Doctor Strange

November 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwitel Ejiofor
Directed by: Scott Derrickson (“Sinister”)
Written by: Jon Spaihts (“Prometheus”), Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) and C. Robert Cargill (“Sinister”)

At 14 movies in, Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe is humming along rather well. After two lackluster releases in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man” in 2015, the studio stormed back this year with the certifiably-fantastic “Captain America: Civil War” and vanquished its longtime rival DC Comics in the battle for critical acclaim, because no one really liked “Batman v. Superman” or “Suicide Squad” all that much, volume of Harley Quinn Halloween costumes notwithstanding.

Anyway, here we are at “Doctor Strange,” Marvel’s latest effort in its (so-far) successful attempt to expand their theatrical bench using superheroes not quite as known to the general public. Doctor Strange, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, is quickly explained as a mustachioed sorcerer with a high-collared cape and a giant amulet around his neck. Hardly Halloween costume material.

We begin quickly with a look at Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a hot-shot, egotistical surgeon bearing more than a passing resemblance to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark whose career is put in jeopardy after a high-speed, distracted driving Lamborghini crash leaves him without the use of his hands. After exhausting the limits of medical science and the patience of his on-again/off-again girlfriend Christine (Rachel McAdams), Strange travels to Nepal to solicit help from The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who isn’t some sort of faith healer but a sorcerer supreme. She offers to teach him the ways of sorcery to win back the ability to use his hands—oh, and maybe fight in an impending magical war, to boot.

The film seems to know it has a lot of ground to cover to get Strange from surgeon to sorcerer, and as a result the first half of “Doctor Strange” at times feels equal parts plodding and hasty. This is, after all, another origin story, and this far in, the setup portions of these films start to feel longer and longer. The movie perks up, though, when it finally gives way to a special effects bonanza, starting with a sentient cape reminiscent of Aladdin’s magic carpet and continuing on to a kaleidoscopic, geometric rearranging of the New York City skyline and a climax that plays with the passage of time in clever, head-tripping ways. Even as the most self-contained Marvel movie since “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Doctor Strange” is careful to toss in references to the Avengers, its own Infinity Stone, and the assurance that, of course, Doctor Strange will return.

Snowpiercer

July 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton
Directed by: Bong Joon-ho (“Mother”)
Written by: Bong Joon-ho (“Mother”) and Kelly Masterson (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”)

When the news came out that The Weinstein Company wanted to cut Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s English language debut, “Snowpiercer,” to make it more palatable to American audiences, many people (including those who hadn’t even seen the film) found it frustrating to see a director’s vision stifled. Even though the full runtime was only two hours without credits, the Weinstein’s allegedly wanted to cut character scenes and add voiceovers to make the film a more straightforward action and sci-fi movie. In the end, the Weinstein’s relented and Joon-ho’s vision remained intact as the full cut of “Snowpiercer” reaches American soil.

Seventeen years after the chemical CW-7 froze the planet in an effort to combat global warming, a train called the Rattling Ark continues to carry the only surviving humans on a non-stop route. The train is segregated with the rich and powerful at the front of the train and the poor in the back. After being fed up with years of subpar treatment, the passengers in the rear of the train, led by Curtis (Chris Evans), plan a revolt. Moving through the train car by car, the determined group will stop at nothing until they claim the very front car.

As “Snowpiercer” progresses and the people from the back of the train begin to trudge forward, the film is almost reminiscent of a video game, where new challenges or surroundings are behind every door. It’s a good way to construct the film and Joon-ho is able to mine a lot of tension from the mystery awaiting the rebellious group.

Though few of the characters are particularly memorable, actors like Evans and the Korean veteran Song Kang-ho provide strong performances when given the opportunity. Evans in particular is able to convey a breadth of non-verbal emotion while flawlessly delivering a mortifying story towards the end of the film. The one character that really stands out is Tilda Swinton’s Minister Mason. It is a character and performance that is incredibly odd, yet so detailed and well defined as Swinton goes all in on the weirdness. Frankly, this character could have been a complete disaster in the hands of a lesser actress.

