Monday, December 23, 2013

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Set at the beginning of a new decade, Ron Burgundy's return to the screen pits him against new hurdles - the biggest of which is the audience's struggle of having to adapt to a less funny version since the last time we saw this irreverent mustachioed persona.

With nearly a decade between Anchorman 2 and the first Anchorman, released in 2004, the spontaneity and novelty that made the latter quirky, surprising and hilarious turns into a paradigm that makes the former less refreshing and certainly not as funny. Recycled gags, ongoing jokes and familiar scenarios often become hackneyed. Perhaps Adam McKay, who co-wrote and directed both films, thought we'd forget how loud Steve Carell's voice could reach.

Despite some reused material, some of them are bound to hit home - Ron's (Will Ferrell) literal interpretation of a teleprompter is still effective. And there are some fresh faces and reunited familiar ones that make the film entertaining.

After his wife Veronica (Christina Applegate) is promoted and becomes the first female nightly news anchor, Ron is fired from co-anchoring with Veronica on a New York City news station. Ron has since moved from San Diego which no longer begets his famous catchphrase. After leaving Veronica when she refuses Ron's ultimatum of choosing between either him or her new position, Ron leaves both his wife and son Walter (Judah Nelson) and grudgingly accepts a grave-yard time slot on a 24 hour news channel.

Forced to start from scratch, Ron decides to hire his original crew. Some unsavory fast food revelations, a slow-motion RV crash, an oddly erotic cat shoot, and one funeral later, the four men that made the original so enjoyable to watch are reunited.

However, Ron soon discovers he has to compete with a younger, handsomer news anchor - Jack Lime (James Marsden) - for ratings; and his new boss, Linda Jackson (Megan Good), a confident African American woman, puts Ron at unease for just those reasons. Ron has to adjust to new social practices, while also adapting to new modules for news dissemination.

But, in a moment of realization (and a self reflexive one that best captures what this film attempts to accomplish) Ron pitches the idea of giving audiences not what they need but what they want. All hard news - and integrity - is swept under the rug for soft news TV broadcasting segments: high speed car chases, weather, cats, sports, and the real-time effects of cocaine use.

Moments such as these are probably what McKay and Ferrell (who co-wrote the film) intended to do from the beginning. Hidden behind all the farcical plots and absurd characters, there's a subtext which severely criticizes what news has become. The film comically exploits this notion and creates a buffoonery not just out of the news heads who fill the nightly news with fluff pieces, but the audiences who beg for it. This revelation is perhaps the film's most poignant moment (all shark ballads barred).

Of course, this idea is scarcely explored and blanketed by the less serious tones of the film. From meteorology to mythology, Anchorman 2 offers the same medley of TV news and oddball humor. In one scene the bigoted Champ Kind (David Koechner) takes over a sports segment and in a montage of baseball clips - single-handedly (and single-wordedly) demonstrates the absurdity and lack of finesse a sportscaster's job entails.

The film also introduces new characters, such as Gary (Greg Kinnear) Veronica's lover and Ron's new sworn enemy. His character is a gentle-hearted psychologist, who seems to be cannon fodder for Ron's vitriolic rebukes but makes a memorable appearance during the film's climax.

Kristen Wiig is introduced as Brick's (Carell) love interest and rightly so - another awkward counterpart would not have been as well suited (Kristen Schaal maybe?).

The most memorable and sybaritic scene of the film (and thus far in McKay's career) is the inevitable climax that echoes a scene in the first Anchorman film. It's an over-the-top scene that escalates into a macabre scenario with big-name comedy stars, big-name stars in general, and, in maintaining with McKay's style, the borderline preposterous yet always, amazingly, humorous nature in which things unfold.

It's not all drab. Anchorman 2 has some good material; Seeing what porno aficionado Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) has in his secret wall-compartment this time is just as amusing the first time. However, the film stalls a bit on jokes that seem not in tune such as when Ron meets his visibly ethnic boss and explicitly makes a point about it - this scene borrows a similar gag used in Austin Powers in Goldmember which is either a nice homage or terribly unoriginal.

