Tag Archives: Book Adaptation

Mukoku (2017)

I recall one day seeing a trailer for the movie Mukoku (2017) without subtitles, and something about it just struck with me. I had no clue what was going on in the trailer, but it was filled with energy, and drama that I wanted to check it out by any means. When I did some digging into the movie, Mukoku is actually based on a novel written by author Shushei Fujisawa who wrote the novels The Twilight Samurai, Love and Honor, and The Hidden Blade all which got critically successful film adaptations. Discovering this information explains why the film was successfully crowdfunded  on Motion Gallery.  More interestingly though, apparently one of things that would be covered by the campaign was apparently English subtitles. I don’t know Japanese, and I’m using Google translate so that could be wrong. If not, I would say that is a shame, but I didn’t end up thinking much of the movie to my dismay. I’m hoping the people who gave money to this production got what they wanted because I sure certainly didn’t.

The setup to this sports drama is our protagonist Kengo (Go Ayano) is drowning in his misery tying his love of Kendo to his trouble relationship with his father. The opening terrifically showcases the harsh training Kengo underwent as a child, and implying through a simple transition the animosity it build in him through adulthood. Instead of continuing from this great opening we’re instead introduce to teenage rapper Tooru (Nijrio Murakami). A significantly less interesting character who became a detriment of the movie’s story. These two characters are in stark contrast showcasing what I love, and hate about independent filmmaking.

“With this Bokuto, I shall unleashed my Black Ghost!”

Kengo is a complex character facing conflicting emotions within himself fighting his inner demons. Father abuse, guilt for making his father bedridden, his tainted view on a sport he loves, and being unable to forgive himself are enough to make an entire movie around. However, Tooru has to have just much screen allotted to him who just plods along feeling like a series of just because. Tooru is missing that history that makes Kengo worth following on his story. Creating a noticeable detachment between Kengo, and Tooru portions of the movie.

Tooru introduction of possibly being traumatized by a drowning incident inadvertently excites him. After that sequence, it’s a up to your interpretation method to characterizing him. Unlike Kengo who has plenty of traits to tie him to reality serving the abstract storytelling well in his part. Tooru has less going for him with the abstract storytelling leaving him shallow.

So for about thirty minutes it takes the art house approach of being deliberately slow. This minimalistic approach ends up backfiring whenever the focus is on Tooru. It’s established early on he loves to write rap music, but that ends up amounting to nothing. Not even the lack of acknowledgement that Tooru just abandoned it contribute to Tooru lack of personality. Another issue is some of its story gets lost in translation. Things like Kengo becoming what he hates in his father gets lost in the shuffle of subplots, and side characters that remain underdeveloped.

Other than Kendo, Tooru doesn’t have much going for him

Kengo on the hand must go through the road to recovering. Seemingly more hopeless the more he looks into himself. Eventually asking himself if he truly hates his father enough to want to kill him. Not only this, but by showing glimpses of Kengo, and his father interacting it’s position in a way where it’s not cut, and dry on how viewers should feel about this conflict. Kengo father is gradually developed to be just as much of a tragic figure as Kengo. Providing a complex father, and son dynamic promised in the opening of the movie.

Alongside the uneven writing quality between Tooru, and Kengo portions of the movie is the pacing. Bad pacing is consistent as scenes always feel dragged out longer than they should be. With Kengo it makes sense since he’s regularly seen tormented by his past, while Tooru gets none of that. Tooru gets plenty of training sessions in substitute of depth. The importance of proving his worth to his Kendo master gets lost among the sloppy writing. Mixing up looking for excitement with proving himself.

“You act like your hot stuff, but it doesn’t matter because it’s all a big bluff” (Note: Never improv rap)

As much as I praised Kengo side of the story one area it falter where Tooru exceeds at is the climax. An eventual match between Kengo, and Tooru gets set up around 40 something minutes into the movie. It’s not a confrontation that offers either character an extensive introspection of who they are. This confrontation works for Tooru storyline since it feels aimless, but eventually finds purpose. Kengo on the other storyline has purpose, but comes off as a cheap solution to everything setup. Kengo literally lashing out his frustration on a Tooru doesn’t like the right course his character should take, nor makes it work.

