Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Crimson Peak

Posted in Uncategorized on October 20, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Crimson Peak photo starrating-3stars.jpgIt’s the turn of the 20th century and the Victorian era is coming to an end. Edith Cushing is a would-be author of ghost stories in Buffalo, New York. She hopes to get published. She meets a enigmatic English aristocrat who likes her writing and, by extension, her as well – naturally. Unfortunately her Father doesn’t approve of the man – naturally. One thing leads to another and Edith’s heart is broken – as you would expect.  There’s a lot more but you get the idea. Crimson Peak is the latest from the mind of Guillermo del Toro, the artiste behind Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim. The chronicle employs spooky aspects but it hews a lot closer to the affairs of the heart than outright scares. You see the ghosts are a metaphor. Edith even explicitly tells us this point regarding her own work. The gothic romance is exquisitely ornate in atmosphere, but completely routine in story.

Reviewers are fond of tossing around descriptive phrases like “gothic fiction” to describe a film, but what defines “gothic” anyway? A personifying trait is the old foreboding mansion in a state of decay, a haunted house if you will, that harbors a terrible secret or serves as the sanctuary for a questionable character. The genre is generally traced back to The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, but was popularized by authors including Ann Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe and Daphne du Maurier. Some of the great classics of 19th-century literature—Frankenstein, The House of the Seven Gables, Jane Eyre, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame partly reference the style. Horror elements are often present, but a sophisticated romanticism usually informs the subject. Movies like Rebecca (1940), The Innocents (1961) and The Others (2001) are the benchmarks in the cinematic world.

Crimson Peak aspires to those standards. It benefits from a first-rate cast. Although they’re all playing archetypes you’ve seen many times before. Mia Wasikowska is the quintessential woman in distress, as is de rigueur for a gothic romance such as this. She was the star of 2011’s Jane Eyre so she can plays this role in her sleep. Tom Hiddleston is the suitably mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe, the dapper stranger for whom she falls. Jessica Chastain is Lucille, Thomas’ overprotective sister. She’s a devoted devil in full tilt “Mrs. Danvers” mode. If Thomas’ odd behavior didn’t serve as a warning sign to innocent Edith, then Lucille’s creepy disposition should have been an outright slap in the face. Charlie Hunnam is a clean cut, prospective suitor that would appear to be the more sensible choice and Jim Beaver is Carter Cushing, Edith’s wealthy father.

The presentation is meticulously detailed, employing a veritable smorgasbord of gleefully elaborate costumes, lush set design and a strings-infused score by Fernando Velazquez. They dress up an R rated production that occasionally falls victim to excess. The up-to-the-minute digital effects sometimes distract from the sumptuous proceedings, rather than assist them. The inky floating specter of her dead mother repeatedly pops up to warn her to avoid Crimson Peak. Wouldn’t you know that’s exactly where she ends up. Go figure. The screenplay by del Toro and Matthew Robbins won’t win any awards in the originality departement. The surprise is that the plot is indeed conventional right through to the end. I was shocked by how utterly derivative the story truly is. Was that the twist? My eyes were delighted however and I suppose that counts for something. The house is bewitchingly decrepit. More questions. Why is non-stop debris constantly falling through the ceiling in Allerdale Hall? Why doesn’t someone call the roofer? Don’t think.  Just watch as the fashion, music and mood gorgeously feast on a feeble script. Crimson Peak is all beauty, no brains.

10-16-15

Steve Jobs

Posted in Uncategorized on October 19, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Steve Jobs photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgAaron Sorkin is an amazing writer. The Oscar winning scribe behind such beloved titles as A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and Moneyball has an ear for dialogue and Steve Jobs, the movie, is no different. The author fashions the story as a play in three acts. Just don’t call it a biopic. The screenwriter has openly acknowledged it as “impressionistic”. The production is more of an imagined portrait as directed by Danny Boyle.  We follow the titular icon backstage at the presentation of three key unveilings in his life: the introduction of the Macintosh computer in 1984, the debut of the NeXT computer in 1988 and the launch of the iMac in 1998.

Structurally it’s quite innovative. The narrow scope gives the drama a core with which to delve into the personality of the man. But at the same time that fixation is rather limiting too. It’s an isolated misrepresentation. The screenplay is adapted both from Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs as well as interviews conducted by Sorkin. The dialogue isn’t based on actual conversations but more of an imagining of what might have been said, given what ultimately occurred. For example, Steve Jobs has a histrionic shouting match with Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) right before the iMac introduction. This happens publicly in an auditorium with many apple employees looking on. Given Steve Jobs’ carefully orchestrated persona, this publicly embarrassing scene doesn’t even have the ring of truth. To make matters worse, we’ve already heard this same complaint from Steve Wozniak before in each of the previous two acts.

