Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Film Review: The Monkey's Paw

Copyright: Chiller films
When I heard about this film I remember something about a monkey's paw from a Simpsons Halloween special, where the paw has the ability to grant wishes. Turns out that The Monkey's Paw follows this exact story, and it’s worth watching mainly because of one man: Stephen Lang.

Lang plays Cobb, a machine operator in a New Orleans workshop. His younger friend and coworker Jake one day, after an unpleasant situation in their workplace, get an unusual gift. As soon as they see the paw and hear about its supposed power, Jake and Cobb decide to test it.

Lang (who is still best known for his amazing performance in Avatar) does the majority of the heavy lifting in this horror story.  Director Brett Simmons intended to give the film a strong southern feel, and there are Louisiana style cemeteries, alligators and misty docks in many scenes. Jake even takes the New Orleans streetcar on several occasions. But, in spite of that, Lang is the one who delivers the film from a very forgettable place.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Film Review: Banshee Chapter

Copyright: XLrator Media/101 Films
It’s odd that crazy, but very real things like Project MKUltra aren’t more often seen in horror films. They are present in many conspiracy theory movies, but even those are more interested in the ideas like the Manchurian candidate, and the usefulness of using LSD, hypnosis and stuff like that as a means to an end an end. Banshee Chapter is one of those rare films (maybe even unique in this regard) that look at the pure mindless lunacy behind the idea of using hard drugs to achieve anything meaningful. 

Film opens with James, a struggling young writer who managed to get a hold of a substance called DMT-19 (dimethyltryptamine). He believes that dimethyltryptamine had been used in the MKUltra, although he doesn’t know why, and decides to try it on himself. His friend records the experience that soon becomes terrifying. The tape cuts short, and in a matter of days, both men are pronounced missing.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Film Review: Ender's Game

Copyright: Summit Entertainment
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about this movie is one word - clogged. Everything about this film, and the atmosphere that surrounded it almost since it entered preproduction was strangely overbearing and dense as plutonium.

The novel Ender’s Game was an instant science fiction classic. Its author, Orson Scott Card is a galactic jackass who opposes  same-sex marriage and views homosexuality though his religiously colored glasses, painted mostly in the colour “judge everybody”. Also, he apparently thinks that Barak Obama is high on the evil scale and discredits the research on global warming, although he sees it as “asking for the other opinion”. In essence, Card seems like the kind of guy that has a problem with a lot of kinds of people he never actually met. When the movie got out, some people called for a boycott because of Card’s judgmental views. Before the film even got to the theatres, the noise around it started to grow.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Film Review: You're Next

Copyright: Lionsgate
If this film were a person, I would say that I like its style. Like all stylish things, it didn’t become that way from trying too hard when everybody was already looking. Instead, its parts clicked well together, and it had enough self-awareness not to drive it over the edge. I noticed this in the first minutes after the intro killing scene. The director Adam Wingard sets the stage in a few broad strokes, and forms the main character.

Crispian and Erin, a young intellectual couple travel to a mansion where Crispian’s parents are hosting a family get together. There, Crispian’s other siblings accompanied by their partners soon arrive, and everything looks set for a nice weekend of hidden alcoholism and passive aggression in an upper class suburban emotional nightmare. But, during their first collective dinner, a single crossbow bolt changes everything. In a blink of an eye, the evening transforms into a battle for survival. But, unbeknown to anyone, Erin is a daughter of an Australian outback doomsday peppers who isn’t willing to lie down and just die.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Film Review: Cold Comes the Night

Copyright: Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions
I can’t make up my mind is this film riding on the wave that  Bryan Cranston left with the TV show Breaking Bad, or is it just my imagination. In his new role, he plays a professional criminal named Topo, a man who is almost blind. He and his helper one night pull into a small motel and decide to take a break from their current transporting job. The shady motel is operated by Chloe, a single mother who is having problems in almost every aspect of her life. As Topo prepares for sleep, his helper gets into an altercation with a local prostitute, and they resolve their differences with a gun and a knife. Stranded, Topo decides to get some help from Chloe, willingly or otherwise.

