Monday, February 22, 2010

Shutter Island (2010) – Review

Shutter Island is creepy, well made and interesting – a film that interacts with its audience, building not only tension but also engaging the viewer to participate in the detective aspect of the film. The main theme of the film is redemption set against the early Cold War paranoia. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Teddy Daniels above all else seeks atonement for the tragedies of his past, which all come crashing to a head as he investigates the disappearance of a patient on Shutter Island’s facility for the criminally insane. As the Teddy and the viewer decipher clues, listen to the interviews and get wrapped up in the case, director Martin Scorsese forces in flashback and haunting imagery to signal that all is not what it seems, with the character, the case and the film. The avid viewer will enjoy participating in unraveling the case, clue by clue, as the payoff is evident amongst the facts before it is revealed. The thematic elements of the main character trying to find redemption and attempting to fit into society, in whatever form that exists around him, are common in Scorsese’s work and it is interesting to see the different ways that he comes at them. Here, Scorsese seems to be most interested in how tragedy affects people, the different ways that they cope. Do they retreat or push forward? Teddy digs deeper into his work, and so the film works best as an interactive detective narrative with these thematic elements influencing the character and his perspective. Another interesting aspect to the film is that only Teddy Daniels seems to be a fully fleshed out character – in other words, Teddy seems real, while everyone else is a caricature playing a role (minus one other character), which normally would seem like a negative, but here it works quite well in the narrative that Scorsese has laid out. The imagery that Scorsese uses is impactful and meaningful, both emotionally and in terms of solving the case. A number of the scenes visually were masterfully impressive, poetic and with wonderful composition (my favorite is the flashback scene in which DiCaprio is staring down at the German officer bleeding to death while paper floats in the air behind and around him, sort of beautiful and intensely sad). Scorsese’s visualization of Teddy’s nightmares is astonishing, visually stunning yet emotionally tragic. The music used in the film at first seemed to be strangely over the top and forced given the genre, but as the film plays out, this makes sense and like many other aspects works well in the structure. The music does add to the tension that the film builds throughout in addition to the story elements and situations that have implicit anxiety attached (some in the theatre could not handle it screaming out at parts). The film is very well acted by DiCaprio and there is strong supporting work by Michelle Williams. Ben Kingsley gives a slightly offbeat performance which seems very odd at times, yet like everything else, works here. Emily Mortimer is also good and really creepy. The shooting style of Robert Richardson mixed with the editing of Thelma Schoonmaker along with Scorsese’s input created an interesting visual style to the film. At times, the camera would pan, yet it looked like a projector moving to the next slide, as if the divulgence of visual information was rehearsed to be presented. Also, there are shots of perspective that seem off when the location is visited again. Things seem off throughout, but again it works. All in all, the film is a very good detective film with psychologically-thriller elements built in to the narrative structure with fantastic imagery creating an interestingly made film – another fine one from Scorsese. 8/10

Movie of the Week - The Blues Brothers

This week’s movie is The Blues Brothers (1980).

The film is about two brothers that must put their band back together and do a big show to raise money to save the orphanage that they grew up in, all while avoiding the police, the Illinois Nazis and the Good Ole Boys. The film is an excellent melding of comedy and music, featuring performances by James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and others. The film stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (and is probably the best of their joint films), with funny cameos from John Candy, Henry Gibson and Carrie Fisher. The film was written by Aykroyd and director John Landis, who made this in his prime as (likely) the best comedy director in Hollywood (at the time). What makes the film great is the music, the zany comedy, the epic scale of the film itself, the car chases – really the film is just loads of fun. Check out the trailer.

The Blues Brothers [DVD]

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Martin Scorsese – Movies Spotlight – February 2010

Martin Scorsese is one of the best known and respected filmmakers of all-time. He is a student of cinema, constantly working to preserve its history. He has made a number of the finest films and continues to produce great work. His new film Shutter Island, staring Leonardo DiCaprio, has excellent buzz and is touted to be one of the best thrillers of the year.

