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Filmera by Chi-tsung Chang - 1d ago

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best superhero movie of this decade. Period. There will be no fine print hidden somewhere in this review that tells you otherwise. This is a feeling that quickly solidifies within me halfway into Sony’s 2018 animated feature, and the latter half of movie had only confirmed my belief. I sat through the credits barely moving not for any promise of post-credit clips, but for the fact that I was stunned by Into the Spider-Verse’s excellence.

The Spider-Family

“Comicbook superhero movie” is currently the most popular and lucrative genre, and Marvel Studios dominates the market. During the ten years since the first Iron Man in 2008, Marvel Studios has built an entertainment behemoth spanning various media—foremost being the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe (which stands 20 films strong as of December 2018). To achieve and sustain the popularity, Marvel has honed their formulae to create the most crowd-friendly cinematic experience. Crowd-friendly, inoffensive, and unchallenging. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s sheer vitality is almost an antithesis to its Marvel brethren; it has the speed and energy unmatched by the entirety of MCU and an emotional center true to the superhero spirit as opposed to Marvel’s spectacle-based cinematic phenomenon.

Miles Morales

Middle school student Miles Morales (voiced with tremendous sincerity by Shameik Moore), is the latest victim of yet another radioactive spider. Soon after Miles is granted powers similar to Peter Parker’s, the original Spider-Man, he gets involved in a conflict between Peter and the notorious crime boss Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk (Liev Schreiber). Kingpin’s experimental super-collider opens portals to parallel universes and accidentally pulls various Spider-People into Miles’s world during a confrontation between Spider-Man and Kingpin’s underlings. The team of Spider-People must now work together to find a way home and to prevent Kingpin from tearing the space-time continuum apart.

The story may sound like a standard superhero affair, but what sets Into the Spider-Verse apart from other Marvel flicks is its sharp humor, a personal coming-of-age story, and a poignant message that recaptures the magic of the genre and rekindles our love of it. Into the Spider-Verse is a love letter written in celebration of the superhero genre, and more particularly, of Spider-Man; it stands on decades worth of pop culture and looks back on its history and legacy (fans of Sam Raimi’s trilogy will be ecstatic; Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man gets a few nods). The film raises the question of the meaning behind the mantle “superhero”, and it reminds us of why we fell in love with it in the first place. Into the Spider-Verse fully encapsulates the hope and bravery a superhero represents. 

Written by the same Lord & Miller who brought you 21 Jump Street, 22 Jump Street, and The LEGO Batman Movie (Spider-Verse shares a similar fourth-wall-breaking franchise retrospective sequence), Into the Spider-Verse is absolutely hilarious. The humor is quick and sharp (sharp, but not edgy)—a welcomed change of pace from MCU’s lukewarm jokes and their showy presentation. But most important of all, the humor never gets in the way of the drama. Don’t fret, the Spider-People are plenty quippy, yet the jokes in this movie never undermine the tension as they often do in MCU. The tone of this film remains coherent throughout its runtime, and it reaches greater emotional heights and depths as a result. 

Look at all the colors!

How can I review a piece of animation without commenting on its style? This is where a significant portion of the film’s energy lies. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse makes full use of animation as a medium, and it oozes style from its every crevice. From the very first second, the movie dazzles the audience with its visual brilliance. Into the Spider-Verse looks like a comic book in motion. The shadow is accented with halftone dots and hatching lines, and the film has a dash of chromatic aberration effect thrown in to mimic the printing error present in old comics caused by misaligned color palette, but it is not enough to strain the eyes. Captions and text popups are used for comedic effects. The color palette is vibrant and varied; each time of the day has a distinct hue. Nighttime New York is a neon-soaked looker. The bold use of colors is a delight, and the positively psychedelic climax is almost unthinkable in a mainstream blockbuster. Into the Spider-Verse is a visual treat.

The animation is a huge highlight of the movie. Sony Pictures Animation made subtle emoting possible in a level that is rare even within Pixar and Disney’s filmography. The on-screen performance gives Miles Morales’s personal struggles an extra human touch. The action sequences are also top notch. Think of the free-flowing acrobatics in the past Spider-Man movies, then dial it up to 11—not because there is more than one Spider-Man this time around (though the team-tactics are indeed a joy to watch), but for the excellent framing and choreography that keep the action readable when character animation moves at only 12 frames-per-second. By saying “readable”, I am actually selling the film short; the kinetic energy of Into the Spider-Verse is incredible.

A leap of faith

It takes a genuine understanding of itself and a maturity to reflect on its past and future, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse successfully navigates old tropes of the superhero genre to explore and reaffirm its identity. It is bold and fresh, but at the same time, the film never loses sight of its roots, and it does all of this while looking mighty gorgeous.

There, I have kept my promise.

★★★★★

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During this journey through Robin Williams’ filmography, I have uncovered things about the actor I never knew and meanwhile have discovered things about myself as well. Something remarkable about the presence of Williams is the way he carries these emotional moments in a film with a delicate hand. He lies in a fuzzy area of absurd and sentimental. No two films I think better show Williams’ depth more than Terry Gilliam’s 1991 The Fisher King and Ron Clements and John Musker’s 1992 Disney animated film, Aladdin. In these films, Williams’ talents and power as an artist are at their best: mesmerizing and provocative. A strange and obscure 1990’s Gilliam film and a Disney animation may not on the surface be all that similar, but they both were places for Williams to explore the human existence, to try to figure out others, all while figuring out himself.

