Monthly Archives: February 2019

“Alita: Battle Angel” Movie Review

I’ve imagined for many years what I might want to do if I was suddenly bestowed with cybernetically enhanced body parts. Being a badass fighter-type has been near the top of that list for the longest time, and this movie realizes it pretty well. This dystopian cyberpunk actioner was released in theaters by 20th Century Fox on February 15th, 2019. Previously, the film had been pegged for a late summer 2018 release and then another one for that year’s holiday season. Thus far, it has grossed around $163.7 million against an estimated overall budget of $170 million. Much of that money comes from overseas markets, where it has far outpaced some of the studio’s previous films in profits. Among all of this, it’s received a mixed critical reception from critics and audiences alike, with some proclaiming either to be terrible or amazing. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, the film- based on the manga series Gunnm or Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kashiro -had been gestating in development hell since at least 2003. James Cameron was originally signed on to produce and direct the film with partner Jon Landau, as well as co-write the script with Altered Carbon scribe Laeta Kalogridis. However, Cameron ultimately stepped down from the position to focus on his Avatar sequels and gave the gig to Rodriguez, although he retains producing and co-writing credits on the final product. And apparently, the final script was shot with over 600 pages worth of notes while filming occurred. Set in the year 2563, the story takes place in the junk-filled metropolis of Iron City, one of the last specs of civilization after a devastating war called “The Fall.” In this junkyard, a scientists named Dr. Ido Dyson, played by Christoph Waltz, discovers a surviving part of a cyborg in a pile dumped from the lofty sky-city of Zalem, just above Iron City. He rebuilds the parts into a female cyborg named Alita, played by Rosa Salazar, who has incredible strength and agility despite having lost all of her memory. As she gradually regains pieces from her past, she becomes the target of both low-level bounty hunter cyborgs and residents of Zalem that are concerned she’ll mess with their dominance. I remember watching the first teaser trailer over a year ago and being might intrigued by what was being promised. Although I’m completely unfamiliar with the (Apparently influential) manga series it’s based on, the prospect of seeing James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez collaborate on a film together was very enticing. I loved Sin City and From Dusk Til Dawn, and his ultra low-budget debut El Mariachi is a literal inspiration for me as an aspiring filmmaker, so seeing him team up with the brains behind Terminator and Aliens is obviously gonna get my blood pumping. Then its release date got delayed twice, which is rarely a good sign in modern studio blockbusters. Not to mention, the titular character’s unusually large eyes became something of a meme when the first footage was initially revealed. Now it’s finally been put out to the public, with the big hopes of launching a brand new franchise. Alita: Battle Angel is certainly better than your average manga adaptation, yet it still leaves something to be desired. This really does feel like a movie that James Cameron was going to direct, but handed off the reigns to someone else at the last minute. Make no mistake, Robert Rodriguez’s distinct touch is still there and all, and the idea of him and the guy who made Aliens making a dystopian movie together sounds like an honest-to-God dream collaboration. And at points throughout the film, it definitely feels like that potential comes through. But while it is mostly its own movie, Alita: Battle Angel more often than not feels far too preoccupied trying to set up plot points or character arcs for sequels. There’s even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo near the very end that nearly made me jump out of my seat in surprise. The tough pill to swallow, though, is that it may be unlikely that a sequel will really happen. And that’s a damn shame, because it deserves a chance. I’ve seen Rosa Salazar in a handful of roles the last couple of years, and hopefully this becomes her big break. Through the motion-capture work, she shines as Alita, a cyborg woman with a childlike innocence and the fighting skills of a trained killer. Christoph Waltz also gets a break from his villainous roles as Dr. Ido Dyson, Alita’s creator and father figure. While he’s forced to do unsavory things to sustain his clinic in Iron City, it’s clear that he has a great amount of compassion and humility that is sorely lacking in this world. The weakest link though, is newcomer Keean Johnson as Hugo, Alita’s main love interest. His character never really seemed that interesting, and the chemistry he should have had with Salazar was practically nonexistent. The rest of the cast is filled out by the likes of Ed Skrein, Lana Condor, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Jennifer Connolly, Mahershala Ali, Jackie Earl Haley, and Idara Victor. While they all try their best, (It’s cool to see Ali play a straight-up villain for once) only a handful are able to elevate behind simple archetypes. However, when it comes to the technical side of things, Alita: Battle Angel is unquestionably a sight to behold. Bill Pope’s cinematography feels just as eye-boggling and fluid as it was in The Matrix trilogy nearly 20 years ago. The dystopian landscape is caught in a slightly dingy and neon-plastered frame that oozes style and beauty, despite the griminess of its setting. It also matches up with the editing by Stephen E. Rivkin, which feels smooth and calculated. None of the action scenes feel choppy or hard to follow, which is especially impressive considering over half of the characters have some sort of metal prosthetic. But the meat of this film is undoubtedly the motion-capture work and visual effects done by the always reliable Weta Digital. This is easily some of their most impressive work yet, which is really saying something considering these guys also made the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a host of Marvel movies. Although it occasionally looked a tad cartoony in some shots, it did such an amazing job at blending real actors with their CG costumes, including and especially Alita herself. As one of the most prolific and inventive composers in recent memory, Tom Holkenborg A.K.A. Junkie XL provides the instrumental film score. And like much of his other work, such as Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s very exciting and befitting to the setting. The score infuses rapid strings with bellowing horns quite frequently, matching the intensity and fast-paced action happening on-screen. It also uses a number of dynamic percussion instruments as well as synthesized sounds to create a unique sound. Much like its protagonist, it can be whimsical, futuristic, and badass all at once. We also get treated to an original song called “Swan Song” by the singer Dua Lipa, which plays during the end credits sequence. It was much more infectious and catchy song than I was expecting, using a great beat and gorgeous vocals to provide a neat coda to the adventure. Its lyrics and style feel appropriate to give the titular character a fighting anthem all her own. Alita: Battle Angel is a well-meaning and visually stunning but narratively messy sci-fi action romp. Although it fell short of my expectations, what Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron accomplished here is nothing short of nonstop fun. I legitimately want to see this film succeed so that we can see more of this world in the future. The story, I mean, not the actual Iron City itself.