Early Career:

Scorsese graduated from New York University’s film school in 1966 with an MFA in film and a BA in English and started working on his first feature film, I Call First, with fellow student and friend Harvey Keitel and long-time collaborator editor Thelma Schoonmaker. While it was only his first film, the Scorsese style was already apparent, including rapid editing, trouble protagonists that want to be accepted into society, New York City and Italian American life, gritty documentary style, unflinching realistic violence, rock music soundtracks, and long-term relationships with actors like Keitel and Joe Pesci. In the early 70s’ Scorsese became friends with the most influential young directors, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Brian (The Hack) De Palma, who incidentally introduced him to Robert De Niro. It was also during this time that he met John Cassavetes who became his mentor.

Collaborations with Robert De Niro:

Scorsese has made eight films with De Niro and they have an upcoming project called I Heard You Paint Houses in 2011. The first was Mean Streets in 1973. The year before, Scorsese had worked with producer Roger Corman, who had helped Coppola, James Cameron and John Sayles also launch their careers, on Boxcar Bertha. While the film was not a success, Scorsese learned from Corman how to make entertaining films for no money and without time. This, along with Cassavetes encouraging him to make movies he wanted to make rather than work on someone else’s project, prepared him for Mean Streets. The film was a breakthrough for Scorsese and actors De Niro and Keitel. The film also cemented his style (even though most of it was shot in LA). Next up, Scorsese and De Niro got together for Taxi Driver. The film followed a man’s decent into insanity and exhibited Scorsese’s talent as one of the top emerging directors of the time. The film also highlighted the work of De Niro and cinematographer Michael Chapman and would win the Palme d’Or (best film) at the Cannes film festival. The success of Taxi Driver allowed Scorsese to make his first big budget film, New York, NewYork, best remembered for its title song. A musical staring De Niro, made in the classic Hollywood style, the film was a complete failure (critically and box-office). The poor reception was not taken well by Scorsese and was attributed by critics to his style not working well within a studio setting. After taking some time, he returned to features with De Niro in Raging Bull. De Niro pulled Scorsese out of the slump he was in and convinced him to make the film. Thinking that he may never make another film, Scorsese poured all of himself into it, creating what is considered to be one of the top, if not the best, films of the 80s’, a master piece, and the height of his own personal style. It was also the breakout film for Pesci. De Niro and Scorsese then made The King of Comedy, which is a satire of media and celebrity also staring Jerry Lewis. It was a complete change of pace for Scorsese thematically and stylistically. As the film is surreal and is done with lots of long static takes. While the film was not a box office success at the time, it has picked up critical esteem in recent years. Scorsese considers it De Niro’s best performance in one of his films. The two took an eight year break from working with each other, which saw Scorsese receive mixed results in his work. Goodfellas marked their return to working together in 1990, a good thing as it proclaimed Scorsese’s reemergence as the talented confident director of Raging Bull (and it is my favorite of his films), thus restoring his reputation. All his acclaim back and he then goes and makes a remake: Cape Fear, based on the cult film from 1962. Interestingly, both films feature Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. Scorsese and De Niro’s Cape Fear represents another attempt at appealing to the mainstream and Scorsese making a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock in this stylized thriller. The film only received mixed reviews and was criticized for its misogynistic violence, though it was his highest grossing film to date. The last collaboration (until this future project comes to fruition) was 1995’s Casino. While the film is loved by many fans, critics, at the time, were not as impressed claiming it to be too similar to Goodfellas stylistically. However, like with The King of Comedy, the film is now considered to be a top film for the director and one of the best of the decade.

Collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio:

Scorsese’s first film with DiCaprio was Gangs of New York, which began production in 1999 but was released in 2002. The film represented Scorsese’s biggest and most mainstream film of his career to date. The production of the film is rumored to have been troubled with creative arguments between Scorsese and then Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein. The film itself is mainstream and commercially accessible, and not one of his finer works. Scorsese’s final cut was 180 minutes, and the theatrical cut released was 168 minutes. Frequent collaborator, Elmer Bernstein’s score was rejected by Miramax and replaced by music from Howard Shore, U2 and Peter Gabriel. Ironically, while the film is not that good and likely has a compromised vision, it rendered Scorsese his first directing Golden Globe and was nominated for best picture at the Oscars. The Aviator was next for team Scorsese/DiCaprio. The film was both a critical and commercial success, garnering eleven Academy Award nominations but only winning five. The film (along with Catch Me If You Can) was also a breakthrough for DiCaprio who finally was able to shake the stigma of Titanic and could be again viewed as a serious, and good, actor. For the third film in a row, Scorsese and DiCaprio again got together to make The Departed. Another remake (Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs), the film is highlighted by an all-star cast including Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and Matt Damon. It opened to acclaim, called the best Scorsese film since Goodfellas, while other ranked it with Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. It was finally Scorsese’s year. The film is his highest grossing film and at the 2007 Oscars he won his first best director Academy Award, which was presented to him by Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, as well as best film. It was his sixth time being nominated. This year’s Shutter Island marks their fourth consecutive (at least for Scorsese) film together. DiCaprio and Scorsese also have a number of future projects slated including: a remake of the French film Cache, a Frank Sinatra biopic, a Teddy Roosevelt biopic, and The Wolf of Wall Street.


