Alien: Covenant

May 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Prometheus”)
Written by: John Logan (“Spectre”) and Dante Harper (debut)

The slow-burning narrative that takes up most of the first half of filmmaker Ridley Scott’s prequel “Alien: Covenant” is as close to the tone of the original two films (Scott’s 1979 “Alien” and James Cameron’s 1986 sequel “Aliens”) as anything this franchise has conjured up in the last 30 years.

Scott’s last foray into the classic series, 2012’s “Prometheus,” was more ambitious than effective, and other Hollywood waste like the “Alien vs. Predator” crossover movies didn’t do the franchise’s mythology any favors. In “Covenant,” however, Scott is able to slow everything down to a crawl and get back to the roots of the story without trying so hard to be something it’s not. It might feel like déjà vu for some, but watching spaceship crewmembers exploring an uncharted planet is a lot more interesting than watching two iconic movie monsters drool all over each other for 90 minutes.

Actress Katherine Waterston (“Inherent Vice”) is wonderful and Sigourney Weaver-esque as Daniels, one of the crewmembers on a recolonization spacecraft (the Covenant) headed to a remote planet after their cryosleep is disturbed while on their way to a new planet they hoped to colonize. Instead of going back into hibernation for another seven years, the crew, which includes Tennessee (Danny McBride, who, fortunately, is not cast to play a cliché comic relief character); commanding officer Chris Oram (Billy Crudup); and android Walter (Michael Fassbender, who played android David in “Prometheus”).

Or course, when the crew lands, all hell breaks loose when two of them are infected with an alien parasite that uses them as a host before ripping through their flesh and causing havoc for the survivors. With the help of a lone inhabitant of the vicious planet, the remaining crew risk their lives to get back to their ship before their mission—and the fate of the thousands of human embryos on board—is destroyed.

With some solid performances and highly intense scenes, “Covenant” is entertaining albeit not nearly as inspiring as “Alien” and “Aliens,” two films many consider as the greatest contribution to the sci-fi genre ever. In the second half of the film, much of “Covenant” finds itself in familiar horror territory (that bloody shower sex scene is ridiculous), which overshadows some of the film’s more subtle moments. Plus, the last 20 minutes are so predictable and anti-climactic, you’ll wonder how screenwriters John Logan (“Spectre”) and Dante Harper, couldn’t avoid being so calculating with their decisions.

Nevertheless, “Covenant” is passable sci-fi fare. It won’t necessarily make anyone enthusiastic for whatever is next in the franchise, but at least Scott has the last word for now.

 

The Light Between Oceans

September 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”)
Written by: Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”)

There is something about the way some directors — in their wisdom? Confidence? Daredevilry? — allow their actors the considerable space to breathe freely and to nakedly “be” that, when we’re lucky, results in electrically vulnerable performances, dazzlingly intimate in their heedless, tightrope un-selfconsciousness and breathtaking in their vital, textured fullness and authenticity. It’s the sort of freedom that can clear away tricks and tics, stripping things down to the personal and uncrafted, to the spontaneous, inadvertent starbursts of honesty and messy, trembling revelation that inspire special, unexpected, often whole-soul performances from even celebrated, marquee actors, with whose best we previously thought we were well acquainted.

David O. Russell does that. (Witness: Christian Bale in “The Fighter,” the tremendous ensembles of “American Hustle” and “I Heart Huckabees,” Mark Wahlberg in every Russell movie he’s cast in.)
And Derek Cianfrance does that.

Watch “The Place Beyond the Pines” and try to tell me that isn’t your favorite Eva Mendes role, or some of the best work you’ve seen from Cooper and Gosling. Watch “Blue Valentine” and tell me you don’t have to remind yourself to exhale because you feel just that certain that you’re eavesdropping on private moments you weren’t ever meant to see (but can’t possibly tear your eyes from).

Cianfrance’s latest, “The Light Between Oceans,” could hardly be called as “raw” as “Valentine” or as “gritty” as “Pines;” on the surface, in fact, “Oceans” — a sweepingly romantic post-World War I period piece lit like a sunkissed watercolor painting — might seem a departure from the director’s oeuvre of hard-hitting, in-the-room immediacy. Undeniably, though, it shares that observer’s sensibility, that commitment to intimacy that both trusts and challenges its towering, A-list cast. Moreover, a careful viewing of Cianfrance’s recent narrative work reveals a clear lineage, a shared DNA that leads to the conclusion that “Oceans” was, indeed, the next logical step to which this has all been leading.

