Tag Archives: Based On A True Story

Cinema-Maniac: The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014) Review

The Admiral: Roaring Currents was a film that I never heard off, until I did research, and discovered it’s the highest grossing film in South Korea (as of now), and it the first South Korean film to make over 100 US million dollars internationally. Financially successful The Admiral: Roaring Currents is impressive on a business standpoint. From an artistic standpoint it also caught my attention. Since I live in the US, it’s weird learning that a country highest grossing film is not based on an established property, or an entry in a franchise. After learning this I looked up a trailer, and once again traits of a significant movie showed. It’s international appeal was evidence borrowing traits of a Hollywood blockbuster presenting the idea that this film is epic in emotions, epic in battles, and just historical epic filmmaking. So with my exposure to the film I decided to check it out since everything seemed in its favor. That is until the film start, and you realize beside being a expensive cinematic piece of Korean patriotism. It’s also a film that lacking in evoking epic emotions like what seen on screen.

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Stare men! Stare into the readers souls!

The first hour of the film is meant to set up the characters, stakes, and provide context for the massive naval battle that will occupied the second half of the film. Unfortunately, instead of being the grand, historical epic film it desperately wants to be it comes across as a hollow blockbuster with a historical backdrop. One thing that is made immediately clear within the film is that it paints complex political issues into a simple battle of black, and white. Showering itself in national pride proudly portraying Koreans as the good guys, and showing the Japanese they fight as the villains. Given the premise down to the bare minimum is 12 Koreans ship battling 330 Japanese ships which is best comparable to the story of David, and Goliath. It’s quite the underdog setup that if it was presented morally grey could have resonated with any audience regardless of nationality.

In the film, it makes a clear case the Japanese are evil. A Korean character says in the film their enemy (the Japanese) steal their provisions from civilians, and use children for target practice. With this single scene the film throws away any intention of representing both side equally. It would be acceptable if it ended simply by showing Japanese killing children, but the film continues showing Japanese in a negative light. Characters aren’t better off either. You could deduce whatever Japanese character is in the film is going to be presented as evil. However, the Korean characters aren’t compelling either. The film the person is centered on, Admiral Yi Sun-sin (Choi Min-Sik), receives most of his characterization through text in the first two minutes of the film. Yi Sun-sin is touted as a double agent, is tortured, and remove from his position. Afterwards, he gets reinstated because the nation of Korea needs him if they want to lose to the Japanese. With this information being the first thing you learn about Yi Sun-sin where his character could have gone is intriguing alone. As you probably come to expect from me reviewing films of this quality it’s usually not the case. Sun-sin character receives traits like contemplation of his life, national pride, and to engage in the massive battle. These contemplative thoughts aren’t explored to any great depth. They get a mentioned in one scene, and then done.

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Remember the Battle of Thermopylae men? Well, they are all cowards compare to me. 

Another character that ends up uneven is Lee Whe (Kwon Yool) who ends being the audience gateway to learn more about his father Yi Sun-sin. The conversations between these two character are the closest the film goes into character exploration. It’s easy characterization painting a clear picture of differing positions between the two. Seeing them interact with each other is interesting due to conflicting feelings on what should be done in the battle. Lee Whe understands his father, but doesn’t see the scenario in the same light he does. Leading to moments where Yi Sun-sin explains his reasoning to put his worries at ease. It display the strong bond between the two character to be able get along no the difference in thoughts in a dire situation. This relationship between father, and son never grows into anything emotionally gripping, nor tell the audience anything about Lee Whe as an individual. All of Lee Whe character is tied to what his father does in this current moment of his life so history between them not in this specific event, and time is not explored.

Finally, the last character worth mentioning is Im Joon-Young who is a spy for Yi Sun-sin (Jin Goon) who sole purpose is to gather intel on the enemy. Aside from showing a small glimpse of the Japanese oppressing the civilians of the land they conquered this is about as far as this character is taken. There’s a subplot of his possible deaf lover which would be something compelling to see, but the first time she appears on screen is to tell her man goodbye. There’s no flashbacks, or a scene where the two interact as a regular couple so it ends up being meaningless in the film narrative.

A major writing issue with the film is the Turtle Ship itself. In the film, it’s established that this ship is essential in Admiral Yi Sun-Shin strategy in fighting against a large vessel of 330 ships with his mere forces of 12 warships. What advantage, and capabilities the Turtle Ship has over a regular warship is never explained. One would think a crucial detail like that would at some point be discuss in the film. It would have been fine if the film mentioned if it had stronger armor, better canons, or anything that explains what it’s better than an average warship. It would have better correlated why Yi Sun-Shin is intent on battling with it, and so crucial in his plan.

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During production, the cast, and crew celebrated Burning Men by burning the sets.

The second half of the film consist of a massive naval battle, and yes it is awesome. It’s during this naval battle where the scale, the bombastic soundtrack, and overblown exaggerated drama create the film most engaging material. Becoming easy to lose yourself with the events of the film. Aspects of the naval battle itself are not without criticism. Like mentioned, the overblown drama during the battle is extraordinary. In the film, there’s a romance subplot that doesn’t get much attention so when that subplot conclusion comes narratively it is hollow in feelings. It also breaks character consistency since in one scene this character is shown doing sign language to talk to her lover, but during the naval battle knows what her lover is saying even he’s too far away from land to read his lips, and was presumed to be deaf. Another aspect of the battle is it will test your suspension of disbelief. Admiral Yi Sun-Shin virtually beats more ships then he likely would have as his ship survives one unlikely scenario after another. The most over the top example comes when Admiral Yi Sun-Shin ship is corner from three sides, and Sun-Shin has the idea to use canon fire to propel his ship away from being cornered. Describing this moment is far different from actually seeing it for yourself. Whether or not it’s possible for such a thing to happen I can’t comment on since I’m no physicist.

Despite the numerous issues with the extensive naval battle itself I would still defend it for being the best part of the film. Unlike the previous hour, this naval battle is focus, and gets everything right in creating a thrilling atmosphere. There’s no talk of politics. Just a epic battle that engulfs itself with extreme emotions, and patriotism. It also uses simple moments like citizens witnessing the battle itself, and reacting to it to further get lost in the moments of battle. These moments eventually correlate into an morally uplifting scene for the Koreans, and a boosting excitement for non-Korean viewers. The very lengthy naval battle in this film will go down in film history as one of the best ever filmed. Now I might as well talked what happens after the naval battle since I more or less cover the entire movie story. If it ended with the moment between father, and son, the film rating wouldn’t have changed, but the actual ending will leave some scratching their head as to why that was the closing moment the film ended on. Since nothing was established about the Turtle Ship seeing one in action doesn’t scream excitement unless you know about the Turtle Ship.

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I lost count at 54 men killed.

The film stars Choi Min-sik as Admiral Yi Sun-sin who is a terrific actor in general. In this film he puts another top notch performance. He gives his character more complexity than the actual writing itself. A simple gesture of Min-sik delaying an immediate response tells the audience there’s a lot on this person’s mind. Min-sik plays the role seriously embodying his character perfectly inspiring his men with his words to keep fighting, bold in displaying a man hardened by war, and portraying a person who reputation doesn’t make him a larger than life figure. While the film is an extraordinary underdog story Choi Min-sik portrayal of Admiral Yi Sun-sin keeps him as human as possible. So no matter what extreme scenario the character survives Choi Min-sik performance makes it easy to accept. Also, he’s Choi Min-sik, if any Korean actor deserves one film that tells everyone “I’m awesome” it’s him.