The Fisher King (1991)

Williams has already flexed his range as an actor, from serious roles in Good Will Hunting to his sillier and looser one in Flubber; it was no surprise to me as to the depth Williams went in his roles here. The Fisher King, an adaptation on the myth of the same name, shows Williams playing Parry, a homeless man reeling from a traumatic accident that saw the death of his wife. Throughout the film, Parry deals with withdraws and PTSD, but it isn’t until his romance with Lydia (Amanda Plummer) grows and blossoms that he begins to find himself. In this relationship, The Fisher King reaches its most touching and strange moment among its myriad of strange scenes and moments. Delicate and humane, the four main characters share a real and touching dinner together where love is not only seen but is felt.

Aladdin (1992)

Williams ties so many of these moments together through his actions or inactions. He operates as a facilitator for change for other characters, but as much as he is a facilitator for change for Jack or even Aladdin, he is a character in need of just as much change. Parry goes through something specific that we may not have experienced, but it is this drive and determination for love and his task of aiding Jack Lucas in his own redemption that touches you.

The Fisher King (1991)

As for Aladdin, the levels and ways in which Williams’ humanity is displayed is more complicated. A role that is already complicated by disputes between Disney and Williams, it is challenging to find comfort like in other roles, but the Genie in Aladdin may be one of Williams’ most comforting characters. Certainly, one of the highlights of the film, the fact Williams is able to achieve the same kinds of success through just his voice, shows his power as an actor.

Aladdin (1992)

Additionally, The Genie is just as much a catalyst for change as Parry in The Fisher King. Aladdin is clouded by his insecurity around his poverty, and it is through and only through The Genie that he is able to overcome this. What is most effective about Williams’ performance is actually his own need for change. Like Aladdin, The Genie is trapped in his life. Bound to the lamp, The Genie dreams of freedom, the same way Parry, bound to his PTSD, dreams of being with Lydia.

The Fisher King (1991)

I don’t think it is any mistake that these characters reflect similar traits and personalities. It is especially helpful in knowing these two films came out a year apart. Williams’ draw to roles like The Genie and Parry certainly reflects the issues and problems he wanted to explore as an artist at the time: the comfort and helping of others and himself. I think like any art form, acting just as much works as a medium which can be used as a form of therapy for the self. I know that writing for me can be a way of healing for myself and exploring Williams’ filmography has been one of my favorite writing projects. Exploring Williams’ films, especially in a time and world where things seem so dark and grim, has helped me in seeing a light and better side of the world. Williams has that powerful of an effect. He truly is a comfort actor and one who has a real and meaningful impact on his audience.

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Teenage rebellion has never been so covered in glitter. Bursting at the seams with new life and end-of-summer sweetness, Netflix Original Dumplin’ is an absolute joy to watch. Texas teen Willowdean Dickson (Danielle Macdonald)—called Dumplin’ by only her mother, former pageant queen Rosie Dickson (Jennifer Aniston)—mourns the recent loss of her treasured Aunt Lucy and dreads the beginning of her mother’s pageant season as summer comes to a close. The love of Dolly Parton that Willowdean shares with her best friend since childhood, Ellen (Odeya Rush), is the thread that ties the film together. It’s hard not to love Dolly Parton or feel the warmth of her lyrics, especially when viewed through the lens of such a beautiful, loving friendship.

Taught by her beloved aunt to love Dolly and herself, Willowdean decides to enter the local beauty pageant which happens to be both the oldest in all of Texas and the pageant her mother now directs. Initially a protest against her mother and the typical beauty standards pageants promote, Willowdean soon finds herself in the company of a few other girls inspired by her determination. Although she is quick to inform them, “I am not the Joan of Arc of fat girls.” Although the focus of the film is on Willowdean and her friends, we also see her grapple with the death of her aunt and juggle an uncertain relationship with her mother.

Macdonald and Aniston as Willowdean and Rosie Dickson.

Willowdean finds solace in a group of Dolly Parton drag queens whom she learns had been extremely close with her late aunt. The queens teach Willowdean and her co-pageant protesters/participants Hannah and Millie how to perform and find confidence and truth within themselves, as well as rock a bit of that Dolly Parton glam. The queens act simultaneously as the voice of Aunt Lucy and of Dolly herself (which Willowdean views as nearly one-in-the-same).

Dumplin’ certainly draws from other teen rom-coms and pageant movies (see: Miss Congeniality), but its presentation remains fresh-faced despite its more formulaic script. At times the momentum falters and stumbles but is picked back up by Macdonald and Aniston’s wonderful performances. Just after her breakout role in 2017’s Patti Cake$, Macdonald gives an honest and extraordinarily heartfelt performance as Willowdean. Her relationship with Aniston’s character is the most complex of the film. Both struggle with their grief in different ways, without truly understanding the other’s view of Lucy. The most heartbreaking and tender moments of the film are when they finally listen and begin to understand each other.

Dumplin’ entirely embodies the spirit of Dolly, even if she herself never appears on screen: sincerity, personal truth, and southern glam. That is where the film is at its best: when it is preaching the dogma of Dolly. It is an affectionate journey of self-love, friendship, and motherhood. Dumplin’ left my best friend and I dancing happily around our room to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” with uninhibited warmth filling our chests.

★★★½

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Filmera by Jenna Kalishman - 4d ago

She-Ra and The Princesses of Power reflects the basics of the original 1985 story: Adora, an orphan raised by the Horde, discovers a magical sword that transforms her into She-Ra, the powerful protector of her home planet, Eternia. With her new abilities and the help of her newfound acquaintances Princess Glimmer and an archer named Bow, Adora discovers the devastation and pain the Horde has caused and decides to align herself with the Rebellion (led by Glimmer’s mother, Queen Angella). She-Ra’s mission is to restore balance to Eternia and unite its magical princesses to fight against the evil Horde.