Based on the best-selling 2012 Australian novel, “The Light Between Oceans” unfolds the sort of heady, tragic tale that might, in lesser hands all around, veer easily and permanently into the swamp of melodrama. Reeling from his time in the Great War, the intensely solitary Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) applies to become keeper of a lighthouse on the fictional Janus Rock, 100 miles from the coast and the nearest human being (a situation which screams metaphor, but not ultimately overbearingly so). In short order, he catches eyes with Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander) a schoolmaster’s daughter whose piercing boldness and effervescence, despite losing two brothers to the war, disarms Sherbourne completely. Love blossoms, the two decide to marry, and the nearest human being becomes much nearer, as the rapturous newlyweds retire to an idyllic, private life on Janus. As it tends to do, though, tragedy besets the couple, and the inability to bear a child leaves both (and particularly Isabel) despondent — until the day a baby washes ashore in a dinghy, bringing with it the promise of life and happiness, but also an uncommonly heavy choice.

Bathed in exquisitely aching restraint and soul-rending inner turmoil, Oceans is potboiler escapist theater at its very best and classiest. From the early-goings extreme-wide of a steam train billowing a florescence of smoke across an undeveloped landscape, the production design, costumes, setting, and masterful symphonic score by Alexandre Desplat weave a wonderfully nostalgic portal to the sumptuous epic romances that populated the ’80s and ’90s, such as “Out of Africa,” “The English Patient,” and the films of Merchant and Ivory. As my viewing partner noted, “Oceans” feels like a novel — in a very good way. The strength of its direction and performances more-than-ably support what might be otherwise oppressively weighty themes, and the film thrives when we’re given airless, desperate moments in which to co-suffer with our protagonists.

Vikander is at first a luminous firecracker, recalling Audrey Hepburn as she exudes irresistible, irrepressibly girlish glee to chip away at Tom’s first-act stoicism; as the film progresses, she seamlessly “matures,” contending with despair and tribulation in stunning moments of hoarse, raw-throated agony and quiet, hard vindictiveness. Fassbender, our oak, indisputably one of our greatest living actors despite breaking out relatively recently in 2008-2009, is absolutely tailor-made for the repressed torment that inhabits Tom, so much so that “Oceans” seems, finally, to make an incontrovertible and nigh-embarrassingly obvious case for what we all know in our hearts we’ve been clawing to see: Fassbender’s John Proctor in (Cianfrance’s?) The Crucible. (Seriously: Why deny it any longer? Let’s solidify the Day-Lewis heirdom. We’ll all be the happier and more blessed for it.)

Weisz, as a third, profoundly interested party, continues her run as one of Hollywood’s most intriguing and enigmatic screen presences, imbuing a potentially somewhat straightforward role not only with every drop and more of the requisite, excruciating pathos, but also with enough eye-darting lost-ness and unpredictability to bring the character vibrantly to life amid despair. Australian screen giant Bryan Brown also shines in a gruff-then-tender turn as Weisz’s father.

If the film falters, it is, unfortunately, in the end. For my money, the resolution is given too short shrift to land with an emotional finality proportionate to the rest of the story. I needed more time with it, a chance to go deeper. Two, three more short scenes, tops. There are extreme decisions and actions by our protagonists that seemed, at times, a bit to swallow, but they went down eventually, particularly as the events they set in motion and the artistry with which said events were handled justified any misgivings. The film, at day’s end, is good. Very, very, very, very, very, very good. Where “Blue Valentine” gave us frank, uncomfortable, exposed-nerve emotion, acutely beautiful in the openness of its wounds, and “The Place Beyond the Pines” set a harrowing, multi-generational, “Wuthering Heights”-style opera in a dingy, recognizable modern world of motorcycle crime and police corruption, “The Light Between Oceans” blends these spirits, foregoing the “edge” of 2016 for the chance to carry us away like we used to be, once, to wince tear-stained faces and open grateful hearts at the delicate intertwinings of love and pain. Oscar nominations, well-deserved, should be in the offing.

