Cinema-Maniac: Carlito’s Way (1993) Review

Al Pacino and Brian De Palma collaboration brought one of the most iconic gangster to film with “Scarface”. A film that would define both of their careers making “Carlito’s Way” a unique enigma. While both are about man wanting to be better then he is both are the polar opposite in terms of tone, atmosphere, and pacing. In the end “Carlito’s Way” doesn’t surpass “Scarface”, but neither is it inferior in any noticeable way.

Carlito’s Way is about a Puerto Rican former convict, just released from prison, pledging to stay away from drugs and violence despite the pressure around him and lead on to a better life outside of N.Y.C.. Moving along at a slow pace “Carlito’s Way” tells an engrossing story. Allowing enough time to develop every major player that come into play in the story. Getting across every character history with each other, how each one lives, and interweaving each conflict into a single narrative that never becomes lost among many of its characters. Filled with a wide cast they never undermined our main character, but instead build upon Carlito’s character who doesn’t follow a traditional narrative. What we don’t see is the rise of Carlito to power, but instead we do see is the traditional fall. What makes this fall different is fully understanding Carlito’s world how he sees it and how he goes against the image given to him. Yes we know the outcome of Carlito’s life in the beginning of the film which in no way detracts from it story. It’s a quite a feat to make a thrilling climax when the outcome has already been shown. It seems the plot would have gotten everything right if it weren’t for stock characters. Sure the stock characters are well developed from the drug addicted best friend, crooked cops, a promising new young criminal, and many more unfortunately play out like a cliche. At its heart “Carlito’s Way” story fits B movie territory where’s it biggest strength lies using it towards its strength and not so much as a concealing weakness. It might be retreading familiar ground with stock characters helping you connect the dot faster than the plotline, but getting to the already known destination is an engaging character piece.

Director Brian De Palma acknowledges that “Carlito’s Way” is one giant slice of cheese with style. He pushes every motion and emotion to operatic proportions, ringing every ounce of drama. With its impeccable compositions, precise camera work, glacial tracking shots, baroque tone, sublime action sequences, and flamboyant acting, this is a film in love with its own form. Al Pacino’s performance as Carlito is the heart of the movie. Compelling, tough, and intelligent from years of dope dealing and soaking up the gang-land atmosphere around him. Framed by a jet black beard, Pacino spends the film always dressed in black, navigating his death dream like a fallen angel. Pacino spends the film alternating between a stance of fast-talking macho posturing and one of melancholic regret. He wears the face of a corpse, of defeat and acceptance, his flashes of confidence a hip old mask which doesn’t know if its going or staying. Then there’s Sean Penn as Kleinfeld, a scheming, vain little man who starts off seemingly as legitimate as a lawyer of criminals, but as we soon learn, he has slipped into a world that he has no place to belong in. Kleinfeld, with his balding, curly hair and nervy, cranked voice. However, when the viewer looks into his eyes, both terrified and ravenous, one can understand the pathway to excess that most conventional crime movies take for granted.

Carlito’s Way is a slow and engrossing character driven crime drama that will keep you watching even though you know the fate of the main character in the beginning of the film. Well directed and well acted Carlito’s Way will absorb you into its world and characters all the way through the end.

9/10

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Cinema-Maniac: The Starving Games (2013) Review

At this point among filmdom (or whatever you choose call it film planet, film world, film committee, etc.) it’s common knowledge to avoid anything by the duo of Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg. These two greatest contribution to cinema have always the years they didn’t release a film. Unfortunately at this point in these the duo along with the people giving them jobs refuse to use their brains make a competent comedy.

The Starving Game is about Kantmiss Evershot fighting for her life in the 75th annual Starving Games. Like the duo previous films its plagues with the same issues; outdated film references, no comedic consequences, no pacing, non existence plot, absent of characters, to stupid to make fun of, beating a dead horse with every joke, and wasting the audience time. That’s the whole film in a nutshell, but where it fails the most is being a basic parody of “The Hunger Games”. It does not understand the definition of the word parody. That would have been asking to much from the writers who predict Lady Gaga will become president in the future. Instead of poking fun the film “shaky cam” by simply having a film crew capturing the action why not make a semi-political allegory on the Hollywood system downgrading intellectual properties. Then again, asking for actual minimal effort from the writers that only use “The Expendables” and “The Avengers” as throwaway gags instead of actual participants is a bit too much to expect. Now that I think about it that would have been a whole lot better, but who am I to judge the brilliance of movie where Kantmiss missing Peter as a giant cake next to her in the middle of the woods. Well to the writers credit they did copy the stupidity of that scene from the actual movie…though that’s not a good thing either since it had no punch line in its delivery. Much like the film structure it seems my brains cells were not present in this paragraph.

