Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Godzilla ★★1/2

    With summer less than a month away, the movie industry has already begun its plunge into blockbuster films that evoke little emotion and deliver an overabundance of vacuous entertainment.

    "Godzilla" has made his way back into the theater with this reboot of the classic monster film genre. With an upgrade in the computer imaging department, this rendition of Godzilla also provides an atmosphere of modernity and a human element that has been direly absent in the franchise in the past.

    Our film begins with a montage of images from the 1950s that tell the story of our beloved king of all monsters. We learn that Godzilla was awakened by nuclear tests and that the United States government strived to destroy the beast with a nuclear bomb. (Imagine that.) The attempt was predictably unsuccessful, and Godzilla retired back into the depths of the ocean.

    The film fast forwards to the year of 1999 and becomes eerily reminiscent to "Jurassic Park." Helicopters zoom over an island located in the Philippines, and we come face to face with an enormous mining site, which, apparently, has been harboring a prehistoric skeleton and eggs. One of the eggs has recently hatched and the unidentified creature escapes, only to rain destruction on a nuclear plant in nearby Japan.

    And this is where the previously forgotten human component is introduced. At this moment, it becomes evident that the focus will be less on Godzilla and will shift to this family who, willingly or not, will become active participants in this story.      

    Joe Brody and his wife are employees at the nuclear plant in Janjira, Japan. The plant is leveled due to the startling increase in seismic activity, unknowingly caused by this mysterious creature, and Joe's wife dies in the tragic accident. (This is the only scene in the film that lends itself to any perception of sentimental value or to a tension filled atmosphere.)

    Bryan Cranston, who is best known for his role in the hit television series entitled "Breaking Bad," portrays this man whose life was tarnished by this supposed mishap caused by an earthquake. His life becomes one of an endless inquisitive nature, and Joe knows that something is being hidden. It is his sole desire to learn the truth of that event and find out what exactly was the source of his wife's death.              

    The story shifts to the present and Joe's son, Ford, becomes the center of attention. Ford is a grown man who, unlike his father, has let go of the past and has established himself with a career and family in San Francisco, California. After receiving a call that informs him of his father's arrest in Japan, Ford begrudgingly catches the next flight out to resolve the issue.

    This will lead directly to the uncovering of the Janjira nuclear plant accident and to the return of the MUTO, or massive unidentified terrestrial organism, that originally brought disaster to the area. Additionally, the second MUTO will hatch, thus awakening Godzilla from hibernation in order to eliminate these nuisances, who feed off radiation, and to prevent civilization from entering into a second Stone Age.

    The performances in this film are hardly commendable and feature a cast with little to no allure. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Ford Brody with a lack of enthusiasm and a rather monotonic approach to his dialogue. (Void of all emotion.) With such an emphasis on human characterization, this film does not succeed in giving the viewer a reason to essentially care about these individuals.

    If death is their ultimate fate, then I must say that sorrow would be a lost notion altogether.

    And now for our computer-enhanced star: Godzilla's presence is the most satisfying portion of the film, as it rightfully should be. He is as domineering and ferocious as one would think him to be. He lurks among the shadows of the gloom filled skies of San Francisco Bay and creates tumultuous roars that would make any grown man tremble.

    Yet, Godzilla seemingly has no motivation to kill these monsters and to save humanity, except, of course, for the fact that it is his job. He is a product of nature and acts as the balancing force between peace and tribulation on Earth. Why else would he help the race of man, who intended to kill him half a century earlier?

    There is something mysteriously intriguing about the character of Godzilla. Maybe it is because after all these years we still do not know what makes him tick. Is it possible that Godzilla can become more than just a warrior among the skyscrapers? I wonder if perhaps he has a family or children in which he cares for in his free time.

    As the film closes, we get the inevitable feeling that this will not be the last time we see this new   presentation of Godzilla. A sequel featuring fresh and innovative creations to threaten humanity is destined to be, and our lead monster will once again play the role of savior. I just hope that, next time around, Godzilla doesn't take a backseat to the plot and becomes more than just a walking and roaring anti-hero.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Easy Rider ★★★★

Image result for Easy Rider 1969 film stills

    A plane roars overhead at a Los Angeles airport, hampering the events taking place below for a moment, as four individuals cross each other's path. An exchange of cocaine and cash is made within a mere instant, and the two seemingly free-spirited men head off into the sunset--literally. A teardrop gas tank, beaming with American pride, is filled with money in a plastic tube.

    A watch is taken off and looked over one last time before being discarded, thus shedding the last material item that separates man from freedom and the establishment.

    These are the opening images of the 1969 film entitled "Easy Rider." This film is a product of the combined efforts of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda; it is a picture that highlights the social issues which permeated the 1960s, and it almost certainly symbolizes the death of a culture.

    Surely this era of the mid-twentieth century would not be forgotten even if this film never existed; however, this film has become an iconic symbol of this time period simply for its radiating poignancy and subtle, yet riveting displays of characterization and direction.

    Our main subjects in this film are Billy and Wyatt. Although there is never an explanation as to how these characters have gotten to this particular point in their lives or any unforeseen actions that would allow us to decipher any significant qualities, we can ascertain their distinct personalities through dialogue and artful conversations.

    Billy is disguised as the stereotypical hippie, with long hair, a passion for drugs, and the aspiration to live a nonconformist existence. He is an ecstatic individual, who lives for the moment at hand. Billy is essentially an extension of the natural flow of life; the epitome of free will and a loyal companion.