X-Men: Apocalypse

May 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac
Directed by: Bryan Singer (“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “X2”)
Written by: Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Fantastic Four”)

When we last left the X-Men movie franchise proper, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine – forever the series’ MVP – had traveled back in time in “Days of Future Past” to undo some stuff that had been done in both the movie’s universe and the real world. “DoFP” brought together the differing timelines and actors, erased little-loved entries like “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and absolutely destroyed any sense of a coherent timeline, which “Deadpool” took a jab at earlier this year. The longest-running comic book movie series was reinvigorated and, 16 years after we first met the cinematic mutants, most of them are back (played by younger actors) in “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

This time around, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his team of mutants, including Hank McCoy (Nicolas Hoult), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), are pitted against the first and most powerful mutant ever, Apocalypse (Oscar Issac). After being buried under a pyramid for 5,000 years, Apocalypse is awakened in part by the bumbling of CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) that allows sunlight to activate his golden power pyramid, or something. Anyway, Apocalypse gathers his four horsemen, including Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to rid the world of humanity and rule whoever is left. Also in the mix is Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and her crusade to free persecuted mutants around the world, pulling Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from the clutches of an underground fighting ring. Oh, and don’t forget returning fan-favorite Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and an extended cameo featuring a berserk, metal-clawed hero we’re all too familiar with.

With so many new (well, new-ish) characters to introduce alongside the old ones, director Bryan Singer often leaves the narrative momentum of “X-Men: Apocalypse” standing around and waiting while different cast members are dropped in on. Fassbender’s time as a Magneto/Erik gone straight with a wife and young daughter is the most compelling plot line in the movie, but Singer and screenwriter Kinberg keep yanking us away to check in on boring stuff like Xavier and McCoy visiting Mactaggert at the CIA to remind us of a long-forgotten plotline that had Charles erase Moira’s memory at the end of “X-Men: First Class.” In another bright spot, Evan Peter’s Quicksilver gets a stand-out slow-motion sequence in the movie, this time set to the Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” along with some more screen time. But Lawrence’s plot line feels tacked on and unnecessary, the result of the producers trying to come up with something interesting for the megastar who they signed to a contract before her fame went supernova.

And for a being with god-like power, Isaac’s Apocalypse sure does a lot of pointless dicking around in his quest to take over the world, perched atop a pyramid for what seems like 20 minutes making a new helmet for Magneto out of sand while the plot spins around to everyone else in the cast. Even what should have been a quick cameo by the so-called Weapon X drags on minutes too long, and, like the rest of the movie, ends up feeling like nothing more than table-setting for whatever is next. Fox had righted the X-franchise ship, so let’s hope this crummy mutation doesn’t affect the series again.

Steve Jobs

October 26, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
Directed by: Danny Boyle (“127 Hours”)
Written by: Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”)

Never mind that Oscar-nominated actor Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave”) looks nothing like the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. We all know from the uninspired 2013 biopic “Jobs,” which starred Ashton Kutcher in the title role, how making that the priority can end up not having much of an effect on the final product, especially when the script is about as interesting as binary code. Fortunately, in the latest Steve Jobs biography, aptly titled “Steve Jobs,” the screenplay and Fassbender are the stars of the show and give the iconic computer genius a film worthy of his contribution to the tech industry.

Based on the book by of the same name by Walter Isaacson, Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”), delivers the type of fast-paced, sharp Sorkinesque dialogue he’s been known for throughout his career. Like his character Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” Sorkin has another larger-than-life leading man to express his biting quips and sarcasm as well as some heartfelt emotion into Fassbender’s Jobs. Sorkin also sets Jobs’ story in a unique way very few writers would dare to attempt when tackling the life of a man most would need a miniseries to capture truthfully.

In “Steve Jobs,” Sorkin takes audiences into Jobs’ life during three prominent milestones of his career – the 1984 launch of the Macintosh, the 1988 launch of the NeXT computer, and the 1998 launch of the iMac. Each of these “backstage” vignettes transports moviegoers into the inner workings of the high-profile launches and examines how Jobs handled the pressure of each event. We also get an incredible glimpse at Jobs’ interaction with Apple coworkers, most notably his longtime assistant Joanna (a wonderful Kate Winslet), who is the most consistent figure in his life, and his role as a reluctant father to his young estranged daughter he refuses to recognize.

Sorkin paints a thought-provoking picture of Jobs. Much of it is not a flattering one for his personality, but it does sing his praises as someone who is able to take control of any situation and be the conductor of his own symphony, as Sorkin so skillfully writes. While Danny Boyle does a satisfactory job at staging these events, nothing screams out that this is a Boyle film. Still, with Fassbender leading the way in this dialogue-heavy drama, “Steve Jobs” says a lot more than the average cradle-to-the-grave story. It might be Fassbender’s symphony, but Sorkin’s the maestro of the entire suite.

