Feeds:
Posts
Comments

The first few minutes from Son of Saul more than set the stage/tone of the entire film – a fairly close camera that never strays too far from the protagonist; a sea of voice surrounding him and then a cacophony of screams from hundreds of people.  Then, the film immediately cuts to its title card and follows the titular character back to cleaning the very cell where those screams came from.  Son of Saul does not waver too far from this introduction and only works to build upon it a very memorable and eerie reminder of a time period that may seem all too familiar as a film property yet unique in its perspective.

Son of Saul follows its titular character, Saul (Géza Röhrig), who is a Jewish worker-prisoner in one of the Nazi concentration camps.  One day, he comes upon a small boy during his work which sets off a journey to bury the boy properly while still trying to maintain his cover in his workplace.

The biggest strengths of the film lie in its cinematography, its unflinching emotional energy and its interesting take on a protagonist.  The first bold aspect of the film is the camera which rarely strays far from Saul.  It hovers close enough for us to usually see his upper body and face while the rest of the action around him becomes a slight blur or a mess of sights/sounds (purposely).  This perspective, the long takes and the intense scrutiny of the propelling plot serve to capture a number of emotions from the shady backroom deals these prisoner-workers must work with to the various politics at hand between the prisoner-worker factions.

In addition, along with the acting debut of Röhrig, all of the mise-en-scene work to really capture the plight of Saul himself.  Although the true question of Saul’s intention never fully comes into fruition, the character’s interactions with his captors and peers along with his unrelenting goals to put his son to rest make for quite the perspective to view both his own spirit and the plight of the prisoners in the concentration camps.  The result is simply a raw amount of emotion as we, the audience, view the atrocities in such graphic detail while balancing the perils of this poor ‘father’ of sorts who is trying to bring the only sense of light back into the world. Perhaps the only faults to find with the film is in some of the scenes which veer almost too closely to action hero tropes and break the immersion that the film presents to the audience.

Son of Saul is a claustrophobic, emotionally raw and disturbing look back at the World War II concentration camps in Hungary.  The approach by Nemes is unique in it’s close proximity to the protagonist in many ways throughout the film and thematically hitting upon both it’s chaotic time period and the character’s internal struggles.  Son of Saul is a sad triumph for its titular character and the time period it represents – a somber and poignant reminder of the struggles that still resonate to this day.

The Wie muses: **** out of ******

 

Director: László Nemes

Running Time: 1 Hour; 47 Minutes

Rated: R

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.A busy year equated to a late Oscar Predictions list for the year.  Additionally, I was challenged with creating a predictions list that was interesting in it’s own right and wasn’t able to come up with anything too revolutionary before the Oscars.  Therefore, moving forward, I’m hoping to create an interesting predictions list that is easy-to-read and still uniquely insightful.  Stay tuned.

Until then, enjoy my usual (albeit late and a bit rushed) predictions for this year:

 

Writing – Original Screenplay

American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Her
Nebraska

Wie’s Choice: Her
Although my two other close favorites, ‘American Hustle’ and ‘Blue Jasmine’ are each fascinating in their own respects, ‘Her’ is my personal favorite out of all the choices here – successfully encapsulating both a sci-fi premise into a romantic comedy.  The unique blend created a touching and alarming film that showcases both our love with ourselves and technology.

Most Likely to Win: Her
‘Her’ has been on a fairly good winning streak with only a ‘loss’ at the BAFTAs to ‘American Hustle’ in which ‘Her’ was not nominated at all.  The momentum could shift to ‘American Hustle’ however if wins starts to shift in all other categories although that has looked less and less likely in the last few weeks.

Writing – Adapted Screenplay

Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Wie’s Choice: 12 Years a Slave
My favorites here are between ’12 Years a Slave’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ – the latter being so flagrant in it’s excess that it oddly becomes admirable.  However, my choice has to come to ’12 Years a Slave’ which also feels excessive but to highlight the plight Solomon’s plight and the other slaves around him without feeling overly melodramatic or preachy.   Few other films this year reached the emotional beats that ’12 Years’ managed to conjure.

Most Likely to Win: 12 Years a Slave
With only a loss to ‘Philomena’ at the BAFTA’s and ‘Her’ at the Golden Globes (in which both were competing with one another), ’12 Years a Slave’ seems to be a fairly sure fit for the win in the Original Screenplay category.  It remains to be seen, however, if this will be one of only a few wins that ’12 Years’ will receive throughout the night.