And in keeping with the film's offensive material, there are spurs of discriminatory remarks that are often scurrilous, other times a bit uncomfortable. This is evident when Good's character brings Ron home to meet her parents and as his past impious remarks have proven - he can't censor his thoughts. And as always, Ron's sexist remarks interject with a bravado-like velocity during his and Veronica's arguments. But if the first one didn't offend you, this one won't make a dent in your moral sense.

To give this film some credit, it has a tall shadow that precedes it. The first Anchorman introduced audiences to the Scotch-loving news anchor, Brick's fondness of room decor and, wait for panther. In it's lack of expectations, it easily surpassed them. Here what we have is a film that's probably one of Ferrell's best comedic-performance since Step Brothers, but falls short under the massive cult-following the original has garnered in the nine years since its release.

Trite material aside, Anchorman 2 still succeeds in eliciting a good time - as long as one puts aside the expectation that this sequel can surpass the first in originality and hilarity.

Rating: B

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Hey guys,

For anyone interested, my first podcast with The Vern's Videovangaurd for As You Watch Pod (and my first podcast ever!) is finally up. We discuss Charlotte Gainsbourg, so if you're a fan of hers, enjoy the banter between film geeks or just want to know what I sound like you should check it out!

*Spoiler: I sound like John Goodman


Monday, November 18, 2013

The Sunshine Award

Hey guys, so my fellow blog compadre Ben nominated me for a Sunshine Award, and I could not have been more shocked. Literally. I didn't even know they gave awards to bloggers. The Sunshine Award is an award given to bloggers by other bloggers to, you know, share the love. I am honored and will comply, somewhat, with the rules, which are as follows:

1. Include the award's logo in a post or on your blog.
2. Link to the person who nominated you.
3. Answer 10 questions about yourself (use these or come up with your own).
4. Nominate 10 bloggers.
5. Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.

Because I love writing and watching movies. Why not share the two on a free platform? It's also an amazing community to be a part of and share your interests and have great dialogues with others who also love what you love.

My only goal in life is to get paid to watch movies all day....and ride a unicorn into the sunset while Frank Zappa's Watermelon in Eastern Hay plays in the background. Since the latter is probably a no-go, I figured I'd make some investments in trying to be a film critic. I would love to write for Indiewire and cover all the major film festivals: Sundance, Toronto, Telluride, SXSW, Venice, Berlin, Cannes, etc., if only I could do it from home...

Pedro Almodovar. Hands down. If I were a director, his films are the type of films I would possibly want to make.

R.I.P. Breaking Bad. Hmm...I don't know if I have one, so here are my must-see's every week: The Walking Dead, because - c'mon? Masters of Sex. A great new show this season; Michael Sheen is fantastic. American Horror Story, because I love that a show like this even exists and its anthology set-up makes for amazing seasonal casts. South Park - for always making me laugh at things we normally don't allow ourselves to laugh at in public. Also, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, The Newsroom, and my guilty pleasure - Long Island Medium.
This has been my desktop for the past 6 months.
Out of all the questions, ever, this one I detest the most. I know it's weird, but I don't have one. Out of all the movies I've seen, you're telling me I have to pick one? It's disgusting. Instead, I will select one movie from major periods in my life, corresponding to my evolving love of film:
Jurassic Park: It encompasses everything I loved about films growing up and introduced me to entertainment cinema and larger-than-life spectacles.
American History X: I saw this in high school when I started getting into more independent film, with controversial subject matter.
12 Angry Men: After high school is when I started getting into classics. Henry Fonda's performance was mesmerizing to me.
Sans Soleil: This one represents my more recent period. I pick this Chris Marker film, because it took everything I ever loved and thought I knew about cinema, crumbled it up and tossed it in the trash. I hated movies for a while after I saw it, because it challenged what I believed to be true. It's haunting, lyrical, irritating and beautiful.

