Category Archives: Favorite

“There Will Be Blood” Movie Review

So recently, actor Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he was done with the film industry and will spend the rest of his life in private with his family. I absolutely respect this decision of his, but please don’t actually give up acting. You’re amazing at it. This epic historical drama was released during the height of award season in 2007, garnering more critical and commercial success than most independent films. Paul Thomas Anderson’s modern classic also earned 8 Academy Award nominations and is considered by many critics film scholars to be one of the best films from the 2000’s. Based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair, we follow Daniel Plainview, a man in the San Fernando Valley who begins exploiting the rich amount of oil beneath the surface of the land. As the R-rated narrative moves from the late 19th into the early 20th century, his lust for more of this resource grows and grows, even when some meager competition gets in the way. But he won’t let them compromise anything for him. Many of Anderson’s trademark filmmaking styles are present here, as well as some differentiations. He directs the drama beautifully and confidently, as most of the cast seems to be made up of actors or actresses who know what they’re doing. And as good as Boogie Nights and Magnolia were, I would say that not only is this his most accessible film to date, but also his best. And this is coming from someone who enjoyed both Magnolia and Boogie Nights immensely. At the forefront of everything in this film is Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar-winning performance, which may just be one of the best ever put to celluloid. Masterful and wholesome in every sense, his character is an interesting one. Plainview is someone you should normally hate but can’t help understand and want to see him succeed in his endeavors. When remarking on his ruthlessness and cunning intellect, he remarks to a comrade, “I see the worst in people. I don’t need to look past seeing them to get all I need.” It’s no surprise that P.T. Anderson had written the part specifically with him in mind. In a duel role, the underrated but versatile Paul Dano plays two brothers both seeking a profit off the main protagonist’s petroleum ventures. One’s a carful-minded pragmatist wishing to benefit just for the sake of it, another is a devout pastor desperate to keep preaching his beliefs by acquiring the funds necessary to do so. Even as far as religious fanatics go, this guy was borderline unlikable. Note: The fact that Eli was this awful possibly made Daniel Plainview even more of a likable character than he had any right to be. But there are some that believe that without Day-Lewis’ phenomenal performance, the rest of the movie isn’t that good. I respectfully disagree, as there is enough brilliance behind the camera to match what is happening onscreen. Very few movies of the 21st century have attained the amount of technical mastery that Paul Thomas Anderson assembles here. One of the most notable attributes of There Will Be Blood is that of the cinematography by Robert Elswitt, which also nabbed an Academy Award. Many intimate conversations are characterized by focused close-up shots of the character most pivotal in that scenario. Even when someone else is talking, the camera refuses to cut or pan away from the primary subject, allowing us to get a better sense of closeness to these individuals. These harsh close-ups are contrasted by anamorphic wide shots of the gorgeous and vast frontier waiting to be dried up of oil. One of the most memorable sequences occurs near the end of the first act when Plainview discovers a whole ocean worth of oil beneath one of his large mines. As it continues to erupt from the late afternoon into the dark evening, a fire is lit near the top of it all. You see him as well as all of his employees drenched in black oil and soot as well as a beautiful coloring of orange firelight. Meanwhile, former Radiohead lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood composes the musical score for this film, making this the first in five movies he has collaborated with Paul Thomas Anderson. Although it uses a lot of preexisting material, there is still quite a bit of new stuff to gouge down on. Often it’s just little bits of ambient strings that heighten the tension of a scene or when various percussion instruments are banged together in a cacophonic manner that is as raucous as it is poetic. In the vein of all his other work, though, There Will Be Blood is much more than just an excuse for Anderson to direct someone in a way that might earn them an Oscar. Much like a strip of barren land in Southern California, there is a lot of precious stuff to appreciate and dig for underneath the surface. In this case, we see the ideas of American capitalism and natural greed deconstructed to their very cores. During this period, some Americans had idolized Titans in this industry such as John D. Rockefeller. But this film does its very best to illustrate that these “heroes” at the turn of the century were anything but considerate, let alone worth idolizing. With Daniel Plainview’s ambitions and lust for wealth growing ever so much, he becomes more disconnected from everyone around him, thus making him more ruthless and dangerous. Similarly, Eli is so dead-set on acquiring this oil that he uses any justification, including and especially religion, to get it. There Will Be Blood is a believable meditation on greed with one stunning performance at the center of it all. It’s a damn shame that Daniel Day-Lewis has retired from acting because there really is no other thespian like him in the industry. May he enjoy his days in peace.