Ep. 67 – Steve Jobs, reaction to the new Star Wars trailer, Chris Rock is hosting the Oscars, and Edgar Wright is teaming up with Johnny Depp, Neil Gaiman, and Bret McKenzie

October 26, 2015 by  
Filed under Podcast

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In this week’s episode of The CineSnob Podcast, the guys talk about “Steve Jobs,” their reactions to the final “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” trailer, Chris Rock returning to host the Oscars, and the perfect storm of Edgar Wright directing Johnny Depp in an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Fortunately, The Milk” written by Bret McKenzie.

[0:00-12:37] Intro, weather talk, podcasting-over-Skype woes, and Kiko is somewhere noisy.
[12-37-24:33] Reactions to the final “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” trailer
[24:33-33:29] Chris Rock returns to host the Oscars
[33:29-39:13] Edgar Wright and Johnny Depp to team up for “Fortunately, The Milk”
[39:13-56:30] Steve Jobs
[56:30-1:09:37] Wrap up/tease next episode

Click here to download the episode!

Slow West

May 22, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: John Maclean (debut)
Written by: John Maclean (debut)

In “Slow West,” Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a 16-year-old from Scotland, is making his way across America to track down the girl he loves. Along the way, Jay bumps into Silas (Michael Fassbender), a mysterious man of questionable morality. After being cornered, Jay agrees to pay Silas to get him across the country safely.

Despite it’s hasty 84-minute runtime, “Slow West” is surprisingly a slow burn. More character study than traditional Western, first-time writer and director John Maclean turns most of his focus on the unlikely relationship of Jay and Silas. It may be a stretch to call “Slow West” a coming-of-age story, but Smit-McPhee is able to bring a certain naivety to the character of Jay that juxtaposes nicely against the grit, “seen it all” quality of Fassbender’s Silas. Performances are great across the board, which is no surprise considering Fassbender’s track record.

As a snapshot into the late 1800s, “Slow West” is occasionally compelling, if not a little unmemorable. Though the plotline of the traveling love story never really develops, enough interest is mined from the interaction between Smit-McPhee and Fassbender and the evolving and forced transition into manhood to make the film worth a look. Maclean should be applauded for cramming solid characterization into the short amount of time he uses, and shows some definite promise as a filmmaker. If nothing else, “Slow West” succeeds as a cautionary glimpse into the perils of being in the friend zone, even in the old West.

Frank

September 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson (“What Richard Did”)
Written by: Jon Ronson (debut) and Peter Straughan (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”)

After heavy career-defining roles in “Shame” and “12 Years A Slave,” a comedic side is just about the only thing we haven’t seen from Michael Fassbender. With Lenny Abrhamson’s musically-skewed dark comedy “Frank,” Fassbender gets a chance to shine in a completely new fashion.

Aspiring musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) doesn’t have much in the way of musical or songwriting talent, but stumbles across an opportunity to play in a band. The band is led by a strange, but kind-hearted man named Frank (Michael Fassbender) who wears a giant fake head at all times, with the reason and true identity not known by anyone. As the band retreats to write and record an album, Jon begins updating on their progress and videos of their retreat on social media. When the band gains notoriety from its videos, they are provided an opportunity they might not be ready for.

With how talented Fassbender is, it is no surprise that he is excellent at comedy. What is truly impressive is how adept he is at physical comedy. Often flailing, getting laughs from well-timed looks, or excitedly describing his facial expression from under the fake head, Fassbender is able to mine an incredible amount of infectious personality and humor despite having his head and face covered. Some of the funnier bits also come from the absurd props that Frank needs to get by with the fake head, like long stretching headphones or super long straws to drink from.

As a musical film, there isn’t much to write home about as the music is intentionally bad and can occasionally become grating. Still, as Jon builds the hype of the band through Twitter and YouTube, the elements of being in a band and going through the song-writing process is interesting to watch even if the music is often atonal noise.