Actresses: Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, Tilda Swinton, Natalie Portman
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kevin Spacey, Gael Garcia Bernal, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender

Mean Girls
You go Glen Coco!
I've also heard people say this film is over-rated. Whatev. In light of the news this past week of Andy Kaufman possibly having faked his own death, I give you Man on the Moon. I think this is Jim Carrey's best performance after Eternal Sunshine.
"You don't know the real me."
This is so random, I know, but Lars von Trier.

Instead of going with some obvious picks (Gravity, This is the End), I think I'll go with a few that aren't as recognized, but deserve to be seen: Trance, Only God Forgives, Fruitvale Station, I'm So Excited!, The Spectacular Now and Stoker. I know, I'm terrible at picking one. But this is my blog, after all. I do what I want!

 I will only nominate four, to uphold my lack of conformity (and because everyone's moved to wordpress, apparently). Be honored, be very honored:
Angry Vader's Movie Blah...
The Reviewing Dead with Nate
A Film Junkie
Vits-ing the Movies

Sunday, November 17, 2013

12 Years a Slave

In this stark and boldly oppressive tale, the only thing perhaps more harrowing than the protagonist's journey to survive false enslavement and torture is director Steve McQueen's brazen way of depicting it in the most honest and, quite often, deeply uncomfortable, yet cinematically applaudable manner.

12 Years a Slave is based on the memoir of the same title by Solomon Northup - an African American, living in New York, who was born free, kidnapped, sold into slavery, and kept in bondage for 12 years in the antebellum South.

In the film, Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a talented violinist, is hoaxed by two men claiming to be searching for musicians, who escort him to dinner and take advantage of him in his inebriated state. Solomon wakes up chained to a wall and told that he is no longer a free man. The rest of the film follows his journey working under the ownership of different slave-holders for the next 12 years of his life.

Solomon's survival is fueled by his desire to reunite with his wife and two children in New York but is tested by his own intelligence and often fool-hardiness. Solomon is an intelligent man, who has to hide his literacy from each master. At times, his intelligence gets the best of him and challenges a vapid-minded white man for faulty instructions -- this scene is cheer-inducing in the short run, but breath-holding-ly painful in the long run.

McQueen (Shame, Hunger) is not shy with his depictions of slavery; Beatings, whippings, rapes, hangings and other tortures are shown explicitly and unapologetically. Like Shame and Hunger, McQueen employs the long-take to capture such heinous acts in the most realistic and uncomfortable manner. There's nothing docile or, in the opposite extreme, overtly-gratuitous for the sake of it in these scenes -- they just...are.

McQueen's camera is often poetic, even ironic, capturing the enticingly open Louisiana sky. In one scene, Ejiofor breaks the fourth wall, by looking at the camera in a slow sweeping gaze - Ejiofor's haunting and pleading eyes gaze at us for a few seconds, before looking off camera again. This is similar to a scene in McQueen's Shame, where his sex-addict protagonist stares at the camera during an unemotional three-some. It's heartbreaking.

The film lacks on exposition and characterization in the beginning. We only see a few scenes of Solomon with his family, before he is surreptitiously whisked away. That's expected, though, with a film encompassing a long narrative time frame. Solomon's sorrow and bereavement, however, are not lost on us, which is the crucial part.

What is astounding, however, are the gritty performances. Ejiofor has a solemn and serious disposition, disrupted by weighty outbursts. He is completely vulnerable - physically and emotionally. By the end of the film, he appears as a man who's been through Hell and back, but maybe that's his settlement. "I don't want to survive," he states. "I want to live."

Paul Dano plays Tibeats, a hot-headed slave driver who has it out for Solomon and sings a deplorably nasty song (that I hope doesn't catch on). Tibeats' volatile and creepy persona draw comparisons to Dano's performance in There Will Be Blood, where he played a God zealot with greedy intentions. Here, Dano's portrayal of such an abominable character is superb. Somehow, we've come to love to hate him.

