Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Ring

Movie Name: The Ring
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Gore Verbinski
Stars: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox, Jane Alexander, Lindsay Frost, Amber Tamblyn, Rachael Bella, Daveigh Chase, Shannon Cochran
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Following the middling success of his previous directorial effort, "The Mexican", director Gore Verbinski rebounded with what turned out to be a great hit. "The Ring" inaugurated a trend of remaking Japanese horror films, with a western perspective. The film follows the story of Rachel Keller, an investigative reporter living in Seattle with her young son Aidan. They both get some dramatic news, when Katie, Rachel's young niece dies suddenly and gruesomely. Rachel's sister asks her to investigate how Katie passed away, and Rachel discovers this videotape that was seemingly haunting Katie's last days. She discovers that anyone who watches the tape has only seven days to live, upon which something happens which kills the viewer of the tape. Rachel watches the tape, and suddenly all sorts of incidents start occurring, prompting her to investigate where the tape comes from, and in particular, who is the young girl on the tape. This leads her to investigate the story behind the family of the girl, and her sad demise.
"The Ring", to this day, remains one of the most interesting adaptations/remakes of a Japanese horror film. The film takes the scary and juicy premise, but adapts it to a very North American context. It specifically makes the central character, Rachel Keller, someone interesting, flawed and persistent. Naomi Watts also makes the character eminently watchable - she's self assured, but as the events start to unravel, her level of certainty starts quivering, and at the end she's definitely a character who has changed as a direct result of the events depicted in the film. The film is also very successful at building an ominous environment, as the background to the events on the videotape are exposed and explained. The film also benefits from the stylistic touches from the director Gore Verbinski, something that is further added by the impeccable cinematography of Bojan Bazelli and the fantastic score of Hans Zimmer. An interesting film worth watching.

Resident Evil

Movie Name: Resident Evil
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Stars: Milla Jovovich, Eric Mabius, Michelle Rodriguez, James Purefoy, Martin Crewes, Colin Salmon, Pasquale Aleardi, Heike Makatsch, Indra Ove
Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon

After an auspicious debut in the UK with "Shopping", director Paul W. S. Anderson followed that film with bigger budget action films, which included "Mortal Kombat" and "Soldier", films that were met with derision and harsh reviews. "Resident Evil" which premiered in 2002, was a considerable success, and started a franchise that generated six films (and counting). The film is an adaptation of a video game, and follows the story of Alice, a young woman who wakes up in the bathroom of a mansion without a recollection of any events. She is soon joined by a group of soldiers who arrive at the mansion to participate in a rescue/assessment mission. Beneath the mansion there's a huge laboratory, by the name of The Hive, where fringe research is done (for all intended purposes, biological warfare is developed there) - all of this under the ownership of the corporate entity that is The Umbrella Corporation. Turns out a deadly virus has been unleashed in the laboratory, and the soldiers are sent to investigate - taking with them Alice, an investigative reporter they capture, and another man also suffering from amnesia. They quickly discover that the virus killed everyone, but what they soon find out, is that the deceased don't stay dead for long.
Paul W. S. Anderson is a director who primarily focuses on action set pieces, making character development something more secondary. On "Resident Evil" he mostly focuses on Alice, as the central heroine, but gives her very little to do in terms of arc. Even if Alice suffers from amnesia, she is remarkably self assured and reliant, which attests to her training and her profession, information that eventually comes to the forefront - the character is modeled after Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley, though without the empathy, emotional richness or subtlety. The remainder of all characters are treated as discardable archetypes, and mostly exist as fodder for the army of zombies that populates the film. Unlike the classic zombies from George Romero, who functioned as a metaphor for the state of modern society (films that targeted consumerism and capitalism), "Resident Evil" points the finger at corporate greed as the main villain, but doesn't humanize this entity, relying on the gore and violence to make the action more instantaneous and palatable. It's a film that still has some moments, mostly because of how it captures some references from John Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13" and even some moments from James Cameron's "Aliens". It's not much, but it's a film that's barely watchable, one that allows for Milla Jovovich to carry the film with ease and a certain charisma.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Punch Drunk Love