While the original She-Ra: Princess of Power has obvious cultural influence, it is something to be left behind the veil of nostalgia and childhood memories. With stiff characters and repetitive animation, it seems somewhat lifeless. By contrast, the revamped She-Ra is warm and fleshed out, with characters that seem far more real. Adora and her friends, all teenagers, visibly struggle with insecurity, jealousy, and other teen frustrations. Glimmer has a dynamic and realistically complicated relationship with her mother, who is overbearing and worrisome. Even villains, like Adora’s mother-figure Shadow Weaver, struggle with confidence about their abilities or appearances. Catra is perhaps the most fascinating character of all, constantly straddling the line between good and evil. Best friends with Adora since they were children, Catra is torn between her love for Adora and her desire to succeed within the Horde and complete the duties required of her. She flickers between love and ambition, friendship and power.

Catra and Adora as She-Ra fight.

Adora and Catra’s relationship is incredibly dynamic and interesting as we see them fight both beside and against each other. Most importantly, their relationship has substance. They fight but they also talk about their insecurities and problems in mostly candid ways. These are some of the best moments of the show. The frenemy (more like girlfriend-enemy) relationship between the two of them is dialed all the way up on screen, making for a fun (and gay) time. Besides Catra and Adora being obviously in love with each other, there is another LGBT couple in the show taking the form of two minor characters. It might seem trivial, but there is something so delightful about She-Ra explicitly and casually including LGBT characters.

There is something to be said for the blasé diversity that She-Ra and The Princesses of Power brings to the table. More than just the LGBT characters, the princesses of power and all of their friends and enemies are portrayed with a great variety of body types, races, sexualities, and personalities. In She-Ra, femininity is a vehicle of empowerment, not a weapon of the patriarchy. While characters are intentionally feminine and girlie they are not over-sexualized nor do they run around in unpractical, male-gazey, skimpy outfits and heels. There are also many female characters who are not the image of typical femininity, and they are just as incredible (see: Catra and Scorpia). The show’s two primary male characters, Bow and Sea Hawk, also shed conventional and toxic masculinity. She-Ra purposefully and wonderfully throws out patriarchal norms and recodes what it means to be heroic.

Adora as She-Ra

Aside from the story itself, the animation is simple, yet gorgeous. The vibrant scenes are exciting and an absolute joy to watch. I find most animation incredibly impressive because it is such a delicate and time-consuming task, but She-Ra is a truly wonderful, outstanding work. The animators seem to understand their limits and work within them excellently. There aren’t any gargantuan battle scenes because they spend more time on the conflicts of seven characters rather than thousands of nameless fighters. This attention certainly works in their favor, as every scene is clearly crafted with care.

Perhaps I am biased towards this revamped She-Ra because I have less of a connection to the original (I mean I was born in 2000), but I truly believe that She-Ra and The Princesses of Power has done an excellent job transforming a beloved classic into a magical, beautiful animation with its own mission. She-Ra is a fun and inviting tale of love, courage, and friendship topped with sparkly crystals and powerful princesses.

Here’s to magical girls saving their world!

★★★★

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Filmera by Chi-tsung Chang - 4d ago

The success of The Hunger Games series has spawned a wave of dystopian Young Adult novel adaptations, and to be perfectly honest, I am not exactly the biggest fan of the genre, as it often adheres to a set of formulae. Author Dana Schwartz’s parody twitter account @DystopianYA (it is wonderful, go check it out!) sums it up succinctly in her tweets: heavy-handed social commentary on class, arbitrary factions, love triangle, and the inexperienced teenage protagonist being the key to the downfall of a totalitarian regime. Now that the YA giants are reaching their narrative conclusions, will Mortal Engines be able to rejuvenate the genre with its unique world? The answer: not quite.

London

The world we know has been decimated by a cataclysmic event known only as the “Sixty Minute War”. Earth was poisoned by the very same quantum weapons that ravaged it. The surviving humans now live on traction cities—mobile settlements on giant wheels and tracks that roam the wasteland. Small cities scavenge and trade, while big cities engage in high-speed chases after their smaller competitors for resources and cheap labor to exploit. Mortal Engines sounds like supersized steampunk Mad Max. Indeed, the film begins with a voiceover that would blend in perfectly with the rest of the Mad Max franchise, and the speeding, harpoon-shooting fortresses were accompanied by a bombastic soundtrack from Tom Holkenborg, the very same composer who scored Fury Road

Father, archaeologist, scientist, and a very tongue-in-cheek villain

Pulled into the traction city of London along with the mining town she boarded, our protagonist Hester Shaw’s (Hera Hilmar) first action in London is to avenge her mother by assassinating Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). Hester’s dagger connects with Thaddeus, but historian Tom Natsworthy stops her from delivering the fatal blow. Hester escapes the city via a trash chute, and Tom gets pushed off by “The People’s Man” Thaddeus because he suspects the historian has heard too much from the confrontation. How anyone can trust Valentine—who primarily spends his time hinting ominously at his plan—is beyond me, but it is a story arc which his other daughter along with various unmemorable characters must go through.

