The Prestige is One of the Greatest Films of All Time
Many cinephiles have claimed that great films reward repeat viewings and The Prestige does.
**SPOILERS FOR THE PRESTIGE**
Are you watching closely?
This line appears twice in the film. As the opening line of the film and right before Borden is led to his execution. Both times the line proceeds a magic trick (see below), the first is Cutter making a bird disappear/ reappear and the second reveals the truth about Borden.
Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called The Pledge. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t.
The film has 4 central tricks. (from top-left, clockwise) The first is Angier’s Disappearing Man. Second is Borden’s version of the trick. The third is Borden’s execution and reappearance. The last is Cutter making a bird disappear and then reappear.
The second act is called The Turn. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back.
Angier clones himself, drowning the original. Borden steps into a wardrobe. Borden is hung. Cutter makes the bird disappear.
That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call The Prestige.
Angier’s clone appears in the balcony. Borden’s brother stops out of the wardrobe. Borden’s brother finds Angier with his prestige materials. Cutter makes the bird reappear.
Are you watching closely?
Do you remember Sarah’s nephew? The boy who cried when the bird was killed for a trick?
Boy: He killed it.
Borden: Look. See? He’s all right. He’s fine. Look at him.
Boy: But where’s his brother?
In other films this would be a throwaway line and the boy would be a plot device to bring Borden and Sarah together. But, in Nolan’s film the boy foreshadows the biggest mystery of the film: How does Borden do his trick? By the end of the film the mystery is revealed.
Angier: A brother? A twin?
Borden: We were both Fallon. We were both Borden.
So, when one brother is killed those who are watching closely would ask, “But where’s his brother?”
Gravity is the latest film from director Alfonso Cuarón, it comes seven years after his previous film Children of Men. Gravity is the new standard for films based in space. From a technical standpoint the film is remarkable. Although largely computer-generated, the first shot of the film lasts for nearly twenty minutes, a feat vacant in other action films. The film is paced almost flawlessly, constantly progressing the story and the action. Half-way though the first shot Cuarón grabs the audience and never lets go.
The weakness of the Gravity is the story. The screenplay was written by Alfonso Cuarón and his son Jonás Cuarón. Gravity centers around Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer in her first journey to space. While working on a satellite docked to the shuttle a debris storm creates a catastrophic chain reaction that sends Stone and fellow astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) adrift in space. Stone and Kowalski devise and attempt to execute a plan to survive the incident. During the journey Stone reveals that she had a daughter who passed away at a young age. Through Stone overcoming her adversity from the space debris, the film becomes an allegory for the process of overcoming loss. The story lacks any subtlety or depth, diminishing the rewatchability of the film.
Sandra Bullock is outstanding in the lead role. She is able to bring life to a character navigating her way through this catastrophe in space as well as her own personal tragedy. George Clooney is sufficient as the veteran astronaut Kowalski, although the character is mostly a plot device to help Stone progress through the film.
The star of the film is the technical team behind the film. Director of Photography, Emmanuel Lubezki along with Cuarón capture amazing and unique shots that give the film a singular look. One of the most impressive elements of the filming process of Gravity is the lighting. An example of the flawless lighting is in the opening scene when Stone is sent spinning through space and the only source of light is the sun reflecting from Earth. The light in the reflection of her visor as well as on her face is in perfect sync. Throughout the film the lighting continues to be perfect. It is evident that the entire production team paid attention to countless details that added to the films overall integrity.
Despite a mediocre story, Gravity relies on superior technical achievements to produce a suspenseful film that will set the bar for years to come.
The East Explores Eco-terrorism and its Consequences
In 2011 Director and Co-Writer Zal Batmanglij premiered Sound of My Voice at the Sundance Film Festival. Two years later he returned to premiere his follow up,The East. With The East, Batmanglij reprises his collaboration with Sound of My Voice Co-Writer and Actress Brit Marling.