Scorsese is also an accomplished documentary filmmaker. Here are a few of his best: The Last Waltz is a highly regarded piece chronicling the final concert by The Band. The set takes place in San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom and features a number of guests, like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters. My Voyage to Italy catalogs and reviews the history of Italian cinema focusing on films of Roberto Rossellini. The film also talks about how these films influenced Scorsese’s own work, particularly the Italian neorealism period. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan traces the life of Dylan and his impact of American culture and pop music. The film concentrates on a period between his arrival in New York in 1961 and his retirement from touring in 1966, encapsulating the songwriter’s rise to fame and the controversy surrounding his switch to rock music.

Future Projects:

Along with the future colabos with De Niro and DiCaprio, Scorsese also has a George Harrison documentary upcoming as well as Silence and The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Silence is about two Jesuit priests who face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to spread the gospel. The film is slated to star Benicio Del Toro and Gael Garcia Bernal. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a mystery set in Paris involving an orphan, his late father and a robot; there is no cast yet announced.

Martin Scorsese Box Set (Selected Filmography/Career Highlights):

1.)                Mean Streets (1973) – [DVD]
2.)                Taxi Driver (1976) – [Blu-ray/DVD]*
3.)                The Last Waltz (1978) – [Blu-ray/DVD]
4.)                Raging Bull (1980) – [Blu-ray/DVD]*
5.)                The King of Comedy (1982) – [DVD]
6.)                Goodfellas (1990) – [Blu-ray/DVD]*
7.)                Casino (1995) – [Blu-ray/DVD]
8.)                The Aviator (2004) – [Blu-ray/DVD]
9.)                No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005) – [DVD]
10.)            The Departed (2006) – [Blu-ray/DVD]*

* Editor’s picks

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Wolfman (2010) – Review

The Wolfman is both good and bad, rather has both good and bad elements summing to decent overall experience. The film has a wonderful gothic atmosphere to it. The look, the sound, the ambiance of the world is perfect. Danny Elfman’s score will surely be among the best of the year. Shelly Johnson’s cinematography and Rick Heinrichs’ production design create beautiful looking (in terms of the tone of the film) Blackmoore (aka gloomy English countryside) and London sets that fit the mood of the piece and utterly, along with the score, enhance the overall fun of the experience for the audience. The principal cast is also very good. Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt are superb. Del Toro’s performance captures the agony of the curse that surrounds his family – he sincerely appears to be in anguish in the face of the damnation that has fallen upon him, which works quite well in juxtaposition to his father’s, Anthony Hopkins, bravado. Blunt is able to play the tragic nature of her plight, she is fabulous in the final scenes of the film, and along with Del Toro is able to emote honest emotion amongst all the special effects. The audience feels her heartbreak. This is where The Wolfman succeeds – fine acting, and astonishingly pitch perfect atmosphere. But the film falters in other places, holding it back from being a great film. Director Joe Johnston does a suitable job throughout, but in certain places trades narrative integrity (or at least opportunities for a better narrative, a more potent emotional connection) for seemly Hollywood thrills. For example, one of the main story elements is the conflict between father and son, Johnston resolves this in the Hollywood way of a werewolf versus werewolf fight, when the true conflict is between the men, thus a more effective resolution, which would resonate with the audience, would have been to have the son kill the father in human form. Also, the film, rather than being generally scary through the use of tension, takes the easy road of quick impact cuts and loud noises to make the audience jump. The CGI in the film is also not as good as it could have been at times, but this is more of a minor complaint. It is the narrative choices that hold the film back the most. All in all, The Wolfman is a fun horror movie, and a worthy addition to the classic movie monster stable of films. 7/10

Movie of the Week - Tombstone

This week’s movie is Tombstone (1993).