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“The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” Movie Review

One has to wonder what Solo: A Star Wars Story would have looked like if Lord and Miller had actually finished it their way. I know that’s very cliched thing to say now, but I just can’t help but be mighty curious, especially with something like this and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This computer-animated comedy adventure was theatrically released on February 8th, 2019, almost exactly 5 years since its predecessor. While it has grossed over $103.8 million at the worldwide box office thus far, given its $99 million budget, it performed under expectations for the studio. In fact, some are debating whether it will be able to turn a real profit by the end of its theatrical run. That being said, it has still received fairly positive response from audiences and critics, albeit a little less so than the first film in the series. Directed by Mike Mitchell, the original film’s creators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller return to produce and write the screenplay. The biggest creative hurdle they faced during production was seamlessly and successfully moving between the headspace and imagination of the human children. There were also a number of brand new Lego mini-figures created specifically for the film, many of which were made with the subject’s permission. Taking place 5 years after the events of the original, the vast and diverse world of Bricksburg has been turned into Apocalypseburg after an invasion from Duplo bricks. Master Builder Emmet Brickowski, voiced by Chris Pratt is struggling to adjust his attitude to the hardened tone of many of his world’s inhabitants, including his girlfriend Lucy/ Wyldstyle, voiced by Elizabeth Banks. One day, an alien named General Mayhem kidnaps Lucy and various other Master Builders and takes them to a brand new place called the Systar System. Racing against time to save them, Emmet gets some unexpected help along the way from a mysterious galaxy-defending, raptor-training cowboy named Rex Dangervest. I absolutely loved The Lego Movie from 2014 and it remains one of the biggest cinematic surprises I’ve ever seen. Although I genuinely regret missing it in theaters, it proved everyone who thought it would be terrible wrong by providing fast-paced humor and a surprisingly thoughtful story to go along. Not to mention, it’s proven to be an incredibly rewatchable movie with tons of cool references and jokes to find each new time. And while I enjoyed The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie, I was waiting eagerly for a proper sequel to that modern classic. Whether or not it would actually live up to the first one is a bit unfair, since its predecessor had the element of surprise whereas this one became highly anticipated. And the answer is no, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is ultimately not as good the second time around. But still, it’s a very entertaining animated romp with plenty of humor and action to keep viewers preoccupied for 107 minutes. What’s most surprising about this sequel is how it doesn’t seem interested in retreading old ground or repeating what happened last time. Instead, Lord and Miller attempt to move things forward in a relevant way, finding time to address new topics. Whereas the previous one was a thinly veiled critique of capitalism and anti-copyright law, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is more of an indictment of toxic masculinity. Emmet has no idea how to be tough and strong in a world so fundamentally weary of itself, and when he tries it ultimately hurts both him and his loved ones. As one character points out, “It’s easy to harden your heart, but opening it up is one of the hardest things we can do.” Liking things that were meant for kids or staying upbeat in dark times is never a thing to feel ashamed of, no matter what others may tell you. Chris Pratt pulls double duty, both returning as Emmet Brickowski and voicing his self-parody as Rex Dangervest. They present a fun and interesting duality of his career; one is the lovable everyday guy who doesn’t think too much, the other is a badass, self-serious action hero. Tiffany Haddish is among the newer additions to the cast and is more than welcome. As Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi, a shape-shifting alien monarch ruling over the Duplos, she is every bit as witty and hilarious as she is in many of her other live-action roles. Pretty much all of the voice cast from the first film reprise their roles here and are still perfect. These include Will Arnett as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Elizabeth Banks as the troubled girlfriend Lucy, Charlie Day as the spaceship-obsessed astronaut Benny, Nick Offerman as the cantankerous pirate MetalBeard, and Allison Brie as the feisty and unpredictable Unikitty. Other newcomers include Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Stephanie Beatriz as the deadpan General Mayhem, who is not what she first appears to be. Hearing her speak awkward lines in a menacingly robotic voice had me and the audience in stitches numerous times. And when it comes to the technical aspects, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is extremely impressive and polished. One thing I love about this series is that even though it’s computer-animated, they go through an insane amount of motions to make it look like stop-motion. That continues here with gloriously smooth textures and a wide-ranging color palette. The level of detail in each individual shot is almost unreal, with virtually everything on-screen- including explosions, water splashes, and dust clouds -resembling Lego pieces. Mark Mothersbaugh, who previously composed for the first entry in the franchise, once again provides the instrumental film score. Much like last time, it’s a whimsical one befitting of the sweeping and wacky adventure shown on-screen. It’s a very diverse and wide-ranging sound, with instruments like synthesizers, percussion, and strings going back and forth over who controls the melody. It’s highly suspenseful and thrilling for the action scenes and more calm or moody when establishing the setting, including the Mad Max parody of Apocalypseburg. And also like the first film, the soundtrack features a couple of earworms out of original songs. The most obvious one this time around is “Catchy Song” by Dillon Francis, T-Pain and That Girl Lay Lay. It’s a musical number which literally promises in its lyrics that it will get stuck inside your head, and it does. But there’s also a somber redux of the original’s “Everything is Awesome” into “Everything’s Not Awesome.” Hearing the whole cast sing it in the tired world of 2019 was something I never expected I would need to hear. Utilizing a new line of characters and choosing new themes to address, even if it doesn’t always stick the landing, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is a playful reminder of kid-like wonder and fun. Miller and Lord continue to do wonders with ideas that should be absolutely terrible on paper, but end up being highly entertaining for broad audiences. And while the messaging and plot may not be as clever in this sequel as its predecessor, it’s still a welcome one. In these dark and scary times, everything isn’t awesome- and that’s okay, and we shouldn’t let that force us to change ourselves.