Known Yool is decent in the role of Lee Whe. His chemistry with Choi Min-sik is excellent with both actors working great of each other. Known Yool is more varied in his expressions compare to Choi Min-sik because of the material he’s given. While good, Yool doesn’t embodied his character the same way Choi Min-sik does whom he shares many scenes with. Jin Goon is okay in his role as Im Joon-Young. He doesn’t leave much of an impression because of screen time, though his shining moment is during the naval battle. Now I do like to spend time talking about as many actors as possible so they too can get credit even if the contribution is small, though this film does me no favor. Cho Jin-Woong, Ryoo Seung-Ryong, and Kim Myung-Gon are all Korean actors playing Japanese characters speaking in the Japanese language incorrectly. The Korean actors don’t make the proper pronunciation of Japanese words when speaking as sometime within the same pronounce the same words differently. It’s quite jarring, though largely will go unnoticed for those who don’t watch many films from Asia. The remaining important actors includes the likes of Kim Tae-Hoon, No Min-Woo, Ryohei Otani, Park Bo-Gum, and Lee Jung-Hyun whom all give one note performances. One has to be silent, another has to be the concern lover, and another has to be angry. With their simple portrayals they won’t live much of an impression.

The film’s director, Kim Han-Min, did an excellent job overall. His only major criticism in his direction is misusing composer Tae-Seong Kim bombastic soundtrack in the whole film. When nothing narratively, or visually impactful is happening Kim Han-Min will have Tae-Seong music playing in it. Moments that could have been effective without music lose their impact. However, in the second half the usage of music is spot on. Another aspect of Kim Han-Min direction is spot is the naval battle itself. CG is noticeable, but for the most part keeps the action up close. Despite the large scale of the battle never once does Han-Min makes the audience become confused in what’s going on. He always creative in bringing in new ideas into the naval battle making sure it never becomes boring. This naval battle is probably going to be the technical achievement of his career. Another aspect worth praising is the film stellar cinematography bringing to life some memorable images, and the sets, and costume designs are good as well.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents is an epic film without equally sweeping engagement. As an historical film it simplifies the actual events into good vs evil. There’s no shame in the film hiding patriotism, nor the unequal portrayal of the enemies. Along with with story pieces, and character that don’t have much to them to captivate the viewers before the massive naval battle ensues. These aspects of the film will test audiences forgiveness for its writing shortcomings. If you take it as a piece of entertainment you might find it a decent diversion with the naval battle being the clear highlight of the film. No matter what way you might decide to view the film from there’s no escaping it could have ended up better, though maybe years from now a filmmaker will use this film as a template to make the masterpiece it couldn’t become.

6/10

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Cinema-Maniac: The Revenant (2015) Movie Review

Under good hands the ordinary can seem extraordinary. In film, it has the power to make a story that is entirely set in one car surprisingly engaging (Locke). At the same time, it has the power to take something like a giant serpent, and its army wrecking Los Angeles boring (Dragon Wars). Thanks to medium like films, they have the power to share those kinds of experience that otherwise probably never would have experienced by viewers in their life. In some cases, making you feel like as if you’re right in the story. The Revenant is such a film achieving an immersive experience that makes up for it shortcomings that come up from the writing.

The Revenant follows frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) on a fur trading expedition in the 1820’s fighting for his survival. There is a narrative thread woven from Hugh Glass desire to seek revenge, but a cat, and mouse game the film is not. Choosing to focus instead on Glass struggle with nature the film is written in a way to emphasize visceral, visual experience. Dialogue heavy scenes are few in between, and the focus is hardly removed from a wounded Hugh Glass ongoing battle against nature, and to a certain extent his fellow men. Spending around a third of the film with Hugh Glass alone without monologuing on anything associated with himself. Opting to show Hugh Glass as much possible with his wounded body to carry on forward. Only hearing the sounds of the environment (the cold wind blowing, waterfalls) to create a sense of desolate. Expressing his pain in a series of grunts, and screams. Hugh Glass is a man of very few words throughout the film. Whenever he does speak Glass dialogue is written to get across the broadest idea in the least amount of words. This same notion also applies to the era where the film takes place in. It never explicitly states where, nor when the story takes place in, but just gives the minimal amount of information. As a whole the film takes itself seriously, though does offer a couple sparsely spread out brief comedic moments. These bits of humor are a rarity serving their purpose to lighten things up. However, the tone is not trying to balance itself making it serious business at all time.

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Leonardo DiCaprio: How many more Buffalo you want me to eat to get an Oscar!

In the writing department developed characters are not in full focus. Hugh Glass is not developed beyond his standard traits introduce in the beginning of the film. He’s a loving father who cares for his son, and a tough individual who can withstand what nature throws at him. There are trinkets of dialogue where characters do talk about Glass past, but never a full scene dedicated to showing it. You will get brief glimpses into the past of Hugh Glass, though the significance of them underwhelms since it never leads to anything. These glimpses of Glass past attempt to make him more of a definable character, though the only aspect of them that feels organic is Glass dedication. A common theme in the movie is his dedication to persevere through his injuries no matter how painful it is. Glass lives by the words “As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight”. Demonstrating this belief in his dedication to stay alive as well as becoming a motif for narrative purposes.

One important trait of the writing that fails at is creating morally grey characters. Within the film own context, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) action are attempted to be painted as an act of necessity for survival. Showing his hesitation in Hugh Glass leadership, and lack of confidence in the group chances of survival when chased by Indians. Attempting to make his action justifiable to an extent. What’s disappointing about this element is whenever the film shows more, and more of Fitzgerald he is clearly meant to come across as the film villain. Throwing out the morally grey characters it wanted to create in the film becoming a more streamline revenge story. Two moments backing up this claim is Fitzgerald dialogue in the climax is most evident of his wholly villainous turn taunting Hugh Glass. Another is Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) who in spite of his position of Captain does not order his men to search for Fitzgerald because the film wants its protagonist to learn something from his journey.

Then, there’s a moment in the climax where Fitzgerald performs an action reminiscences of an event that scarred him. What makes little sense is that it’s established in a scene that any type of reminder of that event puts Fitzgerald on edge never wanting to think about it. However, when he performs the specific action it eliminates consistency in his character, and remove what little characterization he had. Slowly transforming the morally ambiguous action of characters into good, and evil. If there were more to Fitzgerald had more to his character than the film still would have worked with the revenge story intact as well as having the intended morally ambiguous characters, but the small moments, and important details get toss aside derailing it.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu direction while unsubtle in the tackling of the film main theme did a magnificent job in creating a visceral experience. Using breathing as a motif in his storytelling (and part of the soundtrack), and the loose visual representation of being reborn/resurrected. In the film, every time Leonardo DiCaprio character struggle through an overwhelming ordeal Alejandro Gonzalez focuses the lens on showing him getting stronger in his ordeal. Giving the proper direction to DiCaprio on movement to illustrate his growing strength. His usage of CGI is small, but made every usage is for great effect. In a noteworthy scene with heavy CG Leonardo DiCaprio is mauled, and tossed around by a Bear. Paying close attention since the Bear is CG Alejandro was smart in using practical effects hidden within the CG Bear make whatever the CG Bear makes contact with move. It’s especially noteworthy when considering most of the Bear attack scene was done in one take leaving little room for error. Under his determined direction the film always feel like it’s in good hands.

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This particular sequence early in the film is amazing. Nothing else to add.