Visual Effects

Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness

Wie’s Choice: Gravity
Visual effects have obviously come a long way with this year being no different.  However, my personal favorite seems fairly simple with ‘Gravity’ being one of the best looking films of the year.  With Cuaron working on the film for years just to get the tech up to snuff, the results show easily on screen with a surprising amount of CG that never seems out of place.  ‘Gravity’ is a technical dream that deserves all the praise it gets in this regards.

Most Likely to Win: Gravity
In a category that always seems to leave out some beautiful films, this year – the answer seems pretty agreeable with ‘Gravity’ and has all the momentum from wins at other award ceremonies as well as recognition both critically and financially.

Music – Original Score

The Book Thief
Gravity
Her
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks

Wie’s Choice: Her
‘Gravity’ may have such an important role for it’s soundtrack without much sound elsewhere other than dialogue; however, I am of the opinion it felt too heavy and overbearing.  My vote would go to ‘Her’ which has a subtle and soothing soundtrack that complements the film well.  Much respect has to also go out to the Arcade Fire collaboration which worked for the film rather than to it’s detriment.

Most Likely to Win: Gravity
‘Gravity’ has most of the wins here from past contests and with a lot of momentum for the film in most of it’s categories, the Academy seems sure to vote for it again here as well.  The only other winner, ‘All is Lost’, at the Golden Globes is not even nominated here.

Film Editing

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
12 Years a Slave

Wie’s Choice: Gravity
The fairly surefire answer, personally, is ‘Gravity’ for the Oscar Editing Award.  Space has rarely seemed so dark, isolating and fascinating and although the editing is only one cog in a complicated frame, it was such an integral part in making scenes tense at one moment and lonely in the next – it’s a terrific accomplishment.

Most Likely to Win: Gravity
‘Gravity’ has lost to ‘Rush’ at the BAFTA’s but with ‘Rush’ not nominated here, ‘Gravity’ (again) has the momentum going for it as a critical favorite and a win at the Critic’s Choice Awards.

Cinematography

The Grandmaster
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
Prisoners

Wie’s Choice: Gravity
‘Gravity’ once again seems like a clear victor here on a personal front.  With Cuaron’s signature long take style and the film having a myriad of crazy shots all over, the cinematography is absolutely top-notch as always.  The first fifteen minutes of the film, which includes perhaps the most quiet moments throughout, is an absolute treat for any film lover looking for great camerawork.

Most Likely to Win: Gravity
With a near sweep at the major awards, ‘Gravity’ once again looks to take the award easily here.

Animated Feature Film

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
Frozen
The Wind Rises

Wie’s Choice: N/A
Unfortunately, I have yet to watch the Wind Rises which (from word of mouth) is a very strong film.  Therefore, I’d rather leave this blank.

Most Likely to Win: Frozen
Although critically, there has been talk of the respect for ‘The Wind Rises’ as Miyazaki’s ‘final’ film, ‘Frozen’ has swept the critical awards and looks to take the award fairly easily.  Disney has had an absolute critical and financial hit with ‘Frozen’ and with its unique stake in Disney history, it looks to land the Oscar as well.

Oscars_Best_Supporting Actors_Best_Supporting Actresses copyActress in a Supporting Role

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska

Wie’s Choice: Jennifer Lawrence
There are some absolutely fantastic performances here – some of my other favorites being Roberts, Nyong’o and Squibb (and Roberts having nearly a role that could have stood in the main actress category).  However, my personal favorite has to go to Lawrence who brought out such a fun and wacky role in ‘American Hustle’ and is one of the most memorable from the film as a whole.  A shame that she was not in the movie even more, but when she was on screen, it was hard to not pay attention.

Most Likely to Win: Lupita Nyong’o
Here is one of the more hotly contested awards of the night with Nyong’o and Lawrence both landing nearly equal awards throughout the season.  Nyong’o does have the slight edge some more recent wins such as at the Critic’s Choice Award, although as some critics have mentioned, ’12 Years’ may have some problems with many in the voting body possibly thinking of the movie as too heavy while ‘American Hustle’ has gotten a lot of early love from critics which may translate to rewarding the film here.

Actor in A Supporting Role

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Wie’s Choice: Jared Leto
The actors category continue to have such a strong amount of great competitors this year with the supporting roles.  Although Hill and Cooper may land in my favorites (while Abdi, like Roberts, having a role that could have stood as a main actor role), Leto has the most fascinating character as a transgender woman suffering from AIDs.  Much like his co-star, McConaughey, the role goes far beyond just the physical transformation but also the lighthearted and heartfelt emotions that runs through the role.  Cheers to Leto for such a terrific performance.

