a study of an alcoholic man and pilot, a ticking combination as it is: Whip Whitacker, constantly drinking, even while piloting 102 people on an airplane. Watching the man drive a car under the influence makes you think how easy it must be for him, though its no less illegal.

After he successfully lands an airplane doomed to fail by erroneous malfunction, he must battle the ensuing rage over his blood alcohol level that’s far off the legal level for even driving a vehicle. But he’s not taking on this battle sober. He’s a steady alcoholic, drowning away his alcohol problem with an alcohol problem.

Whip not only has to work through an alcohol problem through the course of the film, but a minor drug addiction as well. He, and his new girlfriend, who he meets in the hospital after she overdoses and he crashes, both need rehab. But Whip denies it, a process of self-loathing that ultimately leads to an ending characteristic of Hollywood.

John Goodman brings on his massive charisma as Whip’s ready-to-help drug dealer, and Don Cheadle stars as a Chicago lawyer working to save Whip from prison-time. Flight is a straight-forward, but effective morality tale, with enough reality to out-weigh the sparkly sensibilities.

Looper (2012) – Film Review

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Rian Johnson’s “Looper”, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young Bruce Willis, is a fresh science-fiction film that focuses on the feelings and emotions of its central characters, avoiding the typically contrived structures of action films.

The movie isn’t yet home free, though, considering the surplus of logistical flaws surrounding the proposed time-travel absolutes and the paradoxes they represent. The sheer impact of its ideas, however, are enough to warrant at least one viewing, if not multiple.

The story begins with an introduction to the world itself: a society where time-travel is outlawed to the general public and used only by the most sneaky and highly-skilled criminals. It’s challenging to write a sci-fi script in a way that explains the world-building details of the new society or time period while not hovering over these ideas for too long.

Director Rian Johnson hands over the expository duties to the main character, Joe, who explains the various types of lingo throughout various voice-overs. The balance between voice-over and visual context within the action is a tricky tightrope to tinker with.

The narration could have been broken down and explained organically throughout the course of the film, even though other visual storytellers prefer to pull the heady sci-fi information out of the box as soon as possible. Bring it up to the surface, let the ideas and concepts simmer and cook thinly across a film’s lengthy running-time.

The concept of “closing the loop”, where the Looper is forced to turn their blunderbuss weapon over towards their much older, future self. The character of Seth, played by the eternally-scrawny screwup, Paul Dano, introduces the audience to the “closing the loop” concept fittingly: by having to close the loop on himself.

Everything that happens to Seth seems to be foreshadowing what will happen to the younger Joe. It feels like an excess of exposition: why introduce Seth and his hasty demise when it’s the same violent end that Joe will be forced to face, sooner than later?

Despite a few questionable narrative decisions, the action is stylish and enthralling. Seeing Bruce Willis play an old man bent on revenge never gets tiresome, especially given that Willis reaches a near manic state, blood flowing down his face and neck as he shoots down a series of henchmen with a sturdy set of automatic-rifles hoisted up on his shoulders.

The performances are very effective, even Gordon-Levitt’s, whose lip and facial transformations flew past the gimmick stage and started to just feel right. For all it’s worth, Bruce Willis plays across from Gordon-Levitt with rugged but tangible chemistry. Willis pulls off a fatherly, concerned tone.

Jeff Daniels adds some spice to the ensemble cast as a rugged mob leader from the future. He’s the orchestrater for the Loopers and their time-traveling assignments.

When young Joe meets with old Joe, the screen is filled with dualism and constant provocation: we are only shown a single scene featuring the two men sitting down, having a nice, regular conversation, disappointingly so, though.

Gordon-Levitt and Willis are the two most enigmatic and engaging people in the film. Every other scene involving the two consist either of violent gun spraying or yelling/arguing about their self interests, given that they’re separated by such a massive age gap.

Emily Blunt stars as Sara, a farm-owner, whose son has mysterious and powerful abilities. The son can alter the timeline, a unique and rare gift. There are some inventive futuristic technology shown on the way, such as a pesticide droid that flies down the long rows of crops, spreading an equal amount of water across the crops.

Sara turns out to have a will and a temper of her own. Her character is brought to the forefront in the third act. There are plenty of philosophical debates that bother the characters and hold them back from moving forward. Nature vs. nurture, sacrifice yourself or save your future loved ones.

The films final ending is memorable and visually electric. It’s filled with earned, real poignancy, even if it renders everything that had came before it almost totally meaningless.

