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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Blade Runner: The Final Cut Review

Blade Runner: The Final Cut Review
2007 (theatrical cut released in 1982), 117 minutes
Rated R for violence and brief nudity

I just re-watched a version of Blade Runner tonight.  I had seen the very good director's cut years ago and then today, I started watching the theatrical cut and switched to the final cut because of the flat, lazy voice-over.  What a great decision!  This version is the version that Scott had full control over and with it, he did a great film full justice.  He changed some things here and there, but mainly, he brightened up the film.  Before, it was dark and grainy, but now (and especially because I watched the BluRay) it is vibrant, bright and crisp.  The film looks new and fresh and without the bland voice-over, the movie works well and the mysteriousness and ambiguity are there once again.  

Blade Runner works so well for so many reasons.  The acting, especially by Harrison Ford, is great and Rutger Hauer excels as the film's main villain.  The story is genius as it questions what it means to be alive and human.  The characters' humanity is prevalent in every scene and the main few are three-dimensional.  Blade Runner also does something smart and original by placing a traditional film noir plot into a sci-fi setting making this one of the greatest neo-noir films.  And, it doesn't even take place in the present or past.  While everything else gels, the best parts of the film are the special effects and production design which blend brilliantly with Vangelis' electronic score.  The special effects look as good as any that are done today and blend in some product placement very cleverly.  The production design of neon lights and grime make the world of 2019 Los Angeles really come to life. 

Overall, the "Final Cut" of Blade Runner is a must-see for those that love their sci-fi mixed with philosophy.  Seeing Blade Runner's influence on modern sci-fi films is very interesting and is especially evident when watching Luc Besson's The Fifth Element.

-Joshua Handler

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shame Review, Rewritten

Shame Review, Rewritten
2011, 101 minutes
Rated NC-17 for some explicit sexual content

Some films are like pieces of candy: empty calories.  Some are like a breakfast bar: nutritious and satisfying.  Some others, however, are like a new flavor: unconventional and fascinating.  One such film is the second feature film by co-writer/director Steve McQueen, Shame

Shame stars Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a successful man in his thirties who has a sex addiction and is unable to have a meaningful romantic relationship. One day, Brandon returns to his apartment to find that his self-destructive sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), has moved in.  As Sissy stays longer and longer, we learn more and more about Brandon, and we see both of their lives spiral out of control. 

The most striking aspect of Shame is its performances, particularly that of the incredibly versatile Michael Fassbender.  I typically get bored after seeing an actor in multiple films in one year, but Fassbender has such a magnetic screen presence and is such chameleon that I relish every opportunity I get to watch him turn into another character.  Playing such varied roles this past year as Magneto in X-Men: First Class and Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, he strikes again with a brilliant performance as Brandon.  In Shame, Fassbender creates an interesting personality using very little dialogue, an approach others have used recently to great effect (e.g. Javier Bardem in Biutiful).  Fassbender uses his face to convey volumes of emotion, building despair and shame.  In one scene, Brandon is sitting in his room, trying to avoid the sounds of Sissy making love with his boss.  Curling up on his bed in the corner of his room, we see a pained expression on Brandon’s face that suggests a troubled past.  Though not specifically mentioned in the film, Brandon and Sissy’s characters are developed in ways reminiscent of those with a past of sexual abuse.  Brandon has been unable to satisfy his sex addiction since Sissy moved in, making him increasingly desperate – a man in active withdrawal.  This scene, among many others in the film, epitomizes the genius of Fassbender.  Without saying a single word, I could hear his voice. 

Fassbender’s performance is matched only by the direction of Steve McQueen.  McQueen, coming off of his critical success Hunger (also starring Michael Fassbender), has created a vision and a style all his own.  McQueen makes the film as realistic and raw as possible, and he achieves this through long takes while keeping tight control over the film. In a scene when Brandon is on a date at a restaurant, McQueen sets the camera by the table and films a large portion of the meal with no edits.  This realism emphasizes the rawness of this story.  I felt like a fly on the wall while watching Shame.