Narratively how does it all play out? If you seen “The Hunger Games” try to imagine the same plot points only brain dead slowly killing your brain cells being filled with unfunny overused jokes. Kantmiss offers herself to participate in the Starving Games (although everyone looks well fed, another miss point to satirize), Kantmiss faking her romance with Peter, underdeveloped little girl who helps Kantmiss gets kicked to death (let that sink in), underdeveloped romance, Kantmiss and Peter in a standoff finale. Talk about being uncreative stealing directly from the source material this duo is “satirizing”. I will admit this film did make me laugh one time with a fake commercial for a hamburger (a mixture of pizza, ice cream, buns, vegetables, and other things). However, that joke is soon forgotten when M.I.A. appearce play the earrape known as “Sexy and I Know It” and the I don’t understand humanity anymore popularity of Gangnam Style being killed off. Not that these musical references (including Taylor Swift) have no comedic purpose other than being completely superficial to the film just like its creation. Filled with incoherent sight gags, fart jokes, pointless pop culture references, and anything you could imagine from a duo set on destroying any fiber of humor. At least the acting talent despite being given awful material are okay. Diedrich Bader, bless him, who despite the godawful material he’s given, still commits to his every line. Likewise, star Maiara Walsh has brief glimpses of talent, but they’re usually spoiled a few seconds later by whatever cheap trick the movie has her doing next (like bird poop being thrown at her).

The Starving Game like it title will suggest leaves it does not fill its audience stomach for comedy. Saying this is for the lowest common denominator is an insult to the lowest common denominator. Even at under 83 minutes it fails to have enough material to support itself let alone entertain an audience. In vein of a bad rehashed sequel the duo rinse and repeats every mistakes they committed unable to comprehend the basics of how comedy works.

1/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) Review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire follows Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem. Structurally “Catching Fires” sticks too closely to “The Hunger Games”. We go from District 12 to the Capitol and the training period and then into the Games. The “been here, done that” vibe is inevitable, but improved upon its predecessor is in character development. Characterization strengthen the film structure from what’s already a tale of love, faith, strength, and humanity against the system into a compelling tight narrative. Spending time building its world to understand why this future is in constant conflict and seeing the effect our characters actions have on the world. Touching on the difficulty of being a living symbol through Katniss; who has greatness thrust upon her uncertain on what exactly to do with that power. It’s this conflict that makes Katniss a dynamic protagonist fighting what she believes is right versus what is seen as being right. Not only are major characters given more depths, but minor characters leave an impression including those specifically designated to be plot points. Some scenes are specifically written as comedy relief to ease the drama before the hunger games. While the film ending does only serves as buildup what came before is more than satisfactory for a complete narrative.

As for its political side the film lacked subtlety. Its in your face with moments designated to discussing Katniss position as a symbol in a revolution, a public execution of a revolutionary, what’s at stake defying the government, what previous freedom was lost, and many aspect are constantly present throughout the film. It does so without shoving down any sort of message down its viewer throat. Thought provoking it is not barely exploring the government sides of politics beyond wanting more and maintaining that power. A missed opportunity no doubt, but nothing noticeably damaging to the film narrative. The undertone romance between Peeta and Katniss which no longer remains underdeveloped is an undertone political one. Controlling the image of influential figures while in context subtly hides its intention with a double meaning. One might simply past the romance aspect of being nothing more than a romance, but doing so is missing another layer of added humanity. Katniss love interest are more than just guys she likes, they are metaphor; choosing temptation to live in a bubble away from the world problem with lip service versus being part of the world taking position in its conflicts.