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“Batman Begins” Movie Review

Why did the Batman franchise fall? So that it could learn to pick itself up. Or at least when a competent filmmaker is given the reigns of it all. This superhero thriller drama debuted in June of 2005, going on to earn just under $375 million at the worldwide box office and helped propel this comic book property to critical heights. After nearly a decade of dropped directors, budget deficits, and scrapped ideas, (Including an early version of Batman v Superman) Warner Bros. finally hired director Christopher Nolan to reinvent the DC character, who at that point had only been known for Memento. The PG-13 rated plot ultimately takes the origin story of Batman, one of the most iconic fictional characters in American pop culture, in a dark and gritty direction. After billionaire Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents get murdered, he leaves to join the mysterious League of Shadows to learn the ways of justice. Years later, he returns to Gotham City and uses his money and resources to fight crime on the streets as the masked night-time vigilante known as Batman. After the disaster that was 1997’s Batman and Robin, so many comic book fans were skeptical that a relatively unknown director could bring one of their favorite characters back to life. At this point he had become a joke of a hero, what with plastic nipples and Bat-Credit Cards. But Nolan not only accomplished this goal with flying colors, he also made a great movie in general. Future Oscar-winner Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne/Batman and is absolutely perfect in the lead. He essentially plays a triple role; the real Bruce Wayne around his butler when he’s being himself, the vigilante caped and cowled in the night, and the facade of Bruce Wayne that most of Gotham’s people see him as- which is a drunken billionaire playboy who cares about nothing except money and women. And watching this man carelessly bringing European girlfriends to a hotel that he immediately buys out for a new swimming pool is rather funny. Speaking of funny, Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth brought both a fatherly figure and a great sense of comic relief without it feeling forced. He often offers our hero some great advice before he dons the outfit to fight more crime, but isn’t afraid to say what’s really on his mind. Liam Neeson shines as Bruce’s temporary mentor, Henry Ducard, in a role right before the man became a flat-out action star. Other veterans in strong supporting roles include Morgan Freeman as the technologically helpful Lucius Fox, Gary Oldman as the one honest cop in Gotham James Gordon, Tom Wilkinson as the arrogant mob boss running the streets of Gotham City, and Cillian Murphy as an ironically insane mental doctor. Meanwhile, Katie Holmes as the main love interest feels like a shoehorned afterthought and would be better established in the nest installment. The action, like the rest of the movie, feels very gritty and grounded in reality. The character’s background in ninja expertise lends itself well, even if sometimes it looks a bit uncomfortable. This being only Nolan’s second big-studio film, his first foray into action scenes leaves a bit to be desired. But watching the Caped Crusader eliminating a gang of street thugs never gets old. In the first film of their long-running collaboration, Hans Zimmer composes the musical score in epic fashion. However, he brings on some professional help with fellow industry titan James Newton Howard. One of the more memorable superhero scores of recent times, the centerpiece consists of fast-moving strings building up to a horn sound off. Also worth noting are the pulsating electric drums in action scenes that help establish the tension. Batman Begins is also a fantastic film filled with thematic statements consistent with Christopher Nolan’s filmography. The most obvious of these is facing your fears, no matter how frightening it may be. Bruce Wayne as a kid is terrified of bats and still is as an adult. But he embraces his phobia and turns his dread onto his enemies. Proof positive that Batman is no laughing matter who sports plastic nipples and suits that can’t let him rotate his head. Joking aside, the titular character also seems to be looking for a father figure to mentor him in the realities of the corrupt world around him. Since his real father was murdered in cold blood when he was a child, Bruce has looked to both Alfred and Ducard for that hole in his personal life. This opens up an interesting philosophical dichotomy for the hero, with one side teaching him to counter a ruthless world with more ruthlessness and the other encouraging him to fight against corruption without excessive violence. While this film and The Dark Knight Rises were arguably overshadowed by the sequel to come, Batman Begins is a greatly realized and super satisfying start to a trilogy that’s among the proudest in its genre. Each time I watch it makes it better and remains a fine superhero movie. And Bruce Wayne doesn’t even do his cape and cowl until over an hour into the experience. That’s the craft and dedication they poured into it.