Final 2019 Oscar Predictions

After nearly a whole year’s worth of screw-ups, terrible announcements, last-minute changes, and other controversial matters, the 91st Academy Awards are finally upon us. And as was with last year, I managed to see nearly all of the major contenders from last year in preparation for this one night. While there are more frontrunners this year than previous expected, I still have some thoughts about who I think will win in all 24 categories (Which will THANKFULLY be all aired live) as well as who I think better deserves it. Also like last year, I took the liberty of including some films I really thought deserved a nod in a category that were ultimately snubbed. And remember, regardless of how it turns out or if we even like it, the ceremony airs this Sunday, February 24th.

Best Picture

Will Win: Roma

Could Win: Green Book

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: If Beale Street Could Talk

 

Best Director

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma

Could Win: Spike Lee for BlacKKKlansman

Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Marielle Heller for Can You Ever Forgive Me?

 

Best Actor

Will Win: Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: Christian Bale in Vice

Should Win: Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born

Should Have Been Nominated: Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here

 

Best Actress

Will Win: Glenn Close in The Wife

Could Win: Olivia Coleman in The Favourite

Should Win: Olivia Coleman in The Favourite

Should Have Been Nominated: Viola Davis in Widows

 

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Sam Elliot in A Star is Born

Could Win: Mahershala Ali in Green Book

Should Win: Sam Elliot in A Star is Born

Should Have Been Nominated: Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther

 

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Could Win: Rachel Weisz in The Favourite

Should Win: Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Should Have Been Nominated: Tilda Swinton in Suspiria

 

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: The Favourite

Could Win: Green Book

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Sorry to Bother You

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: BlacKKKlansman

Could Win: A Star is Born

Should Win: BlacKKKlansman

Should Have Been Nominated: Widows

 

Best Animated Feature Film

Will Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Could Win: Incredibles 2

Should Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Should Have Been Nominated: Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

 

Best Foreign-Language Film

Will Win: Roma (Mexico)

Could Win: Cold War (Poland)

Should Win: Roma (Mexico)

Should Have Been Nominated: Border (Sweden)

 

Best Documentary- Feature

Will Win: Free Solo

Could Win: Minding the Gap

Should Win: RBG

Should Have Been Nominated: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

 

