Swiss Army Man

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Swiss_Army_Man

Title: Swiss Army man
Year: 2016
Director: Daniels
Lead: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe
Rated: Rated R for language and sexual material.

Be yourself. That seems to be the moral in first time feature directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s (known professionally as Daniels) film Swiss Army Man. The film stars Paul Dano as the film’s protagonist, Hank and Daniel Radcliffe as the lifeless, flatulent corpse, Manny.

The film begins on Hank in the middle of a suicide attempt after being stranded on a deserted island only to be interrupted by the discovery of a seemingly lifeless corpse. Come to find out, it’s not entirely dead. We then follow Hank and the corpse, Manny on a journey to get home. The film is surreal, bizarre, funny and oddly enough, very touching and deep. Daniels vision is very clear as is their directing style. The film won best directing at the Cannes film festival and it’s very clear why. The film quickly picked up the nickname of “the farting corpse movie” very early in it’s screening life. It was not taken entirely serious and was also subject to many early walkouts. However, when I watched the film I felt sorry for those audience members who walked out because they simply did not give this film a chance.

We live in a world where being different is looked at as weird or bad. If you are different than the rest of the crowd, you are quickly labeled a black sheep or an outsider. Swiss Army Man makes the case that just because you are different you aren’t necessarily weird or wrong, you are unique. It’s a soapbox film for being yourself and embracing your oddity. Daniels film makes its points clear in the first act and throughout the rest of the film up until the end it succeeds completely at clearly communicating what its about. That’s hard to say about films these days where plots and morals are lost in flashy on-screen action. This film not only succeeds in being true to itself, it does so while being so 100% original. I can truly say I’ve never seen a film like this in my entire life and I’m pretty sure that I’ll never see another film like it.

Swiss Army Man is a beautifully shot, acted, directed and scored film (it was scored by Manchester Orchestra). It’s completely original and it says something about being unique in a world where being unique is rare and frowned upon. Basically, it’s a unique film about being unique. It’s also one of the best films I’ve ever seen.

8.5 out of 10

 

 




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Title: Boyhood
Year: 2014
Director: Richard Linklater
Lead: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
Rated: Rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.

 

If you have not heard about Boyhood yet, let me quickly bring you up to speed. Boyhood is an epic film that follows a young boy from the age of 5 to 18. While that may sound very average, or un-noteworthy, let me add an extra kick of spice to this sauce. The film took 12 years to complete. Richard Linklater elected to shoot this film a couple weeks out every year for 12 years. He used the same cast for the entire film, no recasting was done. He also wrote the film as he went, paralleling the lives of the actors. In an interview for the film, Linklater said that sometimes, he would finish the script for the scenes they were shooting the night before they would film. Essentially, what this all means is that Boyhood is the most authentic coming of age film ever made.

I will start this review with honesty; Boyhood is probably the best movie I have ever seen. Obviously that statement is somewhat subjective, and it certainly does not mean that you will feel the same way. That is the beauty of art; everybody looks at artwork differently, brings their own life and experiences into account, and reacts differently. But for me, Boyhood, is the best movie I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of movies.

I have heard the argument that the fact that the film was shot over 12 years is a little bit of a gimmick. That argument in itself is somewhat flawed. In 1958, one of the great directors of horror films, William Castle, released his film, Macabre. Castle offered a $1,000 insurance policy to anybody who died during a screening.  Castle struck again in 1959 with his film, The Tingler, where he rigged various seats in a theater so that they would vibrate during intense moments in the film. Wait Until Dark in 1967 starred Audrey Hepburn. At the end of the film, when Hepburn’s character breaks all of the light bulbs on screen, theaters were instructed to turn off the emergency lights.

Those are all gimmicks.

Committing to a 12 year production schedule and actually following through with it is not a gimmick, it is a commitment. Boyhood feels a little bit like a window into a life. Coltrane’s character, Mason, feels like a real person. Being able to watch him grow up in a span of 3 hours is an incredible experience. Some fiilms try to span that sort of age gap but rely on recasting their lead in order to age them, it feels somewhat disjointed, you know that it is a different actor and it makes it more obvious that you are watching a movie. That does not happen in Boyhood, you are given the most honest representation possible by seeing these people age in real life. It allows you to simply watch the story unfold without making it obvious that some time has passed. It makes the story more real, and more credible.