Water is used as a metaphor in this movie in a in your face form, but the intended meaning is very foggy. My own interpretation from the movie, Kengo was drowning in his misery, and Tooru wants a excitement similar to the time he almost drowned since it sexually excites him. It’s leaves little to the imagination when Tooru yells out “I’m coming! I’m coming! I’M COMING!” when fighting against Kengo in the rain. Once they both reached the conclusion of their arcs it’s clear how water as a metaphor was used for Kengo. On Tooru it’s baffling since it seems like it regresses his character. His whole love of writing lyrics for music up vanishes, and repeats his behavior again. Of course it be they both stop drowning themselves inadvertently helping each other overcome a dark aspect of their past. I’ll go with that last one since art house movies waver in having a clear message.

“You have shame me son. Time to commit Sodoku!”

Easily the best of part Mukoku for me was Go Ayano. His acting was top notch in the film portraying a tragic soul in his character. Delivery his lines in a way where every verbal outburst leaves an impression of a self destructed man. Ayano sloppy movements is a nice touch when he picks up a wooden sword in any scene he holds one. Showing great form, and control of the bokuto (wooden swords) convincing the viewer he’s a true kendo expert.

Nijiro Murakami does a good job as Tooru in spite of the sloppy material. With the exception of the one line delivery “I’M COMING!” at the top of his lungs. Murakami comes off very naturally. Granted Murakami subtle performance does come at the cost of being able to show his full range as an actor like Go Ayano during his more dramatic intense scenes. Kaoru Kobayashi was great in his brief time. Instantly he’s able to create a stern, and tough father figure in a matter of seconds. I personally would have liked to see more of him making quite an impression. Akira Emoto who plays a dojo master I could have done without. He simply seems like he’s phoning it in. Not a single scene that he was a part of did I believe he was his character.

I will admit, the Kendo fights are well done. Not enough of them

On the technical side it’s pretty modest. Other than a few shots at the beach the cinematography is bland. Only twice in the movie is there an attempt to make up it lack of visual flair with ingenious transitions. My favorite one was easily Nijiro Murakami performing a rap song on stage; he goes down to a crowd fence, vomits mud & fish next to the crowd fence, the lights behind him shines up creating a foggy like effect, Murakami sees paperlike cut out of the audience underwater, and the water rises up above him. This clever transition shows the viewer a crucial part of his past without making it obvious it takes place in the past. Sound design can be absorbing, and atmospheric as much as the direction can be overbearing in places, especially the thirty minutes that feel longer than they should be. The Kendo fights are few, but they are well done, especially one where Go Ayano goes into a dojo, and beats up like a dozen students in training with ease.

For around the last 6 to 8 minutes Mukoku has no dialogue much in the same way I ran out of things to say about this movie. I found it disappointing since my sometime jaded views on sport stories in any media is a large hurdle to overcome. So when I found one that tick the box of doing something I don’t expect, and with a sport I rarely see depicted of course that’ll grab my attention. Strange how a movie that also touches on finding peace in oneself does the opposite for me. Sadly, only Go Ayano performance is the only aspect I came out liking in a otherwise middling movie with too much highs, and too much lows to suggest anyone check out.

Rating: 5/10

Cinema-Maniac: Brooklyn (2015) Review

Simplicity isn’t something I demand when it comes to films. One reason being I prefer films that offer plenty for me to analyze either on a technical, or narrative level. Another reason being when it comes down to it simple stories, and simple characters are easy to fully comprehend on one viewing. Leaving very little to ponder once the film ends. Sometimes offering no reasons to rewatch a simple film in the future if I understood everything I wanted on a single viewing. At the same time it’s a necessity to have simplicity in films because not every great story, and masterpiece needs complexity. I would much rather have films like Whiplash which while not an amazing viewing experience soars in accomplishing its single minded goal as opposed to something that collapsed under its own weight. Brooklyn I would place alongside with a film like Whiplash; both films didn’t provide anything amazing of an experience from the reception they received, but they accomplished what they set out to do with little to no hiccups.

