Monthly Archives: August 2015

Film Review: Slow West

Slow West is of a bounty hunter, played by Michael Fassbender (right), helping a Scottish émigré, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (left), reunite with the woman he loves.

Slow West is of a bounty hunter, played by Michael Fassbender (right), helping a Scottish émigré, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (left), reunite with the woman he loves.

Slow West is not your typical western. It also comes off as a love story that’s more than meets the eye.

Jay Cavendish is a sixteen year-old Scottish boy in the frontiers of America. He recently arrived over there in pursuit of Rose Ross, his love from back home who also fled to America along with her father. The frontiers are deadly but Jay is determined to find her. Jay finds himself prey by strangers who were first trying to kill a Native American but is stopped by a bounty hunter named Silas Selleck.

Jay tells Silas his story of his pursuit and even pays him for protection. Silas cooperates at first but when he sees the wanted poster for Rose and her father, he decides to use it for his own pursuit for the bounty of $2,000 and use Jay to get it. During the time, Silas tells Jay about the importance of keeping his guard and why killing is necessary out there. It then becomes evident when a Swedish couple try to rob a store Jay and Silas are shopping at. The man and the owner are shot while Jay is up against the woman. He shoots her, his first murder. That wasn’t all. The couple had their children with them to which Jay and Silas give them food and clothes before leaving them behind.

In the flashback to before Jay and Rose came to America, we learn Jay was a boy of noble birth in Scotland and had a huge love for common girl Rose but deep down Rose thought of him more to be like a ‘little brother.’ One day an intense argument between Rose’s father and Jay’s uncle, the Lord Cavendish, led to the uncle being killed. That’s what led Rose and her father to flee to America with the bounty on their heads.

In a conversation, Jay finds Silas a brute because he doesn’t appear to care about love and seems to only care about ‘surviving.’ Jay leaves one night with his horse and goods but meets up with a writer named Werner who appears to befriend him only to rob him overnight. Silas is able to find Jay and the two return only to be confronted by the gang Silas used to belong to and its leader Payne who plans to beat Silas to catching Rose and her father. Payne even steals their weapons overnight. Unbeknown to Jay and Silas is that Payne and the gang have the orphaned children of the Swedish couple from the robbery.

SPOILER WARNING: The ending will be revealed in the below paragraph.

The two continue on unarmed until they enter a forest. They find themselves prey among a Native American tribe but are saved by the luck of them falling off horses. In the meantime, Payne and the gang pursue Rose and her father who are living in a desolate farm house protected. However the father is shot to death and Silas wants to pursue Payne and his gang alone tying Jay to a tree for his protection. Jay is able to free himself but finds himself in the battle where he is shot by Rose who doesn’t recognize him at first. After a gritty gun battle Silas kills Payne’s gang while a dying Jay is able to kill Payne while comforted by Rose. Silas is shocked to find Jay dead but later on becomes Rose’s love and adopts the orphaned Swedish children.

When you see the whole film, you could easily see it`s not your typical western. Yes, there is gunshooting going on. However the film focuses on motives of the shooting. It focuses on the people and why they`re committing these murders. It can be either for personal greed or vengeance or simply to help themselves and their loved ones survive. Another interesting thing the film focuses on is the wide variety of characters involved in this Wild West scenario. There were your typical villains but there were others like the immigrant couple robbing a store to feed themselves and their starving children. This was a reminder that even the first immigrants the US in the 1800`s had to fight to survive in the New World.

Mind you the shooting in the film isn’t meant to stir up the excitement you’d normally acquire while watching a Western. Instead it focuses on the gun battle’s intensity and gets the audience feel the heat of the friction instead of being dazzled away by the gunslinging. In each case, you’re left with an aftermath that’s ugly. Seeing the bodies on the ground is more disheartening to the viewer instead of satisfaction that the job is done. I guess that’s why the film is called Slow West, because the ruthlessness and friction of the Wild West here is slowed down and the intensity is felt instead of just seen.

