Sunday, December 28, 2014

If I Stay ★

    Structurally speaking, "If I Stay" is a mess of a picture. Its non-linear approach to the material is completely dysfunctional, and its expository flashbacks are ultimately hampered by the lack of an exhilarating climax, and by the nonexistence of a denouement, which in this film, is so direly warranted.

    Our young protagonist, Mia Hall, is involved in a severe vehicular accident, and, as a result, goes into a coma. (If you are first hearing about this synopsis, then I must tell you that it will not mar your experience.) We are told that it is up to her, whether she lives or dies, and we struggle to watch as this girl runs around a hospital (due to an outer body experience) and reminisces on a naive relationship with another adolescent.--this romance supersedes every other logical reason for her to live and irks me to the very core of my being.

    Obviously, this intention is spurred by the thought of the target audience, who flocks to the theater to see two youthful souls fall in love, in hopes that their reality will someday reflect that on-screen. (What young woman wouldn't want to be romanced by a lead singer and lose their virginity in a boat house?) Mia is a highly educated individual, who happens to be a very talented cellist, with an opportunity to attend one of the finest music programs in the country, the Juilliard school.

    The dramatic intensity of her fateful "decision" is an object of ridicule, and rightfully so. She has every reason to live, and none more so than the instinctual nature of every living mammal on Earth. (It is not only our nature to live, but to live in happiness.) Doubt is cast here and there, as our central character and her lover quibble over the most trivial of issues, which only results in a strain being placed on our young and talented actors. Character irony is forced, considering our principal male lives his life "in the moment," yet he must get a long term commitment from Mia, which leads to another complication. Without a plausible story, all inspiration is lost.

    This is not to mention the fact that Mia's persona can never fully reach a plane of conceivability. Find me a seventeen-year-old girl who listens to Yo-Yo Ma and Franz Schubert, and I will renounce my conviction. (It is quite likely that you will never find this individual, or someone who has even heard of these musicians.)

    "If I Stay" is a prime example of a well-crafted film, whose script never adds up. The cinematography is surprisingly impressive, and easily satisfies all three goals of cinematic composition. Depth is created quite eloquently through reflection, and foreground framing is utilized beautifully while capturing a young Mia through the window frame of a door, as she practices her cello. The most exquisite sequence, however, consists of Mia's Juilliard audition, as the camera vigorously encapsulates the passion of her hands and movement of her fingers.

    There is a scene that takes place late in the film, in which Mia has lost all hope and crumbles to the floor with an exclamation of, "I want this to be over!" This delivery is rather figurative, as I believe the actress holds the same attitude with regard to her performance. She is not alone, however, as I held the sentiment as well.

    *On a side note, it would seem as if the twenty-first century, along with all of the unnecessary technological "improvements," have found a home in cinema. Terms such as Google Alert and Skype, are utilized fruitlessly, and applications such as Instagram are now used to provide objects of remembrance and reflection. We have come so far in filmmaking, and yet, it is evident that these instruments will only set us back. As one humble man so graciously put it: "What can you do?"  


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Over the Top ★★

    If arm-wrestling was actually a sporting event and held on stages that bear a resemblance to that of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire," then it would take a lot for me to be interested. Wrestling, and, if you included the only other public display in which half unclothed men hit each other--boxing--are in themselves an acquired taste. That's the issue with "Over the Top," (a phrase that also has a technical meaning in the art of slamming one man's arm down with your own) along with the fact that Sylvester Stallone, with numerous masterpieces on his résumé by this point in his career, gives us two reasons not to be involved with this film. They consist of:

    A bland script, which attempts to coax us into the theme that powered the likes of "Rocky," (being the struggle for human dignity) that fails miserably.

    An uninspired performance, which can best be summarized by the emotionless face of Stallone, as he reaches into the depths of his talents and conjures nothing but detachment.

    The rather rudimentary plot, which centers on our protagonist and his son, requires a sense of warmth and naturalness that Stallone cannot provide. Reaction shots obviously suffer from this lack of understanding, and emotional restraint seems to be furiously oppressive. (Most films do not exercise enough, while "Over the Top" does not even strive to produce a look of empathy or happiness on Stallone's face.) If there is even a hint of internal conflict that our character is dealing with, it never becomes believable.

    Stallone is Lincoln Hawk (an example of a very intriguing use of name typing), a man who drives big rigs and participates in underground arm-wrestling circuits at local trucker stops. Sounds like fun, right? Hawk's young son, Michael, who has just finished juvenile military school, is thrown into his company, as his mother (and Hawk's ex-wife) falls ill.

    This sets up for several instances of compassion that are lost in translation, and a championship arm-wrestling match, that not only serves as the climax, but as the sole happening that will allow Hawk to regain his dignity, and earn admiration from his son. They attempt to bond through actions, such as: Hawk teaching his son to drive an eighteen wheeler, and morning workouts that require the assistance of the front of the automobile; all of which are accompanied by a soundtrack that captures the soul of the 1980s music industry.

    The problem with this chief character is three-fold. Firstly, there is no emotional involvement, which never gives the audience a reason to care. Secondly, a poor performance only adds to the sentimental void. Lastly, and most importantly, the story makes little sense. Hawk never had a reason to leave his family in the first place, and when posed with this particular question, we don't receive any valid explanation, just a few low-toned mumblings, and broad assertions.  

    Although essentially a plot driven film at its core, there were a few images that remained with me after the viewing. Long range shots, featuring the backdrop of the southwestern United States, and the slow motion director's interpretative points of view, which captures three hundred pound men in moments of physical strain, while doused in sweat. (The ladder being quite unpleasant, and the former being the only aesthetically pleasing images in the picture.)

    There is an old adage that claims: One cannot just involve an audience with a sunset or any other image of attractiveness, but only people. For, it is the forefront human quality of the medium, and one that allows the spectator to relate to a figure on-screen. However, in this specific circumstance, it would seem this conviction is flawed. I'll take a picturesque landscape over an inexpressive product any day.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Santa Clause ★★★1/2

   "The Santa Clause" is a joyous picture that captures the indefinable magic of Christmas time, along with the humor of one of the world's most regarded comedians in Tim Allen. It pits a middle-class working father in a lovable quandary, brought about by a twist of fate, and sends him on a heartwarming journey that is sure to bring happiness to children and adults, alike.

    Certainly a risible concept at times, the idea of Santa Claus, and the underlining belief that surrounds his existence, is the lifeblood of this film, much like every other motion picture that attempts to express the intricacies of the holiday season. In a way, an individual's faith in Father Christmas is an exemplary real-life illustration of dramatic irony and how it functions.

    We are quite aware that Mr. Kringle does not exist, yet we play along so that our children and youth can revel in the joy of adolescent imagination. This identical blueprint is employed within the structure of this film, except, instead of the fact that Santa does not exist, he does, and we keep this close to our heart as other characters lash out in naivety. There is even a strong sense of sorrow stemming from this complication, as Scott Calvin, our protagonist and resident Saint Nick, is hard-pressed because of his secret identity.