Most Likely to Win: Jared Leto
Although Leto lost to Abdi at the BAFTA’s, Leto has won all other critical awards and is looking to go into the Oscar’s with the most momentum here.  There is also a lot of love for the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ project and the knowledge about it’s long campaign to become a film may reward the film with acting wins.

Oscars_Best_Actors_Best_Actresses copyActress in a Leading Role

Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

Wie’s Choice: Cate Blanchett
Another strong group of actors here – some of my personal favorites come from Dench (who technically did feel like a supporting role), Adams and Blanchett.  However, the best overall performance has to be Blanchett – a depressing character in a film that just continues to grow depressing with each act.  Blanchett plays Jasmine with such conviction in her lies and insanity that the character almost grows to be pitiful until the final few acts – one of Blanchett’s best roles to date.

Most Likely to Win: Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett has pretty much won most of the awards coming into the Oscars here with only Adams and Bullock winning one or two awards in separate categories.  However, the voting body seems to want to reward ‘Blue Jasmine’, if not in the screenplay category, they will most likely do so here.

Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale – American Hustle
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Wie’s Choice: Leonardo DiCaprio
This category was tough to narrow down to one.  My favorite roles here probably could be narrowed down to Ejiofor, McConaughey and DiCaprio.  However, DiCaprio wins out for my personal favorite.  Even though the role and film itself could be hated as excessive and gluttonous, DiCaprio simply shines as the villainous Belfort and pushes himself to encapsulate a man who simply love his wealth and himself all too much.  I argue that it’s one DiCaprio’s best characters with such conviction in his delivery and emotions.

Most Likely to Win: Matthew McConaughey
Here comes another interesting contentious category.  Ejiofor and McConaughey are the favorites here (with DiCaprio only winning a few awards – mostly in separate categories).  McCounaughey has the slight edge over Ejiofor, however, both in awards count and, once again, the heavy-hearted talk about ’12 Years’ in general may work against Ejiofor.

Directing

American Hustle – David O. Russell
Gravity – Alfonso Cuarón
Nebraska – Alexander Payne
12 Years a Slave – Steve McQueen
The Wolf of Wall Street – Martin Scorsese

Wie’s Choice: Alfonso Cuaron
I personally have a lot of love for McQueen, O. Russell and Scorsese – all for unique reasons and for terrific films.  If these were the only directors in the race, Scorsese would have probably gotten my vote.  However, Cuaron, in the end, feels like he most deserves the award here.  ‘Gravity’ really is the lovechild of Cuaron from start to finish – from it’s pre-production  to the editing room.  Characteristics of Cuaron are also highly present throughout the film such as long shots, tough/tense shots and themes of humanity.  ‘Gravity’ is a labor of love and Cuaron is the heart.

Most Likely to Win: Alfonso Cuaron
Fascinatingly, even though ‘Gravity’ most likely will not win the Best Picture Award, Cuaron has swept every award for Best Director.  Much like my comments above, the long-in-development narrative behind ‘Gravity’ and the final product have proven to be critically viable and will most likely garner a win.  Only McQueen has a small chance to upset here if the voting body feels like ’12 Years’ is getting neglected.

390-oballot-0116Best Picture

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Wie’s Choice: 12 Years a Slave
Much like my top 10 film list for 2013, ’12 Years a Slave’ also tops the list here as well.  A powerful film that is unrelenting in it’s punishment and visceral in it’s vision, ’12 Years’ may be hard to watch but is such a solid film overall and is thematically important for it’s time.

Most Likely to Win: 12 Years a Slave
The final award of the night looks like it will most likely go to ’12 Years a Slave’ as it grabbed most of the past critical awards.  ‘American Hustle’ and ‘Gravity’ may have the best chances to upset with either past wins in separate categories or just love for the film overall.  However, the bigger story will be if the Academy voting body (much like at the aforementioned award shows) mostly ignores ’12 Years’ except for a few awards like the ‘Best Picture’ category.