Among the many wonderful performances, none come close to Michael Fassbender's portrayal of Edwin Epps, a cotton plantation owner and a drunk who takes joy in waking his slaves in the middle of the night and making them dance, tiredly, in his lavish Southern home. Fassbender's magnetic off-screen charm is completely lost here. Epps is a deranged man with little self control and his uneasy physical proxemics to his slaves make him all the more creepy.

Unfortunately the soundtrack is not as memorable. Hans Zimmer's score is, in the moment, potent but tragically forgettable thereafter. At best, it appropriately ornates the story without overpowering it. Sometimes the most powerful scenes are ones accompanied by deafening silence, because they're usually a cacophony of emotions.

At its worst, the film is long and depressing. At its best, it's emotional and unnerving. There's little sense of resolution or cause for joy at the end. There's nothing uplifting about this film but that's the point, isn't it? The melancholic ending demonstrates that there is little to erase the tragedies that have occurred.

There's no forgetting this film either. Each scene is like sipping a cold pint of Southern-brewed sobriety. By the end, we're intoxicated with our country's shameful history.

Rating: A

Friday, July 26, 2013

Movie Review: Only God Forgives

Winding Refn Delivers another Art house-Style Crime/Drama

The film's opening scene establishes the viewer in a shady Bangkok underworld, effusing with drug smuggling, under-aged boxing matches, little to no dialogue - sans some Thai subtitles - and heavily under-lit shots. It's disorienting, rather than establishing. But director/writer Nicolas Winding Refn has already made a name for himself, cultivating independent films designed for a niche audience with an interest in aesthetic camera work that very often strays from mass market appeal.

Only God Forgives is no exception.

Winding Refn's last film Drive (2011) exemplifies the director's versatility, enveloping genres of a love-story and crime/drama in what many dubbed "art cinema." Or take, for example, his 2008 film Bronson, a violent tale of a convict in solitary confinement, with an alter ego who enjoys opera. While his films are arguably stylish, they have often been labeled as "style with no substance." However, it is not to say the former does not produce the latter. Though Winding Refn is often accused of focusing on aesthetics for lack of thought-provoking substance, his films speak visual volumes.

Only God Forgives is visually arousing. It pulsates with saturated colors - reds, yellows, greens - that bleed from the walls and room decor; the shadows are so dark and infinite, they lend an oddly nightmarish serene-like vibe as the film's protagonist walks past them in long tracking shots; and the sculptured masculine motifs help us illustratively arrive at the film's plot-line.

Julian (Ryan Gosling) and brother Billy (Tom Burke) are drug smugglers, running a drug ring in Bangkok, Thailand. When Billy is killed for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl, Julian and his crew pursue the men responsible to avenge Billy's death. Julian's mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), a degenerate person in her own right, flies in from the states to watch her son take revenge for the murder of her first-born.

The film is a silent spectacle of meticulously staged sets, an easily unobserved supernatural and religious element, a stoic protagonist who eerily glides out of the shadows without word or, more apparently, context, and, we the audience, are forced to surrender a part of understanding or even identifying a narrative structure for being desensitized spectators watching sadist acts and having great patience in watching them slowly play out. But it's usually worth it.

Winding Refn has crafted a true villain with Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), the corrupt cop who ordered Billy's murder. Winding Refn creates a Bangkok-noir type of climate, where officials like Chang have as deep a blood lust as the criminals they torpedo after (His motto should be "to protect and sever"). The director makes a point to juxtapose Chang's violent exhibits with poignant karaoke sessions. Chang's stage spotlights him like a suspect lineup as suited officers watch with a restrained disposition. But, as the title of the film implies, he's ultimately in control.

To convey Julian's character, Winding Refn indiscreetly plants macho paraphernalia everywhere - the workout stations, the murder tools, the fist-clenching and well endowed statues - that serve to remind Julian, and us, of his masculinity and tests his mental and physical limit to uphold it. His lack of facial expressions and the film's lack of close-up shots create an emotional distance that is perhaps necessary for such a film that lacks a true sense of the word "hero." Julian doesn't truly seek revenge; he seeks forgiveness for his past.