    Tim Allen, whose made a career off of his brand of comedy (capitalized by the popularity of his sitcom, entitled "Home Improvement"), continues to express his inner material, as this becomes the perfect role for the personality actor. His everyday humor and sarcasm fuel the first half of the picture, along with his witticisms, in which he ultimately harasses the personality of his former wive's new beau. In spite of this, Allen must step out of his comfort zone, once the red suit becomes his finest attire.

    This is a critical aspect of the performance, and Allen excels in the transition. Much of his success can also be attributed to the fine work of one particular magician on set, that being the make-up artist, whose quality craftsmanship is reflected in the red cheeks and glorious white beard of the iconic persona at hand.

    As the hustle and bustle consume millions of individuals through this time of year, there are some films that strive to remind us of the magic, behind the myth, of our beloved Père No?l. Let's face it, without Santa Claus, the Christmas season would not be as enjoyable, even if his presence is only a minuscule portion as to why this time is so valuable.

    We have all believed in the allure at some point in our lives, and if you have not, then it is quite likely you will never read this review. "The Santa Clause" is a film that will help you to reminisce on those excitable Christmas Eves, when the thought of your favorite toy being under the tree, whether it be a Barbie doll or Oscar Meyer weenie whistle, warmed you to the soul. And what a feeling it was.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Wizard of Oz ★★★★

    There are some films that stand the test of time, simply because their imagination transcends it. The young at heart dedication that boldly dominates the opening of "The Wizard of Oz," is a genuine testament for that notion. Sure, you may find solace within the sublime, and rather aesthetically blissful, environment of Oz, even without the steady requirement of that faculty of the mind; however, it is just as likely that it will pass you by, much like adolescence fades into adulthood, without a quiver of warning.

    And that is what makes "The Wizard of Oz" so puissant. The artistic semblance of truth, the mainspring of any fantasy picture, never wavers in its aim to stifle the constraints of reality and indulge in the fabrications of creative power. A color palette of bright reds, seemingly fluorescent yellows, and rich greens, all convey the same message, and that is one of exaltation. Poppy fields of vibrant scarlet, the splendid ambiance of Emerald City and the Munchkin village, as well as the creation of such beasts, from talking apple trees to flying monkey henchmen, all give rise to the conviction that production design should never be undervalued.

    Of course, however, the euphoric feeling evoked by such designs would lose all validity, if not for the personas to match, and what a wonderful blend of disposition it is. A tin man whose only desire is to love, a scarecrow who pines for intellectual thought, and a lion whose fear of almost anything supersedes his ambition to become an illustrious display of courage.

    The character irony that fuels these individuals are quite amusing, yet it also reminded me of a Plato dialogue, in which the virtues in the discussion are actually possessed by Socrates, the central initiator of the analysis. It is clear that our beloved characters have the attributes they fancy, and that is what makes them so pleasurable and inspiring to watch.

    All of which brings us to Dorothy, a young girl whose position in the world, both temporally and geographically, inflames her aspiration to see lands of beauty and liveliness. A thought that is best illustrated by her iconic singing of "Over the Rainbow," and something, that in today's existence, would seem impractical, considering all of the technological devices that enshroud our youth.

    We can ascertain that Dorothy is naive, imaginative, and "young" at heart, all of which are reflected by the setting of Oz. Above all, it would seem that she is the epitome of guiltlessness, so imposed by the symbolism of the ruby slippers, whose presence lends significance to the structure of the film as a whole.

    The role of Dorothy, although simplistic in technique, cannot be understated. Judy Garland, a true symbol of early Hollywood glamor, succeeds in every aspect of her performance. With eyes as big as grapefruits and a heart of gold, Garland warms our heart with every note in which she sings, and every spoken line that would warrant empathy. Without her exuberance, the picture would be as dreary and unadorned as the bland imagery of Kansas, in which we are direly intending to escape.

    Although the cinematic composition is relatively adequate, there are some scenes that could have been enhanced by a subtle change in camera movement and positioning. If there was ever a shot that would justify the use of a panoramic, three hundred and sixty-degree rotation, it would be once that wearisome door is opened into a world of splendor. Instead, we are left with a sideline, and quite unflattering, ninety-degree panning, which could never capture the wonderment of the experience.

    Furthermore, a similar miscalculation can be attributed to the moment in which our lovable cast of characters stroll down the unnerving hall that leads to the societally proclaimed omniscient wizard. Our emotional distance would seem detached, which is unfortunate, considering the suspense that surrounds the circumstance at hand. A simple utilization of the indirect-subjective viewpoint would have succeeded immensely here, in limiting the emotional objectivity.

    It is certainly true that these criticisms would seem negligible, in a sense, but it is exceedingly important to compose each scene as if it were a stand-alone masterpiece. Needless to say, this would not seem relevant in today's film industry, but for the golden age of cinema, it is quite pertinent. In fact, there is a scene in which the objective point of view, along with the in-depth movement of Dorothy and friends, becomes most vindicated, and that is the final stretch to the Emerald City. A quintessential shot that captures the vitality of our story, and the potential of the motion picture industry at this time.

    "The Wizard of Oz" is a gem of a picture, and ultimately, startling evidence as to how far the film medium could reach. Although it certainly is not the first Technicolor film to be made (a subject that will produce several disparate "firsts"), it is undoubtedly the most splendid. The cinematic concern, which may have been fulfilled unintentionally, is arguably that of texture. An indescribable orgy of the senses. To be able to enjoy this experience after so many years, is truly a blessing. It is a bold reminder of how far we have come, in regard to the art of cinema, and how much we have lost. If only we could return to simpler times.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Penguins of Madagascar ★★★

    In what seems to be an irresistible business opportunity and a rather favored formula for most production companies, Dreamworks has taken a few of its most well-liked characters and inevitably given them a spin-off motion picture. "Penguins of Madagascar," is simply a ninety-minute extension of the children's animated television show of the same name. Does this guarantee success? Not hardly, however, "Penguins" does cash in on the indelicate humor that fuels most of its films, and most of which would never be heard in the confines of a Disney picture.

    As far as whether or not the jocularity present in this particular depiction of our beloved James Bond-esque protagonists is on par with that of the animated series, I would not know, although I suspect it is homogeneous in nature. The story line is mostly pedestrian, and consists mainly of a sole villain (in this instance a purple octopus), whose actions stem from the hatred for these flightless birds, and an inner ambition to rule the world.

    We are introduced to our stumpy heroes, through a brief origin tale, which plays on several aspects of real life. Camera crews document the young birds, as they make their march, and while one of the younglings, Skipper, boldly rejects nature in order to save a runaway egg. Naturally, two more penguins--Rico and Kowalski--follow along, and once the hatchling is rescued, the foursome becomes the renowned group every child has come to love.

