Archive for Tilda Swinton

Hail, Caesar!

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2016 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Four-time Oscar (R)-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Fargo) write and direct Hail, Caesar!, an all-star comedy set during the latter years of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum, Hail, Caesar! follows a single day in the life of a studio fixer who is presented with plenty of problems to fix.

What people are saying:

“The Coen brothers transcend genre, from noir to thriller to dark comedy, they can nail it. But I particularly enjoy their takes on farce (especially when George Clooney is involved). This movie is not perfect, but I laughed out loud throughout, particularly when everyone embraced the silliness of the story as part of the whole point. It may not be the Coen brothers’ best ever, but it doesn’t have to be to be enjoyable.” 3 1/2 stars

“Hail, Caesar! is great fun. Lively jabs at organized religion, Hollywood and the power structure. The cast must have had a blast during filming. Anyone who is interested in Hollywood in the 50″s blacklist era should enjoy. ” 4 stars

“A silly, jumbled, yet consistently entertaining chapter in the Coen Brother’s directorial saga, “Hail, Caesar!” commends the golden age of Hollywood with a star studded cast and an eye for historical detail. ” 3 1/2 stars

“If you love montages of old films(specifically from the 50’s) -this is perfect. Between Ethel Merman and Will Rodgers, to the creation of a scene of Ten Commandments. It is funny. I agree that it can be hard to follow at times. But, putting political satire in a movie is not new. Still, the scene with the Soviet submarine is hysterical!!!” 4 stars

“Very intelligent film. The filmakers deal honestly with many subjects. If you are looking for the typical crass Coen Brothers film, this one falls short. It still is iconoclastic but the icons it looks at are those things that are worshiped by a typically disconnected 21st Century intellectual, Take a look and see which icons you would have preferred the filmmakers to have left alone.” 5 stars

Doctor Strange (2016)

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Superhero Films with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2016 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In Kathmandu, Nepal, the sorcerer Kaecilius and his zealots enter the secret compound Kamar-Taj and murder its librarian, keeper of ancient and mystical texts. They steal a ritual from a book belonging to the Ancient One, a sorcerer who has lived for an unknown time and taught all at Kamar-Taj, including Kaecilius, in the ways of the mystic arts. The Ancient One pursues the traitors, but Kaecilius escapes with the pages and some of his followers.

Stephen Strange, an acclaimed neurosurgeon, loses the use of his hands in a car accident. Fellow surgeon and former lover Christine Palmer tries to help him move on, but Strange, believing he can regain use of his hands, instead uses all his resources pursuing experimental surgeries in vain. After learning of Jonathon Pangborn, a paraplegic who mysteriously was able to walk again, Strange seeks him out, and is directed to Kamar-Taj. There, Strange is taken in by another sorcerer under the Ancient One, Mordo. The Ancient One shows Strange her power, revealing the astral plane and other dimensions such as the Mirror Dimension. Strange begs her to teach him, and she eventually agrees despite his arrogance, which reminds her of Kaecilius.

Strange begins his tutelage under the Ancient One and Mordo, and learns from the ancient books in the library, now presided over by the master Wong. Strange learns that Earth is protected from other dimensions by a spell formed from three buildings called Sanctums, found in New York City, London, and Hong Kong. The task of the sorcerers is to protect the Sanctums, though Pangborn chose to forgo this responsibility in favor of channeling mystical energy into walking again. Strange advances quickly over several months, even secretly reading from the text Kaecilius stole from and learning to bend time with the mystical Eye of Agamotto. Mordo and Wong warn Strange against breaking the laws of nature, comparing his arrogant yearning for power to that of Kaecilius, who believes, after the deaths of his loved ones, that everyone should have eternal life.

Kaecilius and his followers use the stolen pages to begin summoning the powerful Dormammu of the Dark Dimension, where time does not exist and all can live forever. This destroys the London Sanctum, and sends Strange from Kamar-Taj to the New York Sanctum. The zealots then attack there, where Strange holds them off with the mystical Cloak of Levitation until Mordo and the Ancient One arrive. Strange and Mordo become disillusioned with the Ancient One after Kaecilius reveals that her long life has come from her own use of Dormammu’s power. Kaecilius mortally wounds the Ancient One, and escapes to Hong Kong. The Ancient One tells Strange that he, too, will have to break the rules, to balance Mordo’s steadfast nature. She then dies, despite the best efforts of Strange and a bewildered Palmer. Strange and Mordo arrive in Hong Kong to find Wong dead and the Sanctum destroyed, with the Dark Dimension already engulfing Earth. Strange uses the Eye to turn back time and save Wong, before creating an infinite time loop inside the Dark Dimension that traps himself and Dormammu in the same moment forever. Strange agrees to break the loop if Dormammu leaves Earth, and the latter takes Kaecilius and the zealots with him.

Disgusted by Strange and the Ancient One’s disregard for the consequences of defying nature, Mordo departs. Strange returns the Eye, which Wong calls an Infinity Stone, to Kamar-Taj, and then takes up residence in the New York Sanctum to continue his studies. In a mid-credits scene, Strange agrees to help Thor, who has brought his brother Loki to Earth to search for their father Odin. In a post-credits scene, Mordo visits Pangborn and steals the energy he uses to walk, stating that Earth has “too many sorcerers”.

REVIEW:

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has reached the point now to where they can explore some of the lesser known, but still major characters. This is why we are getting films such as Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and this one, Doctor Strange. It is a risky move with this guy, especially with the use of mysticism, but if anyone cane make it work, it is Marvel. Let’s see how they did, shall we?

What is this about?

Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” follows the story of the talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange who, after a tragic car accident, must put ego aside and learn the secrets of a hidden world of mysticism and alternate dimensions. Based in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Doctor Strange must act as an intermediary between the real world and what lies beyond, utilising a vast array of metaphysical abilities and artifacts to protect the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What did I like?