Wie's Top 10 Movies of 2013Friends and peers have already heard my fairly disappointed reaction to the year in cinema.  However, that is not to say that there were a lack of fantastic movies.  Instead, these top films did a fantastic job in remolding classic tropes while also bringing to light social and cultural issues that have plagued society in the past and to this very day (and possible even to the future).  Here are my favorite ten films of 2013:

Captain_phillips_movie_110. Captain Phillips
There was a tough fight between ‘Nebraska’ and ‘Captain Phillips’, but in the end, I believe ‘Captain Phillips’ resonated more as an overall film, even if ‘Nebraska’ has the bigger character pull.  ‘Phillips’ may lack much in biting commentary and social relevance in comparison to many of the other films on this list, but Director Greengrass showcases a biopic that is tense, tangible and frank as it tries to understand both the Somali and US positions.  Not relying on CG gimmicks or unnecessary subplots, the film tangles the viewer up in a stand-off between a Somali pirate and a captain just trying to do his job with fantastic performances from Hanks and newcomer Abdi.

movies-the-hunger-games-catching-fire-caesar-katniss-tribute-interview9. The Hunger Games Catching Fire
My two favorite blockbusters of the year were ‘Pacific Rim’ and ‘Catching Fire.’ This entry of the ‘Hunger Games’ saga takes the list because it does a terrific job in not only adapting it’s source material but creating an engaging and thoughtful world that touches upon relevant social issues.  In addition, it takes the foundations and most of the problems from it’s predecessor and successfully elevates itself above most of them.  Centered with a stalwart Lawrence and a good supporting cast, ‘Catching Fire’ is what modern book-to-film adaptations should strive for (compared to the weaker ‘Ender’s Game’ launch that came out just weeks before).

gravity-28. Gravity
Cuaron is one of my favorite personal directors of this generation, and it is a pleasure to see him return to the screen after a five-year hiatus with this beauty.  ‘Gravity’ is one of the best technological feats of the year and a terrific thriller.  It’s still astounding that much of this film is CG and is one of the best representations of space in cinema along with the terrific cinematography and sound design.  It’s a shame that the acting and narrative thread did not fare as well as the pacing and audio/visual experience, but ‘Gravity’ is a stellar example of a movie to see in theaters (and in 3D) to fully understand Cuaron’s vision.

01-inside-llewyn-davis7. Inside Llewyn Davis
In a year of great films based on actual figures, the biggest surprise is that ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is a fictional tale at it’s core.  Why?  Because the Coen Brothers masterfully grounds the film with beautiful folk songs and characters that really embody the post-World War II era.  The film is quite the downer and feels like it meanders too much, but Isaac’s performance is full of heart while the film’s subject matter is oddly refreshing in showcasing the tough life behind most creatives.  It may not be the Coen Brothers’ best work outright, but it is still an engaging film all-around.

20131220171809wolf_36. The Wolf of Wall Street
Loud, obnoxious and hilarious – ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is a strange Scorsese/DiCaprio beast.  On the one hand, the film is messy and excessive like it’s titular character.  On the other hand, the characters are colorful and fascinating, while the tone is ridiculous and devastating.  In the end, it’s tough to say if the film completely succeeds in making much commentary about the US financial institution or in taking a stand on Belfort’s actions, but the ride it takes is hysterical and disgusting to think that it actually happened and will elicit fascinating conversations about it’s subject matter – a purpose that most likely is what Scorsese aimed for.

Dallas Buyers Club SCap 0025. Dallas Buyer’s Club
Like many of the films on this list, ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’ manages to both emotionally charge and humorously look at serious issues, which in this case delves into both the HIV/AIDs epidemic and one man’s fight for a cure.  Here is a solid biopic that effectively tells its transformative tale with the right pacing and delivery with just a few squeaky wheels here and there that needed fine-tuning.  ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’ is also a terrific centerpiece for McConaughey – an actor, who in 2013, has truly shown a wide amount of dexterity in his acting capabilities with ‘Dallas Buyer’s’ probably being his most intense physically and emotionally role along with Leto’s amazing supporting performance.