The acting in this film is really great, I will say that it didn’t start off that way. Some of the performances early on were slightly weak on behalf of the kids and Patricia Arquette. This is the part in the review where I compare the film to the Harry Potter series. The kids were sort of awful actors in the first couple of movies and got consistently better as the series wore on. They got better because they learned as the years went by and honed their craft. That is what happened in Boyhood. The actors got better, and their performances got much better. The film got better as it went on, mostly because of the acting and the writing. Side note, Ethan Hawke is a legendary actor, he is great in this film

Not only is this film an onscreen coming of age story. This film lends itself so well to what was happening offscreen and how the filmmakers were growing as well. Every aspect of filmmaking improved as the film went along. The acting got better, the writing got better, even the cinematography got better as we moved forward. We are not only watching the actors grow, we are also watching the filmmakers grow with them.

I loved the directtion this film took, it was great listening to the soundtrack which pulled songs from each era and inserted them accordingly into the film. I am very close in age with Mason so I lived those years at the same age that he did which was fun to watch and relive some of those moments. It’s a film that feels very real life, almost as if we are another character in the film. Like we are in the room with Mason and his family throughout the film, just watching them live.

It’s hard to describe this film as any one thing because it really is unlike anything we have ever seen before. Everybody should see Boyhood. 10 out of 10

p.s. do not let the R rating deter you from allowing your 17-13 year old kids see the movie. It’s all stuff that they are going through in their lives, no reason to turn them away for that. This is another Kings Speech rating blunder my the MPAA.




 

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Title: Her

Year: 2013

Director: Spike Jonze

Lead: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams

Rating: R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity.

A man falls in love with his operating system.

This movie is the most original movie I’ve seen in recent memory, it’s so much more unique and different than anything that’s been made lately. Spike Jonze does so many things well in this movie, it’s a very bizarre premise that is navigated through flawlessly. The semi-futuristic world that this movie is set in is so genuine and real and not, like many other films, in your face futuristic. Deep down inside, this movie is not about the future or how somebody would go around having a romantic relationship with Siri, but how we connect with each other on a fundamental level. What I took from this film was that so many people are enveloped by their technology that they miss what’s right in front of them. It’s about the fear of human relationships for fear of being hurt. All of these themes are so well communicated through this film. It’s something that we’ve never seen before and in this day and age is so completely relevant because of the rapid pace in which technology is advancing.

Her is so well acted. Joaquin Phoenix reminds me in this film why he is one of the greats. Scarlett Johansson also surprises with a voice only performance that just oozes with brilliance through the speakers, her voice is so beautiful and her reactions are so genuine and real. The cinematography in this film is brilliant, it’s so beautiful and unobtrusive, the colors are so warm and bright and some of the shots in the elevators are pure brilliance. I do also have to address the special effects in this film. Some of you may be aking, “What special effects?” Exactly, it is almost impossible to tell, but LA was given some extra buildings and the video game with the cute, foul-mouthed little alien was awesome. I will continue to use the same adjective because it is so necessary, the effects were extremely unobtrusive, just like everything else.

Her is an outstanding example that we are in another golden age of cinema. The film is original, in some cases original doesn’t necessarily mean great, but Her is original and beautiful, it’s a career defining film for Spike Jonze, something he can certainly hang his hat on and something that all other film makers can aspire to. Expect to see this film late into the awards season, you gotta see it.

9 out of 10




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Title: Inside Llewyn Davis

Year: 2013

Director: Joel & Ethan Coen

Lead: Oscar Isaac, Carrie Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman

Rating: R for language including some sexual references

A week in the life of a floundering folk artist in New York’s Greenwhich Village.