Visuals. You’ve seen the trailers and advertisements for this film, I’m sure, so I don’t really need to tell you that this film is something that can best be described as Inception on acid. Doctor Strange, much like Thor was, is not an easy character to bring to life, especially when you  start trying to portray his powers. Throw in others who have powers that may or may nor be on another level from his and your mind is blown! This is just something that has to be seen!

Strange things. When casting Dr. Strange, the first person I thought of was Robert Downey, Jr., but the problem with that choice is he’s already playing Iron Man (strangely enough there are man similarities between Tony Stark and Stephen Strange, starting with their choice of facial hair). Upon hearing Benedict Cumberbatch was cast, I was skeptical as to how he would pull it off. Not because he’s a bad actor, but because this seemed to be a bit beneath him. As it turns out, this is as perfect a role for him as Sherlock. Cumberbatch brings the cockiness needed, while also being he defeated student who is learning everything he can. I look forward to seeing much more from him in this role.

So, that’s the connection! For a Marvel film, there is about as much mention of the other Marvel properties as there are in the Netflix shows, which I actually appreciated. There is one mention of the Avengers that I remember and that was it. We don’t need to be beaten over the head with constant reminders. A few Easter eggs are nice here and there, but everything has its limit. By holding off on the MCU stuff, the scene at the beginning of the credits is much more effective as it ties him into the universe and sets up one of the next Marvel films (I won’t spoil which one).

What didn’t I like?

Is this love? It seems as if one can’t enjoy a superhero movie without the token love story, whether it fits or not. In this case, it does not. In the film’s defense, this isn’t truly a love story, as much as it is an attempt to put two people who have history and similar interests together just because. Rachel McAdams is a gorgeous woman, but I don’t think the audience would be missing much had her scenes been reduced.

Villain. If there is one weakness in these Marvel films, it seems to be the villains. Other than Loki, none of them have been memorable, let alone a threat. I know what you’re going to say….Zemo was a threat in Captain America: Civil War and Thanos is lurking out there. With Zemo, sure he was effective, but who remembers anything about the guy? Thanos’ time is coming soon…VERY soon. You can add Dormmamu and his minion Kaecilius to the list of ineffective villains. We are never really made clear of their intentions, other than Dormmamu wants to escape the Dark Dimensiom and send the Earth back there, but why?!? I need some motivation for why you are trying to destroy existence!

Whitewashing. Much has been said about the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. For me, not being Asian, it isn’t a big deal, but I can imagine how difficult it is to accept the change. I’m not going to go into some long diatribe about this, but I do feel as if the audience deserved at least a snippet of the Ancient One as an old Asian guy. The film makes a point about how his form is fluid, so who’s to say he needs to look like a creepy, bald white woman?

Final verdict on Doctor Strange? A solid introduction to a lesser-known character. The film really shines when it comes to the visuals. Cumberbatch, sporting an American accent that he doesn’t quite seem comfortable with, seems to be having fun with the character which really sells it to the audience. There are a few minor issues here and there, but they aren’t anything that cannot be overcome. Do I recommend this? Yes, very highly! Go check it out!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Prologue

In the present, a teenage girl approaches a monument to a writer in a cemetery. In her arms is a memoir penned by a character known only as “The Author”. She starts reading a chapter from the book. The Author begins narrating the tale from his desk in 1985 about a trip he made to the Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968.

Located in the Republic of Zubrowka, a fictional Central European state ravaged by war and poverty, the Young Author discovers that the remote mountainside hotel has fallen on hard times. Many of its lustrous facilities are now in a poor state of repair, and its guests are few. The Author encounters the hotel’s elderly owner, Zero Moustafa, one afternoon, and they agree to meet later that evening. Over dinner in the hotel’s enormous dining room, Mr. Moustafa tells him the tale of how he took ownership of the hotel and why he is unwilling to close it down.

Part 1 – M. Gustave

The story begins in 1932 during the hotel’s glory days when the young Zero was a lobby boy, freshly arrived in Zubrowka after his hometown was razed and his entire family executed. Zero acquires a girlfriend, Agatha, who is a professional pastry chef and proves very resourceful. Zubrowka is on the verge of war, but this is of little concern to Monsieur Gustave H., the Grand Budapest’s devoted concierge. The owner of the hotel is unknown and only relays important messages through the lawyer Deputy Kovacs. When he is not attending to the needs of the hotel’s wealthy clientele or managing its staff, Gustave courts a series of aging women who flock to the hotel to enjoy his “exceptional service”. One of the ladies is Madame Céline Villeneuve “Madame D” Desgoffe und Taxis, with whom Gustave spends the night prior to her departure.

Part 2 – Madame C.V.D.u.T.

One month later, Gustave is informed that Madame D has died under mysterious circumstances. Taking Zero along, he races to her wake and the reading of the will, where Kovacs, coincidentally the executor of the will, reveals that in her will she has bequeathed to Gustave a very valuable painting, Boy with Apple. This enrages her family, all of whom hoped to inherit it. Her son, Dmitri Desgoffe und Taxis, lashes out at Gustave. With the help of Zero, Gustave steals the painting and returns to the Grand Budapest, securing the painting in the hotel’s safe. During the journey, Gustave makes a pact with Zero: in return for the latter’s help, he makes Zero his heir. Shortly thereafter, Gustave is arrested and imprisoned for the murder (by strychnine) of Madame D after forced testimony by Serge X, Madame D’s butler, about seeing Gustave in her house on a particular night. Gustave tells Zero he has an alibi for that night but could never cite his aristocratic lady bedfellow in court. Upon arriving in prison, Gustave finds himself stuck in a cell with hardened criminals, but earns their respect after he “beat the shit” out of one of them for “challenging [his] virility”.

