Montag, 3. Juli 2017

REBIRTH - Netflix Review

 Title: Rebirth
Running Time: 140 min
Director: Karl Mueller
Writer: Karl Mueller
Starring: Fran Kranz, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Whelan, Kat Foster

Review:
Netflix has become bigger and bigger over the last couple of years. So much so, that the streaming service evolved into a production company that constantly delivers new content. Between acclaimed shows like "House of Cards" or Marvel's "Daredevil", you can also find a number of independent films in the Netflix original collection. It only seems appropriate, to pick out one of these productions every now and then, and give them the same review treatment as cinematic releases. First up is Karl Mueller's second directorial outing:
"Rebirth" is a psychological thriller that evolves around the everyman Kyle, a suburban father who works for the social media department of a bank. When he gets a surprise visit from his old college friend Zack, the latter tries to convince him to take part in a wild self-actualization program called Rebirth that is coming up the following weekend. Despite only having these few vague information, Kyle signs up. Soon he enters a bizarre rabbit-hole that seems to lack order, sense and any kind of reasonableness and is more messed up than he initially thought.
The film is certainly an experience. You really get to see the story through Kyle's eyes and thus are just as confused as he is throughout the entire film. Numerous times you will wonder what the hell is going on and will laugh at, be weirded out, or be intrigued by the absurdity of the events. Whether you enjoy this ride or not probably depends on your ability to endure such a cluelessness. Because it does get a little exhausting at times that you don't even seem to get a little bit closer to finding out what is actually going on. But the film manages to pull you back in at a few points. Of course all this confusion calls for a big reveal at the end, and while you'll find the initial explanation of it all a little underwhelming, the film dares to say "but wait, there's more" just a few minutes later. At first I wasn't quite sure if the ending worked for me, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it and the more it kind of creeped me out.
While the social satire the film attempts doesn't entirely work, the film is still fun to watch. In this regard, it especially benefits from Fran Kranz's sympathetic portrayal of Kyle. The 35 year-old actor has given great performances in films like "Cabin in the Woods" or "Much Ado About Nothing" and especially his comedic chops should be utilized much more by Hollywood. Additionally, the film has a cool visual style as it frequently plays around a little with things like the color pallet or long takes.
All in all, "Rebirth" is certainly not a perfect film, but entertains you well enough. Maybe not a film for watching alone, but I do recommend it for a movie night with a few friends. Because despite its flaws, it sure has the potential to start up a conversation.


For Fans Of:
The Game (1997)
Fight Club (1999)
Legacy (2010)

Click Here To Watch Trailer!

Mittwoch, 21. Juni 2017

WONDER WOMAN - Movie Review

Title: Wonder Woman
Running Time: 141 min
Director: Patty Jenkins
Writer: Allan Heinberg
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, David Thewlis, Robyn Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya

Review:
After Christopher Nolan had finished up his critically acclaimed "Dark Knight Trilogy", Warner Bros decided they want to catch up with Marvel Studios and start their very own cinematic DC Extended Universe. The first entry, "Green Lantern", was such a flop that they immediately removed it from the canon. "Man of Steel" turned out to be more "'Meh' of Steel", and in 2016 both "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" as well as "Suicide Squad" completely crashed and burned. As these films became pinnacles of what is wrong with today's movie industry, the pressure on the "Wonder Women" film became bigger and bigger. So is this the motion picture experience that can save the DCEU? Or the final nail in this franchise's coffin?
Well, the executives at Warner Bros Studios can surely breath a sigh of relieve, because "Wonder Woman" is not only the best film in the DCEU to date, it is also an absolutely fantastic superhero movie in general. In a time, where many different studios constantly try to one-up each other by cranking out multiple films a year, it gets harder and harder for a movie to stand out from the crowd. And yet, "Wonder Woman" does, for multiple reasons:
First of all, this is a film that completely stands on its own, which is unfortunately unusual for today's superhero flicks. There is no cameo or set-up of another DC character. There isn't even a post-credit scene. Therefore the filmmakers were able to take their time with the development and emotional journey of their main character. As a result, the movie feels well-rounded, and the dramatic moments had enough set-up, so that they really pay off. This is also where the great casting comes in. Gal Gadot shines as the iconic heroine. Her layered performance is miles away from what she offered in "Batman v Superman". She sells both, the dramatic part as well as the action, and shows us that naivity and strength are not contradicting character traits. Thus, her portrayal gives Diana Prince the humanity the audience needs to connect to an Amazonian Goddess. Her love interest is played by Chris Pine, who is more charismatic than he has ever been. Even though he always brings his trademark charm to a film, his comedic timing as well as his chemistry with Gadot are perfect in this movie.
And while we are already on the topic of men and women interacting, I should probably address the elephant in the room. Because "Wonder Woman" is the first female led superhero movie since Rob Bowman's horrible incarnation of Elektra 12 years ago. So in addition of having to save the DCEU, the future of women in film rested on this movie's shoulders as well. Fortunately, "Wonder Woman" does it exactly right. Other self-proclaimed feminist movies have empowered their main characters by dumbing down the men around them, which only leaves the sour taste of the idea that women can only be strong when men are weak. But in this film our heroine exhibits strength despite the fact that she is surrounded by highly competent men. Even though she is obviously superior when it comes to her abilities, they are always true equals that fight side by side. And. The. Fighting. Is. Epic!
Yes, as soon as the first big action set-piece on the beach of Themyscira begins, you know that badassary knows no gender. The amazingly choreographed and beautifully shot battle of Amazons vs German Soldiers leaves you in awe. And it is not the only fighting sequence to give you goosebumps. The great thing about the action scenes in this film is also that they have a purpose for the character growth of Diana. After every battle, she has learned something new about herself or the world she lives in, and so there is always an emotional charge to these scenes that truly engages you.
Having the film take place during World War I of course adds to the stakes, but despite the darkness that comes with the setting, the film is incredibly uplifting. Because unlike many of her male counterparts nowadays, Wonder Woman is not the typical brooding cynic of the postmodern era. She has a purity to her character that makes her the same beacon of hope that Superman used to be in the late seventies. Her innocent look at the world is something an embittered society as ours today could really use more of. This might also be, why this movie has already become a world-wide phenomenon.
It might not be completely flawless (one could argue about the CGI heavy showdown or the sporadically weird performance of Danny Huston), but it is still an outstanding blockbuster with a whole lot of heart. This western superheroine that is played by an Israeli actress is someone we all, regardless of gender or race, can look up to. Buy your ticket now!