From a technical standpoint, “Snowpiercer” thrives with fantastic sound and incredible production design for the interiors of the train. Where Joon-ho truly excels is in his treatment of the action sequences in the film. Carefully planned out and orchestrated, there is a certain quiet creativity to these scenes. Where other directors might tend to go big and kinetic, Joon-ho uses techniques like slow motion, isolated sound effects and in one fantastic scene, night-vision to carry out his action.

The film isn’t exactly shy about its themes surrounding socioeconomic status and class warfare and occasionally hammers the point home a little too hard with cliché highfalutin surroundings and people. There are also a few instances of the film getting a little too bizarre, including one scene taking place in a classroom that is particularly over the top. Despite all of this, “Snowpiercer” is brainier than your average action film, and deserves credit for going beyond the basics of the genre to provide a film with substance. With great action, performances, and tension, “Snowpiercer” is sure to stand out in the summer crowd.

Only Lovers Left Alive

May 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch (“Broken Flowers”)
Written by: Jim Jarmusch (“Broken Flowers”)

Taking a realistic approach to the idea of two vampires who have been living and loving on this earth for centuries, unconventional writer/director Jim Jarmusch breaks the mold with “Only Lovers Left Alive,” a fresh and distinctive entry into the vampire genre. For those who like their vampires to sparkle like diamonds like they do in the “Twilight” series or – on the opposite end of the spectrum – live like gorehounds and quench their insatiable thirst any way they can, Jarmusch’s cool, laid-back vampire story probably won’t do anything for you. Art-house film aficionados, however, should be pleased to see what Jarmusch is able to do with his non-formulaic narrative, especially with perfectly-cast actors Tom Hiddleston and Oscar winner Tilda Swinton in the lead roles. The result is undeniably tasty.

For a couple of undead characters who have been around for centuries, vampires Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) sure do have this whole “living” thing down pat. Adam, a depressed and reclusive musician, lives in the most lifeless part of Detroit while Eve has found a happy existence living in Morocco. It makes sense that vampires, who have been together for hundreds of years, would probably take some time off from inhabiting the same space so they won’t grow tired of each other.

Adam, however, is depressed. His only real link to the outside world is Ian (Anton Yelchin), the only “zombie” (AKA human being) he can stand to be around, who provides him with rare stringed instruments to purchase. Upon seeing that Adam is acting more emo than usual, Eve decides she’ll fly out (on an airplane, not as a bat) for a much-needed visit. The two are enjoying their time together until Eve’s immature sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turns up and does some really vampy things, which send Adam and Eve’s lives into a tailspin.

Along with the fact that Adam and Eve don’t live together, Jarmusch pays attention to other details that would come up if vampires really existed, which makes “Only Lovers” all the more believable and authentic. For example, when it comes to nourishing themselves with human blood, it wouldn’t make much sense if the couple lived off the necks of real people in the 21st century (haven’t you seen “CSI?” They’d be arrested or always on the run). Instead, both have their own personal hook-up to blood that keeps them from having to murder everyone they meet. Adam pays a doctor (Jeffrey Wright) handsomely for it; Eve turns to a famous 16th century playwright (John Hurt) for her premium-grade sustenance.

Jarmusch, whose past films include the wonderful “Broken Flowers” starring Bill Murray and “Stranger than Paradise,” takes on a different tone than his previous work. There is an underlying sadness to “Only Lovers” that paints an intriguing picture about what it would be like to live forever. While there are many people out there who would love to discover the Fountain of Youth, Jarmusch raises interesting issues about mortality and about just how much living one person can do when you know you’re always going to wake up the next night.