Part 3 – Check-point 19 Criminal Internment Camp

Zero aids Gustave in escaping from Zubrowka’s prison by sending a series of stoneworking tools concealed inside cakes made by Zero’s fiancée Agatha. Along with a group of convicts including Ludwig, Gustave digs his way out of his cell with the help of the tools. The group narrowly escape capture after one of them sacrifices himself to kill a large posse of guards with his “throat-slitter” and Ludwig and his crew escape by car after wishing Gustave and Zero well. Gustave then teams up with Zero to prove his innocence.

Part 4 – The Society of the Crossed Keys

Gustave and Zero are pursued by J. G. Jopling, a cold-blooded assassin working for Dmitri, who chops off Kovacs’ fingers on his right hand and kills him when he refuses to work with Dmitri. Gustave calls upon Monsieur Ivan, a concierge and fellow member of the Society of the Crossed Keys, a fraternal order of concierges who attempt to assist other members. Through the help of Ivan, Gustave and Zero travel to a mountaintop monastery where they meet with Serge, the only person who can clear Gustave of the murder accusations, but Serge is strangled by a pursuing Jopling before he can reveal a piece of important information regarding a second will from Madame D. Zero and Gustave steal a sled and chase Jopling as he flees the monastery on skis. During a face-off at the edge of a cliff, Zero pushes the assassin to his death and rescues Gustave.

Part 5 – The Second Copy of the Second Will

Back at the Grand Budapest, the outbreak of war is imminent, and the military have commandeered the hotel and are in the process of converting it into a barracks. A heartbroken Gustave vows to never again pass the threshold. Agatha joins the two and agrees to find a way to go inside – by delivering pastries – and retrieve the painting. Unluckily Dmitri comes at the same moment and discovers her. A chase and a chaotic gunfight ensue before Zero and Agatha flee with the painting (which had been hidden, still wrapped up, in the hotel safe). Gustave’s innocence is finally proven by the discovery of the copy of Madame D’s second will, which was duplicated by Serge before it was destroyed, and which he subsequently hid in the back of the painting. This will was to take effect only if she was murdered. The identity of Madame D’s murderer and how Gustave is proved innocent are left ambiguous (though earlier in the film a suspicious bottle labeled “strychnine” can be seen on Jopling’s desk). The will also reveals that she was the owner of the Grand Budapest. She leaves much of her fortune, the hotel, and the painting to Gustave, making him wealthy in the process, and he becomes one of the hotel’s regular guests while appointing Zero as the new concierge. Zero and Agatha marry while Dimitri dissapears.

Epilogue

After the war, which it is implied Zubrowka lost, the country is annexed. During a train journey across the border, soldiers inspect Gustave’s and Zero’s papers. Zero describes Gustave being taken out and shot after defending Zero (whom the soldiers had attempted to arrest for his immigrant status), as he did on the initial train ride in the beginning of the movie. Agatha succumbs to “the Prussian Grippe” and dies two years later, as does her infant son. Zero inherits the fortune Gustave leaves behind and vows to continue his legacy at the Grand Budapest, but a subsequent Communist revolution in Zubrowka and the ravages of time slowly begin to take their toll on both the building and its owner as Zero is forced to “contribute” his entire inheritance to the government to keep the dying hotel in business. In a touch of irony, the painting Zero and Gustave fought so desperately to take now sits on a wall, forgotten and crooked.

Back in 1968, Mr. Moustafa confesses to the Author that the real reason that he cannot bring himself to close the hotel has nothing to do with his loyalty to Gustave, or as a connection to “his world,” but because it is his last remaining link to his beloved Agatha and the best years of his life. He theorizes that Gustave’s world was gone long before he was ever in it, but he maintained the illusion quite well. Before departing to his room, Mr. Moustafa gives the Author a key to the “M. Gustave Suite” and readjusts the crooked painting. The Young Author later departs for South America and never returns to the hotel.

In 1985, the Author completes his memoirs beside his grandson.

Back in the present, the girl continues reading in front of the statue of the Author, a sign that Zero and Gustave’s story and that of the hotel will live on.

REVIEW:

In all of the Oscar talk this season, The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Granted, there is quite an array of really good films for the picking. So, the question is, why is this a contender at all, right?

What is this about?

Between the world wars, Gustave H, the concierge at a prestigious European hotel, takes a bellboy named Zero as a trusted protégé. Meanwhile, the upscale guests are involved in an art theft and a dispute over a vast family fortune.

What did I like?

Tone. Since this is one of the films that was up for many awards this season, I expected it to be another of those super serious, depressing dramas that tend to be the norm. Much to my surprise, this was very light-hearted and fun. The tone was something akin to Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, where there is an obvious “heavy” story, but it is told as something more of a farce, for lack of a more appropriate term. The light tone really appealed to me and kept my interest, as I’m sure it has others who need a break from all these dark pictures we have these days.

Dark lord has humor. Even before he became known as Voldemort, from the Harry Potter films, I don’t think anyone would have accused Ralph Fiennes of being a comedic actor. He just doesn’t have the look, but he is capable of pulling off some comedy. I always enjoy the shock of seeing someone not associated with a certain type of acting pull it off so well. Now, I’m not saying Fiennes needs to go star in an Adam Sandler/Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart type film, but he does have some comedic chops, and I just want to give him props for that.

Structure. I really was able to appreciate that this film was set up with chapters. Everything from the way F. Murray Abraham (isn’t this guy like 1,000 by now?) set up the story to the interesting ways in which the chapter titles were shown to the seamless transitions was masterfully done.

What didn’t I like?

Hotel. For a film that has the hotel name as the title, we sure see very little of it. Yes, there a quite a few scenes that take place in this majestic living space, but the “meat and potatoes” of the picture are set elsewhere. I don’t know, I guess I just would have preferred for everything to be more centralized, much like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (which I initially thought this was a sequel to…HAHA!)

Nazi clones. It is obvious that this is a picture set during the war, so I have to wonder why not use actual Nazis? Is that product placement now? Or does this take place in some alternate universe where a group of people who are the same organization, just with a slightly different insignia, bring about war, death, and worse. There was something else I watched recently that did the same thing, so I really am curious if there was some odd edict from the motion picture association banning the use of Nazis.

