Tuesday, January 30, 2018

So, I Made a Fan Trailer

I reviewed The Amazing Spider-Man the day it came out, and I really liked it. The review is full of grammatical errors, but I wouldn't change a thing about the original post. I've thought a lot about expanding that review and writing about the sequel and Homecoming, but the bias is...strong.

The objectivity is there, and I can talk about it all day, but I couldn't write the scathing review Amazing Spider-Man 2 earned or the 4/5 Homecoming gets simply because the filmmakers were burdened by not repeating what audiences have seen before and ties to the MCU. We kicked and screamed for this, but it had drawbacks. It's acknowledged, but then everything else about this latest iteration is given an extra boost.

So, what should be done when there's more to say, but movie magic must be maintained?

Fan trailers are a way to go, and Homecoming paved the way for me to (re)learn editing, after one course on it in college, and make one:

The editing process was rough, especially audio, and I do plan to come back to the video at some point for touchups.

The same goes for this post and Spider-Man reviews as well. There's just always something to revisit with this franchise, whether it's requested or not.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Prestige (2006)

First, watch it twice. If you can, wait roughly a decade between viewings. It makes a difference.

Occam's Razor, or the idea that the simplest explanation is usually the right one, isn't just at the center of Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, but it should be at the center of Hollywood. In the age of big budgets and cgi, the simple camera tricks still are enough. The real legwork begins in pre-production because Occam's Razor doesn't mean create and endless stream of remakes, no matter how complete those scripts start.

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are competing magicians with different approaches to the art. Angier is more cautious, but feeds of the admiration of a crowd. Borden believes in pushing the art and understand that it comes with a price. Yet, both lean on the same showstopper, "The Transported Man," and its many innovations and interpretations.

The film takes audiences through these scenarios, weaving in and out of each, across the long lives and careers of Angier and Borden. It's not always clear when an event is happening, but little details become memorable thanks to strong performances from Jackman and Bale, and this allows pieces to come together when needed.

Supporting the leads are some of the best performances from Michael Caine as Angier's engineer, Cutter, Rebecca Hall as Borden's wife, Sarah, and Scarlett Johansson as Angier's assistant, Olivia. If Angier and Borden are too cold to follow...they don't help things.

That's why the second viewing helps, it was easy to focus on how terrible Angier and Borden are too each other. This time around, the focus was on terrible they were to others, but their better sides came through as well. Just two good men brought down by obsession. A difficult thing to watch, but with hope.

The Prestige, shows that when obsession takes root there are glimmers of hope, and (more concretely) ways out and compromises that can be made so that the thoughts subside at least a little, if not completely. Typically, obsession is shown as more inner torment and situations are all-or-nothing. This gives the outsider's perspective. For people who deal with obsession internally, watching The Prestige may frustrate them, but it may help as well, as the credits roll and the conclusion sets in. There's a clear line, and while that line may move, it's still there and can be stepped away from.

The Prestige, like "The Transporting Man," is a great mystery, but it boils down to a few things, too. Fantastic performances from its cast, continuity editing that doesn't call attention to itself (the time jumping does that enough), beautiful sets, and brilliant storytelling. It's not a trick, but solid filmmaking.

Spy Hard (1996) [Short Review]

While Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, released just a year later, has more memorable characters, Spy Hard may be the better film.

With a style humor closer to Airplane and Leslie Neilsen taking the lead, Spy Hard is rapid fire comedy, instead of prolonging jokes at the risk of killing them. The problem with the spoof genre is the feeling that filmmakers given free reign to be absurd leads them to not care and try anything. Luckily, that's hardly ever a problem here, and when Spy Hard goes too far, it's not really painful.

Spy Hard holds up surprisingly well, and even the dated jokes (except for one that'll be seen as racist today) have some standing on their own, like a sequence related to Home Alone. At one point the movie even ahead of its time, when bringing up the state of the country.

For people who aren't sure about seeing it, start with the theme song by Weird Al. If he can't convince you to check it out, nothing can.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Hitman: Director's Cut (2007)

When adapting material to film, is it better to be faithful to that material or make a great film, if both aren't possible? The question of which audience to alienate has plagued Hollywood, and the answer most likely changes based on the time and the movie. Xavier Gen's Hitman tries to balance both, but ultimately gambles on putting one side over the other.