    After being ushered into the present day, the penguins become the focus of a revenge inspired plot, which will test each individual's role on the team. Serving as foil, is a team of polar residing animals (aptly named the North Wind), who unlike the penguins, come equipped with high-tech gadgetry, and three-dimensional schematics that would make even the most sophisticated hero envious.

    This all leads to a mundane climax, in which one of the penguins must prove his worth to the group. (For those of you who love Private, this film shall prove more riveting to you than most.) After all, the targeted audience is indeed that of children, and to hope for an imaginative story would be nothing short of futile.

    Humor is obviously the staple of this franchise, and with that regard, "Penguins" delivers. Whether it be the presence of a cricket (whose chirping subtly implies an awkward moment, and who then proceeds to get up and walk out of the room), or the lack of the technological knowledge of the antagonist (as he attempts to deliver a video message), it would seem that the amusement is sufficient for obtaining a chuckle or two.

    What distinguishes these heroes is their carefree attitude, and their inept preparation for missions, which ultimately leads to situational comedy. If the virtue of courage can be attributed to any perilous circumstance, in which the participant has no expertise, then these mammals certainly fit the bill.

    As I was leaving the theater, it came to my attention that animated pictures seem to no longer be as recurrent as past years, both in quality and quantity. The Academy Awards for this category has become quite a predictable event, as Disney seems to always demolish the competition. I would expect this year to be no different. No matter the outcome, however, the yearning for something even remotely comparable to the golden age of animation seems unfeasible. I guess stagnancy has finally superseded innovation.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lucas ★★★★

    The days of adolescence are a confusing time to say the least, but for the majority of us they are the greatest period in what seems to be a short, and at times, even desultory existence. Several art forms can successfully capture the spirit of this voyage (most notably the art of painting), but none more significant than film. For, as an exquisite painting can arouse some sentiment from its "still" framework, a motion picture can provide so much more. It will not only coax us into believing the events at hand, but it can create an emotional channel into the heart of our individual, personal experiences, which cannot be taken lightly.

    If there was ever a decade in cinema history where themes concerning the loss of innocence or the coming of age were prevalent, it would most certainly be the 1980s. Films such as "The Breakfast Club" and "Sweet Sixteen" divulged into certain teenage angst, most of which came in the form of differences between particular social groupings and the emotional state of young girls finding their way into womanhood. However, the picture in discussion, "Lucas," is infrequent in the fact that it follows the daily life of a sole male, as he attempts to survive not only the tension among social cliques, but constraints such as naive love and feelings of disdain.

    Lucas' personality is expressed through numerous characterization techniques, including the design of his look, dialogue, and external action. By way of these approaches, we know that he is geeky and rather homely in appearance, open minded and anti-materialistic--and above all--that he is a pariah. Even the captain of the football team (nicknamed Cappie) deems him a "great kid." So, why is he teased endlessly and viewed as if he was fresh off the holdings of an alien spacecraft? Well, I guess it is because he is dissimilar to the masses, although it is never implicitly stated, and that's the beauty of the high school.

    Reproducing the ambiance that this environment consists of is very difficult, yet pleasantly introduced in this instance. The utilization of rough film stock gives the picture a grainy texture as if cosmetic refinements were subdued in order to capture the moment in its natural state. Cinematic points of view are perfectly executed: from the subjective focus of Lucas' crush, Maggie, through a crowd of students at a pep rally, to the indirect-subjective panning of teenage girl, to teenage boy, in a chorus scene, as each individual glances at his or her "crush." (The latter being the quintessential capturing of sexual curiosity, at a time when it is new and mysterious.)

Image result for Lucas 1986 Haim film stills

    Additionally, the usage of natural lighting only adds to its authenticity, as the red glow of a local pizza joint becomes the reflection of a young couple's physical attraction, and while the low-key lighting, provided by a small tree, sets the mood for a confrontation between Lucas and the apple of his eye.

    Of all the methods present in the structure of "Lucas," however, the symbolism is undoubtedly the most subtle, and memorable. Of course, there is the first meeting between our protagonist and Maggie, as "Waltz of the Flowers," systematically blends with images of this young woman, as she goes through her tennis routine. The presence of the cicada, or locust if you will, and the emphasis placed on this fragile creature, also warrants some interpretation.

    Although the cicada has come to symbolize insouciance, in its most basic elucidation, this meaning is not relevant here. However one designates its significance is highly subjective, although it is my conviction that the cicada is a representation of Lucas, himself. His position in nature, his delicate physical attributes, and his inner appeal, all align with this eloquent contrast.

    Looking back, it is quite evident that the casting of Corey Haim, in the lead role, was nothing short of brilliant. Haim, an actor who lived through a turbulent career (and an even more turbulent personal life), contains the perfect amount of charm and awkwardness to pull off this performance. His mannerisms and rhythm of speech are truly a spectacle to behold. It would seem as if Haim were born to play this character, and that his best work would come before his face was plastered over the front page of every teeny magazine, this side of the Mississippi.   

    What makes this film unique, structurally speaking, is the irony of the seemingly static and dynamic characters. (The latter being affected deeply by the conflict.) Lucas is never really dependent on the outcome of his adolescent journey and never changes throughout the duration of the action. Yet, it is the surrounding characters, ones who would not normally be attributed to deep change (in regard to their demeanor or attitudes), who do find some guiding light from the resolution. "Lucas" is a picture that finds its way, much like the central character finds himself. It is unorthodox at times, but never relenting in tenderheartedness.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Big Hero 6 ★★★

Image result for Big Hero 6 film stills

    Although Disney has essentially become a shadow of its former self (if compared to their glorious golden age or even the elation brought to us by the renaissance years), its newest picture, "Big Hero 6," attempts to evoke that same sense of euphoria and excitementyou know, the kind that makes children rush to the nearest toy store and adults exude the exasperation aligned with taking their young child to see a PG rated film. Lovable characters, a compelling storyline, along with adolescent humor, are all elements needed to produce a quality animated film, and "Big Hero 6" surely delivers on these notes.

    However, as we find ourselves in the midst of an origin tale for the latest superhero group, there are several shortcomings that arise. Our so-called "villain" is nothing more than a flat and rather one-dimensional persona (granted most are), whose only motivating force for action is to align with the thematic intentions of the film, which I will chew over shortly. Yet, the most notable deficiency stems from the environment in which our heroes reside.

    If the seemingly futuristic city of San Fransokyo, a poor amalgam of the real life cities of San Francisco and Tokyo, as well as the name of our central protagonist, Hiro, is not satisfyingly enough indication as to the subculture in which Disney is blatantly trying to advertise, then I'm not sure what is. The allure of the Japanese "anime" subculture is one of spiked hair, large and charming facial features, and imaginative writing, all of which "Big Hero 6" possesses, and yet, it can never quite convince us of the atmosphere in which it aims to capitalize on.