Gustave’s end. I wasn’t satisfied with Gustave’s end. Well, I take that back. It was the face that we didn’t get to see it happen and it was just told, as if rushing through the final stanza. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the way he meets his end seems like the stuff of legend, and a fitting end considering what he was doing and who he was doing it for. Why not show that? I just don’t understand!!!

Final thoughts on The Grand Budapest Motel? Two things. First, it is obvious this is one of the best films of the year. Great script, acting, cinematography…everything. However, in comparison to the other contenders is does come off as a weaker entry, an underdog, if you will. The cast is great, even with some big names playing such cameo-esque roles. Do I recommend this? Yes. Yes, I do!

4 3/4 out of 5 stars

Snowpiercer

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 2014, an attempt to counteract global warming through climate engineering catastrophically backfires, resulting in an ice age so severe that nearly all life on Earth is killed. The only survivors are the inhabitants of the Snowpiercer, a massive train powered by a perpetual-motion engine that travels on a globe-spanning track. A class system is installed, with the elites inhabiting the front of the train and the poor inhabiting the tail.

In 2031, the tail inhabitants prepare for the latest in a series of rebellions. Guards arrive periodically to deliver protein blocks for food, and take some of the children. During the guards’ next visit, Curtis Everett (Evans) leads the tail inhabitants in revolt, forcing their way through several train cars to the prison section. There, they release prisoner Namgoong Minsu (Song), the man who built the security system that controls the doors dividing each car, and his clairvoyant daughter Yona. They offer him uncut Kronole, a drug that both he and his daughter are addicted to, as payment for unlocking each of the remaining doors.

One of the cars is filled with armed men. Under the orders of Minister Mason (Swinton), the men battle Curtis’s forces. Curtis’s side prevails, and he captures Mason, but he is forced to sacrifice his second-in-command, Edgar, to do so. Mason agrees to lead the group through the high-class cars in exchange for her life. In the school car, the teacher points out seven frozen rebels through the window. She and a henchman then draw machine guns, slaughtering many of Curtis’s followers, and executing his mentor Gilliam. Curtis then kills Mason.

Curtis, his few remaining followers, and Namgoong and Yona continue through the train, discovering the extravagance in which the elites have been living while the poor languished in squalor. One of Mason’s henchmen, Franco the Elder, kills the rest of Curtis’s followers, before the henchman is himself seemingly killed. Curtis resolves to complete his mission, accompanied by Namgoong and Yona. The trio moves through the remaining cars where the elite indulge in food, partying and Kronole; Namgoong steals much of this Kronole from the inebriated revelers. As they arrive at the Engine door, Namgoong suggests they use the collected Kronole, made from explosive chemical waste, to blow open the side of the train, and escape into the outside. Namgoong explains that every year, the train has passed a crashed plane buried in snow, which has become less buried with each passing year, suggesting that Earth is warming, and that survival outside is now possible.

Curtis explains why he must confront Wilford, creator of the train and its hierarchy. When the tail dwellers first boarded the train, they were deprived of food, water, and supplies, and in crowded conditions, forcing them to turn to cannibalism. Before the introduction of the protein blocks, Curtis had kidnapped an infant Edgar to eat him, and killed his mother, before Gilliam cut his own arm off and offered it in Edgar’s place. Namgoong resolves to use the explosive, but the engine door opens, and Namgoong is shot and wounded by Wilford’s assistant Claude, who forces Curtis inside. Curtis confronts Wilford, who explains that the revolution was orchestrated between himself and Gilliam as a means of population control, necessary to maintaining balance aboard the train for supplies, but Curtis was too successful and Wilford’s own losses too great, so he executed Gilliam as punishment. The aging Wilford says that he wants Curtis to replace him as the train’s overseer, while in the tail, Wilford’s henchmen execute 74% of the inhabitants.

Meanwhile, Yona and the recovered Namgoong fight off the irate partiers and Franco (who survived the previous fight). Yona knocks Claude unconscious, gets inside the engine room and pulls up the floor to reveal that Wilford is using the tail children as slave labor, to replace the train’s failing components. Outraged, Curtis sacrifices his arm to block the train gears, freeing one of the children, Timmy. Yona recovers the explosive from Claude and ignites it, before retreating into the engine with Namgoong. The damaged engine door fails to close, and Namgoong and Curtis sacrifice themselves to shield Yona and Timmy from the resulting explosive fire. The explosion sound wave causes an avalanche in the surrounding mountains that strikes and derails the train, destroying many of the cars. In the aftermath, Yona and Timmy step outside into the snow. In the distance Yona spots a polar bear.

REVIEW:

Sometimes an actor, who has proven himself in big budget projects, needs to take a step back and show the world that he can really act. When one initially looks at Snowpiercer, Chris Evans’ participation is sure to stir up those thoughts, but is that really what he is doing? If so, is this the film for him to that in?

What is this about?

The Earth’s remaining inhabitants are confined to a single train circling the globe as revolution brews among the class-divided cars.

What did I like?

Be prepared. This day and age, it seems as if everyone has embraced global warming, except the politicians. Yes, I am aware of the irony of talking global warming as a giant cold front is about to sit right down on most of the country, but consider this…it is currently 72 degrees in February!!!! Anyway, this film makes a statement about global warming and how ill prepared we more than likely are in the event of total global collapse. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if someone hastily approved an untested “solution” that would do nothing but cause the world to freeze.

Octavia. It wasn’t that long ago that I was watching Octavia Spencer on some Comedy Central show about a bunch of inmates in a halfway house. Now, she is a respected actress who is getting more and more roles. This is a rare role for her where she isn’t the funny one, as she is being a totally serious character. A mother who wants to get her child back at all costs. Yes, theoretically, she was a serious character in The Help, but there were jokes and such written in to sort o make her a bit more “colorful”, as it were. Spencer’s character in this picture comes out of nowhere and is integral to the plan. I appreciated that she was able to branch out of her comfort zone with this role and look forward to more of her evolution.