Winding Refn, focuses on extended arms and hands throughout the film - a symbolic reminder of sin - i.e.: fighting poses, clenched fists, mundane acts like hand washing, or just awkwardly outstretched as if searching for meaning. This representation may reflect religious struggles Gosling's character faces in understanding his environment. He is consumed by his peccadilloes.

The film, as mentioned, is mostly silent. To attempt to answer the underlying question of "style over substance" might be rudimentary at this point, but necessary. Winding Refn's images narrate themselves. The film's gritty and dapper mise-en-scene create it's own text. The film's story-telling lies in the dexterous hands of cinematographer Larry Smith, production designer Beth Mickle and the rest of the art and costume crew. The film's tale of revenge, masculinity and Freudian motivations reads clearer off the decor than the subtitles.

To some this might come across as an unfinished film (such as the guy sighing throughout the whole move which made me want to pull a Chang on him), but to a pair of diligent eyes, it comes across as something to examine. It's work, but the studying pays off if one wants to try to understand the plot.

This is not to say the film reserves its nugget of knowledge for an elite few. Only God Forgives is far from cinematic gold and may come across as presumptuous at times. Does Winding Refn fail to introduce Gosling's character and develop his arc or does he bravely entrust in us the challenge of figuring it out ourselves?

Winding Refn is no pioneer in the screenwriting department, but at least his films are always entertaining, if not, at least, pictorially rewarding. Only God Forgives won't be rewarding for everyone, but to say a lack of substance is the main flaw of the film, might mean a second watch is necessary.

Rating: B+

Saturday, June 15, 2013

'The End' Kicks off Summer with Laughs

Summer has just begun and This is the End may have already locked best summer comedy. With cheeky pop-culture references and an A-list cast who play exaggerated and slightly demented versions of themselves, the film may be the comedy audiences have been anticipating this summer.*

Although the plot is expectedly absurd and dismally present, it offers plenty of laughs and high-spirited fun during moments of stagnation with neon hued drug effects, enactments of fictional sequels, verbal confrontations over magazine entitlement and (not so) private video confessionals.

Jay Baruchel arrives in L.A. and meets up with pal Seth Rogen. When Seth gets invited to James Franco's house party, he drags along a reluctant Jay who doesn't want to mingle with other Hollywood-ians - especially not the insufferably affectionate Jonah Hill. All is going well; blunts are shared, Craig Robinson starts singing "Take Yo Panties Off," and the value of phallic art is appreciated. But when mysterious phenomena occurs, some of the party-goers lock themselves up in James' house. As they try to clarify the events that are taking place, they learn a lot about one another and how their life-styles have contributed to their predicament.

The party in the film brings together many familiar faces from past comedies and a few famous names, such as Rihanna and Emma Watson.

If This is the End brings to mind a Judd Apatow film, it's because it contains almost every major actor Apatow has worked in his past few films.** The only, yet quite noticeable, difference is a lack of a well-structured story in the former's case.

To say that this is where the film blunders is to erroneously underestimate writer/director team Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's - and the rest of the cast, especially - talent. Such as in many of Apatow's films, Rogen's comedic craft works best in an environment where improvisation and meta-humor drive the film, rather than the script.

Whether the actors stuck to a very authentic-feeling script or were allowed to ad-lib (which seems like the most likely case), the humor felt fresh and the characters catered to the actors' both on and off-screen persona.

The film makes reference to Rogen and Franco's early career on Freaks and Geeks (which Apatow directed and wrote a few episodes), with wall art of the series in Franco's home and a deep-rooted friendship between the two that visibly bothers Jay throughout the film.

Seeing Baruchel step up to the forefront of the group he usually blends into was a refreshing change, if, however, not as compelling to watch as some of his co-stars.

Most notable was watching Franco play a vain, materially-oriented version of himself. Most of us have heard a story or two of Franco coming off as self-absorbed. Seeing him take on this version of himself was an appreciated gesture.

