Monday, March 19, 2018

Returner (2002)

If you'd ever try to imagine a mix of "Terminator", "Matrix", "E.T." and "Transformers", the result... well, most probably won't look like "Returner", but for some Japanese back around year 2000 seems that was the sum of all these. And it's so bad that it's (almost) good...

In 2080 and something, on an Earth invaded by aliens, the humanity is at the verge of extinction. Somewhere just before the last explosion, a girl jumps into "the last resort" = a wormhole to the past, with the purpose of preventing the first contact and all the disasters following - that's the "Terminator" part. The time bubble opens over a cargo ship used for human trafficking exactly in the middle of a fight between the members of a Triad and a guy seemingly coming from "Matrix" based on his apparel and moves (bullet-time effect included). To get "E.T." into the picture, after a while we find out that the first alien stranded from outer space is not hostile and just wants to go back home + doesn't resemble the terminating machines from the future and looks more like Spielberg's version from '82. For the "Transformers" piece, well... the trailer speaks for itself.

Each individual piece of the movie is sufficiently good and has some sort of originality (depite the above references) that would've led to a pretty decent result. Unfortunately, even if in the first half there's some acceptable flow, after this the action is so messed up when all bits are put together (= from plot holes and maximum predictability to just bad editing) that what's left in the end looks more like an indie movie made by some students between midterm exams. Don't get me wrong.. again, on each part (except the editing) we can say something good - for the budget it has the VFX are more than fine, the acting is ok, the camera work is quite nice on some frames especially on the chromatic side, and for the score we have some mixes of techno/synth with punk rock that give a retro-SciFi feeling reminding of the year when the movie was released. The lack of polishing is, however, terrible and brings a lot of damage to the final product. Still, if you have some memories left from the end of '90s - beginning of 2000's there's a good change of some pleasant nostalgia :)

Rating: 3 out of 5 (barely...)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Molly's Game (2017)

"Molly's Game" is the best biopic I've seen in a while. I guess it's a bit better than "American Made", and before that I don't really remember something I could compare it with. I don't know if it's just the story, but the way the movie's written = the script, definitely has its merit.

The movie's based on a book with the same name + a long subtitle: "The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World", which actually concisely describes what we have here. Molly Bloom misses a career in ski after an unfortunate accident stealing her the chance of entering the Olympic team and somehow lands a job as a secretary for somebody in the L.A. high society. The guy organizes poker nights with other guys in the even higher society of L.A., or better said delegates this task to Molly, who for start finds in this another income source from the received tips. And so, all this leads to a successful entrepreneurship example = she takes all on her own at some point, even makes it fully legal, the sums move up and everything seems to go well. Until it doesn't, but as usual I'd rather not give out more than the trailer does...

As any biopic, to get its catchy factor, the story is maybe slightly adjusted here and there, but in any case is one with plenty of movie potential. The construction of the script makes it obvious that it takes the side of the main character, so, to be a bit mean, off-topic you can still probably ask yourself if the portrayed young lady really had so much integrity as it's shown. But that doesn't matter that much. For my concern, the movie could be very well pure fiction - what I've watched was a life drama with thriller accents and a happy-end that I liked. Maybe I'm a bit subjective about the character (keeping some reserve on it :) there's a reason for characterizing her at some point in the movie as the perfect type of "woman to fall in love with"), but more than this the movie has something motivational in it from beginning till the end, which might be discreet (= more or less between the lines) but that's exactly what makes it more real.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Oscar 2018

I said last year that I'll write at most one entry on the topic of Oscar 2018 and I'll keep my word. More, I'll try to just limit myself to some predictions. If these work out = if we won't get again some major surprise awards based on political/social criteria that have nothing in common with the cinema/art factor, maybe I'll resume next year the extended coverage of the event I was typically doing... maybe... But, let's get to the point.

For VFX the Oscar should go to "War of the Planet of the Apes". It's the third time in three movies when we have a nomination for this series and if it still loses I guess this category will also completely lose any credibility it still might have. "The breakthrough" to say it so was made by the first movie in the series, which brought something consistently new in the area of CGI depicting an animal in a movie. Even if the sequels didn't have something as revolutionary on the technical side as the first, the VFX complexity is still on top of the competition, first of all considering the nature of the movie. Unfortunately though, this award was way too much assimilated with the one for cinematography in the recent years, and it's not the same thing (it also happens the other way around...), but hopefully not this year too...

