Wednesday, March 20, 2013

L.A. Confidential

L.A. Confidential is a crime drama that was released in 1997 and ranks in the top 5 best films of the 1990's. What really makes this film stand out above all others in this decade is the care and attentive detail that was put into the entire project. Each scene feels like a work of art, with such lush cinematography to compliment its glamorous facade. The film is a modern day golden age noir film, and noir is a pretty dated genre. It truly belongs in the 1950's because gangsters were somewhat relevant to the times. Not many gangster films were made long after the 50's, let alone films that were set in the 50's. It's easy to forget that Chinatown is set in the 50's, unlike this one. This isn't exactly a gangster film. It's more of a police drama, and the gangsters are a red herring. It is largely an ensemble piece that jumps between the perspectives of three police officers, Sargent Kevin Spacey, Officer Russell Crowe, and Lieutenant Guy Pearce. It really captures the essence and decadence of the 1950's. In many ways, it is an allegory for the 50's themselves, meaning that nothing is ever as good as it looks, seems or feels, and in fact things are actually shit despite a shiny surface. The 1950's were actually a terrible time to live, but people were expected to believe nothing could be wrong and if you want to do it you can, and all the bad stuff was swept under the rug, which absolutely parallels the plot of this film. After a robbery/shooting in a cafe one night, a case is opened that leads three unrelated members of the L.A.P.D into something much bigger than they all realize. The film appears relatively strait forward in the first two acts, but things slowly come together and the twists keep coming. The overall look to the film is gorgeous, and the look is so genuine, that they easily could have added some tricks in post production to make it look like it was released in the 50's and nobody would ever know. Authentic clothing, haircuts, vehicles and weapons. Not that I would prefer it looking like a classic film. The colors used add a much more lively feel to it, the way black and white can't. Black and white is good for putting emphasis on shadows, but color can add character to the scenery, and even help the scenery in being brought to life. Because, in all honesty, the real main character in the film is the city of Los Angeles. At night with all those lights, it's real pretty, but it's so bright that it can't help but show all the dirt that is hidden in the shadows. It's kind of like Pulp Fiction, where the scenario is the main character, except this is much more focused and narrative, and I think is a superior film.
 With a brilliant script, fantastic set and costume design, alluring cinematography, and dynamite performances from its well rounded cast, L.A Confidential is one of my all time favorite films, and it should damn well be one of yours too
    -L.K

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Oz: The Great and Powerful

Companions; Finely and China Girl
Oz: The Great and Powerful is a fantasy adventure film about a con man magician who finds his destiny as the savior of the land of Oz. The film is both a dazzling spectacle, and a well made film with great attention to detail and some truly great performances. No many family films are made, that everyone can enjoy, that aren't made by Pixar, and this is a very rare exception. To be fair, it is very formulaic, but given that it is a PG rated Hollywood blockbuster, that is almost a given. It never broke any new ground, but it didn't have to. In many ways, it was what Avatar should have been; a 3D blockbuster experience, with eye popping visuals, that is fun for the whole family. It never tried to force feed me any messages, not that it lacked themes. It had a recurring theme of goodness, but it wasn't preaching it. Now the film, like I said, is formulaic, meaning that it is about a guy who is a regular Joe who wants to be something better than he is. He gets caught in a tornado after he flees, from a man that he had an altercation with, in his hot air balloon. When he gets to Oz he meets some friends, and foes, and his destiny is revealed to him, although he is skeptical. All the inhabitants of Oz think he is a great and powerful wizard, and at first he uses it to sleaze his way into the throne of the Emerald City, but then he learns he has to kill a witch to gain the throne. This is where his arc begins. He learns that he actually has to be a savior and not a selfish dick. What makes this film so great is all the little things. Stuff is set up in the beginning and it pays off in the end, he idolizes Thomas Edison and models tricks after him, so he doesn't use magic, he uses science, and all the little Wizard of Oz related nods. But the guy that really steals the show is Finley, voiced by Zack Braff. Everything he says and does is hilarious, and delivered with such perfect timing. All the characters were really likable, and I attribute that to Sam Raimi's direction. He made Ash from Army of Darkness likable (So fucking likable) and he was a complete asshole. There were a lot of Army of Darkness nods in this film and Oz himself kind of came off as Ash when he first arrived in The Land of Oz. I compare this to the lackluster Dead Man Down, everything that failed at, this succeeds. Now, just because I'm talking this up so much, doesn't mean that it is the best movie ever, it is just exactly what a Hollywood blockbuster should be. Its fun, has good performances, consistent laughs, and a beautiful world to look at. I also am a huge fan of The Wizard Of Oz and it was nice returning here and not having it be a disrespectful bastardization of the source meant to just capitalize off the name. This is as well made as Jack the Giant Slayer, except the story being told is something that we care can care about because we are constantly interested in what is going on. I strongly recommend this one, and I am already putting this on my "to buy" list. I am so glad that one of my top 10 favorite directors didn't let me down and it really relieves a burden of unease about this movie season. I can't wait until the summer starts, because if this was this good, just imagine how other blockbusters will fare.
     -L.K