Danny McBride offered the same profanity-spewing, (most) immoral character of the bunch. His magazine hogging ways may not have been that different from past roles, but his cocky rebuttals were arguably some of the best lines in the film.

Also worth mentioning are Jonah Hill and Michael Cera for playing characters we're not used to seeing. Hill for not reverting back to his pompous, (although fake) Hollywood elite attitude (like he did when he hosted SNL earlier this year) and Cera for departing from his polite, good-guy image and playing a memorable drug-using party boy (Caprisun anyone?)

However, without the hilarity of such moments the film would collapse on a barely-there plot and over-the-top theme given the realist approach from the actors to such events.

It's not the conventional story-line we're used to seeing from some of Apatow's films - and the sharing of actors is the only cause of comparison - but the laughs it elicits are in the same ball park.

Seth Rogen returns to the director's chair, alongside longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg (who made his directorial debut with this film) who co-wrote and co-directed with Rogen.

The duo previously worked on films, such as The Watch, The Green Hornet, Pineapple Express, Superbad and the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy series Da Ali G Show together.

The film also stars Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kevin Hart, David Krumholtz, Martin Starr, Jason Segel and others.

This is the End is not for everyone. It caters to a sharp-witted, young demographic that's old enough to know a show like Freaks and Geeks existed, but young enough to still laugh at celebrated male body parts. For anyone who lands as an outlier of this targeted audience, it's at least worth checking out.

Rating: B

*Although The Hangover Part III has already earned over $275 million worldwide, according to, since its release last month, it has earned dismal praise from both critics and fans. The film has a critic rating of 20 percent on and an average of 6/10 star rating on Currently, This is the End has an average of 8/10 star rating on, an 84 percent critic rating on and, most importantly, a B from this amateur critic.

** For fun, here is a list of Judd Apatow films (directed, written, created, produced, etc.) and other projects This is the End actors have co-starred in:

  • Freaks and Geeks: Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and James Franco.
  • Undeclared: Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Kevin Hart and David Krumholtz. 
  • The 40-year-old Virgin: Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Mindy Kaling and Kevin Hart.
  • Knocked Up: Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Martin Starr, Craig Robinson and James Franco.
  • Superbad: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Seth Rogen, David Krumholtz, Martin Starr and Danny McBride. 
  • Pineapple Express: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson.
  • Funny People: Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Aziz Ansari.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Movie Review: Stoker

 Stoker's Production more captivating than the Story

Fans of Korean Director Chan-wook Park rejoiced last week, with the premiere of Stoker - his debut into American cinema. Park, of cult-classic Oldboy fame, brings his same storytelling approach to this cerebral thriller.

After the death of her father, India (Mia Wasikowska) and her mother (Nicole Kidman) share their home with India's Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) whom she did not know existed until her father's funeral. Charlie begins exhibiting unusual behavior - which is saying something, considering Mia and her mother aren't exactly normal themselves - and sparks Mia's curiosity, while, at the same time, has her maintain a distance from the uncle she barely knows.

The story, while highly entertaining, is nothing imaginatively inventive. Written by Wentworth Miller - yes, Michael from Prison Break - Stoker is a thriller revolving around a family drama. There are points during the film, where one can predict a character's actions or a future event. Even the high school bullies revert to the stereotypical cliche. What makes the film a must-see is Park's interpretation of it. His stylized directing and finesse attention to detail give this film, while not in the same caliber as Oldboy, his trademark stamp of morbidly creepy and sensational approach to story-telling.

The film maintains a chronological story-line, for the most part, but is packed with premeditated images that act as a prelude for things to come and a clue for things that have already occurred. The film begins with Wasikowska's character standing on the side of a road. Why she is there, we do not know but trust that Park will carefully navigate us back to that moment with added clarity.