Brooklyn is about an Irish immigrant, Ellis (Saoirse Ronan), who lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local while being torn up between two countries she loves. The film is a simple mixture of coming age, and romance that doesn’t get elaborate. It follows a simple three act structure, and is linear as a film can traditionally get. What differentiate it from a traditional romance film is nothing in the film is overly dramatize. Conversations feel natural with dinner scenes serving to get across the passage of time without directly stating it. These dinner scenes also provide the films with most of the jokes as well as some insight into some it characters. Everything in the film is written to get across the most amount of information with simple dialogue. Working wondrously for the film.

Oh, been wondering what happened to Carrot Top.

The romance isn’t the main focus of the film, but rather use as a narrative tool to show growth in Ellis life. Showing Ellis as young timid girl to eventually becoming an adult woman. Her interaction with her love interest, Tony (Emory Cohen), changes her as a person, and seeing those changes is what makes the romance effective. Much like Ellis, Tony feels like an actual person expressing the kind of life he desires with Ellis. In his own understated way contributes more to the film than just being a love interest. Another appealing aspect of the romance is how it portrayed. There’s no flair to any of it. One example of this is when Tony confesses to Ellis he loves her, and the scene is neither accompanied by music, nor characters making a big deal out of it. Simply being treated as another part of the relationship. Granted a love confession in serious relationship is significant, but the way it written it intently wants the audience to know every moment between these two is significant no matter the context.

As a coming of age film it has the message of growing up is filled with hardship, but an added bonus is actually seeing the character growth in the film. It does not end when Ellis experience a life altering event by moving to 1950s America. The film instead uses the opportunity of Ellis growing to make her face a serious dilemma. Viewing the conflict she face with in a new light as oppose in the beginning of the film where she viewed it like a young adult simply going along with what everyone else wanted. It’s also very clever how it uses a one off character within the first act of the film to be a fulfilling showcase of far of a person Ellis came in her journey. In terms of a tone it plays out a bit like a fantasy before the third act where reality comes crashing down. While there is the issue of living in an entire country feeling homesick, and trouble socializing it never overcomes Ellis life. She is simply able to deal with her problems directly. If not, then she’ll asks her friends, or family for advice.

Creed: With arms with open.

If there is any serious issue with the film writing it would be the climax of the film. Once Ellis has to decide to live in Ireland with a newfound purpose, or go back to the US to a life that helped her transition into adulthood. The catalyst, or motive that determines Ellis decision feels tacked on plain, and simple. Throughout the film, it makes an attempt to make both 1950’s America, and Ireland as desirable places to live without any serious problems that is too much to handle. However, after a conversation with someone Ellis didn’t like in her past it reminds her of everything she hated that particular country. Here lies the simple problem of the audience not knowing what Ellis specifically means. This film starts out with Ellis spending her last day in Ireland before going to America, and that’s honestly all the viewer is given on Ireland. She experience similar events in both the US, and Ireland. Viewers only gain a full understanding of how much the US means to her as oppose to Ireland where it comes across as a repeat of what Ellis experienced in America. However, like the rest of the film, this is an understated moment that does not dramatize the climax “movie moment” kind of way. The same applies to the ending. While subtle in showing how much Ellis grew as a person it is also understated. Everything about the is simple to comprehend, and in a understated execution succeeds in what it tackles.

Much like the screenplay by Nick Hornby, the acting is once again understated, but for simple reasons. None of the performances are powerhouses, though they’re all fine because of the film’s direction. Saoirse Ronan takes leading the role as Ellis portraying in one of her most challenging role. She comes off as awkward, naive, sincere, funny, and other shades of her character. What is best about this performance is how steadily she transition into becoming an adult. It’s a steady change that retains her character established traits with a new boost of confidence. She expresses through her performance how much she matured, and her facial expressions gets it across vividly. There is a not a scene in the film where you’ll be impressed by her acting since the entire film is subdue in emotion. Taking a timid woman at the start of the film, and convinces viewers she’s now a strong individual. Still, it’s another noteworthy performance from Saoirse Ronan who doesn’t have to put up a fake American in this film which is another plus.