The sound categories of this year - editing and mixing - came with something that didn't happen for quite some time - the nominees list is identical. "Traditionally" four of them were the same and there was one difference. Normally, for editing the award should go to "Dunkirk", but I say that we might get a surprise winner here with "Blade Runner 2049". Again, normally the mixing award should go to "Baby Driver", where the final track mix is absolutely brilliant - and that's the stuff that should matter the most here, but the Oscar will most probably be awarded to "Dunkirk".

On production design = art direction & set decoration, we have a pretty tight competition, but I'd choose "Blade Runner 2049" as winner. For me this part is the strongest technically in the whole movie, considering the feeling it brings = transposing you in the created world, it's at least on par with the rest, and the advantage comes from the variation it brings. And from all this variation, if we just look at the Vegas part is already enough.

It's been long since there was such a tight competition on the score/soundtrack as this year. Even though the favorite movies seem to be others I say there are good chances for a surprise win for Jonny Greenwood and the music from "Phantom Thread". This is also judging based on the way the "ear" of the Academy works, which typically is sort of conservatory on this category. As personal taste I prefer the score of Carter Burwell from "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri", but it's far less likely to have a win here.

If we stopped at "Phantom Thread" let's just stay a bit longer with a certain prediction in this year awards: costume design. Not that I'm an expert on this, but given the topic of the movie I hardly see how it could lose here.

"The Shape of Water" will most probably bring a first Oscar for directing to Guillermo del Toro, which is a bit unfair considering that "Pan's Labyrinth" still remains his best movie. More unfair is that "Dunkirk" will not bring to Nolan a first Oscar for directing, given that, and I'll repeat once more, this man managed to put together and excellently composed piece of cinema from a subject that's hardly fit for a movie.

Generally I avoid talking much about the actor's performances, and this year the awards are anyway pretty predictable here. I'd still have comment on the leading actor where Gary Oldman is considered the certain winner for his Churchill take on "The Darkest Hour". As I wrote in the movie review, despite the character that was built where I can't objectively comment being extremely well studied/acted by the level of gesture, speaking habits, etc. and where the makeup had its share of contribution, I'd still would've found more natural the choice of some other actor who should've been naturally closer to the wanted result. Based on this criteria I would give the Oscar to Daniel Day Lewis, who in "Phantom Thread" has probably his best performance in a movie after the one in "There Will Be Blood". The irony is that he got it for "Lincoln", where he wasn't far from the position where Gary Oldman is this year, so...

I guess I covered enough categories to stop this year's "overview" with obviously, Best Picture. We have two favorites here: "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri" and "Shape of Water", which I say deserve their position in the current selection of nine nominees. As long as we don't have any surprise as in the last years where the title of best movie of the year reaches a production that's somewhere behind half of the rest even on some critics list (the few ones that are still not judging on political criteria), we'll have a step forward. I have blog entries for both movies above so, I'd like to end the Oscar 2018 chapter without more details. I'll just stick to my previous evaluation of the movies = although close, my final vote & prediction goes to "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri".

Monday, February 26, 2018

Get Out (2017)

"Get Out" it's representative for the reason why I don't have anymore so many horror entries on my blog. It's either rehashing stuff (this case) or something where horror is defined as buckets of blood (fortunately not this case).

The story: We have a girl (white) with her boyfriend (black) who decides to introduce him to her parents. And like this we're landing somewhere in a countryside community, where there's a heavy air of racial segregation. It's not really clear if we're in the South or in the North of USA (well, at least for me it's not). In any case we have a mansion where the parents reside - the father - a neurosurgeon and the mother - a shrink (again, it's not very clear what two professing doctors do in the middle of nowhere, but let's say we get the reason at the end of the movie). We also have two black servants with a strange behavior. And we also have a sort of local party at the mansion where lots of white folks gather + an even weirder black guy. Well, even so, it takes almost three quarters of a movie of the boyfriend resisting the weirdness around and lots of offensive remarks (some of which a bit too subtle) + an involuntary session of hypnosis that sticks better than a tube of super glue, until the guy cracks and wants to go home. Well, of course he won't be able... Let's not spoil though the last quarter of the movie, anyway's not much to be seen there.