The film also focuses on the theme of love during a time and place where it appears people have no heart of soul. Jay is so determined to get back to his love Rose even though her and her father have a bounty on them. It took Jay to convince a bounty hunter who was only interested in using Jay as bait for Rose and her father about what love is. Over time they see the fight to survive and the lack of scruples in the people that surround them during their trip. However it`s Jay that convinced Silas of the power of love even if Jay appeared to be too naïve and deluded for his own good. It`s a common theme in a lot of films that show love in what appears to be a moral wasteland. I’ve seen it before in City Of God where love and hope exist in one of the most brutal favelas of Brazil. Here in Slow West we see love in the lawlessness of the Wild West. Even if Jay`s heart `beat in the wrong places,` he changed the older bounty hunter Silas and his heart. You know it when he says at the end: “There’s more to life than survival. Jay Cavendish taught me that. I owe him my life.”

This is actually the first feature-length film directed and written British director John Maclean. He does a very impressive job by packing a lot of intensity into an 85-minute story. For those who don’t know, John is actually a former guitarist for the Beat Band and The Aliens before turning to film directing. Michael Fassbender does a great job of character acting in his supporting role and Kodi Smit-McPhee is also excellent as the young Jay in capturing both his acquiring of the necessary ruthless grit over time while still keeping his passion and innocence. Impressive supporting performances come from Ben Mendelsohn as Payne and Caren Pistorius as Rose. Even minor performances like the Swedish couple committing the robbery and the Congolese singers add to the story.

The film has already won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in the Dramatic category and has above 90% on Rotten Tomatoes but the film has not been successful in winning a crowd. Not even $250,000. It`s not fair to say Sundance winners are declining at the box office, even though such films have shown a lack of buzz compared to 20 years ago or even 15 years ago. However this film was overshadowed by the Sundance hit comedy Me And Earl And The Dying Girl which ad no star power at all. It`s always hard to predict what will win with the crowds. Right now there’s no data on how much online viewing of the film has happened.

Slow West doesn’t have the fast-pace action one would expect from a Western. Instead its slowness and intensity are its best qualities which allows the audient to feel the grit of the situation and the feelings of its main characters. Qualities that make the story.

Movie Review: Love & Mercy

Love & Mercy is about the music and troubles of Beach Boy Brian Wilson (played by Paul Dano set in the 60`s).

Love & Mercy is about the music and troubles of Beach Boy Brian Wilson (played by Paul Dano set in the 60`s).

Summertime may be the perfect time for Beach Boys music but the film Love & Mercy isn’t one to give you that summery feeling that comes with their music. Actually it’s a lot deeper.

The film alternates between two time periods: between the mid-60`s and 1987. In the 60`s, the Beach Boys, consisting of brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, cousin Mike Love and high-school friend Al Jardine have hit the big time. Their California sound of girls, cars, beaches and surf have made them a phenomenon. However it`s not to say they face competition from the British Invasion, especially the Beatles.

However something`s not right despite their success. It becomes evident when Brian has a panic attack on an airplane. After the incident, he resigns from touring with the band and goes into seclusion into an attempt to make `the best album ever made.` During the time, he continues to make music but it becomes more his music rather than music of the Beach Boys. Often Brian hires other musicians and usually features the other Beach Boys only in vocals. This leads to a lot of disharmony among the band sensing this may be a vainglorious Brian Wilson solo project. Brian also does other unorthodox things like build a sandbox around his piano and experiment with LSD which even his own wife is comfortable with.

The end result is the album Pet Sounds which received a lot of critical praise but was a commercial failure despite two Top 10 hits. The lack of commercial success is especially rubbed in by his father Murry who acts as their manager and expects the band to succeed just like it was any other act he owned.`  He even announces to Brian that the Beach Boys are fired and he manages a new band which he feels has better chart-topping potential. Even after The Beach Boys resume their top-selling ways with songs like Good Vibrations, that changes nothing especially since some of Brian`s other creations are rejected. Brian goes into seclusion after a mental breakdown to the point he alienates everyone including his wife and newborn daughter Carnie.

Flash forward to 1987. It was a chance meeting between Wilson (played by John Cusack) and Melinda (played by Elizabeth Banks) that changes for the better happened.

Flash forward to 1987. It was a chance meeting between Wilson (played by John Cusack) and Melinda (played by Elizabeth Banks) that changed his life.