Tone-wise, “Frank” isn’t completely funny, but rather has a hint of sadness present throughout. Overall, however, the film has a certain sweet streak running through its veins and is a frequently interesting look at mental illness and seeking fame in the digital age. It doesn’t work in every aspect. The film’s first half is far better than the second and there are some tonal shifts that are a little jarring as the film goes from dark to silly at the drop of a hat. There is also the major issue of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character being entirely off-putting, with every one of her scenes coming off as extremely annoying. Still, Fassbender carries “Frank” and gives it a lighthearted touch that makes the film easy enough to digest.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

May 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
Directed by: Bryan Singer (“X-Men,” “X2: X-Men United”)
Written by: Simon Kinburg (“X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Sherlock Holmes”)

In this golden age of comic book movies, the X-Men franchise is the unlikely elder statesman. Bill Clinton was still president when the first film hit theaters in 2000, for crying out loud, and since then we’ve had two different sets of Spider-Man movies, three different versions of the Hulk, and we’re working on our second go-round with both Batman and Superman. And the X-movies, with their often blatant disregard for continuity with one another, fly in the face of the clockwork-precision the current slate of Avengers-based blockbusters Marvel and Disney are pumping out. It’s no secret that Hugh Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine is the glue that holds everything together, anchoring the everything from the best (“X2”) and worst (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) in the series with his definitive take on the most popular X-Man. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is no different, only this time it shrewdly sends the mutant MVP back through time to undo some of the franchise’s most glaring missteps in an adventure that ranks among the series’ strongest.

Opening in a dystopian future — and weirdly, seeming to shrug off the post-credits sequence of “The Wolverine” — “Days of Future Past” finds Logan, Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellan), and a small group of X-Men fighting for their lives against shape-shifting killer robots known as Sentinels. Originally meant to hunt down mutants, the Sentinels’ programming changed to include taking out mutant-sympathizing humans as well. In an effort to end the war before it begins, Professor X hatches a plan with Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) to send Logan’s consciousness back through time into his younger body. His goal is to unite the younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lesherr (Michael Fassbender) to stop Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Sentinel creator Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), an event that set humankind on a mission to eradicate mutants from the world.

Returning to the franchise for the first time since “X2,” director Bryan Singer seems to have one goal in mind: clean up the mess the series has become. Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinburg rely heavily on the audience being familiar with  most of the events in “X-Men,” “X2,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and the prequel “X-Men: First Class” (again, oddly, the superior “The Wolverine” is largely ignored), and the duo make a massive effort to smash all of that into a timeline that makes sense within itself (spoiler: it never does). Thinking about it too much can make your head hurt, and thankfully the film is exciting enough that you don’t need to worry about it. At this point Jackman IS Wolverine, and his performance is as badass and funny as ever. The “First Class” cast, led by Lawrence, McAvoy, Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult (as Hank McCoy/Beast) all shine as well. “Days of Future Past” ultimately serves as a giant reset button and with Singer back at the helm, the future of the franchise seems brighter than ever.

12 Years a Slave

November 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Steve McQueen (“Shame”)
Written by: John Ridley (“Red Tails”)

Already considered by many to be the frontrunner for a Best Picture Oscar in March, Steve McQueen’s harrowing pre-Civil War narrative “12 Years a Slave” definitely has all the elements voters usually look for when designating a top-tier film. From its significant subject matter to McQueen’s fine direction to a script that pits man’s brutal nature against the persevering human spirit, “12 Years” has a lot going for it as we enter the start of awards season.  Lest we forget a handful of performances (specifically from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o) that can possibly garner each of them their own accolades at the end of the year.

Set in the antebellum U.S., “12 Years” tells the story of Solomon Northup (Ejiofor), a free black man living in upstate New York who is kidnapped, sold into slavery in the American South and kept imprisoned for 12 years before he is able to find his freedom. Most of the story covers the time Solomon spends under the confinement of Edwin Epps (Fassbender), a cruel slave driver who purchases him after his former, and less heartless, slave owner Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) informs him that he can no longer guarantee his safety. While working at Epps’ plantation, Solomon suffers immensely through vicious beatings and abuse, but does everything he can to survive in hopes of one day reuniting with his wife and children.

Adapted from Solomon’s 1853 memoir of the same name, “12 Years” is certain to be compared to the 1977 award-winning TV miniseries “Roots” starring LeVar Burton and Louis Gossett, Jr. because of the historical similarities. However, Solomon is a different man compared to Burton’s Kunta Kinte. Solomon knows what freedom tastes like, so when it is taken from him, the effects seem even more devastating. That’s not to say Kunta had it any better, of course, but Solomon had build a life for himself and his family. Kunta, who was taken from Africa as a teenager, becomes a slave first and then a man; for Solomon, it’s the opposite.