Hitman tells the tale of early Russian espionage (as opposed to the current, real stuff), as a upcoming re-election of their president, Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen) attracts the attention of the CIA, Interpol, and FSB (Russia's CIA). The "Hitman," Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) must take out the president without being witnessed. The hit doesn't go as planned, and gamers are treated to the story of what happens when the restart button isn't an option, but all other options are waiting to be explored.

Htiman moves quickly, and luckily coherently, from set piece to set piece, as it captures the tone of the games almost perfectly. To start, the sets themselves are meticulously crafted and shot, pulling audiences into 47's everyday life of contingencies plans and caution, all dialogue free and in the first few minutes. Once that's established, viewers are treated to 90 minutes of 47s greatest hits as gameplay elements are crammed into the plot. Still, it works and is a lot of fun to watch because the scenes still are complete and are boosted by the film's own aesthetics and performances by the cast.

Olyphant has the difficult task of balancing the Terminator side of 47 with his deep, deep down caring side. He tends to float more toward caring, but it's brought out mainly because screenwriter Skip Woods has him teaming up with Belicoff's trafficking victim, Nika (Olga Kurylenko). The romantic angle never feels forced, but only by looser standards set by other movies. Olyphant's main problem is he talks too much, but again, he's making the role his own, and most importantly he's having a lot of fun with it. 47 has a touch of swagger this time around, and it means the sickening humor of the series can move from his targets to him this time around, as Nika is kidnapped and stuffed into the trunk of a car with a corpse.

Kurylenko's Nika is a great companion, and she works well with Olyphant. Again, it's a tough role because the obvious choices are be overshadowed by the hero or try to one-up him in a quipping contest. Instead, they're partners, without putting Nika over her head in some insane fashion. She also contributes to that swagger mentioned above, but more importantly, to that caring side. 47 doesn't usually have anyone to bounce anything off of, and it's refreshing.

Action-wise, it's a mixed bag. Stealth moments happen throughout, thank god, but the more direct approach has editing issues. Fights are edited a little too hastily when it's more than a one-on-one battle. They start fast, but then settle into the pace they should've been building to. It's weird. It's not as bad as improper use as shaky cam, but it would've benefited greatly from a stylized approach. It's worth mentioning, however, that it inspired a future game mechanic.

Fox took a risk with Hitman, one they'd take again with Assassin's Creed in 2016. The key difference is Hitman was able to maintain its faithfulness and follow the key lessons of Filmmaking 101. It's not a perfect picture, but it's feels like a complete picture.

(Edit: Made a mistake. It’s the Unrated Cut, not Director’s Cut)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Loving Vincent (2017) [Short Review]

Loving Vincent is a beautiful detective movie that is able to downplay the tried and try mystery aspects, and instead it respectfully bring the victim (Vincent Van Gogh) front and center.

Many frames in flashback scenes look like real photographs, they move and become shots that look like live-action film. Cut to the next scene and you're reminded of the painstaking work that went into this movie.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Steven Spielberg threw everything into the kitchen sink with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and it shows, with an alien movie that tries to have it both ways. It feels like both a big adventure/road journey and what is typically expected from the genre, something much more focused and local. At times, it feels like he bit off more than he could chew, but if at any time the audience feels lost, focusing on the filmmaking aesthetics and how they've been homaged and built upon over the decades can help pull viewers back into the story.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind shows how different people react to the possibly of incoming otherworldly contact, and why they may do it. Some are just looking for answers (Roy, played by Richard Dreyfuss), some are secondary victims of abduction (Jillian, played by Melinda Dillon), and some are the military and government, who come off much better in this movie than the genre typically allows them to.

Starting with that, the military and government are given a light touch in Close Encounters. They do their job, and some of their actions are reprehensible, but they're humanized, and not the "robots" that typically fight and dissect the martians in these scenarios. There's a feeling of unity in Close Encounters that relaxes, but also raises the tension when it's realized that all the humans are on the same side, but is everyone in the movie on the same side?