In 1987, Brian is in a Cadillac store in California where he appears to be shopping for a new car. He stumbles across attractive saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter. However his psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy stops him. Brian is able to give Melinda his number. He goes on dates with her in which he was surprisingly honest to the point he even revealed his father`s abusiveness to him and his brothers. It`s obvious Brian is still as troubled mentally as he was back in the 60`s. The accidental death of brother Dennis three years earlier only added to his distress.

Over time, Landy demands more supervision of Brian. Melinda is already sending Landy becoming overbearing and even controlling when he tells Brian out loud to wait for food at a barbecue. Landy`s controlling nature becomes even harsher when Landy supervises his music and even demands that no visitors be with Brian. It becomes especially evident that he has a certain contempt towards Melinda. Melinda tries to get Brian to turn away on many occasions but Brian is too mentally weak to drop Landy. It comes down to Melinda threatening a legal suit to put an end to this and she gets what she needs. The ending tells us that Melinda is the best thing to ever happen to Brian.

The film is not just about Brian`s mental condition but also about the Beach Boys music at the time and even the time in music history when it was happening. Hard to believe the whole time the Beach Boys appeared as the epitome of surfing culture in the early 60`s, only Dennis surfed. They were an act packaged by their father Murry and it paid off into hit record after hit record. However Brian had other creative juices of his own and he felt he had to put it to record.

It showed the inspiration he transpired into the record studio but it also showed the conflict he had with other band members and the commercial pressures expected with every big name act. We often think of the mid-60`s as a time when rock bands did away with the typical `bubble gum` sounds that made them chart-toppers and started getting more creative and changed rock `n roll forever in all angles. True, but it didn`t make them immune to the commercial expectations they faced. Sure, there were albums like Sgt. Pepper that paid off commercially and changed music forever. However there were albums like Pet Sounds that were just as creative but flopped. It`s a gamble no matter how you put it. Even that scene where Murry tells Brian he fired the Beach Boys in favor of a new act, you could tell by the look on Brian`s face it appeared like a case of a father disowning his sons. It sure looked like it.

Without a doubt the mental illness ordeal of Brian Wilson is the focal point of the film. His ordeal is something most of us already know but only few knew the full details. The film gives the story of how it all started especially with Brian`s upbringing and what all happened at its start and most noticeable troubles during the 1960`s. The film also showed why it took so long for it to be resolved. You could easily see why a doctor like Eugene Hardy would make the situation worse than better. It makes you wonder why was Eugene so controlling to Brian? His star status? Landy`s own psychiatrist ego? Or Landy`s own problems?

It also made you wonder why was Brian afraid to leave Landy? Was it because he trusted him? Or was it because Landy appeared to him as the father figure he didn`t get from Murry? Even though the story is about Brian`s mental condition, it`s also a love story as it was Melinda whom Brian meets by chance that becomes the best thing for him. For his life and for his mental well-being. You`re left feeling that way at the end that love really does conquer all.

Director Bill Pohlad and scriptwriters Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner succeed in creating a film that`s both autobiographical and also about the music of the Beach Boys and the time when Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations were released and also about how persistent love solved a decades-long psychological issue. The story however could not shine without the phenomenal acting. Paul Dano was excellent as the younger Brian who was full of music but very troubled and couldn`t be helped. John Cusack was excellent as the older Brian who was still troubled and too afraid to break free from Landy. Also excellent was Elizabeth Banks as Melinda. She was excellent for portraying the one who knew nothing about psychology but knew how to solve Brian with love. Paul Giamatti was good as Eugene Landy but his performance was as typical as most of the other characters he`s done in past films.

Love & Mercy is  a biographical film of a musician but it`s a lot more. It`s about the music of the time and a reminder that one who loves you enough to care can see through hard situations.

Double Movie Review: Mad Max- Fury Road and Jurassic World

Here I am back to my blogging habit. Yes, I have quite the backlog in terms of movie reviews. I have the energy to post now and I’m able to post a double review of two of the hottest movies of the summer: Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road. Both were either sequels or part of a franchise. Both cost $150 million each to make. Both are different in terms of the audience they can win over and both have differing success results.