I’ll take any opportunity to post a image of Saoirse Ronan. What? I like her.

The other performances are overshadowed by Saoirse Ronan. Of course it’s because she the leading actress, but there’s rarely a scene where she’s not present. Only Emory Cohen gets the most of amount of screen time of the supporting cast. His performance is also sincere, and very believable in his performance. The moments he shares with Saoirse Ronan are sweet. They’re both good onscreen together. Acting veterans like Jim Broadbent, and Julie Walters aren’t utilize much in the films. Walters can deliver a funny line, but with the exception of one scene she’s mostly spent her time in the dinner scenes with some kind of reference to god. Jim Broadbent is in the film less so since his only purpose seems to be to deliver a plot point to get the story rolling. He doesn’t get to do much in the film, but doesn’t takes it seriously nonetheless to not be a distraction. Then there’s Domhnall Gleeson who only appears in the third act. His chemistry with Saoirse Ronan makes it possible to believe why Ronan character can like him, even if they spent less time together. 

Supporting actors like Hugh Gormley, Brid Brennan, Maeve McGrath, Emma Lowe, Barbara Drennan, Fiona Glascott, Jane Brennan, Eileen O’Higgins play typical characters. Being used mostly to portray the nice old lady, the woman who has trouble maintaining relationship, the depressed mother, the irritable old woman, and other archetypes. As you might have imagined none of these archetype are exaggerating the personality. Director John Crowley doesn’t miss anything when it comes to details in the costumes, and showing visually showing good distinction between two countries. Yves Belanger cinematography is visually the most interesting part of the film. Offering some standard wide shots, but it’s at it best when it comes to showing the most out of its actors performances. Music is composed by Michael Brook offering a classic sounding soundtrack to the film, and having some Irish music. John Crowley is smart enough to know when to place music, and when not too.

Brooklyn is a film that will leave viewers conflicted at the raving reception it received. While in no way close to resembling a bad film it’ll nonetheless contribute to disappointment by its many raving reviews that it receives. This will make some viewers expect something grander than what they will actually see. On the contrary, if you want a coming of age, and romance that is more down to earth than Brooklyn is the film for you. It’s has sweet moments of romance without being sugarcoated. Has the ability to gripping without over dramatizing any events. By all, it’s a simple film that knows how to tell a simple tale without many layers on it, and when it works nearly this flawlessly it doesn’t have to be more than it is.


Cinema-Manaic: Beasts of No Nation (2015) Movie Review

Cesar: “Can you put the Bat down?”

Matoi: “Why should I? You laughed at the sight of dead kids watching this movie.”

Cesar: “So? No matter what subject matter a film tackle a bad movie is a bad movie.”

Matoi: “I still think you’re insane.”

Cesar: “Fine, but I rather not have my laptop be destroyed.”

Matoi: “Sure, so long you tell me why you think this is a bad movie without comparing it to other films that tackle the same issues.”

Cesar: “Seriously? Than how will I get across how uninspired the film is.”

Matoi: “You figure that out.”

Beasts of No Nation falls into a difficult category of films to dislike. It revolves around a relevant issue that affect the lives of young children, and going against it can give the misconception you don’t care about human life. I often find myself quoting the song “Do You Feel” by one man band Bryce Avary aka The Rocket Summer when in discussion on these matters. Beside lacking expert knowledge on such matters, I ask myself if the cause wants me to see those involved as people, or simply victims of a crime. The portrayal of such tragic events, and crimes is just as important as understanding the reasons that caused them in the first place. Without that, ignorance further grows….