The opening sequence of the film is a technical accomplishment that should be noted. Opening up with an Indians attacking a group of hunters doesn’t sound complicated on paper, but when you make it on a big scale it does. However, the scope of the Indian attack on the hunters isn’t the reason it’s an accomplishment for the film. Rather it’s the fact that both cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and editor Stephen Mirrione created a set piece comprised mostly of a series of one shot takes. Right when the first hunter is shown falling to the floor from arrows shot on his back Lubezki continues aiming the camera at where the viewer should be focus for a seamless shot. In this one shot, a hunter is shot in the neck with an arrow showing the arrow make contact, while another hunter is struck in the back with a wooden spear, and the sound of death scares a hunter causing him to shoot a hunter in front of him without a cut. Another compliment to Emmanuel Lubezki would be the lighting. Yes it’s an entirely random aspect of filmmaking to praise when it goes largely unnoticed. The Revenant was virtually shot entirely with natural lighting which is impressive since there are filmmakers who can’t even do fabricated lighting correctly. Only one scene in the movie uses a dash of creative artificial lighting. It was for a campfire shot in which the wind was causing the fire to behave in an unpredictable and distracting way, Lubezki used some light bulbs around the fire to make what he calls a cushion of light. Making an already beautiful looking film more technically impressive.

If there’s a possible complaint to be had with the cinematography that would be the repetitive usage of wide angle shots. It becomes noticeable before reaching the hour mark that the film love to use wide angle shots by itself, or have the shot pan in either the left, or right direction. In addition, it also has a couple of wide angle shots that spin around too. While harmless for the film intentions the visual is very noticeable when viewing it.

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Come on boys! Let look for a new angle!

Now if you’re going into the film with the idea to see a thrilling spectacle you’ll be disappointed. While the film few set pieces are excellent, and fantastically filmed with a visually large scope in mind. They will take a back seat to everything else that is shown in the film. Shots of DiCaprio crawling stay up longer than a set piece that requires DiCaprio escaping from a group of attacking Indians. The film focus is more on showing the punishment nature dishes out at Hugh Glass where he spends allot of time crawling, limping, and walking out of whatever get thrown his way. It shown with a series of wide angle shots of the cold wilderness, and the distance Glass has to travel. Whenever Glass is walking the camera pans out from a distance to illustrate how resilience Glass is in his environment. In total, it’s debatable there’s a total of actually four set pieces; the opening sequence, the Bear attack, DiCaprio running away from a band of Indians, and the climax. Of course, the quality of the set piece is far more important than the actual amount. Thankfully, all the ones the film offer are executed to their fullest effect. Another aspect are the set pieces emphasizes urgency than it does violence. Hugh Glass is in danger, and by not being in good shape he has to get away from danger as quickly as possible. Becoming more immersive than exciting upon viewing.

To date, this is Leonardo DiCaprio best physical performance to date. In terms of line delivery DiCaprio barely talks in the film. His co star, Tom Hardy, has more spoken dialogue than DiCaprio does. Back on point, DiCaprio vocal performance is a series of grunts, and screams of pains. What holds the performance together is DiCaprio performing difficult tasks, and hurting his body throughout the film. He expresses so much emotion in his facial expressions, and body movement. Tom Hardy also puts in a great a performance. Despite the script treatment of John Fitzgerald Tom Hardy performance humanizes the character. Making emotions surrounding him conflicting, even after taunting Leonardo DiCaprio character in the climax. The only criticism would be his accent in the beginning of the film makes some of his dialogue discernible. It’s an issue that doesn’t remain with Hardy performance. In one scene in particular he shares with Will Poulter regarding if the means were justified to survive Hardy is cold, yet understanding in the scene. Proving he’s a difficult person to read, especially when taking into account a prior scene where he shows desperation.

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In his time off, Max is know as the Counsel Warrior.

Supporting actors Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, and Forrest Goodluck are noteworthy since they have good amount of screen time to make an impression. Will Poulter plays Jim Bridger in the film. With the scenes Poulter is given he does an excellent job in expressing deep fear, conflict, and sorrow in his character. Sharing scenes convincingly with Tom Hardy display layer relationship on the journey. Domhnall Gleeson plays Captain Andrew Henry who presence on screen varies depending depending on what act the film is in. Gleeson puts in a strong performance commanding authority that is required to pull off his character convincingly. Forrest Goodluck speaks in a different language for most of his screen time. He’s simply fine in the role since he’s not given difficult material to portray like his other costars. While fine in portraying DiCpario son it’s not much of a showcase of talent in the actor. The score creates a atmosphere that is certainly elevated by the rousing and gloomy score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, and The National’s Bryce Dessner. In some moments, it is Eno-esque while in others the sounds become erratic. Altogether, it’s a haunting collection of tearful strings, glazed synths, and engulfing bass that mirrors the scenery and action at hand with compelling results.

The Revenant is lacking in deep characters, but makes up for it good performances, an interesting story that emphasizes the visual experience of filmmaking, and is beautifully shot throughout. On a technical level it’s quite a marvel of a film. While the story does get streamlined in the final act preventing itself from being as complex as it could been it doesn’t deteriorate it from reaching it goals. Its simple characters work fine in a film where’s its protagonist is attempting to survive harsh condition succeeding in immersing the viewer to the very end.

8/10

 

Inspired By True Events

The Revenant sports the “Inspired By True Events” tagline attached to it. So how much does it stray from the actual story? Well, the filmmakers had the courtesy to use “Inspire” instead of “Based On A True Story” since the actual Hugh Glass never had a son in any sense in anything written about him. However, the confrontation with an enraged grizzly bear, the part of Glass being dumped in a shallow grave 200 miles from friendly territory and leave with all his equipment, Glass hauling his broken mess of a body out of his own grave, scraped the infection out of his wounds, set his broken leg and started crawling toward the nearest outpost, a French trapper outpost called Fort Kiowa are confirmed to be true.

All whole ordeal lasted six weeks for Hugh Glass. After successfully avoiding vengeful Arikara war parties, wolves and bears, while surviving on berries, roots, rotting carcasses, and rattlesnakes, Glass made it to the river. A Sioux hunting party came upon the living man-corpse and helped him fashion some branches into a crude raft, which he sailed to Fort Kiowa and safety. As soon as he recovered, Glass set out to hunt down Bridger and Fitzgerald. When he finally found them, he … forgave them. But only after he got his rifle back. In the case for the film while the revenge story did feel tacked on it is a good way to reward patient viewers in a film that’s over 2 hours. If the film was fateful it would ended things on a anticlimactic note, though there is more to the story.

If your interested, or just really like reading check this article by Historynet that goes into great detail on the story if you like.

Cinema-Maniac: The Girl Next Door (2007) Review

I contemplated on how to open this review. Understand this film is inspired by true events, which sadly revolve around the tragic death of teenager Sylvia Likens. A touchy subject that I’m walking on a thin line due to the strong emotions surrounding it. However, this film does not respect its fictional characters or its fictional story as anything more than showing abusers and victims. A shameful depiction indeed as a victim is far more than a victim; they are a person. This film instead of attempting to create a person goes on to make a matr for torture for easy sympathy. Resulting in a cartoony depiction of an actual crime. Even if it wasn’t inspired by true events this film would still remain a bad movie.

The Girl Next Door follows the torture, and abuses committed on a teenage girl in the care of her aunt, and the boy who witness and fail to report the crime. Addressing the Elephant in the room first this film is simply a work of fiction. The most correlation it has to the actual events of Sylvia Likens murder are superficial. The premise itself is barely connectable to the actual crime. The most accurate this film gets is a teenage girl is in the care of a woman she doesn’t know well, said teenage girl has a sister who has polio, said girl is tortured by her caretakers and her children for a lengthy amount of time, and a girl dies. That’s all. Including our main character, David, whose perspective unfolds a series of events is a work of fiction. So simply because you’re inspired by true events does not excuse bad writing.