Over the years, Joel and Ethan Coen have become known for their “what’s the point?” sort of movies. This attribute is most evident in films like Burn After Reading and A Serious ManInside Llewyn Davis is very much a window into a period of time in somebody’s life, it doesn’t really have a beginning and it doesn’t have an end. The film simply exists in it’s own bleak, hopeless world. Llewyn Davis (Isaac) is our poor soul who is, by his own words, tired. One thing the audience does not realize from the start of the film is that this week is just one of many that are all to much the same. Llewyn lives a life so much like that of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Weeks blur together in painful struggle, cycles repeat as he fights to make a name for himself in the folk scene. By the end of the film, not only is Llewyn tired, but so are we, and what’s even more troubling is that this film closes with literally the same scene that it opened on, Llewyn wakes up in the same bed and starts a new week the same way the last week started, leading us to believe that this new week is going to be just like the last; troubling, tiring and just plain hard.

The film is beautifully shot by Bruno Delbonnel. There are tons of overexposed whites and dark blacks, everything is very bleak and cold. There is a shot of a cat sitting on a window looking out into the grey of the world, it is one of the best shots I’ve seen in awhile. The music is also one of the best soundtracks in film history, carrying on the tradition of great Coen brother soundtracks that started with O Brother Where Art Thou. T Bone Burnett does an amazing job with assembling some great artists including Marcus Mumford to make a wonderful group of original songs that so seamlessly fit into the era that is recreated in the film. The acting is great, Isaac is fabulous, it’s very evident how tired he actually is, his reactions to the hardships in his life are extremely genuine. Carrie Mulligan is pissed the entire film, which at points almost becomes overbearing and over-dramatic but doesn’t. She walks the fine line very well. John Goodman is amazing as always, he plays a handicapped jazz musician with whom Llewyn hitches a ride with to Chicago. He offers an odd bit of comic relief as a grumpy lunatic.

Overall, the film is quite fantastic if not a little bit depressing. It does a good job of accurately depicting the folk music scene in New York in the sixties, the era seems genuine along with the workings of the music business and the struggle of a musician in an over-flooded genre.  The film is most definitely worth seeing. 8 out of 10




Title: Django

Year: 1966

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Lead: Franco Nero, Jose Canalejas, Jose Bodalo

Rating: NR

A coffin-dragging gunslinger finds himself in the middle of two feuding factions in a struggle for control of a town.

So I have to dispel some preconceived notions about this film. It is in no way similar to Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”. It’s more of a “Fistfull of Dollars” clone than anything. The only thing the two movies have in common is the intro song and the name of the lead character.

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Title: Death Proof
Year: 2007
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Lead: Kurt Russel, Zoe Bell
Rated: NR

A stuntman hunts down and kills beautiful girls with his “death proof” car.

Never has a director come along and redefined and owned every genre he has ever dabbled in until now. Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Django Unchained) can literally take any genre of cinema and make a movie that sets the bar for every future film to follow. Death Proof is no exception. Quentin takes 70’s driving movies that played in grindhouses and made it a 2000’s driving movie that plays and continues to play in your memory. This movie is a germ. It gets in your brain and won’t let go for awhile. Everything about it is infectious; the music, dialogue, cars and stunts are all so on point that it won’t let you go even after you’ve finished watching it. I do have to say that when watching it for the first time, it did play a little slow which really got me down, but let it go, you’ll get into it and it will blow you away.

This is one of the best car movies I’ve ever seen, the stunts and effects are so good that you’ll find yourself wanting to re-watch just the car scenes. I’m just going to say this: The car chase in this movie is the best car chase in film history. It’s so ballsy and so insane that you’ll be sweating the whole time. The acting is pretty incredible with lines being delivered so crisp and rhythmic that it might just be one of the better written Tarantino movies out there (a case could be made that Tarantino movies are all the best written movies around). Zoe Bell plays herself in this film, if you don’t know who she is, she was the stunt double for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, she’s tough as nails, you’ll see why in Death Proof. Kurt Russel is so awesome, he is scary and all kinds of crazy in this movie.