The story of The East centers around Sarah (Brit Marling) a former FBI agent turned operative, working for a private security company, Hiller-Brood. Sarah is selected by her boss Sharon (Patricia Clarkson) to infiltrate an underground anarchist group focused on eco-terrorism called The East. Once in the group, Sarah meets several key members of the collective, including: Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), Izzy (Ellen Page), Doc (Toby Kebbell), Thumbs (Aldis Hodge) and Luca (Shiloh Fernandez). Over the course of the film The East take part in ‘jams’ or targeted missions to force the heads of companies to face the truth about what their companies produce. While embedded, Sarah discovers more about each member of the group and what has led to their involvement which leads her to sympathize with the group. Sarah also discovers the true motives of the assignment from Sharon. This leads to a choice for Sarah of which life is real and in which organization she belongs.
Brit Marling is outstanding in the lead. Her character is forced to endure a series of horrific events without breaking her cover, but when she finally faces everything that she has encountered she must decide what path to follow. Alexander Skarsgård gives an understated performance, which fits the character of Benji. Ellen Page is great as Izzy, one of the more eager and relentless members of The East. Patricia Clarkson, Toby Kebbell, Aldis Hodge and Shiloh Fernandez all deliver solid supporting performances.
Through Sarah, The East conveys the idea of morality being a perspective. At the onset of the film Sarah is a diligent and eager employee. Over the course of the film via the actions of The East, Sarah is shown the truth behind several corporations actions, even Hiller-Brood. During a briefing with Sharon she is warned, "If they find out who you really are, they won’t give a second thought to your destruction." In the context of the scene Sharon is referring to The East, however it soon becomes apparent that this statement could also be applied to Hiller-Brood itself. If they find out that Sarah has turned against them, they will destroy her. This leads to the question: Are the East and Hiller-Brood really that different?
The East is a worthwhile thriller that explores a subject scarcely seen on film. The story keeps a steady pace, continually moving and examining new ideas. The performances are strong throughout, most notably Brit Marling. Writer/Director Zal Batmanglij, along with Marling have delivered another exceptional film, hopefully with many more to come.
Following 2009’s District 9, Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp returns to the dystopian, sci-fi genre with Elysium. Set in the year 2154, Elysium centers around ex-con turned factory worker Max (Matt Damon). At the start, the film clumsily attempts to set up the segregation of the rich and poor and convey the back story for Max via a couple of weak flashback sequences. The crux of the setup is that Max was raised in an orphanage, befriended Frey, and told that he was special. Once that is out of the way, the film picks up a bit.
While on his way to work, Max has a run in with the robotic police force who break his arm, forcing him to the hospital where (surprise) Frey (Alice Braga) now works. The following day at work, Max ends up (by his own incredibly stupid decision) getting locked in a chamber and receives a lethal dose of radiation. Max is told by the medbot that he will die in 5 days.
Max turns to his former partner in crime Spider (Wagner Moura) to help him get to Elysium, a space station inhabited by the rich and their machines that can cure any ailment. Spider agrees to help Max on the condition that Max help Spider steal the information from Elysium citizen Carlyle’s (William Fichtner) brain. Little do Max and Spider know Carlyle’s brain holds a key that can allow anyone to overwrite Elysium’s system and that key was set to go to Delacourt (Jodie Foster) who upon hearing of the information being stolen sets Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to retrieve it. This leads to a confrontation between Max and Kruger to determine the fate of Elysium and Earth and their citizens.
The screenplay for Elysium fails on a couple of levels. First is the lack of depth in any of the characters. Delacourt is an extremely superficial character that comes across as evil because the story needed a villain, not because the character has any real motivation. This lack of depth and motivation are apparent in all of the characters. Another issue with the story are the healing machines that appear on Elysium. The rules by which the machines operate are not made clear up until the point when they become relevant. So, at the climax of the film when a character tells another that something cannot be healed by the machines, it comes across as implausible because something contrary to that rule was just shown.