The main problem with the film is there’s only three characteristics; victims, bystanders, and abusers. These aren’t people nor allow much room for character development. David, our main character and bystander, is a creation of fiction which makes you ponder why he doesn’t report the crime to any authority or tell any other adults. He has no reason too since he doesn’t have neglectful parents both of whom even ask David if anything is wrong. David mother even questions him as he asks if he could sleep over again at Ruth Chandler (the abuser) house. David mother wonders why he would want to sleep over, and David remains quiet. David never shows any deviant desire to torture Meg (the victim), nor sees her as a object to claim as his property as during their first meeting David treats Meg nicely. During a simple scene when David is buying a hamburger, when Meg asks David if he could buy some food for her to eat because of her aunt cruel treatment David buys Meg a hamburger. This scene is important as David mentally doesn’t show signs of wanting something more nor physically provides hints he deserves something for his kindness. Making it out of character for David to remain silent on the crime considering how kind he is, and his treatment towards Meg. Painting a clear picture of what’s good and what’s bad showing remorse towards Meg, and her sister he witness them being abuse. Even as Meg is being torture, David asks his father if it’s ever right to hit a girl in a different scene, and in a location far away from the crime. This scene, along with other moments, contradicts David character when remaining silent on the crime. The “he’s just a kid” excuse becomes irrelevant here as he asks this difficult question to his father. Moving pass the “cooties” viewing of girls his age so David is able to comprehend difficult dilemmas to some extent. These moments, and characteristics go against the notion that David would simply sit around, and do nothing about the crime.

Now the abusers are simple characters. Most of whom consist of young boys who drink beer, and sexually desire women. Illustrating the later trait as they look at porno magazines, talk about specific women body parts, and asking their mother if they could have sex with their cousin Meg. These young boys are cousins of Meg, and the leader who approves this torture is Meg aunt. With these being family members it should paint a darker picture of a dysfunctional family, but it does not. These abusers are not given any form of depth as they simply have no issue torturing Meg. The young boys don’t simply get into it, but rather just accept it without providing much for dig into. Aunt Ruth Chandler does not provide the presence of someone who is in control of their children. Ruth Chandler gives off no aura she mentally controls her kids or has powers over them. She’s not manipulative in any way which makes the psycho mother as cartoony as the other characters. However, the tiny bit that Ruth Chandler position as caretaker could have been better done. In the film, Chandler punishing Meg is simply Chandler thinking as a psycho mother. Believing her punishing Meg would straighten her out, except this is where all assumptions end. Context is not provided as no outside or inner forces in Chandler life is brought to explain her mentality. At most, Chandler simply makes an exaggerated claim that Meg doesn’t think she’s a lady after Meg refuses to get rid off some pest in the backyard. Seeing Chandler offering kids beer is not enough to convince this woman is messed up in the head.

Finally, we have the victims who are Meg, and Susan Loughlin who has polio. As with the bystanders, and abusers there is not much to the victims. The victims of the crime are simply presented as nice people, and they are young. Simply because a child has polio doesn’t automatically grant sympathy. However, Susan Loughlin is the closest to representing a person. Showing actual guilt about the events, uncertain on how to feel on the matter like a young child would. Unfortunately, there is not much to both Meg, and Susan characters. What little is shared about them is simply use in order to sympathize with them easier. When combining the lack of any human trait in this story you have a film that fails to accomplish whatever it wanted. It didn’t want to understand these characters as people so it simplified them. There’s no intention to exploit the crime since it based on an actual incident, but there’s nothing to reflect upon for the audience as no characters has any depth to them. In the end, the writing fails to make a connection on any level on its own. If it wasn’t for the fact it was inspired by a true story this film would leave its viewers impressionless at the events that unfolded.

The Girl Next Door is directed by Gregory Wilson. Balancing tone accordingly so there’s no sudden shift when it goes from the innocence interaction for an inviting atmosphere into abuse when it takes a dark turn. There’s no effort to give the film an artistic look which is for the better considering how it took inspiration from an actual incident, and this film is already walking on a delicate subject as is. However, Gregory Wilson shows too much restraint when it times to show the ugliness of Meg torture. Whenever there’s torture on screen the impact of the scenes fall through showing Wilson weakness in being unable to create a menacing atmosphere of hopelessness or give off sense of cruel nature in these torture scenes when pain is inflicted.

Acting in the film is stale with roles that offer little to build off from. With the roles being characterized in three characteristics the performances are bad. Most of the cast are young children and their inexperience show. However, our main star is Daniel Manche who’s make a good effort in carrying the film mostly on his own shoulders. His character ain’t memorable, but Manche gives his character humanity. Displaying a clear torture in his character in a scene without having to speak sometime. Manche is young, but turns in a good performance. His co star, Blythe Auffarth, doesn’t get a role that demands much. Blythe Auffarth is simply meant to react to the abuse, and appear as a sweet person as much as possible. Her performance will leave plenty to be desire dramatically as she’s unable to make much of the character.

Then there’s Blanche Baker who play Ruth Chandler who has no grounds for a performance. Baker is given a character makes no sense in how she acts. Due to the cartoony writing her portrayal also suffered being unable to provide much for the character to do. Blanche Baker does not come across as motherly or particularly scary when attempting to appear satanic. Finally we have the remainder of the cast that appear in the film are Graham Patrick Martin, Benjamin Ross Kaplan, Dean Faulkenberry, and Madeline Taylor playing young characters. These actor performances also suffer from the same problem being offered little range in their roles. The soundtrack is forgettable. It plays in the background fading from the quickly as it stop playing.

I unfortunately feel the need to address something regarding this film. Okay, according to some sources that have seen The Girl Next Door (2007 Film) make the bold claim that it’s “graphic” and “disturbing”. If you take pride in watching difficult films in not just the sums, but the entirety of a film you’ve been lied too about this film. If you saw this film on any “Most Disturbing Films Ever” list you’ve been lied too. If you read a review from “film enthusiasts” claiming this was disturbing you’ve been lied too. Already having gone over how the cartoonish portrayal that simplified the characters into abusers, victims, or bystander failing to make an impression now I sadly have to discuss the depiction of the torture. Yes, I’ve sadly had to take up my time, but most importantly yours in order to get across the clear difference “graphic” content and graphic content. To further express my displeasure SHAME ON YOU if you have done any of this. Don’t ever make such bold claims unless you have good grounds to support your claims.

The depiction of torture in this film greatly suffers for the weak context, and how scared it is to actually show true torture or dare enter in its cruelty for a brief moment. If you’ve only provide a tame version of an atrocity the sugarcoating of the crime is more damaging. It’ll fail to leave a lasting impression, and will make the crime appear as if it wasn’t all that bad, which is pretty bad. Context is important if you, or whoever wants to make film to understand if you create a character that audience will care about than seeing them suffer will be hard to watch. If you don’t have characters worth caring about like this film specifically you have to resort to going to the dark side, and showing a despicable act of human cruelty in full. There’s a scene in this film that is entirely tasteless not because of the explicitness of what is shown, or the awful context, but because it’s afraid to show it. We’re told through dialogue that Meg (the victim) is about to get her vagina burn with a blowtorch.

Now why would I, or anyone want to see a woman vagina burn with a blowtorch? Exactly if it’s done in way this film did it. The way this scene is shown is not explicit as it does not show contact between the body part, and torture device. Special effects in 1979, manage to make a castration in Cannibal Holocaust look convincing so what’s this 2007 film excuse? Another is context because none of the characters feel real so neither will the crime feel real when the pain is inflicted. The whole film is like this. Acting is another issue as the cast have limited range of emotion to display. Bereft of any human emotion or a point in their portrayal being simplified into bystanders, abusers, and victims. It is not harsh enough in displaying a person getting tortured. Due to the weak writing, and restraint on the tortures scenes the film leaves no emotional impact even though it should given what occurs in the film.