Mortal Engines does not have a good script, but I’ll get back to that later. The young couple meets new friends—agents of the Anti-Traction League—and new foes—slavers, cannibals, a relentless terminator-esque cyborg named Shrike (no relation to the killing machine from Hyperion Cantos)—along the way. The ragtag group (of aviators) must come together to stop the moving fortress outfitted with the ultimate energy weapon (helmed by British English speakers in uniforms no less) before it destroys a peace-loving nation. The final climax is a steampunk remake of A New Hope complete with a sword duel between the protagonist’s mentor figure and evil father.

The X-Wings approaching Yavin Prime

At first, I was delighted by the freshness of Mortal Engines—a heroine who is not the Special, the cutdown on faction-talk, and no tedious history lessons chock full of self-serious naming conventions. But as the story moves forward, I began to realize these may not be the signs of a successful adaptation, but rather the signs of details lost by clumsy storytelling. A brief glimpse at the novel’s Wikipedia entry shows that the original plot required very little streamlining. Yet the film fumbles at developing the world in an organic fashion. Every action-downtime has a flashback or two, and characters blurt out backstories unprompted. On top of that, the twists and turns of the story are cliché ridden. Mortal Engines banks on familiarity to achieve a working story—the end result is a predictable and bland tale.

The story feels like it is going through the motions, but the visual effects did not let the “From the Filmmakers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit” line present in all of Mortal Engines’s marketing materials down. The CGI brings traction cities to life on the big screen with a phenomenal impression of great scale and weight, which infuses the purely computer-generated scenes with a sense of physicality uncommon in modern CG-heavy blockbusters. Both land and aerial vehicular combat are gorgeous and competently blocked. The city-hunting cold-open is among my favorite action sequences in cinema this year. The live-action battles, on the other hand, are much less impressive; the mediocre choreography and choppy editing failed to excite. 

The Rebel Alliance

Mortal Engines is also the latest proof of the truism: “good action scenes require emotional investment.” The film is teeming with forgettable characters played by charisma-free actors, and it sucked out all tension from the screening on several occasions. It is most evident when characters heroically sacrifice themselves for the cause. Fortunately, Hilmar, the only actor in the film with screen presence beside Weaving, was able to carry her quest for vengeance with a silent intensity; the piercing eyes were not quite Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, but she kept me engaged. I think this situation sums up my thought of Mortal Engines: there is always something to like about the movie, but the movie makes it really hard to fall in love with it. The highlights of this movie prevent me from condemning it, but it certainly isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination. Mortal Engines is perfectly serviceable as a two-hour entertainment with friends and family, but I feel a little sad about its wasted potential.

★★★

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Filmera by Kevin Lever - 5d ago

The third episode/movie of Into the Dark (episodes one and two were previously reviewed) introduces us to Pooka in “Pooka!”, where lines are blurred and personalities slip from their owners. Nyasha Hatendi stars as Wilson, an actor without a lot of prospects who finds a peculiar job as the mascot known as Pooka. With a neighbor friend and a woman in his life, Wilson’s life finally starts coming together until some horrible and violent events occur to both him and those around him. Not everything is as it seems, and soon the unraveling could lead to something bigger.

The director, Nacho Vigalondo, is no stranger to double lives told through an avatar, such as in his film Colossus, cleverly emulating similar themes of becoming someone (or something) else, what it does to the mind, and where one person ends and another begins. The other person, in this case, is Pooka the giant fur creature, a fun family creation for the holidays to drum up toy sales. The psychological angle and Hatendi’s performance match really well, where his fearful and unhinged nature as the episode progresses is greatly compelling and the major highlight beyond the presentation.

Pooka, Into the Dark: “Pooka!”.

The visual style of the episode is gorgeous and vibrant, with excellent use of color (especially blue and red hues signifying different emotions and psychological moments), and striking imagery involving the Pooka suit. One shot in particular involving Wilson lifting a sheet up to see what was underneath was inspired and creepy. Some patterned, repeated scenes with different circumstances, too, find a good way to tell through visual storytelling a tone of uncertainty and signs of madness. Normally a costume standing in a hallway would fall into comical territory; here, it is an unnerving source. The score by Bear McCreary is fairly memorable, a strange mixture of deep, guttural choir and emotional stretches to really enhance the episode.

But for all its good, the episode does find some coldness in its characters. There’s an almost arm’s-length approach to how its characters are portrayed, some on purpose, others by accident. It’s rare in “Pooka!” where we gain much in the way of caring for these characters, as they function more as story than as true characters. The performers do well, but given a little more to work with, they could have achieved more. And for as wild as the third act is, it doesn’t quite leave the intended impact.

Into the Dark finds its best episode so far in “Pooka!”, full of memorable sights and a complex ending. While it may falter in adding layers beyond its story, it does make up for it in its direction and lead performance.

★★★

Into the Dark: “Pooka!” is available on Hulu on December 7th.

To help us continue to create content, please consider supporting us on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/filmera.

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The Seventies was not a kind decade to Bond. The Sixties might have been the height of the Cold War setting and provided a colorful aesthetic, but the Seventies was largely a hangover decade culturally. Bond was no exception. This is Roger Moore’s first as Bond, and with this series we’re going to see what started the decline of Bond and what qualities of the character endured beyond stagnation.

When I was young and my heart was an open book, I used to say, “live and let live!” But, when this ever changing world made me give in and cry, I said:

Live and Let Die (1973)
This is actually nice to see. A breath of fresh air for an aesthetic.

Time to make a disclaimer: I’m going to be honest in these reviews. If Moore is your favorite Bond and you love these movies, that’s okay. I love them too. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be nice to them. You are welcome to disagree with me in the comments. In fact, I want you to; I’m very lonely.