As mentioned, the story is nothing original - it could have easily played out like the humdrum studio thriller we see too often, but the care that went into translating the story to screen is something to be admired. The sound design is so bizarrely brilliant; its unnatural approach to sound analysis breaks our conventional understanding of its use - it wakes us from our conformist reverie with staccato-like alarm that disrupts this pattern of thinking and begs us to pay close attention to the most seemingly miniscule detail. In one scene, we see India play the piano along to a metronome - a device used to help players stay in tempo - then go upstairs, while her uncle and mother are gone. As she goes through her uncle's belongings, we hear the metronome's loud metrical ticks echo loudly and ominously through the house; it mimmicks an accelerated heartbeat and adds to the anxiety and anticipation of her family's expected arrival before she can see what Charlie is hiding in his bag, (this scene, itself, is not entirely original, but why would I want to spoil the best parts?) This is aided by a more melodious score by Clint Mansell, which adequately captures the eerie mood and unexpected beauty of the film's dark nature.

The cinematography, by Chung-hoon Chung, also adds a bizarre beauty to the film. In fact, it's almost distracting in how much more attractive the image is than the story, we don't mind thinking we know where things are heading; we just want to see how it will visually play out.

This was also due to Park's framing of scenes. His employment of using the camera as a male gaze was reminiscent of Spanish Director Pedro Almodovar's heavy use of it in his films. Throughout Stoker, we see Wasikowska framed only at the feet, or a section of her body or face. This fetish framework works for the story and helps visually illustrate India's transformation in the film. The film is highly sexualized, both narratively and visually. Visually speaking, the sexual nature of the film lies in the hands of Park and how he forces this concept on to us. We don't often see its visceral disposition play out, but we construct the idea in our minds from Park's metaphorical representations.

Wasikowska's performance was quite the departure from the classy image she has maintained thus far in her career. She's no Alice in Wonderland here. India is moody, a bit unstable like her mother and, most certainly, unpredictable. Wasikowska leads this film with unprecedented confidence, for being such a young actress, and handles the heavy subject-matter like a pro. She plays well off Kidman, the definition of a pro, to give us a shattered mother-daughter relationship. India and her mother never got along, and Charlie's presence in the home only complicates their relationship. Kidman brings her A-game and a heated discussion adds for one of the most intense scenes in the film (watch here). Goode - while not in the same caliber as Kidman or even Wasikowska, as she has now proved - adequately fit the role of a creepy uncle. It was hard believing Goode had bad intentions behind those gorgeous blue eyes, but his performance most surely sufficed. His scenes with Wasikowska were especially captivating, filled with unpleasant moments of tension, which made it ironically pleasant to watch them act together.

The film also stars Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney, Lucas Till, Phyllis Somerville, Harmony Korine (the director of Spring Breakers) and Alden Ehrenreich.

While not the most original thriller, Stoker manages the rare ability to captivate us from beginning to end. It's mesmerizing images and unusual, but effective use of sound, cinematography and other technical maneuvers I shamefully went without acknowledging, make this film a surreal and wonderful experience to sit through.

Stoker may not leave the same impression that Oldboy did, but its haunting images no doubt leave its mark well after the credits have rolled, leaving us staring at a white screen that bares no trace of its images that have now trespassed into our minds and continue to linger there.

Rating: A-

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Review: Jack the Giant Slayer

Based on the English folktale, "Jack the Giant Slayer" doesn't quite live up to our expectations set by our childhood memories of this beloved story.

To read the full at click here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Dark Skies

When a seemingly normal suburban family is plagued by strange phenomena in their home their search to uncover the truth leads them to believe their lives may be in danger.

To read my full review at click here. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Sleepwalk with me" offers insight into Comedian's Psyche

"Mike Birbiglia, better known for his Comedy Central stand up, wrote and directed an autobiographical film about becoming a comedian, while coping with a sleep disorder."

Hey, guys, so I recently began contributing to Yuppee Magazine, which is a great way to get your content on the web and gain experience, as well as readership.
 I can't post the entire review on my blog, because of Google copyright issues and I believe some sniper is watching me from the neighboring roof, ready to shoot if I break their terms of agreement and blah, blah, blah, but if you wan't to continue reading, click here.