Shame’s screenplay, co-written by Steve McQueen and Abi Morgan, adds to the genius of the film.  The beginning and end are like bookends, an elliptical structure befitting of the rest of the story.  Each scene is completely wordless as facial expressions take the place of dialogue, conveying a large message with a hard impact. For the screenwriters to use a dialogue-free method to show the meaning of their film is impressive. In an age where movies must have rapid-fire dialogue to keep audiences interested, it is comforting to see that some writers don’t feel the need to conform.

Shame is a film built on ironies.  In the beginning Brandon tries to seduce a woman by simply looking at her.  He believes that she is flirting with him and fails to notice her wedding ring.  Yet, when Brandon confronts Sissy about her affair with his boss later in the film, he yells at her for not noticing his boss’s wedding ring.  Subtle ironies such as these add to the power of the film as they add humanity to the characters.  With these ironies, the film says that addiction can only be controlled when the addict can step back and gain some perspective on his actions.  If not, he will be as lost as Brandon and Sissy.

Even though this film was nearly perfect, it did have one minor flaw: the pacing was a bit slow in parts.  For example, an overlong take of Brandon jogging briefly lost my attention – a minor flaw in a major film.

Shame is the equivalent to a new food that is unique and distinctive.  I had witnessed a dark and intense aspect of humanity. By the end, I was full.

-Joshua Handler

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Deep Blue Sea Review

The Deep Blue Sea Review
2012, 98 minutes
Rated R for a scene of sexuality and nudity

The Deep Blue Sea is the new film adapted from Terence Rattigan's play starring Rachel Weisz and directed by acclaimed director Terence Davies.  It is set "around 1950" in London and follows Hester (Weisz), a woman who cheats on her older, caring husband with a passionate, but cold navy officer, Freddie.  Hester is a woman who cannot find the perfect.  Each man represents one half of the perfect man.  Her husband represents the caring side of a man that the fragile Hester needs, and Freddie represents the passion and carnal part of the man that Hester needs.  But, because Hester is torn between the men, she cannot decide where to go and falls into a depression.  

This film succeeds on so many levels, the main being the atmosphere.  Most films cannot ride on their atmosphere, but in this film, it is the driving force.  Davies uses a very old-fashioned manner of camerawork for this film to evoke the period.  The opening shot is of a building and the light outside shining bright.  The camera then swoops up the building showing the first floor, then up a bit more to Hester staring out the window.  It looks like a classic 1940s or '50s melodrama.  Each shot has a nostalgic and cozy, but cold haze over it showing a city shrouded in tragedy.  The set design is meticulous and detailed, but is nothing extravagant.  And that is the genius of it.  Simple, but beautiful.  The camerawork complements the sets and together they, unlike Hester's lovers, form one gorgeous whole.  The opening 10 minutes are comprised of a series of mysterious and haunting flashbacks over classical music.  What follows is a non-linear story about Hester and her problems with her men.

Rachel Weisz is great, as always, in this film.  After a breakout Oscar-winning performance in The Constant Gardener and a powerhouse performance in the disturbing The Whistleblower, she has done it again.  Instead of forceful power, she plays Hester as a broken soul, divided between two men.  She is luminous, and even though her Hester is fragile, she still has a sharp punch in her.  A common theme with all of the characters in the movie is that they are all stuck in their wartime selves or .  Hester's lover, Freddie, is stuck in naval officer mode.  When the war ends, he loses his purpose for life and doesn't know what to do with himself.  Hester had purpose when she was with her husband, William.  In the most haunting scene of the film, Hester stands in William's arms, looking comforted, in the London subway.  Many others are down with them due to an air raid and to reduce tensions and pass time, everyone is singing "Molly Malone."  Davies' camera pans across the scene in the subway.

This film, I thought, showed war's effect on a city.  Everyone was in a sort of dreamlike state and after the war was over, no one recovered.  Davies made this a wonderfully uncompromising romance, but with his uncompromising style comes some risks.  While Davies almost completely succeeds, the movie's glacial pace is sometimes too glacial.  But, maybe that is what Davies is trying to accomplish.  Maybe he is trying to show how life barely moves in a war-ravashed city.

Overall, The Deep Blue Sea is a very good film with Davies' distinct style and his obvious passion for cinema.  Unless you love art films, do not see this film.  This will definitely be one that I would love to revisit in the future.