Francis Lawrence direction borders on if its isn’t broke, don’t fix it mentality to the material. Rather than recreate everything Francis Lawrence merely expands on all ideas and makes them clearer and more concise. There is continuity from a change in style, tone, and authentic that doesn’t alienate it from it predecessors. A large part of continuity also works is because James Newton Howard music utilizes all of his prior thematic material to bring you back into the world. With Howard’s score, and Francis Lawrence’s direction, it makes the film feel familiar both aurally, and visually. The action scenes themselves work narratively, but the set pieces are empty of any creativity and ferocity. Once a promising setup is in place for an action scene the film falls victim to a standard execution of them playing like a straight cliche; playing around the idea one of our heroes drowned, the sacrifice after carrying someone destine not to survive for long distances, shooting a lethal projectile (in this case an arrow) pointed at an ally to hit an enemy behind ally, protagonist losing grip against a strong uncontrollable force, sharp object narrowly avoiding hitting someone’s head, everything needed for a generic action scene are here visibly clear.

Jennifer Lawrence (the only reason I’m seeing this series) exudes the spirit of Katniss in every breath and pulse of the film. Controlling every single emotional nerve of the audience with vacant stares and dimpled smiles breaking every stereotypical mold attached to her. Josh Hutcherson balances the sensitivity of love and charm with the emotional conflict of a ravaged heart with effortless poise. The interactions between Hutcherson and his merry company form the highlights of the film, filled with the cackling chemistry. Woody Harrelson delivers a matured and restrained performance while Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne blends in simplicity. Donald Sutherland is exceptional as President Snow in his mannerisms lends a third dimension. Supporting cast includes Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. Malone in particular sets into this role that is so eccentric, so over-the-top, and manages to make Johanna somewhat relatable and real.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire improves on its predecessor even if it sticks too closely to its structure. Strong characterizations raises the stakes as well as expanding what came before it without alienating newcomers nor fans. Supported by a strong, tightly woven script, and a confident direction it improves upon the predecessor foundation refining old tricks that work better the second time around.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013) Review

A sequel that delivers more of the same can share several ranges of quality. Depending how it predecessor did it could be either good or bad if we get the same thing twice. In the case of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monster it all depends on your feeling of the original because when it comes to delivering more of the same this sequel stays closely to its predecessor in every imaginable way.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monster follows Percy Jackson and his friends embarking on a quest to the Sea of Monsters to find the mythical Golden Fleece while trying to stop an ancient evil from rising. Following suit of the original this sequel has good ideas, but rushes through them before they could even develop. Introducing several mythical creatures, new characters, and diving into established characters past without the proper time to explore them. Instead of getting into one thrilling adventure it all feels like a series of side trips. Any obstacles upon being presented is easily defeated by plot conveniences or the villain forgetting basic knowledge of our heroes. These flaws hold back any sense of danger in the heroes journey. The dialogue ranges from cringe worthy recycling of bad lines to entire scenes fill solely with expositions. What it does get right does not contribute in favor of the writing in any significant way. Never is there a dull moment moving from set piece to set piece in its own fast pace. With it’s brisk pace making it easy to look past it’s unexplained moments. Telling a simple story that’s easy to keep a track of and understand the characters even if they are not compelling. It’s has a consistent tone that isn’t fighting against itself on what to be. Like the original the story had potential that could be seen which unfortunately it never reaches.

Logan Lerman reprises his role as Percy Jackson and does another solid job. Lerman has charisma and charm to carry the film to the finish line, but when it comes to expressing his character emotions he’s given little to work with. Only seeing a half of Percy character and half of Lerman potential as an actor. Alexandra Daddario returns as well as Annabeth. Her performance allows her to portray a vulnerable layer to her strong character and a convincing chemistry with Lerman gets across the idea of a potential romance angle better than the film itself. Although she is not given enough scenes to showcase her strength like Lerman both in her character and acting. Brandon T. Jackson screen time is considerably reduced. He’s plays the stereotypical best friend comedic role well. It’s the only thing that script requires him to do. The rest of cast fare out in the same way. Not enough material work off from and not enough time to evolve their roles. Strictly delivering what the script requires of them. Solid acting from the cast, though nothing inherently deep. Thor Freudenthal like Chris Columbus goes more for modern music because when you think of Greek Mythology you want Fall Out Boy. This results in the music being forgettable with no sense of anything becoming epic. What it’s not light on is CGI effects which are passable. Every time CGI is used everything including the actor all look plastic. Sure some of the CG deliver some decent creative set piece and unique monsters designs, but doesn’t leave any lasting effect failing to pack any kind of punch.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is bigger, but repeats past mistakes with a pace that does not allow its story to take shape preventing it from reaching its true potential once again. Saying it’s more of the same is an understatement carrying over the same strength and weaknesses from its predecessor. Depending on your position on the first film should help you make the decision easier as it does little to innovate the franchise in any better or worse direction.