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“Blade Runner” Movie Review

*The following review will account for the Final Cut version of Blade Runner, as I feel it’s the only one worth watching.*

In honor of the new film, Blade Runner 2049, which is due out in October, I felt it was appropriate to review the original classic. This neo-noir sci-fi thriller- written by David Webb Peoples and Hampton Fancher -released on June 25th, 1982. It vastly underperformed both overseas and domestically, only grossing $33.8 million against a $28 million budget. And that includes rereleases. But now it is considered among the best in its genre and one of the most highly regarded films of the 1980’s. Disclaimer: this review will contain significant spoilers, so read at your own discretion. It’s the not-too-distant (And not too absurd) future of 2019 in Los Angeles. Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, is the type of human who is tasked with finding androids that look like other humans and even imitate them. When a group of these androids, called Replicants, escape from custody on an off-world colony, he has to track them down and kill them all. Dystopian sci-fi futures aren’t anything new in cinema. Nor are stories that attempt to have sociopolitical allegories infused into their overall narratives. And yet, there is just something about Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner that makes it feel so singular, so original, and so memorable in almost every frame of the motion picture. But it’s not just a science-fiction story. Hell, even if you erased the flying cars, and any mention of future technology, what you’re left with is still a compelling drama. This is a movie focused on the question of general ethics and our capacity to follow them. Not just human beings but Replicants as well. In fact, some of the Replicants are more humane than some of the human characters we meet at all. This movie never did get enough recognition, especially when it first debuted in 1982. It bombed so hard because few people were interested in a science-fiction film that made the audience think about the story rather than big explosions or sentimentality. It also failed to recoup its budget because it premiered at the same time as E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, a fantastic movie in its own right. But in terms of filmmaking, Blade Runner is an infinitely more fascinating picture. Everything you see on screen, there is more of it to show behind the curtain. From the history of the Tyrell Corporation to the details of the off-world colonies, the whole universe oozes with detail and layers of personality. Being based on a Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, It would have been so nice to see more of this interesting yet somewhat gloomy world. No one directs science-fiction films like Ridley Scott. From the original Alien in 1979 to 2015’s The Martian, every single one of his films looks absolutely gorgeous. They have lived in worlds made with sets that probably took several days to design and build. These sets seamlessly blend with CGI and bluescreen to create a unique and wholly original vision of what 2019 might look like. Even the way they are directed feel thematic, from the sexually-charge mystery of Alien to the isolation of Prometheus. And then there’s that ending. An ending that has had so much discussion that it puts the finales of both Inception and Birdman to utter shame. After saving his life, Roy Batty peacefully dies in the rain a content man. Not a machine, not a Replicant, a man. And when Deckard goes back to that apartment, he picks up that origami unicorn. “Too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?” he remembers Gaff telling him as a warning. And then he runs out. Is Rick Deckard a Replicant, the type of being that he’s been hired to track down as a Blade Runner? Or is he still just a human and feeling a sense of imagination or paranoia? It’s a great question to ponder with other people who have seen it. Personally for me, though, it would make more sense if he turned out to be a Replicant. Why go through all this trouble and all this discussion just for it to be untrue? It has to be true, for the sake of the themes of the story. While I ultimately have mixed feelings about Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming sequel set in 2049, I have no doubt in my mind they will address either of the two. How they approach it is the real trich, though. Blade Runner is not strictly speaking a perfect movie. The pacing, especially around the middle act, wanders from time to time. And some of the effects don’t necessarily hold up very well. But this is still one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time, and one of the greatest films ever made, period. Even with epic works like Gladiator, Alien, and even The Martian, this has to be Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, and one worth watching many times just to pick up something new each time.

