Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Perfect Host

#15 - The Perfect Host


SUMMARY (Spoilers Below)

A young man who has just robbed a bank, named John Taylor, is trying to find a place to hide and finds himself taking refuge in the home of a seemingly weak-willed man named Warwick Wilson who is about to have a dinner party.  He first pretends to be a friend of a friend, but then when he hears information about himself on the radio, he takes Warwick hostage. However, the hostage situation does not last long as the tables are suddenly turned and the criminal becomes the hostage…as well as the dinner guest.  As the evening progresses, we learn about the reason why John robbed the bank and we also learn about the other guests that Warwick has entertained, with all of their evenings ending the same way: no longer breathing.

REVIEW

How much do I love this? Let me count the ways.  Number one, David Hyde Pierce.  This actor is wonderful and I can’t help but see an unbalanced version of Niles (from his character of Niles Crane in the show Frasier) in his role as Warwick Wilson.  The second reason why I love this movie is because of the innumerable layers that exist in the text and subtext of the film. 

In the very beginning, we encounter John Taylor, a bank robber, who is on the run and when he fails with his cover story with one person, he then goes next door and succeeds with his story with a seemingly normal man (Warwick) who is about to have a dinner party, and then tries to act as normal as possible, which he succeeds in doing for quite a long time…until the APB for him is put out on the radio and his host unwittingly hears it and ends up becoming a hostage.  I love this whole long set up at the beginning of the movie, completely convincing you that Warwick is truly an innocent man who is just in the wrong place at the wrong time…but then, the tables are turned in an unexpected and wonderful way.  Warwick has apparently been drugging the wine that John has been drinking and takes advantage of John and ties him to a chair.



This set of scenes is wonderful and absolutely powerful due to the amazing talent of David Hyde Pierce! He transitions between being completely helpless to completely in control so smoothly, so flawlessly, that I found myself rooting for him, even after I discover that he is a murderer.


He is a fascinating character and becomes even more fascinating in the next scenes, when you see him sitting at the table having his dinner party.  That is the scene where you find out not everything is as it seems…

From Warwick’s perspective (shot from John's end of the table), we see four dinner guests arrive, but from John’s perspective (shot from Warwick's end of the table), we realize that there aren’t any dinner guests and that the man entertaining him and holding him hostage is mentally unbalanced. This was the scene that blew me away with its’ genius! In the movie trailer, it’s not even hinted at, which is very good editing on the editors’ part.


I can’t help but be amazed by how much David manages to convince me that he is truly off of his rocker, while still being control the entire time.  He’s crazy, but still completely in control.


This is a fine line that Pierce portrays in the character of Warwick throughout the movie and it really blows me away.  He manages to tread that line between insanity and sanity through the whole movie, and then you find out why he doesn't just give in: he's the chief of police and is the one who's supposed to catch John. You see him battling with his invisible dinner guests throughout the movie and quickly understand that he's battling with his subconscious desire of  having complete control and also giving into his bloodlust at the same time.


There's a great scene where they're playing chess, and Warwick is completely confident that he's going to win...and then John declares checkmate. Suddenly, the diabolically evil and confident Warwick is diminished back to the unsure man that we first met and the difference is staggering. The extremes in his character are brilliant and so well played and I think that David Hyde Pierce deserved an award for his performance!


I love this movie for more reasons, but the most wonderful part of this whole movie is the play by play between John and Warwick. The biggest reason why I love this movie is the fact that both of the bad guys get away with it, which makes me happy.  I know that seems a bit odd, but I love it when the smart people actually win.  I like it when the smartest ones win, and they do in this movie.  The best part of everything in this movie is that there is one resounding theme: Control is all about perspective.  The illusion of control can easily be pulled over someone’s eyes if you know their weaknesses.  Control is always an illusion and is very hard to maintain.

I give this movie five out of five stars!!




The Oranges



#14 - The Oranges




SUMMARY (Courtesy of IMDB)

The enduring friendship between the Walling and Ostroff families is tested when Nina, the prodigal Ostroff daughter, returns home for the holidays after a five-year absence and enters into an affair with David, head of the Walling family.