Action. This is a film that needs action or else it might as well just be a train mystery film. Watching the action scenes, a thought occurred to me. When an American or American-ized director shoots action scenes, they tend to end in explosions, but with Asian directors the fight scenes are beautiful works of art. Now, I can go for either, but it is nice to get a change in the norm once in a while. It doesn’t hurt to have Chris Evans, who was obviously still in Captain America shape (more on that shortly) to help execute such amazing stuff.

What didn’t I like?

Matrix revisited. Coming around to the end of this film, we finally meet the elusive Wilford, played by Ed Harris. Nothing really special about the guy. He has no special powers, he’s not old and frail, nor is he on his death bed. He’s just a normal guy that apparently likes to hear himself talk. I’m not sure what this character is like in the book, but to me, he came off very similar to the Architect in The Matrix: Reloaded. The way the scene was set up with just the two of them in the room for the fate of mankind, really put that in my head. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but I feel as if this film wasn’t trying to emulate anything else, but accidentally did so.

Class. Last night, I was watching Man of Steel and thought what would happen if we all had to evacuate the planet? Assuming we had somewhere to go, who would get to go? Judging by the way we fight over everything, it would be best to assume that the rich and powerful would go first and everyone else would follow. Yes, even though we don’t go by the class system, we sort of do. In this film, even though the world has become a dystopian, frozen tundra version of itself where the population now resides on a train that constantly circles the globe, it is made clear that class is important. Damn shame that when everyone’s life is at stake, some think they are more important than others.

Too buff. So, Chris Evans, as we all now is Captain America. Upon getting the role, he seriously buffed up and is a far cry from his days as Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four franchise. Thing about that, though, is maybe he should have dropped some muscle for this film. I only say that because he is playing a character that is living on some sort of protein bars and little water. No way in the world he can be that huge living off that! Genetics and all that jazz do play a part, but in general this cannot be. Not to take anything away from Evans, mind you. He does a great job, but I couldn’t get my mind around how out of place he seemed.

I first hear of Snowpiercer shortly after it was initially released in the handful of theaters that were allowed to show it because of some controversy about distribution right. All the reviews were more than complementary and has me really stoked to see this. For the most part, they weren’t misleading. As with most action flicks, there is a slow buildup, but the payoff is more than satisfactory. On a totally different note, this is one of the most feminine roles I’ve seen Tilda Swinton look in quite some time! So, do I recommend this? Yes, very highly! A film that not only will make you think, but will also entertain you. Man, they just don’t make flicks like this anymore!

4 3/4 out of 5 stars

Revisited: Constantine

Posted in Movie Reviews, Revisited with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) is an exorcist who lives in Los Angeles. Born with the power to see angels and demons on Earth, he committed suicide at age 15 after being unable to cope with his visions. Constantine was revived by paramedics but spent two minutes in Hell. He knows that because of his actions his soul is condemned to damnation when he dies, and has recently learned that he has developed lung cancer as a result of his smoking habit.

After a case involving a full-fledged demon trying to break onto the “human plane,” Constantine seeks an audience with the androgynous half-breed angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton). He asks Gabriel for a reprieve from death so that he can continue fighting demons, which Gabriel declines. Constantine is told that his exorcisms will not gain him a reprieve from Hell because his motives are selfish. As he leaves, Constantine repels an attack by a full-fledged demon out in the open. This encounter prompts him to meet with former witch doctor Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou). While there Constantine also encounters half-breed demon Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale), who informs him that all of Hell is waiting for him to die and that he is the one soul Satan would come to Earth personally to collect. Constantine begins investigating the situation with his associates Beeman (Max Baker), Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince), and Chas Kramer (Shia LaBeouf). L.A.P.D. Detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) also shows up at Constantine’s apartment looking for his help with her investigation into her twin sister Isabel’s death. Isabel leapt to her death from the top of a mental hospital, and despite camera footage showing it Angela is convinced that Isabel would never commit suicide. At first Constantine mocks her and denies her request for help, but after demons attack Angela on the street outside Constantine agrees to look into her sister’s death. He informs Angela that God and Lucifer are engaged in a proxy war; a standing wager for the souls of all mankind. Neither true angels nor demons can manifest on Earth, but they are allowed to possess and influence humans. Both sides also use “half-breeds” to peddle influence for their cause.

Hennessy and Beeman’s findings lead Constantine to the conclusion that Mammon, Lucifer’s son, is seeking to create his own kingdom on Earth by breaking through onto the human plane. To do so, Mammon requires a powerful psychic and assistance from God. Balthazar begins killing Constantine’s associates and Angela reveals that she and her sister possessed the same gift as Constantine. Angela refused her visions and they went dormant, but Isabel tried to tell everyone about them and was institutionalized for it. Constantine reawakens Angela’s psychic ability through a near death experience, then hunts down and interrogates Balthazar who reveals that Mammon has obtained the Spear of Destiny, which has the blood of Jesus Christ encrusted on it. The psychic Mammon needs Angela, who is abducted by an unseen force and taken to Isabel’s hospital to be used as the portal for Mammon’s entrance to Earth. Constantine convinces Midnite to allow him to use “The Chair”, an old electric chair from Sing Sing Prison that had killed over 200 inmates. The Chair shows Constantine a vision that the spear was discovered in Mexico and has been brought to Los Angeles. Constantine and Chas head to the hospital and interrupt the ritual, but Chas is beaten to death by an unseen force in the process.