5/10

Cinema-Maniac: 12 Years a Slave (2013) Review

Slavery remains a troubling issue so much in fact that we feel more comfortable viewing dozen Holocaust films than a single film on slavery. It’s an certain period in human history no one is proud off and willingly attempt to prevent from ever occurring again. However, simply labeling this film with a single intention is saying very little of its true power. What many hailed as being the greatest film about slavery I dare say is an essential statement on humanity. It’s not just a film about slavery, but rather about the common man.

12 Years A Slave is set in antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Its biggest strength is being able to depict slavery how it is without feeling exploitative. This film always walks on a thin line of being one hanging, one whiplashing, one beating from being deemed tasteless. All the more praiseworthy when its difficult depiction is pulled off successfully. On paper it’s easy to sympathize for Solomon Northup just as a slave, but that was not the intention. Solomon is not just a free black man; he’s a common man, with common features, common dreams, sharing a common will for the desire to live in his harrowing endeavor. Sympathizing with Solomon for who he is and not what he became. Enduring as much as the human spirit could living and entrapped in a cruel world that coexist with his former one. Much like Solomon, we never forget the freedom we have while attempting not to lose the shred of humanity we have left as the world around become engulfed in seemingly never ending tragedies. We feel what Solomon feels and think what Solomon’s thinking. Reflecting upon Solomon with ourselves of how something like freedom no matter the world around you can be taken for granted.

Interpreted directly “12 Years A Slave” is a harrowing and even inspiring story. Beyond that interpretation are many metaphorical meanings both simplistic and in depth. The “N” word for example is not simply use as a profane word. Its first usage in the film is profoundly powerful. Perhaps for some it will be the first time ever truly understanding the strength behind this single word. Being able to reduce a loving father, skilled musician, husband, and highly intelligent human into an animal to be bought and sold. Another subtle use of metaphorical symbolism is a fiddle. What it represents is rather simple and difficult to miss. On the surface the fiddle represents freedom; however, music present another form of hidden expression. What you hear can be calmly and joyous while in context that piece of music being played comes across differently. As a form to remind slaves of their oppressive position, provide a small taste of freedom, or further reminds them of the consequences if attempting to run away. Music expresses many emotions and has the same power to conceal truth; it can be use to hide the ugly nature of the person’s intention or in this film as a form to defeat racism.

Steve McQueen direction is relentless and one of sheer brilliance. His decision in not telling the audience the passage of time directly is genius. Only giving audiences subtle visual clues on how long has time has past never eliminating the sameness of Solomon endeavor. Getting across that perhaps there is no end in sight in this dehumanizing time. Utilizing long, steady single shots to emphasize various emotions. When events on screen become their most horrifying and ugly is when his camera becomes the most unflinching. One powerful scene involves an excruciatingly long shot of a punished Solomon. When Solomon is hanging on the tree the other slaves go on with their business, seemingly oblivious to the man literally hanging in their midst, until one slave woman gives him a glass of water and meekly scurries away. Showing the true fear and power the slave owners possessed over them. Agonizing scenes like these can make audiences become increasingly uncomfortable in a situation we desire to be removed, but powerless and unable to realizing the outcome if we do. Capturing the rawest of human emotion feeling, thoughts, and seeing how Solomon views things. Even when it draws to a close were left to ponder the long forgotten thought of what does freedom mean to a free man?

