Thursday, December 26, 2013

Film Review: Would You Rather

Copyright: IFC Films
Would You Rather is a horror/thriller built on a very simple premises. It involves a children’s game played by a group of people were only pain exists and every decision leads to it.

In the film, actor Jeffrey Combs, a TV veteran (in a Star Trek TV universe he played nine different characters) is the biggest pillar holding the story from crumbling. He plays Shepard Lambrick, head of a mysterious group that offers a young woman named Iris a chance to save her leukemia stricken brother.

His offer includes money, but also the influence that would help her brother to receive the necessary medical treatment. Everything she needs to do is to come to a dinner party, and along with other competitors, try to win first place in a game. Iris, broken by her failed attempts to find help and lacking any other ideas, hesitantly accepts.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Film Review: Out of the Furnace

Copyright: Relativity Media
Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana and Christian Bale are all part of this movie’s cast. It’s a story about two brothers. Russell, the older one, works in a steel mill and tries to do his best with not that much in life. His younger brother, Rodney is in the military, and has a bad temper combined with a fast fist. Their lives are a constant challenge, but one unpaid debt will cause Rodney to disappear and set Russell on an inquiry that will leave bodies, if not answers.

Apart from before mentioned actors, Sam Shepard and Forest Whitaker also star in this film. The director Scott Cooper had more fantastic artist in his cast than most A-list movies, and I can’t praise any one of them in particular, because everyone did a superb job. Even those with the least amount of on screen time simply shine in their roles, like Whitaker as the local cop who also married Russell’s former girlfriend whom he still adores.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

How to Promote Your Movie Reviews

We love movies (I can say this because you’re reading this article). Sometimes writing about them is fun and easy, other times it’s a burden. But after the review is written, we all wish someone would read it. Here are some of the things I learned about promoting movie reviews online.
Image source
First of all, as always, content still is the king. Your review has to be genuine; it has to combine your observation about the film as well as the observation about your own feelings that followed the viewing process. Movies, like any art form, are human experiences, both for the makers and the consumers. Translating those feelings and ideas (an act that is equally emotional and rational) isn’t easy, but you get better by doing it. From the technical standpoint, it’s important to write reviews that are at least 400 words long, because, as rumor has it, Google search crawlers put a lot less emphasis on posts that are shorter than 300 words. This is pure hearsay, but I think there is something to it. Also, from the perspective of the reader, 200 words can include a summary of the film and only a pinch of opinion. So, write longer, both for the Google indexing robots and your readers (this is of course untrue if you own a microblogging site or something like that).

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Film Review: Insidious: Chapter 2

Copyright: Stage 6 Films
Lucid dreaming combined with the ability to contact “the other side” is for me a great movie formula. In this film, James Wan revisits the world of malicious ghosts set on acquiring life through the act of possession of the living. Lambert family, fresh from their first meet with the ghost world, tries to get back to normality, in spite of the fact that the previous medium Elise was murdered in their home. Josh Lambert is determined to push on while his wife Renai, along with Josh's mother, suspects that the ordeal isn’t truly over. It’s not long before they realize something much more sinister is taking place, and decide to get some help.

Insidious: Chapter 2 follows the same formula as its predecessor, but this time Wan decided to add another element to the mix. This new element is the Specs/Tucker duo, former associates of Elise and something of a small ghost busting team. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Film Review: Don Jon

Copyright: Relativity Media
If you look at the façade of this movie, you might decide it’s about porn. Its main character is a New Jersey resident and a single bartender named Jon who loves only a few things in life: his friends, his car, his apartment, his muscles, his church, his one night stands with very attractive women he doesn’t know and his porn. He often has sex after he picks up girls in nightclubs, but admits to himself that only porn and masturbation in front of his laptop gives him the opportunity to lose himself.

The plot is simple as it sounds. Jon, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is satisfied with his life, but at the same time, perplexed why real sex with beautiful women (every one of them gets at least an eight on his ten-point-scale) doesn’t give him the same kick as porn does. Soon, he meets Barbara (played by Scarlett Johansson), a clear ten on his scale, who isn’t willing to become just another stranger Don welcomes to his apartment. Instead, she forces him to revise his way of life, and Don accepts. Yet still, porn prevails.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Film Review: L'illusionniste

Copyright: Sony Pictures Classics
Sometimes a movie in which only a dozen understandable sentences are exchanged is enough to remind us about the existence of cinematic magic.