So I went ahead and watched some of the Moore films in succession. This was mainly done for perspective. These films are some of the ones I’ve seen the least, so when I see them I should know the franchise’s near future.

If there was a way to describe these Moore era films, I think the best way to say it is “gimmicks”. Gimmicks used to be a thing you put on a movie poster, it was the thing Bond had to do in between the good stuff. Once Sean Connery left, gimmicks became all Bond had for a long time. Connery left a vacuum where only an image of what Bond should be remained. 

The Plot

In the Americas, three MI6 agents are murdered, and Bond is summoned in the middle of the night to figure out what the hell is going on. The link between the three is a named Dr. Kananga. In New York, Bond is almost murdered, and he traces the clues to a gangster named Mr. Big. He also meets Big’s assistant, Solitaire, who can read tarot cards and see the future.

Bond almost dies and then meets up with a CIA operative named Rosie Carver. They go to Kananga’s island nation of San Monique, and Carver is murdered because she secretly works for Kananga and was gonna spill the beans. I’m trying to make these shorter.

By the end of this review we are going to see you turn into a balloon.

Bond seduces Solitaire, who is also working for Kananga. Solitaire is a virgin and credits that for her amazing ability. She falls in love with Bond, and they escape by boat to New Orleans. Mr. Big captures them and reveals he is secretly Kananga. The big plan is to produce heroin from the poppy fields in San Monique and distribute the insanely large amount for free. Creating a market crash only Kananga could survive and also creating dependent future buyers after he becomes the only source.

Kananga is also pissed because Solitaire has lost her power. He wants Solitaire to be sacrificed by his voodoo henchman Baron Samedi in San Monique, and he wants Bond to be fed to alligators in the New Orleans swamps. Bond escapes the alligators, goes back to San Monique and saves Solitaire, and stops Kananga’s operation by literally making him explode like a balloon. They relax on a train when they’re attacked by a one armed henchman; at the end Bond and Solitaire embrace.

A Closer Look
Maybe Moore should take a torch and try to burn off that mole he’s got next to his nose.

First, this isn’t a normal Bond movie. This film actively pursues a blaxploitation aesthetic and plot. The evil dictator is trying to make drug money, not diamond satellite money. This makes the film age in ways that the Connery films didn’t. This film has racism, but it’s done with a blurrier line than something like You Only Live Twice. I think a lot of the racism in this film isn’t because of ill intentions or overt prejudice, I think it’s because it’s a bunch of white people making a movie in this cultural genre. It’s just not thought out. This doesn’t excuse them, but I didn’t watch this film and feel negativity that wasn’t already a product of these genres.

The worst of the negativity was Carver’s death and the removal of her romance scenes in certain theaters. That’s inexcusable and in a more standard Bond film Solitaire would’ve been the lady to die two scenes after Bond seduced her and Carver would have been written smarter. That being said, everything else you’ll see here is standard for the time and genre. Message me when Bond paints his face. Oh wait, he did that like three movies ago.

Which brings me to Moore. To talk specifically about how Moore functions in this film at the moment, Moore’s Bond is meant to be a stark juxtaposition from his setting. A posh, handsome gentleman having to deal with the blunt roughness of the streets is meant to be funny. Same for the gross and visceral swamps of New Orleans or the colorful voodoo of San Monique. They utilize Bond’s character as a tool for contrast, and I think that’s the smartest way to do this. However, I think there are moments where the fish out of water works, but those moments are few and far between. When he’s not an oaf he has an air of smugness that doesn’t wear well with the rest of the cast or film. When he’s giving one liners and using the standard 007 gadgets, it feels like he’s in a different movie. Moore’s smile and presence appeal to children, so it’s weird when he’s talking about heroin. It’s also weird when he makes the main villain explode.

I’m really trying to not make a size joke here, but I’m coming up short.
The Good

I think Moore works. I don’t know if he starts to phone it in like Connery yet in the later films, but here he seems to be giving it his all, and he actually has a lot going for him. He has charisma, physicality, and warmth. That warmth is really something that isn’t conveyed by other Bonds. I can see this guy sleeping with women because he’s not beating them. That being said, Moore doesn’t have any roughness. Bond is now seen entirely as a heroic character, which is not a good thing. Especially in this film, but in general Bond does too many questionable things for it to work. 

He’s still sleazy. His introduction scene in the film is worth watching alone, even if you aren’t going to see the entire picture. It’s fun, creates a sense of urgency, and you learn to treasure every moment you can with Bond and his coworkers.

I’m sure that claw comes in handy- aw crap these movies are making my puns worse.

Other actors in the film turn in good performances. There’s a degree of looseness that doesn’t feel professional, but I also get that feeling from blaxploitation films of this time. Basically, Yaphet Kotto’s performance as Kananga works almost the entire time, but he feels like he’s in a different movie than Moore. Kananga is also probably the most colorful and loud major villain we’ve got so far, so hearing him laugh and seeing him mug for the camera might scream amateurish, but most Bond villains have been absent from such theatrics. Even Gray’s Blofeld in Diamonds worked with deadpan. That’s a hard role to do, and I actually dig it. I think the breakout visually is Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedi. Samedi doesn’t die in the film, and he’s the last thing we see! Super spooky! He’s great.

And to put a bow on everything here, this is probably a movie worth seeing. One of the better Moore films, I just tend to nitpick and complain about things they probably didn’t think about fifty years ago.

The Bad

Functionally, I think the worst thing about the film is the music.