Like I said, Quentin has taken our memories of 70’s “b” movies and added this one to the top of the list. Death Proof is the second half of “Grindhouse”, a project by Tarantino and his best friend Robert Rodriguez. It was a double feature presentation that was meant to resemble the double features of the drive-in age. The two films were played back to back with fake trailers in between, including one for “Machete” which Rodriguez went on to actually make with Danny Trejo. The two movies even replicated the scratched film and missing reels that were ever present in grindhouses during their time. Grindhouses got their names in part because they would repeatedly “grind” film prints through the projectors 24 hours a day, damaging them beyond recognition. It’s really a fun treat that adds some character to the movie and is also a great piece of work by Tarantino’s late friend, and main film editor, Sally Menke. Check this film out, it’s incredible. 9/10




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Title: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Year: 2011

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Lead: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Hurt

Rated: R for violence, some sexuality/nudity and language

 A retired British Intelligence agent is forced out of retirement to hunt down a spy within their ranks

 You know when you take a test and you come across a question that is completely perplexing that you simply cannot answer; you struggle and struggle to pull the answer from deep within your brain but you just can’t do it. You finish the test, turn it in and head straight for your notes; you scan and scan until you finally find the answer and when you do you sigh at how simple the answer was, you slap your head knowing that you should have known that answer. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (TTSS) is that question and the ending is the answer.

 The film is so complex with so many odd continuity breaks. The story is not linear but it comes off as trying to be told in a linear form. There are bits that simply don’t seem to work with the rest of the story but eventually tie back in, but never really meant enough to be told.

 If that previous paragraph didn’t make a lot of sense to you, then you have a fractional feeling about how I felt while watching TTSS. The story tries to be more complex than it has to be. It could have been more conveniently stitched together to withhold the complexity while still being extremely accessible to the viewer. Granted, the film is based on a book that I haven’t read, so I can’t give testament to whether the book is also very difficult to understand, but the movie most certainly is, and it could have been an easier story to tell. This film fortunately was so beautifully shot that it somewhat made up for its “herky jerky” storytelling method. I love symmetrical shots (Huge Wes Anderson fan) and this movie had plenty of awesomely planned out shots. The film was slightly under-saturated and smokey looking which helped me believe the period in which the film was set (cold war era). The acting was pretty stellar, Gary Oldman was solid (as always). He plays a very subdued, ex-intelligence agent that gets pulled out of retirement to hunt down a mole in the British Intelligence. He doesn’t speak much but when he does, it matters. Tom Hardy and Colin Firth were very good, but I personally think that Benedict Cumberbatch stole the show. He played a character Peter Guillam who seemed to be below board at times and a little bit shady, but then at other times seemed to be a really upstanding guy really close to the head of intelligence. Needless to say, his character was a very solid representation of how confusing this film really was. Cumberbatch should get a supporting actor nomination when the Oscars roll into town.

 I recommend seeing this movie if you enjoy movies like The Good Shepherd or Good Night and Good Luck. If you see it for any reason, see it for the cinematography and all the old British cars (Classic Minis!) The “R” rating is warranted, there is a pretty unsettling torture scene and some extremely graphic dead bodies shown. I expect this movie to get a few important nominations for Academy Awards including Best Actor in Gary Oldman, Best Picture, Best Director in Tomas Alfredson and probably a couple other technical awards. 7.5 out of 10




Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells

Title: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.
Year: 1998
Director: Guy Ritchie
Lead: Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham
Rated: Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexuality and drug content.

Four friends find them selves in deep debt to a wealthy and powerful “businessman”. They only have a week to come up with the money.

I have just recently discovered how awesome Guy Ritchie actually is. His style is unrivaled, and his stories are almost flawless. The way that he can bring several story lines together and create huge on-screen moments is absolutely awesome. LSTSB is a super cool British crime movie that has Guy Ritchie all over it, he has about 4 different story lines and great transitions in between them. The story itself is pretty comical; these four friends lose a bunch of money to a sex shop owner and only have a week to pay him back, so they have to come up with the money. They end up getting a break when they overhear their neighbors planning to rob a few weed growers. Long story short, the money changes hands about four times and ends up in the most unlikely persons pocket. The ending of the film was awesome, it reminded me of the Michael Caine Italian Job (If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m saying). The camera work in this movie is cool, some pretty neat shots, I especially enjoyed the shot when Eddy loses the money and is walking out of the gym all dazed. Its really awesome. I definitely recommend checking this out, its Guy’s first feature, so its a perfect way to introduce yourself to his style. 7.5 out of 10




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Title: Limitless
Year: 2011
Director: Neil Burger
Lead: Bradely Cooper
Rated: Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language.