L' illusionniste (The Illusionist) is an animated film from 2010. It is based on a screenplay by Jacques Tati, a French actor and director, who was, several decades ago was, a very influential figure in the film world. Apparently, he wrote the story as a letter to his estranged daughter, with no clear idea of what kind of movie it will turn out to be (if any). But, the origin story of the movie is a little blurry, so this might be just a tall tale. Even if it is not true, I'm sure that work successfully addresses so many real feelings because of the obvious personal stamp that resulted from the difficult relationship between Tati and his child. This film, made nearly 30 years after Tati's death, is a great tribute to parenthood, no matter in what circumstances it reveals itself.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Film Review: How I Live Now

Copyright: Magnolia Pictures
Daisy arrives in rural England to visit her relatives. She is from New York and wears an outfit straight from the first row on a Ramones concert in the early 80s. With her style, she also brings a bad attitude, followed by a hectic stream of consciousness that reveals an obsessive, negative, self-undermining mental attitude. Daisy is complex and broody, while her relatives are easy-going, cheerful kids from the English countryside. In the background, information about an undefined conflict between the Western powers and an unknown enemy are shown, but no one is taking too much notice. While Daisy tries to fit in and stand out at the same time, slightly interested in one of her new neighbors, a strong detonation is heard. Soon, it starts to snow in the middle of the summer, and the kids retreat to their family home, where they learn that a nuclear explosion occurred in the London metropolitan area.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Film Review: Hammer of the Gods

 Copyright: Magnet Releasing
To be honest, I didn’t expect much from this film. The trailer I saw a few months back looked like something I saw many times, starting with The 13th Warrior, and right up to the History Channel’s Vikings. But, Hammer of the Gods managed to sunrise me. It’s a low budget movie, it’s all action and adventure, but done in a very smooth manner.

It looks to me that Farren Blackburn, the director, alongside Matthew Read who wrote this movie, did a lot of research on the subject of modern depiction of the Viking culture. They made a simple plot, in which a young Nordic prince named Steinar arrives in England in 871, as a vanguard of a relief army, sent to help his embattled father, king Bagsecg. Steinar finds his ruler and parent on his death bed. Mortally wounded, the king orders his son to find his long banished older brother, and thus, find the new king.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Film Review: 2 Guns

Copyright: Universal Pictures
The first thing I noticed in this film was the shirt that Robert Trench, played by Denzel Washington, wears. It’s wide, baggy and flows freely around him, and it reminded me of the same shirts he wore in film Man on Fire. I noticed this while Trench exchanged a long and ultra-cool conversation with his partner in crime, Michael Stigman, played by Mark Wahlberg. A minute later, the diner they were sitting in explodes, and they walk out like nothing happens, with the bonus of looking icy cold while glass windows get engulfed in flames only a few feet from their turned backs. Because, you know, cool guys don't look at explosions. But cool guys do wear shits straight from the closet of the hippest resident of a retirement home.

The script of 2 Guns plays on the current popularity of Mexico drug war culture. Two criminals, Stigman and Trench, decide to steal the retirement fund of a Mexican cartel boss, located in a small bank in the US. They are both tough as nails, and both work undercover for a different government organization. Of course, they are unaware that the other guy is also playing on the Johnny Law team. So, while planning how to deceive on the other one, as well as the cartel, they get mixed in even murkier and much more dangerous waters.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Film Review: Curse of Chucky

Copyright: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
However you look at it, Curse of Chucky smells like the eighties. At its core, this movie is a classic horror, combined with a dry black humor.

It starts with a death. An elderly, emotionally disturbed woman is found dead by her daughter Nica. She is bound to a wheelchair, so the rest of her family soon arrives to help her with the awful experience.

These include her commanding older sister Barb, her detached husband, their small daughter Alice and her extremely sexy nanny Jill. In minutes, Alice finds a mysterious doll that was brought to their house and starts to play with it. In a matter of hours, mayhem sets in.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Film Review: The Sound of My Voice

Copyright: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Somewhere in Los Angeles lives a woman who claims that she came from the future. Around her, a small cult-like group starts to grow, composed of people who actually believe her. More importantly, they believe in her.

For me, one of the key features of any good independent film is a successful acclimatization to the budget that is available. A lot of films have great ambitions, but the money that is at their disposal simply cannot transfer those ambitions in the right way to the big screen. Therefore, any indie filmmaker must be flexible, just like Zal Batmanglij in this case, especially if they’re interested in a genre like (or near) science fiction.

Sound of My Voice perfectly performs in the budget department. The beginning of the film shows a man and a woman in ordinary houses, who bathe and clean themselves, put on a pair of white robes, and then some unknown man puts plastic handcuffs and blindfolds on them. Blind and restrained, they are ushered into a van, which should lead them to an ordinary house. There, in the basement, the woman awaits them, and the movie kicks into gear in this everyday surroundings.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Film Review: Jug Face

Copyright: Modernciné
When Dawai makes a clay pot of a face that belongs to a member of a close knitted community in an undefined American outback, that person must be sacrificed to a pit. The pit holds incredible healing powers, but its gifts don’t come for free. Ada, a young woman in the same community, one day finds her own face on a jug, and everything in her world comes apart. But she isn’t ready for the pit, and she decides to do something about it.