The Girl Next Door fails for several reasons, but the most important one being that despite the film being based around true events the only emotion it evokes is anger. Anger in the way that the writing failed to provide character worth caring about nor makes you contemplate the crime you just witness in any meaningful way. All that’s on screen are martyrs for specific emotions to create not people. It’s a simple exploitation film that instead challenging a difficult notion or trying say something significant it simply uses it source in order to a get a reaction from viewers from it source.

2/10

Cinema-Maniac: Newsies (1992) Review

On the surface “Newsies” has my attention being based around true events that are usually ignored and starring a young Christian Bale. While the material doesn’t sound riveting Bale is more than capable in providing a compelling performance to carry the film. However, upon discovery it was a Disney live action musical it turned into a worst case scenario that instead of subverting expectation it plays into them. Creating one noisy mess of a film that could have worked for both it actors and the story if it knew to be a drama or musical instead of sloppily meshing the two together.

Newsies is a musical based a true story about the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. Immediately the film begins to crack opening with a poorly written and constructed song about working (oh come on, that lazy Disney formula). Now I’ll accept back in 1899 New York City “Newsies” sang on a daily basis on just about anything, ten years old were allowed to hang out in pubs and drink the night away, and I’ll even buy Joseph Pulitzer plan to make more money will obviously not work if it all leads to something compelling. It never amounts to much because of the Disneyfication of a film that clearly was meant to be a drama is tailored into an indispensable, uninspired mess. Missing is coherency in its narrative structure to support dialogue dramatics and the musical numbers. Pacing is erratic sometime going for long stretches without a musical number to having too many songs pile up on each other. The quiet moments of the film are filled with indispensable cliches. From the cast of heroes there’s a newsboy on crutches, the little kid, the rebellious hero going against the establishment, and of course the hero’s best pal that warms up to him, who has a pretty sister. Not to forget the one dimensional villains whose only defining traits are to make money or pick on children. There’s nothing wrong with simple morality, but when the characters themselves acknowledge how stupid they act it begs to question what is actually consider morally good by this film standard. Our protagonist, Jack Kelly, lies for a living to make money to not starve to death. A trait that is meant to earn the audience sympathy, but Joseph Pulitzer who makes a honest living selling newspaper and gave kids jobs barely scraping by with their wages in the first place is perceived to be bad. Since Pulitzer is the standard villain who hates people and motivated by money his action have a predictable outcome to the conflict. On both sides you have characters whose action are supported with a weak body of characterization to take them seriously.

In middle of the erratic pacing and cliches it calls characters are the plotlines simultaneously having too much with little breathing room and stretched out beyond repair. Token supporting characters drop in and out at a moment notice. For example, Jack Kelly visit his best sister house falling in love with his best pal sister. All that was needed for Jack Kelly heart to be taken away with his significant other wasn’t the growth of their relationship, learning about each other, but occasionally gazing at each other in one scene and they know it’s meant to be. It doesn’t matter that Jack Kelly shares more scenes with a older man another supporting character than he does with his own love interest. Jack Kelly also has his own arc to overcome which is too kinda organize the Newsies to strike. A job later handle to another character temporarily which goes to display the lack of importance of their position. None of the characters feel important to in fighting for their cause. Every one of them feels disposable and interchangeable with one another. Weak characters, scatter plot lines, erratic, and some badly written musical numbers can create a noisy snooze fest of a film. Top it all off, the motivation to start the strike is thrown away at the climax as if to say I give up.

If judged as a Disney musical it’s PREDICTABLE! Anyone not familiar with the “Disney” formula here’s how Disney lazy efforts usually play out; It opens with a choral arrangement preferably a work song (Carrying the Banner), characters grow up in a montage over the span of a single song, dead or absent parents that occurs quickly or off screen and probably in a montage with no dialogue or brief mention, a “I want” song sung by the protagonist (Santa Fe), and the gilded cage: you’re trapped in this place, probably for your own safety. For me the film did no favor playing it safe by the book. Not one element or plot device used made a difference in how it all played out. In particular the dragged out ending which is similar to “We Are the Champions” by Queens if it only bragged for seven minutes repeating “No times for loser cause we are the champions”. The ending is similar to that minus the musical talents of Queens being replaced by off key singers by non professional young stars and poor musical composition, and sound arrangement from the adults putting it together. It should be noted that once a musical number ends the character act back to normal like nothing happened every time making even less sense when seeing our protagonist dance in the middle of the street despite wholeheartedly singing about his past struggles to reach his dream. Like the characters, it best to pretend choreographed musical numbers and songs never happened.

Christian Bale delivers a good performance. When not requiring to sing Bale brings some likability to Jack Kelly. Charming one moment and alienating the next swiftly conveying his character personal turmoil. He’s the only actor who manages to overcome the annoying New York accent making it a part of his character unlike the rest of the young cast where it’s a nuisance to listen too. Singing on the other hand Bale voice cracks going for the high notes. However, his crack voice works for his solo number “Santa Fe” showing off some good dancing skills. Bill Pullman is meh in his role, though among the most tolerable not having that New York accent to handicap him. Robert Duvall plays Joseph Pulitzer not making much of an impression. Duvall has little screen time and even less of a personality given the character he has to portray. At best Duvall is one note, though given how standard the role is written in this film there’s no way he would have pulled off anything interesting unless it was meant to be intentionally cheesy. The supporting cast has some interesting names from David Moscow, Luke Edwards, Trey Parker, Josh Keaton, and number of others that get tossed to the sideline. Their performances are average unable to deliver the more heavy side of the material with any emotion. Some of them are better singers than Christian Bale, but unlike Bale,when the supporting cast speak in their New York accent it can get annoying. Despite a good performance by Christian Bale the film is miscast. The characters we follow are meant to be children, but all have the appearances of teenagers going against the concept. As for the music it ranges from where the mute button like “Carrying the Banner”, to well that just happen song like “King of New York”, and finally to that was surprisingly good like “The World Will Know”. Hopefully among the few songs made for the film you’ll find one you’ll like because it’ll reuses some of them twice and about five of those musical numbers are performed on the same set despite having of a number of sets that perfectly captures its era. Dancing choreography while well performed, much in vein of the story is uninspired.

Newsies on the surface for me had the ingredients to hold my interest, but once Disney got involved attempting to mesh drama and musical together poorly it became tedious. Anyone who knows the Disney musical formula will find no surprises in this repetitive film that takes no risk nor executed in the manner to make it enjoyable. Even if the plot does interest you the characters are one dimensional cliche and so are the standard villains. Plotlines aren’t developed to support itself without a musical number to liven things up. The music is limited and generally badly sung while the drama side of the story tread familiar waters like it a commitment to the end. All in all, Disney tried something different, but at the same time it was afraid to do anything different ending up with a film with the worst qualities of the studio present for two noisy hours of boredom.

3/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Wind Rises (2014) Review

The Wind Rises explores the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. A story primarily driven by it metaphors to display it character passion more so than with actual words. Grounded in reality to illustrate Jiro has a career goal set in sight, but rather aimless when it comes to his personal life. This aimless drive translates to the free flowing pacing moving from year to year. It never specifies specifically what year scenes or an act takes place in its insistent to flow like the wind. Much like the usage of it wind plot device, the pacing only ever stops moving forward when an historical event becomes invasive. Intruding on Jiro’s passion alluding the negative implications of his creations. Jiro ponders the impact his creation has, but never explicitly told to the audience what those thoughts are. The film has an encouraging complexity that results in occupying this troubling space, with the idea that art has an inherent potency and power that, like anything that contains embedded energy, can be manipulated or misused by the hands of its beholder. Structuring it whole story where opposing views of Jiro’s creation and how Jiro sees his own work is understood. Sometimes in order in order to make a plane fly you need to compromise parts before it can soar. A work ethic that Jiro takes to heart even in his personal life.