American-Hustle_612x3804. American Hustle
Which film had the best ensemble acting piece of the year? It unsurprisingly had to have come from David O Russell, who continues his rampage in creating brilliant character films.  ‘American Hustle’ is perhaps one of his more complicated story pieces and although the plot still has a few issues (especially in it’s ho-hum ending), the characters and dialogue are thick with wit and nuance.  These hustling personas are probably even better thanks to the awesome cast including Bale, Lawrence and Cooper being the standouts.  ‘Hustle’ is an awesome period piece and one of the most entertaining films of the year.

her3. Her
Although the premise of a human falling for a robotic being may have been done before, few films have tried to fully embrace a love story without an epic backdrop or complicated exposition.  Even though the mileage of the premise dependent on one’s serious engagement with the material, ‘Her’ brings forth one of the best romantic stories of the year, and the visual and audio experiences are also some of the most beautiful of the year.  Put all of this together with it’s close-to-home themes of our infatuation with our devices and the end product comes out to a futuristic story that may not be far off.

fruitvale station.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large2. Fruitvale Station
Here is one of the simplest films on my list yet is also the clearest in vision and gravitas.   ‘Fruitvale Station’ compels you into it’s one-day narrative of the tragic story of a young man, who is trying to turn his life around and is in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Anchored by a powerhouse performance from Michael B. Jordan, this film makes you try and understand all of it’s main characters and their motivations before unloading the final few devastating blows.  Through it’s successes as a film, ‘Fruitvale Station’ stands as a stark reminder to the problems of excessive force and racism in the modern day.

12_years_a_slave_featured1-618x4001. 12 Years a Slave
It’s fascinating to see these top two films complement each other in an odd way – ‘Fruitvale’ showcases the problems of present-day racism while ’12 Years a Slave’ highlights many past grievances – a perhaps sobering reminder of problems that still exist after all these years.  ’12 Years’ is a brutal and candid movie that may feel a bit long but to the film’s thematic value rather than to it’s detriment.  McQueen truly showcases one of the hardest hitting movies regarding slavery – giving insight into the stories of free men turned into slaves. Add onto this some startling performances from Chitwal and a host of supporting actors like Fassbender to elevate the film as one of the year’s most memorable if not most emotional.

And so the Wie muses…

Honorable Mentions: Nebraska, Much Ado About Nothing, Blue Jasmine, The Croods, Pacific Rim

Oldboy: An Uninspired Remake

11172241_det‘Oldboy’ was a very provocative film when it first released on Korean shores.  Beautifully shot with a frenetic style, it was part of a fascinating Korean renaissance of filmmaking and quite the film to watch.  As often as it happens in the modern day of films, the US has taken the property and remade it, unfortunately to very unsatisfying results.  This new iteration of ‘Oldboy’ may have the trappings of it’s original’s plotline but lacks little else in it’s messy execution that may only please on the most superficial levels.

‘Oldboy’ follows Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) who is working in advertising and is a drunkard in the worst ways.  After a drunken night in town, he suddenly blacks out and is awaken in a motel room which he cannot escape.  After 20 years of imprisonment and learning through an in-room TV that he is framed for murder for his ex-wife along with his daughter trying to live a normal life, Joe is put in a box and let go in the middle of the city – trying to retrace who may have wronged him and why.  Along the way, Joe encounters Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), Chaney (Samuel L. Jackson) and finally, the Stranger (Sharlto Copley) himself.

Spike Lee’s remake falls apart in several key aspects: the bland aesthetical choices, a rushed/weaker script and a miscast set of actors.  In terms of just a visual and auditory experience, ‘Oldboy’ underwhelms.  A generic orchestral soundtrack that is oddly punctured with a metal guitar during action sequences feel completely uninspired.  On top of this, there is a lack of much physicality to scenes like the hammer fight scene, which feels odd in how it is shot and the lack of emotion within the choreography.  This scene is a great example of how this film simply takes a key scene from the original and only goes through the motions of remaking it rather than understanding what made the scene great overall.

How the hammer scene is written is a great reminder in how the whole script seemed to work – simply summarizing points from the original and never doing much to capture the spirit or emotion behind it’s predecessor.  More like a ‘greatest hits’ remake, the film makes nods towards the original (such as an octopus in a fish tank) and follows the original’s plot track beat-by-beat but never seems to capture the intensity or even mystery/tension that this film tries to grasp towards.  Joe, for instance, has an unnecessary and poorly shot scene where he fights a group of football players that tries to showcase his anger and new fighting prowess but comes off making the character even more unlikable and confusing as to why it had to happen.  The climax and explanations/additions/changes all feel undercooked and underwhelming as well.  Mixed in with the weak script is some of the worst product placement of the year that tries to integrate itself with Joe’s lack of technological prowess and ends up displaying more logos with unnecessary screen time.