For Fans of:
Superman: The Movie (1978)
Gladiator (2000)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Spider-Man (2002)
Thor (2011)
Iron Man (2008)

Click Here To Watch The Trailer!

Dienstag, 13. Juni 2017

KING ARTHUR - Movie Review

Title: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Running Time: 126 min
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Honsou, Aidan Gillen, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Eric Bana

Review:
For ten years Guy Ritchie had been known for making slick British crime-comedies. Then in 2007, Warner Bros chose him to helm their big budget re-imagining of the world's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. People were curious how Ritchie's unique playful visual style would translate to a period piece. The answer was: Very well. "Sherlock Holmes" became a huge success and grossed over five times of its production budget. No wonder then, that Warner Bros. green-lit a sequel without hesitation and has now given the man another classic literature hero to play around with. But will the director be able to pull off another Holmes-like hit? Or did Warner Bros make an elementary mistake?
"King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" is an exhilarating fun blockbuster that has Guy Ritchie's fingerprints all over it. It is, as you'd except, a more rugged version of the tale. Especially in the first third Arthur and his companions are street smart small-time gangsters that could have easily walked into any scene of "RocknRolla". It does not do the movie any harm however. On the contrary, it takes away some of the pathos that could have made this kind of film too cheesy.
Furthermore, Ritchie's visceral editing gives the movie a fast pace that makes it entertaining for its entire two-hours run-time. He also makes use of his trademark montage sequences more than once, therefore resolving certain plot elements unconventionally quickly. It's a little weird at first and at some points a deeper exploration could have been quite interesting. But again this stylistic choice is conducive to the avoidance of boredom.
Admittedly, such an up-tempo film always runs the risk of failing to create emotional depth. Luckily enough, Charlie Hunnam gives a vigorous performance as our leading man, and Arthur might be his most charming cinematic appearance yet. He is able to have fun with the role without ever disrespecting it, and it is this balance that makes him so believable. Pit against him is Jude Law, who has rarely given a bad performance in his career and obviously had no intention to do so in this film. Their strong portrayal of these two opposing relatives makes up for the scripts neglect to completely flesh them out and carries the movie nonetheless.
Anyone who saw the trailer however, probably didn't come for the family drama in this picture, but rather for the effect-heavy action. Ritchie throws in a lot of fantastical forces and creatures in the film and is certainly determined to make this a visual spectacle. He is one of the few directors who still knows how to properly utilize slow-motion to its full effect. It is probably a question of personal taste whether you think he crosses the line of over-using it during the final showdown, but in general this film is great just to look at.
"King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" might not be a fantasy masterpiece à la "The Lord of the Rings" but it never strives to be that anyway. It is, at its core, a fun and diverting blockbuster that is more than enjoyable. A fresh take on the tale with Ritchie's playful direction to marvel at. I'd buy the DVD.

For Fans of:
Solomon Kane (2009)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
Warcraft (2016)
Robin Hood (2010)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2016)
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016)

Donnerstag, 11. Mai 2017

FAST & FURIOUS MARATHON - Collective Review

An Essay about an Odyssey


Hello there puny humans,
my buddy B.A. and I decided to continue our love for marathoning movies with one of the weirdest, longest running and most bonkers franchises: The Fast and the Furious! Neither of us had seen all of these films and it was an undertaking neither of us was 100% sure about. We were pretty pumped, but also knew a brain could only take so many testosterone driven muscle-heads, over-revved engines, female properties and vast violations of Newton's carefully logged laws. Also we realized, that the whole thing would take us about 16.5 h (without any considerably big breaks in between). It became clear I probably should arrive at B.A.'s place at 7.30 am. Naively he asked me whether I'd arrive by train or by car. I mean come on. It's the "Fast & Furithon". I ain't ridin' on no tracks. On my way to his place I thought of the following statistics I wanted to collect across all of these movies:

  • Biggest Stunt - for the most WTF moment of the film
  • MVP - for the best member(s) of cast and crew, or the best character
  • Physics Score - for how much the movie abides the basic laws of physics
  • Gear Shift Close-Ups - for everytime the camera punches in on someone operating the gear shift (or the e-break)
  • "Family"-Counter - for the number of times someone (preferably Vin Diesel) says the word family

So, now where I had my rating system ready, and B.A. had prepared for the adequate and sufficient dietary intake, we were able to start our highly anticipated and yet, somewhat dreaded adventure:

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001)
As our quest begins, we rejoice over how early 2000's this film is. There are people wearing dog tags and leather jackets, information is transferred via diskette, internet references are made that clearly show that they had no real idea about how it works, the 'hot stuff' Dom's crew is stealing are DVD players and digital cameras, and there even is a Ja Rule cameo, because well, he still was relevant back then. Also, for some reason, the bad guys always do wheelies when they ride away maliciously. Story-wise this movie basically is just Point Break with cars, which is okay I guess. Paul Walker's wooden acting doesn't really help to elevate the material, but it is nostalgia that makes the movie still kind of work.
However, we make some interesting observations. For one, the film makers make the odd choice of playing their dramatic piano cues over the techno/hip-hop tracks playing in the background of the scenes, without fading it out. Therefore, the music doesn't only fail to hit its emotional mark, but it becomes a weird mix of sound. Like when you and your flatmate listen to different music in your rooms at the same time and you are standing in the hallway hearing both. Secondly, although the movie already introduces the franchise's favorite brand of beer, Corona, the film lacks its trademark family theme. In Dominic Torreto's 'heartfelt' speech Vin Diesel even states that "the crew and their bullshit doesn't matter." We are shocked...