Matoi: “Stay on topic Cesar”

Beasts of No Nation tells the “story” of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country. Within the first act of the film the writing shows some immediate cracks in its crafting, and execution of a delicate story. For example, instead of establishing an average day, or week for Agu steadily throwing in politics removing more, and more aspects of the average life it establishes war torn nation is the norm in his life. The film immediately jumps into its politically unstable setting before bringing up any history to this unnamed country has. It gets explained briefly in two scenes, but the broad generalization of the details can be apply to anywhere. Being incapable to express the value the people place on the country, or the people living in it. Then there’s also the writing failing to make the unnamed country significant to Agu in a meaningful way. There’s more to someone home than being a place to live in, but the film says otherwise made evident by its execution on the story. By not setting up the foundation for the drama to stem from the film ultimately feels aimless.

Commandant: “Graham knows we’re onto him, all right? And he’ll try, and kill as many as he can before we catch him, and if I terrify his wife to stop that happening. I can live with that”

Another aspect that crumbles because of the writing are the characters. Agu, despite being our main character, is not a defined person. He’s simply a ploy to do whatever the story commands of him. For example, in the first act Agu is shown to have a brother whom it’s easy to assume they have a good connection with one another. Agu brother is not treated as a person in the story which makes the weight of his character less significant. This wouldn’t be an issue if Agu displayed some sorrow over losing family members in his life, but does not which is apparent with his brother never coming to mind after the first act. The only time Agu is shown, or hinted at caring for his family is when he has to bid farewell to family members due to circumstances that prevented him from leaving the country. Then, there’s the other kids Agu interact with in the beginning of the film which if under good hands one of those kids would have also been with Agu in his journey. Sadly, this isn’t the case as Agu never seems to ponder much for his family, even if he loses a person close to him in front of his eyes the film does not allow Agu to display his emotions. Nor does Agu seem to care about the livelihood of his friends either at it is never brought up.

In its two hours, and 17 minutes run time it feels longer than it actually is. This is contributed to the uninspired formula the film chooses to tell its story. You have a kid whose innocence get taken away from him because of a war, they see families and friends dying as the war worsen, they befriend someone in the militia/rebel fighters that force them to fight, get noticed by the commander demanding more of the child besides fighting, the eventual downfall of the rebel fighter group, and finally the ending which either has the child dying for the cause, or struggling to settle back into society because of his experience. It’s a typical telling of the story minus engaging material that explores the psychology of it lead character. Another aspect that does not help is the cinematography gives away plot point when it lingers too long on something. However, the formula for kids drag into war stories start at a point where it shows the good life of the kids. This film avoids this aspect immediately throwing viewers into the politically violent nation. Afterwards, the child would be captured by a rebel leader, and this is where the kid would be forced to either choose to make a stand to hold true to what he/she believes, or do something that can damage them through adulthood. It also glances over this plot point as Agu simply becomes a fighter without protest which hinders the impact the story should have had.

Commandant: “Chop em up boys! We got us dinner tonight!”

Then at some point in this story the child protagonist eventually has to come across a point where he is forced to kill somebody in front of a commanding officer. Agu does not show, nor expresses any hesitation when this pivotal moment happens. Giving the false impressions Agu didn’t apply any values to human life before the war which yes means despite saying he loves his friends, and family it’s simply for show instead of an ideal for the character. Now, not all films of this subject matters has the child killing someone to show how much the character changed from their normal life before being taken to war. In some cases, the kids would even protest doing such a thing resulting in either severe punishment, or deaths at the hands of the rebel leader. However, earlier in the film there was a shot that lingered on an unimportant event of a kid going into a shack with the commander. Since I know the plot beats of these kind of stories (particularly the uninspired ones) I expected the child to lose their innocence. This same shot also spelled out the outcome of the “the turning point” (as I refer to these of plot beats) before it happened. This particular moment between Agu, and the commander could have painted a harrowing image of Agu lost childhood, but cuts from it before showing anything remotely hinting at the action. If the viewer got to see Agu reaction it would have been more harrowing than simply implying it. Like mentioned in the past, if you only provide a tame version of an atrocity the sugarcoating of the crime is more damaging.