This is probably a matter of argument, but I don’t like Paul McCartney’s theme. Love me some Beatles, hell, I even love me some Wings. But to put something in perspective, this is a quote from Goldfinger.

My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!

James Bond in Goldfinger

What does this quote tell us? First, it teaches everyone to keep their mouth shut or else they’d look stupid fifty years later, but it also is a lesson in franchise direction. The Beatles were pop garbage at the time of Goldfinger (1964 is the year, so we’re talking I Want to Hold Your Hand), and Bond culturally wanted to knock it down a peg. Girls listened to the Beatles. Boys might listen to the Beatles. Men don’t. Bond had an elitist attitude about culture that helped forge its own popularity.

I chose this image so I wouldn’t make another pun.

Fast forward almost ten years from that, and everybody’s singing a different tune. First, the Beatles are now artistically respected and way more popular than Bond. Second, this film franchise now has none of the class it once claimed to have. Boys watch Bond, girls probably don’t, and now men might? These films are transforming fast, and they chose a warmer actor with less roughness and chose McCartney to make the theme because awesome jazz orchestral introductions with a sassy singer aren’t as good as pop music? Yeah, in case you can’t tell, this is the start of pop music supplanting the traditional themes. Even when Barry comes back, Barry will try for pop sounds for theme and the score. When he changes the score it turns really bad.

I’m not going to specifically talk about the song, but it sucked up so much of the music budget they just hired former Beatles producer George Martin to make the score. This was a bad move. Martin tries to do what Barry did and weave the theme with the suspenseful moments, but it never blends well for me. The moments the music wants to emphasize feel undone.

So I’m done talking about music, I’m gonna say Solitaire was a mediocre Bond girl and holy crap that Smokey and the Bandit chase with Sheriff J.W. Pepper was awful. They tried to add some comic relief with Pepper, but it feels like a third movie conflicting with the spy and Superfly. Like a Wacky Races movie or something.

Yes? Hello? I can’t hear you there’s a crowd next to me. Speak louder. I’m going to get back in the car maybe the noise will drown out.

And the final thought here is I think this film didn’t have good pacing. It starts well, but then it meanders and at the very end it realizes it has to be a Bond movie again and have an evil lair and a climactic action sequence. None of it works, and it doesn’t feel earned. I’m engaged the entire time, however, and the pacing is more of a structural issue than it is an issue of me being bored.

Looking Forward

We’ve got a lot of Moore films to go. I gotta say what’s nice about these gimmicks is that they create variety. Next up we actually have another unique film called The Man With the Golden Gun. It actually stars Christopher Lee as the principal antagonist Francisco Scaramanga. Definitely going to be a treat to investigate. Will it be a treat to watch?

What I Drank

A Sazerac! I can actually make this at my place because I amazingly always carry absinthe, but you at home might need to go out and get some. 

Combine 2.5 ounces of rye whiskey, 2 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters and 1 dash of Angostura, and like a single drop or two of absinthe and no more. Stir. Pour all of that in a glass with a watered down sugar cube and top with a lemon garnish. It’s basically going to taste like a whiskey with a lot going on, which is what I assume all whiskey cocktails taste like.

This review has really been blown out of propor- oh no, somebody kill me. This thing looks like how I feel.
★★★

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Filmera by Chi-tsung Chang - 6d ago
Tilda Swinton’s amazing cameo as Madame D.

Four years ago, I went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel on a whim (I didn’t pay much attention to entertainment news back then), but I did not regret my decision one bit. In fact, it was quite the opposite—I was charmed by Wes Anderson’s 2014 period drama/comedy within minutes. Now, I carry a piece of it with me every day—I have had the great fortune to come upon the perfect phone wallpapers of the film (links here, and here), and thanks to them, even the simple act of taking my phone out to check the time can bring me joy. The Grand Budapest Hotel is magical!

I adore The Grand Budapest Hotel. It is the most Wes Anderson movie the quirky American auteur has ever done. Most, not in the sense of having the greatest amount of Anderson’s trademark aesthetics crammed in, but rather, in the sense of these aesthetics realizing their full potential. Yes, being an Anderson film means you can already expect this movie to be about a group of lovable misfits going on a wacky adventure, but at the same time, it is unlike anything you have seen before. The Grand Budapest Hotel is the height of the Anderson magic—it is simply impossible for even those who had grown accustomed to Anderson’s style to ward against its charm.

Zero and Gustave

The settings of The Grand Budapest Hotel wears its whimsical atmosphere with tremendous ease. After all, what is better at housing a fairy tale than an old man’s reminiscence of a bygone golden age? Anderson’s usual graceful eccentricity feels right at home in the 1930s European high society. Set in the fictional nation of Zubrowka, the story follows the titular hotel’s legendary concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), and his penniless but loyal lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori and F. Murray Abraham as the young and old Zero respectively). Gustave, who was as much an attraction as the lavishly furnished hotel he worked in, was framed a murderer of Madame D., over the priceless renaissance painting his mistress bequeathed him. The duo must clear Gustave’s name before either the law enforcement or Madame D.’s devious son catches up.

The presentation of this film is immaculate. The narrative takes up the form of a nestle doll set that starts and ends in a similar manner (Anderson’s obsession with symmetry raised to a whole new level); each setting neatly wraps around the central adventure and holds it in great affection, reverence, and melancholy. The story is punctuated by the occasional alternating between narrative layers. The Grand Budapest Hotel knows precisely when to pause, sidestep, and whisk forwardthe pacing is never offbeat. As the story weaves back and forth across time, the aspect ratio shifts to reflect the change. Each aspect ratio presents a new composition opportunity. The Grand Budapest Hotel is rife with stunning shots that one can frame and hang on the wall.