-Joshua Handler

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods Review

The Cabin in the Woods Review
2012, 95 minutes
Rated R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use, and some sexuality/nudity

The Cabin in the Woods is a very clever horror film by first-time director Drew Goddard.  The film was written by Goddard and Joss Wheadon (Serenity, The Avengers).  It is about a group of people that go into a cabin in the woods, and then the movie goes out of control bonkers after that.  But, to tell you what happens next would blow the fun.

Goddard gets very good performances out of his cast and it is obvious that they all had a blast making this film.  What truly sets this movie apart from all of the millions of by-the-numbers horror films out there is its unpredictability and its inventiveness.  I have seen multiple horror films that are satires on the genre, but none quite go as far and as crazy as this one.  What this movie does is it deconstructs every aspect of a "cabin-in-the-woods" horror movie (like The Evil Dead) and offers an explanation as to why everything happens (i.e. the rise of the dead, the smoke and fog in the woods).  Director Goddard has a very tight grip over the first two-thirds of the film, then lets it go crazy, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  The insanity at the end is incredibly fun.

Overall, Goddard and Wheadon succeed in creating an original and entertaining film well-worth viewing. It delivers the chills, thrills, and the laughs in equal numbers.  I guarantee that you will have a good time.

-Joshua Handler

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Titanic 3D Review

Titanic 3D Review
2012 (originally released in 1997), 194 minutes
Rated PG-13 for disaster related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality, and brief language

Titanic is one of the greatest films ever made.  James Cameron, with a bottomless budget, a phenomenal cast, and a vision made a worldwide phenomenon, the second highest-grossing film ever made, and an 11-time Oscar-winner.  He melded together a romance story, a historical drama, and a disaster story.  With every cliché in the book and a melodramatic plot, why does this movie work and why have hoards of people flocked to the theatre to relive the experience of the film?  This will not be a critical evaluation of the film, but more of a discussion as to why this film has achieved the success it did and why I love it.

Titanic has something for everyone.  If you like romance, you can view this movie as the romance of the century.  If you like history, you can view this as a historical film.  And, if you like special effects and action, then the entire second half of this movie will be more than suiting.  This movie worked so well for me and excelled where Cameron's next record-breaking hit Avatar failed.  In Avatar, I could not have cared less about the characters.  They were not relatable and the story behind them was recycled.  In Titanic, Cameron builds three-dimensional characters of Jack and Rose and I cared for them every second of the movie.  When the ship starts to sink, I truly wanted for them to survive.  Yes, their star-crossed love story has been told thousands of times, but the history behind their love story is fascinating.  The sinking of the Titanic was an interesting and horrifically tragic event and seeing it reenacted is mind-blowing.  Another place where Titanic excels over Avatar is in terms of Cameron's passion for the story.  In Avatar, it seemed as if he was trying too hard in conveying an environmental message and too focused on the effects that he forgot about everything else.  In Titanic, it is obvious that Cameron knows the extent of the tragedy and tries his hardest to show in all its horror the cost of human life.  During some heart-wrenching scenes while the ship is sinking, he focuses in on certain individuals holding on to their last moments of life such as an older couple in bed with the water seeping in around them.  The passion was obviously there when James Cameron made this film and created the scenes, whereas in Avatar, the passion was caught elsewhere.

The second half of the movie where the Titanic sinks is one of the most compelling and horrifying scenes in film history.  Rendered with nearly flawless special effects by Cameron and crew, they show the full terror of the sinking.  Hardly anything looks fake and he makes sure that you see the size of the ship.  She was massive.  Absolutely massive.  The way Cameron wove the special effects with the human actors and the set are unreally good.  Though the film is 15 years old, it has not aged at all.  The 3D is also very good, adding depth to the film and truly making it feel as if you are in the movie.  Was it necessary?  No.  But, is it good?  Yes.

As I type this review, 100 years ago to the minute, the Titanic was sinking into the depths of the Atlantic ocean.  1514 people died simply because there were not enough lifeboats and that the crew did not load the lifeboats to capacity.  To remember those people, see Titanic.  It is a film for the ages and one that is necessary to see on the big screen.  R.I.P. those that lost their lives with the Titanic.  

-Joshua Handler