Saturday, November 12, 2016

Arrival - Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

Title: Arrival
Year: 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Cinematography: Bradford Young
Score: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Bias: I think Villeneuve is one of the best directors of this era.

I feel like, that everything that happens comes down to the two of us. - Dr. Louise Banks

What would it be like if, during our lives, aliens from distant and unknowable worlds arrived all of the sudden on the Earth? Like the film's tag-line asks, why are they here? Director Denis Villeneuve, along with screenwriter Eric Heisserer try to show us what might happen. The movie tells us the story of the American team that tries to figure out what the aliens want with humanity with the help of linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) has to keep them as focused as they can at trying to communicate with the aliens while the government presses on them and tension escalates.

Denis Villeneuve is a master at tension. With Sicario, he showed that he could do moments of great tension building with lighting, music and a change in the way the film is cut and edited. While Sicario is a very dark film in terms of its content, Arrival succeeds at being very different without really sacrificing the sense of tension that Villeneuve can build. 

There are two different kinds of alien movies: 1) where the aliens are just there to kill a bunch of unsuspecting humans and then get killed by humans; and 2) where the aliens are just a way to tell a story about humans. This film definitely falls into the latter category and if you were expecting the first, you were probably incredibly disappointed.

I don't really want to give too many details because this film is something that should be experienced with as little knowledge of it as possible. Amy Adams gives an Academy Award worthy performance as one of the people who must figure out what is going on. Although the film has to explain a lot of the science, it also does a great job of showing us what is going through their heads through the character of Dr. Banks.

The movie is beautiful to look at, even when the color palette is subdued most of the time, there are moments of bright color that contrast with the darker tones that Villeneuve is very fond of. These are not purely stylistic choices, though, as he uses them wisely in order to help with the story telling. Most of what this film is about is explored subtly, even when there are more surface levels of themes that should also be given consideration.

Like with Sicario, the score of the film, composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, is very much a part of the experience. Along with Villeneuve's camera work, Jóhannsson's score helps to build the tension. The soundtrack sounds like aliens would sound and how they communicate, almost. It does a great job at not overpowering what is happening but accentuating whenever it needs it.

It would be impossible not to parallel some of the themes in the movie with the real world. With Amy Adams being a surrogate to the crowds exasperation and fear at something that might have the power to divide the country or the world. It almost seems like Donald Trump's election and the riots caused by it were viral marketing for this film.

This film is layered and impressively human in its themes. You should go out and watch it, but be weary, this is not Independence Day.

I give this film 9 out of 10 flying spaceships.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Doctor Strange - Movie Review

Title: Doctor Strange
Year: 2016
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writer: Scott Derrickson, John Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen
Bias: I really like the character of Doctor Strange.

"Be careful which path you travel down, Strange. Stronger men than you have lost their way." - Wong

Doctor Strange is probably one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe. I was so used to the normal superhuman stuff from the usual superheroes than when I saw Doctor Strange travel through dimensions and face weird ethereal beings, I was hooked. Now, when they cast Benedict Cumberbatch to play the titular character, I was even more excited. He looks spot on as the Sorcerer Supreme.

The film version of Doctor Strange tells the very unoriginal origin story of Dr. Stephen Vincent Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Dr. Strange is an incredibly successful surgeon (reminds me a lot of Dr. Gregory House) who has a car accident and loses his ability to operate. So he shuns everything, including his friend/ex-girlfriend Dr. Christine Palmer) in the search of a cure for his ailing hands. During his travels, he finds a mystical place where The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Master Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) must help him become the sorcerer needed to save the world from rogue sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

So, does the film stand up to the standards that the MCU has set? Yes and no. 

Let me explain. Visually, this film is like nothing I have seen when it comes to comic book movies. There are incredible visual sequences that rival those in Inception. The way the sorcerers could manipulate their surroundings was awesome and looked incredible. This is a movie worth shelling your cash to see in IMAX or CXC. Benedict Cumberbatch was perfectly cast as the arrogantly skeptic surgeon who must forget everything he has ever known in order to become Master Strange. The action sequences were fantastic, whether it would be the fight scenes with Scott Adkins as goon #1 or the chase scenes with the streets bending and blocks folding into themselves. The supporting cast are pretty good throughout, with Benedict Wong being my favorite. I also really enjoyed the dynamic between Strange and Dr. Palmer. She basically acts as a bridge between Strange's two lives, his life as a surgeon and as a sorcerer.

Other than that though, the film suffers from being incredibly creative when it comes to some moments, but end up being very sub par with others. The villain, for example, is lackluster to say the least. Mads Mikkelsen is a great actor, but Kaecilius' motivations are muddled into philosophical mumbo-jumbo. The film suffers from the case of over-explaining through exposition. Show me his motivations, don't tell me while they are trying to fight. His nameless goons are just that, nameless goons, that don't really add anything. Why are so many people following him? Why is he so whiny? He reminded me of Ronan the Accuser... and that is never a great thing.

The story of Doctor Strange is also a completely formulaic origin story. While the extraneous stuff is very cool, it is too vanilla for such an interesting concept of a hero. I would have liked for them to skip the origin or do it as quickly as possible in the beginning. The comedy was sometimes a little too much for me. Once or twice is okay, but when too many scenes in a row have jokes in them, it lost me a little bit. They tried to turn Doctor Strange into Tony Stark, and while that is smart for Marvel Studios, it is not really who Strange is.