Tom Hardy (left) and Charlize Theron pursue a post-apocalyptic world in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Tom Hardy (left) and Charlize Theron fight for survival together in a post-apocalyptic world in Mad Max: Fury Road.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Yes, it’s been a long time since there’s been a Mad Max movie: 30 years to be exact. George Miller is back in directing this Mad Max movie, or picking up where he left off as one could assume. And believe me this movie was quite something else.

Right at the beginning you’re left wondering what kind of world this is. The world is a complete bizarre wasteland and the whole universe in existence is fighting each other and Max. Mind you even the bad guys are insane enough that Joe uses Max as a universal blood donor and has five wives for the sake of breeding purposes. Over time, some of the people become Max’s friend in order to save civilization from Joe.

Already that’s a lot of craziness most fans of the original three Mad Max movies would find hard to fathom but watching the movie even gives it enough craziness for any movie viewer hard to fathom. Even the people all act like they’re all on something–crack, smack, speed–and it’s not just the bad guys. Just one insane place full of insane people. However what would have to make people adjust to this new version of the Max Max franchise would have to be good characters. First would have to be Furiosa. Right in the middle of the movie, you could see the pain in which she’s going through. It’s also a pain shared by the other four wives of Joe. Once these characters were made more human, it made for something for people to connect to the story. In addition is the connection of the character Nux. Nux was very unhuman but his human side was more noticeable later on and it gave cause for people to feel for him even as he sacrifices himself.

The character work couldn’t have been done firstly without Charlize Theron as Furiosa. It’s her performance that made people feel the pain of Furiosa. There’s even talk of Oscar buzz for Charlize this early. Nicholas Hoult’s performance help turn a beast of a character like Nux into a character with dimension and actually makes the audience feel for him. Tom Hardy did a good job as Max Rockatansky. I’m sure in this film he had the duty to try to fill Mel Gibson’s shoes. I don’t know if he did it but he did a good job as Max.

George Miller did a good job not just in directing the movie and co-writing the script with two additional writers. He also created the bizarre world in which Mad Max and his allies had to survive in and fight for their freedom. Also instrumental in creating this bizarre world are the set designers, costumers and the visual effects team. The music from Junkie XL also adds to the drama and the insanity of the movie.

Of the $150 million Mad Max: Fury Road cost to make and produce, it has so far made $152.6 million in North America and $368.6 million worldwide. Not huge spectacular numbers as far as summer movie fare goes but pleasant enough for a sequel– Mad Max The Wasteland— planned for either 2017 or 2018. It has even impressed critics that it received 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Who says all summer movies are money-grabbing junk?

Mad Max: Fury Road may not be exactly the type of movie most would expect, not even fans of the original Mad Max movies, but it exceeds the expectations of whatever you throw at it. I know for me it didn’t appear at all like what I normally expect from a sequel. And many of you already know what I feel about Hollywood sequels. I don’t even think this is even a sequel. Mad Max may just be a franchise instead of a chronological series. Nevertheless it’s way better than most common summer fare.

JURASSIC WORLD

Jurassic World is about the latest Jurassic theme park where chaos ensues any minute.

Jurassic World is about the latest Jurassic theme park where chaos will undoubtedly ensue any minute.

Already you know a movie like Jurassic World will be a hit simply because of the title. This is the few times where judging a book by its cover is legit. Whether the movie is all that great remains to be seen.

The film doesn’t really carry on the tradition of the Jurassic Park book of Michael Crichton. Instead it’s a new story concocted by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver and adapted to screen by Jaffa and Silver along with Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow who directs the movie. What happens is Jurassic Park is long defunked especially after the fatalities. The writers and directors create a story in a new park, Jurassic World. Jurassic World is a theme park that`s a whole island that includes exhibits that make it both a museum and like one of those safari parks one can drive through.

Clever work for a popcorn movie but over time, you feel the story is as simplistic as one would expect from a Hollywood story. A park worker is a woman out of love while looking after her about-to-be-divorced sister`s kids and dealing with the dinosaur trainee whom she finds charming but had a flop first date with. Sometimes it seems as though the characters seem too simplistic as well: Owen as the charming but stuffy trainer, Claire as the out-of-love-and-depressed type, Vic as the slacker security operations person, Grey as the cute kid with sad puppy dog eye and his bother Zach as the typical bored miserable teen who somehow gets cheered up by the dinosaurs.