While much of the attention will be paid to the brutality of the film, McQueen avoids “12 Years” becoming sensationalized in any way. The violence is there without a doubt, but McQueen is able to balance it well with the strongly written characterizations shared by Solomon and some of the other slaves he meets during his time on the plantation. One of these women is Patsey (Nyong’o), a highly skilled cotton picker who draws the unwanted attention of Master Epps much to the dismay of Epps’ equally merciless wife (Sarah Paulson). The entire film is, at times, is difficult to watch, but it is during Solomon’s years with Edwin which break him down into something he never imagined he could become and, in turn, will make audiences recoil at the sheer hatred humankind had to endure.

“12 Years” is extremely powerful and should be considered essential viewing for everyone. The problem, however, comes from the fact that it feels less epic in scope than it should for a film of its caliber. The timelines are vague and by the end of the picture, when Solomon is set free, it is less emotionally gratifying that it should be. It might’ve been presumptuous to hope for an ending like “The Color Purple,” where each scene builds to a grand reunion, but there’s much less of that here. Add to that some dialogue from secondary characters that is delivered more like the actors are on stage than in front of a camera, and a not-so-fitting cameo by Brad Pitt (you can’t help but only see Brad Pitt in a beard), and “12 Years a Slave” deserves less praise than it’s currently receiving, but is still as raw and real as anything to hit theaters in recent memory.

The Counselor

October 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Prometheus”)
Written by: Cormac McCarthy (debut)

He might be considered by many as one of the most talented living writers working today, but Cormac McCarthy’s transition from penning novels like “No Country for Old Men” and “The Road” to writing his first screenplay for “The Counselor” is not a smooth one to say the least. In fact, if you factor in McCarthy’s heavyweight status in the literary world along with the film’s star-studded cast and three-time Oscar nominated director Ridley Scott (“Black Hawk Down”) at the helm and “The Counselor” just might be the most surprising failure of the year.

Central to the story is actor Michael Fassbender (“Shame”) as the nameless title character, a lawyer who is in need of some fast cash and turns to the seedy drug cartels in Juarez, Mexico to help him out. When a drug run doesn’t go as planned, Mr. Lawyer must figure out how to fix the problem before the drug lords find him and toss his head into the Rio Grande.

As simple of a narrative as that sounds, McCarthy somehow turns the story into a complicated mess. Not only do scenes end awkwardly and feel disconnected from one another, the heavy-handed philosophical dialogue spoken by everyone involved makes for an exhausting experience. In one particular scene, Fassbender meets with an independent diamond seller to pick out a stone for his girlfriend Laura (Penelope Cruz). What should be a simple exchange between the men turns into a 10-minute sermon on the cut and clarity of precious gems. Yes, we know it’s a metaphor for something that happens later in the film, but McCarthy might as well have saved the scene and used it for a 2 a.m. infomercial.

Scott’s direction is fine and Fassbender and Brad Pitt, who we’re still not sure what his purpose in the film was, are serviceable, but they can only work with what McCarthy has given them. The same does not go for Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem. As the two-headed snake in Fassbender’s drug-deal-gone-bad, their characters feel like underwritten parodies. Sure, their dialogue is just as terrible as the rest of the cast, but their goofy delivery makes McCarthy’s words even more meaningless.

Heavy on sexual escapades (the film opens with a long scene where Fassbender performs cunnilingus and continues with Diaz humping a car without panties) and light on style and vision, “The Counselor” proves that stars don’t always align even when things look impressive on paper.

A Dangerous Method

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen
Directed by: David Cronenberg (“Eastern Promises”)
Written by: Christopher Hampton (“Atonement”)

For all of Freud’s innumerable contributions to the field of psychology, his work has also carried the unfortunate side effect of propagating a number of misguided, outdated, and resilient stereotypes about the profession. The seemingly far-out idea of the Oedipus complex, for example, is so deeply associated as a psychological concept that some people outside of the field might not even realize that a good chunk of Freud’s work is no longer (and in some cases was never) largely supported. Still, his contributions to the field were vital and every psychology student learns a lot about the man’s professional career. However, his personal life is something that is barely looked at, even by students. His relationship with fellow psychologist Carl Jung is the center of “A Dangerous Method.” Directed by David Cronenberg, the film is a look into the admiration and eventual tension between these two titans of the psychological field.