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“The Prestige” Movie Review

Thought it would make sense to review some of Christopher Nolan’s best films in preparation for Dunkirk this July. I’ve already done Interstellar, though, I’m tempted to do an update. You can expect the Dark Knight Trilogy to show up soon, as well as Inception, but let’s begin with one of his more overlooked projects. This magic-based mystery thriller was able to triple its $40 million budget after its premiere October of 2006. Released just after Batman Begins, it also marks a rare time when Nolan adapted a pre-existing material, as it was based on the novel by Christopher Priest. Set in 1890’s London, the incredibly complex story follows two magicians, Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, who compete with each other to create the greatest stage illusion imaginable. Their game of one-upmanship turns into a series of tragedies. Of course, this being a film by Christopher Nolan, the PG-13 rated plot is much more involved and layered than that, and some really mind-bending stuff happens. Hugh Jackman is the real star of this film as Robert Angier, with all the charisma and showmanship that most real-life magicians lack. The things that happen to him are very sad and damaging. And as he goes down the path of competition, he begins to lose sight of what got him on that path to start. Continuing their relationship with the director, Michael Caine and Christian Bale are fabulous in their roles. Unlike many of his other films, Bale is actually allowed to retain his British accent, which added more heft to his emotional punch. Caine, meanwhile, plays a disconnected mentor who essentially works as a mediator between the two magicians. His wisdom is reminiscent of Alfred Pennyworth from the Dark Knight Trilogy, as he seems to be the one person who wants both of these men to settle their feud. The strong supporting cast includes Scarlett Johannson, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Ricky Jay, a rare live-action stint from Andy Serkis, and the late musician David Bowie. Bowie is particularly enigmatic as a man with many secrets on how to make a show even more dazzling than it already is. But he doesn’t use magic, he uses science. To go any further into any of these actors’ characters would spoil the plot. One of the things Nolan is known for is how all of his films are not what they initially appear to be. For example, his first directorial outing Following looked like a cheap student film, (And it kind of was) but turned out to be a focused and engaging mystery thriller. With The Prestige, he crafts a compelling narrative out of a subject that shouldn’t be that interesting; stage magicians. Through his trademark storytelling techniques, the story doesn’t initially progress in chronological order and jumps around in time. This makes the film even more intriguing and keeps the audience guessing from start to finish. Another trademark of Nolan’s is how practical and technically brilliant his films are. The production and costume designs are all top-notch and help it feel like a gritty and lived-in 1890’s London. When Borden or Angiers are on-stage, it feels as if we are actually watching a magic show unfold before our eyes. And the visuals are nice as well. In one scene, Angiers is standing in the middle of a snowy ridge when all of a sudden, these fluorescent lights come out. It added more beauty, atmosphere, and mystique to the 130 minute-long picture, topped by Wally Pfister’s surreal camera work. As pretty much the last film before Nolan’s long-term collaboration with Hans Zimmer, the musical score in The Prestige is provided by David Julyan. It is often consisting of eery synthesizers building up in a crescendo, punctuated by a shocking set of strings in revealing moments. And there are many. Holy mother of God, there are revealing moments. Like a traditional magic show, the film is broken up into three intertwined acts. The first two are impressive feats of visual flair and emotionally engaging performances. But in the final act, a jaw-dropping plot twist is thrown in to pull the rug from underneath the audience in a way that is both shocking and brilliantly believable. Were you watching closely? I was, and it worked. Without giving away anything, the twist also brought to light the philosophical themes hidden just beneath the crust. Because these two characters are neck-and-neck, they often give in to their inner ambitions and obsession. That obession to become the greatest at their profession leads to many bad outcomes and ultimately makes them less humane. To put it in the words of David Bowie’s character, “You’re familiar with the phrase ‘man’s reach exceeds his grasp?’ It’s a lie; man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.” If you love the type of movies that make you think about the story and maybe even tempt you to watch it again to make sure you didn’t miss anything, you need not look any further than The Prestige. It blends seamless production and technical merits and fantastic performance with breathtaking precision. This is a very underrated piece of humanistic filmmaking that deserves all the recognition as Christopher Nolan’s other endeavors have endured.

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“Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” Movie Review