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s acting excels with facial expressions you realize when he succumbed to his situation versus how he emotionally fought his sudden twist of fate. A mentally and physically challenging role becoming cold himself and attempting to conceal his own emotions completely understanding and sympathizing him. Spacing out in despair as the camera lingers onto him for solid minutes at times with no spoken words. Ejiofor I’ll dare even say provides one of the best performances not just in his career, but in one of the best of the decade. Benedict Cumberbatch portrays a slave owner yet he treats his slaves humanely. He makes you ask yourself if neutral people like him are good or bad for progress. Michael Fassbender is a raving dog one minute, and calmly ordering everyone to dance the next, he knows he can make these slaves do anything, they are toys to him, puppets. It is that controlled rage that makes his performance have an eerily threatening presence even when he’s not on screen. Lupita Nyong’o gives one of the most devastating performances. She retains a level of innocence that only heightens the tragedy of her character. The cast is flawless no matter how small or big the role is.

12 Years A Slave is brutally honest and heart wrenching for a that does not chooses to play by traditional rules. It’s more than a film about slavery and more so a statement on humanity in its gloomiest state never losing sight of one’s self. For some it’ll be difficult to watch, but even harder to accept the honest truth that McQueen presented to the world. With all the hype surrounding “12 Years A Slave” it might be easy to forget that it’s a humble film. Truly deserving of its praise, but should be seen without the hype for it never presents itself to be bigger than life. Rather it presents itself honestly with good intentions and heartfelt emotions for many who can’t share a similar story.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Hunger (2008) Review

Certain places and people are given labels that define them. Those labels are not always accurate of what they represent. In prisons it is commonly associated that the prison guards are providing protection while the prisoners are a deadly force. While not the first nor the last film to challenge that notion it is a film you experience rather than simply seeing it.

Hunger is about Irish republican Bobby Sands leading the inmates of a Northern Irish prison in a hunger strike. Like mentioned earlier Hunger is more of an experience than it is a traditional film. Minimal dialogue, a deliberate slow pace to build up an atmosphere, action speaking for emotion, and a non-traditional narrative. It shows very little of anything that occurs outside of prison working towards it purpose. Attempting to emulate the same isolation, dreary, and violent mood of the very harsh Maze prison its representing. Becoming able to get across characters psychology without much words. Slowly demoralizing the inhabitants both who are entrapped in it and those working there. Yet despite all of its desolate emotions a glimmer of hope is given resulting in a difficult viewing of Bobby Sands decaying body to serve a greater good. The hardest thing to stomach is not what the film does show, but rather what it doesn’t show. We’re introduced to a prison guard in the beginning of the film who becomes minor character. He’s never given an arc of any kind that shows his psychology or what drove him to commit his action. Another character introduced is newly incarcerated inmate Gillen whose vision of the prison never comes full circle. Gillen serves to present how one would first view the dreadful room that traps and consume sanity, but shifts in focus to follow another inmate forgetting his part of the story. Hunger does not say allot words which it makes up for how it chooses to express itself.

Steve McQueen is relentless and cold in his depiction of the Maze prison. His frequents use of one-point perspective and wide shots remain motionless for lengthy periods of time. This technique is wonderfully engrossing allowing to witness harmful treatment and environment detail for great lengths of time. Never do we see the outside of the prison, giving the viewer the impression that our characters have been locked away so long that they don’t know how the outside even looks like anymore. Becoming claustrophobic into isolationism where the sight of a cells smeared with feces becomes routine instead of seeming out of the ordinary. Another technique that McQueen uses is showing brief snippets of a scene, then cutting away, to let the viewer imagine how the rest will play out; but the key is that he never cuts too early, so that the viewer is left to imagine as to what is going on. Michael Fassbender gives an extraordinary performance as Bobby Sands: to make his hunger strike credible the actor lost weight to the point of emaciation, and yet this physical portion of his role, appalling though it is, does not compare to the nonverbal language of his face while he ends his life.

Hunger narrative doesn’t match its atmospheric strength and focus, but visually captures the harsh reality of its environment. It’s as moving as it is depressing to see becoming routine seeing the true ugliness a person’s life can be reduced too. More than just film you view as Hunger is a dreary, but absorbing atmospheric experience.