Using incantations and sigils tattooed on his arms, Constantine forces Gabriel to be revealed. Gabriel subdues Constantine immediately and reveals that the plan to release Mammon was theirs. Gabriel laments God’s favoritism towards humans and believes that bringing Hell to Earth will enable those who survive to become truly worthy of God’s love through repentance and faith. Gabriel then throws Constantine from the room and begins to draw forth Mammon. As Gabriel moves to stab Angela with the Spear and release Mammon, Constantine slits his wrists. Time stops as Lucifer (Peter Stormare) arrives to personally collect his soul. Constantine tells Lucifer about Mammon’s plan and Lucifer sends Mammon back to Hell. When Gabriel attempts to smite Lucifer, the angel’s power is nullified and their wings are burned off. In return for his help, Lucifer grants Constantine a favor; instead of a longer life, he asks Lucifer to allow Isabel to go to Heaven. Lucifer then finds that he is unable to drag Constantine to Hell, due to Constantine’s self sacrifice. Constantine begins to rise into Heaven, and infuriated by the idea of losing Constantine’s soul, Lucifer heals his wounds and cures him of his cancer so that he may live again, claiming that Constantine, in time, will be his. Constantine departs with the Spear after resisting the temptation to kill Gabriel, and gives the Spear to Angela instructing her to hide it, then forget it. As he watches her leave, instead of producing a cigarette, he starts to chew on some nicotine gum.

In a post-credits scene, Constantine visits Chas’ grave. He leaves his lighter that he always used. When he leaves, Chas appears as an angel with wings and flies upward to the sky. Constantine smiles, shakes his head and leaves.

REVIEW:

In this time when superheroes, it may be forgotten that there have been some comic book films that set things up for this great time in comic book cinema. One of these is Constantine. A little news this week about a possible TV show for John Constantine on NBC (unclear if it will be related). We’ll see if that happens, but first, let’s talk about the film.

What is this about?

In a world ruled largely by logic, an eccentric private detective with a taste for the supernatural investigates an apparent suicide in this thriller based on the comic book “Hellblazer.”

What did I like?

Gabriel. Today must be Gabriel day, because I was just watching another actor portray him in an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess this morning and now Tilda Swinton brings him to the screen. Swinton’s take on the archangel is quite…interesting. I don’t really know if he is androgynous in the comics, but being that they cast her, the casting directors knew what they were doing when they cast her, as she was highly effective.

Effects. There are plenty of films that use the imagery of demons and hell, but this film really plays up the “hellish” aspects of Hades. Some of these effects would have worked in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, if you ask me. The demons are also well designed and imaginative. Very easily, they could have been carbon copies of each other, but careful thought and consideration was obviously given to their design.

Change is good. In the comics, John Constantine is an angry, blonde, British drunk who resembles the singer, Sting. There was talk of Keanu Reeves adapting an accept and changing his hair, but that didn’t happen, thankfully. Yes, Reeves isn’t that great of an actor, but when he’s doing his usual shtick, it works for him. As we saw in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it is perhaps best if he sticks to American stuff. The decision to not have him act as a Sting was a great one.

What didn’t I like?

Devil’s due. When Lucifer enters he slithers in with some kind o odd black liquid covering him, and yet he still has an immaculately clean suit. I’m not really sure what that black stuff was, and we weren’t really told what it was, either. Peter Stormare does give a good performance, regardless. I just wish there was an answer to the mystery.

Shia. To my knowledge, Constantine doesn’t have a sidekick, so the use of Shia here is nothing more what we’ve gotten in every other film they try to shove him down our throats in. Why is it that Hollywood seems to think this guy is going to be the next great actor. It just isn’t gonna happen. This character isn’t bad, mind you, just not worth using him when they could have just as easily used some random character actor, or made him more like he is in the comic.

God. It seems we see every major religious figure but the Almighty. Even in Dogma, he…well, she…makes an appearance. It would have been more powerful, at least if you ask me, to have God show up somewhere, even if it were just a cameo. With all the talk about hell and demons and such, it would have made for a nice ray of light, if you will.

Constantine is a good vs evil film. Interesting tidbit, the leading man doesn’t seem to have a thing for the leading lady, though it was written for him to have a girl who is killed, but those scenes were cut. Religious nuts, specifically Catholics, are probably not going to be jumping up and down about the themes and images on display. Those folks aside, this is actually quite the entertaining film, complete with elements of horror, action, and suspense. I highly recommend it, so give it a shot!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2012 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 2005, Daisy, an elderly woman, is on her deathbed in a New Orleans hospital. Daisy asks her daughter, Caroline, to read aloud from the diary of Benjamin Button. It begins with an introduction note written on April 4th 1985.

In 1918, Mr. Gateau, a blind New Orleans clockmaker, loses his son on the battlefields of France in World War I. As a way to deal with the grief, Gateau builds a large clock for the New Orleans train station, but fixes it so that the time goes in reverse. When asked why, Gateau states that maybe time will reverse and the men lost in the war—including his son—might come home again.

On the evening of November 11, 1918, a boy is born with the appearance and physical maladies of a very elderly man. The baby’s mother dies shortly after giving birth, and the father, Thomas Button, abandons the infant on the porch of a nursing home. Queenie and Mr. “Tizzy” Weathers, who work at the nursing home, find the baby, and Queenie decides to care for him as her own.

In 1925, Queenie and a 7-year old Benjamin attend church; he physically appears 77. Learning to walk, Ben declares that moment a miracle, as written in his diary; the priest has a sudden, fatal heart attack.

In November 1930, 12-year-old Benjamin, having exchanged a wheelchair for crutches, befriends six-year-old Daisy, whose grandmother lives in the nursing home. As Benjamin’s body grows younger, he accepts work on a tugboat. Benjamin also meets Thomas Button, who does not reveal that he is Benjamin’s father. In 1936, Benjamin leaves New Orleans with the tugboat crew for a long-term work engagement. He eventually finds himself in Murmansk, where he starts an affair with Elizabeth Abbott, wife of the British Trade Minister.