REVIEW

This movie is an immediate favorite in my book! Of course, the language is coarse and some of the sexual terms are quite vulgar…but the message in the movie is excellent.  At first glance, this seems to be a movie about a May-December romance, which is secretly a favorite theme of mine.  Hugh Laurie plays David Walling and, with his American accent, it’s a bit strange at first to see him playing such a sympathetic man with such a moral center, but it suits him well.  Leighton Meester plays Nina Ostroff and does an excellent job at playing off of Hugh Laurie in the movie, and they seem to have a strong chemistry that draws them together.  All of the actors bring strong performances to their roles, but Laurie and Meester are truly the shining stars of the film.



Throughout the movie there is wonderful background music, especially during the reflective moments, composed of simple but powerful piano music.  I loved how raw it was with the emotion and how they didn’t try to sugarcoat anything.  They’re emotional and reactive and real.  The way that subject is approached is refreshing and wonderful. I don’t condone cheating, though, in any way, so I won’t try and endorse it, but I will say that the plotline was written with a keen eye for relationships and how they affect not just the two people involved, but also the whole family.


One of my favorite scenes between the two of them is right before the first time they kiss.  They’re sitting on the couch and then they lean in towards one another and they meet halfway, which tells the audience that they both wanted to cross that line.


Nina and David being together is, of course, drawing controversy from both families, but I love how they decide to take the chance and try things out with each other.  It seems as though David is having a mid-life crisis, taking the time to sow his wild oats for a second time, but at the same time there seems to be some genuine love between the two of them, something that can’t be defined in terms of black and white.  It is obvious that she is taken with him and that he is taken with her.



As the movie progresses, I can feel a sort of whimsical quality to their relationship, and it’s easy to realize that it’s not going to work out between them after a while, which is actually a lot harder to take than I would have expected.  Even though the viewer knows that their relationship is doomed, you still feel that you silently wish they could stay together.

All in all, it's one of my favorite May-December romance movies, even though it has a depressing end. Hugh Laurie and Leighton Meester do an amazing job at bringing the chemistry and relationship to life on the screen. Five out of five stars!


Jane Eyre


#13 - Jane Eyre (2011)

 



















SUMMARY (Spoilers below)

Based off of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, this story is about a young woman who has been in servitude in one manner or another her entire life, and is trampled on for most of her life, until she finally finishes her education and receives employment as a governess for a young, French girl in the care of a man named Mr. Rochester.  She does so, and for the first time in her life she feels she is free of any oppression.  Mr. Rochester finds her a suitable speaking companion, but she is unsure about him.  There are unexplained incidents around the manor that she cannot explain and will not be explained by him, as it is obvious that he is the only one who knows the reasons behind the strange occurrences.  Nearly at the end of the movie, Mr. Rochester eventually admits to her that he is madly in love with her and proposes to her, to which she says yes, as she has silently fallen in love with him as well.  Just as they are about to be married, they are stopped by a magistrate who tells them that they cannot be married as Mr. Rochester is already married.  In absolute terror, she runs from the house and ends up near death.  She is taken in by a man and his two sisters, and is given a place to stay.  She stays, but tells them nothing of where she came from.  A year later, she discovers that a man has been searching for her and she soon finds out that she is to be an heiress, as an uncle that she did not know existed has passed away and has bequeathed all of his earthly possessions to her in his will, which includes a large fortune.  Upon receiving this information, she leaves and goes back to Mr. Rochester’s manor, only to find that it has burned down.  But he is alive, though blind, and they are reunited.

REVIEW

They only gave this movie three stars, but it deserves all four in my opinion!  I’ve read other reviews that say it is very reminiscent of all of the other films that have been made about this classic novel, but in my opinion that is a good thing.  That means that it’s staying true to the story, and not the other movies.  They are all so similar in style because of the fact that they are all trying to accurately portray the atmosphere and proper setting of the novel. 