“Looper” is one of the best sci-fi noir films of the 2000s, and introduces Rian Johnson to the mainstream public as an unrestrained, creative, and inventive young filmmaker.

Cosmopolis (2012) – Film Review

David Cronenberg’s ‘Cosmopolis’ isn’t as effective as one would hope from a director with such longevity. It features Robert Pattinson as a young capitalist, Eric Packer, roaming in a limo through a city that, in numbers, is practically his. He is confident and filled with absolutism, the sort of rock-hard complex that can explain his seat in society without one even knowing his profession. Pattinson rolls off Cronenberg’s intellectual jargon with sterility, creating a mood outside of the character: The things Packer says sometimes seem outside of himself, like he is talking not about what he wants to do, but what he should.

The themes are different for Cronenberg: sure, the movie has sex, sexual demands, and lack of meaning behind sex, all part of his past portfolio, but he takes on capitalism with a preachers might. He’s really trying to pry some nastiness up from the ground; but in all, It’s hard to take it in from a character like Eric Packer, who has conquered the system. As the majority are not rich and well-informed, the didactic notions of the people concerned in the movie all seem hypocritical. The people who are more impacting when it comes to capitalist unfairness are from the neo-realist films of Italy and America’s depression-era.

With all great filmmakers, a flop is still worth more of a penny than the work of other less gifted directors. There are moments in Cosmopolis that are thrilling and artful, most especially the scenes including Paul Giamatti as a man who wants to kill for notoriety. It takes a scene with little physical content or inventiveness and analyzes it far beyond first glance. In the end, if you’re going to be killed, talking about it doesn’t change anything.

One aspect of Cosmopolis that is done right: the music. It’s a bumping, techno-like rhythm that rolls along side the colorful limousine, all done originally by Howard Shore. It features the death of a rapper–and his subsequent song playing as Packer mourns the death he, as an information man, didn’t know about right away. He’s as much crying about his lack of knowledge as he is the death, having met him but once.

The cold nature of the film will turn some away  without a doubt. But this surreal, strangely engaging film presents streams of ideas followed by detailed direction by David Cronenberg.

Ordinary People (1980) – Film Review

‘Ordinary People’ shows that a drama doesn’t need to be flashily edited or force intense drama into the obnoxious use of a shaky-cam. Here, we see a modern family encountered with internal issues, and they all play out in a wide lens, where all the gesture and concerns of the family are seen, or unseen, in the case of the mother. The past unravels subtly through the course of the film: Conrad Jarrett is a quiet teenager with transparent problems with himself and his surroundings. Once the story starts, his point of desperation is of the past: he is a post-suicide patient. The Jarrett family is torn between the grief of losing their older son in a boating, and the grief of almost losing their younger son. Based on a novel by Judith Guest, Ordinary People is a movie that you will remember for its characters. This is a screen that is filled with characters that are as descriptive, it seems, as they were in the pages of Guest’s book.

The mother is a self-restrained, calculated mess, who can’t handle her son and the trouble he puts on her; nor can she handle the fact that her older son, her prize sportsman, is gone forever. One emotionally exhausting scene is when Conrad comes home unexpected to find his mother, while she is sitting and breathing in the room of her first son. The room seems to not have been cleaned or altered a hair. With Conrad standing tensely in the hallway, she yelps that she didn’t expect him home, seeming to be angry, almost a mechanism to cover up any form of weakness she thinks she is displaying. Conrad sees it differently: he wants a mother who will mourn with him, not one who dreads while the rest of the family isn’t home.

The father is an over-sympathetic wreck, throwing blame on himself where he should be nurturing. He is an extremely loving person, and ends up attending the same psychiatrist Conrad is going to. He hopes to piece his family together, but so much lack of assurance from his wife and son leaves him in quiet desperation.

And Conrad, the sullen, skinny teenager, is quiet yet tempered, walking through life as if he just made bail and has been released from prison. He is in the shroud of surviving attempted suicide, and it is a cause in itself to be weighed down: it seems like all eyes are on Conrad’s behavior, hawks perching along side, making sure he is alright, but little else. When a conversation is most engaging while talking about hurting oneself or the death of a family member, a personality disorder cannot seem very odd.

The film is a magnificent exploration of family dynamics and the suppression and consequence of extreme grief. Every performance is well-defined and complex–a film that won’t be forgotten easy, like the lost Sonny, because of the sheer impact of its characters, both in story and relevance.