The film is a western about the exploits of the Earps in Tombstone, Arizona, notably their run-ins with a local gang of outlaws known as The Cowboys. Director George P. Cosmatos focuses on the famous moments of the Earps – primarily showing the events through the perspective of Wyatt – effectively creating a spectacle of a western. It is grand – there are gunfights, horse riding, gambling, saloons, just about everything one comes to expect from a western, Tombstone has it all plus (awesomely) quotable dialog. The film also features a range of famous faces (check out the full credits) highlighted by Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer, giving one of his best performances, as Doc Holiday. Check out the trailer.

Tombstone [Blu-ray/DVD]

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

From Paris with Love (2010) – Review

From Paris with Love is action packed, has character based emotion (be it veiled) and is fun, but attributes aside it feels phony. The action is that of video game sequences John Travolta’s Charlie Wax kills like an expert player clowning around on easy in the amoral world of (many) fps games. It is an odd contrast, action versus the world it takes place in. The film exists in what could be called the real world, as issues that face our world today are those in the film, yet Charlie Wax is not of this world. Everything about his character and his interaction with the world is like a rift between our world and that of the silly outlandish and obtuse much like Toons interacting with people in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? And yet, given the character having no real place in the world, Travolta brings onto him the affections of the audience (at least those not pondering how he escaped Toontown). The bigger issue that his character creates through his own complete emotional detachment is a similar detachment of the audience. Jonathan Rhys Meyers does good work here, and is the viewer’s emotional anchor, however even he is warped and transformed by the tearing of reality. The dramatic journey that he goes on is completely destructive, and few would recover from it, which makes his turn in the final scene (at the airport, not the embassy) completely ludicrous. And there is the flaw, where Pierre Morel succeeded with Taken, blending action with emotional stake in the characters; here he has even more over the top action, which he does try to blend again with the viewer’s stake in the characters (in their journey), but in From Paris with Love  the audience never quite connects. Thus, the film is fun, full of zany Travolta and outrageous action, but lacking the drama, the feeling, the quality that takes it from merely being entertainment to a piece that resonates with its viewers while entertaining them. However, again the film is fun and entertaining and another in the long line of Luc Besson action films. Kasia Smutniak is also good in the film, which is crucial to Rhys Meyer’s character connecting with the audience. Overall, come for the fun, for the action and for Travolta’s lunatic character. 6/10

Movie of the Week - Match Point

This week’s movie is Match Point (2005).

Directed by Woody Allen, the film is about a former tennis pro who marries into a rich family, but falls for a femme-fatal who is dating his brother-in-law. The film features an excellent cast including: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, Emily Mortimer, Scarlett Johansson and small performances by Ewen Bremner and James Nesbitt. The film is also the first of Allen’s Scarlett Johansson trilogy, who he claims was his muse, all of which are set in Europe as opposed to New York (the other two are Scoop and Vicky Cristina Barcelona). But what makes the movie great is the tension Allen is able to build. He is able to create a compelling thriller in which the viewer feels the pressure as if they are the main character themselves. It is also one of Allen’s better visual films to go along with his classic dialogue. All in all, Match Point is clever and engrossing – a must for fans of Allen and thrillers. Check out the trailer.

Match Point [Blu-ray/DVD]

Monday, February 1, 2010

At the Movies – February

Must See in Theatres:

Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese) – Thriller – Feb 19
A thriller set in 1954 about a U.S. Marshall investigating the disappearance of a patient who is believed to have escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and is thought to be hiding somewhere on the remote Shutter Island which houses the hospital. The film is highly anticipated as it has tested through the roof with screening audiences, which makes sense as it is Scorsese’s first film since he won his Oscar. The film has an excellent cast headlined by Leonardo DiCaprio (frequent Scorsese collaborator), Mark Ruffalo, and Ben Kingsley (and based on the trailer Jackie Earle Haley is doing what looks like Rorschach again). Another aspect to be excited about is that Robert Richardson shot the movie, coming off his ASC Award nomination for Inglourious Basterds. All in all, this looks to be a great film. Check out the trailer.