However, what sets this one apart is the superb acting of Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.  They both seem to transmit all of their energies into their roles without having to say very many words.  The subtlety throughout this film is breathtakingly beautiful and wonderfully refreshing.  Their body language speaks volumes, and because of how superb it is, this movie, all two hours of it, could not have a single word in it and we would still know exactly what was going on.  The chemistry that these two actors have is stunning and…well, I simply don’t have the words to truly explain how stunning the two of them are.



From an artist’s perspective, I would have to say that the movie is a masterpiece from start to finish.  The music…well, the music is exquisite and helps set the mood of the movie in so many different ways.  It speaks when the actors do not and says things that their words cannot.  The colors throughout the movie are in accordance with the mood of the scene.  When Jane first meets Mr. Rochester, it is in the woods and then when they talk by the fire, being introduced formally, there is a passion that underlies the scene that is so subtle as to almost not be noticed, but the music portrays their feelings better than any words ever could.  Whenever there is distance between them, the colors are cool and washed out, but whenever they’re close to each other and actually feeling emotions, the colors are in red and gold tones.


And then there is the scene that takes place after Jane saves Mr. Rochester from the fire in his bedroom.  He takes her hand and thanks her…and they are so close, they are almost kissing.  But they don’t. It is a tense scene, and absolutely captures the atmosphere of the movie. I give it five out of five stars. 





Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dracula 2000


#12 - Dracula 2000


 
 
SUMMARY (courtesy of IMDB)

A group of thieves break into a chamber expecting to find paintings, but instead they release the count himself, who travels to New Orleans to find his nemesis' daughter, Mary Van Helsing.

REVIEW (Spoilers ahead)

What? Another vampire movie?  Well, it is the month of October isn’t it?  So, sit back and deal with it.  Yes, this movie is fairly hokey, a bit over the top with the blood and gore, and freak-out factor…but it’s got an amazing cast that did pretty well with what they were given.  It has, brace yourself for it… Christopher Plummer, Johnny Lee Miller, Gerard Butler, Nathan Fillion, Omar Epps, and Jeri Ryan.   Gerard Butler plays the infamous Dracula…and I have to admit that I was very skeptical at first, until I saw him on the screen.  He does an amazing job as being evil and still sensuously seductive, everything that Dracula is supposed to be.  Christopher Plummer as Van Helsing is quite good, and Johnny Lee Miller as his unsure, but dedicated assistant is also very good.  Omar Epps, more famously known for his role in the acclaimed television series, House, is your usual B-movie bad guy, and not much to write about.  Jeri Ryan, most known for playing Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager, ends up as one of the brides of Dracula.  However, the most ironic role must admittedly go to Nathan Fillion.  In the movie he portrays a priest, and later in his career, only three years later, he plays a priest…but instead, he’s an evil priest.  Our leading lady, Justine Waddell, also does a fairly good job, but most of the glory must go to Gerard Butler.

 
(Above) Gerard Butler as Dracula
(Below) Justine Waddell as Mary Van Helsing
 
 

 
(Above) Nathan Fillion as Daniel
(Below) Johnny Lee Miller as Simon


 

The movie plotline is original and un-original at the same time.  It takes the classic tale of Dracula, and then brings it to the modern day.  In a unique twist, we find out that Van Helsing was poisoned by Dracula’s blood many years ago, when he captured him, and decided to use his newfound long life to be the permanent guard over Dracula’s body, making sure that his evil remained hidden and contained.  When Dracula does escape, unwittingly aided by some thieves looking for something else entirely, he brings along with him the history of the character.  He can dissolve into mist, change into animal form, and seduce women at a glance, all of which happen to be in the original book, more or less.  As the movie progresses, we discover that Van Helsing’s daughter is directly of Dracula’s bloodline, as she inherited her father’s blood which was tainted by the master vampire.

Though the blood and gore are a bit, as I said before, over the top, the plotline is actually a good plotline, and I think that that is the only reason why it didn’t completely tank.  Besides, who wouldn’t want to see Gerard Butler as an evil vampire?  If taken into the proper directing hands, along with a bit of an actor shuffle and a clean-up of some of the language and violence, it could be a really good movie.  But, as I said, it’s a B-movie, with A-movie actors in it.  I think it goes to show, that even if you have A-movie actors, you can’t really change a B-movie plotline.  But, as I have said in the past, I’m a sucker for B-movies, and this one’s one of my favorites.