In my book I have no problem giving this a perfect rating as a visual piece of art representing it subject in great metaphorical detail, but if I were to do so would be at the cost of hiding it weakness of any worthwhile characterization. It’s to care for the passion Jiro has for his crafts to create planes regardless the world general views towards him. However, Jiro himself is not an engaging character getting a facet of a man. Never feeling what Jiro feels when he falls in love, heartbroken by a failed test flight, and enthusiasm when viewing the possibilities to improve his plane designs. His romance transition from friends to lover is abrupt when brought into the picture. The film intention is to explore a man’s life who is defined by his for his crafts, even if it means undermining the bigger picture of the world he was involved in.

The art style mixes traditional hand drawn animation with impressionist-style backdrops that are gorgeously jaw-dropping. Many shots could be paused, framed, and hung up in an art museum, but the subtle animation only adds to their allure. Miyazaki has never cared much for “realistic” animation of human figures; they are abstracted into giant-eyed doll faces and stiff legs, as if trudging on stilts. The director expresses his true artistry in his landscapes: rural vistas rendered in the most delicate pastels, like the watercolors Naoko paints as Jiro courts her. In a hard land heading to war, Miyazaki makes sure the views are ravishing. The visual style sets a pleasant and whimsical tone that creates the impression that the film is a representation of the fantasy within the head of a dreamer.

The English dub voice acting is pleasant and natural, with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as a hushed, contemplative lead who we see squirming in his tight spot and Emily Blunt doing admirably as love interest Naoko. Supporting cast includes John Krasinski pleasantly snarky designer Kiro Honjo, Martin Short is fantastic as Jiro’s tough-but-fair supervisor Kurokawa, and Stanley Tucci is excellent as Caproni. The most interesting stunt casting job in the English dub is famous German director Werner Herzog as dissident German engineer Castorp; given the themes of Herzog’s own films (uniquely talented people seeking impossible dreams) this feels brilliantly salient. In the original Japanese audio, the standout here is the very surprising male lead – Jiro is played by none other than director Hideaki Anno. Yes, the Hideaki Anno creator of “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. Talk about perfect casting when it comes to misunderstood artistic expressions. Anno’s nuanced, understated performance really works well for the role. Casting is otherwise, uniformly excellent; the only remotely questionable casting choice here would be the still-serviceable Stephen Alpert as Castorp, with a noticeable American rather than German accent.

The Wind Rises doesn’t give much attention the background events rather is exclusively focus on a man’s passion for his crafts and how the usage of art reflect different views. Gone is Miyazaki child like wonder replaced by a harsh reality no matter how appreciative or hated a piece of art is will never be able to see it in the same way as it creator. Many of Miyazaki fans will question why he would end a career filled with rich fantasy world end with a final most resembling reality, but in doing so would distract from how Miyazaki represented himself through The Wind Rises.

Historical Accuracy: Reality vs. Artistic Expression

It wasn’t easy nor necessary, but hey historical research is fun for me (sometimes). Much of the film material is derived from the autobiography “The Story of the Zero Fighter” which is 80% plane design ideas, measurements and stories surrounding Jiro’s career. There’s so much focus on the construction of the planes there’s a measly 20% left for autobiographical material. This is an obvious indicator of his unrivaled passion for the flying machines, something which is brought to the screen perfectly. The majority of the information about the challenges Jiro met while designing his planes; the adventures he pursued as part of his work (traveling the world, mentoring students) and the thrill of watching test flights seem like they’re taken straight from the book. Viewers may have only witnessed his travels to Germany, but he also visited England, France and America in the first five years of his career at Mitsubishi.

One crucial element Miyazaki left out when translating these ideas to film was the self-doubt Jiro experienced while he integrated himself into the company. Horikoshi distinctly recalls wondering why his employers would want an inexperienced guy in charge of creating their planes. The first ten minutes are fairly accurate to Jiro life, but rather unlikely he would stand up to a bully and get into a fist fight. Another early departure in accuracy is the 1923 Japanese Earthquake which Jiro never experience or even mentioned in his memoir. Instead of being inspired by Caproni the real life Jiro decided to pursue planes in University after talking to a friend of his brother, whom was a professor at the newly created Department of Aeronautics in Tokyo. Like most teens he had no idea what he wanted to do, and that was the tipping point. Sadly, there is no mention of Jiro’s brother besides this.

To sum it up, Hayao Miyazaki took liberty to heart when it came to telling Jiro Horikoshi life story. Unless you do your research (or read his autobiography) you won’t really learn much about the actual Jiro Horikoshi from this film, but you get an accurate portrayal of this man undying passions for his crafts. So did this affect my rating of the film? You’re joking right? If the worst thing I could say about a film is that it fabricate a piece of reality than what’s the point of me experiencing the medium if it’s integral to it creations.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: Bloody Sunday (2002) Review

Paul Greengrass filmography is rooted in history. His films between 1989 to 2002 were based on true events and incidents that occurred in Britain even tackling American History later in his career. Greengrass sticks closely to true stories depicting them with as much respect as possible. Despite being a film made for British television it has the same quality of a Greengrass film.

Bloody Sunday is a dramatization of the Irish civil rights protest march and subsequent massacre by British troops on January 30, 1972. Unfolding in real time we’re able to see exactly how the incident went about from the views of both the protesters and British troops. Giving the exact mindset from both sides desire to avoid the worse case scenario. Jumping back between the two allows it to depict events that occurred before the incident, during the incident, and what occurred directly after the event. Seeing history unfold right before us. All the while being more than capable to challenge the action taken by British troops and protesters with some simple acts. For example, it is depicted in the film a small group of protesters reacting with violent backlash against military power going away from the large peaceful marchers. Meanwhile, on other side we hear uproar in the area as soldiers attempt to discuss on how to act to the situation. Showing the fault in the way both sides preceded to do things. It’s in the third act where some simple scenes take a turn for the politically corrupt without demonizing the British troops. While the third act does attempt to highlight the wrong of the British army it does so without eliminating from a fair view. However, pretext is never provided such as what were the exact policies of the time that would motivate a government to send in military troops to stop a march. Some area are left as is serving as an introduction to the incident rather than a film that tells the whole story. Lacking in characterization you’re familiarity with the event depicted will remain the same without explaining it’s aftermath nor the impact it had. Now if the film provided a central character to root for it could have fallen into the trap of being one sided, but that’s not the issue that arises from that. The issue with no characterization is no background is provided from those who joined the protest. A politician is just a politician, a British troop is just a troop, and a citizen is just a citizen. Almost in line with reading actual news that skims on detail without the commercialization and agenda involved.

