Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

My rating: 4 1/2 reels out of 5

Snowpiercer is the kind of movie that will resonate in your mind for days. It is a smart, thought-provoking, and an entertaining film from director Joon-ho Bong (best known for his film, The Host, no not the one based on that Stephanie Meyer book). Joon-ho creates a very detailed world about a failed global-warming experiment that forces the last people on Earth onto the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the world. On this train, a class system evolves that suppresses those who live at the tail of the train, which leads to an uprising lead by Curtis (Chris Evans).

The characters in the film are richly deep. Every single character had depth and a story behind their eyes. Some of the villains you just want to hate and they don’t even say a word. One of my favorite characters was Grey (Luke Pasqaulino), a hero who didn’t say much in the film but he kicked all kinds of ass. Among the cast is also Tilda Swinton, always embodying the roles she plays, she delivers as an awkward government official. The always great, John Hurt, playing Gilliam, a mentor to Curtis. But the scene stealer for me is Chris Evans, you think you have Curtis figured out but his choices he makes later in the film really defines the kind of person he is.

Snowpiercer moves very smoothly. There is one scene where the film went to a strange and weird place. I suppose that scene just felt uncomfortable for me but the scene was necessary for the overall premise of the story. Like most post-apocalyptic stories, the focus is on humanity and usually it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of what we’re capable of. We are violent animals who are willing to do whatever it takes to survive. Snowpiercer deals with themes of fate, destiny, and religion. Everyone has their place in the world. There has to be balance in order to survive. Being a savior to people requires sacrifice.

Snowpiercer is a rare blend of smarts and action. Aesthetically pleasing. It will surprise you when you least expect it to. Take a break from mindless blockbusters and go watch this movie!

My expectations: Was expecting just a run of the mill post-apocalyptic movie but I definitely got more out of it than I expected.

Re-watch value: I could easily watch this again.

Recommendation: I can recommend this film. It is a bit on the violent side, so if you don’t like those kind of films, might be best to stay away (you wuss!).

Memorable: Snowpiercer is the kind of film that will stay with you forever.

300: Rise of an Empire

Eva Green steals the show but can’t save regurgitated script.

300

My rating: 2 1/2 reels out of 5

300: Rise of an Empire contains some typical Hollywood mistakes you can make with a sequel. The first mistake was taking a good part of a decade to make a follow-up. The first 300 movie was 8 years ago. I can’t really think of a sequel that exceeded its predecessor that took more than 3 years to make after the initial movie (at least not any off the top of my head, feel free to provide examples). As an unwritten rule, if it has been more than 3 years since the previous movie than maybe a sequel wasn’t the best idea to begin with.  The second mistake was basically rehashing the story of the first movie from a different perspective. I saw this movie a long time ago, except it was about the Spartans, now we are seeing the movie from the Athenian perspective. I was hoping for a united Greece versus the Persian army and the actual war but that’s not what we get. And the third mistake is taking what worked well in the first movie and beating  our heads with it. Dramatic elements of the first movie are reused and slow-motion shots were really cool in the first movie, but it could’ve been used more sparingly. You get tired of slo-mo shots after the first five minutes. This movie could’ve been so much more but ultimately was disappointing.

When we last left ancient Greece in the first 300 movie, we were seeing a united Greece army marching to war against the Persians. If you were hoping to see such a battle, be prepared to be disappointed. The events in Rise of an Empire take place during the events of the first 300 movie, but from the Athenian perspective. Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) must hold off the Persian navy commanded by the vengeful Artemisia (Eva Green). There are some plus sides to this movie and Eva Green was one of them, and not just because we see some revealing body parts of her. Her character had the most character development and depth. She was a villain that you could empathize for. The rest of the cast does a pretty good jobs themselves. The biggest part of this movie that suffers the most is the story.

The story suffers because it was something we had already seen, a small group of Greeks trying to hold off a large persian force. I personally wanted to see what took place after the Persian army marched into Greece. Maybe the filmmakers really wanted to focus on Artemisia, being the most interesting character in the movie. They did develop Xerxes a little bit more in this movie but it was to help develop Artemisia more as well.

The way I see it is an example of Hollywood not taking risks and feeding us what they think people would like to see. They seem to just take into account the newer movie goers rather than pleasing regular movie goers. It’s the reason why older films getting remade, and it’s the reason why sequels get made. With how well Rise of an Empire is doing in the box office, we could probably expect a sequel. Let’s hope it doesn’t take more than 8 years to make and let’s hope it’s not the same movie from another perspective. Rise of an Empire could’ve been a better movie, but instead we get more Hollywood regurgitation.

My expectations: Regular expectations that were not met.

Re-watch value: There’s probably only one part that anyone who loves Eva Green would watch again *wink wink*.

Recommendation: Go watch the first 300 movie instead.

Memorable: I’ll remember how much I was disappointed with this movie.