8/10

Cinema-Maniac: Koto no ha no niwa (Garden of Words) (2013)

Animation have brought to life realms far from our own grasps, but never far enough they are unrelatable from our very own. Director Makoto Shinkai vision mirrors reality from the architecture of the city to the foliage of a park with no shortage of details. Garden of Words mirrors a live action film in production in all area capturing the real world in detailed animation with the support of strong writing makes it visually arresting as narratively engaging.

Garden of Words is about Takao meeting a mysterious woman, Yukino, without arranging the times, the two start to see each other again and again, but only on rainy days. At it most basic level Garden of Words tells nothing more than a simple story of two lost souls; however, what is gain is a clear understanding of both characters lives and what they strive for. It’s hard to imagine the film going into much territory with a forty-six minute runtime, but succeeds in every area that makes any good narrative have a lasting impact. It doesn’t skipped on character development even interweaving a greater meaning giving depth to the rain as a character as well to the changes in the environments. Characters are more complicated than the story being told. Looking beyond the limitations of society sets on them, motivation to fulfill one’s dream, and overcoming boundaries set to them by society. Beyond that is another interpretation showing the beauty of everyday life to the smallest interaction around us. Nothing is ever lost in its story maintaining focus and complicated characters action are always concentrated towards benefiting the narrative. Under an hour Garden of Words story has the key elements that makes up a good story regardless of it length leaves a big impression.

Makoto Shinkai lush imagery connects a delicately rendered urban landscape, one in which the daily grind of everyday life and the regular changing of the seasons appear breathtakingly beautiful. Vivid colors, lush and deep dark shades, crystalline highlights bring the sceneries to life. Combining hand-drawn animation, rotoscoping, and seamless CGI effects. Shinkai consistently sustains a dreamlike, otherworldly mood throughout with a direction more in line of that of a live action film. For example, when it comes to editing he compresses time, flashes back to multiple points, and creates montages in a way that just isn’t done in the medium very often. The soundtrack top-notch mixing is spacious, with clear dialogue in the central channel and carefully crafted atmospheric sound effects around the edges (especially noticeable during the rain shower sequences). Diasuke Kashiwa’s lovely, contemplative musical score is also well-integrated with the rest of the soundtrack. Voice acting is equally as strong with the rest of production.

Garden of Words is a visual poem that hits all the right narrative notes and personal chords to be taken by its artistic majesty. Visually stunning and with a equaling involving story work in harmony for an animated film that accomplishes the same than most films do with double the run time. Proving no great film is too short or too long, but the perfect length to leave a lasting impression.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: American Me (1992) Review

“You’re like two people” we hear a voice say in American Me and that line applies to the film itself. One half prison film on Montoya Santana building an empire and one half fish out of water exploring Santana living outside of his bubble experiencing the real world for the first time. These two vastly different world unfold right before our own eyes are similar to our very own lives. Individuals following rules, helping one another in a community, facing consequences for breaking a path, hierarchy of power, and among other things. Asking one very important question by the end; Should we attempt to fix things we didn’t create ourselves?

American Me follows a Mexican-American Mafia kingpin release from prison, falling in love for the first time, and grows introspective about his gangster lifestyle. The story is based around true events, but when the film tells it audience some events were fictionalize it all hits home without losing any shred of impact. It’s portrayal of criminal life is not one sided only wanting to portray greed, honor, or a place of belonging. Instead it chooses to explore choices and how influential ones action can affect a generation. How something like violence becomes a common occurrence in someone’s daily life. Exploring serious themes without a scapegoat placed on person or race, but specifically culture itself. Santana says at one point in the film “What we’d done in Compton was wrong. It was supposed to be business, but came out racial”. This simple line of dialogue gets across Santana personal feelings, but beyond that translates into a greater understanding of the crime world presented. Not all act of gang violence are fueled by racial tensions, not all criminals can get behind an act of violence, and not all criminals are accepting to negative change. There is allot more thought put into it than just obtaining power. Machismo (Spanish word meaning strong or exaggerated sense of manliness) culture is highlighted in the film leading to dehumanization. Can the habits of someone life takeover them to the point the soul that drive those habits destroy them? It has those answers no matter how difficult it is to accept the answers it provides us.