The Master (2012) – Film Review

The Master is a meditative exercise into the mind and mannerisms of Freddie Quell, a man whose quest for post-war sanity is filtered through the radicalism of a cult leader. This ‘cult’ is based loosely, as has been said somewhat hesitantly by the director, Paul Thomas Anderson, on L. Ron Hubbard and his pseudo-religion, Scientology. The film poses many questions during the course of its two-hour plus run-time: It is not restrained by the objectivity of a plot. We’re taken into the world of Lancaster Dodd, played with the veteran finesse that has come to characterize actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s work, and offered the choice to make our own judgements of the material, like how a reader judges and deciphers a religious or ‘cult’ book.

Freddie Quell is played by Joaquin Phoenix with such determination and angst that it would seem the actor is hosting completely opposite thoughts than his character: naturalistic yet seasoned, Freddie is a skin-and-bones alcoholic with nothing to lose.  He is a drifter and as usual with drifters, he is fairly free-minded. He allows Lancaster Dodd to enter his mind with his enlightenment garbage, yet comes out the other end with little visible improvement.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson has said before that he is an actor’s director; as shown by his previous films, like Magnolia and Boogie Nights, Anderson enjoys weaving the intricacies of relationships and the pasts of his characters. This is shown indefinitely in The Master. He uses rack-focus and blurriness to describe his characters and their emotions. He uses extreme close-ups and holds them for a long period of time to show the tenseness flowing behind the eyes. During the ‘processing’, the movie’s equivalent to auditing, we feel like we’re asking the questions: the frame is positioned directly on Freddie Quell, a squirmy, defensive man, anxious to protect any self-pride remaining in him.

The character of Freddie Quell holds a consistent pattern: he is sexually obsessive, too young for his body, and absolutely alcoholic. He uses paint thinner and even accidentally poisons an old man. Upon meeting Lancaster Dodd, the cult leader wants him to make a boat-load of this potent, dangerously concentrated liquor for him. Freddie blatantly replicates actions of people, but only when they seem to work out successfully. But of all, he is not a man, as The Master says, but a guinea pig. He is used by Dodd to perform strange interrogations of character, one session where Freddie has to remain unblinking while being intensely questioned.

The film is beautifully shot and rendered, a slow-moving piece that isn’t restrained by expectations. Anderson doesn’t seem to have a firm viewpoint or judgement on the merit of Scientology: he is filling the screen with flush images and letting us judge them for ourselves.

Dredd 3D (2012)

I was happy to be able to see Dredd not only in 3D, but also at a multiplex specializing in I MAX. It was a truly exciting film: from the beginning scenes spanning across the outer region of Mega City One, with towering buildings scattered across the land, to a zooming motorcycle hosting a well-equipped Judge: In this case, Judge Dredd. Played by Karl Urban, who seemed at first a little too much of a character actor, he puts on the boots and shows he’s got the muscle for the job. Wearing a mask that covers him from the nose up, he has the huge task of working with minimal gesture, and not making it look campy and forced, like Sylvester Stallone did in the original movie.

The plot is fairly simple and objective: a veteran judge is forced to take a rookie along, only to end up imprisoned in a tower swamped with gun-men and drug hounds. This rookie, though, is not the normal wanna-be judge. She is a very powerful psychic: she can twist the mind and predict the future based on the thoughts surrounding her. Quite the asset for a police raid, yes. The special drug involved is called ‘Slo-mo’, a substance that causes the user to slow down in time, seeing action and motion at a very low speed. This is used conceptually to great effect: when two men are thrown off a building, we understand why they are forced to take this drug. And we pity, unlike Judge Dredd.

The character of Dredd is not very complex: It seemed that in the original film, they tried more to pry into the skin behind the helmet, and the poor execution caused that to fail. But here they don’t seem to be trying to pry at all. It seems more attention has gone towards the action and intensity, which are both top-notch, while Dredd says little besides one-liners, some stronger than others. The one-location premise, though, is sometimes a bore: It’s hard to imagine the unpredictable when you know the location is static; it’s one of those movies where you wonder how it could go on and where it’s going to be headed next, which isn’t always a good thing.

The lighting and set-design for Dredd matches it’s tone perfectly: It’s dark shadows and gritty decor are a reflection of the corruption and abuse ongoing in Mega City One. Essentially, Dredd holds the same plot foundation as The Raid: Redemption from 2011, though the style is undoubtedly different. In The Raid, swat-teams are designated to take down a drug building: in Dredd, only two armored Judges are sent out.