This film was screened at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival. For more coverage, click here.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody
Directed by: Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom”)
Written by: Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom”)

If filmmaker Wes Anderson simply isn’t your quirky cup of tea – the handmade look and feel of his sets, the subtle and oftentimes dry humor, the eccentric overall nature of his characters – not much is going to change your mind with his latest opus, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” For fans of his authentic and whimsical work who really don’t understand what everyone else is missing, a trip with Anderson to the fictional Republic of Zubrowka (because in Anderson’s world Hungary would be just too square) is like an inclusive tour of his 10-year-long career. From his 1994 film “Bottle Rocket” to his prior art-house success, 2012’s Oscar-nominated “Moonrise Kingdom,” Anderson seems to have taken elements from his past work to fashion together another satisfying creation. It doesn’t top some personal favorites (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”), but even Anderson’s middle-of-the-road entries should never be described as such.

In “Grand Budapest,” Anderson uses an assortment of flashbacks cutting from the 1980s to the 60s and again to the 30s to tell the story of how Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the hotel’s aging owner, came to take possession of his fine establishment after working as a lobby boy there decades ago. Under the tutelage of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes in a role unlike anything he’s ever done), a faithful concierge employed during the hotel’s glory days in the 30s, a young Zero (Tony Revolori) gets mixed up in family affair when Madame D (Tilda Swinton), one of the wealthy female hotel guests Gustave takes special care of (wink), dies and bequeaths to him a priceless painting much to the chagrin of her extremely serious family (Adrien Brody plays her irate son). When Gustave is accused of actually murdering Madame D, he and Zero set out on a mission to prove his innocence, which includes evading an evil assassin (Willem Dafoe) and the local police (Edward Norton plays Inspector Henckles). It also features an outrageous jail break that could only be invented in Anderson’s head.

As silly as Anderson’s past films are, “Grand Budapest,” with its crime-caper narrative, feels even more madcap than, say, a group of stop-motion mammals digging underground escape tunnels in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The “Keystone Cops”- atmosphere, however, isn’t a bad thing to see in an Anderson film. If anything, it keeps the story moving swiftly and on edge. So, along with the pastel-colored designs, the dollhouse appearance, and detailed imagery, Anderson packs his film with kooky chases and vaudevillian-esque comedy.

Finding some of his vision from the work of German American director Ernst Lubitsch, Anderson can take the most random film references and styles and build on them to mold his own cinematic flair. It might feel typical to those who can’t differentiate between Anderson’s more entertaining albeit mature storytelling, but there are plenty of new nuances in “Grand Budapest” that continue to elevate his filmmaking charm and spark more artistic inspiration.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

March 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay (“Morvern Callar”)
Written by: Lynne Ramsay (“Morvern Callar”) and Rory Kinnear (debut)

Look, if you’ve seen just one “evil kid” movie, even the most stylistic, well-acted offering in the genre isn’t going to offer you any surprises. A weird little kid is going to do creepy and borderline psychotic things that only one of his parents will notice, leaving the other one to bumble around happily, stopping every so often to reassure their troubled spouse with inane platitudes like, “Oh, you’re just over-reacting” or  “Honey, please…it’s perfectly normal for a boy to continue masturbating while staring you dead in the eyes when you accidentally walk in on him.” Seriously, it happens in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

In “Kevin,” troubled mother Eva (Tilda Swinton) deals with the aftermath of a tragedy, slinking through life permanently shattered. She spends her time avoiding personal contact on the street and traveling to visit her son Kevin (Ezra Miller) locked away in prison. Flashbacks fill in the details slowly, as Eva and husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) grow apart through Kevin’s childhood as both parents see very different sides of the same little boy.

Tilda Swinton turns in a fantastic performance as a broken woman who has to deal with a son capable of doing terrible things, a husband who doesn’t believe her, and a community that holds her personally responsible for the awful things Kevin did. While it may serve the artier parts of the movie to alienate Eva from the world, the film never really makes it clear why the townspeople would see fit to slap Eva square in the face in public for expressing the least bit of happiness. The supporting performances are fine, with Ezra Miller bringing the requisite uneasiness to the well-worn trope of the deeply-troubled teenager. A likeable John C. Reilly adds nothing new to the standard oblivious parent role. Also, his recent forays into absurd comedy can’t help but undercut his dramatic performance. That may be unfair, but it remains true and proves to be a minor distraction.