A bit stupid, but fun anyway.
 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Daybreakers


#11 - Daybreakers

 


SUMMARY (courtesy of IMDB)

In the year 2019, a plague has transformed almost every human into vampires. Faced with a dwindling blood supply, the fractured dominant race plots their survival; meanwhile, a researcher works with a covert band of vamps on a way to save humankind.

REVIEW (spoilers ahead)

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Oh no…she’s reviewing another vampire movie…  Please withhold the eye-rolls and deep sighs for afterwards if you still need to. 

This movie is one of the most original vampire movies I have ever come across.  Vampires have spread so much, that most of our civilization is made up of vampires in this movie…so much so that there is only 5% of the human population left.  The idea simply amazes me, and the acting, though many may think, Ethan Hawke? Seriously?, is quite good.  Do not underestimate this actor.  He is very good in this movie, and alongside Willem Dafoe and Sam Neil, he proves himself.  Sam Neil is delightfully charismatic and evil and everything that a vampire should be.  Willem Dafoe gives the movie a feel of being lived in, of having a rugged and natural quality to it, and I simply love him portraying a vampire who has been turned human, but without a heartbeat, making him an eternal human.  I love the concept, and these actors really bring it to life. 





 Though the graphics are sub-par, the details that they manage to work into the story are rather nice and caters to a smarter audience.  It makes it a B-movie that is custom-made for a more intelligent viewer.  One of my favorite details that they remember all of the changes that come along with having a society that lives in the dark, but is still stuck on the normal work-during-the-day-sleep-at-night concept.  They have cars that have daylight driving mode for vampires, and the writers even included a feature on the car that when the door is open during the day, it says, “Warning: UV light detection. Warning: UV light detection.”  That is just one of the many details that they follow that makes this one of the more successful vampire movies.

What I enjoy most about this movie is that it doesn’t really deal with any weird romance between a human and a vampire, or even necessarily glamorize vampires.  I mean, they’re pretty, I guess, and they’re also still scary, but it shows how much a vampire can envy the life of a human.  It shows the psychology of a vampire only having half of a life, and not a real one.  Ethan Hawke’s character, a vampire hematologist, shows an envy of the humans and the fact they are not reliant on one source of life.  An envy of the fact that humans can exist in both worlds, without having to rely on only one food for sustenance.  I love seeing the reversal.  Especially when it is shown that there are people who have no desire to become vampires.

In fact, there’s a great set of lines that explains it.  Hawke’s character asks, “Aren’t you scared of dying?” and the woman’s response is, “Yes, but most of us are too scared of death to think of it as an option.  I guess that’s why so many turned.”

Great line.  It sort of explains our fascination with the mythology of vampires.  It’s the idea of escaping death and then having the freedom to do whatever you want without ever having to fear suffering consequences for your actions.  It’s an escape from the normal, human rules of morality and responsibility.
 
All in all, an amazing movie. Language and gore, of course, but worth it for the fascinating ride that it takes you on.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lolita


#10 - Lolita (1997)

 


SUMMARY

 (Based off of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Lolita)  An older gentleman by the name of Humbert Humbert, rents a room from a woman in a New England town, and falls in love with the fourteen year-old daughter of the woman he is renting his room from.  He becomes consumed with her and with his inappropriate feelings, and must come to terms with his conflicting emotions, while under the scrutiny of society all around him.

 REVIEW

 “She was Lo, plain Lo in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock.  She was Lola in slacks, she was Dolly at school, she was Dolores on the dotted line.  But in my arms, she was always…Lolita.”

This movie (starring Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain, Melanie Griffith, and Frank Langella) is wonderfully controversial, and for some reason it is one of my favorite romances of all time, even though it’s not really a romance.  I watched the movie when I was at university and then decided to read the book after I saw it, and I just fell in love with it!  This is actually the second movie to be made from the acclaimed book by Nabokov, and it is one that sparks controversy everywhere it goes.