Biggest Stunt: Vince is hanging from the side of a Truck, tangled up in a wire. Brian approaches in a convertable, and tells Mia to take the wheel. While she does so, he climbs on top of the car and jumps on the truck. He untangles Vince and both of them jump back on the convertible, just before the shotgun of the angry truck driver goes off, barely escaping getting their heads blasted off. Watch here!

MVP: The police officer Muse (portrayed by Stanton Rutledge) who, one hour into the movie, is the only one connecting the word "family" to the crew, probably not knowing what he has started.
                          
Physics Score: 8/10               Gear Shift Close-Ups: 12             "Family"-Counter: 2


2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003)
We are lucky enough to find the six-minute short film The Turbo Charged Prelude for 2 Fast 2 Furious in the DVD extras. It tells the story of how Brian flees from the LAPD and goes on a road trip. After winning a few races on the way, he ends up in Miami. There is no dialogue. Till then I had thought it was the film The Artist that reintroduced the world to silent cinema. But apparently it was the Fast & Furious franchise.
As its second installment begins, B.A. and I realize that this film doubles down on the early 2000-ness. This film came out the same year that Need For Speed: Underground did, and you can tell. The cars are in bright orange, green, red, purple or pink colors, fully equipped with rear spoilers and neon lighting. In addition, director John Singleton goes all-out with crazy camera angles and visual representations of what he apparently thinks driving a fast car looks like (including the highest "Gear Shift Close-Up" count in the franchise). It's almost unsettling for the eyes at points. Trading in Vin Diesel for Tyrese Gibson fills this style-heavy film with much more quips and humor compared to its predecessor. All this flashiness almost makes you forget about the somewhat dull plot. For some reason, this movie reminds us of another "all-style-no-substance" sequel that didn't have any impact on its franchise:
Mission: Impossible II.

Biggest Stunt: Roman and Brian jumping with their car from the road onto a boat that has just left shore. Watch here!

MVP: The casting director, for not only casting the soon-to-be integral crew members Tyrese and Ludacris, but also Devon Aoki as Suki, who unfortunately didn't get to resprise her role, but later kicked ass in Sin City.
                                         
Physics Score: 7/10               Gear Shift Close-Ups: 46             "Family"-Counter: 0


THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (2006)
We discuss whether we should skip this film for now, in order to preserve the story-line chronology (as it takes place between Fast and Furious 6 and 7), but B.A. is determined not to "disrespect the artist's vision" and keep the order of release.
This time, we are taken back to High School with an all new cast. And this was back in the day when Hollywood would cast mid-twenties to play teenagers. As a result, we get 24-year-old Lucas Black as our new protagonist (Sean), who unfortunately doesn't really boost the acting game compared to an underage kid. His character is as flat as his fake southern accent. Further, with the exception of the outrageous pedagogical approach to exile a student to Tokyo one day before school starts despite him not knowing any Japanese, the plot is pretty by-the-numbers. The new kid who has a passion for something meets the big bully who is better than him in said particular skill, motivating him to work real hard and beat him in the end. It hits all the familiar plot points, including "training through montage". The one time the film throws you a bit of a curve ball and kills off Han (the only charismatic character in the film) everyone else handles it like it is not that big of a deal. We are certain the worst movie is behind us. Also, we are relieved not to have watched this film in its chronological order. With all its outdated references and technology, this film would have stood out even more. To be fair though, this is the most realistic film in the franchise, which might also be why it is the most boring one.

Biggest Stunt: The only moment where your heart jumps a bit is when Sean drives in full speed towards a mass of people. The crowd splits, creating a narrow passageway that Sean drifts though like a pro. Watch here!

MVP: Sung Kang, for making the small character of Han so compelling that the producers messed up the whole time-line of the franchise just to include him in future movies.

Physics Score: 9.5/10               Gear Shift Close-Ups: 40              "Family"-Counter: 1


FAST & FURIOUS (2009)
We top the Pizza, put it in the oven, and sit down to watch a movie that missed the big opportunity to call itself "The Fourth of The Furious". We are happy to see the original cast back even though Michelle Rodriguez's Letty is killed of so quickly that we would have missed it if the whole plot didn't revolve around solving her murder and getting revenge. In general, this is a more personal story that lays the groundwork for the new direction this franchise is taking. There is some good stuff in Fast & Furious: Elements are properly set-up so that they pay-off later, the reason the characters come back together again is actually believable and dynamic, the action sequences are shot quite well, Paul Walker's acting has very much improved, and even Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot, has joined the cast. It's also kind of cool that they tried out a different genre and went a bit more of a crime thriller route.
However, the franchise has not quite found its footing yet. Apart from a pretty unnecessary twist, B.A. and I feel like there is something more missing, but we can't put a finger on it. After a little time to reflect, we realize, that it is the humor and lightheartedness of the previous and later installments. We now try to recap the number of points at which we laughed or even chuckled during the film and realize that there are vanishingly few. This reinvention of the franchise appears to be just a shade too dark, and we'd love to see Dom and Brian do a little bit less brooding.