As of this entry, all entries from the original Star Wars trilogy (the ones that matter) have been reviewed. In hoping that Disney will continue to recapture such memories, I get into spoiler territory with a movie that apparently a lot of fans hate. The third and then-final installment in the epic space opera trilogy received its widely anticipated release on May 25th, 1983, accumulating over $570 million worldwide in box office receipts. Like the previous movie, series creator George Lucas chose not to take the director’s chair in favor of Eye of the Needle‘s Richard Marquand- though he stayed credited in screenwriting and making the story. As the film opens, our favorite robotic duo from a galaxy far, far away C-3PO and R2-D2 arrive on the desert planet of Tatooine. After trying to convince Jabba the Hutt, a nasty criminal lord in the Outer Rim and a cool showcase for ILM’s makeup department, to give up a frozen Han Solo, both of them are forced into Jabba’s servitude. A similar thing happens when a disguised Leia, played by the late Carrie Fisher, attempts to save the man she loves and ends up in chains. Any boy who grew up in the 80’s was bound to have some sort of fantasies about her now-iconic metal bikini. (I may have been one of them) After all of this, Luke Skywalker finally pays a personal visit to the Palace. And at this point, Luke is a completely different person than he was in the previous movies. He’s calm, calculating, but still willing to shoot first. Once he overcomes a tense battle with the mechanical Rancor, he and all his friends are sentenced to be throw into the Sarlacc Pit. Thankfully, former traitor Lando Calrissian shows to rescue them, making for arguably the most exciting part of the whole movie. But this also gave Boba Fett, one of the coolest characters in the Star Wars franchise, a lame death. A blind Han Solo bumping into him and setting off his jetpack is such a cartoony way to kill him off. However, because they filmed the scene from the graphic novels, it’s been confirmed that he is still alive in canon. Before meeting up with the Rebel Alliance, Luke keeps a promise and visits Yoda one more time on Dagobah. In one of the saddest scenes of the original trilogy, he dies at the age of 900, telling him, “There is another Skywalker.” Thanks to a ghost Ben Kenobi, Luke learns that the other Skywalker is his twin sister Leia, and they were separated at birth to hide from their biological father, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. This revelation makes perfect sense, but also makes the kiss the two had in Empire Strikes Back gross. Later, the Rebellion learns that the Empire is building a second Death Star, and is guarded by an energy shield projected on the nearby moon of Endor. While Lando leads the space cavalry, Chewbacca, Leia, Han, Luke, and the droids take a small squad of soldiers to the surface of the moon to destroy the generator. And this is when we come to the most controversial part of the original trilogy: the Ewoks. Some like them, some loathe them, some can’t enjoy the movie altogether because of them. Were they a tool for George Lucas to sell more toys? Yes, they were. But I rather enjoyed them as a kid, and watching them take down the technologically superior Empire is reminiscent of how the Viet Cong defeated the U.S. Army. While these little fuzzballs are giving our heroes a welcoming feast, Luke decides the only way to truly confront his father is if he leaves and surrenders to Darth Vader’s forces. And when he turns himself in, he just doesn’t understand that Anakin Skywalker is not there anymore. The two of them finally meet the Emperor, played like a Shakespearean villain by Ian McDiarmid. The man is a word smith, knowing exactly how to manipulate his subjects into his will, and reveals that not only is the second Death Star fully operational, but that they are fully aware of the impending invasion. At that moment, as the forces on Endor are fighting for control of the battlefield, the Rebel fleet arrives, completely caught off guard by the entire Imperial fleet. Starting one of the greatest memes in internet history, Admiral Ackbar responds by declaring, “It’s a trap!” And then, after getting constantly taunted by the Emperor, Luke Skywalker grabs his lightsaber and is stopped by Vader, turning into a battle of father-versus-son. Not only is this three-way battle extremely entertaining, but it shows that Luke is a relatable Jedi who’d do anything we’d do in his shoes. After a threat to Leia, Luke wails away on Vader and cuts off his hand. I think he would’ve actually killed him. But when he refuses, the Emperor does something never seen before, and attacks Luke with lightning. Vader is absolutely conflicted, looking back and forth between his master and his son. In the end, he lifts the Emperor up and throws him over a precipice. And late in his dying moment, he takes off his helmet and James Earl Jones doesn’t voice him anymore. Redeemed in the eyes of Luke, Anakin Skywalker dies a hero, fulfilling the prophecy in the prequels. Later, after the Death Star is destroyed, John Williams’ score is sounding off in celebration, a funeral pyre is held for Vader. And Luke is the only one attending. During the final celebration, when all the characters have gathered in joy, the Force ghosts of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and a young Anakin are shown one last time before the film cuts to black. Many MANY changes were done in the Special Edition, particularly using crappy CGI early on. And later, Vader yells NO!” when he throws the Emperor to his death. But these changes aren’t enough to hurt the overall quality of the film. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi is a satisfying end to a magnificent saga. It may be super late, but May the Fourth be With You Always!