In 1941, while the tugboat crew is still in Russia, Japan attacks the U.S. at Pearl Harbor, thrusting America into World War II. Mike, the captain, volunteers the boat to be a ship in the U.S. Navy and the crew is assigned to scrap collection duty. During a patrol, the tugboat stumbles upon a sunken U.S. transport and the bodies of hundreds of American troops. While surveying the carnage, a German submarine surfaces. Knowing his duty, Mike steers the tugboat full speed towards the sub while a German gunner fires on the tugboat, killing most of the crew including Mike. The tugboat then rams the submarine, causing it to explode, sinking both vessels. The next day Benjamin and one other crew member are picked up by ships of the U.S. Navy.

In May 1945, Benjamin returns to New Orleans, and learns that 21-year-old Daisy has become a successful ballet dancer. Benjamin again crosses paths with Thomas Button, who, terminally ill, reveals that he is Benjamin’s father. Thomas wills Benjamin his possessions before he dies.

Daisy’s dance career is ended in Paris in 1957, when she is hit by a taxi cab and breaks her leg. When Benjamin goes to see her, Daisy is amazed at his youthful appearance, but frustrated at her own injuries; she tells him to stay out of her life. In 1962, Daisy returns to New Orleans and reunites with Benjamin. Now of comparable physical age, they fall in love and move in together.

Daisy gives birth to a girl, Caroline in 1968, when Benjamin’s 49. Believing he cannot be a father to his daughter due to his reverse aging, Benjamin sells his belongings and leaves the proceeds to Daisy and Caroline. He begins traveling the world in 1970 (as written on one of Caroline’s postcards), really in his early 50s but appearing to be in his early 30s, including going to India, and doing motorcycle work. Finally, Benjamin ends his travels in 1981, at age 63.

Appearing 21, Benjamin comes back to Daisy that same year. Now married, Daisy introduces him to her husband and daughter as a family friend. Daisy then visits Benjamin at his hotel, where they share their passion for each other. Daisy admits that he was right to leave; she could not have coped otherwise. After saying goodnight to her, Benjamin watches Daisy leave in a taxi from his window.

In 1991, widowed Daisy receives a phone call from social workers. They have found Benjamin — now apparently about 11 years old. When she arrives, they explain that he’d been living in a condemned building, and was recently taken to the hospital in failing health. They have contacted her because they found her name in his diary. The bewildered social workers also say he’s displaying early signs of dementia. Daisy moves into the nursing home where Benjamin grew up and takes care of him as he becomes increasingly younger until, physically, he becomes an infant once more. Daisy says to Caroline that in 2002, Gateau’s clock was moved into storage, replaced by a digital screen clock. In 2003, Benjamin dies in Daisy’s arms remembering who she was. Benjamin’s story now told, Daisy dies in her New Orleans hospital bed as Hurricane Katrina approaches, and the scene fades to the storage room in which Gateau’s clock is contained; the film ends with the clock still running backwards, as the room in which it is contained begins to flood

REVIEW:

None of us are getting any younger, that’s just a sad fact of life. Imagine, though, what it must be like to live your life in reverse. I’m not quite sure I would care to see those around me grow ever so slowly older and eventually passing on. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button takes us through a journey filled with ups and downs, all the while we watch as Benjamin grows from an old man to young boy.

What is this about?

On the day that Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, elderly Daisy Williams (nee Fuller) is on her deathbed in a New Orleans hospital. At her side is her adult daughter, Caroline. Daisy asks Caroline to read to her aloud the diary of Daisy’s lifelong friend, Benjamin Button. Benjamin’s diary recounts his entire extraordinary life, the primary unusual aspect of which was his aging backwards, being diagnosed with several aging diseases at birth and thus given little chance of survival, but who does survive and gets younger with time. Abandoned by his biological father, Thomas Button, after Benjamin’s biological mother died in childbirth, Benjamin was raised by Queenie, a black woman and caregiver at a seniors home. Daisy’s grandmother was a resident at that home, which is where she first met Benjamin. Although separated through the years, Daisy and Benjamin remain in contact throughout their lives…

What did I like?

Process of aging. The makeup artists did masterful job of making Brad Pitt look old in the early parts of the film, and then they reversed the aging process for the latter parts (or just spliced in a few scenes from Meet Joe Black). They also make Cate Blanchett look quite a bit younger as well as aged Taraji P. Henson in her last scenes.

Ride. This film takes you for an emotional ride, that’s for sure. Not only do you feel sad for this woman who is on her deathbed in a hospital as Hurricane Katrina is about to make landfall, but the emotions of Benjamin as he goes through life experiencing love, tragedy, and what have you. Those that are apt to emotional outbursts might want to have a box of tissue handy when you watch this.

Similar, yet different. I’m sure many people are going to make a fuss about how similar this film is to two others. First, there is the Robin Williams’ flick Jack, where he plays a boy who ages four times faster than he should…another aging chid film. Second, there quite a few obvious similarities or nods to Forrest Gump, such as both being southern, working on a boat, being born on a signficant date in history. The way this film was going at points, I was half expecting him to end up sitting on a bench with a box of chocolates. That being said, these are all different films that have similarities, but should not really be compared and contrasted.

What didn’t I like?

Watch your step. When Benjamin is left on the doorstep, he is literally stepped on by Queenie and her beau. I’ve never stepped on a baby before, but it seems to me that a full grown man of what appears to be slightly athletic/muscular build coming down the stairs and stepping on a newborn babe would either crush the child or do some serious injury to it, especially if it has as brittle bones as an old person.

Accents. Brad Pitt should know better. I’ll get to him in a second. As someone who lives in Louisiana, just an hour away from New Orleans, as a matter of fact, I can’t ignore these accents. I’m not really sure who taught these people that folks down here talk like that, but that isn’t the way. The reason I say Brad Pitt should know better is because I seem to remember reading something that he and Angelina had bought a house down here. That would mean he gets a taste of the local culture eveyrday. Let us not forget that he was down here years ago, using the exact same sad accent, in Interview with a Vampire. He may have become a better actor since then, but his accent is as sad and wooden as ever.