Biggest Stunt: We called it "Execution by car". The bad guy, Fenix, stands next to his car and holds Brian at gun-point. Suddenly, Dominic Toretto comes blasted out of the mountain in front of them in his car. He flies directly towards Fenix, who tries to jump away. But Brian takes a dive, grabs Fenix by the ankle and holds him down, so that Dom crushes him in half between the two cars. Brutal... but totally awesome. Watch here!

MVP: Brian O'Connor, for holding that dude down just so he can get executed by a car.      
                                    
Physics Score: 6/10                Gear Shift Close-Ups: 34               "Family"-Counter: 2


FAST FIVE (2011)
We see the The Rock in the DVD menu and we know: Now we are getting to the good stuff. Because Fast Five is so far considered to be the best film of the series. And we see why: The dark tone from its predecessor is gone, and instead this film turns into a "getting-the-gang-together"-type heist movie. This kind of playful concept as already worked very well for films like Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job. (FUN FACT: two of the cast-members, as well as the director of the 2003 The Italian Job remake, reunited in Fast & Furious 8). This movie however has the additional benefit that the different crew members are taken from all four previous films respectively, making it a lot of fun for fans of the franchise to see some of them interact for the first time.
The film feels like a "Best Of", bringing in the personal story telling from the first one, the ridiculous fun from the second and even some of the dark elements from the fourth. On top of that, the addition of The Rock as a no-nonsense hands-on cop gives the film an extra bit of flavor and a few more "Fuck Yeah!"-moments. B.A. and I agree that while Fast & Furious might have been the film to get the franchise back on track, it was this installment that steered it in the right direction. You can also tell by the fact that the word "family" starts to come up more often.

Biggest Stunt: Dom destroying over a dozen police cars in a row by slinging a freakin' enormous vault at them that is attached to his car. Watch here!

MVP: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Detective Luke Hobbs, for reinvigorating the whole franchise.

Physics Score: 5/10                 Gear Shift Close-Ups: 21               "Family"-Counter: 5


FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013)
We had totally forgotten that already at the end of Fast Five Eva Mendes (seen before in the second installment) comes into Hobbs office with photos of Letty that had just been taken days before. How is that possible? Didn't she die in the fourth film? Who is she working with now? If she's alive, why didn't she come back to Dom? Will their love blossom again like it did when Dom dry-humped her in his garage in The Fast and The Furious? What will Dom do about the hot Brazilian cop he is banging at the moment? These are the burning questions we now hope to get answers to in Fast & Furious 6. And we do: Letty has amnesia and thus, has forgotten all about her tank top wearing lover. To cap it all, she is also working for a rogue crew of thieves that are opposing our protagonists. Now Dom must not only defeat these bad guys, but also remind Letty of her past life with him. It is the point where we enter the soap opera elements of this franchise. For the first time on that day, B.A. and I feel exhausted. Sure, there are some of the dumbest physics defying stunts in this, but the film seems to drag a little. The premise is fine but a little predictable; there are side plots that seem to unnecessarily tie the film to previous ones; a betrayal is shown that we couldn't care less for; and Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel in combination are just not expressive enough to give the "dramatic" scenes any significant weight. Further, Luke Evans' villain is a little underdeveloped, and his plan so forgettable that we just don't really feel the stakes in this movie. Granted, they kill off another character, but that moment kind of gets lost in the action.

Biggest Stunt: While on a huge bridge, the tank that Letty is climbing on the top of crashes, threatening to throw her into the deep ravine. Dom, the math genius he is, does a controlled and calculated crash himself, catapulting exactly into Letty's trajectory, allowing him to catch her mid-air and land (safely) on a car. Watch here!

MVP: Jason Statham, for appearing at the end very end with his bad-ass "Dominic Toretto, you don't know me, but you are about to."-line getting you pumped up again.

Physics Score: 3.5/10             Gear Shift Close-Ups: 22             "Family"-Counter: 11


FURIOUS 7 (2015)
I have actually already reviewed this film when it was initially released, and back then, I thought it had some serious script issues. Rightly so, B.A. says that one simply has to turn a blind eye to that, since the writers had the incredibly tough task to rewrite the script in the middle of shooting, when Paul Walker tragically passed away. And as it turns out, when you are already prepared for the somewhat messy story line, the film is much more exciting than on the first viewing. It's moving quickly, taking you from one action set piece to another. Statham versus The Rock, Diesel versus Statham, cars jumping out of buildings, people jumping out of cars, people in cars jumping out of an airplane. It is a blast and the best dumb-fun we've had so far. We are at a point where this franchise knows how ridiculous it is and really owns it. I mean... The Rock breaks the cast on his arm by flexing his biceps. It's amazing.
Then, after all this grand scale spectacle the film ends on a personal and sincere note. If someone had asked me before, if a Fast & Furious movie could cause me to have a lump in my throat, I would have laughed. A lot. But here, even the second time around, the ending chokes me up. We say "Fare thee well!" to Paul.

Biggest Stunt: There is a lot to choose from, because the "dropping cars out of a plane" sequence was actually done with practical effects. So was the scene with Brian jumping off a bus off a cliff. But in the end, this one has to go to Dom and Brian driving a car - not once, but twice - from one building through the window and into another... all on the 45th floor. Watch here!

MVP: Universal Studios for handling Paul Walker's death in the most respectful and sincere way, giving the character of Brian a worthy send-off.