The setting in Jug Face reminded me of Winter’s Bone, with its overwhelming poverty and complete closed towards the rest of the world. Family members seem a little too close, and moonshine runs like water. In other words, it’s Hillbilly central, but without the lighthearted comic element.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Film Review: John Dies at the End

Copyright: Magnet Releasing
Imagination is awesome. Schopenhauer, interpreted by Carl Jung, argued that imagination, or more precisely it’s derivative called a fantasy (and not just the ones that involve trying to rip off Tolkien in some way) can make a bridge between the intellect and emotions, between the purely cognitive and the purely instinctive. We use fantasies (call it daydreaming if you’re still thinking about elves and dwarves) to combine our rational thoughts with different past experiences and emotions that follow them. In daydreams we can do anything. Art is a reflection of this human ability (for me, it’s closer to a superhero power), and John Dies at the End is a reflection of the pure, uninhibited artistic need in people. After ten minutes of the film, I was sure it also could go anywhere. And that is awesome.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Film Review: The New Republic

Copyright: Osiris Entertainment
Imagine a city in the near future. Imagine an another city inside of it called New Angeles, an inner city where the poor, addicted and those who seek a life of crime live together. If someone decided to isolate them by making public transport complicated and bothersome, and the rents low and affordable, would they just slowly implode?

Or would they recognize their real oppressor and organize to do something about it? But maybe there isn’t a real oppressor, or oppressed, just bad life choices and bad luck.

The New Republic is a masterpiece considering its budget was around $25,000. Objectively speaking, it has many flaws, but they don’t matter that much when I think about the amount of money it took to make this film.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Film Review: Captain Phillips

Copyright: Columbia Pictures
In the entrance sequence of Captain Phillips, we witness a conversation between a wife and a husband. The husband is a maritime captain, and his wife is escorting him to an airport, from where he will set out to his next voyage. During their drive, they talk about how the world has changed and who their children will have a rough time in their adulthood.

For me, this was an awful way to open the film. The conversation tells us nothing about Phillips, or his wife. They sound as if they are practicing the lines from the beginning of an SNL sketch, right before one of them declares that she or he wants to join the circus or something ludicrous like that. There is no emotion that rings true, except perhaps a hint of subdued boredom from a decades long marriage. Tom Hanks, who plays Phillips, presents the same thing in this role – something seen and done many times by him, combined with an ever-present feeling of tiredness. The real is described by some of his crew as reckless, but here all of that was condensed into unintended bravery. Because the movie didn’t want to get political, I guess.I wondered to myself in that moment: if Paul Greengras, the director of this film had so much trouble presenting a regular middle-aged man from the US, how on Earth will he depict the Somali pirates?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Film Review: Drinking Buddies

Copyright: Magnolia Pictures
To me it seems odd to call this film a comedy. Although it does contain many awkward social and romantic moments that are so intense that they are unpleasant to watch, I didn’t experience it as a work of art that tries to entertain in any humorous way. For me, Drinking Buddies is a drama about finding a way of living after the fun of the first third of life has ended. While the party mentality still lingers on, in the background obligations, responsibilities and other changes menacingly start to appear on the horizon.

A bunch of enthusiastic, relatively young people work in a microbrewery. One of them is Kate, who is an organizer, and the other is her best friend Luke, who works a blue collared job.  Both are in stable relationships, but both live a really easy-going lifestyle that includes almost constant beer drinking. They hang out during and after work, and seem like an unusual pairing for friends. After they meet each others better halves, the four of them decide to take a weekend trip to a beach house. The trip changes everything between them. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Film Review: Evil Dead

Copyright: Sony Pictures
This picture shows everything that was, and still is great about splatter horror.

Since a certain imaginary hostel in Eastern Europe became a shrine where mainstream modern torture film was born, and Saw franchise began to regularly devise more and more sadistic dilemmas for its characters, humanity received a new phenomenon called torture porn. Yes, we collectively began to use the word "porn" to describe things.

Just as pornography denounces any resemblance to an actual sexual intercourse and chooses to stylize them to the point where they completely lose touch with reality, so have the directors of horror films began to express suffering.

However, while the scenes of real violence cause nausea and leave serious consequences to the viewers (this lesson of human behavior became clear in various army testing laboratories when the military unsuccessfully experimented with violence desensitization), cinematic torture is more acceptable to our eyes. We know it's not real, but it still manages to press the right mental buttons.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Film Review: The Wolverine

Copyright: 20th Century Fox
There is something very satisfying in the X-Men film franchise. I’m not a big Marvel fan, and I’m sure I’m not a scholar of its lore. In spite of that, I found every film in the series really entertaining.

A few years back, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was also an enjoyable experience. Gavin Hood, the artist who created the fantastic Tsotsi directed it and gave it a bit of his unorthodox, not-so-much-Hollywood touch. But this approach wasn’t a sure shot by no means.