Which brings me to my next point. The feature is repetitive. Their open argument concerns Wozniak’s desire to have Jobs publicly acknowledge the Apple II team and their contribution. Every time Wozniak shows up, it’s to whine about the same agenda. In the first section, it’s engrossing. In the second, it’s mild déjà vu. By the third it’s tedious begging. He’s like a broken record.  Ditto the interactions between Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), former girlfriend and mother of his child, Lisa. Chrisann drops in at inopportune times to plead with him. She rightfully wants him to support his biological child. “Your Apple stock is worth $441 million dollars, and your daughter and her mother are on welfare.” It’s kind of unbelievable how many people freely tell this powerful guy off. Yeah, he’s not a nice guy and the script doesn’t pull many punches. This is Steve Jobs the jerk. A brilliant manipulator of people, but still a jerk.

The first act is a fascinating, albeit cold, conversation between people. These include Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman. In real life she was a marketing executive but functions more as a personal assistant here. There’s Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), one of many engineers on the original Apple Macintosh development team. He is given center stage when the computer won’t say “hello” in a robotic voice. Steve Jobs bullies Andy Hertzfeld into submission. The scene is amusing but it feels apocryphal. There’s also Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), a mentor of sorts who dispenses wisdom like a father figure. The verbal sparring between the two is a high point.

That Macintosh section is captivating. The NexT computer portion, decent. But the iMac launch is where the narrative becomes exhausting. The primary gist throughout Steve Jobs isn’t business. It’s his relationship with Lisa, the daughter he refuses to accept. She pops up repeatedly, played at different stages by Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, and Makenzie Moss. Their bond forms the climax.  The chronicle has so little to do with the successes of his profession. In fact his most celebrated gadgets (iPhone, iPod, and iPad) aren’t even mentioned), Neither is the Pixar company. Steve Jobs became a multi-billionaire as its majority shareholder, after the Walt Disney company bought it in 2006. Sorry this movie ends in 1998.

Steve Jobs benefits from a crackerjack screenplay. The lightning fast dialogue, particularly in the first two acts is quite mesmerizing. It’s a veritable inundation of words, a theatrical tour de force for its star Michael Fassbender. Despite his lack of resemblance, he gets the driven spirit of the character. Who cares that little, if any of these conversations really happened, right? The attitude behind what he did is rooted in fact. I won’t fault the script for inaccuracy, but I will fault it for entertainment. The center of attention is a man who must make amends with his daughter. For a man so admired for the things he created, it is a regrettable misdirection of focus.  The climatic discussion invented for the dramatization. For most of the runtime, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue zings. Characters exchange words back and force with the crack of a whip. It’s a masterfully composed conceptual play. I easily admire it for that. It’s the artificiality and narrow focus that is difficult to love.

10-15-15

99 Homes

Posted in Uncategorized on October 12, 2015 by Mark Hobin

99 Homes photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgIt’s always a treat when a thespian has the opportunity to really act. Andrew Garfield hit the big time with a supporting part in The Social Network back in 2010. The attention he drew got him the lead in The Amazing Spider-Man reboot as well as its sequel two years later. I didn’t care for those movies. They were little more than CGI fests and they did nothing to show off the talent he displayed in his earlier work. Now he’s back to his indie roots with this well made production about the housing market crash of 2008. I suppose the same could also be said of Michael Shannon. He starred as the main villain in 2013’s Man of Steel. The difference is that the Superman picture was sort of an exception to the sheer number of indie films (Revolutionary Road, Take Shelter, Mud) he normally does.

99 Homes is a social issue drama concerning Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) and his family when the bank must foreclose on his home. The blue collar single dad, his young son (Noah Lomax), and his mom (Laura Dern), are suddenly without a place to live. The setting is Orlando in the wake of the 2008 subprime-mortgage crisis. Real estate developer Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is in charge of the eviction. He takes advantage of these foreclosures by swooping in and buying up these homes at a profit. He is an opportunist who is insensitive to, even critical of, their plight. “Dennis, you borrowed $60,000 and didn’t’t pay it back — ain’t that stealing?” he chides.