Physics Score: 2/10               Gear Shift Close-Ups: 33               "Family"-Counter: 9


THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017)
Here we are. The great finale. We put on our jackets and take a long needed walk to the movie theater. When we sit down with our nachos and the curtain opens, we are pumped. Who would have thought this series would once have eight installments and counting? What then unfolds in front of our eyes might be the most unbridled, wildest, and most absurdly entertaining film of the franchise. While B.A. was certain this one's gonna be a blast, I am genuinely surprised about how much I am enjoying this movie.
It starts off with an appropriately ridiculous racing sequence between Dom and a cocky Cuban race driver. Dom wins the race in reverse gear with half of the car in flames. From here on out, they keep upping the ante from scene to scene. Because, as we saw in the trailer, Dom's team has soon to face the one thing they are not prepared for: Dom himself. The reason for this betrayal is kept from the viewer for the first half of the film, and I find myself hoping it is not some bullshit made-up leverage. When the revelation comes, however, I am actually a little impressed how well it fits into the over all franchise. In general this film brings in quite a few elements from past films that it weaves into its story. Just like Fast Five, this movie gains a lot by bringing back a large number of characters we have met before, only that this time it has seven instead of four movies to choose from. They even do their very hardest to redeem Jason Statham's former bad guy Deckard Shaw. In addition, they of course got some new faces on board as well. Most notably, a classy cameo by Dame Helen Mirren (who actually specifically asked to be in the franchise) and Charlize Theron's turn as the main antagonist. What's fun about Theron's performance is that she finally gives us a villain, who doesn't scowl all the time, but actually seems to be enjoying herself. Vin Diesel on the other hand does nothing but scowl for most of the movie. This is first and foremost due to the fact that his story line gets unexpectedly dark. At one point during the film, B.A. and I even silently turn to each other with an "I didn't think they would go there" kind of look. Still, you get enough stunts, quips and goofiness to balance these moments out. As a result, this movie seems like an updated version of the Roger Moore Bond era, where gruesome deaths were accompanied by silly action sequences and cheesy one-liners. It is exactly what you expect from this franchise by now, and so this film gave me everything I wanted an eighth installment of Fast & Furious to be.

Biggest Stunt: Once again, its a tough call. The amazing "Zombie Cars" come in at a close second to the visually pompous "Cars vs. Submarine" sequence, including the awesome destruction of the latter vehicle. Find these scenes in the trailer!

MVP: Director F. Gary Gray, for creating a fun ride and breaking two records while doing so: "Highest grossing black director of all time", and "Highest worldwide opening of all time".

Physics Score: 4/10              Gear Shift Close-Ups: 31               "Family"-Counter: 14


RÉSUMÉ:
We did it. Finally! And on our way home, we recapitulate what we just saw. To begin with, we think of Dom Toretto's character development and realize that in the course of eight films (actually only six to be exact) he went from stealing DVD-Players to stealing nuclear launch codes. That is quite a career path. Then we talk about the franchise as a whole. Admittedly, it is a mixed bag when it comes to the quality of the films, but we can't help but to praise it for the way it respects its characters. It keeps bringing characters back, enriching their story. Even some of the ones that seem like a one and done type. Surprisingly so, the continuity is pretty solid with the exception of a few unclarities as to when characters first met and the fact that a 33 year old Lucas Black reprised his role as 17 year old Sean in Furious 7. It is easy to make fun of the series' "Family"-theme, but it is apparent through the way they expand roles instead of replacing people. It is also impressive that our main heroes, Dom and Brian, are one of the very few action leading men that stay in a committed relationship for largest part of the franchise, which is quite uncommon.
Furthermore, the cast shows an unusual amount of ethnic diversity with Black-, Latino-, Asian- and even Middle Eastern-actors in its main or recurring roles. And while the franchise has always prominently featured a bunch of hot female extras whose sole purpose it is to shake their booty in front of the camera, it has recently started to add, flesh out and strengthen female characters. It is more progressive than it gets credit for.
Of course, it is still a ridiculous action franchise that is just incredibly dumb fun. But with the afore-mentioned positives plus its tendency for self-mockery, it feels really genuine. Even if you can't get behind this kind of absurdity, you can still see that this series is not a simple cash grab, but sort-of "means well". Something I wouldn't say about the transformers franchise for example.
Even my parents, who are generally more into the european/arthouse/intellectual kind of cinema, had to grin when I showed them the major action scenes from Furious 7 on YouTube.

Oh, and Universal, in case you are reading this, these are my pitches for the next and ninth installment of this franchise:
  • The Fast & The Führer: a prequel set in Germany revolving around Dom's grandfather Johann 'Hans' Toretto, who fights the Nazi regime with his Mercedes-Benz 770 (alternative title: Fast & Furious Nein)
  • Fast to the Future: Dom and his crew buy an old garage that they want to pimp up, where they find an old DeLorean that must've stood there for 30 years. When Dom dusts it up and takes it for a spin, he realizes that this is, in fact, a time-machine!
  • The Force & The Furious: Dom sits in a bar, when a mysterious person in a brown cloak approaches him and asks him, why he thinks he can do things with cars that no one can, why he is almost indestructible and can defy the laws of physics. The person is an old Jedi and reveals that Dom must be Force-sensitive. In order to defy a new Sith organization that has spread through the galaxy, the Jedi takes Dom and his crew on a journey, where he teaches him the ways of the force and prepares him for the ultimate battle against the dark side.
So, this was my in-depth review of my "Fast & Furious Marathon". It was exhausting, but still a blast. A big thanks goes out to B.A. for joining me on (and actually initiating) this endeavor as well as helping me with the stats.