I will give props to Michael Giacchino's score for the film. It fits in perfectly as menacing but also sprinkled with some moments of wonder. It is fitting for a film that while dealing with serious stuff (in movie) also has time to be funny.

In the end, the film is a spectacle that you should definitely go see if you enjoy superhero films. If you are looking for a by-the-numbers story with some amazing visual effects, this is the film for you. If you want a little more depth to the characters you see on screen or with the story that is being told, go into it knowing what you are going to get.

I will give this film, 6.5 Eyes of Agamotto out of 10. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Inferno - Movie Review

Title: Inferno
Year: 2016
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: David Koepp
Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan and Ben Foster
Bias: I read the book.

"The greatest sins in human history were committed in the name of love." - Robert Langdon

Dan Brown is one of those authors that knows what his fans want and then delivers it to them in spades. The formula for his books is quite simple: have an interesting mystery full of puzzles to solve, write short, action-packed chapters so people can't put the book down, sprinkle a couple of cities and their art and history, and viola. Obviously, this is a slight oversimplification, although it goes to the heart of it all.

In contrast, the films based on the novels don't tend to enjoy the same level of easy craftsmanship that the books enjoy. The characters tend to be uninteresting on screen and the action never really translates to the page. Those same problems plague the newest Robert Langdon adventure. Langdon (Tom Hanks) is a Harvard professor that teaches symbology and iconology and one day finds himself waking up in a hospital with a head wound and no idea how he got there. Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) saves his life and they both find themselves embroidered in transhuman scientist Bertrand Zobrist's (Ben Foster) plan to help the world's overpopulation problem by releasing a virus that will kill most of human kind. A bunch of other people are also looking for the virus for different reasons.

The most interesting thing about this film is the one thing that was touched for a second and then forgotten. Would you kill 3 billion people if it meant saving humanity? The moral quandary is dismissed derisively by the characters and it is never touched fully, except to make it seem like a crazy thing. Moral questions of these kind are interesting to me, and while I know it might not be interesting to watch, I would have liked to see them think about it for a moment.

To me, not having the moral discussion worked against the film as it just makes the film become the 'good v. evil' trope we are so used to. It also totally misses the whole point of the book which it was based on.

In technical aspects, Ron Howard is very good, as he always is. The shots of Venice, Istanbul and Florence are breathtaking, especially the artwork and architecture. The actors seemed to be dozing off, even while running around. I've never really liked Hanks as Robert Langdon and Felicity Jones matches him in a passionless and unconvincing portrayal. Even Hans Zimmer score felt passionless.

I will give this film 5 Mickey Mouse wristwatches out of 10

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Swiss Army Man - Film Review

Title: Swiss Army Man
Year: 2016
Director: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Writers: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

We're gonna die. That's a thought. Everybody dies. I'm sorry if this makes me weird or you don't understand, but I wish I was dead again. - Manny

Most films are formulaic, not only in the way they are told, but in the way they are filmed. Whenever a film comes along that challenges that, I take my time to check it out. I think it is important to talk about films with something to say. Thus, there is Swiss Army Man. The film tells the story of Hank (Paul Dano), a man stranded in a deserted island who, while trying to commit suicide, finds a corpse on the shore who he eventually calls Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). What happens next, is one of the strangest trips a film has taken me to this year.

One part fun buddy movie, two parts introspective analysis of self-worth, loneliness and depression and ten parts what-in-the-actual-fuck crazy, the film ha a lot more to say than the crass, ridiculous comedy it pretends to be. Besides all the fart and dick jokes, which this film has a plethora of, the film is strangely life-affirming and sweet in the way it portrays its characters. Hank is a man with some serious emotional issues, and while he seems controlling and weird, at first, you end up rooting for them both by the end of the film.

I have to give a lot of credit to directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for taking a chance on a script that is completely over the top and complex and layered. The two of them had just done shorts and television before getting their directorial debut with this film. The film is not only visual, but it also goes deep with its philosophy. The movie makes you question the reality in the film, you never really know what is going on, except that a suicidal man is trying to convince a corpse that life is worth living. Which, when you think about it, is very clever.

Credit also goes to Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano, especially Radcliffe. After making Harry Potter, he could have just phoned it in, but he has decided to make a bunch indie films he is passionate about. Radcliffe is more alive, as a dead person, than with most of what other actors with his money and fame have been doing for a while.

Even the music for this film was great and of a high quality.

Finally, this is not a film for everyone. I know some people will just not like it because it is crass and disgusting. But, if you can see further than that, you will probably appreciate what is a wholly original story that is deceptively smart with a good team behind it that deserves your support. if you are tired of sequelitis and remakeatitis, then you should go and check out Swiss Army Man. If nothing else, I'm sure you will not see anything else like it this year.

I will give this film 8 farting corpses out of 10. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Shit is Dead is back!

Hello everyone, Loz here. 

After a few years of writing reviews for Geek Whale, I have decided to bring back this endeavor I started way back when with my friend Chiko.

I will be doing movie reviews, TV show reviews, book reviews, columns about pop culture and whatever strikes my fancy. I might eventually do a podcast, hopefully, probably... Hope you enjoy.