Best Documentary- Short Subject

Will Win: A Night at the Garden

Could Win: Period. End of a Sentence

Should Win: A Night at the Garden

Should Have Been Nominated: Zion

 

Best Live-Action Short Film

Will Win: Fauve

Could Win: Detainment

Should Win: Fauve

Should Have Been Nominated: One Cambodian Family Please For My Pleasure

 

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Bao

Could Win: Late Afternoon

Should Win: Bao

Should Have Been Nominated: The Ostrich Politic

 

Best Original Score

Will Win: Black Panther by Ludwig Göransson

Could Win: If Beale Street Could Talk by Nicholas Britell

Should Win: Black Panther by Ludwig Göransson

Should Have Been Nominated: First Man by Justin Hurwitz

 

Best Original Song

Will Win: “Shallow” from A Star is Born

Could Win: “All the Stars” from Black Panther

Should Win: “Shallow” from A Star is Born

Should Have Been Nominated: “Hearts Beat Loud” from Hearts Beat Loud

 

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: First Man

Could Win: Ready Player One

Should Win: First Man

Should Have Been Nominated: Mission: Impossible- Fallout

 

Best Cinematography

Will Win: Roma

Could Win: A Star is Born

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Widows

 

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Black Panther

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: The Favourite

Should Have Been Nominated: Paddington 2

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyle

Will Win: Vice

Could Win: Border

Should Win: Vice

Should Have Been Nominated: Suspiria

 

Best Production Design

 

Will Win: The Favourite

Could Win: Black Panther

Should Win: First Man

Should Have Been Nominated: Annihilation

 

Best Film Editing

Will Win: Vice

Could Win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Should Win: BlacKKKlansman

Should Have Been Nominated: Hereditary

 

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: A Star is Born

Could Win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Mission: Impossible- Fallout

 

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: Roma

Could Win: A Quiet Place

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Mission: Impossible- Fallout

 

Do you have thoughts or predictions of your own? What films do you think will, could, or should win in each category? What are some that you feel got snubbed by the Oscars? Be sure to leave a Comment on it below, and if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Follow my Blog for similar film-centric content.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” Movie Review