Also in these kind of films the importance of family is empathize either be it with the protagonist actual family, or the rebel fighters they fight with. In Beasts of No Nation it gets both aspects of this plot point wrong. Agu actual family is used in a manipulative way in the scenes they’re written. At the beginning, it hints that Agu, and his brother don’t always see eye to eye, but after one brief moment of anger they get along easily. Now imagine this sort of portrayal for the rest of Agu family only showing them in a good light. However, without Agu expressing his sadness of losing his family it creates a detachment. This would have been remedied if the rebel were treated as Agu new family, except it’s not. The rebel fighters only has two character one of whom Strika, a mute who get no development pass that trait so you can pretty much guess what his contribution is. Most insulting about Strika character is he was unneeded in the way he was used since the film does not glorified child soldiers even in their eyes so using Strika to deliver the “War is bad” message only serves to hammer in its point.

I’m guessing this is how Netflix got a good performance from a child actor. Wonder if this technique will be common.

Matoi: “You still haven’t explained why you laughed during this film?”

Cesar: “Fine, but that was the fault of the editing.”

The editing in Beasts of No Nation is competent, though nothing outstanding about it. In general, there is nothing really to complain about the editing. There’s a moment in the film where the rebels, and Agu are cheering together as they take over a town. Up-roaring music also plays during the march as it shows the rebels relishing their victory before abruptly cutting to bodies of dead kids. This abrupt cut made me laugh because the music does not fade out, nor does the scene fade into showing the dead bodies of kids. It simply just cuts to the scene. Going from Agu celebrating on the streets with other gun wielding rebel fighters with up-roaring music to like a snap of a finger showing dead bodies is not good editing. Granted my suggestion of fading the music, and fading the scene out is plain, but is allot more appropriate in transitioning between the two tonally different scene. One is meant to be a dark celebration due to the context while the next moment is a cut back to reality. What it did was make me laugh when the movie is about a kid being forced to fight in a war.

Matoi: “Oh. I didn’t notice that while watching it.”

Cesar: “That’s okay. This is the reason Izanagi considers me the Devil when watching movies. I notice stuff that tend to go over his head.”

Matoi: “Keep going.”

Cesar: “Come on. I told you how a film about kids going to war made me laugh.”

Matoi: “You know you still have to explain why you think the movie is bad.”

Cesar: “Did you not listen to me? Whatever.”

By the end of the film it comes across empty. I wondered what was the point of it? Was it trying to say using children in warfare is bad? Well, of course it is Sergeant Obvious. That’s basically the equivalent of watching a film like Schindler’s List with the only thing it tells you is the Holocaust was bad. It is trying to be an exploration for the kids who participate in the war? To be blunt, it is not character study even in the minimal sense. It feels more exploitative using the images of little kids killing, or dead kids to make viewers care what from they’re suffering from and not because they’re people who lost their ways. Agu, our main character, simply accepts the new life as a combatant without protest making him appear as if family has no value to him.

The movie reveals more about Commandant (Idris Elba) leader of this rebellion than it does any of the children whom are the center of its focus. It demonstrates why so many rally behind Commandant, why the battles feel aimless under Commandant leadership, and why the Commandant lost his original purpose for fighting for Africa. Commandant has a motivation, has conflict, and reacts to it in a dynamic way expressing his distraught he can’t do anything for his country, or its people. However, Commandant is neither not the main character, nor the main focus despite the fact his subplot is written far better than the main story. Commandant feels like a struggling person because he expresses himself through he believes is right. This unknown nation, and its people mean something to him. Those strong emotions for his country, the people, and soldiers are not attributes found with Agu. For even when the violence seem aimless, and ordinary when itching close to the end how Agu dealt with the situation feels robotic in conveying emotions, and emotionless commenting about violence through the eyes of a child.

Matoi: “Well if the writing is as bad as you claim taking away the part you praised Idris Elba character. How come so many who’ve seen it are challenged by it?”