In American Me we have traditional characters alongside traditional issues; however, what separates American Me from other Hispanic crime films is the highlighted theme of two. Our film begins before our main character is even born. Upon seeing this prologue one might be quick to believe that Montoya Santana father unable to view his son in a positive light is because of how Santana came out, but instead is seen differently through his father eyes. It’s not what Santana did, but the reason behind it that he represents that disgust Santana’s father. All throughout the film we’re given one way how a scene plays out, but multiple layers behind the action committed in the film allowing two ways of seeing it. What comes across as a crime film exploring the difficulty with its own lifestyle becomes relatable. Dealing with the subject of one’s own trouble identity in face of other individuals, other groups, other cliques. At length, creating or joining a clique or gang that may facilitate or solve the problem of seeking one’s own identity, purpose in life, and place in society at large. Focusing on the true core of these issues never specifically applying only to a single group. These characters and their action might be different from our own never are they to far from allowing self reflection.

Edward James Olmos spotlessly portrays the leader the highly sensitive and aware of what leaders. Emphasizing the importance in creating, maintaining a particular image for success in the clique, which is to say in controlling perceptions at large, to command as well the respect of rival group members. William Forsythe has an equally fascinating appearance throughout the movie, as a no-nonsense gangster. Sal Lopes through his exterior embodies a broken man with coldness to everything. He hints of a more trouble man hidden beneath years of scars. The cinematography is impeccable, as is the case with the sound, and musical accompaniment or soundtrack. Direction is spotless with scenes being driven with passion behind the camera. Capturing the authenticity of the story and the raw emotion of it story.

American Me is a masterpiece beyond filmmaking becoming more than a film. It’s piece of reality showing its ugliness and beauty with two different views. Bringing to light an issue all too relevant and common problems. Lifestyles or belief systems can be larger than life, larger than what humans sometimes can control themselves.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Special ID (2014)

Much in the same reign as Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat and Jet Li, Donnie Yen action roles are arguably his most popular. Although when compare to the previous three most of Yen earlier starring efforts don’t pack the same punch. Yen’s latest sadly falls in that category whenever having to endure a muddle story before getting to the goods.

Special ID is about a cop and his team of comrades going undercover in one of China’s most ruthless underworld organizations to stop a gang leader. The premise and narrative beats are standard action film affairs without a change in formula; you have the undercover cop who’s been on the inside for too long, undercover cop running the risk of criminals discovering his identity, protagonist not getting along with his partners, the superior officers who uses protagonist life for his own means, and by the end protagonist attempting to fulfill a personal vendetta. For a film that hardly strays away from familiar territory making sense of it all is more difficult than needed to be. Its plot is easy to understand, but distorted plot points never connected with one another in a seamless flow. A love interest for example is hardly touched upon even though scenes are entirely dedicated to hinting at it. Nothing ever becomes at the hinted romance providing moments of character development with the interaction contributing little. Another noticeable issue comes in the directionless writing. Tones drastically change on the spot from becoming a gritty action film to feeling like a rom-com at a moments notice. Characters like the plot itself are easy to understand, but the muddle story makes it needlessly difficult decipher. You’ll have an understanding of the relationships, the characters, motivations, but even with a clear understanding muddle storytelling prevents any worthwhile investment to be made. This film never manages to find its own identity at the end coming off as a collection of several scripts each being drastically different each in their own muddle way.

Donnie Yen is comical and naughty rascal-like acting in the film is passable, but for the emotional side of his character he doesn’t cut it. A weak script is blame as Yen does his best with heartless dramatic scenes. When it comes to Yen fight choreography it appears brutal, but doesn’t get across that feel of brutality. Every fight is restricted to being in a close a quarter and even when the action is taken outside of a building it plays strictly by the rules. Yen is the only actor who uses MMA techniques while the rest of his cast are kickboxers. This eliminates the tensity in fight scenes as Yen opponents have no idea how to counter his MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu techniques. Even in the first few minutes of the film even though Donnie Yen literally fights crawling around the floor his opponent does not know how to counter Yen moves. The only time it mixes fighting techniques is during Yen fight with Andy On. Andy On using primarily Muay Thai and variation of several others fighting styles offered more elaborate choreography. Only when On fights against Donnie Yen do the fight scenes deliver on its brutality. Action scenes don’t have the wow factor though they are well staged that provide the film the much needed energy. As for Andy On acting it’s solid selling the idea he could go toe to toe with Donnie Yen. Jing Tian provides a pretty face and impresses with her agility and flexibility. Tian might be small, but her move set makes her believable and the film climactic action scene sells her in the action role. Her acting is good genuinely the often corny and cheesy dialogue sound as good as it can.