I’ve only been to a handful of art museums in my home state in Texas, and I can confirm that there are indeed people who act like the people in this movie. I shudder just to think how much more snobby they could be in a huge place like L.A. or New York. This satirical horror-thriller premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival to a wide range of responses from those who attended. Just 5 days later, it was released in a limited theatrical engagement as well as on the streaming service Netflix on February 1st, 2019. The $21 million production was supposedly originally going to be released back in October of last year, but got pushed back. Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, the same man behind 2014’s Nightcrawler, the project was conceived from the filmmaker’s tumultuous experience co-writing Tim Burton’s unmade version of Superman Lives. Embittered over Warner Bros. concern for the increasingly large budget over anything else, it had apparently taken him quite a while to make peace with the disaster. He has frequently described the film to be similar in themes and style to Robert Altman’s ensemble classic The Player. Set in the glitzy modern art scene of Los Angeles, the story follows quite a few characters, but it mostly focuses on well-renowned art critic Morf Vandewalt, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. His agent and lover Josephina, played by Zawe Ashton, discovers a treasure trove of never-before-seen paintings by a recently deceased artist named Vetril Dease. But when numerous people in the world of art seek to profit off of them, including Rene Russo as the cutthroat gallery owner Rhodora Haze, these paintings apparently come to life and start murdering anyone wanting to make money. 2014’s Nightcrawler is one of my absolute favorite films of the last decade, and one of the best directorial debuts I’ve ever seen. It was clear that Dan Gilroy had something to say about the ruthless world of commercial entertainment and how anything can be made into such with enough grit. Not to mention, it featured two astounding and horribly snubbed performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo as the sociopathic protagonists. The prospect of seeing these two actors reunite with Gilroy on a brand new movie, especially one as oddball as this ,was highly intriguing. After all, the modern art world has essentially become a parody of itself. And while Velvet Buzzsaw isn’t anywhere near as good or revelatory as Nightcrawler, it’s still very entertaining and engaging. Although it is a straight-up horror flick, it really isn’t all that scary or even disturbing. Rather, Velvet Buzzsaw approaches its subject matter with a surprising amount of silliness and hot air, (The characters’ names are deliberately ridiculous) while still telling its story with a lot of venom. Most of the individuals in the film are pathetic creatures who only care about how much money a piece of art may make, and not at all appreciate what Jackson Pollock or Allan Kaprow are trying to say with their art, with one character exclaiming, “What’s the point of making art if nobody sees it?” However, it ultimately falls prey to its setting, and at points it starts to feel like a pretentious critic shouting into the void. While it is poetic that the film was funded and released by Netflix, it still doesn’t feel as insightful or deep as it wants to be. Thankfully, it tries to avoid much self-seriousness with a mad capper tone, which helps save it from becoming a hollow mess. Morf Vandewalt has to be one of the weirdest names I’ve seen recently, but Gyllenhaal hams it up perfectly. He’s a sniveling, detached, and snooty critic who may not even believe his own critiques as long as the piece is a success. Gilroy’s real-life wife Rene Russo and Toni Collette are equally brilliant as Rhodora Haze and Gretchen, the icy art gallery owners who always have money on their minds before anything else. While they may be rivals in the film, their goals are very similar as they want nothing more than to be the only ones to sell Dease’s paintings. And the big ensemble cast features awesome roles from John Malkovich, Billy Magnussen, Daveed Diggs, Tom Sturridge, Natalie Dyer, but the biggest revelation has to be Zawe Ashton a Josephina, the agent who finds the art in the first place. While at first she appears decent, she gradually and deliberately gets rid of any sympathy for this character as she herself succumbs to insatiable greed. Like Morf, she slowly becomes disillusioned with reality from these works and will do anything to stay at the top of the ladder. I’d love to see what else she has in store for viewers in the future. Meanwhile, the technical aspects show that Gilroy is further developing his own style and voice. With Paul Thomas Anderson’s regular cinematographer Robert Elswit, who shot the director’s two previous films, he proves once again he has a unique talent for shooting the city of L.A. The shots and framing are as sleek and shiny as the world in which the story takes place, and frequently floats around from character to character in a scene. It also uses lighting to its advantages in many aspects, such as telegraphing when someone might be killed next. The director’s twin brother John Gilroy also edits the film, as he has for every member of his family. It knows when to cut away from a shot or let something linger on-screen. And this being a horror movie, you’d expect there to be some creative or memorable deaths. With so much art to go around in the plot, I was pretty impressed by a lot of the kills, some of which drew real laughter from me. Replacing the director’s previous collaborator Jams Newton Howard, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders give us the film score. I’ll be perfectly honest, I can’t remember a single track or note from the whole film, so it’s not really worth it. Instead, it leans a lot on contemporary pop or electronic songs. This ultimately contributes to making the art world feel even more plastic and vapid. Knowing what it wants to do and wasting zero time lollygagging before getting to it, Velvet Buzzsaw is a gleefully trashy and scathing, if somewhat slight portrait of profit over art. It’s definitely an interesting next step for Dan Gilroy’s directorial career, if not a totally solid one. He clearly has something to say and a particular way to say it, all while trying to keep it as an entertaining horror flick. I would say more, but honestly, critique can be so limiting and emotionally draining.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” Movie Review