Director Lynne Ramsay piles on the artistry, yet the story remains pedestrian. A palette of blood red permeates Eva’s life before and after the tragedy, from a paint-splattered front porch to a strawberry jam sandwich smashed ominously on a coffee table to a wall of red soup cans, but it all boils down to metaphorical window-dressing that fails to disguise how routine the plot unfolds.

I am Love

June 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini
Directed by: Luca Gadagnino (“Melissa P.”)
Written by: Luca Gadagnino (“Melissa P.”)

Filmmaker Luca Gadagnino has such an elegant way of saying nothing in the film “I am Love,” an Italian melodrama that explores social status, family issues, and a little cuisine, but never goes anywhere meaningful as it flaps about in its art-house flare.

Starring Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”), “I am Love” follows an upper-class household from Milan who watches as their family dynamic changes after the death of their grandfather (Gabriele Ferzetti), who leaves the family business in the hands of both his son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and grandson Edoardo (Flavio Parenti). Swinton plays Emma, the mother caught in the middle, who begins to have an affair with her son’s friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini) as the family inches closer and closer to self destruction.

While beautifully shot through the snow-covered city of Milan, and with a fantastic classical score by composer John Adams, “I am Love” never builds momentum as it sort of floats to the finish line with little emotional pull. When the climax does happen, it is all laid on thickly and in a way that hardly matches the tone of the rest of the film. What we’re left with is a visually remarkable story that sits in the lap of luxury and isn’t bashful about tossing out empty metaphors.

Burn After Reading

September 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: George Clooney, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”)
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”)

It would only be natural if you flinched a bit when you found out the recently Oscar’ed Coen Brothers would return to the comedy genre after their success with the suspenseful and fascinating “No Country for Old Men.” Not since 1998’s “The Big Lebowski” has the genre been good to them, although some may argue “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” was a minor triumph.

Still, “Intolerably Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers” were not up to form for directors who had helmed one of the best dark comedies of all time in “Fargo.” It’s good to see them slowly finding that niche again in their new film.

In “Burn After Reading,” the nation’s security is in jeopardy (well, sort of) when employees of a local fitness center, including Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) and Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), find a disc they think contains top secret CIA information.

With a bitter, recently separated ex-spook named Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) on their backs, Chad and Linda decide they are going to milk their discovery as much as possible and see how far blackmailing someone can take them.

Linda, who’s tired of trolling on internet dates sites for the perfect man, has been longing for a few plastic surgery procedures her insurance refuses to cover so she can be more attractive, while peppy Chad is simply excited about being a part of the adventure. Academy Award winner George Clooney (“Syriana”) plays Harry Pfarrer, a delusional governmental employee with food allergies who’s been sleeping around with Osborne’s cold wife Katie (Tilda Swinton). Relationships continue to cross paths in this comedy of errors as the Coens write up a breezy little spoof that pushes the plot in bizarre and sometimes unbelievable ways.

The main problem with “Burn” is that the Coens haven’t developed characters as much as they have created caricatures of real people. It’s different when we’re talking about eccentricities like John Tuturro’s Jesus Quintana in “Lebowski” or even Clooney’s grease-loving Everett in “O Brother” because they seem to be in this completely different world devoid of any sanity. In “Burn,” however, many of the characters feel too manufactured in Anytown, USA. Their exaggerated stupidity can be endearing, but most of the time you’re thinking how no one can possibly be this dumb and needy.

Still, the Coens recipe for humor laden with violence is second to none and all the principal players give enjoyably jovial performances. It really is the Coen’s funniest film since giving us The Dude 10 years ago.