Because the same thing backfired before -  Ang Lee’s Hulk was a total flop for both big audience groups that went to see it. Those who wanted to see a green monster destroying everything got an unimpressive Eric Bana drama, while those who wanted to see something like Ride with the Devil with comic heroes got even less.

Hood didn’t fall into the same trap, and wisely joined his artistic sensibility and character development with a pure fun & action pace straight from comic books for 14-year-old.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Film Review: I Spit on Your Grave 2

Copyright: Anchor Bay Films
In one scene Katie (played by Jemma Dallender), now well on her warpath of revenge, begins to torture one of her former captors in a Bulgarian toilet. She ducks his head in the disgusting, overflowing toilet bowl while he cries for help and mercy. In that toilet there are two stalls, and Katie in one point moves him to the next one. In one stall the bowl is full of yellow liquid that is probably urine. The other one is full of brownish goo, most likely feces.In a very neat fashion, the visitors of that broken and godforsaken toilet decided to fill one toilet bowl with one kind of bodily fluids, while the other one gets the second kind.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Film Review: Machete Kills

Copyright: Open Road Films
Machete Kills again shows that exploitation parody isn’t an easy movie genre. This film is in dire need of structure that would be the backbone of the plot. Instead of a story the movie follows one flaccid joke after another, constantly adding new characters and situations.

The movie opens with Machete and his partner-girlfriend taking on the corrupt US military near the Mexican border. One ninja incursion later his partner is dead. Machete is keen on revenge, and the President of the US offers him a way to do murder those responsible while at the same time he saves Washington D.C. from a catastrophic missile attack. After that we see helicopter decapitation in three different forms, boat chases, car chases, rocket piggyback riding and many other crazy stunts. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Film Review: The Hunt (Jagten)

Copyright: Nordisk Film
The Hunt, which is the English translation of the Danish name Jagten, takes place in a small community where everyone knows everyone else. Every person on the street is a neighbor, acquaintance or a friend. In other words, the story takes place in a form of human settlements which for thousands of years was and still is an ideal place for various forms of persecution ranging from public condemnation to open witch hunts.

Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a professor who loses his job. Because of that he gets another one as a teacher in a kindergarten. Despite the difficult period in his professional and private life, Lukas loves his job, and the other kids adore him. One day little Clara, the daughter of his best friend, presents a vague story that might show abuse. The manager of the kindergarten feels obligated to do something. Lucas gets suspended, and instantly his life becomes hell.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Film Review: Bullet to the Head

Copyright: Warner Bros.
If someone created an Action film university, Sylvester Stallone would be a perfect choice for the position of the dean.

In his new film Bullet to the Head Stallone is doing the same thing The Rolling Stones did for decades. He is making art that he knows and loves in a mental place where he feels comfortable. Both may seem like outdated phenomenon. Yet they both understand how the future works. Mick Jagger probably doesn’t plan to invite Skrillex to join his band. Stallone acts the same in this aspect. Few decades after his glory days he is still interested in one thing - action.

The main person behind the camera is also another old Hollywood employee, and his name is Walter Hill. This director is a underappreciated genius that gave the world, in my opinion, one of the best surreal action movies The Warriors way back in 1979. The incredible 81-year-old directed the film that fits Sylvester Stallone like a glove.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: Man of Tai Chi

Copyright: Universal Pictures
To call this movie “action packed” is a grave understatement. Man of Tai Chi is a martial arts movie through and through. It's precisely managed, and it doesn't digress towards a broader action film involving shootouts or any other standard action hallmarks.

The movie is Keanu Reeves's directorial debut. In front of the camera Reeves plays the main villain, a ruthless security agency owner named Donaka Mark. Apart from his day job, Mark is also running an underground fighting operation in Hong Kong. One day while he scouts for new fighters he notices Tiger Chen, a talented Tai Chi practitioner. Mark, intrigued by Tiger's unorthodox use of the ancient martial art, invites him to a meeting. Tiger, an honest and gentle young man, gradually gets drawn into Mark's dark world of money and violence.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review: Shadow Dancer

Copyright: Paramount Pictures
In a scene from this movie, we see a man who is walking through a peaceful neighborhood. He is wearing his hooey over his head and somewhere on his body there is a gun. In the distance, we can see a man working on his car. He is the mark. At any moment violence will erupt. After it ends, we are left to wait and see who and how pays the price for it.

Shadow Dancer, as I understood it, is about trust. During the Troubles, a period in the history of Northern Ireland, many people had to choose who to trust. The IRA was fighting the British government and this battle quickly moved to cities, roadsides and even families. The others - pushed away or designated as enemies.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: Haunter

Copyright: IFC Midnight
I love dream sequences. In some way, dreams were the original proto-movies, and we as a species probably started making films in our head long before even paintings existed. Haunter uses the dream space as the main setting for the plot and the action starts from the beginning.