    As if taking a page from the innards of a Spider-Man comic book, Hiro is a young boy (who I'm guessing is of American-Japanese ethnicity) whose parents were lost in a tragic accident and who is now under the care of the stereotypically unhinged and carefree aunt. Ironically, Hiro's intelligence supersedes the image he imposes, which is one of a small and immature teenager. (This is introduced to us via a comically inclined expository scene.)

    Naturally, there is loss, followed by comfort, and the deceitfulness of a malefactor who is ultimately not what they seem to be. This all leads to the creation of a team of heroes whose individual ineptness summarizes the quirkiness of their character. There's the obsessive compulsive and danger fearing male, the intelligent and eccentric blonde, the strong feminist type, and the long-haired hippie geek.

    And, of course, who could forget Baymax. Arguably the mainspring of the entire picture, Baymax is a plump, robotic health provider who seems to be as much trouble as his worth. Along with this physically obtrusive figure comes situational humor as he struggles to get through tight spaces and as his frail exterior warrants somewhat humorous repairs. In essence, the film is filled with jests that will only be enjoyed by youthful children and none of which made me crack a smile.

    It is quite clear where the concern of this film lies: in the realm of moral implication. The lesson of dealing with individual loss, and the raw emotions that accompany such events, is spelled out in obvious manners such as characters simply stating that "this is a revenge story" and other subtle ways, such as single shot motifs that warrant feelings of abandonment and remembrance. It is a very important instruction, no matter the age, and one in which Disney would imply that revenge is only hurtful to the situation.

    Nevertheless, it would seem as if this picture had been done before, and it most certainly has, just not in this particular style. The presence of Stan Lee in yet another on-screen cameo, albeit in animated form this time around, is a playful reminder of that fact. If anything, however, it is the ability to be able to relate to Hiro that should nominate success. In that regard, it succeeds substantially.

    "Frozen" and "Big Hero 6," the last two films bestowed upon us by Disney's animated studios, have ignited a firestorm of acclaim, and they are cherished by both audiences and critics alike. Have we all forgotten the heartwarming tales of "Bambi" and "Pinocchio?" Have we lost the admiration for pictures such as "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King?" It is as if our lives are devoid of all contentment and anything Disney fabricates brings a joyous celebration. I'll reserve my childish glee, I think, until hand-drawn animation becomes something more than just a forgotten art.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Abduction 1/2 Star

    "Abduction," is a 2011 thriller that attempts to cash in on the popularity of a young, and inexperienced actor, who starred in a series of blockbuster films that comprise the "Twilight" saga. Now, on the surface of things, this may seem like a logical decision, and maybe even downright brilliant. I can hear the casting director now: "Let's cast an actor, who helped contribute to the financial gain of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, and who has posters in every teenage girl's room all over the country."  What could go wrong?

    Well, in the case of "Abduction," everything. Beyond the uninspired script, which exhibits a lack of understanding as to what makes a picture worth watching, you will find: lackadaisical performances, horrid execution of computer graphic imaging, and a story that is as idiotic as some of the worst plot lines in cinema history.

    However, to say that Taylor Lautner is a terrible actor, or even to claim that he is a promising one, is clearly misguided, and much of his performance here is irrelevant in regard to those notions. Sure, his delivery of lines are not masterful to say the least, and his looks of reaction seem mostly like strained, and relatively overemphasized, looks of smolder. Yet, this is partly due to the conditioning received in the above-mentioned set of films, in which Lautner was required to project such demeaning qualities. These constraints surely exist here, as this picture becomes nothing more than an outlet for the hormonal frustrations of thousands of young women.

    The plot (which I have already designated as idiotic, and you will most certainly understand why), consists of the mysterious identity of a certain teenage male, Nathan Harper, who lives in a quiet suburban area of Pittsburgh. Nathan seemingly has it all: a cool motorcycle, a loving set of parents, and the affectionate gazes of a popular high school cheerleader. This all becomes consigned to oblivion, however, when Nathan is assigned to work on a ten-page sociology report, where a chance event turns into international intrigue.

    Apparently, our protagonist's real father, (he soon learns that he is adopted) has stolen a key piece of information from a ruthless foreign mastermind, who subsequently sets up an elaborate, and completely half-baked, scheme, to ransom Nathan and retrieve the purloined data. The Serbian terrorist, Nikola Kozlow, is obviously a hard determinist or he has a hand in the agenda of the local high school. Let's break it down here; a sociology report warrants Lautner to search a missing persons' website, where he stumbles upon a picture of himself, which in turn, triggers the plot, because Kozlow set up this faux site in hopes that our main character will miraculously find it, and thus, give away his location.

    Besides the obvious fact that this could have taken years to unfold, (I guess an anonymous e-mail, with a link to the website, was too straightforward) numerous other questions arise. Why not just go after the man who stole the much sought after encrypted code in the first place? Why, after all these many years, would the father even care if his son is ransomed? Our leading persona questions the latter concept as well and receives an answer of, "You must not know your father." No, we do not, and this is much of the problem.

    "Abduction" is the epitome of carelessness. Case in point: there is a scene in which the antagonists shoot up a small diner, where our lead character is having a meal with the CIA, and the stock characters are entirely absent. There is no waitress present, although their food has already been served, and no cook, although they evidently have food on their plates. The only quality of a cinematic film that "Abduction" displays, is continuous motion, which is not to say anything at all, considering any amateur home video has the same attributes.

    Nevertheless, this picture did indeed capture two awards, albeit at the Teenage Movie Awards, for Best Action Film and Best Action Star, which of course, would seem successful in the minds of those whose intent was to squeeze the pockets of naive (certainly with regard to the art of film) youngsters. Much like his co-stars in the "Twilight" pictures, I would not expect much productivity for the rest of Mr. Lautner's career--and if I'm wrong, then we know where to see the young actor accept his awards.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Dumb and Dumber To ★

    Chances are that if you enjoyed the original "Dumb and Dumber," you may find the sequel to be forced, repetitive and all-around unfortunate. Granted, the humor that accentuated the first film is still present, albeit in smaller doses. This time, however, it seems as if the dumbfounded duo that warmed our hearts all those years ago was just an illusion, and now every gag in the book is in use to strain a dry laugh from anyone they can obtain it from. How brainless can these antiheroes become?

    You might find yourself in an unadulterated hysteria of amusement if you find certain things, such as these situations, humorous.

An individual pulling on another individual's catheter, causing much pain in the lower extremities.
The distasteful act of sexually violating an elderly woman.
An adult male changing another adult male's diaper, complete with excretion humor. 
The utilization of computer-graphic imaging to create "snot bubbles." 