Special ID delivers solid performances and solid action scenes, but in order to get to see those you have to endure the deadweight of a muddle and standard story. It plays by the rules in terms of narrative and action unable to find an identity of its own.

5/10

Cinema-Maniac: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

When it comes to Marvel Thor is among the most difficult character to connect with. The fact he’s a god is not major pitfall compare to how he is written and the people he interacts with that play a bigger part when investing into his story. Ironically the film has a character called Bor(e) in the prologue and despite appearing to hold importance much like everything else it all feels hollow rushing to reach the finish line without a proper treatment or care for anything it does.

Thor: The Dark World tells the story of Thor embarking on a journey to save Asgard, Jane Foster, and Earth against Malekith. This sequel suffers the same issue present in the original minus a worthwhile story to tell. Thor is intact being the overly powerful, but dumb hero whose unsympathetic. His motivation is easy to get behind, but the character himself and those around him never appear to be more than plot devices. Secondary characters serve only a specific function never branching out from that singular role. Some characters (if not all) are dedicated to expository dialogue, explaining the “Convergence” in case you weren’t paying attention the first three times it was explained, an introduced love triangle that quickly dissolve, and comedy relief that manages to become more heroic than the god of thunder. It submits to its heroes limitation in a uneventful manner. For a film that drives Thor to defy rules in order to attempt the one he loves, battles breaking across the universe, and an ancient evil with advance weaponry capable of succeeding it never becomes epic. Already mentioned are the lack of characters worth investing in and applying that notion with the villains. A superhero film is beyond repair when the main character evil brother has less screen time yet is a better thought out character. He unfortunately is undermined as a plot convenience with his powers usually in use in order to avoid a difficult narrative path. Because of this Thor life loses its weight in stakes tailoring to Thor limited capabilities instead expanding them. The same effect applies on the antagonist who has no imposing presence. The antagonist evil plan is generic, but even a generic plan is enough to support a villain if written well. Like everything else the villain is poorly written with not enough time to understand nor allow him to hold a position in the film. As a whole its a sequel that chooses to avoid anything difficult resulting in a film that not only fail to bring anything new to its world, but even further highlight the flaws of its universe in a rush pace.

Director Alan Taylor did a phenomenal job in the directing. Taylor created a detailed and well crafted world that feels connected together no matter how far it goes. His direction is the best part of the film whose talent is limited by a weak script that constraints his capable abilities. The action sequences regardless of size are unimpressive. CGI is not an issue as director Alan Taylor includes a large amount of explosions and proper framing following the action correctly, but what he cannot do is provide an investment from the audience. With the world inhabitant not receiving the same treatment as it carefully crafted universe action sequences are a hollow shell. Without characters worth investing the action set pieces are empty. Working against Taylor is having characters use sci-fi weaponry against medieval weaponry leaving little in terms of creativity. Close combat choreography is clunky and not well planned as actors perform them slowly or its either a one way thought in combat maneuvers to end the action sequence quickly. Performances are good all around, but end up being one note. Tom Hiddleston for example had potential to portrayed an emotional scene after learning tragic news, but because of the writing he does not get an opportunity.

Thor: The Dark World repeats past mistakes except this time on a empty larger scale. It is a prime example of bigger not always being better with a dimwitted superhero who never earns any sort of an attachment to match its equally dimwitted plot that expects it audiences to emotionally invest without the hard work developing anything it creates. Without question the production team, actors, and especially Alan Taylor were adequate enough to takes Thor sequel greater heights, but instead a weak, rushed, constrained script leads them to a course that only goes down.

4/10