Paul Greengrass’s direction does the job even if his signature shaky-cam is not a well like technique. The cinematography of the film is equal to that shot on a grainy, handheld camera. With the visual of the film being documentary-like imitating real footage. It’s not an easy film to watch with continual fades to black between brief segments irritate as much as they help differentiate points of view or time passage. Although the device is designed to give the impression that objective “news” footage is used to favor realism over dramatization. Causing seasickness are the dizzying hand-held sequences where the cameraman runs for his life through fast and choppy editing. Using the long takes of the jittery hand-held camera lends credibility as does the working class grainy quality of the film stock. If it had a clean look and if the camera remained still it would have come of as a traditional dramatization as oppose to directly putting viewers in the center of the action. The viewer is always in the middle of the action with it flow of chaos being unpredictable. Editing is spot on with the minimal uses of music as gunshots and the sounds of a screaming crowd populate the films. Among the cast are Gerard McSorley, Kathy Keira Clarke, Edel Frazer, Declan Duddy, Mary Moulds, Gerard Crossan, Tim Pigott-Smith, Simon Mann, and the man who carries it James Nesbitt. The performances are high caliber making it hard press that these actors. With the cast dedicated performances the line between fiction and reality fades as their performances, especially James Nesbitt, help push that real footage quality aimed to capture.

Bloody Sunday simply explores an incident that occurred in a day and nothing before or afterwards in any great detail. It gets across a strong point without the need of characterization for any of the characters it followed. Paul Greengrass brings to the true horror of “Bloody Sunday” to light with shocking realism, but without depth to further understand the true significance of its impact for Britain, politics, and those involved. It’ll certainly make you feel, but thinking might varied with results.

8/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Review

The financial status of the American class system is an grey area to discuss. Like all major political subjects I tend not have a firm stance steering away from the lesser of two evils kind of thinking. Sometimes its better to be direct with your points making the message clearer. As is the case with “The Wolf of Wall Street” which makes no effort to downplay the excessive lifestyle and amorality of the characters with no shades of grey to justified themselves for who they are.

The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government. Cleverly disguised as a black comedy it also sneakily culminates satire. Structurally unmatched it begins with the so call “low point” of Jordan Belfort life before eventually making it big manipulating the stock market. His obsession is far subtle living in a bubble; committing itself to following the special logic on which this world is drawn into a vortex of success and admiring the brilliant strategy Belfort follows. Belfort lives and breathe to make money no matter the legality of his techniques. It’s shown as an easy endeavor rewarding with a fantastic and luxurious lifestyle through Jordan Belfort eyes who lives with no limit to his wealth. Never truly focusing on the consequences that Jordan Belfort scams had on his clients rather focusing on the bigger picture on Belfort personification of American culture legal acceptance and materialism clouding the ideals of the American Dream. Witnessing Belfort strong desires to cling to his excess nature giving a true exposure to how deeply superficial riches has taken over. Not once does it ask nor pops up to Jordan head the question of how much foreclosed houses, starving children, financially corrupt clients, and scams did it take for Belfort to obtain just one object he owns because Belfort has no fun living in the closeness of the real world he was once a part of. Scenes of excess and of criminality are not equally appealing and repulsive – they are almost totally appealing. Hiding nothing with a leading character who has no interest in redeeming himself for his actions. Depicted in a manner that’s true the essence of its character that will serve as a wake up call to reality for some where justice isn’t always served for every wrong.

Martin Scorsese’s forceful, flowing camerawork and electrifying use of music assures the film is never dull. Scorsese plays it bold in this film does not showcase any means of redemption for its lead character. His camera, which by cognitive extension functions less like a camera and more as an external window, reframes, cranes and tracks over Belfort’s equally out-of-it staff and his key executives with so much zest that it appears almost as materialistic as the people it is capturing on negative. Perhaps to counterbalance the mischievously ambivalent attitude towards a fanatically amoral protagonist, Rodrigo Prieto’s matter-of-fact cinematography eschews glossiness and flourishes and is bright without being blinding. The movie doesn’t have a single totemic image that captures the obscene wealth and privilege on display. Rather, the parade of outrageousness continues from the beginning to the end.

Leonardo DiCaprio injects manic intensity and ferociousness to Belfort that at times is simply magnetic, mesmerizing as he thunders like a lion across the screen. As a man whose wild arrogance, immorality and desperate zest for life literally charge him like a battery. In his finest physical performance to date; whether doped to his gourd on Quaaludes, or restraining his body from sexual desire, DiCaprio manipulates his body to silent comedy era levels. Meanwhile his Liotta-like narration has him spitting snake oil with each sentence. Every word is precise, every smile looking to be hiding something. Twice while detailing the intricacies of his schemes, he stops, smiles and distracts us. Jonah Hill’s performance as Donnie Azoff is another great allowing Hill to explore some of his comedic ticks and beats. In Wolf, he relies on his own instincts, and his chemistry with DiCaprio colorful chemistry is so natural that every scene they’re in together bring the best out of the two.

Margot Robbie a ravishing Australian with a Brooklyn accent, delivers a rich and nuanced special performance. Seductive and sexual yet authoritative Robbie is not just the eye candy in Wolf; and it is quite easy for such a sexually based character to be objectified in films, whereas Robbie triggers real emotion of sympathy from the audience towards the end of the movie in various Jordan related scenes. Kyle Chandler, in subtle and resonant acting as the pursuing cop, has a read-between-the-lines philosophical banter with his nemesis. In cinema-noir fashion, they have a well written, battle of wits confrontation on Jordan’s yacht. Rob Reiner as Jordan’s accountant dad, delights us with warmth and humor in some very good scenes. Matthew McConnaughey has a rambunctious, hilarious as Jordan’s cynical, first Wall Street mentor.

The Wolf of Wall Street delivers powerful commentary on American culture in a such a profound and unconventional format. Realism isn’t Scorsese’s goal, what he tries to achieve is to convey how it must feel to live inside this bubble making it feel desirable: a trap Scorsese skillfully plays with and avoids. The more the spiral spins, the more grotesque this world becomes, the more that initial fascination is replaced with unease and ultimately disgust.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Saving Mr. Banks (2013) Movie Review

Saving Mr. Banks is about author P.L. Travers reflection on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen. Alternating between the 1960s production of Mary Poppins and P. L. Travers childhood in the early 1900s the story is told in non chronological order. The film would have still worked the same if told in order, but the shift between the different era keep things moving without contemplating its own purpose. Themes click a lot faster and character specific moments serve more than essential piece of development as they better correlate the connection Traverse has with her work. By its own structure it’s a design that juggles the correlation between Travers personal life and the work of fiction she holds so dear to her, silver lining the acceptance of change and letting go of the past, and a what it means to be a storyteller. All these ideas are balanced making the journey with earnest emotions. However its characters are a different story. This being a film about P. L. Traverse she is the most define and only three dimensional character. Everyone she interacts gets across a theme which in this story is a positive. Much like the flashback this provides depth in the main theme and sheds a light on how Traverse sees her work and understand the power it has on other.

One of theme that never comes full circle is addiction. While the core relationship of fatherly love works. What doesn’t work is the attempted correlation of addiction between Travers and her father. P. L. Traverse is at a point in her life where she stopped her addiction to tell stories and the core of Travers flashbacks is her father addiction to alcohol. The film wants to tell us that Travers has a deep connection towards her father, but unlike Travers where her inspiration for writing is clear of her father root is misguidedly vice versa. With no exploration in what triggered Traverse drinking problem it also negates what made Traverse stop writing in the first place. Things are missing from these two backstory with one having no beginning and the other having no ending. Still, it’s for it few flaws the story can connect to the viewer no matter how much of it is accepted as truth or fiction.