    The point is that physical humor (a Jim Carrey specialty) has replaced that of situational comedy, the latter of which indeed fueled the first film. Now we have to watch Carrey wolf down a hot dog in hopes that someone will emit a sound of laughter. Numerous scenes are overdone and are blatantly repulsive, and it reminded me of a stand-up comedian who had run out of jokes and proceeded to discharge bodily sounds to get some form of reaction from the audience.   
    Our premise here consists of Harry returning to the mental institution in which he regularly visits to check on his partner in crime, Lloyd, who has become a shell of his former self. Lloyd reveals that it has been a gag all along, twenty years and running, and the twosome shove off into the sunset. The remainder of the storyline centers on Harry and the newly revealed fact that he has a daughter, and much like the original installment, they must embark on a long road trip to find her. Other aspects of the plot are negligible considering the quality of the film itselfthings are not what they seem, and there is a plethora of disagreeable jocularity along the way.

    Viewing "Dumb and Dumber To" is like watching an individual struggle to find their way into a pair of jeans that is ten times too small. It is amusing at times, mostly tedious, and, ultimately, it is a futile attempt. The atmosphere is there, mind you, but instead of justifying laughter, it warrants feelings of sympathy for both the characters on screen and the actors portraying them. Carrey and Daniels have crafted this picture over a decade too late and with little incentive for enjoyment. 

    The only positive stemming from this uninspired project is the simple fact that the film's release date preceded that of the "Hunger Games" franchise so that it at least earned a sufficient financial return, even if it was less than deserving. There is a juncture in the film where Lloyd guesses the identity of an object in a package that is to be delivered to Harry's daughter. His assumption is that it's a baked potato, although he isn't certain why. Harry responds with, "I'm sure you'll get it, Lloyd." My bet is that he never will.       

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mr. Peabody & Sherman ★★

    Dreamworks' "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" is a children's film that gives rise to a curious notion-- that seemingly anything can be made into a 90-minute production. Just imagine: A subset of a popular 1960s animated television show, in which the duration of the segments were incredibly short, becoming a full-featured adventure. Well, considering the mindset of modern-day production companies, this idea surely meets the established criteria.

    Not to give off the impression that Mr. Peabody isn't a lovable character; let's face it, who can resist the attraction to a dog, who wears glasses and has more knowledge than the most brilliant minds left on Earth, combined. And if you were not already aware, Mr. Peabody reads off his accomplishments and accolades, at the beginning of the picture as if his life depended on it. This includes: being a Harvard graduate, a developer of alternative energy sources, a geopolitical conflict resolver, and inventor of numerous twenty-first-century fads, including Zumba, among other things. (Not to mention the size of his penthouse, which would have even the likes of Donald Trump swimming in a pool of envy.)

    This film essentially relies on the extended use of tawdry humor, including the unamusing puns of Mr. Peabody and the duel injected storyline, which only distracts us from the more heartwarming of the two, being the relationship between a father and son. (if you are in dire need of a plot summary, here it is: Sherman's ineptness causes a rift in time, and it is up to Mr. Peabody to fix it. On a side note, Sherman begins school, and Mr. Peabody must prove to Mrs. Grunion, a cantankerous school official, and terrific illustration of name typing, that he is indeed, fit to be a father.) This complication all leads up to a quip of very poor taste. That's right folks, a masturbation joke.

    And yet, that is not the sole instance in which all insensitivity is lost. There is the use of a Stephen Hawking lunchbox, that warrants the designation of inconsiderate, along with several other witticisms, including the very popular, among adolescents, "poop" and "boob" jokes. They even find time in the script to poke fun at Disney characters, such as Pinocchio, and former President Bill Clinton, as he claims, "I've done worse," in a particular circumstance.    

    The exotic locations, in which we are escorted to, via the WABAC, comprise of France, Egypt, and Italy, all of which are aligned with a time period that would lend the opportunity for educational material. However, this seems to be the hindmost motivation of the picture, and we are left with nothing more than plot driven action, and as mentioned above, bad puns. (It was a staple of the old animated cartoon that Sherman never understood the wordplays; unfortunately for us, we do.)

    "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" fails to capture the quirkiness of the original animation, and completely misses the mark. Although this is not uncommon, when it comes to reboots, it still remains a disappointing condition, especially for those parents who brought their children to the theater, looking for a portion of educational value, and at least, in some sense, tasteful humor. (Just another cause for the live-action television program, entitled "Wishbone," which features a small terrier with a big imagination, to get a re-run deal.)

    There is a scene in which Mr. Peabody reminisces on his first encounters with Sherman, and the affections of the past, accompanied by John Lennon's beloved "Beautiful Boy." It truly is the most promising scene for the entire duration and is regrettably short-lived. If the filmmakers had continued with this idea of presentation, then we would have another discussion altogether.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sabotage ★1/2

    If someone were to tell me five years ago that Arnold Schwarzenegger would still be producing films at this stage in his career, I might have just brushed off the utterance, and went about my daily affairs. After all, why would a man who has accomplished so much, aside from the silver screen, accept trivial roles of seemingly misguided intentions? I guess this is a question only he can answer.

    David Ayer's "Sabotage" is a misfortune, to say the least, both for the leading actor, and the director, himself. Ayer has been at the helm of numerous scripts, most of which center on the underlining fabric of police corruption. Although the heart of this picture lies with one of the most gifted actors, (not necessarily for his delicate approach to subject matter, but for his heroic, and at times larger than life aura) it falls flat in many ways than one, and becomes the embodiment of most things that we would deem repugnant with regard to film-making.

    The story line here is one of an arbitrary fashion, and only satisfies the most basic instincts of human capacity, that being, sight and hearing. Schwarzenegger becomes John "Breacher" Wharton, the head of a renegade police force, who bring down the country's most notorious drug lords and still find time to indulge in recreational abuses, among other things. (If you like spending your time watching men quench their thirst with cheap beer and displaying vast depths of vulgar language, then these personas may become of some interest.)

    An opening scene features a drug bust that turns into a display of situational irony, as our team attempts to steal a portion of the narcotic profiteering they ultimately seize, (hence the above usage of the term "renegade") although the money is found missing moments later. Consequently, the focus shifts to the question of: who stole the loot, and once the members of Wharton's team become the victims of graphic slayings, the concern veers in the direction of the identity of these murderers. The logical answer would be the constituents of the cartel, in which the money was stolen although that would obviously be too undemanding.

    From here, the plot divulges into the intricacies of these homicide investigations, in an endeavor to distract the audience from who may actually have the ample motivation to commit such heinous acts. By this juncture, even the most rudimentary individual would have lost interest, although I may be underestimating the audience's need to view senseless violence and monotonous dialogue.

    The direction is uneven, to put it nicely, as Ayer's execution of numerous close-ups and zoom outs come to symbolize the film as a whole, and that would be poorly done. There is a scene in which Wharton is conferring with the lead investigator, and the camera, pans back and forth between each individual, as they read their next uninspired line. Although it does give off the sense of being a third occupant in the room, (much like how your head would turn its attention to whoever is speaking) it is not suitable here. If anything, it just reminds us that there was a lack of editing involved. As far as any extraction of knowledge from the picture is concerned, if David Ayer is attempting to suggest a moral implication (such as "money is the root of all evil"), or to display the truth of human nature, it is structurally not conducive.