Additionally, the majority of the cast feel completely misplaced or, at the very least, awkwardly written in.  Josh Brolin, for instance, is written off as a very unlikable character and does not find much redemption in his actions or given any really redeeming qualities.  These features become important since we stick with the character throughout the entire film and although Brolin is given a numerous amount of hardships to overcome, the audience rarely empathizes with the drama itself.  These casting problems extend to Copley and to a certain extent, even Jackson who feel more goofball than evil.  The most positive aspect about the film is probably Olsen who as a character is written a bit more logically than her counterpart in the original film and in terms of acting, is the most comfortable in her role.  It’s just a shame that the rest of the film was not given more attention like her.

‘Oldboy’ is a great example into how not to remake a film.  On top of a generic and inconsistent soundtrack and a mostly odd miscast cast, the script simply only replicates the beats than take the innovative style and charisma of it’s predecessor.  The end effect feels like a sloppy film that has been ‘Hollywood-ized’ in the worst ways.  If you are interested in the premise behind the film, go watch the original Korean version of the film.  This version of the story feels uninspired and generic even with the pedigree of the cast and crew behind it.  

Director: Spike Lee
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: * 1/2 out of *****

11174328_det ‘Ender’s Game’ is a classic novel that had a unique twist in focusing on child soldiers in a sci-fi setting that few other stories touched upon.  Now as a film adaptation, ‘Ender’s Game’ has to bear the weight of what many other adaptations face – the balance of telling the plot of the original source material along with creating smart adaptations that fit better to a film format.  Even beyond these points, though, the ultimate question becomes how does the story fare on film alone.  ‘Ender’s Game’ unfortunately feels like potential that is never reached – a film that may entertain on a surface level but does not resonate when audiences step outside the theater.

‘Ender’s Game’ follows Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a young, intelligent boy is being recruited to join the International Military in the fight against an alien race.  This child soldier program is being headed, on the ground, by Col. Graff (Harrison Ford) who sees potential in young Wiggin and brings him up to Battle School.  Ender has a tough journey ahead as he has to assimilate with his competitive classmates and a series of trials that only grow harder in preparation for the battle against the alien invaders.

Some of the best parts about the film lie in the actors and some of the themes/visuals.  The actors, for the most part, are fairly good in their roles.  The two standouts and well-cast parts belong to Butterfield and Ford who both do a great job with creating multi-faceted characters.  Butterfield is at his best when given tactical reign and brings great conflicted emotion when the situations arise.  Ford, on the other hand, is playing one of his better roles in recent years – feeling manipulative yet patriotic.  When the two interact, there’s a great conflict that continuously plays off the two actors and pays off by film’s end.  In addition, some of the visuals are fairly impressive such as the Battle School itself and it’s huge circular Battle Room that hosts some of the more fun action sequences.  In addition, some of the themes resonate well such as the use of child soldiers and the effects of ‘modern’ warfare.  One of the film’s best sequences come after the climax between Ford and Butterfield that presents more than enough shades of grey to really create some good food for thought.

It’s a shame, unfortunately, that this great final scene showcases the few moments of brilliance that feels underwhelming throughout the rest of the film.  One of the biggest issues come within the film’s rushed pacing.  Especially noticeable in it’s first half, the film zooms off – not exactly in an enthralling way but in awkward, rushed cuts that make emotional scenes lack gravitas and understanding.  This pacing issue eventually starts to get better by film’s end although by this point, it feels too little, too late.  This issue is not even about a long running time since the film runs a little less than two hours – it is an issue of strange editing.  Characterizations are also exacerbated by this issue in addition to the film’s script.  Although Ender and Col. Graff feel like well-rounded characters, secondary characters that Ender meet feel woefully underdeveloped and rushed.  Much like in any movie with a big cast, it’s understandable that many side characters will not be as noticed, yet many of the important smaller characters here are given very little to do and ultimately come off as one-note.  Dink, for instance, has a role to play by film’s end, but his relationship with Ender is never really fleshed and his presence in the final scenes of the film feels confusing than celebratory.  The final issue is in the visuals themselves.  Although the Battle Room and a few other scenes have a relatively interesting, modern look, many scenes seem to lack a more serious aesthetic – falling more towards feeling like props and costumes than natural and organic with the world being created.  The film just always has a quality of aloofness associated with it rather than a natural pull.  Overall, all these issues lead to a lack of nuance and a much more emotional weight that many may have experienced with the books.  Instead, the film ends up being a simple sci-fi action film adaptation with only some more serious thoughts peppered throughout.