A young teenager named Lisa lives with her parents and a small brother in a big family house. She wears a dark Siouxsie and the Banshees t-shirt and looks gloomy. The rest of her family, however, looks perfectly content in their everyday, mundane activities. It soon revealed that Lisa is the only one who understands that they are living the same day over and over.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Review: Kick-Ass 2

Copyright: Universal Pictures
In the first few minutes, Kick-Ass 2 looks exactly like the first movie in the franchise. We see the same characters doing the two same things - being normal teenagers and fighting crime. Also, they are having the same moral dilemmas about the nature of masked vigilantes, apparently totally unresolved by the events of the first movie.

It seems almost as if Jeff Wadlow didn’t know what he was he supposed to do for the first third of the film, so he kind of did what the other guy did before him. Then, when the story starts to splinter, Kick-Ass 2 kind of finds its own (crooked) sea legs.
On one side, Dave Lizewski, who is also the costumed hero Kick-Ass, wants to continue fighting the evil on the streets and wants to have Hit-Girl by his side. The problem is that Hit-Girl, or Mindy Macready in her everyday life, resists this notion because of their commitment to her new guardian.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Review: The Way Way Back

Copyright: Fox Searchlight Pictures
The shortest way of describing The Way Way Back would be to say that this movie is a mash-up of Adventureland and Little Miss Sunshine. But, although it is short, it’s also unfair.

Here again we see a dysfunctional family and its single member who finds sanctuary in a band of merry water park employees. Duncan (played by young Liam James), a reclusive 14-year-old, is forced to join his mother and her new boyfriend Trent on a summer vacation in a beach resort town. He despises the obnoxious Trent with a quiet burning rage and at the same time he can’t relate to his daughter or their summertime middle-aged alcoholic friends and neighbors. In despair, he discovers Water Wizz, a local run down water park and his enthusiastic manager, Owen.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: We Are What We Are

Copyright: Entertainment One
The Parkers, an isolated family that lives on the edge of town, loose one of its members in a random accident. She leaves behind her husband, two teenage daughters and a small son. The father Frank, devastated and driven by his religious fervor, determined to go on. Without their mother, the eldest daughter Rose becomes tasked with the preserving the generation old family rituals, in spite of the fact that she knows that these involve a dug up cave with a prison cell beneath their house.

We Are What We Are avoids several major potential problem points. First and most obvious is that it’s not a hillbilly horror. It depicts a family of murderers, but they are not raging lunatics or inbred mutated monsters. Frank, impressively played by Bill Sage, is a caring father, and at the same time a ruthless ruler who reigns over his children. He does what he thinks he has to do, torn by it on many levels, but it still doesn't make him stop. His daughters are even more “normal” in the sense that they constantly question their actions. But the death of their mother denies them the an observer role and forces them to become an active participants in the process, one way or the other. I found this approach much more appealing than showing a grope of senseless banjo playing freaks bent on killing spree.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: The Iceman

Copyright: Millennium Films
This review will be mostly about Michael Shannon, because this movie is almost entirely about him. His acting is a skill honed to perfection, and it clear in every second he spends onscreen. Every single look, posture or a pause between his sentences speaks for itself about Richard Kuklinski, a ruthless contract killer from New Jersey. The Iceman begins when young Richard meet his future wife for coffee in the sixties. In that point in his life, he is only a small-time employer in a porn film lab owned and operated by the mob. Because of the violent reputation he acquired in the dingy pool halls of Jersey City, a chance meet with a mob underboss becomes an opportunity for a career change. He soon becomes known as the Iceman.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: Pain & Gain

Copyright: Paramount Pictures
Seem to me that Michael Bay has always been an easy target for ridicule. The man is marginalized (not in a commercial sense) because his work lacked a compelling authorial vision. Over the years, his film became know for their hollowness and complete focus on profit-making, clear in the Transformers series. His current legacy stands at box office figures and successes.

His he last film, however paints a different picture while it remains very much Bay-like. It’s the Miami in the mid-nineties. The U.S. economy is booming, and the American dream is just a few easy steps away. Fitness instructor and unsuccessful con man Danny believes in that dream, and wants to work on it in the same way he works on his muscles - full of enthusiasm, but without too much thought.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: Dark Skies

Copyright: Dimension Films
Imagine a haunted house. Now, detract ghost, demons, evil spirits or any other supernatural entities, and add E.T’s malicious cousins. This is, in essence, the plot of Dark Skies. It may sound ridicules, but it actually turned out to be a pretty decent horror movie.

The Barrett family is living a normal life in the suburbs. Daniel Barrett recently lost his job, while his wife Lacy is trying to keep the household running, as well as raise her two sons and give them a regular, happy childhood. But gradually, the Barretts start to witness a weird series of events involving their alarm system, flocks of birds and other unusual events.