Even the drama becomes a bit predictable over time. You sense there would have to be some sort of havoc at the World to get the story rolling. Sure enough, the escape of Indominus is what starts the drama. You have to admit it was a tad predictable. Even how the two boys become threatened in the ensuing drama is predictable too. I will admit the one unpredictable thing was when Indominus breaks into the park`s pterosaur aviary and has them all on the loose chasing all the other park visitors. I did not expect that nor did I expect the whole Jurassic World to look like a war zone at the end. I give that credit.

Overall, Jurassic World came across as a common popcorn movie where a lot of the excitement was either missing or anticipated right from the start. It`s a movie that appears undecided whether it wants to be charming or a thriller. I kind of blame it on the lack of Spilberg magic that came with the first Jurassic Park movie. I also kind of blame it on some of the character acting that appears so stocky like Bryce Dallas Howard playing another unlucky in love type, Vincent D`Onofrio playing an all-to-common slacker player and Ty Simpkins playing a typical cute kid with sad puppy dog eyes. The one good performance although in a typical popcorn movie character was from Chris Pratt. He was able to make his character of Owen Grady charming and even a bit charismatic. I also give credit to the set design team for creating this island where Jurassic World is situated on and credit to the visual effects team for delivering top notch visual effects and even delivering some thrills to the movie. Although I said the action was mostly predictable, it did deliver in some thrills.

Jurassic World wasn`t too much of a critical darling as it received 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. Good but it could be better. However the big payoff came for Jurassic World at the box office as it broke a ton of records. It all started in breaking the opening weekend record and becoming only the second movie ever to have an opening weekend that grossed more than $200 million (the 2012 Avengers movie is the first ever) and it`s been growing ever since:

  • All-Time Opening Weekend: $208.8 million.
  • All-Time second weekend: $106.7 million
  • Fastest to $500 million (North America): 17 days
  • Worldwide Opening Weekend: $524.4 million
  • Fastest to $1 billion (Worldwide): 13 days

That`s just a sample of the records Jurassic World broke. I`m sure you`ll find more at Box Office Mojo. I don`t think it will break the all-time gross records especially as it finds itself out of the Top 10 in its ninth week. It may eclipse Titanic as the second-highest grossing movie in North America but it would still need at least $100 million more to contend to beat Avatar`s record.

Sure enough, there will be a Jurassic World sequel. It`s not clear if Trevorrow will return as director but he will write and produce it. Bizarre because if the Jurassic World wreaked that much havoc on that many visitors, you`d figure Jurassic World would mark the absolute end of any Jurassic theme parks. Hey, money talks especially in Tinseltown.

Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road were two of the big movies of the summer of 2015. One didn`t do as well as expected while one was a record-breaker. One had a better story and better character than the other. Both gave a good statement of what the summer movie season of 2015 was like.

My Top 10 Movies Of 2014

Hi. I know it’s been a long time for me to publish a blog. That’s a common trait of mine that if I do a lot of writing for one period of time, I tire out for a long time. That explains the lack of blogging. However I hope to get back to the process over the next while. I’m planning some more movie reviews and even a political topic or two.

Here, I’ll be posting my long-awaited Top 10 films list of the year. Here are the links to past years:

When it comes to reviewing movies, I’m not your typical ‘film snob.’ Most of the time I’m okay with the typical commercial Hollywood movies as long as it’s done well. I approach them with the attitude: “Okay I know it’s your job to sell big but give the audience their money’s worth.” I also have my own approach to the artsy film-fest fare type of films: “Okay I know you want to be creative and do your own inspired thing but don’t forget this will be shown in front of an audience. Don’t alienate them.”

That’s how I approach films. That’s also how I approach my Top 10 list. Bonus points are given to films that go beyond my expectations. With that in mind, here are my Top 10 films of 2014:

American Sniper appears to be the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) but it's a lot more.

  1. American Sniper
  2. Boyhood
  3. Selma
  4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  5. Wild
  6. Whiplash
  7. The Imitation Game
  8. Birdman
  9. The Theory of Everything
  10. Gone Girl

Honorable Mention:

  • Still Alice
  • Ida
  • Foxcatcher
  • The LEGO Movie
  • Interstellar