Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Quiet Place (2018)

A Quiet Place doesn't string audiences along through tension, building it from the beginning until the scares ultimately pay off or fall flat. Instead it starts with an actual sense of security backed by the film's family. When the monsters appear, we're with this family as tightly as they're with each other, through thick and thin.

John Krasinsky's film is directed extremely carefully, as the premise dictates. It relies on characters, a couple (Krasinksy and Emily Blunt) and their three children (Noah Jupe, Cade Woodward, and deaf actress Millicent Simmonds), making as little noise as possible to avoid the detection of blind monsters with extra-sensitive hearing. Every movement is deliberate to create as little sound as possible. And the use of sound, and shots, is completely engrossing, but loose enough to create needed breaths of fresh air every now and then.

A Quiet Place is surprisingly not scoreless, thanks to composer Marco Beltrami, and speaking is as crucial in the film as communication is in real life. Sign Language is used throughout the film, but what's surprising is what's being signed can be every so slightly heard sometimes by some characters. The variances in the language are brought out through moments like that and shows, if only for a moment, security has broken through the tension. Your heartbeat may spike at a moment's notice, but it is not toyed with.

The family, however, is toyed with. Krasinksy is not starting with a perfect story, as writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck pull the rug out from under the family with a tight grip every once in a while. The monsters aren't given an unfair advantage, it's just whatever starts a potential attack, to a certain extent, is avoidable, sometimes it's frustratingly avoidable. Once that is out of their hands though, the movie doesn't add insult to injury by placing the family somewhere like a wind chime factory. In fact, great care is taken in showing that their environment is the anti-wind chime factory, with many everyday objects they use replaced with paper and fabric versions, so it evens these "get the ball rolling" moments out pretty well. The only other cheap shot like this that stuck out was some exposition, but at least it was given visually. The history of the monsters and the family's situation is slammed in the audience's face a little harder than it needed to be with some shots that could've been cut.

On that subject, the use of shots, by Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, beautifully display the Hudson Valley and upstate New York (parts were filmed in the same county as my college). What's displayed is quite an original site, aside from the woods and beautiful mix of natural and nighttime lighting. Krasinsky and his crew imagine new pits of terror and impersonal, environment-based torture. Those impersonal moments are heightened when the audio-centric monsters, designed by Jeffrey Beecroft and Scott Farrar, attack. The shots are too. Whenever the camera is on them, there's a want for it to stay there, to study the design. It should be considered an honor. One given to the Xenomorphs and Heptapods, and many in-between, that came before.

It's not necessary to encourage viewers to watch where they're going upon exiting the theatre. They'll be doing that on their own, at least until they start driving or return and feel comfortable to crank the volume on something, anything, to make sure they've snapped out of it.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)

Back in December I said that the 2007 Hitman film, "was able to maintain its faithfulness [to the games] and follow the key lessons of Filmmaking 101. It's not a perfect picture, but it's feels like a complete picture." As a reward for its effort, it deserves a better trailer. That project is on hold, but I have a good start on it.

The 2015 film, Hitman: Agent 47, directed by Aleksander Bach, doesn't deserve a fan trailer, it doesn't deserve the sequel it tries to tease, but it doesn't deserve pure hate either. It at least has a few things going for it.

First, and most importantly, the basic story is simpler and easier to follow from the start. Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) is protecting the daughter, Katia van Dees (Hannah Ware), of the man, Dr. Litvenko (CiarĂ¡n Hinds), who creates agents.

Well, the basics are simpler. Writers Skip Woods and Michael Finch try to give the movie a heart and soul by giving this characters connections to each other that are a little ridiculous and arcs that are underdeveloped. Ware is forced to go from would-be victim to assassin on par with 47 in a short time-frame, but she's written like a bumbling sidekick a little too often. When she does come into her own, she's great, but seeing where the inspiration for her may have came from, there were better options. If the filmmakers wanted to pull from the games, specifically Hitman: Absolution, they should have made her more competent from the start, or, like that game, made her a kid who's either hidden away from the villains for most of the movie or allowed to make rookie mistakes. 

Second, the actors are pretty good. Friend makes the role is own and is very different from Timothy Olyphant's Agent 47, who had some swagger and humor. This time around 47 is scarier, more intimidating, and truly uncompromised. Ware, again, is best when she's allowed to be. Other than that, she's just solid. Zachary Quinto's agent hunter John Smith is mostly a good match to Friend.

The problem with Friend's Agent 47 is he's an ass for no reason other than because that's seemingly the only way to sell killing machine. He regularly puts people, including Ware, unnecessarily in danger, threatens children (at least not directly, but through their parents). He's just not a fun guy to watch most of the time. He's an overcorrection from eight years ago, to the point where scary is more like a killer in a horror movie more than a man just doing his job. It's clear in the shots that show him by himself, from a distance, standing absolutely still.

Third, the hand-to-hand combat is well-shot. It may cut too much, but it's tough to get lost in what's going on, and it's another area where Agent 47 could've just fallen apart. The fights can be pretty fun too, the best ones being between Friend and Quinto. On paper they may sound boring, since two killing machines fighting dredges up memories of Terminators, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which I watched earlier today), but their skills vary enough to keep it entertaining.

Other action scenes are ridiculous and there's a noticeable lack of stealth in Agent 47. The most appalling examples involve intentionally blown cover in an international embassy, a blown-up helicopter, and stopping an opponent by throwing a random bystander into him. The point of making movies under this license is it's supposed to inspire something a little more thought out than that, unfortunately it didn't this time. 

So, some good, some bad, and some ugly. Throw in some intrusive product placement, cinematography that's all over the place, and two out of a handful of jokes that work, and at least it has its moments. 


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.