Length and waste. At nearly 3 hours, this film is way too long for its own good. Yes, it is one of those artsy-fartsy films and all, but still….geesh! Julia Ormond is a very fine and talented actress. I don’t blame them for getting her involved in the project. However, I can’t help but wonder why it is that they felt the need to cast her in such a medial role, when they really could have just picked up some random chick from down Bourbon St. and she would have worked just as well.

A little bit more serious and dramatic that films I tend to go for, I found myself actually really enjoying The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Great acting, setting, visual effects, and a story that sucks you in make this a must-see. No wonder it was nominated for all those awards. I highly recommend this one as a film to see before you die.

4 1/2 out 5 stars

Burn After Reading

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Independent, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2009 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Osborne Cox (Malkovich) is a CIA analyst who quits his job at the agency after being demoted because of a drinking problem. He then decides to write a memoir about his life in the CIA. His wife, pediatrician Katie Cox (Swinton), wants to divorce Osborne and, at the counsel of her divorce lawyer (J.R. Horne), she copies many of his personal and financial files off his computer and onto a compact disc. The lawyer’s receptionist accidentally leaves the disc at Hardbodies, a health club. After her husband is served with divorce papers, Katie changes the locks to keep him out of their house.

Two employees of the gym, Chad Feldheimer (Pitt) and Linda Litzke (McDormand) obtain the disc from the gym’s custodian. Seeing the content of the memoir, they assume that it is highly classified information. Initially Chad and Linda plan to give the disk back to Osborne hoping for a reward, intending to use the money to pay for Linda’s cosmetic surgery. However, after a confusing phone conversation and fury on Osborne’s part, their original plan descends into a blackmail attempt. Chad meets Osborne, who, aware that the “information” is merely his memoirs, refuses to pay and punches Chad in the nose. Linda decides to take the information to the Russian embassy. At the embassy, she hands the disk over to the Russians, promising that she will give more information afterwards. Because they don’t actually have any more information, they decide to break into Osborne’s house to steal more.

Katie has been having an affair with Harry Pfarrer (Clooney), a womanizing Treasury agent. By chance he has recently met Linda online and begun an affair with her as well. Chad stakes out Osborne’s house and breaks in when he sees Harry and Katie leave. Harry, however, comes back, finds Chad, and accidentally shoots him in the face. Chad is not carrying ID and the labels are cut out of his clothes; when Harry sees this, he thinks Chad is a spy and disposes of the body. At the CIA headquarters, an official (David Rasche) and his director (J.K. Simmons) while observing everyone, are perplexed as to what is going on and decide to maintain observation until the situation “makes sense.”

A few days later, paranoid since he killed Chad, Harry leaves Osborne’s house after a discussion with Katie. On his way out, he tackles a man who has been trailing him for some time, thinking the man works for the CIA or some other government agency. Harry discovers instead that the man works for a divorce firm hired by his wife, who it is later revealed has been cheating on him as well. Harry is devastated and goes to see an agitated Linda, who confides in Harry that her friend Chad is missing; he agrees to try to help.

The next morning, Harry and Linda meet in a park and she provides him with more information about Chad’s disappearance. When Harry realizes that Chad is the man he killed, he becomes more paranoid and flees in terror, assuming that Linda is also a spy. Linda then turns to Ted Treffon (Richard Jenkins), the manager of Hardbodies, who has feelings for her. Believing that the Russians have kidnapped Chad, he agrees to look for more information in Osborne’s computer. But Osborne, finding that Katie has emptied their bank account, decides to break into his own house with a hatchet to take her jewelry. Finding Ted at his computer, Osborne shoots him. Ted survives and runs out of the house, but Osborne grabs the hatchet and kills him.

The movie ends at CIA headquarters, where the official and his director are trying to sort out what happened: Chad and Ted are dead and Osborne is in a vegetative state after being shot by a CIA operative who had been tasked with observing him. The agent felt he could not stand by while Osborne was killing a man (Ted) in broad daylight. Harry and Linda have been arrested; Harry was caught trying to board a flight to Venezuela, but the director decides to let him go to get him out of their hair. Linda promises to remain silent if the CIA will finance her plastic surgery. The baffled CIA agents agree to her terms.

REVIEW:

Geoge Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich…these are names that don’t necessarily scream comedy, but rather Oscar-worthy dramas, so the fact that this turned out to be a comedy left me in shock and awe.

John Malkovich is quite the eccentric, but talented, actor. Throughout the course of this film he shown the full range of emotions, proving that while he may be a strange cat, he is not without talent.

Brad Pitt is one of the highlights of the film. Sorry ladies, he’s not around very long (think Clooney couldn’t handle it…lol). In his short time he is around, though, he manages to steal the scenes. For some reason, I did not find it hard to believe him as a airhead trainer, who more than likely, was a jock in high school.

George Clooney shines as a paranoid Treasury agent, but we never really find out why he is so paranoid. His paranoia just seems to get worse, especially after he finds out his wife is cheating on him. Ironically, he had been cheating on her with half the women in D.C.

Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand turn in excellent performances, as well. Swinton disappears about halfway through the film and McDormand becomes more of a major player as the film progresses, even going so far as to play a major role in the film’s climax.

J.K. Simmons also has very limited screentime. As a matter of fact, his time is so limited, he might as well have been a cameo. However, he is hilarious as the CIA director who doesn’t seem to care or understand what is going on with Osbourne Cox and all those around him when the file is brought to him after Chad is killed.

This film was…odd, to say the least. The plot is pretty good well executed, characters well acted, and there are some funny parts (mostly with Brad Pitt, of all people), but I just didn’t know what to make of it.Still, it wasn’t bad, and I did enjoy this film. I won’t be running out to buy it or anything, but it was worth a viewing.

3 out of 5 stars