Sundance Review – Whiplash

Winner of U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic and Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Whiplash

J.K. Simmons fiercely instructing Miles Teller

My rating: 5 reels out of 5

Ever had a dream of being a great football player? A great dancer? A great singer? A great musician? Our protagonist has a dream of being a great drummer, a drummer that will be remembered forever. Maybe you are still fighting for your dream. Maybe you have given up on greatness. Greatness doesn’t come easily, you need to practice at it. Andrew practices until his hands bleed.

Andrew (Miles Teller) is 19-year old student at a music conservatory in Manhattan. Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) is a teacher at the conservatory with a ruthlessly brutal teaching style. After picking Andrew to play in the school band, he pushes  Andrew to his limits in order to realize his full potential, at the risk of his humanity.

I had a billiards teacher at one point in my life, who was close to becoming a pro in his craft but a grease fire accident changed all that. His perspective changed, to paraphrase, he realized he was becoming an asshole. He became a teacher of pool instead of becoming a pro player. Through him, I can understand what Terrence Fletcher was trying to instill into Andrew. My teacher would push me a little bit. When he gave me opportunities to show him up, “run the table now,” he would tell me, I failed. It’s embarrassing when that happens but it’s also a learning tool because more work needs to be done. You can’t get by on talent alone but it certainly helps. On the other side of it, I saw a little bit of my teacher in Andrew. Losing who you are to perfect something you love. Good thing my teacher realized before it was too late.

I lost myself in the story. It had something to say about not settling and asking more of yourself. Two fantastic performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. Perhaps it will push you to maybe pick up that guitar again, put on your ballet shoes, or hit the gym to bulk up. Whiplash is an incredibly powerful film. And after the final shot cuts to black, the film will stick with you for days.

My expectations: Medium. I did not expect the film to be so powerful for me. Expectations exceeded.

Recommendation: Cinema lovers and casual movie goers, I believe will enjoy this film.

Re-watch value: I can watch this film again and I actually can’t wait until it hits distribution.

Memorable: I am still thinking about this film.

Sundance Review – The One I Love

The One I Love

Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) facing the unexpected

My rating: 3 1/2 reels out of 5

Couples fall in and out of love everyday. Ethan and Sophie are no different. Their marriage is on the brink of falling apart. They’ve tried everything they could to rekindle their romance including a failed re-enactment of the events that led them to fall in love. Urged by their therapist, they retreat to a beautiful vacation house, but their relaxing vacation turns into an unexpected and bizarre experience. First time feature director Charlie McDowell examines the complexities of marriage and trying to keep it together, in this original comedic drama.

People change. Their wants change and their personalties can change. We are not who we are now compared to 10 years ago. We don’t see what brought Ethan and Sophie together, all we know is how they are now. Ethan comes off as a little stubborn. As far as Sophie goes, the most horrible thing about her I can tell is that she keeps her husband from eating bacon. Relationships are a two-way street, it takes both sides to make sacrifices and commitments. When one side is unwilling to change, then the relationship is going to suffer. The most important thing to do is communicate with each other. As the story progresses, we uncover why their relationship is the way it is. Ethan is trying to keep things together but with the unexpected situation, it’s hard for him to happily accept what is going on.

Writer Justin Lader creates an original script. I was hoping the film was going to say something more than it actually did. Nevertheless, the film kept me intrigued and wondering what was going on in this story.

My expectations: Medium. Got more out of it, as far as originality, but was hoping to get something eye opening to say about love and marriage. Expectations met.

Recommendation: Cinema and dramatic lovers, I would recommend checking out this original film at least once.

Re-watch value: I could watch this film again but wouldn’t go out of my way to do so.

Memorable: Originality is always memorable.

Sundance Review – They Came Together

He came…She came…They both came.

They Came Together

My rating: 4 reels out of 5

A romantic comedy about a small business owner who is about to lose her shop to a major corporate development. However, this is not your normal romantic comedy. They Came Together is a tribute to romantic comedies by making fun of them in this hilarious spoof from director David Wain (Role Models, Wet Hot American Summer). They Came Together points out the formulaic and convenient plot points of Rom-Coms. It makes you realize how ridiculous some of these films can be sometimes.

They Came Together is filled with an all-star cast with perfect comedic timing. Characters will over-generalize their specific role in the movie. The unexpected is said, and some unexpected cameos. And during the final act of the film, the wackiness really starts to come out. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a really good spoof, and this movie happily delivers. I found myself laughing pretty hard during this film.

My expectations: Medium. I knew the film was going to point out every cliché in the book, I did not know it was going to do it in such a hilarious way. Expectations exceeded.

Recommendation: Romantic comedy lovers will love this film and people who hate romantic comedies will love this film.

Re-watch Value: I could easily watch this film again, but wouldn’t actually go out of way to do so. If a friend of mine wanted to go watch this film, I’d happily go with them.

Memorable: A memorable film.