They try their best to carry on living like there is nothing strange happening, but soon, the occurrences start to take up a more threatening form. Not long after that, the family begins to suspect that the forces that are haunting them are not from this world, but instead, that the came from beyond the stars.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review: The Last Stand

Copyright: Lionsgate
The biggest difference between this movie and previous ‘’classic 80s’’ action films Arnold Schwarzenegger made is its director Kim Jee-Woon. Interestingly, his modern outlook made a crucial difference, and gave The Last Stand a subtle, but important feel that came from a person new to the standard Hollywood action scene. His talent became well known in the West after the incredibly creepy I Saw the Devil (Akmareul boatda), and it’s no surprise that the American producers came knocking.

Of course, Jee-Woon’s presence has been cast in the shadow of a larger Hollywood figure, fresh out of a government job in California. This film was Schwarzenegger big comeback feature, not counting a few came appearances and The Expendables 2, where he had to share the spotlight with other childhood heroes to many of us born a few decades ago. Here, he has all the attention to himself, although he is constantly surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast, ranging from Oscars winners (Forest Whitaker) to comedy relief characters played by Johnny Knoxville and the incredible Luis Guzmán, who is so natural as a scared, hesitant small town deputy that he doesn’t even look like he’s acting. Even the legendary Harry Dean Stanton has a small role as a tough farmer.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: This Is Not a Film

Copyright: Kanibal Films Distribution
Art is liberty, or at least it should be. In the case of Jafar Panahi, an Iranian film director, art became a liability after he received a six-year prison sentence, along the additional twenty-year ban on film-making.

This movie opens with him in his Teheran apartment, were Panahi is under house arrest. While he awaits the outcome of his legal battle against the sentence he received on the charges of creating propaganda against the Iranian government, he decides to “make” his last planned movie, or at least try’s to present its plot and scenes through narration and explanations. His friend and long time associate Mirtahmasb comes over and start to film him making improvised floor plans of houses and other locations, all in his living room. In the same time, outside, celebration of the Persian new year starts to sound more and more like gunshots from possible street clashes.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: A Hijacking

Copyright: Nordisk Film Production
A cargo ship, traveling in the Indian ocean is unexpectedly hijacked by Somali pirates. After a few hours, the shipping company in Denmark  that owns the vessel gets a call from a man named Omar. He is representing the pirates and demands a large sum of money for the release of the crew. The company’s board of directors is unsure what to do, but one of them, a CEO named Peter is certain he can handle it. After all, in his mind, the hijacking is just another negotiation opportunity, and he sees himself as the master in that field.

Majority of movies (especially those action oriented) sees the tensions and the waiting as only the buildup towards a climatic resolution. Here, those things are the main focal point of the plot. The psychological conditions of all those involved are examined in minute detail, even though the prolonged negotiation takes place over several long weeks. In Denmark, cooked up in their small office, the negotiation team led by Peter plays a weird game of experimental behavioral science and regular business trading, slipping in and out the idea that they’re actually dealing with human lives.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: World War Z

Copyright: Paramount Pictures
When it began, some controversy surrounded the production of this film, mostly because if its literary parent, the novel of the same name, written by Max Brooks (the son of comedy icon Mel Brooks)  and published in 2006. As the time went by, it became clear that the film will be drastically different compared with the original non-linear plot.

For those of us who read the novel, this didn’t come as a big surprise. First of all, the novel doesn’t have a  standard main character – it has a journalist who, throughout the course of the book, interviews different people in different parts of the world, shortly after humanity’s victory in World war Z – the first war that pitted humans against zombie-like creatures bent of killing everybody that emerged after a virus spread around the globe.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: Pacific Rim

Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures
If you desire to do a great injustice to this movie, you should compare it to other works of its director, Guillermo del Toro. An even bigger injustice would be to compare Pacific Rim to del Toro’s best film,  the brilliant movie El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth).

But these movies aren’t comparable, simply because of the fact that they play in different movie arenas. Del Toro’s latest film was made with only on purpose in mind – to look stunning on the big screen. Its story is based on the notion that good giant robots called Jagers, piloted by humans, fight against giant monsters called Kaijus. These huge, mindless aliens appeared on the bottom of the Pacific ocean, traveling to Earth through an interdimensional portal. Every human relationship in this movie is mostly irrelevant; the robots vs. monsters is the only really important thing, and it requires no additional reason or explanation.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review: No One Lives

Copyright: Anchor Bay Films
An unnamed driver travels through a sparsely populated part of the country with his girlfriend. On a chance encounter, they interact with a group of people at a local bar. Soon after, Driver resumes their journey, not knowing that he became a target of opportunity for a criminal gang. The gang acts, not knowing that the driver isn’t an ordinary man, but something much more sinister. They attack on the open road, and take their bounty – the vehicle – to their clubhouse. There, locked in a secret compartment in the booth of the car, they find girl. They recognize her as a student that was kidnapped a year ago, after a mass murder took place at a party she attended.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review: Upstream Color

Copyright: ERBP
I’m not certain what this movie requires from its viewers - maybe a bit of faith, or an attitude towards art that doesn’t demand reason before compassion towards imaginary characters we observe on the screen. Whatever that requirement might be, watching Upstream Color is definitely a challenging experience.