Michael Shannon clearly has the juiciest role. As a hissable villan, he gives the individual life, relishing in his personality where compassion is a weakness. His “greed is good” ethos would make him a good buddy of Gordon Gecko in Wall Street. “Don’t get emotional about real estate, ” he warns. They’re boxes. Big boxes, small boxes. What matters is how many you’ve got.” Indeed he tosses off words of wisdom that deserve to be oft-quoted lines. He’s the proverbial person you love to hate. But is he truly the villan or is the system itself? The temperament of Andrew Garfield’s Dennis Nash isn’t as extreme, but his construction worker has the most compelling character arc. His sweet, gentle demeanor is engaging for the opposite reason. But his decency has a price. As his desperation increases, he caves to darker impulses to provide for his family.

Together Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield provide a captivating study of personalities that interact over an ethical and moral divide. This harrowing chapter of recent history mines socio-political themes for genuine human drama. Director Ramin Bahrani co-wrote the script with Amir Naderi from a story by Bahareh Azimi. The director rachets up the tension and takes what could have been a dry subject into a powerful narrative. Things get intense and watching people lose their homes can be pretty uncomfortable to watch. There’s a surprising amount of suspense in the simplistic but well acted character examination. Unfortunately the ending lacks the punch of the rest of the film.  While it entertains, it also informs, giving us a window into how reckless monetary policies contributed to the the financial recession of 2007–09. Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon portray the human and often painful side of what happens when the economy fails. 99 Homes is the intimate side to an epic saga.

10-08-15

Fantastic Four

Posted in Uncategorized on August 8, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Fantastic Four photo starrating-3stars.jpgFollowing 2005’s Fantastic Four and Rise of the Silver Surfer in 2007, this 2015 movie is the third theatrical film from 20th Century Fox to feature the superhero team. Regrettably it is yet another origin story. Oh joy! After 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, I was hoping for another unnecessary reboot. Perhaps it’s akin to naming the sweetest poison, but this is indeed the best in the series yet. Historically the team has been interpreted as a pseudo family represented by a father of sorts in Reed Richards (Miles Teller) mother figure Sue Storm (Kate Mara), son Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and uncle Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell ). The difference here is that they’re depicted as a much younger version of those archetypes.

Fantastic Four takes a lot of liberties with the source material and as such, will probably ruffle the feathers of purists. As far as I’m concerned, comic books are not gospel. As long as I get an entertaining flick, I’m happy. Some individuals are admittedly sidelined and shuffled around in a way that doesn’t effectively serve the story. Ben Grimm (The Thing) disappears for a large portion of the film. Sue is left out of the key event from which they get their powers. The face of Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) metamorphosizes into an immobile plastic mask devoid of emotion. Moreover, he’s such a flimsily written attempt at a villain, he’s all but unnecessary. However the overhaul does give us something novel. What sets this saga apart is that it really isn’t a superhero movie at all, but a science fiction character study. Granted it’s a bit dour and humorless, but after the campy and ridiculous previous entries, the change of pace is rather refreshing.

In terms of plot, Fantastic Four is easily divided into 3 parts. Thematically it starts out with a whiz kid’s science project like Joe Dante’s Explorers (1985). As they mature it exploits the body morphing horror of The Fly (1986) before ultimately devolving into a CGI superpower demonstration that recalls The Incredibles but without the heart. This chapter doesn’t tread new ground but it is competent at least. At first the narrative has the courage to eschew the clichéd banalities of action setpieces for genuine understated drama. The exposition delves into the complexities of their situation. The relationship of these people is key and as portrayed by these charismatic actors, their anguish is captivating. The film is so modest, so rooted in 1960s science fiction, it’s almost a revolutionary act in 2015. Unfortunately the script doesn’t have the cojones to continue in this vein.

Fantastic Four is a mixed bag in 3 parts. For sections one and two, the script prioritizes character development. It probes the entanglements of their relationship. Just what exactly makes these people tick? These are nuanced protagonists struggling with their own identities. However, the story ultimately devolves into a computer graphics laden spectacle. The action climax is straight out of the textbook of bad superhero filmmaking. The finale is incoherent, bombastic and to be quite honest, really ugly. The director of Chronicle (2012), Josh Trank has publicly distanced himself from his picture. He intimated that it was ruined by studio interference. Given the complete change in tone in the final third, it’s plausible to see where his vision might have been thwarted. That’s a shame because given that a mere two-thirds of this is watchable, Fantastic Four can only rightfully be called Fantastic 2.67.

08-06-15

The Homesman

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Homesman photo starrating-2stars.jpgThe Homesman should’ve been a slam dunk. Take a 2-time Oscar winning actress, Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby) and have her play a bossy aging spinster. Then add legendary Oscar winning actor Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive) and have him depict a cantankerous old man. Throw them together as a couple of mismatched travelers. Then sit back and bask in the charm that is sure to follow. The problem is (1) the adventure is dreary as all get-out, (2) the dialogue lacks witty banter and (3) they’re saddled with three miserable women in tow.