‘Ender’s Game’ is the classic case of a film adaptation that just does not do enough to condense and focus it’s original narrative into a film that still feels in spirit like it’s original source material while retaining deeper themes and characterizations.  There are some good points to be noted here including some great acting from Butterfield and Ford along with retaining some general gravitas about themes like child soldiers and warfare.  However, the film is so content on trying to be close to it’s dense source material that it feels more like a summary of the book rather than a compelling film with a rushed first half and a host of secondary characters that feel underdeveloped and underwhelming.  Indeed, the question perhaps comes up – being who this film is ultimately for?  Perhaps the ultimate goal is for fans to read the original source material or for a general audience to consume such content in simpler manner.  In any case, the end result feels disjointed and strange – only hinting at the potential of a greater story that would have worked had the film either trusted it’s source material more to create a grand epic or to hone the film more in on it’s main characters and thoughts.  

Director: Gavin Hood
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 114 Minutes

The Wie muses: ** ½ out of *****

Those that have talked to me about this past summer of movies can easily retell you – I was extremely disappointed.  Whether it was a gluttony of bad scripts or a lousy sequel, there were simply too many depressing moments.  Hollywood is blaming the gluttony of blockbusters amongst the shrinking audience or the increasing competition of other media – both of which are true, but in my opinion – very few of the films this summer resonated or were well made overall, thus creating bad word of mouth and a general lack of disinterest.  I don’t believe this will be my last summer film recap forever as summers likes 2012 showed that the medium can still be both profitable and high in quality, but I sure hope Hollywood studios understand the reasoning behind the faulty exterior.  

The films below are a grab-bag of both my good/bad opinions of this past film summer season (especially since I fell behind reviewing) and of course, I haven’t watched all the films of the summer so do keep that in mind.  Check them out:

Favorite Blockbuster/Guilty Pleasure: Pacific Rim 2013-movie-preview-pacific-rim
Dumb but fun – Del Toro’s Pacific Rim encapsulates the exact opposite of what I find so lacking in the Transformers series from Bay.  Del Toro pays respect to his inspirations while knowing to never be overly serious with his crazy subject matter.  Although the film could have taken a few more steps to be a truly great films for the ages (whether it was some really awkwardly acted scenes or some lackluster sub plots), the film threw some great surprises and understood the nature of pacing and showmanship.  Pacific Rim was the most fun I had this summer and even though it may have been oddly marketed in the US or perhaps overly geeky – it still makes for a really great ride that deserves to be seen on the big screen.  

Runner-Up: This is the End
Not a big fan of the ending and almost goes into the territory of being too in-jokey but hey, This is the End was probably the funniest movie of the summer with some surprisingly candid, funny laughs and great cameos.  

Overall Favorite Film: Fruitvale Station fruitvale-station-main
Although it was overly simplistic and lacked a bigger picture perspective, Fruitvale Station is one of the most touching and well-acted films of the summer and perhaps the year thus far.  Although the whole cast deserves much credit for brining both candidness and gravitas to this up-and-down story, Michael B. Jordan deserves the best nod here as a young man who is quick on his feet and seemingly bright with a shady, conflicted past that continues to haunt him.  It’s a film about family; a film about racial profiling; and perhaps most importantly, a film about the gravity choices, however big or small.  A terrific film all-around.  

Runner-Up: Blue Jasmine
Blue Jasmine lacks the charm and love of the film’s location, San Francisco, as other Allen films and starts out so depressing and never really gets any brighter.  Still, Blancett’s acting is absolutely terrific and the script helps dive the characters into a myriad of mistakes, lies and misery – Allen is as insightful as ever.  

Matt Damon (left) and Sharlto Copley in Columbia Pictures' ELYSIUM.Most Disappointing Summer Movie: Elysium
With so many sequels and remakes this summer, it was surprising to see that an original film from one of my past favorite film’s directors, District 9’s Blomkamp,  earn the distinction of being my most disappointing summer movie.  Although Elysium is beautiful in it’s vision and gives off an initially fascinating world, the film devolves into poor writing and strange plot points.  What we are ultimately left with is a rote, mindless action film added with one-note characters, unnecessary repetitive scenes and one of the weakest endings this summer – a mighty shame given the fascinating backdrop Blomkamp and team created.  

Runner-Up: Man of Steel
Love-it-or-hate-it, unfortunately, Snyder’s Superman interpretation falls for me as a ‘hate it’.  A number of aspects push the film down from it’s schizophrenic story to poor plot beats that end up with characters that I never emphasized much with.  Add on top of all this a second half that has grand action scenes without much care for the surroundings and a lack of emotional pull equates to one of the most disappointing superhero films of the summer.     