After he made Primer, director, writer, cinematographer and actor Shane Carruth did something unusual - he didn’t immediately try to transform attention that he righteously got into money. Instead, his energy went towards new movies - first, the failed A Topiary that we will probably never see, and now, Upstream Color. In this picture, everything we got in Primer is still here - unusual story backed up by an unwillingness to compromise on any level so that the audience can get a broader, but a more plastic understanding of the plot. The difference is that in this film, Carruth focuses on leaving words behind, and deals primarily in images and sounds.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review: Prisoners

Copyright: Warner Bros.
A quiet, eerie sense follows the experience of watching Prisoners. This may seem perfectly natural, because this movie covers the topic of child abduction and violence that comes out of it. But, in spite of that, this uneasy feeling somehow lies in a deeper place, beyond the pain and anguish depicted by the main characters from two families, driven mad by the search for their missing daughters. This place transcends the circumstances and the current horrible times these families find themselves in and presents a form that is true to our natural state, cleared of all social bonds, where a father does everything imaginable to save his child.

It’s hard for me to decide who did a better job – Jake Gyllenhaal as a troubled detective Loki or Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover, the father that refused to give. Instead, after his little girl Anna, alongside her friend Joy from a neighboring family  went missing one afternoon without a trace, Dover decides to choose more drastic measures. Only clue in the case is a worn down RV that was parked nearby – in a matter of hours, police find the vehicle and its driver, a man who apparently has an IQ of a 10-year-old and who tells the authorities nothing. Having no other options, the detectives release Alex. Keller, mad from grief and complacency, decides to do something about it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Mud

Copyright: Lionsgate
We I saw him in Bernie, I started having doubts about my belief that Matthew McConaughey was at best, a mediocre actor. After Mud, I’m sure I was wrong all along.

Warped in a growing up story, director’s Jeff Nichols new movie deals with change. A boy named Ellis lives on a boat house, and the Mississippi is the place where he plays and goofs around, but also works with his fisherman father. Their lifestyle isn’t compatible with the 21. century, and his mother is keen on change. Not far from his home, on a deserted river island, he and his friend Neckbone one day find a homeless man on the run from the law. His name is Mud, and he needs their help.

Interestingly, Mud isn’t a character that’s foreign to McConaughey – a good-looking but untidy wanderer, madly in love and deeply faithful to his own superstitions and beliefs. But this time, he builds Mud like a cake, layer upon layer of personality, where some of the information is provided by him, and the rest is gradually presented by the story. McConaughey plays Mud in a very distinct rhythm, making him both vulnerable and mysteriously protected from the usual emotions that, on the other hand, plague young Ellis.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Review: This Is the End

Copyright: Columbia Pictures
End times meet imaginary Seth Rogan and his friends is one way to sum up the whole plot of this great comedy. As apocalypse sets on Los Angeles, a party at James Franco’s new house gets interrupted – most people flee, but Franco decides to stay and begs Rogan,who came with his Canadian buddy Jay Baruchel, to do the same. Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson are also there, and so is Danny McBride, who drunkenly sleeps through the initial fires and carnage. 

This Is the End play in the same league as the best films Rogan and Company worked on – it is stupid, original and refreshingly inoffensive, as the main topic covers the world of incredibly wealthy actors. Phony friendships, giant egos and widespread user mentality are just some of the hallmarks of their existence. Hardships of their new found survival isn’t easy on them, to say the least. In their circle, only Baruchel seems like he’s trying to act as a human being. The other range from pure evil or concealed malice to confused selfishness, and most of the action takes place between their conflicted perspectives on what to do next, although dilemmas include finding water and similar mundane problems, elevated by the apocalypse to a greater level. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Review: The East

Copyright: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Dumpster diving, train hopping, first aid that relies on superglue and home-made anesthetics. These are just some of the characteristic of the daily life of an imaginary group of underground activist called The East that live off the grid. One day Sarah, a young woman crosses their path by accident. Few days before that, Sarah left her boyfriend  and took a fake trip to Dubai, but instead went undercover as an agent for a private security firm. Her mission is to evaluate the group and figure out what exactly are they capable of, after an an incursion that left the insides of a mansion belonging to an oil company CEO covered in his product.