    Of all the dialogue that is belched out among the choir, the lines that Schwarzenegger is forced to recite, are undoubtedly the most unflattering. (These are mostly composed of obscenities and references to male genitalia.) Much like a director, who chooses to work in a studio because of the products of the 1930s, and 1940s, in which he or she grew up with (in an attempt to replicate the same ambiance), I believe Schwarzenegger reduces himself to roles of this stature, in an albeit futile venture, to capture the essence of what he has created in the past. Unfortunately, this journey is proving to be fruitless, and it is becoming almost unbearable to watch.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Interstellar ★★★★

    Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" is a film that requires patience and an understanding of human nature. It places humanity in an eleventh-hour quandary and sends a small group of individuals, forming a microcosm, into the infinite cold and darkness that is our universe--a journey that almost certainly will not transpire within my lifetime, and one that would only reside in the pages of a science fiction novel.

    A picture of this magnitude must be molded by a sense of truth and by a sincerity that can only be delivered by a skilled filmmaker. Nolan has crafted a delicate product here; one that tries to persuade us of many things: that love transcends all realms of time and physical space; that the heart of human dignity is in a constant struggle between utilitarian and egoist thought; that conquering fear and death is in the pioneer infused blood of us all; that time is an aspect of life that we still do not understand and can never manipulate to our advantage. Not only does Nolan coax you into believing these romanticized notions, but he does so in an emotionally driven and aesthetically pleasing way. Literally, a daydream among the stars.

    The exposition centers on a small family, who live on a food and resource starved Earth. (A time that would make Thomas Hobbes' state of nature proud.) NASA has moved underground, and former space pilots, including our protagonist, have been reduced to mere farmers, as agriculture becomes the insatiable need of the planet's inhabitants. And this is where the film takes its first leap into the boundaries of an unrelenting aspiration.

    Cooper, our widower turned hero, must say goodbye to his family, which consists of a son and a young daughter, and shove off into space with little room for error. We travel with Cooper through the perilous stillness, which essentially lends the opportunity for Nolan to exercise his magic: Once absolved of Earth's atmosphere, the setting becomes a vessel of sheer visual delight and wonderment. Rotating external shots of the spaceship's hull and planetary backdrops become a reality, along with the terrain of foreign worlds that have features as marvelous as frozen clouds.

    Nolan's exercision of symbolism is subtle, yet never wavering in emotion. Messages from home come to symbolize the delicacy of life and feelings of heartache. Extrinsic metaphors showcase the idea of impending doom and unadulterated hope. If there is one skill set in the arsenal of Nolan that can summarize this experience, it is his use of the indirect-subjective point of view. The camera loses its physical constraints and becomes a gateway to adventure. Thus, pulverizing the audience with an intense fervor, which is accentuated masterfully by composer Hans Zimmer.

    Naturally, with any science fiction film comes the toil of pleasing astronomers and astrophysicists everywhere. I'm sure there is an abundance of articles traveling the internet freeway at this moment that refute some aspect of the plot or the inconsistency of one equation or another. The fact of the matter is that you will not read any discrepancies of this fashion here. Of course, the dialogue is rich in astronomical terminology, as time becomes nothing more than an expendable concept. However, relativity is the foremost subject matter, and the characters do their best to explain such vices with quick summaries and lines that read "that's relativity folks."  Much like a "Star Trek" episode, one has to learn the parameters and move on.

    Matthew McConaughey has come a long way as an actor. His career has progressed in a rather peculiar manner, and it has surely seen a number of missteps and debacles. Unlike most actors who come into the business with guns blazing, McConaughey has eased into the waters of Hollywood like an old man slipping into a warm bath. (What other box-office headliners can say they started their career on "Unsolved Mysteries?") Most stars burn brightly in their younger years and begrudgingly fizzle out--most of which with a string of inadequate performances. Yet here is McConaughey, in the latter portion of his acting career, shimmering as brightly as ever.

    His performance in "Interstellar" is unquestionably remarkable. There are numerous scenes that could have gone sour, if not for the brilliant acting provided by McConaughey; this is a genuine role for a genuine man. His intensity and emotion is right on cue and never fails to deliver the utmost power and authenticity. McConaughey's approach here is very well prepared and well calculated. Additionally, Michael Caine provides an exhilarating performance, albeit less lengthy and of a lesser importance--nevertheless noteworthy. His role only adds to the engrossing study of human nature and gives the picture a poetic sense of enlightenment, as his character's leitmotif becomes the repetition of the Dylan Thomas poem, aptly entitled, "Do not go gentle into that good night."

    There are many discernible flaws and illogical sequences that would have any perfectionist cringing at the thought: Emotional restraint is thrown to the wind and becomes virtually non-existent, yet scenes that suffer from this syndrome are undeniably held together by the strong performances of McConaughey and others. Some scenes of plot significance are drowned out by the, at times, overbearing score. Furthermore, there is the inconceivability of how long a human being can go without oxygen, as well as the puzzling production design of the robotic intelligence entities that accompany our human equivalents. (With regard to the latter, there are many times that these obtrusive and rather unappealing machines litter the background of an otherwise alluring setting.) Lastly, there is the philosophical issue of Cooper's display of courage and bravery; a train of thought proposed by the dialogues of one, Plato. Is he really brave if his expertise is with regard to the circumstances at hand?

    So, how does "Interstellar" counter these seemingly destructive imperfections? Well, it is quite simple--with a "suspension of disbelief." A phrase coined by the highly influential poet of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Nolan has crafted a tale so engulfed in human interest and truth, that the implausibilities that surround its structure are simply negligible.

    The problem with today's film industry is its inability to dare to dream. What child hasn't slumped his or her head back, while admiring the night sky, in pure awe and wonder? What adolescent, along with countless adults, has not wondered what is beyond the stars of our galaxy? My guess is all but a relative few, who probably remain attached to their tedious lives without a single thought to this subject. It is within these metaphysical boundaries that "Interstellar" excels and never looks back.

    Do not read any further if you have not seen the film.

    There is a scene in the denouement of this picture, which consists of the last meeting between Cooper and his daughter, where the theme will melt over all the senses like a warm blanket. It is a theme concerned with the complexity of human relationships--and more specifically--the relationship between a father and a daughter. It is a very strenuous scene and the most important in the entire film. McConaughey's execution here is perfectly orchestrated, and the beauty of this moment has lasted with me since the film's ending. A very wise man once told me that dreams are everything. Without them, we are nothing more than a misguided spawn of nature. Here is a dream that we can all enjoy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nightcrawler ★★★1/2

    Originality, in terms of Hollywood's perception, seems anomalous to say the least, and regrettably has become a peculiar language to us all. Barring few exceptions, the study of character has become a lost art; to be admired in the halls of cinematic history, only appreciated by sight, and never to be touched again. However, Louis Bloom is a man that gives us hope. He is a man that defines what it means to present a delineation of character like no other and to give rise to a darker side of human nature.