The Homesman is a Western centered on frontierswoman Mary Bee Cuddy. She is an unmarried strong willed independent “old maid” from Loup City, Nebraska. Three women in the community have gone plum crazy. Reverend Dowd (John Lithgow) has asked for someone to escort the women eastward to a church in Iowa that cares for the mentally ill. Mary Bee is suffering from depression herself. Having been rejected yet again by a potential husband for being too plain. Feeling a kinship with these less fortunate souls, Mary Bee volunteers for the task. Early on her trip, she encounters George Briggs, a claim jumper, who is about to be hanged. He begs for his life and she frees him in exchange for his help.

This revisionist Western has mainly received notice for Hilary Swank’s unvarnished performance. Apparently not wearing makeup will court Oscar talk these days. She gives a sensible portrayal but it‘s far from the revelatory manifestation the buzz would have you believe. The three women that she has agreed to transport are poorly defined characters. They spend most of the duration locked in the back of a vehicle that looks like a paddy wagon. Their personalities are almost interchangeable. None of them speak so I really couldn’t tell one from the other except that one carries a doll. Whenever they’re on screen it just sucks the life out of the proceedings.

The Homesman is a thoroughly depressing experience with little energy. The idea of throwing a feminist and a curmudgeon on a road trip is inspired. But our central duo are not nearly engaging as they should be. It’s mostly forgettable except for a few amusing moments. Out of the blue a grizzled Tommy Lee Jones gets up and dances a zesty jig while singing by the campfire. In another scene, he torches a hotel in a spiteful rage and that got my pulse quickening a bit. Oh James Spader’s pompous hotelier is another high point in a production that usually operates a constant low. The story is inert. To make matters worse, a late dramatic development just happens abruptly. The perplexing act ostensibly motivated by religious guilt. The script is frustratingly cloudy on that point and when the chronicle isn’t being vague, it’s just dull.

01-06-15

My Top Films of 2014

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2014 by Mark Hobin

On this, the last day of 2014, I reflect back on 365 days of movie watching and pick the films that were among my favorites. So now without further ado…

(Drum roll please)

* MY TOP FILMS OF 2014 *

This is also a perfect time to express my gratitude to you, my dear reader. I truly cherish the movie discussions we have in this forum. It really means a lot whenever you make the effort to like, comment and subscribe to my blog. It’s all abut you.

So thanks!!

Wishing You All a Healthy and Happy New Year!!

Hope 2015 is your best year ever!

Happy New Year 2015

Unbroken

Posted in Uncategorized on December 11, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Unbroken photo starrating-3stars.jpgDrama based on the life of World War II American prisoner of war survivor, Louis Zamperini. Actress Angelina Jolie directs her 2nd feature based on the best selling biography of the same name by Laura Hillenbrand. Jolie pulls out all the stops in this gorgeously produced biopic in the classic Hollywood tradition. There’s stunning cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins. A beautiful score by Alexandre Desplat. And let’s not forget the script. Unbroken features a screenplay attributed to no less than four writers(!): Joel & Ethan Cohen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson. Every single one a heavyweight in Hollywood. This is a stately, beautifully photographed, well acted spectacle.

Louis Zamperini was a first generation Italian American. His parents spoke no English when he came to the U.S. and the culture clash he dealt with was difficult for him at school. He sought solace in athletics where he excelled in running. He became so exceptional that he qualified for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. In 1941 he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Two years after that, engine failure caused his B-24 to crash in the South Pacific. 8 of the 11 men on board died. Zamperini and two of his crewmates survived. Their rubber raft drifted with no land in sight for 47 days. In time, the survivors were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese Navy. Director Angelia Jolie details all these events and more. It’s never anything less than a handsomely mounted tribute that honors the perseverance of a hero.

And ultimately that is what keeps it from being something vital. It’s hard not to regard this pedantic film as anything more than just a respectful history lesson. The picture opens with a bang with some spectacular aerial photography of B24 bombers in flight. We flash back to an earlier time. Key aspects of Zamperini’s early life are highlighted and we see everything that led up to his enlistment. That all works as the developments move at a brisk pace. Once their plane fails and they are set adrift at sea, it becomes a bit plodding, but still interesting enough. It’s when our lead is taken captive by the Japanese that the narrative loses its way. There Zamperini must contend with Mutsuhiro Watanabe (Miyavi) the Imperial Japanese Army sergeant at the prison. Nicknamed “The Bird”, he is a most peculiar fellow. A fey personality who takes an instant dislike to him. Miyavi was a complete unknown to me but I found his mannered performance almost anachronistic for the period setting. Small surprise when I discovered he’s actually a famous pop singer in his native Japan. There’s much to recommend here, but at over two hours the production taxes the viewer’s patience after a while. Let’s just say, Unbroken is worth watching once and then never again.