Sincerely,
Your Cinemartian


Mittwoch, 15. März 2017

JOHN WICK 2 - Movie Review

Title: John Wick: Chapter 2
Running Time: 106 min
Director: Chad Stahelski
Writer: Derek Kolstad
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Laurence Fishburne

Review:
"Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all!" When a protagonist drops this line in a movie trailer, you know that shit is about to go down. Especially when said protagonist is John Wick. After mediocre films like "Man of Tai Chi" and "47 Ronin" Keanu Reeves came back with a bang in the 2014 gun-fu action thriller of the same name. "John Wick" was a surprise hit and surprised audiences with its beautifully choreographed fight scenes, impressively shot action and unique world-building. With all its style it looked like a perfect adaptation of a dark graphic novel, except that this film was an original idea. As it goes in Hollywood: If you are successful you get a sequel, and so now, three years later "John Wick: Chapter 2" hit theaters all around the world. But did the movie manage the difficult task of raising up the game while simultaneously giving us the old stuff we love?
Well if you ask me, it totally did. "John Wick: Chapter 2" does not only double-down on the action, but also dives deeper into the mysterious slick world it created in its first installment. It is very much a continuation of its predecessor, as it picks up (almost) right where we left off. John Wick is finishing up on some of the business from the first film when his plan to move back into retirement afterwards is interrupted by an old associate. As expected, assassin shenanigans ensue...
There is no denying that the story of this sequel relies on the audience's memory of the original. Content-wise and emotionally. Firstly, there is numerous references to events, operations and/or places that were mentioned before and are somewhat taken for granted. Secondly, the film does not make an effort to build up a new emotive motivation for our main character, and rather trusts the emotional investment of the first film to carry over. As a result, this movie might seem hollow for newbies, but will reward fans all the more.
Because except for dog-killing, the filmmakers up the ante on every level. There is more action, more stunts, more violence, more assassins, more "Continentals" and more of that specific lore that makes this movie stand out. Once again, the choreographies are fantastic and will enthuse every true action fan. Nobody is pulling punches and so you see actors getting thrown through windows, falling down stairs and getting hit by cars without any excessive use of cuts to mask the action. At this point the film also impresses with it the way it continuously comes up with interesting location that it tightly incorporates into the fighting sequences. You can feel that the film makers put a lot of passion into constructing these scenes, and the fun they had carries over to the viewer. When watching a certain moment between Keanu and Common at a subway station, its not hard to visualize how they wrote it with a big chuckle.
And that is the beauty of "John Wick: Chapter 2":While the film doesn't take itself too serious and winks at you more then once, it always takes the genre and the craft of it serious. It doesn't get lazy and truly earns its action packed "Holy Shit" moments. Its extensive and creative world-building sets it apart from other bland franchises and gives the movie an own personality. If there will be a third installment that is just as good as the other two, we might have the rare case of a perfect action trilogy at our hands.

For Fans of:
John Wick (2014)
The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)
The Equalizer (2014)
The Transporter (2002)

Dienstag, 28. Februar 2017

ACADEMY AWARDS 2017 - Oscar Review

 Hello there puny humans,
oh boy, what a night. Even people who didn't watch the show on Sunday have heard at least of its flub ending. It was an outrageous finale to a show that so far had actually been going incredibly well. So in a similar fashion as last year, let me re-cap these 89th Academy Awards for you with all its Ups and Downs:

The Good

The Musical Performances
Musical performances at the Oscars are a time-honored tradition. Every year at least the Nominees for Best Original Song will take the stage. In the past this has sometimes gotten out of hand. With the host opening with a musical number, five Nominees performing and additional musical tributes to past films, it could get a little exhausting. This year however the producers chose and placed the music very well. First of all, they opened with Justin Timberlake's Can't Stop The Feeling, checking off one of the Nominees at the very beginning. Not only was it a nice way of saying "We are going to have fun tonight", but it also saved the mainstream pop number from unfavorably standing out compared to its more profound competitors. Then, since La La Land was nominated with two songs, they were able to combine these two Nominees into a smooth medley. Lastly, it was great to see how the sixteen year old Auli'i Cravalho got hit by a flag during her performance of How Far I'll Go, but just kept going like true pro. Hats off, to this young lady.

Oscars Not So White Anymore
Last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences came under fire when it turned out that no person of color had been nominated in any of the 24 categories. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite became trending and the ceremony was only rescued by black comedian Chris Rock handling the issue incredibly well. The Academy certainly learned their lesson: An Iranian movie was named Best Foreign Film, two of the four acting awards were handed to African-Americans (including Mahershala Ali as the first Muslim actor to win the gold) and the (real) Best Picture Winner was Barry Jenkins' Moonlight. Especially the latter win was an important one. Not only did it show that small independent films can come out on top of big studio productions. But it also honored a movie that tells the highly relevant story of a young black man, who struggles with his homosexuality while growing up in a rough neighborhood. In these times, this was a necessary victory for minorities.

Jimmy Kimmel: The Greatest Host in Years
When I heard that Jimmy Kimmel had been chosen to host, I wasn't sure if he'd be up to the task. I had always liked the guy, but felt that he was "too TV" for Hollywood's biggest night. Something that I thought was a problem Ellen DeGeneres had in 2014. Kimmel however ended up proving me very wrong. His jokes were well balanced and a perfect mix of everything. He had punchlines about people that hit hard, but never went below the belt. He addressed racism, sexism and Hollywood's pretentiousness. He got political without ever getting too serious, and even had a few very sincere lines during his opening monologue. Also his fake feud with Matt Damon is a joke that never gets old, and he utilized it perfectly for this ceremony. Then, when the big Best Picture blunder came along at the end of the night, he kept his cool and charismatically controlled the damage. And even though he made a quip about probably not being asked back, I really hope we will see him in that Dolby Theater again!