While confronting and experimenting with the treatment of the disturbed Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), psychiatrist Carl Jung gets to interact and work along with his mentor and idol Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). As Spielreins and Knightley’s relationship extends beyond doctor/patient and Freud and Jung’s ideas begin to separate, tension rises between the three.

The element of “A Dangerous Method” that is likely to be discussed the most is the bizarre performance by Knightley. In the first half of the film, she overacts tremendously, twitching and protruding her bottom jaw causing an underbite and speaking through a poor Russian accent (when she could speak without stammering). Though the transition she makes back to sanity is a little too sudden, it is welcome, and her performance is much easier to handle when she has calmed down a bit. Capping off an outstanding year, Fassbender once again puts in a fantastic performance as Jung. It isn’t a flashy role, but he anchors the film and embodies the character very well. It truly is a travesty that Fassbender was not recognized with an Oscar nomination for any of the work he did this past year. Mortensen, albeit in a smaller role, also delivers as Freud, smoking the signature cigar in nearly every scene and playing off of Fassbender with great chemistry.

“A Dangerous Method” is at its best when it delves into the intricacies of its psychological concepts. The discussion of psychological theories and beliefs between both Jung and Freud and Jung and Sabina are interesting to listen to and the scenes where Jung performs psychotherapy with Sabina and begin to get to the roots of her problems are fascinating. The film also accurately portrays the still relevant controversial stances from Freud such as his insistence on sexual drive being vital to human psychology. Unfortunately, when the movie takes this concept and turns the film into a sexual drama, it begins to lose its luster.

Since most of the information about Freud and Jung is largely academic and found mostly in psychology textbooks, “A Dangerous Method” succeeding in providing audiences with a rarely heard of human side to both of these men. Though the second half of the film is a little less successful than the first (not to mention the fits of exaggerated acting from Knightley), “A Dangerous Method” is worth seeing for Mortenson, and especially Fassbender’s performances alone.

Shame

January 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale
Directed by: Steve McQueen (“Hunger”)
Written by: Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”) and Steve McQueen (“Hunger”)

Over the span of a year he’s played iconic comic-book villain Magneto in “X-Men: First Class,” classic literary character Mr. Rochester in “Jane Eyre,” and groundbreaking Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in “A Dangerous Method,” but it still took Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds”) showing off a little more than his acting ability to get some serious consideration this awards season. Not that Fassbender going full frontal in “Shame” was the only reason he’s received universal acclaim for his portrayal of a New York City sex addict. The role, which Fassbender nails with unflinching confidence, is meaningful to witness. It’s impossible to turn away from it.

While most warm-blooded Americans enjoy sex, clean-cut businessman Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender) craves it like a heroin addict needs a fix. Brandon sleepwalks through each day – going to work, downloading ridiculous amounts of porn, and trolling the city at night for his next female conquest. At times, he doesn’t even have to make much of an effort. One seductive glance at an attractive red head on the subway and she’s practically having an orgasm in her seat. The life Brandon is accustomed to is disturbed when his equally troubled sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) moves into his apartment and triggers painful memories he’s always ignored.

In “Shame,” all those unearthed emotions are exposed brilliantly by both Fassbender and Mulligan, who through their brother/sister relationship demonstrate their lack of boundaries when inhabiting the same space. Director/co-writer Steve McQueen (“Hunger”) skirts the idea of sexual abuse or incest in their past, leaving the audience playing a kind of cinematic shrink.

“We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place,” Sissy tells her brother during one powerful scene. McQueen and co-writer Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”) don’t reveal those nightmarish scenarios she’s referring to, instead focusing on the emotional destruction it has caused. What we’re left to watch is a damaged man whose addiction controls his lifestyle; someone who only finds contentment through physical pleasure. Retreating to a bathroom stall during the workday to masturbate, one might wonder if instead of coming, he should be crying.

Stamped with an NC-17 rating by the MPAA, Shame does have its share of fairly explicit sex scenes all necessary in context. The sex, however, isn’t what should arouse intrigue. Fassbender and Mulligan deliver on each of these complex roles an artful take on the fear of intimacy. Together they explore a taboo subject rarely confronted in film and prove there are more important issues than just what’s happening between the sheets.

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