Worth Checking Out (if not in theatres then at home):

The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski) – Thriller – Feb 19
A thriller about a ghostwriter hired to complete the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister only to uncover secrets that put his own life in peril. Polanski returns to the world of film (admit still shrouded in controversy) with good people in front of and behind the camera, notably actors Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, and Tom Wilkinson, D.P. Pawel Edelman, and music by Alexandre Desplat (who is seemingly the hardest working man in show business). Based on Polanski’s past work and the cast and crew involved, this should be an interesting film (he did do The Pianist, Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby after all). Check out the trailer.

Good for Dates:

Dear John (Lasse Hallstrom) – Romance – Feb 5
A romance based on the Nicholas Sparks novel about a boy and girl who meet and fall in love over the span of a week, only for boy to then be shipped off to the war in Iraq. To stay together and connected, the two write letters to each other. Based on the synopsis all that can be said is BLAH! (so much for visual storytelling). Plus the stars are Amanda Seyfried and the never very good Channing Tatum. However, upon looking at who is involved, the film appears more attractive. Hallstrom is a fine director and he has got D.P. Terry Stacey shooting the movie and Richard Jenkins acting in it. So maybe it will all come together and be decent. Check out the trailer.

Valentine’s Day (Gary Marshall) – Romance – Feb 12
An interweaving romance about couples and singles in LA, their break-ups and make-ups, as the cultural pressures and expectations of Valentine’s Day weigh upon them. First off, this is by Gary Marshall, director of Pretty Woman, and therefore is something of high regard (or at least has the expectation of something of high regard) for fans of Pretty Woman (or so the studio would have you believe). Second, it is has the biggest all-star cast since A Bridge Too Far (check out the full credits). And third, screenwriter Katherine Fugate has never written anything resulting in a good film or TV series. Add that up, and then multiple it by the absurd silliness of this film actually existing and what that says about America’s already overly commercial society, and what do you have…Probably something along the lines of last year’s He’s Just Not That Into You – decent but nothing special. But, maybe Marshall will do well with the pieces he has and make a solid movie (though, his best work, Pretty Woman and Overboard, came out in 1990 and 1987 respectively, so maybe not). Check out the trailer.

Fun Movies:

From Paris with Love (Pierre Morel) – Action – Feb 5
An action film about a US Ambassador who must work together with an American spy, their mission: to stop terrorists from attacking the city of Paris. Why Paris? Well, this is another in the long line of Luc Besson action films (producer and originator of the story). It also marks Morel’s third collaboration with Besson (Taken being the film best known to American audiences). Jonathan Rhys Meyers (who is brilliant in Showtime’s The Tudors, by the way) and John Travolta star – one can hope that Travolta’s zaniness pays off in a role that almost seems catered towards it (though, who saw him as an action hero at this point in his career?). Check out the trailer.

The Wolfman (Joe Johnston) – Horror – Feb 12
A horror film about a man who returns to his ancestral home, only for him to be bitten by the beast, cursed and subsequently turned into a werewolf at inopportune times. Now, the cast is good, Anthony Hopkins, Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving, but the director…Not so much. He has done the marvelously terrible (or at least forgettable) Jumanji, Jurassic Park III, and his last film was Hidalgo. Maybe the cast can carry the film like Sherlock Holmes (2009), maybe too much emphasis is being placed on the director, maybe the fact that it is a classic story (or a remake of a classic film) will elevate it,…Maybe? Check out the trailer.

An adventure film about a teenager that discovers that he is the descendent of a Greek God and now must set off the settle an on-going battle between the Gods. The film is yet another in the long line of Harry Potter franchise (film franchise, not novels, as this is a successful series of books, apparently) wannabes. But this time, their ace in the hole…Chris Columbus, who directed the first two Harry Potter films (though, they are by far the least effective of the series), and he did Home Alone. The movie also features the talents of Sean Bean, Kevin McKidd, Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, and Catherine Keener to supplement a young principal cast. The film might be epic and fun, but probably just so-so quality wise, like all the other novel franchises trying to be the next Potter film franchise, but hey, one of them is going to be good eventually right? Check out the trailer.

The Crazies (Breck Eisner) – Horror – Feb 26
A horror film about the townspeople of small Iowa town suddenly plagued by rampant insanity and then death after a mysterious contaminate gets into their water supply, no one is safe. Timothy Olyphant stars in this George A. Romero remake with Radha Mitchell and Danielle Panabaker co-starring. Hopefully this will feature a high dose of Olyphant doing crazy; he does do his crazy well, and sort of sinister. Director Eisner does not have too much on his resume; his big feature was Sahara. It is interesting to note that Romero is the executive producer on the film (though, the original is one of his weaker works); how many filmmakers come back and produce remakes of their old works? Everything is possible in today’s Hollywood (but of course, Hitchcock did remake a number of his own British films for Hollywood). Check out the trailer.