I’m honestly not quite sure if this was the best or worst movie for me to watch in preparation for Valentine’s Day. All I’ll say is that, as a hopeless romantic myself, I think I might have related to it a little more than I should have. This science-fiction romantic-dramedy was originally released in theaters worldwide on March 19th, 2004. Made on a budget of $20 million, it made over $72.3 million at the box office, making it one of the director’s most profitable films to date. It also earned critical acclaim, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and has developed a strong cult following in the years since. Many critics have even gone so far as to call it one of the best films of 21st century cinema. Directed by Michel Gondry, the idea was initially conceived in the 1990’s when his creative partner Pierre Bismuth mentioned how a friend said she wanted to erase her ex-boyfriend from her memory. Originally designed to be an art experiment, the two hired Charlie Kaufman to write the screenplay proper, who rejected Focus Features initial idea of making it into a thriller. The script was consistently rewritten during the film process, and a number of scenes were either toned down or just cut out entirely. Jim Carrey stars as Joel Barish, an introvert who can never seem to find the right person for a relationship. One day, his prayers are seemingly answered by a blue-haired woman named Clementine Kruczynski, played by Kate Winslet, but the two suffer a terrible breakup after two years together. Heartbroken beyond repair, they then resolve to have a firm called Lacuna Inc. erase all memories of each other from their brains. But as Joel journeys down the rabbit hole, he soon realizes that he’s still in love with her and tries to preserve her memory by any means necessary. Although I’m not well acquainted with Gondry’s filmography, I do really like Charlie Kaufman’s work as a screenwriter. His debut Being John Malkovich is one of the most original and wildly eccentric films to ever come out of the medium, and while his other works are mixed bags, I can definitely appreciate his ambition. I was long interested in checking this film out, primarily because people kept boasting it as one of the best science-fiction films ever made, and one of the best films of the last 20 years. And let’s face it, we’ve all met at least one person in our lives that we’d love to complete wipe from our brains. And while I’m not quite convinced that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the 2000’s-defining masterpiece many make it out to be, it’s still a wonderful movie worth watching. What surprised me a lot was how the film shares many similarities with Spike Jonze’s own sci-fi film Her. By that, I mean both films use a sci-fi concept or idea as a means to open up its characters and story, but doesn’t entirely rely on it as a crutch. Eternal Sunshine obviously couldn’t exist without its core conceit, but the impressive thing is how often Gondry and Kaufman push it to the background to give leeway to a genuinely tragic love story. Of course, this being a Kaufman script, it’s never that simple and practically indulges on taking the audience for a head-whirl. Jim Carrey has always been best when balancing humor and drama together, and his performance as Joel Barish is a perfect example of this. More melancholy than his turn in The Truman Show, he believably portrays a soft-spoken man with a huge emotional void looking for loving relationship. Opposite him is Kate Winslet as Clementine Kruczynski, which deservedly earned her a Best Actress nomination. An unconventional love interest if ever there was one, she completely foregoes the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” stereotype. Elijah Wood is also worth mentioning as Patrick, a slimy, creepy guy trying to take advantage of the memory erasure. It’s a complete far cry from his role as Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and one that makes his career even more fascinating. Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, and Kirsten Dunst all do respectable work as various members of Lacuna Inc. I wasn’t expecting to get interested in their stories, which play alongside what’s going on inside of Joel’s head. But lo and behold, they managed to be pretty compelling and engaging characters. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind prove to be very distinguished and unique. Ellen Kuras’ cinematography is very inspired and immersive, utilizing mostly a handheld, cinéma vérité style to make the story feel more immediate. For tracking shots, instead of using traditional camera dollies, they used sleds and chariots, continuing the feeling of a disorienting, gradually fading nightmare. It also achieves a number of impressive visual effects in-camera via forced perspective, which contribute even further to Gondry’s uncompromising visual style. The editing is done by Valdís Óskarsdóttir, who reportedly clashed with the writer and director during post-production. It’s absolutely fascinating how well it was cut together, especially with all of the continuity that one would have to keep in check. It uses a number of sudden jumpcuts throughout, similar to French New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard. These help to trim so fat off of the 108 minute-long runtime, and create juxtapositions to whatever someone may be saying. Multi-instrumentalist and indie darling Jon Brion provides the film score here, and it’s definitely an interesting one to listen to. Unlike some of his later work, the soundtrack here feels wholly unconventional in its sound and style. The primary theme incorporates a melancholy piano melody and distorted strings to create an effective feeling of heartbreak and nostalgia. He uses these instruments throughout nearly all the tracks, and manages to be touching without resorting to manipulation or mawkishness. There are also a number of pre-existing songs used in spurts throughout the film. The most notable of these is “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” by Beck, while plays in the final scene as well as the credits. It’s arguably the best song they could have picked to close out the wholly unique story. All in all, this  might just be the most emotionally involving film in the screenwriter’s repertoire. While I’ll keep defending Being John Malkovich, it’s hard for me to blame anyone who left feeling completely cold. And while this film is by no means a “feel-good” or universal experience, it might be one of his most easily accessible works to date. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a highly creative and introspective story of love and heartbreak. The collaboration between Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman is quite the final product, and stands as one of the most original romances made for cinema. Jim Carrey also performs his heart out in one of his best roles while Kate Winslet breaks typecasting as his perfectly matched soulmate. And despite its weird premise, I guarantee that it’s a good choice for Valentine’s Day, whether you’re in a relationship or not. It may not be for everyone, but it should certainly capture their attention.