The East was distributed by Fox Searchlight, but is mostly the brain child of Brit Marling. Marlin is definitely an emerging writing voice in Hollywood, which can be seen by the cast she got for her new movie – directed by Zal Batmanglij, as her previous movie, but starring alongside herself, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Skarsgård. Mainstream is definitely taking notice of her talent, and the bigger budget she got wasn’t wasted on cheap tricks.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Review: Trance

Copyright: Fox Searchlight Pictures
For the last two decades, Danny Boyle delivered interesting, intriguing and most importantly, untypical movies that are firmly and clearly set in one or another movie genre. This time around he delivered a compact psychological thriller that is, underneath the surface, a potent drama.

Trance has only one movie device: hypnosis. After a botched robbery of a Rembrandt painting, Elizabeth, a hypnotherapist gets an opportunity form a small criminal gang to use her skill to unlock memories in their inside man; his name is Simon, and he somehow, after getting hit in the head, managed to hide this incredibly valuable piece of art. Because of the concussion, his memory is gone, but Frank, the organizer of the robbery, believes Elizabeth can change that. Acting as an unwilling team, they have the task to find the missing painting.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Review: Now You See Me

Copyright: Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate
In this movie, Woody Harrelson’s character is a sly swindler that likes to wear small hats, while Jesse Eisenberg plays a anxious looking, smart and fast talking brilliant young man. Yes, you saw this before, and these people are here again, playing the same roles they played in many other films because the people who wrote Now You See Me were too lazy or uninterested in making anything that would in any way set apart this magicians-do-a-heist story from the run-of-the-mill Hollywood offering.

In this reverse Ocean’s Eleven, the public and the police force from both sides of the Atlantic are amazed and/or pissed off when a group of misfit stage performers (magicians, illusionist, hypnotist and so on) called The Four Horsemen actually steals a large sum of money from a French bank while performing a trick in Las Vegas. FBI agent Dylan Rhodes isn’t prepared to let this one slide, and becomes obsessed with the group. His only real aid is Thaddeus Bradley, a former illusionist that developed a TV show with the purpose of debunking magic tricks.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: Only God Forgives

Copyright: Radius-TWC
Independent artistic vision, no matter how convoluted or hermetic it may become, is a good thing in the movie industry. Nicolas Winding Refn is one of people that possesses this kind of vision, mainly because of his unique stance on filmmaking, especially the idea of linear storytelling. I respect his talent, but I don’t like all of his movies.

I enjoyed Valhalla Rising because of its depiction of human brutality in the context of nature that doesn’t care about humans any more than it cares about the trees and the rocks. His next movie Drive was a complete disappointment for me – unlike Valhalla Rising, this film was set in modern day Los Angeles, or in other words – reality. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: The Conjuring

Copyright: Warner Bros.
James Wan reminds me of Stieve Martin. No, not because he also has silvery hair and likes to play a banjo, but because like Martin, Wan made both really great movies, and simultaneously, gave his audience films that were, in the best case, forgettable.

Unlike Martin, Wan works exclusively in the horror genre – he is best known for building the Saw franchise, a series that made a lot of money, but delivered much less in the cinematic sense, especially after the first movie that at least had some twisted ingenuity.

But, in 2011. Wan made Insidious, for me one of the best horror movies in the past decade. In The Conjuring, Wan reuses the classic horror movie formula that worked so well in previously mentioned picture. This time, he used a real life event, a haunting of the Perron family that moved into a isolated farmhouse in Rode Island that allegedly took place in 1970s.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: We're the Millers

Copyright: New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.
One happy family, one giant RW, some nice weather and some free time – all adds up to a great vacation in Mexico. But, the family isn’t real, but instead made up from total strangers that have a mission to carry a big shipment of pot across the border. Its creator it Dave, a small time dealer that has a debt to clear, mom a stripper, daughter a homeless girl and son an abandoned teenager that doesn’t fully realise his parents left him.

They don’t like each other, but have to act as a normal family on a road trip that will involve corrupt Mexican police officers that prefer the company of other men, drug lords, nervous border guards and other RV enthusiasts.

We're the Millers is a road trip comedy that didn’t aim very high, but achieved a modest result, mostly through crude, unexpected jokes and the chemistry of the cast.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review: Elysium

Copyright: Sony Pictures
I didn’t buy Neill Blomkamp's District 9 back in 2009 – I was impressed by the wise use of CGI and the way it was perfectly interwoven in the relatively low budget movie – the rest simply didn’t do it for me, not in the way I suspected it was supposed to do.

Now, I don’t buy Elysium ether. Once again, the same demon haunts his new movie – stating the obvious and presenting it as a deep social commentary.
In his previous movie, segregation that still plagues the South Africa collective conciseness was the main topic. In the world of Elysium, it’s not the separation of people on the basis of their skin color or other biological features; instead, in the 22. century, mankind is divided by money. The ones who have it live on a enormous space station called Elysium, which has its own gravity and government. Citizens of Elysium have almost endless recourses and technology that makes them immune to illness or the regular aging process.