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“Gravity” Movie Review

If this movie proves anything, it’s this: there is absolutely no excuse for terrible CGI in film anymore. We’re past that. This extremely ambitious science-fiction action thriller from acclaimed director Alfonso Cuaron grossed over 7 times its $100 million budget after it debuted in America on October 4th, 2013 and in the UK a month later. Co-written with his son Jonas and produced by Harry Potter showrunner David Heyman, the PG-13-rated story follows a crew of astronauts whose space shuttle is destroyed at mid-orbit during a mission on their space shuttle Explorer. Miraculously in one piece, Dr. Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock, finds herself stranded in space and now must find a way to safely return to the surface of Earth… or float out into the dark and cold void of outer space forever. I can’t talk much more about the plot because none of the trailers ever gave anything away, and- true story -I had never actually seen Gravity until a few hours ago. Hang me from the gallows for heresy, but now I know what I’ve been missing out on for the past four years. As pretty much the only two characters who ever show their faces, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney carry this movie on their shoulders- or more appropriately, launch it to great heights. Clooney more or less plays a caricatured, astronaut version of himself, always quipping to his crew members and sharing amusing stories about himself. He gave this film humor where it needed it, and also served as the true optimist when everything suddenly goes wrong. Bullock’s performance is the real standout, though, showing a strong versatile range of emotions. She is thrown into the worst situation imaginable but still has to find the will to get through it alive. A moment late in the movie when she prays to herself marks a pivotal turning point for her tragic character while also being very moving. It also earned her a nomination for Best Actress, marking this as the first time a sci-fi action film has been nominated in the category since Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. The film has also received a fair amount of criticism for a number of scientific inaccuracies, particularly when the Laws of Physics are broken. This is not necessarily a negative. In fact, it should be considered a high honor if a science-fiction film falls under scrutiny for the science portrayed. Implausible? Sometimes. But it’s still believably demonstrated and explained. While on the subject, in a technical sense, this is a flawless movie with no missteps whatsoever. Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanual Lubezki utilizes his trademark of long-tracking shots to great and innovative effect. The film opens with a single, fluid 13-minute shot that establishes everything that is to come. In fact, there are huge passages taken from a single-camera shot, swinging around the stations and suits with ease. These huge takes are contrasted by claustrophobic point-of-view shots from inside Ryan Stone’s space suit, truly giving the impression that the audience is stuck in orbit with her. Meanwhile, Steven Price’s soundtrack is an astonishing, atmospheric score with pulsating electronic drums and illustrious strings. Lone shots of the Sun horizon are emulated by an ambient, almost esoteric noise. But it’s the vocal accompaniment from Katherine Ellis on the last two tracks that make such an inspirational award-winner. Speaking of vocals, further immersing audiences into its adventure is the intricate sound design. Since it took place in outers space, almost everything that happened was silent- a tactic which turned out to be very frightening for me. Much of the radio chatter between the astronauts and Houston Mission Control is babble over a channel of static, and- even more impressive -the film made your hear everything the characters were hearing. So whenever a screw was being put into a metal plate, it felt like her head was tilted to the side, causing only one ear to hear it all. The only real way to watch and appreciate this film at home is on a widescreen T.V. with the lights out and the sound turned way up. It’s just a rich experience. Even richer than that, as many have raved about nonstop, the visual effects in Gravity are simply stunning and beautiful. Having the majority of a movie focus almost entirely outside in space, and make it look realistic at the same time, was concept believed to be impossible just a decade ago. But Framestore utilized every ounce of its budget over the course of three meticulous years, deservedly earning it the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Unfolding seemingly over real-time, this movie serves as a benchmark for how far we’ve come in technology and the possibilities of where we might go from here. My only gripe is that I was never able to see this in IMAX 3-D, which many professed was one of the greatest cinematic experiences they had ever had. Though, honestly, I think I might have gotten sick if I did. Even so, I am perfectly content watching the relaxing image of Earth pass in the background as our heroes move from one disaster to the next. To put it in the words of Clooney, “Gotta admit one thing. You can’t beat the view.” He’s right, nothing can. Despite its inaccuracies regarding science and physics, Gravity is an intense and unbelievably captivating adventure with great thrills. Easily the most visually impressive film since 2009’s Avatar, and certainly of this decade so far, there is not a moment of this movie that ever lets up and it never gets boring. The mile-a-minute 90 minute-long picture is an astonishing visual masterpiece that left me breathless and amazed.