On paper the cast sounds pretty amazing, unfortunately they end up hindering the film more than helping it. Damon doesn’t add anything to the fairly flat character of Max. Jodi Foster speaks with a bizarre accent that really distracts from her performance. Copley looks intimidating, but once he speaks that disappears because of how jumbled his delivery is. Fichtner has one really interesting moment where, on earth, he gets flustered when a worker at his plant forgets to cover his mouth as he talks. The story could have been a lot stronger if it would have added in more moments like this that showed the complete separation between the wealthy and the poor whenever they come into contact with one another.
Elysium is host to a couple of interesting and unique action sequences. The two most notable examples of this are the slow-motion sequences and the body-mount camera sequences, which are used to great effect Blomkamp along with cinematographer Trent Opaloch deliver strong visuals with the exception of a few moments that get a bit cluttered. The visual effects of the film are great and help in the world-building. The music by Ryan Amon is often fast paced, helping to accelerate the movie.
While Elysium brings up some unique ideas, the story and the performances of the cast prevent the film from distinguishing itself from more generic sci-fi films. Blomkamp has a great visual sense, however some of his storytelling techniques impede the films potential.
Two years after the release of Drive, Director Nicolas Winding Refn and Actor Ryan Gosling return with Only God Forgives. Gosling, who stars in both films said, “Drive is a dream, Only God Forgives is a nightmare.” And Only God Forgives is just that: a nightmare. The film is dark and brutal with a current of uneasiness throughout. Refn, along with cinematographer Larry Smith, capture the vibrancy and uniqueness of Bangkok. From start to finish, the film is beautiful. The temperamental music by Cliff Martinez adds an additional layer to the films that helps to distinguish it.
The story, written by Refn, is based around brothers Julian (Ryan Gosling) and Billy (Tom Burke) who live in Bangkok and run a Thai boxing club as a front for dealing drugs. Billy kills an underaged prostitute, then meets Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) who shows the girls father what Billy has done. Change locks them in a room together where the father beats billy to death. Upon hearing of his brother’s death, Julian looks for his brother’s killer, but when he discovers that Chang was behind it he leaves it alone. Until Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), Julian and Billy’s mother, arrives from America and will stop at nothing to avenge her son’s death.
The story may sound straightforward, but like anything from Refn it’s not. The film is filled with trance-like scenes cut into the story, brutal violence, and beautiful scenery. The cast is phenomenal. Gosling is memorable as the disturbed, bruting Julian, delivering another brilliant, nuanced performance. Kristin Scott Thomas as Crystal is diabolical and irredeemable. Vithaya Pansringarm is great as the unemotional, yet thoughtful Chang.
Due to the way its presented, the film is very open to interpretation. Many have pondered who each of the characters represents. Is Chang God? Is Crystal the Devil? As well as pondering the themes of the film, including forgiveness, consequences and revenge.
Only God Forgives is not for everyone. The story is open and that scares a lot of audiences that feel a need to be told everything. But, the film is beautiful and unique and that will help it to find an audience.
The plot of Pacific Rim is fairly pedestrian, in the near future monsters emerge through a portal from another dimension and threaten the entire human race, in turn humanity builds giant robots to combat the threat. Pacific Rim accelerates the world-building process necessary for films set in the future by opening with a montage of news clips with a voice over before the audience is quickly thrown into a battle between a Kaiju (monster) and Jager (robot). From there the story acts a way to get the audience from one fight scene of giant robots and monsters to the next. But, for Pacific Rim that may not be a bad thing. The story is an amalgamation of every alien invasion movie and most generic summer blockbusters, without bringing much of anything new to the genre.
Charlie Hunnam (Raleigh Becket), Idris Elba (Stacker Pentecost), and Rinko Kikuchi (Mako Mori) show up, but don’t add much with the brief character moments that they each have. All of the characters of the film are there to support the pockets of story between action sequences. However they are never able to establish any emotional stakes for any of the characters. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman play a pair of scientists that are bombastic and never amount to anything more than poor comic relief.