12-02-14

Whiplash

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 20, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Whiplash  photo starrating-4stars.jpgNot since Black Swan have the body modifying rigors generated from one’s dedication to an artistic discipline, been rendered so graphically on film. Miles Teller is Andrew Neyman, a freshman jazz drummer at a prestigious, Juliard-esque music school in Manhattan. He meets his match in one intimidating instructor named Terence Fletcher. I know the path it takes to be the best at anything requires perseverance and pain, but what Andrew goes through is something akin to cruel and unusual punishment. Whiplash is at heart a simple story highlighted by two outstanding performances.

Anyone who has ever seen J.K. Simmons’ intense portrayal of Vernon Schillinger in the HBO series Oz knows the man can play frightening. His work in Whiplash is a seething vessel of vitriol that holds commitment to craft above everything else. He wants to mold this young freshman into the next Charlie Parker and this is his means of extracting greatness. “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” he says. But his speech goes much farther than that. His ignominious directions in class are profanity laced tirades. His character is closer to the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket than any movie teacher you‘ve ever seen before. What J.K. Simmons achieves as Terence Fletcher is something of an anomaly. He plays a teacher so abusive, it borders on caricature. Some of his antics will either provoke disgust or laughter. I heard quite a lot of the latter at my screening. But that’s partly what makes his performance so mesmerizing. It’s both a fearsome and fearless achievement and one that will undoubtedly court Oscar talk.

Miles Teller is extremely effective as relating the devotion it takes to be one of the jazz greats. As Andrew, he has had to make tough choices in his life. He is a young man with a singular purpose to achieve his dream to be remembered. At one point a terse exchange while eating with family causes him to say this: “I’d rather die drunk and broke at 34 and have people at the dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remember who I was.” That outlook is reflected in the decisions regarding his social life. He is sincere and honest, but also perhaps a bit unsympathetic. This is exemplified in a conversation he has with his girlfriend shortly into their relationship. Their interaction is short but what is said is key. In many ways a discourteous, but authentic moment.

Whiplash is a movie that concerns a teacher and his pupil. Our tale is a relationship focused on music but the subject could’ve been about anything really: ballet, gymnastics, law, nuclear physics – any pursuit that demands a lot of time, hard work and practice. Whiplash unquestionably takes those ideas to the extreme. It makes something outwardly fun and enjoyable, namely jazz music, seem punishing and unpleasant. Miles practices so hard that his hands drip blood. I wonder whether a jazz musician would even warm up to the portrait of their career here. I think it raises a lot of interesting questions though. For example, What amount of torture is legitimately required in order to be legendary? And do “tough-love” methods justify the results? Come to think of it, there was no love – just tough. I doubt many schools could harbor a teacher given to the physical and mental abuse of a Terence Fletcher- even if he did regularly develop gifted students into virtuosos. I still responded to the film though. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons form a spellbinding duo that compels you to watch. It certainly gives me a whole new appreciation for those musicians that truly excel in their craft.

10-19-14

My Top Films of 2013

Posted in Uncategorized on January 1, 2014 by Mark Hobin

On this, the first day of the new year, I reflect back on 365 days of movie watching and pick the films that were among my favorites. And now without further ado…

(Drum roll please)

* MY TOP FILMS OF 2013 *

This is a perfect time to also say thanks to you for reading my blog. I so very much appreciate the comments. We don’t have to agree, but what I love is the dialogue. The interaction between my fellow movie lovers is the very reason I was inspired to start this site. That is why I still make an effort to respond to each and every one of your remarks.

Wishing you all a healthy and prosperous New Year!!

Hope 2014 is your best year ever!

Happy-New-Year-2014

My Top Films of 2012

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2012 by Mark Hobin

On this, the last day of 2012, I’d like to present the culmination of all my movie watching for an entire year.

* MY TOP FILMS OF 2012 *

I’d also like to take this opportunity and thank you for reading my blog.  I’ve appreciated each and every one of your comments. You are the reason I enjoy running this site.  Without you, I’d just be talking to myself and that would make me crazy — or crazier at least.

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous New Year!!

Hope 2013 is your best year ever!

Photobucket