Cesar: “Images.”

Matoi: “I should break your laptop now.”

Cesar: “Wait! Some people are so close minded to real issues, and the dark nature of humanity they can’t phantom stuff like this as part of life. It’s part of human nature to be self centered. If possible we do it to ourself without thinking about it.”

Matoi: “So, you’re saying because we’re not expose to this sort of events people like it. That’s shallow of you.”

Cesar: “Well, it’s true for some people. Like it says in The Rocket Summer song “Do You Feel”. Why should I have to try to fix things I didn’t create or contrive? Do you feel the weight of the world singing sorrow, or to you is it just not real cause you got your own things? In the instance of Beasts of No Nation, it failed to make me care. Now can you move away from my laptop.”

Matoi: “Next time I’ll watch a movie with someone who isn’t as insensitive as you are.”

Cesar: “Well excuse me for hating a work of fiction.”

Matoi: “Wait, it’s not based on a true story?

Cesar: “Nope, just a novel.”

Matoi: “Oh, well, this is embarrassing. I’m going to leave.” [Matoi has exited the review]

Beasts of No Nation strengths are in its production aspects. Leading actor of the film is child actor Abraham Attah who was flawless in his portrayal. He gave his character more depth than the writing did. In his eyes, he gets across being a tortured soul with body motions that shows nervousness in the heat of danger. Subdue in his portrayal despite whatever context is given Abraham Attah balances the harrow nature of the film. Avoiding the pitfall of being too showy (at least for a child actor) opting for performing a character not simply being seen as a child actor.

Idris Elba: I see, my Oscar is the distance.

Lastly from the cast is the fantastic Idris Elba. While he does get overshadowed by his younger co-star Attah. Elba performance is nothing that be taken away from. Through his mannerism he slowly transform into a lost soul when reaching the end of the film. Idris Elba managed to sneakily create a performance that gets across his subtle manipulation of his character. Much like with Attah, Elba performance is mostly subdue with the only time he riles up is when he is inspiring soldiers to fight. The supporting cast do well in their roles, but aren’t given big roles like with Attah, and Elba to make much of an impression. They unfortunately fall into thankless roles, but aren’t wooden as the actors put allot of effort into their performances.

Cary Fukunaga’s cinematography is quite good ambitious, and atmospheric in its goals. Optimizing various wide shots of locations to set up the vast landscape, using close ups to get personal in dramatic scenes, and keeping the camera on a single actor for a period of time to follow the chaos. A huge compliment also goes in Cary Fukunaga decision in using filters for a majority of the film to make the scenes appear more realistic. When it comes to violence he doesn’t compromise showing dead kids, or showing a kid kill people. He does not stylized his violence. Rather, makes it as grounded, and dirty as possible to display the rough nature of combat. Dan Romer (the film composers) creates a score that favors ambiance for a foreboding atmosphere. Mixing various ambiguous instruments, like a drum kit made out of stringed instruments, to create musical that oscillates between themes of innocence, confusion, and terror. Progressing naturally as it changes tone in the film. Given the film doesn’t incorporate montages of fighting it was the right direction to take the music in. While unnoticeable it serves it purpose well by not drawing attention itself, nor taking away from its usage.

In the end, Beasts of No Nation is a hollow film whose images evoke more emotion than the people it is about. Despite the fact it’s based on a sensitive subject matter it provided no reason for me to care. Commandt was the most developed, and engaging character even though I’m clearly meant to hate him for basically making who know how many young children, and teenagers fight in a cause resulting in large amount of deaths under his command. It’s a shame he (Commandant) shows a greater importance for everything that is occurring around him than the filmmaker do. Agu who is the main character didn’t need to understand politics to express how the war changed him, and the effect it had on everything he held important. Sadly, that does not become a focus since Agu expresses little value to everything that gets taken away from him. While well made the images are the only aspect that will trigger a reaction since they involve kids committing war acts. It’s a shame things like this happen, but when done in this manner it comes across as lip service rather than showing concern for those in the same position.