The reason why "Get Out" got some astronomic ratings on most of the sites in the US for the genre it has it's the light "politically correctness" part = we have a movie that bets a lot on the racial discrimination card, a topic that doesn't really work for me in a horror, especially one with this script. On the rehashed stuff side I can refer to "The Skeleton Key" from 2005, a much darker movie (I would say even too dark if I think about the ending), where the essence of the story is not that far, but the roles (racially speaking) were sort of reversed if I remember well (which isn't so "politically correct") but well... the movie does what it has to do = delivers a horror story, the skin color is not that important there. Also on the rehashed stuff side, the generic idea of getting trapped & used somewhere in a remote location is so often met that you need something super original to overcome this context. And unfortunately the 15-20 minutes of movie that are left for this don't deliver anything above average. If you want an example of a horror that does this, check out "The Cabin in the Woods", and if you want a decent movie on racial issues you can start with "12 Years a Slave" (there's horror there too, but not the "having fun" type).

Rating: 3 out of 5 (I didn't say the movie's bad, just too overrated for something that doesn't raise above the average of the genre)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" deserves a review as complex and long as its title, for which I don't really have the time... It's the third movie by Martin McDonagh after "In Bruges" and "Seven Psychopats", and what we have here is directly comparable with the previous. Still, if in the first we had a dark comedy with a dramatic ending, in the second the proportions were somehow equal, here the drama is much more present. You still get the same traces of dark humor, but the movie is much more harsh and credible despite many critics that I heard on the fact that there are parts of script which don't make sense. The story: A woman from a small town in Missouri, whose daughter is raped and murdered, decides after something like 8 months during which the local police didn't get any track to "counterattack" with a protest displayed on 3 billboards. The immediate result is the public dismay on her nerve of accusing the local sheriff of not doing his job in a context where the guy's sick with cancer and close to dying. Starting from this, the issue escalates, or to quote the movie: "All this anger, man, it just begets greater anger.".

The script, as weird as it might look in some places, is typical for McDonagh and excellently built reusing an "unknown author" motive seen from different angles, and typically coming as a surprise element. It's either revealing of something you don't know (spoilers: who paid for the second month of billboards, who burnt the first boards, or even who is the author of the murder) or revealing something you know but to an unknowingly character (other spoilers: who burnt the police station, or again... who's the killer). What else to say: Sam Rockwell, who for me seems to play pretty much the same part everywhere, here does the best of his career - and the part of the "ultra politically correct" critic who's blaming the movie for glorifying in the ending a racist person, is as stupid as the idea of "politically correct" criticism for an artistic product - especially given the context where we have a clear idea and message of "people can change". The camera work is not exceptional but there are some frames where you can remark a sort of finesse (an example: the whole throwing out the window scene). The score brings a "Coen Brothers" feeling, which comes naturally being written by Carter Burwell who's typically also working with them.

It's probably the most powerful movie as impact/sent message which I've seen in this "Oscar" season, despite or maybe actually because the comic approach on top of the drama part. Besides the above mentioned, maybe the very essence you're left with is the unpredictable human surprise factor = you can expect something bad from somebody good or vice versa, otherwise said, with isolated exceptions, there's not much white or black in this life, but many and diverse shades of grey.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

PS - extra big spoilers ahead: Some night when I couldn't sleep I made the mistake to look over a reddit thread on this movie, and as condescending it may sound it confirmed me again that the average IQ of the American public is somewhere... let's better not say. So, normally I'm not doing this, but in this situation I sort of feel obliged to explain some so-called stupid details in the script (leaving aside the fact that in a dark comedy you should not expect something 100% believable, but well, for the purists...): 1) how the hell can you have such a big extinguisher in your car with you? well... after your child is set on fire, maybe you do; 2) how stupid is that the local police doesn't investigate who burned their building? who says they don't? the woman had an alibi and she's temporarily spared, it's enough to skip this part in the movie; 3) BIG spoiler - the real killer issue: the movie doesn't have an ending/two people leave to kill some falsely assumed murderer/etc., etc. - I say that the movie has a perfect eding, but well, that's my own personal take on it - a) first of all the killer is the assumed one, despite negating the DNA evidence and his presence at that time in the country, it still all seems like a cover-up story - if you're paying attention there are at least three elements in the final dialogue between Dixon and the new local sheriff: the latter starts by saying to the first that he did a good job investigating in the context of him being fired and even if immediately after he denies the result; it's repeated for several times that "the commanding officer" offered a cover/alibi and more details are classified, apparently making the suspect untouchable; finally the one who leaves the badge on the desk is Dixon disappointed of the whole thing, not the sheriff who seems actually willing to offer him a chance of returning to work and b) even so, the ending is somehow apparently open, the two left to get their own justice not being 100% certain of what's next - the "shades of grey" ;) ...