Cop Out (Kevin Smith) – Comedy – Feb 26
A comedy about buddy cops, inept at their job, but they will likely save the day anyway. Originally titled A Couple of Dicks, the film is notable for fans of Smith as it is his first feature directing job in which he did not also write the script (rumors have it that he is taking a break from writing after Zack and Miri Make a Porno, a film that he sees as a commercial failure). It will also be interesting to hear Smith’s stories on subsequent commentaries and/or An Evening with Kevin Smith DVDs about directing Bruce Willis and co-star Tracy Morgan. A bright spot for Smith fans, in the face of the downer that is the lackluster trailer and fact that Smith did not write this, is the cameo appearances by favorite Jason Lee. The film also boosts a cast with a few talented actors that should provide some good laughs like Rashida Jones and Kevin Pollack. No one would be surprised if Jason Mewes pops up in this as well. Check out the trailer.


The Yellow Handkerchief (Udayan Prasad) – Romance – Feb 26 (LA/NYC)
A romance about three strangers, who embark on a transformative road trip through Louisiana, brought together by their respective feelings of loneliness. The film is touted as an actor’s film, in which the cast and their performances are the point. This can often lead to slow paced film, in the hands of a lesser director, such a structure is difficult and often leads to a movie that less than engaging for most audience members. Thus, it will be interesting to see how Prasad fairs. The film stars William Hurt, Maria Bello, Kristen Stewart, and Eddie Redmayne as well as beautiful photography by Chris Menges. Check out the trailer.

A Prophet (Jacques Audiard) – Gangster – Feb 26 (NYC)
A gangster film about a young Arab man who is sent to prison in France, he meets a prisoner who is the leader of a large gang and this man becomes his mentor. Subsequently, he becomes involved in the mafia lifestyle (looks to be a telling of the classic rise and fall gangster story). Coming off the wonderful The Beat that My Heart Skipped, it should be interesting to see how Audiard handles the gangster genre, as his style of filmmaking lends itself quite well to the genre. The film features a score by (big surprise) Alexandre Desplat and cinematography by Stephane Fontaine, who did excellent work on Audiard’s last film. The film is also likely to be nominated for this year’s Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film. Check out the trailer.

Edge of Darkness (2010) – Review

Edge of Darkness is an effective thriller about a detective hunting down the person(s) responsible for the death of his daughter (aka, do not mess with Mel Gibson’s family – you would think after Braveheart and The Patriot bad guys would know not to kill his family, that only pisses him off and makes him go crazy; the British would have concurred Scotland and America if they just did not kill members of his family, big mistake, and yet here again it happens). The film is an interesting combination of an action-packed thriller with jarring moments and a man dealing with the loss of his daughter. Her death is haunting him (literally, or so it appears early on in the film) – shown in a seemingly out of place fashion for the type of film this presents itself to be. Director Martin Campbell manifests this relationship between grieving-father and lost loved-one through flashbacks of her as a young child, which is a typically used device, and the atypical instruments (again for this type of film) of Gibson hearing her voice speak to him in the present and him responding to her, as well and Gibson seeing her and even interacting with her, as if this were a ghost story of some sort. While these elements feel odd and out of place for most of the film, Campbell is able to pay it off in a surprisingly satisfactory way – thereby making it work and adding a new almost spiritual dimension to the film. Thus upon resolution, it is not so much that her spirit is haunting him (in a literal sense); rather it is used to both show his sadness but also his motivation to bring forth justice – to fully lay her spirit to rest in his mind – in a more realized dramatic sense for the character than flashbacks alone would have created. Writer William Monahan also brings his style of impactful violence and no nonsense realistic feeling dialog to the feature, which also benefits the finish product greatly. While the film does deal with Gibson finding out why and who killed his daughter, Campbell (as seen in his thematic choices) is more interested in Gibson’s emotional journey, again reflected in the spiritual nature of the finale shot. The film works well through Campbell’s directing and Monahan’s writing as a straight thriller, but it is really the journey, at first seeming like weakness to the films overall structure, that sets it apart from other films of its genre (like Taken). There is a political tone to the film as well; and as the case often is, it is against big business and government, siding with the everyman (to some degree). It is interesting to see that here it is the arrogance of power that ultimately leads to its own downfall. While it seems that the everyman or one man or a small group could not stand up to such a large and formidable fa├žade, it is just that which makes it vulnerable. This is a device that speaks to the audience, especially in times that we face today. And thus, all in all, it is a potent tool to engage the viewer. Mel Gibson does fine work in the film. While it is fairly common ground for him in terms of past roles, he is still an engaging star that the viewer gets behind, benefiting the narrative of the film. Ray Winstone and Danny Huston (who strangely looks like a gangster boss more so than a CEO in his final scene) play their roles well too. And in small roles, Denis O’Hare and Damien Young are quite effective. Phil Meheux’s collaboration with Campbell created a number of outstanding shots in the film (I especially like the composition of the opening frame). Overall Edge of Darkness manages to be a gripping thriller, full of intense action pieces, while also appealing to the emotional need of the audience. 7/10