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.


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.


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.


Cinema-Maniac: Ender’s Game (2013)

War is a two sided conflict that is condemned and rewarded that mostly have been seen through the eyes of adult in films. Certain films have touched upon the subject of killing a child soldier and how it affects children at young age, but rarely any put a child in front and center in war with as much power as in “Ender’s Game”. On the surface “Ender’s Game” is an ambitious film that misses its mark emotionally, but intellectually succeeds where it counts most.

Ender’s Game follows Ender Wiggin, a brilliant young mind who is recruited and trained to lead his fellow soldiers into a battle that will determine the future of Earth. The plot is intellectual though restraints itself from being thought provoking. What it provides are questions and explores several possibilities for answers on how far a battle should be taken. One central question that is our main focus is what makes a good leader; lacking compassion seeking only to win no matter how many lives are lost or becoming one with your team forming better solutions in areas the leader has little understanding in. Exploration is always a factor in its established world. War is seen on a much greater devastating level letting kids have a major influence the outcome. It does not shy away showing the hardship with Ender’s psychology being brought to question. Showing the effects how drastic responsibility can affect Ender to the point of being cold and dehumanizing his own spirit. Making matter worse are the adults around them being as divided in seeing them as children over puppets of warfare. Both the adults and kids mindset on war correlate as much as they differ with one another. When it reaches the end it is clear what position the film takes in truly ending all wars avoiding touching upon the complexities of that solution. This same rule can be apply to the rest of the chosen topics suffering from mood swings switching quickly from one position to another.

As a complete film it is intelligent making its dumb moments more noticeable. The biggest offender being why kids are being taught to lead an army is reduce to age and processing data. Simplifying some aspect of the story is fine; however, whenever this film provides a simple response to a question it’s not selling the reasons behind it. Choices like these leaves out a plot where significant key points are loss and a complete understanding of the characters are left out. Important characters relationship are minimized. Characters are large in numbers, but few in holding any weight. No matter how often the film highlights the strong bond between Ender and his sister Valentine emotionally its hold no weight. Only three characters are given any development and only Ender end receives enough become a fleshed character. This universe no matter how many times it states the human race is at stake tells to care about an issue where it did little to garner it. The aliens only make an appearance in the ending and the appearances are slightly foreshadowed. Aside from the alien tactics these aliens never become an established threat. These aliens appeared to be created to metaphor a common enemy much closer than what one might expect.

Asa Butterfield excels in capturing Ender’s spirit, strength, bravery and vulnerability. Effortlessly switching emotional gears from being cold to having a heart when needed to. Creating a tense dynamic with Ford that hits the boiling point in the concluding scenes. Harrison Ford leverages on his grandfatherly gravitas in portraying a man who is convinced that the end he has in mind will justify any means. Sharing a hint of humanity in a man that lost hope years ago. Ben Kingsley hams it up in his small part in very silly manner. Other performances are one dimensional ranging from being the nice sibling, the cruel sibling, the other bully (Moises Arias acting is fine, but his physical height does not help him sell his character), the other nice person, among multiple uninspired characteristics. The film is as much an intelligence experience as it is a blockbuster. CGI brings to the screen thousands of detailed warships in various sizes in the same battle. Like space itself the simulated battles sequences are big in scope visually having a series of blockbuster worthy moments. Groundbreaking the technology is not outstanding it is having hundreds of airships looking convincingly selling the exhilarating battles. Production design is decent with this future setting looking close to modern times, but lacking anything gives itself an identity. As for the film score it is generic. Loud and bombastic music indistinguishable from a trailer for a blockbuster.

Ender’s Game is more thoughtful look at tactical warfare exploring difficult subjects through the often ignore eyes of kids. Missing is any reason to care about the fate of the our own Planet not feeling connected as one should taking away it scope. It brings brains to the dilemma on the extent of war and how should it be taken for anyone protection. Intellectually Ender’s Game is one stimulating experience minus the attachment to take it to heart.