The success of the film is based on the fights between the Kaiju and Jagers. The scale of the fights is impeccable. Director and Co-Writer Guillermo del Toro along with Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro is able to convey just how enormous the creatures in this world are. The fights each feel unique because of the variations of both Jagers and Kaiju, as well as the physical location of each battle ranging from Alaska to Japan to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
The special effects and visual effects, which the film heavily relies on, are solid. The set design by Peter Nicolakakos is unique and helps to convey the world that the film is set in. The music by Ramin Djawadi doesn’t add much to the film more than adding more noise to the over-the-top action sequences.
The vision of Pacific Rim was compromised by poor story telling which prevented the film from becoming more than a mindless spectacle.
If you take away anything from what I am about to say I hope it’s this: Man of Steel is Christopher Nolan, David Goyer and Zack Snyder’s interpretation of the characters from the Superman mythology. Superman and all of the characters from his stories over the years have evolved and Man of Steel keeps in line with that. It takes characters that we all know and places them in a different situation.
"There’s way too much destruction in Man of Steel, Superman would never let all of those people die. Why did he take the fight outside of populated areas?" The destruction portrayed in Man of Steel is much more authentic based on the power of the combatants involved. The Superman in Man of Steel is not the same character from the comic books. In Man of Steel Clark is still discovering his powers and responsibilities while facing what it means to bear that burden. When Zod, Faora, and the other Kryptonians arrive Clark had just made the decision to embrace his heritage and become Superman. Superman is not infallible, he is not a god, he cannot save everyone. If David Goyer (writer) and Zack Snyder (director) are smart they will address the destruction and how it has impacted Superman’s state of mind in the sequel. But, I’m sure that if Superman stopped Zod or Faora and said, “Hey could we take this fight out into the cornfields away from all of the people that you are trying to kill,” the Kryptonians would oblige. (shakes head). In Man of Steel Superman is not stronger than Zod or Faora and he cannot dictate the terms of the fight. A lot people also took issue with the final scene of Clark at the Daily Planet, like everything was back to normal. It is possible that the final scene took place months after the Superman/Zod fight, allowing Metropolis to return to some normalcy. Not to mention that Superman could have easily helped with much of the rebuilding.
"Superman would never kill." There are multiple instances in the 75 year history of the character where Superman has killed his foe. In Man of Steel Snyder and Goyer leave no other option. The portal to the phantom zone had closed, there is no kryptonite, and no earth prison could hold Zod (the guy trying to commit genocide on the human race).
"There are too many Superman/Jesus references." There are 2. While there are some connections that can be made between Superman and Jesus, they are fairly weak in this incarnation. If Superman was real wouldn’t that be axiomatically atheist? Jonathan Kent hints at this, “The world finds out what you can do its gonna change everything, our beliefs, what it means to be human, everything… People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”
"Jonathan Kent’s death was stupid." There is no question that the character of Jonathan Kent is very different in Man of Steel than in previous incarnations. He is very protective of Clark and has a unique view of his powers. Jonathan believed that, up until the moment of his death, his son wasn’t ready to reveal himself to the world. Why? Pa Kent tells his son, ”one day you’re going to have to make a choice… whether to stand proud in front of the human race or not.” Jonathan Kent knew that once Clark showed the world what he could do he would have to face that choice. So, when the tornado appeared, Jonathan knew that his son wasn’t ready yet, but before he was gone, he left his son with a mission, ”I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason. And even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.” Not to mention that Jonathan could have also been forcing Clark to protect his wife and all of the other people under the overpass as the tornado approached.
"Man of Steel strays too far from canon." Making a Superman film is much different from making other adaptations. Superman has 75 years of history to choose a story from and the character is always evolving. Snyder and Goyer via Man of Steel are giving the world their interpretation of that character and they have done what every person who has ever been involved with the creation process of Superman over the years has done: interpret the character.
I know that a lot of people will disregard or disagree with my view of Man of Steel. I just hope people aren’t so closed minded that they will hate the entire film because it doesn’t fall in line with their view of Superman.