Going into the aesthetics, the first thing people may pick up on is the use of light. It's beautiful, calculated, and arguably in one scene it creates one of the finest jump scares in cinematic history. The language of light and music is comparable to the recent movie Arrival (2016), which focused on language and communication in its plot.

The effects and especially camerawork are top notch. Little things like how a scene is blocked and edited go a long way in maintaining engagement. One scene that stuck out was when Dreyfus is interrogated by scientist Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) and his assistant Robert (Lance Henriksen). When Claude or Robert are speaking the camera always keeps both of them in frame, emphasizing that unity needed to ground the film. Also, closeups on either of them would have created unnecessary cuts in a scene that demonstrates that less is more.

Less however isn't enough when it comes to the ships and aliens. Douglas Trumbell (Visual Effects Supervisor) and Carlo Rambaldi (alien designer) nearly overwhelm with spectacle, trusting that it won't be too much. The ships are incredibly detailed, beautifully colored, and bathed in a warm (very warm) glow. What keeps this from becoming too much is the initial opening of the film. Close Encounters starts with a slow burn tone, but doesn't exactly maintain it. How people feel about that is up to them, as the uptick in speed comes with a spreading out in plot.

Close Encounters could have used a little more focus as it feels a little unsure where it's going, even though it actually is. All that's lacking, or feels lacking, is breaks to check in on everyone else in the film. It's frustrating, but it's only an issue on the first watch. Rewatchers will be rewarded with time to go into the mind of Roy, his family, Jillian, and others.

Roy's a great everyman, searching for the truth and shrugging off nearly all others in his path. Dreyfus makes him his own with some humor and the way he interacts with his kids. Speilberg's father-son tropes, for lack of a better term, are mostly sidelined here. However, when they come out it's heartbreaking.

It's tough to imagine how people will react to extraterrestrials, if or when the time comes, tons of movies have captured the scenario (seemingly) pretty accurately, but Close Encounters feels like one of the first to explore all aspects of what may happen. It's not all invasions and slavery, but it's not all peace and love either. It's a great mix, like this movie. All excellent, if a bit all over the place, too.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Life (2017)

When (human) life is created, it can be become anything. Life, successfully, tries to be everything. Daniel Espinoa's space thriller takes a lot from Alien, Gravity, 2001, and, most likely others. However, it's only enough for the audience to get initially engaged in the film. After that, it's the best kind of bumpy ride, rivaled only Space Mountain.

Life is about six astronauts who find an advanced human specimen, that slowly, but surely, turns of them. Survival quickly becomes the backup plan, when it's clear that keeping the alien away from Earth is the top priority. These characters take that extremely seriously, and it benefits the film immensely. Life doesn't feature any stock characters. People could certainly be fleshed out more, but enough time is spent with everyone so there's someone for the audience to latch onto. The actors had a difficult challenge, having to act scared, believably human, pretend they were in a zero-gravity environment, and perform an opening long take that bests Gravity in its complexity. The standouts will vary person to person, thank goodness, but Jake Gyllenhall and Ariyon Bakare up there. It may be because there characters can be the toughest to identify with, but again, that can vary.

The alien, named Calvin by some STEM-centric elementary schoolers via a webcam (this is a very sweet movie sometimes), is a wonderful creation. His evolution and behavior is literally put under the microscope, and every little detail of the cgi-beast looks seamless. He may look a little like a Xenomorph or Predator, or a symbiote, in some shots, but there's enough original design around his face to balance that out. On the Xenomorph side of things, Calvin may be more deadly, and this is illustrated through some interesting first-person shots. This is also where some of the 2001 influence comes in, along with some of the most gruesome space deaths on screen.

This is not a horror film, but it is a violent, R-rated one. There are no jump scares, but there are buckets of free-floating blood, which could definitely freak out some people. If you can get past that though, you're in for a treat because this is one of the few thrillers that can take every opportunity to slow down without loss of momentum. That sweet moment with the STEM kids isn't the only one in the film, there are little touches like that here and there, as a character is mourned, or a gut-wrenching decision is made.

The ending may seem underwhelming, and upon rewatch Life may have some major plot holes that shouldn't be overlooked, but at least at first glance, 2017 brought another breath of fresh air to one of genres that instinctively tightens throats.