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“Tropic Thunder” Movie Review

And so this is why I choose not to enter the film industry, no matter how much I love it. This satirical war comedy from director, producer and co-writer Ben Stiller doubled is $92 million budget after releasing on August 13th, 2008. Also starring Stiller in the lead role, the story follows a group of prima donna actors who are struggling to make a film about the Vietnam War. Frustrated with them, the director has them dropped into the dangerous jungles of Lao and, with the help of some hidden cameras and their own acting skills, they hopefully get something good out of the experience. Ben Stiller and his so-called “Frat Pack” are apparently a very acquired taste in terms of comedy material. Their jokes and timing are undeniably clever and witty, but it often sinks into low-brow territory with stints about drugs, sex, and farts. If that kind of humor puts you off, then Tropic Thunder may not be for you. But those willing to give it shot will experience their ribs bursting out their sides from sheer unstoppable laughter and enjoyment. The cast largely consists of comedians who are typical in their respective roles, along with a few surprise players worth mentioning. Stiller plays a special kind of character not consistent with the rest of his filmography. He’s a narcissistic, egotistical maniac trying to relive the glory days of his once-prominent film career. As with his other characters, he’s a lovable idiot whose situational hazards make him awkward yet hard to hate. Other players, include Jack Black as the star of a zany comedy franchise, Steve Coogan as the stressed director of the titular fictional film, Brandon T. Jackson as a rapper making money off seemingly misogynistic products, Danny McBride as a pyromaniac demolitions expert, Nick Nolte as a crazy veteran for whose “experiences” the film-within-a-film is based on, Jay Baruchel as a straight-laced novice in the acting world, and Matthew McConaughey as a TiVo-obsessed acting agent. They all turn in some fun and memorable performances that add more personality overall. But to get right to the point, the two stands are, first of all, Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus. Lazarus is an intense Australian method actor who undergoes a controversial skin tone change to look like and sound like an African-American soldier in Vietnam. And he refuses to break character until the DVD commentary. In terms of social commentary on whitewashing and pure comedy, that’s genius, nabbing Downey an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. This is especially impressive considering it’s a comedy released in August. Even more surprising is Tom Cruise’s against-type, almost unrecognizable performance as Les Grossman. I know Cruise mostly for his mile-long list of action films, as well as some dramas. But here, he plays a sleazy, profane, and ill-tempered studio executive who constantly threatens to pull the plug on the film. Late in the movie, when he should be worried about the fate of his stars, he simply starts dancing to a Flo Rida song, and the results are nothing short of hilarious. Hopefully, he is encouraged to take more comedic roles in the future where he just gets to go all-out crazy. Technically, the editing by Greg Hayden is fairly impressive, particularly when the main antagonists start firing their weapons at the actors. And the camera work from John Toll captures the vastness and beauty of the on-set jungle pretty well. But if I told you that this film had a memorable soundtrack, then I’d be lying to your face. Now, if for nothing else, Tropic Thunder should definitely be commended for the way it opens up. Bucking the trends of gratuitous voice-overs from one of the lead characters as well as an epic opening credits sequence, the movie instead begins with faux advertisements and trailers. It hits everything imaginable in just under 5 minutes: stupid fart comedies, endless action sequels, offensive rap products, and shameless Oscar-bait arthouse porn. It also serves as a creative way of establishing each of the film’s main characters. Speaking of faux, the whole movie’s marketing campaign was rife with fake websites containing “spoilers” for the Vietnam War film as well as fake ads for products used in the film itself. Ben Stiller has to be commended for trying to forgo the cliches of marketing a movie. Then again, the movie faced a rather significant real-life controversy in its allegedly insensitive portrayal of mental disability. In context, Ben Stiller’s character, at a low point in his career, played a mentally and physically challenged farm boy who loved prancing around with horses and girls. The other actors in the jungle make fun of him for it, with Lazarus sarcastically informing him, “Everybody knows you never go full retard.” It’s important to remember that this is a comedy, meaning anything that appears onscreen isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. And it’s not like the whole purpose of the plot is to make fun of disabled people, but it instead makes fun of all Hollywood. Behind every satire is a bit of truth, and the truth is that filmmaking is an incredibly stressful business. The director has to keep his actors in line while pleasing the corporate hierarchy that is investing their money into these projects. It’s not easy at all. The controversy aside, Tropic Thunder is a hilariously accurate depiction of what happens when a director goes too far to make the movie they want. Bounds better than Stiller’s Zoolander, this has to be one of the funniest comedies from the 2000’s, with lots of quotable dialogue and a truly bizarre and unexpected performance from Robert Downey Jr.

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