This is the End has some funny moments, but in the end that’s all that it is: a film with a few laughs. With This is the End, writers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, make their directorial debut. The direction is weak and doesn’t supplement the film in any way. The story is lazy, obvious, derivative, and at times just stupid. It relies on the audience to have an established connection with the central characters of the film, while at the same time it actively encourages the audience to dislike all of the characters.
The acting across the board is atrocious. Seth Rogen is barely there and his focus is obviously on the other side of the camera. James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride appear as though they aren’t even trying. Emma Watson is reduced to a plot point and her story is never resolved. The remainder of the supporting cast have one or two scenes, then are never heard from again.
The special effects are mediocre at best and ineffective. The score is bland and the soundtrack is made up of mostly popular, overplayed songs.
This is the End is a self-indulgent, poorly constructed film that achieves nothing more than forcing a few laughs.
While the story of Superman has been told many times between comic books, film and television, none of the previous incarnations fully convey the scale of the story. That was, until Christopher Nolan and David Goyer conceived of the story that would become the film Man of Steel. Nolan, best know for the Dark Knight trilogy, has his fingerprints all over the film. Nolan, however, decided not to direct the film and left it in the capable hands of Director Zack Snyder. Snyder is able to keep intimacy in smaller character scenes while making the large scale action scenes massive. Snyder has an great sense of action, which is amplified by the scale of the film. But, Nolan vacating the directors chair allowed for some minor issues to creep up in the film, like excessive product placement, and oddly placed song, a few unexplained characters placed in scenes and a few misplaced lines of dialog.
Much like 1978’s Superman: The Movie, Man of Steel begins with the destruction of Krypton, however Krypton is a much more developed and distinct world. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) foresee the coming extinction of their planet, so they decide to send their son, Kal-El, to a Kryptonian outpost planet, Earth, so that he may survive. At the same time General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a coup in an attempt to overrule the Krypton high council’s ruling in an attempt to save his people. Zod is thwarted and sentenced to a lifetime in the phantom zone, but not before he is condemned he promises Lara that he will find her son. Kal-El escapes and Krypton is obliterated allowing Zod to escape from the phantom zone. Kal-El reaches Earth and becomes Clark Kent (Henry Cavil). Clark is an outcast and at the advice of his adopted father Johnathan Kent (Kevin Costner) hides his gifts. Clark wonders as an outsider helping people along the way before disappearing again. While working in the arctic, Clark discovers an alien ship from his home planet, but us followed by intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). From the ship Clark discovers his true heritage, but the ship also points Zod directly to Earth and Clark. The film is fast-paced and dense. Even at two and a half hours it feels rushed at times.
The cast is remarkable. Henry Cavil is Superman. He gives a tremendous performance making the audience believe that one person with all of his powers can be so vulnerable at the same time. Amy Adams holds her own as Lois Lane. While she doesn’t get as much screen time as she deserves, she is terrific and believable in every scene. Russell Crowe is extraordinary as Jor-El. The first half hour of the film is Crowe bringing life to a character that has only been previously portrayed on film by Marlon Brando. Michael Shannon is terrifying and bombastic as General Zod. Antje Traue is surprising great as Faora, Zod’s second in command. The supporting cast including Diane Lane, Christopher Meloni, Kevin Costner, Harry Lennix and Ayelet Zurer gives solid performances.
The special effects in the film are amazing. From the destruction of Krypton to the massive battles that rage between Superman and Zod. Snyder and cinematographer Amir Mokri give Man of Steel a unique aesthetic that is used to great affect to bring the audience into the world of Superman. The Score of the film is amazing. Hans Zimmer, who scored the Dark Knight trilogy (among many others), elevates the emotion of every scene with his incredible score.
Man of Steel has its flaws, but the brilliance of nearly other every aspect of the film makes it one of the best movies ever made. The moments between Clark and Lois are heartfelt and emotive. Every bit of action is poignant and beautiful. The final confrontation between Superman and Zod is one of the greatest and most epic battles ever.