The Bad

Academy Award Winner Suicide Squad
Yes, it is true. One of the biggest clusterf**ks when it comes to summer blockbusters is now an Oscar winning film. Granted, it is "only" an award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, but Suicide Squad was an allegory of everything that is wrong with the movie industry today and thereby so bad that it should have gotten a universal ban from prestigious award shows. To make matters worse, this means the DC Extended Universe got an Oscar before the Marvel Cinematic Universe did. These two massive franchises might be Hollywood's biggest rivals at the moment. But while Marvel has been going extremely strong for nine years (with fourteen films and five tv-shows), the DCEU has not yet managed to produce a single film that is generally thought of as a good movie. Seeing them take home the gold before the MCU does, hurts more than listening to the poorly-written lines of Rick Flag.

Unrecognized Amazing Movies
With the exception of the afore mentioned film, you couldn't really complain about Sunday night's winners. Actually the accolades were spread out quite well across the nominees. But there were two movies that stole my heart this award season that left empty handed. One of them was My Life as a Zucchini (orig.: Ma vie de courgette), a Swiss and French stop motion film that was nominated for Best Animated Feature. Sure, I was more than fine to see Zootopia win (having had it on my Top Ten List of 2016), and it was clear that such a small film wouldn't stand a chance. But My Life as a Zucchini was a completely unexpected gem. Since it was heavily marketed as a kids movie, I would have never bothered to see it if I hadn't planned to watch as many nominated films as possible. In fact this is a film that kids can enjoy, but only adults can truly cherish. Its beauty lies in the fact that it deals with incredibly serious topics through the innocent viewpoint of children. Making it heart-breaking and heartwarming at the same time. The second film was Lion. The real-life story of a man who sets out to find his family that he has lost 25 years before, is incredibly uplifting. Among other things it deals with the issue of cultural identity crises, something I can definitely relate to. At its center it has two outstanding performances by Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel, both playing the main character as a boy and a young adult respectively. Being only eight-years old, Pawar was probably too young for the Academy, but Patel actually had a shot. Weirdly enough, he was nominated for a supporting role, even though he clearly played the lead, and even then lost out to Mahershala Ali. Ali was barely in his movie, and while his performance was fantastic, I thought Patel was still the stand-out in that category. Unfortunateley, Lion couldn't make up for it in any of the other five categories in which it was nominated. It is really too bad, because it was quite an impressive film.

The Ugly

The Best Picture Mix-Up
Of course, we need to talk about the big screw up that made this ceremony go down in Oscar history. Here is what happened
Moonlight and La La Land had been battling it out in the major categories the whole night. Moonlight scored statues for its supporting actor and its screenplay. La La Land missed out on those, but won Best Director and Best Actress in a Leading Role. Then the final and most important award of the night came up. Best Picture. In celebration of Bonnie and Clyde's fiftieth anniversary, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunawaye came on stage to present the award. Beatty opens the envelope and just stares at the card for a few seconds, then reaches into the empty envelope and takes a short look backstage. What turned out to be genuine confusion, was at this point interpreted as a failed attempt to build up the tension. You can even see Dunawaye growing impatient next to her co-presenter and so when he hands her the card to look at it, she makes short work of calling out the winner: La La Land. The crowd claps, the music plays and the whole cast and crew get on stage. The producers get their awards handed to them and start their acceptance speech. It isn't until the third speaker, Fred Berger, when things start getting strange. Men with headsets enter the stage and and a commotion arises. They are the producers of the show, and after Berger interrupts his acceptance speech to quickly ask the people behind him what is going on, he turns back around with the words: "We lost, by the way." Now nobody knows what the hell is going on. Another one of La La Land's producers, Jordan Horowitz, still holding his Oscar, goes up to the microphone and explains that there has been a mistake and that Moonlight was the real winner. To prove it he pulls out the correct card from the new envelope Beatty is holding now and shows it into the camera. When Jimmy Kimmel confirms the news, Horowitz says "I am going to be really proud to hand this to my friends from Moonlight." It is an awkward moment, but also a grandiose gesture. It would have been the first time for this man to receive Hollywood's highest honor, and it got taken away from him. He would have had all reason to be absolutely devastated and/or furious but instead showed true greatness by being the best loser in Oscar history. As the crew from Moonlight makes their way to the stage, Warren Beatty tries to explain himself. The card had said "Emma Stone, 'La La Land'" which had confused him. Faye Dunaway is long gone at this point and it stays unclear whether Beatty showed her the card to escape responsibility or if he actually wanted her opinion on what to do. Sure, Beatty could have handled the situation much better, for example if he had simply said that the card seemed not to be right, but I guess he was under pressure and the real question is, how the wrong card ended up in his hands in the first place. Those who took a closer look realized, that he was indeed holding an enveloped saying "Best Actress in a Leading Role". While the internet jokingly started blaming Leonardo DiCaprio, because he was the last person to be seen with that envelope after presenting the Best Actress Award, Emma Stone stated she had taken that card and kept it for the entire show. By now some light has been shed into the darkness, so here is how it happened
It turns out that there are always two envelopes for each category brought separately to the theater inside a briefcase. During the show, one briefcase is placed on each side of the stage so that the presenters can be handed the envelopes regardless of the side from which they enter. Responsible for these cases are two employees of the accountant firm PwC, Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz. It was their job to get the envelopes to the theater in time and hand them to the presenters during the show. Ruiz had handed the Best Actress envelope to DiCaprio, and so it was Cullinan who accidentally handed the same (and therefore wrong) envelope to Beatty. PwC has taken full responsibility and has stated that "once the error occurred, protocols for correcting it were not followed through quickly enough". Embarrassingly so, Cullinan tweeted a  backstage picture of Emma Stone just moments before the Best Picture Winner was to be announced (picture on the left). Whether this tweet was the distraction that led to him making the mistake is not clear, but it is worth noting that it has since been deleted. So I think we do have our scapegoat.