“Shoplifters” Movie Review

Have you ever wondered what a dose of so-called “tough love” would feel like in cinematic form? By my estimate, this film is about as close to that feeling as we’re likely to get for the foreseeable future. This Japanese family drama originally premiered as part of the official competition selection for the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. It ultimately went on to win the coveted Palme d’Or, the first Japanese film to do so in 21 years. After screening at a handful of fall festivals such as TIFF and AFI, Magnolia Pictures released in the United States on November 23rd, 2018, with an expanded rollout in the subsequent weeks. Thus far, it has grossed over $64.8 million at the worldwide box office, including a strong intake from domestic markets, and has received Best Foreign-Language film nominations from both the Golden Globes and the Oscars. Written and directed by Hirokazu Kor-eda, one of the country’s most acclaimed contemporary auteurs, the film had been in his mind for several years with a strong interest in the structure of families. He looked into numerous reports of poverty and was also strongly influenced by the effects of the recent Japanese Recession. Kor-eda also apparently was inspired when he toured a local orphanage and noticed a small girl reading a children’s book by author Leo Lionni. Set in modern-day Tokyo, the 2-hour story focuses on the Shibatas, a dysfunctional and impoverished family who mainly rely on shoplifting and low-end jobs to scrape by. One night on their way home from one of their sessions, father and son Osamu and Shota, played respectively by Lily Franky and Kairi Jō, come across a young girl in the streets. This girl Yuri Hojo, played by Miyu Sasaki, is brought into their home and becomes accustomed to their way of life as the rest of the unit attempts to adjust properly. I had heard of this highly acclaimed film for a long while, mainly since it premiered at Cannes. I’m usually attentive to the big winners at the festival, but this one just seemed fascinating for how different it seemed from films that usually take the major prize. While I’m not familiar with Hirokazu Kor-eda’s work, this film seemed like a more accessible arthouse film than usual. Moreover, my regular theater also partook in a bid where a portion of the proceeds made from the film would be donated to a shelter for the chronically homeless in Austin, Texas. And believe it or not, this actually ended up being the first foreign-language film I’ve seen in theaters. That doesn’t matter though, because Shoplifters is indeed worthy of the Palme d’Or and many of its other accolades it’s been receiving. Truth be told, I’m not very informed on what’s going on in Japan in current events. But judging from this film, and the way Kor-eda handles the subject matter, the socioeconomic conditions of the lower and middle class citizens is about the same as it is here in the U.S. We watch as this one particular family struggles to get by just on the daily, whether it’s earning the bare minimum wage or taking periodical trips to the grocery store just to get some food. What’s most remarkable about Shoplifters is how non-judgmental the whole thing is. All of the characters are damaged individuals, but can also be truly caring and honest. It’s really a breath of fresh air to find a film that treats its characters and ideas with three-dimensionality and respect. In a perfectly cast lead role, Lily Franky leads the pack as the resourceful and witty father Osamu. He may not be well-educated, but he still keeps his wits about him and tries to live by a moral code. When confronted with what he’s taught his children, he simply says, “I can’t think of anything else to teach them.” Newcomers Kairi Jō and Miyu Sasaki also do impressive work as Shota and Yuri, respectively. Despite the griminess and poverty that surrounds them, they manage to stay optimistic and forego the cliched childhood innocence that such characters are usually prone to, although they do try to cling to that. And arguably the biggest scene-stealer of the bunch is Sakura Ando as Nobuyo, Osamu’s hard-working and strong-willed wife. She’s extremely subtle and quiet in her own suffering, but still carries a warmth and radiance that’s hard to shake off. The rest of the family is rounded out by Mayu Matsuoka as the complicated aunt and the director’s frequent collaborator Kirin Kiki as the elderly matriarch of the family, in her final on-screen performance. What’s fascinating is that while we learn quite a bit about each person, there’s still plenty more left open to interpretation. And yet, each actor embodies their character so beautifully like a real, fleshed-out human being. Meanwhile, Shoplifters also manages to showcase Hirokazu Kor-eda as a technical master in control of his craft. Shot on 35 mm celluloid, cinematographer Kondo Ryuto is able to capture the streets of Tokyo in such an authentic and nuanced way. The use of real film creates a crisp grain and texture for the images shown, and is never too showy. It often times follows the characters in little tracking shots and just as easily utilizes intimate, Demme-style close-ups. Meanwhile, the editing is done by Kor-eda himself, who is remarkably patient and careful with his cuts. He knows exactly when to stay on a subject long enough and where to trim out the fat. These include two moving shots of the family playing together at the beach and an extended close-up of Nobuyo processing her actions. Renowned songwriter and musician Haruomi Hosono provides the extremely minimalist film score for this picture, his first in many years. It’s a very sparse soundtrack, comprising only 18 minutes over a 2-hour runtime. But it’s still worth mentioning, as it lacks normal convention- possibly due to its unusually short length. It’s surprisingly piano-heavy in the majority of tracks, and rejects using a real structure or melody to carry through the whole thing. It also uses softer percussion and strings for scenes specifically involving Shota to highlight how much of a difference his world is from his father. With an enormous heart at the center and a naked eye observing issues of poverty and familial connections, Shoplifters is a highly emotional and humanistic drama that engrosses from the start. After watching this film, I’m not surprised in the least by all of the love that it’s received over the last several months. Hirokazu Kor-eda knows just what he’s doing here, and I’m mighty hungry to check out what else he’s done.