Star Trek Into Darkness can be summed up in one word: predictable. For a suspense driven movie that can spell disaster. There are an abundance of allusions to the original Star Trek series, which are great until they give away the major reveal of the film and cause the reveal scene to become awkward and flat. When the resolution of every instance of peril that the crew of the Enterprise face throughout the film is obvious, the lead up to the resolution becomes boring because the circumstance no longer has any stakes. And when a film becomes boring the audience has time to think about the gaping holes in logic that arise over the course of the film.
Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman return, this time around joined by Damon Lindelof. Into Darkness follows the crew of the Enterprise as they hunt down ‘John Harrison’ (Benedict Cumberbatch), a fugitive who has made direct attacks on Starfleet. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) leads his crew into Klingon space at the request of Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to track the villain. There are betrayals, fights, malfunctioning equipment, and other turns that are all predictable in their resolution. Furthermore, the film fails in its depiction of women as anything more than plot points, Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is used in an attempt to humanize Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Carol (Alice Eve) is used as a way to stall another character’s actions.
As in the previous Star Trek film, the acting is mostly mediocre. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin and John Cho all stumble through most of their scenes and the majority of their interactions feel forced and insincere. Karl Urban is a one man, one-liner machine lacking any character moments. Simon Pegg is good as Scotty, but is only used as comic relief and is absent for a large portion of the film. Newcomers Alice Eve and Peter Weller are reduced to plot points leaving much to be desired. Benedict Cumberbatch is mostly outstanding, but he overpowers everyone that he shares a scene with making every scene that he is absent from feel hollow.
But most audiences don’t expect great acting from a JJ Abrams Star Trek film, they expect a visual spectacle and Into Darkness delivers that. The film is beautiful as it blends practical effects and visual effects seamlessly. Like its predecessor the film is loaded with lens flares and tremendous shots of the Enterprise. Also like its predecessor, the score by Composer Michael Giacchino is astounding as it injects most of the emotional impact into the film.
Star Trek Into Darkness is unable to do anything that Star Trek didn’t do 4 years ago, but shouldn’t a sequel do more than its predecessor? The visuals of Into Darkness are amazing, as is the score for the film. But a largely under-performing cast and an uninspired and predictable story prevents Into Darkness from taking the step forward that a sequel should.
I don’t usually say that someone should just walk away from Hollywood.
If you look at the recent history of Lindelof: the disastrous conclusion of Lost, Cowboys & Aliens and Prometheus tanking, Star Trek Into Darkness is under-performing, and World War Z by all reports is going to bomb, it’s clear that he is tracking downward.
I respect that Lindelof has not shied away from the criticism, but it feels like he isn’t listening to any of it.
I hope that Tomorrowland doesn’t follow this trend, but recent evidence would point to the contrary.
Shane Carruth returns nine years after his first film Primer, which won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. For Primer, Carruth had a budget of roughly $7,000 and because of the cost of film he was only able to shoot 80 minutes worth of footage. The final cut of the film was 78 minutes. Although the budget hasn’t been released for Upstream Color, it’s clear that Carruth had more to work with. However, it should be noted that because of how much Carruth took on with this project (director, writer, producer, composer, cinematographer, editor, and camera operator) his budget was likely infinitesimal compared to most films released this year. This is the price that he has to pay to have complete creative control over his work.
Upstream Color is a contradiction of a film. It’s ambitious, yet grounded. It’s intimate, but ostentatious. It’s focused and vagrant.
The onset of the film is disconnected and jittery as the audience is left to try and make sense of multiple characters, most of whom they won’t see for some time. The narrative of the film picks up and is centered around Kris (Amy Seimetz), who is a successful photo editor, maybe, it’s never made clear what her job is at the beginning of the story and it really doesn’t matter. While at a bar she is kidnapped and forced to consume some sort of maggot which allows her captor to control her mind. Her kidnapper keeps her busy with bizarre tasks while he executes a plan to have her cash out the mortgage on her house.