For a little bit of history behind it, the first movie that was made from the novel was done in 1962 and was directed by the well-known Stanley Kubrick.  The move from ’62 starred Sue Lyon, James Mason, and Shelley Winters, and was probably even more controversial than the one released in ’97.  The catch phrase for the movie, as it was repeated throughout the movie trailer, was “How did they ever a movie out of Lolita?”  However, in both movies they changed the age of Lolita to fourteen, instead of twelve, as it was in the book, in order to make it more palatable for audiences.

 



Now, for the artistic side.  Oh, where do I start?  The music?  The cinematography?  The acting?  The cast?  It was all so wonderfully put together, that it’s hard for me to pick one thing that really made the movie an artistic masterpiece, so I simply have to go to the two sources:  Nabokov, the original author, and Adrian Lyne, the man who directed it.  In the special features of this movie, he says something that really made an impression on me and it relates directly to the reason why I love the movie so much. 

He says... “I like movies that create discussion, I love it.  I love it when they haven’t forgotten about your movie by dinnertime, afterwards, you know, and they’re still arguing about it the next day.  That’s what a movie should do; it should make you argue and disagree.”


 I think this is the reason why I love the movie so much.  When I don’t think about it too closely, I love the play by play between Lolita and Humbert throughout the beginning of the movie.  Their flirtation is awkward and real, and the looks that they share, as well as the subtle touches (and not so subtle touches), just seems to capture me. 
 

 
(on the front porch swing)
 
(at his desk)
 
 
 
But when I do think about the movie and what it’s about, I start to question myself, and wonder why on earth I even like the movie!  And then I remember why…because of the moments that linger in the air between the characters on the screen and how the music and camera seem to effortlessly blend together with their actions and it makes me forget that the movie is about a man in his forties lusting after a girl in her teens.  Instead, I see a young woman learning about her power over a man and how to wield it, and I see a man struggling to keep himself composed and in control while in the face of formidable temptation.

It’s a painful movie to watch near the end, and I don’t actually particularly like the ending all that much, but at the same time the bitter ending reminds the viewer, after getting caught up in the “romance” between the two, that it could never be.  She would eventually discover herself and realize that Humbert wasn’t what she truly wanted, and we are then reminded that what he was doing was wrong, after all.

However, in spite of all of this, this movie has one of my favorite kissing scenes.  Below are two screen captures from the movie: Above is the actual kiss, and below is her look afterwards.  Dominique Swain simply steals the scene away (and most of the movie) with her powerful and genuine performance.




 

This movie is a guilty pleasure of mine, and always will be.  I give thanks to both Nabokov and Lyne for their great work in bringing these characters to life!

All in all, five out of five stars.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Howl's Moving Castle


#9 - Howl's Moving Castle




SUMMARY

An animated film that tells of a plain girl who is pulled into the world of wizards and witches, and then has curse placed on her that makes her an old woman. Howl, a self-centered, self-serving wizard, and his fire demon, Calcifer, take her in and she helps them, as well as them helping her. She is then pulled into the war, along with Howl. The question is, will their newfound freindship survive the war?

REVIEW

This movie was beautifully artistic in every sense of the word! With an all voice cast including Christian Bale, Billy Crystal, and Lauren Bacall. I fell in love with the selfless main character who had a good strong sense of work, as well as a sensible head on her shoulders.

The animation in this is simple and wonderful! I love how it's done in drawn format, and not the weird new graphic format that they've been using in the past ten years.





One of the artistic aspects of this movie that I really loved was the organic quality to it, and the natural feel to the movements throughout, which is something that I find lacking in a lot of today's animated films. The most amazing part of this movie, for me, was the way the artists drew the transitions between Howl's two forms; his human one and his bird one. They managed to follow the natural line of the human body and create something stunning to watch. Kids can enjoy this as well as adults, and I loved it!

Highly recommended.

I give it 5 out of 5 Stars!