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“Throne of Blood” Movie Review

Aaanndd, we’re back with my New Year’s Resolution, ladies and gentlemen. Same rules from last year apply here, (Check out my Letterboxd account if you want more details) and I decided to start with something really daring. This black-and-white samurai drama was originally released in Japan on January 15th, 1957, and was a major commercial success for Toho Studios. It didn’t arrive in the United States until November of 1961, where it enjoyed similar acclaim to the filmmaker’s other works. It later found even more success when, in 2014, the Criterion Collection added it to their library and made a brand new restoration on home video. Co-written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, the film is a very loose adaptation of the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, one of several the Japanese auteur made in his lifetime. He waited a few years to go forward with it until after Orson Welles made his own cinematic interpretation of The Bard’s story, and was only initially attached as a producer. There was something of a hurdle when the crew attempted to build the castle set on the slope of Mount Fuji and had to enlist troops at a nearby Marine Corps base to help build it from the ground up. Set in feudal Japan, the film follows a samurai warrior and commander named Taketoki Washizu, played by Toshirō Mifune. He and his close friend Miki Yoshiteru, played by Akira Kobo, encounter a spirit in a thick forest who prophesizes their respective futures and rewards. When the first part comes true, Washizu’s scheming wife Lady Asaji, played by Isuzu Yamada, urges him to murder their liege lord and take his place. The two subsequently become gradually insane and drunk with power as the consequences for their actions begin unraveling. Confession time: This is the first feature-length Akira Kurosawa film that I’ve both watched and finished all the way through! As a devoted cinephile, I understand that saying this is a downright travesty; to some, it might even be treasonous. But for whatever reason, for the longest time, I was unable to get my hands on any of his films, especially his supposed masterpiece Seven Samurai. But I was finally able to get the Criterion DVD for this particular film over the holiday season, and thought it would make a great addition to my 2019 New Year’s resolution. I have read that Throne of Blood is not as impressive as the director’s other works. But in my opinion, this is one of the best adaptations of Shakespeare’s work that I have seen in cinematic form yet. Like Kenneth Branagh, Kurosawa has a deep understanding of the story that many other directors seem to miss. By taking the barebones story of a traitorous and power-hungry noble and applying it to the world of Medieval Japan, Macbeth no longer becomes beholden to the barrier of language. What makes Throne of Blood so fascinating to watch is that it ultimately doesn’t need the extravagant poetry and monologues that Shakespeare puts in his works to get to the point or themes of the story. We still have staples such as the sorcerer, Lady Macbeth, et. al., but the new setting makes it feel so unique and memorable. In one of just 16 feature films films they worked on together, Toshirō Mifune is incredible as Washizu. It’s so easy to see why the director constantly wanted to work with him, as he full commits to playing a man slowly losing his grip on reality. This performance is especially impressive during his scenes in the last act of the movie, when his sanity just completely collapses. Opposite him is Isuzu Yamada as his wife Asaji, who’s arguably even more ruthless and cunning than he is. Her small and seemingly quiet demeanor are a perfect cover for a cutthroat and callous woman who simply wants as much power in the land as possible, no matter who suffers. Also, Akira Kobo does great work as Washizu’s former friend turned-enemy Miki, who apparently is inspired by Banquo. While he initially does have decent intentions, as soon as its clear he’s a threat to his old comrade, all bets are off. As far as technical aspects go, Throne of Blood sees Kurosawa taking full command of his voice and surroundings once more. It sees him working with many of his regular collaborators, including Asakazu Nakai for the cinematography. There are many static wide shots and sweeping landscapes used in the film, which creates an incredible use of negative space. Kurosawa also edited the film himself, provide a healthy amount of variety for shots in scenes. For example, a sudden zoom-in or a character in a room will suddenly be intercut with close-ups and the like. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Yoshirô Muraki’s incredible production and costume design. It’s so amazing that the Castle of Spider’s Web was made from scratch as it looks so authentic and real. Not to mention that numerous extras were used to film large battle scenes and, of course, the fog. It adds such a brilliant atmosphere to the film as a whole, and frequently is used to throw audiences off from reality. Masaru Satô composed and conducted the instrumental film score, and it’s highly dynamic and unconventional. Rather than give a straightforward melody to serve as the backbone for the whole soundtrack, Satô uses sparse tracks in an attempt to capture what’s going on inside Washizu’s headspace. With the possible exception of the opening title track, nearly every single piece is cacophonous and chaotic. There’s a consistent percussive sound beating around violently, as well as high notes from wooden flutes to create something truly baffling but memorable. I think if for nothing else, this film would be a great introduction into classic Japanese cinema for more mainstream audiences. Yes, it’s black-and-white and subtitled, (With two different versions on the Criterion DVD) something that can turn some people off. But it’s surprisingly accessible in its narrative and style. Not to mention, it has one of the most jaw-dropping final scenes I’ve watched in quite some time. Throne of Blood is an extremely thematic and riveting tale of power and tragedy. Not only does it so expertly adapt one of Shakespeare’s mot revered plays while retaining its spirit, but it’s arguably the perfect launching pint for my exploration of Akira Kurosawa. I’m mighty hungry to see his other adaptations of The Bard, and the rest of his filmography in general.

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