You can also read some of my reviews that I contribute to my college newspaper at: My first one for "Safe Haven" should be up soon.


Friday, January 25, 2013

DVD Review: "Safety" a Guaranteed Good Time

First things first. I don't review every movie I see--that'd be crazy, you guys--but I do make an effort to review the movies I feel are important to talk about. But when you rent a movie to watch with your friends over the weekend and end up watching it again the next day and then can't stop thinking about it for the proceeding couple of days, yeah, I think it's worth sharing.

Safety Not Guaranteed is that rare indie/comedy that I believe manages to please most people. It has an off-beat charm and equally charming off-beat characters that make us laugh and want to be in their circle of company. It surprises by having a genuine feel to it and a heart that I can't say I find in a lot of films these days. And did I mention the time-traveling thing? But at the center of the film, there's nothing science fiction about it.

When a Seattle journalist (Jake Johnson) takes on a story about a man who puts up an ad seeking a time travel partner, he entails the help of two interns, "I'll take the Indian and the lesbian," he says, played by Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Rec) and Karan Soni. They drive out to an ocean side motel, expecting to find a schizophrenic-type mad man and instead find Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a seemingly normal guy, working at Bargain Outlet who believes he can time travel. Darius (Plaza) takes up Kenneth's offer and a few quirky verbal exchanges and strategic canned soup placement and Kenneth senses Darius worthy of partnership. However the deadline for the story quickly approaches and Darius is no closer to discovering what the man she's been spending so much time with is hiding.

The film works because it's well casted. Plaza and Duplass work amazing well together. He adds charm and yet harbors an austere, yet thoughtful side that gives his character so much dimension, you'd think he was playing a real person. And Plaza's trademark deadpan is only part of the fun in watching her. The rest relies on seeing her be unguarded for the first time. There's a scene, early on, where she's having dinner with her father (Jeff Garlin) and as funny as she is, you know there's a no-nonsense side we're going to see from her. My favorite character, however, was Johnson's Jeff, a womanizing magazine writer who drinks on the job and has more interest in reestablishing a connection with his high school sweet heart than getting the story. Jeff is crude, unprofessional, and unreliable, but his storyline is so crucial and his character is so likable you can't help but feel empathetic when he's upset. My most memorable scene from the film is when Jeff takes his shy intern to meet girls and they spend an evening at a fair. It sounds fun and comical, but Jeff's drunken stupor and childish behavior, all to the tune of Wye Oak's Civilian, make this scene more sobering and powerful than I expected it to.

But most sobering of all, was the realization that Guaranteed had little to nothing to do with time travel, although I'm sure the film will have people talking (think not so much Looper but more of Brit Marling's Another Earth and Sound of My Voice). The real time travel are the journeys these characters take forward with each other. Or in some cases, the time they spend still living in the past.

The film marks writer Derek Connolly's first feature film--and what a debut! I look forward to his future projects. Connolly re-teamed with director Colin Trevorrow; the two previously worked on the TV movie Gary: Under Crisis and Safety marks Trevorrow's first feature film, as well. Duplass also teamed up with frequent collaborator and brother Jay to executive produce the film. My only complaint was the decision to shoot this digitally, which made for some unpleasant exposure issues, but when you're working with a budget of less an $1 million, forgiveness comes easy.

Sometimes you spend an entire year looking forward to films from favorite directors like David O'Russell, Quentin Tarantino, Ben Affleck (hey, I didn't say favorite actor), Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton and Paul Thomas Anderson, you don't expect anything from a movie like this, which makes it all the more surprising and unforgettable when you do experience it (no weapons necessary, promise). I can't guarantee you'll love it, but I can guarantee I'll love it just as much the next time I watch it.

I also just wanted to thank Eric over at PMI (don't know him, just a big fan) for loving movies just as much as I do and for convincing me I couldn't wait any longer to see this film. Thanks Eric (even though you'll never read this.) And I want to thank anyone reading this for indulging me in what I love to do, even if you hate what I have to say. Thanks sooooooo much anyway.

Rating: A-