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Dead Man Down

Dead Man Down is the story of a woman, named Beatrice, who coerces a man, named Victor, into killing another after she witnesses him murdering somebody in his apartment. The 2 live across from each other and communicate by waving in a very forced and awkward manner. Just from the beginning of the film, I knew something was going to be wrong. The opening scene is a very dull and lifeless action sequence, and it was very reminiscent of a Renny Harlin film. The overall look to the film was very flat and sterile, too. All I could think about was the movie Mindhunters, in that there is a very good film buried deep within this one. The cinematography was very Kevin Smith. Nothing in this film really stood out. There were a few key moments that were very interesting, but not enough to warrant a viewing. Instead of going into depth on why this movie fails, I'm just going to reference the Director, Neils Arden Oplev, the Director of the original "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". Clearly, after seeing this, he is a director for hire, and it lends credence to my comparison between the two Dragon Tattoo films. He had a really good story, leading lady and producer to work with, so it was hard to muck that up, where Fincher is an amazing director and knows how to make a good film, so he can make an interesting story out of generic material. Dead Man Down is a neat story, but it is told in a poor way. Colin Farrell wasn't a character, he was a plot device, and I truly believe this was unintentional. I, like a lot of people, do not like Colin Farrell at all, but given a good director, he can give a pretty good performance. The only character that had character was Noomi Repace's Beatrice, and that's because I think that was the limit of Ardev Oplev's story telling capabilities. The whole film comes off like a deep story about a relationship between two vengeful outcasts who have fallen from grace, that has been neutered to appeal to a wider (and American) audience. The characters (or surrogate characters) are all exaggerations and superficial, and I only actually liked Beatrice, I didn't care about anyone else. With that being said, the film does have some truly interesting concepts, but it is ruined because the source is too big for the director to handle. In the hands of a better director, this could have been a truly great film, but as it stands, it is just slightly below average
    -L.K

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Friday, March 1, 2013

Jack The Giant Slayer

Can't get enough
Jack The Giant Slayer is a Hollywood retelling of the classic Jack and The Beanstalk story, with magical creatures, a princess, and Spud and Renton from Trainspotting. What may discourage a lot of viewers from this film is that instead of it being a stupid and modern blockbuster, it is instead a classic fairy tale. It has all the essentials: a boy wanting an adventure, priceless treasures, a damsel in distress, underdog turned king, mythical creatures, and true love. I was actual pleasantly surprised with the direction that Bryan Singer has very talented hands and he knows much better than to let a film become Transformers or Pearl Harbor, instead makes a relatively simple story based on the jack and the beanstalk fable. The romance is very subtle, as well as the action scenes. This is the opposite of a Michael Bay film. What is important here is the story and all the other little things come second. Singer is a fantastic story teller and really knows how to create a scene and built some pretty impressive tension. If I had my choice (other than directing X-Men films for the rest of his life) I would have Singer direct a horror film. There were quite a few moments where I was on the edge of my seat. The writing is also very clever. The way the scenes pan out was some of most noteworthy in recent film history. On top of that, the charming performances elevated the already clever script into something that I really cared about. This is one of the few exceptions that I believe that it is ok for the actors to have Brittish accents in a fantasy film. I liked all the characters and was really hoping nobody would die, something that I rarely think. My favorite character was the Giant General. He was badass and had some depth to him, complete with some great voice work from Bill Nighy. The Giants overall were pretty neat villains that I don't see very often. And the action scenes perfectly enhanced the film, rather than becoming the only reason for its existence. The action was added almost as filler to keep it from getting boring, because it was basically the story of a common boy, who sought adventure, saving a Princess from big monsters. The scenes were shot well, tight, exciting and you could always see what was happening. The whole film was very low key and solid. There were only two problems with this movie, but they may end up being the deal breaker: The overall aesthetic of the picture. It has a very sterile and flat look to it. It was filmed in 3D and I think that is the way the producers intended for us to see it. Movies that are filmed in 3D generally look very stale in 2D. The whole film was way too bright and that is part of the 3D, because they have to add more light because 3D inconveniences everyone. And the other problem, and this is a big one, the overall story just isn't that interesting. Granted the film is superbly made and heightened by competent performances by top of the line actors, but there is only so much you can do with the Jack and the Beanstalk story. I'm not going to say that I was disappointed, because I got more than I expected, but the story overall isn't that compelling. That isn't the fault of the filmmakers. They genuinely tried to make a fantasy film that feels both fresh and classic at the same time. The overall film feels like a swashbuckling fable from the 30's and that is really something that I applaud the producers for trying. In a way, it failed, but I would say "A for
The man, the myth, the legend
effort" because everything about the film is so solid, and it really is the opposite of a lot of blockbusters. The filmmakers tried to make a quality film out of a tried and true property, complete with good performances and a smart attention to detail and it absolutely never once tried to be anything more than it is. In many ways, this is the anti Transformers. Another good comparison to this is Speed Racer; it works for fans of the source and I can see why some may not like it. I am a fan of Bryan Singer and I might go as far as to rank him as a tier 2 director up there with Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg, so I enjoyed this film, because it is a quality film, but it had no reason to be made. So I say give this a watch only if you need a fix of fantasy action films, or maybe you just want to see a film from a competent filmmaker. Otherwise, I won't be heartbroken if you give this a pass
    -L.K

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