Movie Name: Punch Drunk Love
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Lisa Spector, Robert Smigel, Nicole Gelbard, Mia Weinberg
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
Watch it on Amazon

After the phenomenal "Magnolia", director Paul Thomas Anderson went in a somewhat different direction with his new feature, the romantic comedy "Punch Drunk Love", which premiered at the Cannes film festival of 2002, where it ended up winning the award for best director. The film focuses on the story of Barry Egan, who has his own business in the San Fernando Valley in California, and who has an atypical family life - he has seven overbearing sisters, who ridicule him at every occasion they can. Barry leads a very solitary life, and one of his sisters tries to set him up with the beautiful and pragmatic Lena, to whom Barry is instantly drawn to. Trying to cope with his loneliness, Barry reaches out to a sex hot line, which gets him in some hot water with that corrupt service that actually tries to blackmail their callers. Barry and Lena nonetheless meet and start developing a relationship, up until the moment the blackmailers catch up with them both, upon which Barry reacts in a way that surprises everyone.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a brilliant film maker, and "Punch Drunk Love" is a perfect example of that. The film uses the premise of the romantic comedy, where the hero meets his love, but has to go through some hardship in order to vanquish her love. It's a classic premise, one that Paul Thomas Anderson turns on its head, allowing for surreal elements to appear, making the film glide almost like a musical (witness the scenes between Adam Sandler and Emily Watson in Hawaii). The central characters are also on a class of their own, with Barry being a person filled with issues in regards to his loneliness and capacity to relate to others, whereas Lena is a divorcee with her own emotional baggage (yet a lot more resolved and mature than your typical heroine). The visual interludes from artist Jeremy Blake are beautiful, as is the case of the wonderful score of Jon Brion and the cinematography of Robert Elswit. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Adam Sandler, Emily Watson and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman creating indelible characters. A fantastic film from a tremendously talented film maker.


TV Show Name: Collateral
Year of Release: 2018
Directors: S. J. Clarkson
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Jeany Spark, Nicola Walker, John Simm, Billie Piper, Nathaniel Martello-White, Ben Miles, Ahd, Orla Brady, Richard McCabe, Mark Umbers, John Heffernan, Saskia Reeves, Tony Way, Jonathan Coy, July Namir, Hayley Squires, Rob Jarvis
Genre: Drama, Crime, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