On the run

What surprised me the most was perhaps how funny The Grand Budapest Hotel is. Comedy is present in all of Anderson’s movies; however, none of them can measure up to this film. The humor is dry, sometimes physical, and often times unexpected. I laughed aloud many times, and much of this movie’s hilarity can be attributed to Fiennes’s impeccable comedic timing and delivery, so much so that I could not imagine the lines being delivered in any other way. The film had briefly hinted at the gentlemanly, poetry-reciting concierge’s humble origin, and his crass outbursts never fail to put a smile on my face. The deadpan of Revolori and Fiennes’s melodramatic manner is a match made in comedic heaven.

The flawless story pacing and structure, picturesque cinematography, and exquisite production design each reinforce the impression of The Grand Budapest Hotel being a labor of utmost care. It is not to say Anderson doesn’t pour his heart into every film he had ever directed, but his cute stop-motion features (Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs) failed to instill the same warm and fuzzy sensation in me. The Grand Budapest Hotel is not exactly a feel-good movie. At times it is wistful and melancholic, for the (illusion of a) civilized world “sustained with a marvelous grace” by Gustave came to an end eventually—succumbed to war and diseases. The key essence that sets The Grand Budapest Hotel apart lies in the protagonists. Flawed as the Zero and Gustave (well, it’s mostly Gustave) are, when faced with great hardship, they never despair or turn to cynicism. They remained steadfast, and they persevered with the help of friends. Though their endearing relationships were brief, their tales lived on.

Agatha

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a showcase of masterful filmmakingit is perfectly framed, perfectly choreographed, and perfectly edited. It is a well-balanced film that loses not an ounce of human warmth in its pursuit for precision. With all my heart, I hope it moves you as much it moved me.

★★★★★

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Filmera by Kevin Lever - 6d ago

Vanity Fair, the adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s serial novel, is a wonderful new version coming courtesy of Amazon and ITV, providing one of the best retellings of the story and a lead performance not to be missed. Written by Gwyneth Hughes and directed by James Strong (and Jonathan Entwistle in its sixth part), it’s a classic tale of rags to riches, where a young woman rises through the ranks of the social class as far as the world will take her.

Olivia Cooke is an undeniably perfect Becky Sharp, her knowing looks, clever delivery, and feisty, energetic performance in the role making this, in my mind, the top Miss Sharp of many adaptations. It opens upon her being compared to a viper, and over the course of the series we see just how far Becky will go to keep her growing standing. Her meteoric rise is juxtaposed to friend Amelia (Claudia Jessie), whose quest for true love leads down a very different path, and how intertwined they are as life carries on. Becky is always looking forward while everyone around her is in pain from the past. Cooke manages to make Becky always fascinating to watch, even as her deeds and trickery hurt those along the way.

The lavish, gorgeous production is always a joy to take in, from the excellent costumes to the beautiful rooms and lighting; it all captures the time and place immeasurably. Its use of pop songs is tasteful and elegantly done, only used as the main title and to close out the episode. The fifth episode has larger battle fare, surprisingly robust in its presentation, engaging to see those away at war while those on the sidelines worry and swindle. It’s a very well-acted series, Tom Bateman playing a charming Rawdon Crawley, who tries to keep up with Becky but always feels so many steps behind.

Cooke, Vanity Fair.

Its sense of humor is class-based and layered with satire and sarcasm, playing at the standing of someone in both social worth and keeping one’s attention. One of the more fun sequences early in its run is the arrival of the Crawley aunt (wonderfully played by Frances de la Tour), whose matter-of-fact demeanor and disregard for everyone beyond Becky and Rawdon is a treat to watch. It’s a wink and a nod adaptation with a lighthearted and carefree attitude, just like Becky. But the more serious aspects of the later sections are handled with care, the impact on the characters remains the focal point and are handled gracefully. The whimsical nature—despite the threat of the Napoleonic wars in the back half—is an invigorating time, where its victors excel and its fallen are treated only as well as their worth. Those momentous times all have their consequences.

In a sea of adaptations, 2018’s Vanity Fair rises to the top through Cooke’s large performance and its tight attention to the mood of the piece. For as high as those might ascend, their fall will be just as long. It’s in keeping to a playful tone, even as it grows more serious in its later hours, where it becomes a well-deserved adaptation and delivers one of the best of 2018.

★★★★½

Vanity Fair aired on ITV in the UK and the CBC in Canada in September 2018. It arrives on Amazon’s Prime Video on December 21st. The seven episode miniseries was provided for review.

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Filmera by Trudie Graham - 1w ago

Sebastián Lelio’s Disobedience is loaded with physical and emotional barriers, preventing the two women at the centre from leading full lives. Staying true to Naomi Alderman’s book, the adaptation is almost too subtle for its own good, and to an extent relies on purists’ knowledge of the source material. Whether this style of storytelling fits for the average viewer or not, I believe it to be inarguably one of the most powerful love stories between women to reach the screen—and I don’t mind working a little bit for it.

Ronit (Rachel Weisz) and Esti’s (Rachel McAdams) passion is intermittent. Finding its way through niceties in public and polite conversation, a timer begins to tick, and with each sound becomes louder and harder to ignore. When it runs out, the desire can no longer be held back, and they’re overcome by it. The need to touch and to be touched becomes tangible, as they acknowledge who they truly are and not who the world wants them to be. The longing for connection makes the orthodox community a barren and cold place for Esti; Ronit is like a flame amongst the black—it’s only natural for someone so devoid of real intimacy to be drawn to the warmth, to be wanting of it with every inch of herself. And once they start, with just a kiss, they can’t stop. Love is in many ways addictive, and in equal parts Ronit and Esti have been clean for a long time.