Movie of the Week - Die Hard

This week’s movie is Die Hard (1988).

The film is about NYC cop John McClane who is in LA to visit his ex-wife when the high-rise office building in which she works is overrun by terrorists. Ill-equipped and unprepared, McClane must survive, stop the terrorists and save his ex-wife using guerrilla tactics. The film is directed by 80s/90s action-director John McTiernan (Predator and The Hunt for Red October), and is the middle film of his best work trilogy (between the two list above). The film stars Bruce Willis as McClane and Alan Rickman as terrorist leader Hans Gruber. What makes the film great is the combination of Willis’ charisma, Rickman’s perfect villain and McTiernan’s great action set ups. There are also a number of smaller roles that work quite well in adding comedy to the film (notably William Atherton). Die Hard is probably the best action film of its decade and one that still holds up and surpasses almost every one of its genre made today, as McTiernan is masterfully able to blend drama and comedy into a flat out action for the sake of action film. Check out the trailer.

Die Hard (Blu-ray/DVD)

Dollhouse: Episode 13, Season 2 – Epitaph Two: Return (2010) – Review

Epitaph Two: Return is a good ending to the Dollhouse series, as it provides a resolution the major thematic elements of the show and the characters. Season two felt rushed at times as the writing team needed to resolve the show and get to the events of Epitaph One within the thirteen episode limit, as the show was not renewed by Fox. Given that, the show was incredibly well done at times, and the same is true for the finale – in that it suffers from there just not being enough time to do everything to finish every story, but the story it does tell is a great ending. The episode takes place ten years plus since The Hollow Men and thus a lot has changed. Victor has become a Mad Max-type, Sierra is a mother and Echo has still not let Paul Ballard in (admitted her love for him). The episode focuses on Echo and Paul rescuing Topher (inadvertently) and discovering that he has figured out a way to reverse the imprints and put everyone back to the way they were before. However, do to this, they must return to the Dollhouse. But it brings up the question that the show has dealt with all season long, what makes up a person, or their soul, basically what makes them themselves. Echo, Sierra and Victor have transcended their old selves and do not want to give up who they are now. And later, other imprinted persons do not want to give up their abilities either. The conclusion seems to suggest that while experiences make us who we are, there are also deeper characteristics that also influence our decisions (like Victor and Sierra’s love) – thus the soul is a combination of what we are and what we experience. The episode (and series to some degree) also is about love – its forms and how it must be seized and fought for. Technically the episode was well done (especially as it was made on the cheap). Director David Solomon has contributed a lot good work to the series. The same goes for the Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog writing team of Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon who co-wrote this episode with Andrew Chambliss as well as many of the series best. It was nice to see Alan Tudyk and Summer Glau show up in the episode, as well as Mag, Zone and Adair Tishler imprinted with Caroline (she is great in her two episodes). The stars that emerged from the series (and I look forward to their future work) are Dichen Lachman, Enver Gjokaj and Fran Kranz; veterans Olivia Williams and Harry Lennix were also very good throughout. Overall the second scene was rushed, yet very solid and the finale was sort of the same in that sense – I wish there was more, but I liked what there was (cannot wait to see Whedon’s next). 10/10

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