It is cringe-worthy to re-watch that moment, especially when you think of the poor producers of La La Land who, for two brief minutes, thought their dream had come true. The most unfortunate thing about this flub however was that it distracted from an otherwise extraordinarily good show that had a lot of awesome and most of all important moments. Once the turmoil has died down, I hope people will start talking about some of the exceptional acceptance speeches or simply about the fantastic movies that were honored that night. So go out and watch films like Moonlight, Manchester By The Sea, Lion and even My Life as a Zucchini. Till then, don't forget to like, share or leave a comment.

Sincerely,
Your Cinemartian

Sonntag, 5. Februar 2017

SPLIT - Ending Explained [Spoilers]

 Hello there puny humans,
recently I have watched and reviewed M. Night Shyamalan's latest film: Split. I quite enjoyed it and even though it didn't blow my mind in a way, say, InceptionMemento, or Fight Club did, I feel like I want to talk about its ending. So be aware, there is big spoilers ahead:

What happened?
In the final act of the film, Kevin's 24th identity, the so called "beast", takes over his body. The theories stated in the beginning of the film turn out to be true: People with Dissociative Identity Disorder are able to change their body chemistry. Thus, the beast gains superhuman strength and abilities. Convinced that privileged people are lesser beings and that they do not have the preconditions for such an evolution, he eats two of the abducted girls. When he confronts his last victim, Casey, he finds out that she has been "broken" too (by the sexual abuse of her uncle), and so he spares her and flees the scene.
After Casey has been rescued by the police, we see some people in a diner watching a news report about the events that occurred in the film. The anchor calls Kevin and his different identities "The Horde". As the camera pans across the diner, a girl says that this sort of naming reminds her of the "guy in the wheel chair" they covered in the media a couple of years back. When she tries to recall the name they had given him, a man's voice answers "Mr. Glass". The camera moves around her and that man is revealed to be David Dunn, Bruce Willis' character from the 2000 M. Nigh Shyamalan film Unbreakable.

What does it mean?
Well, it means two things: First of all, that Split was in fact a secret sequel to Unbreakable. Secondly, it means that what we have witnessed is not just a simple thriller about a man with DID, but rather the origin story of a super-villain.
Unbreakable, 2000
To refresh your memory (or if you just never knew), Unbreakable is the story of David Dunn. A security guard that, after being the only survivor of a horrible train crash, realizes he might be, indeed, unbreakable. With its serious tone and the exploration of the character's life, it was the first superhero drama. It grounded the story of a man discovering his superhuman powers long before Christopher Nolan came along with his Dark Knight-Trilogy. Furthermore, it was a story that demanded continuation. Or at least fans thought so, as it popped up in conversations again and again (most notably Patton Oswalt on the The Screen Junkies Show).
Split now apparently takes place in that same heightened reality cinematic universe. And from the looks of it, David Dunn has an eye on the man with 24 identities. In fact, Shyamalan has revealed that he had initially written the character of Kevin for Unbreakable. He scrapped the part from early drafts however, because he thought it distracted from the main story. As a result, some of the scenes in Split were written as far back as 15 years ago. Remember Unbreakable's sequence with the Orange Suit Man? That was supposed to play out like the Split story-line, only with Bruce Willis rescuing the girls.

Why is all of this so cool?
When Split reached its conclusion and it became clear that this film is not going to end in a down-to-earth way, I wasn't sure if I was completely on board. And I think that some people in the audience felt the same way. As soon as I realized though that this movie was part of a superhero world, it recontextualized the whole film. In the fictional world presented by Unbreakable, something like this really could happen. In addition, as said before, it also turned the entire film into a villain origin story and the prospects of exploring that character in a sequel was more than intriguing.
The brilliant thing that Shyamalan did here was that he created two films that completely stand on their own as two different works of art. And still, these films ultimately belong together.
Especially in a time where it is almost painful to see how Warner Bros. and DC create incredibly convoluted films for an interconnected cinematic universe, it is awesome to see that it is actually possible to tell a contained original story that still fits into an overarching concept. Did you ever see a franchise that gave its villain his own solo movie? It's fantastic. It's as if in the end of Nightmare on Elm Street you found out that Batman was looking for Freddy Krueger. (To see how cool Freddy VS Batman would be watch this video).
On top of that, it is also thematically great: On one side is Kevin, who is obsessed with people that are broken and who himself is quite literally split. Four of his personalities want to escape an ordinary life to become something greater. On the other side is an unbreakable man, who at first is reluctant to use the power within him, because he just wanted to live an ordinary life. They are in that way, perfect opposites from their mind-set, but similar enough in their powers that it wouldn't be clear who had the upper hand in a fight. 

So what will happen next?
Long before Split hit theaters, Shyamalan has said that he had planned Unbreakable as a trilogy. Now, where the sequel has been released, he has reassured people that he was working on a final film of the series. Apparently he already has an outline, but he wants to take time to work on it further until it meets the audience's expectations as well as his own. As it was to be expected, the plan is to have Bruce Willis' and James McAvoy's characters face off against each other. Nonetheless, Shyamalan has stated that just like its predecessor's, the third film was supposed to be able to stand alone. How he will manage that is not quite clear, and neither is the question of how long it will take him. Still, the writer-director has already managed to do something that I never thought to be possible after seeing After Earth: He got me excited for an M. Night Shyamalan film.

The poster should have given it away...
So these are my thoughts on the ending of Split. How did you like the film? Are you excited about the Split/Unbreakable-crossover? Do you even remember Unbreakable? Leave your thoughts in a comment below and don't forget to share this article to let the readership grow.

Sincerely,
Your Cinemartian