"Collateral" is a new Netflix show hailing from the talented penmanship of renown writer/playwright David Hare. The show follows the aftermath of the killing of a young pizza delivery man in London by the name of Asif. The case lands with a duo of detectives, consisting of Kip Glaspie, a former athlete, who is now a seasoned detective expecting her first child, and Nathan her partner. As they start their investigation, they suddenly find out that there's ties to this case that involve Immigration policies, Labour Party politicians and drug smuggling. This process forces them out of their comfort zone, and into creating new ties with other agencies in the country.
David Hare who has written such films as "Plenty", and more recently the screenplays for "The Hours" and "The Reader", alongside the fantastic "Turks & Caicos" and "Salting the Battlefield", manages to create a densely articulated scenario, where current political tensions, gender dynamics and familial relationships come into play. It's a mini series so smartly constructed, where the characters are given enough time to exist, and interplay, allowing for the canvas to be drawn, and fully flushed out. As a result, the show feels pertinent, allowing for issues like Brexit, xenophobia, gender dynamics, to come into play, and feel part of the active discourse, and not just stapled to the story for relevance seeking. The cast is uniformly excellent, showcasing in particular the always wonderful Carey Mulligan to create a strong and resourceful character. The director S. J. Clarkson, builds a coherent tone to the entire show, one where the style is gritty enough to be in the vein of "Prime Suspect", while still retaining its own identity. A very good show worth watching.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Movie Name: Brawl in Cell Block 99
Year of Release: 2017
Director: S. Craig Zahler
Stars: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Marc Blucas, Don Johnson, Udo Kier, Willie C. Carpenter, Victor Almanzar, Tom Guiry, Clark Johnson, Fred Melamed, Dion Mucciacito, Adam Mucci, Rob Morgan
Genre: Crime, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Director S. Craig Zahler made a name for himself with his first feature, "Bone Tomahawk". His second directorial effort follows the same approach that his first feature had: a definitely B movie approach in character definition, building momentum and environment, until violence erupts in a most brutal way. "Brawl in Cell Block 99" follows the story of Bradley Thomas, an imposing man with a past, who suddenly sees himself laid off from his current job. He discovers his wife has been having an affair, but after a tense argument, they decide to patch things up, upon which Bradley also decides to go back to being a drug runner for a crime boss by the name of Gil. Bradley and his wife Lauren, soon find themselves with more money, living in a nicer neighborhood, and expecting a baby. Things take a turn for the worse, when Bradley and some new associates go seize new drugs, and are discovered by the police. Bradley decides to do the right thing, at the cost of his associates, which puts him in a tough spot when he goes to prison.
S. Craig Zahler is slowly carving out a reputation for himself with his first two features, which have received some critical praise and the attention of some well respected directors. His aesthetic and point of view, is one that definitely recalls a mix of Don Siegel, Michael Winner, both of whom were directors who became associated with gritty and urban crime stories (with somewhat low budgets). This B movie aesthetic, typically means the stories are a lot more straightforward in their approach to character definition, in the pursuit of the violent satisfaction that lies behind the hero's journey, typically one of vengeance (and the audience by extent). "Brawl in Cell Block 99" goes in a similar direction, allowing for the situation in which Bradley finds himself in, to be slowly built out, particularly as the pieces keep getting more dramatic as the escalation gets worse. It's a film that doesn't bring anything new, but it has a "grindhouse" tone to it, which makes it watchable. It also provides Vince Vaughn an opportunity to create a character that is different from his typical role. An interesting, even if forgettable film from a director with potential.

A Wrinkle in Time

Movie Name: A Wrinkle in Time
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Ava DuVernay
Stars: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Evans, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Pena, Andre Holland, Rowan Blanchard, Conrad Roberts
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1
View Trailer

Prolific director Ava DuVernay is back, following her high profile previous directorial efforts, "Selma" and "13th", which were met with great critical accolades. "A Wrinkle in Time" is the adaptation of the book by Madeleine L'Engle, and is a big budget extravaganza hailing from Disney. The film follows the story of Meg, whose parents are brilliant scientists. They're on the verge of finding out a way for humans to travel across time and multiple dimensions, much to the disbelief of the scientific community. They're also about to adopt a baby boy, whom they have decided to name Charles Wallace. The story then takes a time jump, and four years later, Meg is a somewhat antisocial student, while Charles Wallace has turned out to be a prodigal young boy. Their father has disappeared, which has caused much distress on the family. Out of nowhere three fantastical women appear, all with tremendous power and insight, who open the gateways to a different universe. They want to help Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin, uncover what has happened to Meg and Charles' father. On this quest they'll have to vanquish both this ominous dark force, named "The It", and simultaneously find the strength within to get back home.
"A Wrinkle in Time" is a well known book, that has been adapted without much subtlety and apparently without much sense of taste. The story, which revolves around multiple universes, ends up being summarized in this screenplay, by a young girl finding her father, who has disappeared and is captured inside an orange square, seemingly frozen by his own fears. It's a film that overly simplifies what could have been a potentially life affirming and heartwarming story of a young girl coming to terms about her own resourcefulness , and how to overcome a gut wrenching situation. It ends up being manipulative in the worst possible way, and also nonsensical, without ever giving the story a sense of wonder (apparently the way you express excitement upon landing in a new planet, is by running down the hill with your arms wide open, closing your eyes while you're doing it - and hoping you don't trip). Visually the film is equally all over the place, with some crude visual effects, and a taste level that leaves a lot to be desired (which also extends itself to the choice of soundtrack, which is predictable and a whisper away of overreaching). In a way, this film took all the lessons that Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" had provided, and actually made it worse. It's hollow, saccharine, and instantly forgettable. A miss.