    Inner city Los Angeles is a playground for an individual of Louis Bloom's stature and psyche. It is the quintessential backdrop to reflect the inner dwellings of his mind. Restlessness, withdrawal, and loneliness, highlight Bloom's life, as we are first introduced to him as a small-time peddler.

    He can be found in the hidden darkness of night, scouring construction sites for redeemable material, in hopes that he can sell it back to another, unsuspecting construction crew. After his latest gatherings are rejected, it warrants a scene that remarkably highlights his intelligence and creepiness, as Bloom recites an oral résumé that showcases his attention to detail and his unbelievable calculatedness.

    Jake Gyllenhaal is infinitely superb in a role that requires a heavy tongue, to contrast a gloomy appearance. He channels his inner Robert De Niro, via "Taxi Driver," with his quiet, yet aggressive personality, and with a head full of black hair, slicked back to reveal a face filled with curiosity and deception. He's the type of guy who shies away from a conversation, but once indulged, will talk your head off until the sun comes up.

    The conflict surrounding Louis' life is one consisting of a struggle for human dignity--both internally and externally. After a fateful ride home finds Louis face to face with a roadside accident, a miraculous intrigue sets in upon his wandering mind, as late night renegade film crews record the misfortune (in which we are later told in so many words that blood and graphic material sells), and prepare to offer it to overnight news station management for morning ledes. Hence, an amateur business opportunity is born.

    Bloom hires an associate, in which he deems an "intern," to help him navigate the dreary and blackness enshrouded streets of late night L.A. and to watch the car while he, sometimes without positive results, attempts to film petty crimes and unfortunate incidents. This only leads to toil as Bloom inevitably schemes to work his way up the rungs of the invisible ladder of night crawler popularity, also known as "stingers," and to get his small business adequate recognition.

    A sensational directorial debut is far and few between, but Dan Gilroy, a man who is very familiar with the film process, undoubtedly has one here. His direction is a thing of beauty, as the crime scenes in which our central character receives his material brim with verisimilitude and truly create a feeling of being "there" and a heightened sense of reality. Beyond that, Gilroy has essentially created an ambiance that suits the distance of Louis' personality.

    Our anti-hero, albeit a man who is not readily acquainted with empathy, is consistently depicted in low key lighting, which only accentuates the enigmatic facets of his mien. Additionally, he is portrayed in a harsh or "hard" diffusion of light, molding the contours of his facial features through the subtle play of light and shadow. I have not seen a character so engulfed in dimness, since Michael Corleone in "The Godfather Part II."

    There is an abundance of symbolism in this picture that takes many shapes and tends to progress in intensity as the events play out in a suspenseful fashion. The director charges his symbolic ideas through musical emphasis, which culminates in one particularly brilliant scene where Bloom plays "the artist" and manipulates the remains of a vehicular homicide to produce better footage, and by the relationship of one object to another in a singular shot.

    The most notable of the latter being a scene in which an empty chair is nestled in the background, while Bloom expresses his self-loathing for failure, and a closing scene, where we are bombarded with the truth of our beloved main character's depravity--which ultimately leads us to ponder more intricately into the depths of human thought.

    Although the cinematic concern, or theme, of this film, is unquestionably one of character, it is tempting to delve deeper into the mindset of one, Louis Bloom. It would be enticing to say that he almost takes on a role larger than himself, producing a theme of the often brutal truth of human nature. His actions of depravity, which in essence is a corruption of the human soul through original sin, could be considered representative of humanity as a whole, centralizing on our fascination with gore and death, along with the startling reality that we are all selfish creatures of a brutish nature. (A staple in Protestant Reformation thought.)

    Still, the symbolic patterns and motifs (there is a strategically placed motif consisting of a billboard that reads "focus" to remind us of his obsessive mentality) guide us to the heart of this picture's intentions; the delineation of this irregular character study. And what an exhibition it is.

The Stepfather ★1/2

    There are some pictures that should never, in the realm of logic and sound reasoning, be re-fashioned in any sense of the word. Rationally, there are two conditions in which this notion should be fulfilled. Firstly, if the original, in which this burden now bestowed is based upon, was simply not thought provoking or structurally significant. Secondly, and most importantly, a film should never be revamped if it is to offer nothing to the dominion that is film-making.

    "The Stepfather" is unequivocally an offender of this train of thought.

    We are introduced to our antagonist, a man of numerous faces, in a surprisingly somber and tragic mood. It is here that this film executes two methods of irony. Dramatic irony, which gains its power from the contrast of ignorance and knowledge, as the audience is conscious of some fact that our characters on screen have no awareness. In this particular instance, the reality that David Harris is a cold blooded killer, who is eagerly wanted for his involvement in a family's murder.

    Additionally, there is the issuance of irony of tone, as Harris makes a light breakfast while the pleasant tune of "Holy Night" can be heard and the family, in which he has savagely murdered, lie in pools of their own blood. Thus, these two techniques are arguably the only thing that resembles quality craftsmanship. The rest of the picture is plagued by many handicaps, most notably acting or the lack thereof, and does little to add suspense to an already lethargic atmosphere.

    Subsequently, Harris makes his way to Portland, Oregon, where he begins this sadistic cycle, yet again, of romanticizing widowed or divorced mothers, gaining their trust, and killing them with seemingly no motivation other than individual despondency. He lurks in local supermarkets and garners his victim's attention through the use of good manners and an innocent demeanor. (A collection of traits eerily similar to a real life, and rather inhuman individual, in Ted Bundy.)

    The unfortunate family this time around consists of Susan, a loving and completely naive mother, who doesn't seem the bit unnerved by David's mysterious past, as long as he fulfills her emotional, and assumingly, her physical needs. Susan has two children, which have little to do with anything, and an older son who just arrived back from military school. Michael, who is designated the black sheep of the family, spurs our conflict as he struggles to accept the proclaimed nobility of Harris.

    Consequently, the remainder of the picture remains static and builds upon the son's mistrust. He confers with his air-headed blonde girlfriend (who trounces around in a bikini for blatantly obvious and shallow reasons) about his suspicions, to no avail. Of course, there has to be some way Michael's intuition is justified. Inevitably, we receive this justification through the dialogue of the stepfather. His pessimistic views and insensitive remarks are causes for concern, along with his stalking mentalities and the ability to appear and disappear at the speed of light.

    There are two aspects of the film, among countless other things, that truly highlight its ineptness. One is in regard to plot unification, and the other involves the delicate approach to lighting. Harris is a very detail-orientated person. (This is perceived through several actions, the most humorous of which, involves him correcting the position of a misplaced stapler on a family desk.) And yet, he forgets to close a basement door, as he carries on a barbarous act, and fails to clear the search history of the family computer, after he finds himself on the America's Most Wanted web page.