In a movie about artists that are addicted to their craft, you need actors that work with the same type of fervor. Emma Thompson despite not getting top billing gets the most screen time, gets the toughest job, and delivers the film best performance. She becomes very dislikable and yet sympathetic at the same time. Tom Hanks gives Walt Disney a humanized performance that separates the flawed man from the myth the Disney Company. The rest of the cast does not disappoint, and we even see Colin Farrell potentially impresses as the loving yet extremely defective father figure. Paul Giamatti chief amongst the supporting actors as Travers’ driver, Ralph, a doleful puppy in human form that responds to every brush-off and verbal slap with another smile and encouraging word. There’s no lazy leaning towards slapstick or cheap shots, rather director John Lee Hancock steers their scenes gently allowing both the frostiness and the occasional sprinkles of sunlight to sparkle with sincerity. Hancock visually is creative in framing a true story to be grander than it probably was. One particular noticeable sequence is when the creative team performs one of the songs and Travers has a flashback. For a film that is about the writing process, Saving Mr. Banks never really shows about the writing process that Travers goes through, but explores the writing process of adapting a work, from one medium to another.

Saving Mr. Banks is more about fathers and a storyteller emotional connection towards their work than it is about the making of a beloved film. With a focus on the bigger picture it gives a better understanding of the value that storytellers hold to their work which in some form or another is seen as an extension. It’s a film that can connects to storytellers as strongly to any kind of audience.

8/10

Cinema-Maniac: Lone Survivor (2014) Movie Review

War films walk a thin line of being another action sub genre to propaganda promoting or discouraging the idea of war. The overall picture is what most of these films tend to get across forgetting the hardship endured by soldiers comrade or not are just as painful. “Lone Survivor” premise alone gives it enough ground to break the mold common to war films making it all the more disappointing that it’s just standard action movie.

Lone Survivor follows Marcus Luttrell and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, in late June 2005. Before reaching the fifty-five minute mark the film failure to provide sufficient characterization is it biggest detractor. Simply applying the soldiers were married and had kids doesn’t automatically garner sympathy. We get no background on what each soldier specialize in or their ranking before and during their operation. Most of the dialogue in the first half of the film is military exposition (equipment not working, position of environment, examining battle conditions, you name it) with the occasional conversations relating to the soldiers personal lives. These few non work related conversations is the closest the film comes to making the soldiers appear as friends instead of coworkers. A shame as the film heavily plays on the idea that the soldiers have allot more history together than it actually bother to touch upon. The actual tragedy occurs pass the fifty-five minute mark derailing for a second half more interested in action than its soldiers. For the next thirty-five minutes get ready for a long stretch of action that replaces dialogue for constant gunfire. Structurally the film is fundamentally broken unable to balance story, tone, pacing, and characters in three acts. No matter at which point you skip into the film it’s story is so deadpan that nothing in between really needs your attention. Simple to the point that it doesn’t require much attention even if you sleep to the middle of it you can easily connect the pieces. This film biggest crime is not that it took a true story and turned it into an action film. No, it’s biggest crime is taking a true story and giving it a sense of fiction that tells the audience nothing about the soldiers who lost their lives and making it comes across as a product instead of an inspiring true story about soldiers who died and fought what they strongly believed in.

On the technical side there’s a hardly a thing wrong with “Lone Survivor”. Peter Berg falters when it comes to drama, but when it comes to action he delivers. On his part it was a good decision to make the lengthy battle in the middle of the film. Because of this in real time we get an understanding how dire the situation is for the soldiers fighting and slowly showing the ever growing scars on their bodies. Seeing the battle unfold is unrelenting with seemingly never ending gunfire even if the staging comes off as pure Hollywood given the amount pain the soldiers can take. When it comes to acting the main four which includes Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, and Emile Hirsch are on equal grounds. If not for the poster (but mostly a bad editing decision) you wouldn’t be able to pick out the main character which works for the film intentions. Sadly because of the film shows in the beginning it kinda defeats what the actors did. Although that’s more to blame on Berg bad decision over the actors. The score is memorable reaching all the right notes to add emotions where the script failed to do so.

Lone Survivor ditches the human core of its story becoming a straightforward action movie. It’s structure is a mess with characterization taking a back seat to endless barrages of bullets. The intention to honor the men and their moral code are good, but the delivery of it is not what the story needed. If it weren’t for the fact that “Lone Survivor” was based on a true story this would have been labeled as another typical action movie.

6/10

Cinema-Maniac: Celluloid (2013) Movie Review

History and time are bound to lose or completely forget important pieces and people that had a hand in a major contribution. That sad truth also applies to films; for every classic film enthusiast know about, there is bound to dozens of hidden gems just as good or even superior that don’t share th-e same spotlight. In the case of “Celluloid” it’s a person by the name of J.C. Daniels who name was almost to history. J.C. Daniel life story is not a story that will fascinate film enthusiasts, but one that shares the passion for films as much the audience does.

Celluloid tells the story of J C Daniel, who made the first ever Malayalam film ‘Vigathakumaran’ in 1928, resulting in his exile and eventual downfall. Its linear narrative structure spends the first half chronicling the production of “Vigathakumaran” while the second half chronicles the aftermath of the film’s production. Tonally the two halves could have created an uneven shift, but is well handled that the tonal shift is not jarring. Its usage of humor in the first half is subtle always being the background while the true heart of the crew behind the film is on the forefront. You’ll get a detailed depiction of the film’s production and its aftermath alongside knowing the people who made it and their struggles during production. It’s as much a film about the making of “Vigathakumaran” as much as it is about life itself. Themes such as chasing difficult dreams, facing class discrimination, losing yourself in your art, your passion destroying you, and many relatable themes that are easy to connect with. The film never paints the film crew as ever being significant themselves, but seen as average people like the common film lover. Liking them for their passion and good spirit. As a standalone film it could be seen as a film about chasing dreams and as a biopic teaches the uninitiated about the “Father of Malayalam Cinema”. J.C. Daniel story is one film lovers will easily get behind. You have an youngster burning passion for the art of filmmaking wanting to make a film. His journey is fun, inspiring, and tragic. Much like a great film J.C. Daniel story becomes more than a film to watch and more of a reflection one’s similar passion towards their dreams filled with well developed characters and story that’s easy to identify with resonating to film lovers on a personal level.

Prithviraj Sukumaran comes up with a stupendous performance as the young and ambitious Daniel as well as the old, ailing and resigned version in later years. Looking and behaving like the actual J.C. Daniel capturing the psychological turmoil that Daniel goes through in the later years of his life with great competence. Mamta Mohandas, who essays the role of Daniel’s wife, gives a fine performance as the supportive and later suffering better-half. The innocence that spurts out of the corner of her lips as they stretch into a hesitant smile defines the person that Rosie must have been; unimaginably daring and yet immensely terrified. Sreejith Ravi and Century Jayaraj give commendable support as Daniel’s friends who aid him in making his dream come true. Chandni gives a stunning performance filled with naiveté, excitement, anxiety and genuine curiosity for this never-before-seen phenomenon called Cinema. Her innocence and wonder at her new surroundings practically leaps off the screen. Venu’s cinematography and art-direction by Suresh Kollam contribute a lot towards recreating the past in the best of manners. Editing by Rajagopal is also good. Anyhow, it’s the cinematography and the art-work that require special mention taking back into the audience back to Travancore of the late 1920s and late 1960s, thanks to the able support rendered by all technicians involved. M Jayachandran has come out with music that gives us an old-time feel. There may be some who’d vouch against songs in a bio-pic like this; but there is no point denying the fact that the songs do add to the appeal of the film as a popular and commercial venture that don’t hamper the flow in any way.

Celluloid is a passionate film about the art of filmmaking and a reminder how it could be a lost treasure. Touching upon the importance of preserving a film no matter if the majority hate it and giving respect to those who deserve it. It’s a film that will make you laugh, that will inspired, make you sad, and give a sense of accomplishment that an important figure wasn’t a mere footnote in history. No matter how insignificant his impact is known to the world the same could be apply us. However small our influence is those inspired by us will leave a big impact to strive for better things.

10/10