Sundance Review – What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows

My rating: 4 reels out of 5

Living with flatmates is difficult with chores and getting along with each other. Add in being a vampire and it gets even more difficult. You have a constant need for blood and after living for hundred of years, you’ve grown out of touch with modern society. Get to know Viago (379 years old), Deacon (183 years old), Vladislav (862 years old), and Peter (8,000 years old), as a documentary crew follows them around in this mockumentary from director/writer/actor Jermaine Clement (“Flight of the Concords”).

Playing off of the older vampire myths, these vampires cannot stand sunlight, do not like crosses, can only be invited in before they enter somewhere, and they cannot see their reflections. Not being able to see their reflections makes it difficult to get dressed for a night out on the town. Not having young friends, makes it difficult to get into the popular clubs.  In order to keep the documentary crew from being eaten, they have to wear crosses. And there’s even more hilarity when a feeding goes wrong.

What We Do in the Shadows is a hilarious film that will have you laughing from beginning to end.

My expectations: Medium. All I had to go off of this film was that it had the guy from Flight of the Concords. A show I never really watched. Got a lot more than I expected.

Recommendation: Casual and regular movie goers will enjoy this film.

Re-watch: Easily re-watchable. A very fun film.

Memorable: A good one to remember.

Sundance Review – The Raid 2: Berandal

One of the best actions films in years

The Raid 2

My rating: 5 reels out of 5

Despite the excessiveness of violence in The Raid  movies, I can’t help but love them. There is just something about them that is captivating. For me, I think it’s because the filmmakers believe in making the films as real as possible with no special effects. It’s hard to imagine what these actors and stuntmen are going through. That’s probably why these films have become the best action films I have ever seen. In The Raid 2, we move out of the confines of a building and move the action onto the streets of Jakarta. More open space, and even more potential for awesome action sequences. Taking place after the events of the first movie, Rama goes undercover in order to keep his family safe. By infiltrating the mob, he hopes to uncover the dirty cops that are on the mob’s payroll. 

When I saw that this movie was going to be playing at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, it was my highest priority to see this film. I saw the first film at 2012 Sundance and enjoyed every single second of it. When the first film hit regular theaters, I was disappointed by the theater attendance. I initially saw it with an auditorium full of people. Feeding off each other’s energy, the audience would all cheer at the same time and all gasp at the same time. Even with a small crowd when I watched it again, the audience would react the same way but it wasn’t quite as intense as a full crowd. Berandal will open in theaters in March and perhaps more fans will attend when it opens but I wanted the Sundance experience for this movie. I wanted the full crowd. I love when a film can engage an audience fully. The action in the film is intense, so intense that it apparently made an audience member faint up at the premiere in Park City. And talking with my friend who was an usher in the screening I was in, apparently someone left to throw up.

The action in The Raid movies is jaw-dropping, breathtakingly intense, and brutally realistic. One audience member commented to director Gareth Evans during the Q and A after the movie, that the action sequences felt like a dance. Which was true, Gareth Evans commented back that there was a rhythm developed for punches and kicks, and that the way he edited the film was important. Gareth Evans and the stunt crew create beautiful ballets of death and violence. Among the fight sequences, there was some very creative camera angles and shots. Filming was dangerous for everyone, from the actors to the cameramen, to even director Gareth Evans himself. From some press photos, a fellow writer noticed that a car came dangerously close to the director. A lot of sweat and work was put into each action sequence and it shows. The first fight scene is very intense, and it only increases and builds up from there. It builds up to an amazing car chase sequence and an incredible final fight sequence.

With a 2 hour and 28 minute run time, director Gareth Evans had a lot more time to develop characters in this movie. Not that he needed a lot of time to develop characters, there was some side characters that were developed quickly even without the use of dialogue. Some characters you develop empathy for and then there are some characters that you are glad they meet their brutal demise. The story moves at a good pace, good balance between character development and action. The story went in a direction I wasn’t hoping it would go but it was told so well, that it didn’t matter.

Director Gareth Evans didn’t have enough budget at the time to make Berandal, so he made a lower budget movie that would eventually become the first movie. Berandal was a more complicated movie than The Raid. There was a lot more characters to develop, the story is more in-depth, and the action sequences were more complicated and tougher to execute. And Berandal was able to execute all three of these elements flawlessly. Not to say that the first movie was easy to make. It’s a toss up to say which Raid film is better. I love them both! Berandal gives you much more of what you wanted when the first film ended. It’s absolute thrill ride!

My expectations: High. I was definitely expecting some beautifully choreographed fight sequences but my biggest curiosity was how they were going to handle the story outside of the action sequences. I enjoyed each and every character and the story. Expectations were exceeded.

Recommendation: The violence in this film is not for the squeamish. Action movie lovers will love this film.

Re-watch value: Despite the brutally realistic violence, I can watch this film again and I can’t wait to see it again.

Memorable: An unforgettable film.