Alessandro Nivola and Rachel McAdams as Esti and Dovid, man and wife.

Ronit and Esti’s relationship began in their teenage years, and through the nosiness and subtle blackmail of the people around them, they begin to be reduced to school girls again. Esti is called to the head mistress’ office after being caught kissing in a park, Ronit sits listening to a domestic between husband and wife on the stairs, Esti’s “I’m late for school.” Members of the community look down on their decisions, see their detours from what they consider to be righteousness as rebellion, and Ronit and Esti are forced to hide. With mannerisms that dismiss any confidence, it’s no secret words are sharp in this neck of the woods. When Ronit, Esti, and Dovid sit down around a table with family friends it’s most apparent how this dynamic works. After an awkward initial re-meeting the women seem to sync up and fall back into a natural rhythm. Esti laughs to herself as Ronit riles up the conservatives in the room, and when either of them are challenged the other speaks up, perhaps with only a couple of words—but as the film consistently proposes, even the smallest acts of disobedience can be monumental.

As well as exploring the oppression inside the strict Jewish community, the film handles the idea of patriarchal roles. The men are the ones in positions of power here, and they discuss Ronit and Esti in a manner which is controlling and demeaning. To them, the women aren’t people with complex emotions—they’re problems to either be brushed under the carpet or groomed into appropriate wives.

“Oh, is it? The way it should be? Or is it just institutional obligation?”

When Esti and Ronit take the tube to another part of town, the invisible constraints begin to loosen, and they can finally just be. The silent walk to the hotel gives insight on how in tune with each other they are. They both know what’s about to happen, and although visibly nervous, there’s an excitement that feels more like butterflies in the stomach. But they still seek seclusion. They go to a hotel room, and the temptation is to see what they do as an act of shame—after all, Esti is cheating on her husband—but the all-consuming nature of their relationship is hard to argue with, and is so observably right that their consummation doesn’t present as sinful. The anonymity of their surroundings is safer for them, and a look into what might have been another life had they met under different circumstances—a breather before they inevitably return to the smothering atmosphere they come from. That timer from before begins to quicken its pace, and they can last less and less time without giving themselves over to what they want. Every graze of the hand and prolonged stare further breaks their chains.

Ronit and Esti distancing themselves from the community.

The beautifully choreographed sex scene (directed respectfully by Lelio and controlled with grace by Weisz and McAdams) is allowed to be downright dirty. Sexually it’s almost performative, the spitting, the length of it, and the time taken. It’s perfectly earned and unlike a lot of sex scenes between women doesn’t have the grossness that can come with gratuitous filmmaking. As great as Lelio is, it comes across like it’s the ladies’ show. Weisz’s love of the source material and the pairs’ interest in producing the film the correct way stretches for miles.

Esti is like another person altogether when out of her conservative clothing and wig, with a physicality unlike what we had previously seen of her. She is partially dominant for the first time, and she uses every piece of herself to make love to Ronit with a change that stems from the inside out. As some have previously pointed out, the spitting in the mouth can be analysed as a metaphorical impregnation, which makes sense given the timing of Ronit’s return concludes with Esti’s pregnancy. When Ronit ends the encounter with the click of a camera shutter, she has a memory she can treasure forever, something she wished she had done with her father while he was alive.

Esti posing for her portrait.

For some, Esti’s arc wasn’t complete enough, but in that lies a failure to understand what Esti really wants. As much as she loves Ronit, placing all her hopes and wishes in life upon her was never the healthy or realistic option. They’re wildly different—perfect for each other—but wildly different. Esti in many ways faces bigger challenges than Ronit, who is able to have relationships with men. Esti is a lesbian, her chances of happiness are slim to none in her current position and hidden true nature. While Ronit can fly off, the consequences for Esti are too grim, and if something were to go wrong between them she would again be lost in the crowd. Esti’s transformation shouldn’t be undermined; she begins the story following Ronit, and later is the one leading her through the synagogue like a guide, making the occasional eye contact as if to say “It’s okay, just follow me.” They switch their roles from time to time, but what’s consistent is that they have each others’ backs no matter what. The glances, silent defence and support they lend to each other is what keeps them going.

Esti says “that is me” when asked about her dedication to teaching, and in raising a child she can find value, not because it’s what’s expected of her or what has been forced, but because it’s what she truly wants. Ronit simply doesn’t want the same things, and so the pair are destined to be star-crossed lovers who could never be in the right place at the right time to make it work. Although this is a bitter pill to swallow, the real message is one of self liberation. From love, religion, community, all of it.

Ronit visiting her father’s grave.

Disobedience challenges our ideas of freedom, love, and personal goals. Its ending is beautiful in that it might feel like a compromise for both women, but it is in fact both their choice—finally, their choice. Whether the outcome serves them well is on their shoulders, and while it hurts, the final “I love you” outlasts any bitterness. It’s a hard ending, part upsetting, part dignified.

The willingness to create an ending bound to cause mixed emotions in viewers is brave, and while it’s understandably not to everybody’s taste, it does speak volumes for the characters and all the hard work put in to making them believable, angry, sad, sexual. They are women with agency over their own existence and pain.

“It’s easier to leave, isn’t it?” “No, it isn’t.”

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