 A man acquires super brain power with the use of a mystery drug.

 I went to see Limitless with two of my friends the other night, and I can say that I was the least excited of the three of us to see the movie. I can now say, however, that after the credits rolled, I was probably the most impressed. I expected to see a cookie cutter Hollywood thriller, but what I got was an extremely stylized, “Fight Clubesque” suspense, action film. The film started at the end (or so we thought). I’m always fascinated with this, and the use of this method was very successful. The writing for this movie was great. The story was brilliant, I did however, think to myself during the movie that there were some really unbelievable scenes, but then I was able to justify it by reminding myself that THIS WHOLE MOVIE IS FAR OUT! The style that Burger used to tell the story was really quite crazy, lots of nauseating fish-eye shots and these really blinding, never ending dolly shots that seemed like they traveled the entire distance of Manhattan. His style did seem to step on the story a little bit, but ultimately, it was simply awesome, and like I said, it reminded me a lot of Fight Club. Limitless should definitely not be passed up if you have the chance to see it. Its a pretty wholesome movie. 7.5 out of 10




Kings Speech

Title: The Kings Speech
Year: 2010
Director: Tom Hooper
Lead: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush
Rated: Rated R for some language.

 King George VI must become the man his country needs.

Let me start by saying that this film should not be rated R, and every person from age 10-100 should see this movie. Its so historically relevant that I’m surprised the story was not told like this sooner. Everybody will get something out of seeing this film, and I call it a “film” out of utmost respect. This film is perfect. I say that without any level of exaggeration. It is everything I look for in a movie. It has not only a beginning, a middle, and an end, but it has a flawless level of storytelling to get from point “a” to “b”. It has actors that play their parts as if they are the characters themselves. It has a vision that hardly any films have, it is absolutely beautiful to look at, and it is by far, my favorite for best picture. Lets start with cinematography, because that is what hooked me from the opening frame. It is pure brilliance, the framing is impeccable, each character and object is lined up so perfectly that you could watch this movie with no sound and be entertained. The opening speech is filmed so well that its near indescribable. Colin Firth steps up to the microphone to deliver the closing speech at the British Expo, nervously studies his enormous crowd, pauses for an irregular amount of time, begins to speak, stammers, again, and again, the crowd begins losing faith, the movie begins. Its shot so well, close up of the mic, of his mouth, shots of the radio room, of the crowd, its foggy, its tense. Later on in the film we are treated with offset framing of characters with great backgrounds. I could go on, but you get the idea, its perfect. The acting is so fantastic, I have never seen Helena Bonham Carter play a character as soft and loving as she is in this movie. The writing is also great, just the perfect balance of humor and seriousness. This is where the R rating comes from, which bums me out so much. The scene that takes this movie from PG to R is the minute or so where Colin Firth’s character repeatedly blurts out every swear word in the English language while trying to break his stammer. He is prompted to do this by his speech therapist who asks if he stammers when he swears. It becomes humorously apparent to us as the viewers that he indeed, does not stammer when he swears. The “F” word is said roughly 11 times in an extremely short amount of time. If not for that vital piece of story, this movie would be PG. In closing, Tom Hooper has created a perfect movie, all things were done perfectly right. The Academy Award nominations definitely reflect his accomplishment. The Kings Speech was nominated for a remarkable 12 Academy Awards including Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actor in Geoffrey Rush, Best Supporting Actress in Helena Bonham Carter, Best Actor in Colin Firth, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director in Tom Hooper, and Best Picture, along with some nominations in technical aspects. 10 out of 10