11172244_detGoing into ‘Pacific Rim’ was a bit worrisome.  On the one hand, you have a talented filmmaker, Del Toro, taking on a passion project, especially an original IP in a summer locked with remakes and sequels.  On the other hand, however, is the discontent many had with the marketing leading up to it – ‘too nerdy’ for some while the designs seemed ‘childish’ to others.  It’s safe to say, however, that ‘Pacific Rim’ is a fairly crowd-pleasing affair.  Although it has a lot of oddities about it all-around, ‘Pacific Rim’ is a very fun action homage to the mech/monsters of Japan.

‘Pacific Rim’ follows Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), a pilot of a massive human-like weapon called Jaegers, created to battle against strange beasts called Kaijus that started rising from the sea.  However, through a series of events, Raleigh has been displaced for years before being asked to return once again to defend humanity against the monsters from his former commander, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba).  With the help of Stacker’s assistant, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) and the team at the base, they need to prepare for the worst attacks to come.

The film is at it’s best when it balances the right amount of emotion and action without losing control of the choreography on screen.  Although the film is heavy in special effects, much like the best action movies, Del Toro is able to put a good motive and context behind the giants fighting on screen.  The two standout performances come from Hunnam and Elba who both give their roles a good amount of flavor and color along with a special shout-out to Ron Perlman who acts as a fascinating black market dealer named Hannibal and doesn’t get enough screen time.  Hunnam especially gets the best treatment with a terrific introductory sequence that not only helps set-up his motivation moving forward but some great chemistry with his brother character, Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff).  Fascinating characters help create an interesting pallet of individuals that may not always work, keeps the world blooming with interest.

Not to say that the effects are not up to snuff – the towering mech Jaegers have a great sense of weight and although the film limits the amount of Jaegers you get to see on screen, they all have interesting differentiations that surprise at the end of the film.  In addition to these great-looking mechs are two other key factors: cinematography and choreography.  There are some beautiful moments that never feel overly stylish but helps to really showcase the scope of the film such as a majestic moment in a snowy plane that juxtaposes two small humans next to a giant falling mech.  Choreography also helps to keep the action from being too messy and a headache to watch.  Del Toro and his team understand the beats and rhythms of good action films – letting the action relent when necessary before then creating a crescendo into a huge action moment.  Even better, there are surprises that keep on coming and add to some awe-inspiring action moments.  One final great positive note needs to come from Del Toro’s care of his inspiration.  From the usage (and explanation) of the terminology including kaiju and the themes/motifs that are either briefly touched on or repeatedly harkened back to, the film feels like it has a great solid foundation that keeps the film intact.

Perhaps the greatest knocks against the film are the weaknesses in some of the characterizations portrayed and the plot/script progression.  There are several cringe-worthy moments that feel somewhat like small homages to the film’s inspirations yet in execution, feels more out-of-place and unhelpful to the overall ‘big picture’.  One of these moments involve the romantic angle played between (spoilers, but really…you can see it a mile away) Raleigh and Mako.  Not only do they lack chemistry in conversation but their romantic build-up feels forced and rehearsed.  The film felt like it would have lent better to a mentor-mentee angle or a much more fleshed chapter structure that built up the back-story of these two lovebirds.  Instead, the romantic subplot will get laughs but for all the wrong reasons compared to the sense of attachment and gravitas that the film gets between Raleigh and his brother in the introduction sequence of the film.  This sense of awkward feelings comes up several times in the film’s script along with a lot of convoluted backstory that feels rushed and better told in another film or medium and disappointingly, it never lends the film to really be explored on a more psychological or going beyond just a fun, homage film.

‘Pacific Rim’ is a great example of how to create a fun, compelling action movie, even amongst a lot of dumb sections.  There is a lot that seems to go wrong with ‘Pacific Rim’ whether it’s an less than stellar romantic subplot or some terribly corny melodramatic moments.  However, Del Toro and his crew really excel with the rest of the film from a great sense of pacing and choreography to compelling visuals and wonderful sound design.  Best of all, ‘Pacific Rim’ has heart and cares about it’s characters and inspirations which it wears proudly throughout.  Again, ‘Pacific Rim’ has some definitive flaws yet pulls through with a solid foundation.  A great definition of what a summer blockbuster should be.  

Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Rated: PG-13

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.