Once the kidnapper has the money he leaves and Kris wonders and eventually finds The Sampler who takes the maggot that has grown incredibly long and transfers it to a pig. From this the pig is now psychically connected to Kris. Without the parasite, Kris awakens from the mind control to a ruined life. She is fired from her job and kicked out of her house. After some period of time she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), who has had a questionable past as well and they connect. Kris and Jeff start to confuse their memories and together try to solve the mystery of what has really happened. Upstream Color introduces a lot of ideas and bits of story, however fails to connect most of them.
The story is psychotic at times, but the relationship between Kris and Jeff is so interesting that it’s difficult not to be intrigued. Seimetz is incredible as Kris as she navigates a range of emotions wonderfully. Carruth is solid as Jeff, however he is consistently overshadowed by Seimetz.
Carruth does a great job as cinematographer. The film is beautiful even in the most horrid scenes.
Upstream Color plays with a lot of big ideas, but the strength of the story is the connection of Kris and Jeff. Carruth has taken an enormous step forward from Primer to Upstream Color and it will be interesting to see where he goes next. Hopefully fans won’t have to wait 8 more years.
The Place Beyond the Pines is Director Derek Cianfrance’s follow up to 2010’s Blue Valentine, which gained acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival. The Place Beyond the Pines follows the impact of one man’s actions as they influence multiple lives over the course of many years.
The film starts by introducing Luke (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stunt driver who, as part of a traveling carnival, has returned after a year away to Schenectady, New York. On the day before his departure he discovers that he has a son from a short lived romance with Romina (Eva Mendes). Luke decides to stay in order to be part of his sons life, even though Romina has moved on and is now in a relationship someone new. Because of his limited skill set Luke is only able to find a job as a mechanic working for Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). Luke soon realizes that the limited amount of money that he is making will not be enough for him to provide for his son. Robin suggests that he should rob a bank, then use his skills as a gifted driver to avoid the police. To avoid any spoilers Luke’s life eventually intersects with Avery (Bradley Cooper), a rookie police officer. The actions of the remainder of the film are consequences of what happens between Luke and Avery, as well as how it eventually affects their sons Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen), respectively.
Cianfrance handles the transitions between central characters masterfully as he uses the overlapping sequences to transition from one central character to the next as he focuses on four different characters throughout the film. Cianfrance wrote the film along with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder. While the first act of the film (Luke’s story) is exceptional the subsequent story arcs never meet the quality of the first. The film is on a steady decline over the course of time spent with Avery and becomes nearly unwatchable while following AJ. The final act of the film is centered around Jason, while it attempts to convey a poetic notion, it feels rushed and misses the intimacy and impact that elevated the first act.
Gosling is outstanding as Luke, the tattooed motorcyclist trying to provide for his son. Every moment with Luke feels authentic as Gosling can harness his emotions exceptionally well. Cooper is fine as Avery, although Avery is a much less interesting character than Luke. Mendelsohn is great as Robin who acts as a catalyst influencing two of central characters lives. Dane DeHaan is great a Jason, however his minimal screen time prevents the character’s actions from having the impact of other characters. Emory Cohen as AJ is odd because Cohen gives a good performance, but the character AJ is so unlikable that it often feels insincere. Some of the supporting actors like Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Bruce Greenwood and Ray Liotta are sufficient.
Fortunately, despite the script the film is absolutely beautiful throughout. Cianfrance along with Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (Hunger, Shame) capture each moment of the story allowing the audience to fully immerse into the lives of these characters.
The first act of The Place Beyond the Pines is exceptional. Director Derek Cianfrance maneuvers through the majority of a cumbersome story with precision, however some of the weaker characters and a rushed conclusion prevent The Place Beyond the Pines from becoming a remarkable film.