    This brings us to the fine art of lighting: There is a scene at the family dinner table, in which the overhead lighting provides a horrid result. The stepfather is draped in a bright aura of light and the son, sitting at the opposite end of the table, is enshrouded in darkness, even though the overhead fixture is above the center of the table. Now, if this was to promote a symbolic effect, although highly unlikely, then I will revoke my comments. Nevertheless, "The Stepfather" is an uninspired product and it truly is a mystery how the antagonist never suffered from a stomach ulcer, while he continually repressed his psychotic expressions. Maybe that can be the subject of another hapless enduring.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Book Of Life ★★1/2

    There is a startling discovery made in the expository scenes of "The Book of Life." Evidently, oblivious to the intricacies of science and logic, we are told that Mexico is the center of the universe. Although this information was revealed in a discernibly playful manner, I could not help but wonder how many children, by the film's closing, would truly believe this fantasized notion. My guess is enough to unhinge teachers worldwide.

    The mentioning of this tidbit of knowledge is pertinent because the underlying aim of this children's picture is to delight audiences with a culture that is known to a relative few. (Of course, you would have to go a long way before you found anyone who had not heard of "The Day of the Dead.") Unfortunately, this film does little to inform us of why this holiday is important to Mexican culture and it eventually becomes its own worst enemy.

    "The Book of Life" attempts to cash in on a fairy tale atmosphere, by placing our story within a story. A group of misbehaved adolescents are taken to a museum, on the Day of the Dead and are led into a clandestine portion of the building. They come face to face with the Book of Life, a book that contains every tale the world has ever come into contact with. The tour guide chooses to divulge into an account of love, fate, and self-discovery.

    Among other things, this picture relies on its execution of cosmic and dramatic irony. La Muerte, a dashingly beautiful goddess who keeps watch over the land of the remembered, and Xibalba, a menacing god who is made of all things "icky," essentially become the most significant characters in the film, as they will control the fate of our three young protagonists. A bet is made between these two omniscient figures and the love of Maria is up for grabs between two young men, Manolo, and Joaquin.

    We subsequently watch our main suitors bid for love, as laughter or sympathy is evoked from their dramatic ignorance until Maria has made her fateful decision. Does she choose the war honored heroism of Joaquin or the sensitively induced soul of Manolo? (The latter being a man who would give anything to shun his family's heritage of bullfighting to be a beloved guitarist.) In the end, her choice is a moot point, as the theme has little to do with love and much to do with destiny. There is never any doubt as to who Maria will ultimately choose, and that's part of the problem.

    There are several conflicts at play here. Besides the obvious internal struggle of Maria, there is the complication that perturbs Manolo; a conflict that symbolizes change versus tradition. Manolo must undergo disappointment and shame from his family if he is to dismiss the career of bull fighting for guitar playing. (A relatable notion for many individuals, who choose to pursue their own ambitions in spite of their parent's wishes.)

    The external conflicts stem from Manolo's physical inability to obtain Maria's love and via the presence of Chakal, a rather large and disgruntled bandit, whose role in the film would warrant a state of complete and utter bewilderment. His only motivation for existence is to lend some difficulty to the "real" environment and to redeem the character of Joaquin, which compromises his role as foil and the static nature of his character. Thus, an unnecessary and certainly unneeded aspect, that if left out, could have eased the pain.

    A fascinating segment of the film, in which Manolo travels to the land of the remembered, is regrettably cut short, and this pretty much summarizes the picture's lack of understanding of even its own intentions. The festive spirit that enshrouds this quite magical day of remembrance is ironically forgotten, much like the poor souls who inhabit the other "land" that apparently dwells beneath the surface of Mexico City: The land of the forgotten.

    "The Book of Life" is far from being designated a bad film, although it doesn't help itself deviate from that darkened path. The stock characters are beyond hideous, which seemingly adds to the allure of the main personas, but at length, just symbolizes the beauty of the famed and the dreariness of the insignificant. Channing Tatum's  voice over work is painstakingly horrid and only adds to the laundry list of imperfections that could have been avoided.    

    Nevertheless, there is a very important moral value that children can take away from the context of the picture. Dreams are everything. They distinguish us as individuals and they simply make life worth living. No matter how foolish one's parental guardians may deem a particular career path, always remember that the choice is yours to make. If everyone followed their parent's guidance, the world would be a monotonous place--full of dying ambitions and begrudged patrons. Truly a land of the forgotten.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Evil Dead ★

    "The Evil Dead," structurally speaking, is a horrendous film. The production design is virtually nonexistent, as costuming, make-up, and setting were seemingly thrown together at a moment's notice with little physical effort or any exertion of imaginative thought. The lone cabin in the heart of the woods does convey some feeling of isolation and trepidation; however, it is lost once the "demons" first appear and one realizes that the setting is not so much fearful as much as what is going on inside the internal dwellings of the characters.

    This is surely not to mention the fact that a sizable amount of individuals live in a backwoods atmosphere of this manner (even I have spent time in a shack like this) and, for them, horror would simply be called home.

    Arguably, the blame should rest solely on the script, which, in many respects, is the backbone and soul of every picture. The visual design of a film will certainly be dictated by what is written on those organized pieces of paper. In this particular instance, however, it doesn't seem as if the screenplay bestowed any information to the production, except, of course, for the desolate hovel and the generalized grotesqueness of the demonized characters. (The latter of which was also poorly handled.)

    To use the film's budget as a means of explaining why this catastrophe was ever created would at least be somewhat noble. Yet, it would seem that the intention here was to dumb down the protagonists and "camp up" the ambiance in order to provide the first legitimate parody of the horror genre. Actions in the face of danger are assuredly illogical (to create a comical effect, mind you), and the creatures of the night are, in fact, more humorous and annoying than blood-curdling. This becomes evident as Ash, the central dummy, consistently tells his friends and girlfriend, who have taken a turn for the worst, to simply "shut up."

    Even a backing of such a low financial stature does not warrant a picture of this humble magnitude. The execution of lighting is unflattering, to say the least, most notably in the exterior night scenes, and the direction is routine at best. Additionally, I refuse to deem the exercising of the "shaky" camera movement, which seems to stomp through the woods, as anything other than amateur. (Anyone with a hand-held camera and some pace to their stride could achieve this same effect with little to no experience.) I mean, the best angle of the entire film is a rear shot of the college students' car as it drives up a leaf-littered ground on its way to the cabin.

    Unfortunately, "The Evil Dead" has spawned a cult following and has been the inspiration for numerous pictures with the same motivations. (The logic behind these decisions is completely lost on my conscious, along with the appeal to this type of humor.) Action and suspense are relatively absent in an effort to evoke more of an amusing reaction, and this is something that really irks me to the core. A parody of the horror genre is like a trip to the dentist: It's tedious, sometimes painful, and always costly, whether it might be time or money. At least, after the dentist appointment, you get a piece of candy for your troubles.