The film functions as a micro neo-noir story. The main protagonist Chloe is down on her luck and the incident just adds more misery to her life. Topo wants simple things like the stuff he and his unfortunate helper were transporting. Because of his blindness, Chloe has to act as his agent, first because her and her daughters lives are threatened, and later because she starts to scheme on her own.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Film Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Copyright: Universal Pictures
Martin Scorsese made The Wolf of Wall Street in a way I can only describe as entirely organic. As I watched the story of Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who enters the financial scene in the 80’s and soon becomes one of the biggest (and weirdest) success stories around, I didn’t feel like its director had to make any compromises. The film’s rhythm is frantic, and things happen in every minute; as Belfort starts to expand his empire, his appetites also grow, and women, drugs and financial criminal shortcuts start to play a big part of his life. He enters the realm of penny stocks and in a matter of months gains a fortune. Naturally, others get drawn to him like moths to the light of a burning stack of money. Things pile up as his life progresses, and in no time the FBI gets involved.

Things start to get really serious for him, but Scorsese still felt totally okay with taking a 20 minute slapstick break in the middle of the film, when he presents how a Belfort, overdosed on sleeping pills, tries to get to his home and stop his partner from making a potentially huge mistake. In other films, this kind of switch would look stupid and probably forced, because the rest of the film feels very intellectual (in spite of the crude language and nudity), but Scorsese didn’t mind doing it, and it paid off. The Wolf of Wall Street in truly hilarious, and the range of humor (from people falling down and drooling on each other to the ridicules way the characters dodge questions asked by financial regulators)  it presents most likely consolidated its impact.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Film Review: American Hustle

Copyright: Columbia Pictures
Bradley Cooper does try. He tries very hard in every scene in this film, from the first moment we’re introduced to his character, a driven and hugely ambitious FBI agent named Richie DiMaso. He is the person that puts a stop to a con artist operation run by Irving Rosenfeld and his accomplice/girlfriend Sydney. Christian Bale and Amy Adams play the grifters, who get forced by DiMaso to become part of his team.

He devises a story about a UAE sheik that is willing to invest a lot of money in the newly legal gambling enterprises in the East coast region, and plans to entrap politicians, mobsters and anyone else who he sees as corrupt and thus a potential target. But his unhealthy need to prove himself and become a top dog in law enforcement soon starts to degrade the plan, while Rosenfeld’s estranged and emotionally unstable wife (played by Jennifer Lawrence) only complicates things.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Film Review: Carrie

Copyright: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
I was surprised how inadequately Chloë Grace Moretz opened this film. In the first minutes, we see Carrie as high school girl who doesn’t fit in with the rest of her classmates. In gym class, she acts clumsy and looks totally bewildered and mortified. Her hands are constantly pressed next to her chest or thighs, and her gaze fixed to the floor.  Moretz plays her like someone who has awakened in somebody else’s body, like an old 70-year-old Norwegian man somehow got transported in an American teenage girl. In the first 10 minutes, she overacts with a capital O.

But then, things start to improve, although not for her character. She is violently humiliated by her fellow students, and the incident strikes a match in her consciousness, and soon leads her to paranormal abilities. Simultaneously Sue, one of the girls that took part in the episode, begins to regret her involvement and seeks a way to redeem herself. She does this by distancing herself from the other girls that regret nothing, and plans to make it up to Carrie. A seemingly naïve combination of events starts to shape a road towards a bloody high school showdown.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Film Review: All Is Lost

Copyright: FilmNation Entertainment
All Is Lost is a terrific film. It’s original and different, a kind of film that tries to form its own world and not just imitate the real one.

The director J. C. Chandor did something very bold when he decided to venture into the realm of non-verbal storytelling. This film has no dialogue and only a brief monologue at the beginning. The film’s only character, an elderly sailor on a private yacht, utters a handful of words from the beginning to the end: a short and unanswered SOS call and a muttered curse here and there. He is nameless, and doesn’t have any background story that fills in the audience about his life or the decisions that brought him to the middle of the Indian Ocean.

In one moment, his boat is damaged and the cabin, along with his communications equipment, flooded. After the incident, his struggle to stay alive begins in its full glory and desperation.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Best Movies of 2013

I don’t grade films I watch in any metrical way (stars, numbers or anything similar); because I don’t know how to say that one film is 30 or 40% better than the other one. But, in spite of that, I still love some movies more than other. 

Here is my list of the films that came to movie theaters over the previous year.