When the news that Jon Favreau wouldn’t be returning to direct Iron Man 3 surfaced, the curiosity of what other directors vision of Iron Man would be was intriguing. Soon enough Marvel announced that Shane Black would take over as director, as well as co-writer. Black had only directed one film previously, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and has been predominantly a writer throughout his career. Black’s writing credits include the films Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Long Kiss Goodnight and the Lethal Weapon tetralogy. Looking at these films, it’s clear that Black is comfortable within a specific genre, action-mysteries with an R rating for violence and language. The question then became can Shane Black, with the help of co-writer Drew Pearce, write a story based on comic book property that will appeal to a wide audience?
The story of Iron Man 3 feels more intimate than either of its predecessors. Black’s sense of storytelling is evident as the story is more of a mystery than a large scale action saga. If the mystery was more intriguing, this would have been a welcome reprieve from the systematic story arcs that have come to define the comic book film genre. However, the film devolves quickly and follows the same story arcs that have come to define comic book films (the hero falls, then must find an inner strength in order to defeat the latest villain). The story also has a myriad of plot holes and a lackluster conclusion that prevents it from becoming anything more than what it is: a fun, mindless summer blockbuster.
While many of the central characters are well presented, there are a few that fall flat. Robert Downey Jr. is once again great as Tony Stark, who is still trying to recover from the events from The Avengers while at the same time trying to uncover the identity of a new threat. Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle both deliver sufficient performances in returning roles as Pepper Potts and James Rhodes, respectively. Newcomers to the franchise Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian and Sir Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin are a welcome addition. Without spoiling anything, Kingsley’s performance is unexpected at times, but always exceptional. Unfortunately, Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen, aside from one line (“No, thirteen years old,”), Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, and James Badge Dale as Savin are all underdeveloped.
Visually the film keeps in line with the Marvel look and doesn’t do anything extraordinary. The visual effects are great at times, particularly the Air Force One scene, however some of the ‘extremis’ effects are lacking. The final battle scene could have expanded to show more specifically what is going on rather than feeling overwhelming and disconnected.
While Shane Black brings his unique vision to the Iron Man franchise, some major flaws prevent the film from becoming more than an above average comic book movie. Iron Man 3 is full of action and at times laugh-out-loud comedy, but fails to do anything that hasn’t been done before.
To the Wonder is like watching a series of memories. Specifically, the memories of Writer/Director Terrence Malick, as the story is based on his life. In typical Malick style very little dialog is spoken, but rather the characters thoughts are conveyed via voice-overs. To the Wonder centers around the turbulent relationship between Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko). The first act is set in Paris, where Neil and Marina fall for one another leading Neil to ask Marina and her daughter to live with him in Texas.
In Texas the relationship picks up where it left off in Paris, but slowly starts to strain. Marina begins to seek the council of Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who is struggling with his own diminishing faith. Marina’s visa expires and Neil’s inability to commit forces her to return to Paris. While Marina is in Paris, Neil reconnects with Jane (Rachel McAdams), an old flame. Neil must decide if he can commit to either of these women and if they can commit to him.
Each of the leads give a solid and unique performance. Due to the lack of spoken dialog they each must convey their emotions physically. The standout of the cast is Kurylenko who conveys a spectrum of emotions as the film progresses. The emotion of the film is visceral and abundant.
Watching this film it is impossible not to draw connections to Malick’s previous film Tree of Life. Malick once again uses booming classical music to great effect. The cinematography is complementary as well, as Malick reenlists Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Like Tree of Life, To the Wonder is photographed exceptionally. It captures the beauty of Paris and rural Texas alike. The constant, fluid movement of the camera gives the film a unique, dream-like aesthetic.
To the Wonder asks many questions about life, love, and faith, but delivers little or no answers. Maybe that’s the point that Malick was attempting to make: never stop asking questions even if there isn’t an answer. Or maybe he found the closure he was seeking by making this film. Because of the reclusive nature of Malick, audiences may never know the answers. All that’s left is to appreciate the singular vision of a director who is willing to share a brief, beautiful memory.