    Wyatt is a well-reserved individual who, unlike Billy, seems to understand his role in the natural order, and it becomes evident that he is at peace with his mind and soul. He is always in control of his thoughts and acts as the conciliator between peace and anarchy when it comes to this unique relationship. Wyatt is a man who can respect a simple life and has never wanted to pretend to be anyone else. A man who could never be subdued into a life of acquiescence.    

    Despite the fact that this film is composed of a rather simplistic storyline, it is nothing short of memorable and simply a delight to view. The plethora of motorcycle riding scenes is accompanied by marvelous panoramic shots of charming scenery and music that would strum the soul of anyone who lived through this nostalgic epoch of human history.

    Billy and Wyatt are embarking on a journey toward enlightenment. Of course, this is in the sense of the identity of this counterculture that rebels against the organization and dreams of living free from the clutches of restraint. To finance their trip, which will climax in New Orleans, Billy and Wyatt purchase cocaine across the border and sell it in their native city of Los Angeles.

    Along the way, they encounter numerous characters, including a commune leader and an alcoholic lawyer who bails them out of trouble. Additionally, they experience a few tension filled instances where they are discriminated against for their long hair and well-crafted machines.      

    The most ingenious dialogue in this film takes place at night under the moonlit sky of the wilderness. Dennis Hopper lends his hand at direction and does not disappoint. Although there is much speculation surrounding the actual filming of this picture and the mental state of Hopper, I undoubtedly believe the notion that this film is a pure extension of Hopper's artistic perception. The film is littered with an excellent utilization of foreshadowing and symbolism.    

    Nevertheless, one of the most salient aspects of this tale would be the presence of Jack Nicholson. Nicholson, in his first prominent role, depicts a small southern town lawyer named George Hanson. This performance is highly underrated, as Nicholson's portrayal of this member of conformity provides a balance to the tone of the film.

    Hanson can understand the construction of this guideline-ruled society which our main characters cannot. A scene divulging into the subject of extraterrestrial beings highlights Nicholson's allure as an actor and provides us with a peek into what his legendary career will hold.

    When analyzing a film of this stature, the question of universality comes into context. Although the social and moral implications illustrated in "Easy Rider" are limited to a particular time and place, the message is a concise reflection of the most imaginative and iconoclastic decade of the twentieth century; therefore, creating a remarkable atmosphere. It was a time filled with love, experimentation, and rebellion.

    The nature of life presented in this film is almost entirely incomprehensible with regard to the modern world in which we live today. Whether consciously or not, we are attached to our technological devices, which prohibit us from becoming one with ourselves. These vices almost single-handedly control our existence, as they are present in our business and personal lives. And here lies the seduction of these free-wheeling motorcyclists and their uninhibited ideals. If the possibility of re-living this journey was still attainable, then this world would surely be a better place.            

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Planet of the Apes ★★★1/2

Image result for Planet of the apes 1968 title shot

     Interstellar expeditions and time travel have been the subject of numerous pictures found in the lengthy history of the film industry. These often impractical and fanciful notion based tales have successfully delighted audiences for decades. However, none of these distinct miscellanies of films would have been created if not for the 1968 science fiction classic entitled "Planet of the Apes." This picture is the perfect amalgam of adventure and struggle. The dignity of man becomes the forefront issue in this timeless escape from reality.

     George Taylor, our leading protagonist, is a man of integrity. He has lost faith in mankind and ventures to find something superior to the feeble-minded and frail physical nature of the human. Little does he know that this expectation will be fulfilled in the unlikeliest of forms.

     An expedition crew of four are abruptly awoken from hibernation and have discovered their crash landing on an unknown planet. The aspiration to procreate and exercise fertility is almost immediately dashed, as the only female of the company and the new "Eve" could not survive an air leak in her sleeping chamber. The three male crew members abandon ship and advance through a seemingly uninhabitable landscape simulating the terrain of the western desert.

     Here lies the most ingenious and aesthetically pleasing portion of the film. While being shot along the Colorado River, these scenes provide the essential allure to persuade the viewer of the mysticism of this new world. The panoramic array of shots are crafted exceptionally well and easily achieves the effect of semblance. Although we can ascertain that this world is much like our own, the atmosphere of the moment suggests otherwise.

     After subsequently finding a small plant that would imply that life can persevere on this dry and humid planet, our subjects stumble upon a pleasant oasis and vegetative plant life. They quickly realize that they are not alone and find themselves face to face with a primitive model of mankind. Their speculation is short-lived, however, as a group of humanlike apes begin to capture and kill many of these newly discovered life forms. Taylor is shot and captured among the chaos and is transferred back to the ape village.

    This becomes the setting for much of the film, as Taylor is held captive and becomes the center of attention among the detainees. Dr. Zira, the animal psychologist, becomes particularly infatuated with Taylor and names him "bright eyes." Although Taylor's injury to his neck rendered him speechless, he eventually obtains Dr. Zira's notepad and proves his intelligence through the pen. This unexpected turn of events forces the elders of the village to debate the origins of this man and to ponder concepts that oppose their faith and social construction.

    Charlton Heston is a distinguished actor who has portrayed individuals of exceeding importance, and this includes his role in "Ben-Hur" and his role as Moses in "The Ten Commandments." Heston's presence in this film is indispensable, thus providing a nucleus of authenticity for a story that divulges into quixotic notions of perceptibility.

    This essentially forces Heston to interact with his fellow actors and actresses while they are masked behind the visage of an intelligent animal being. This is a daunting task that Heston conquers with his professionalism and expertise as a premier actor. Despite the fact that this portrayal cannot measure up to Heston's previous achievements, he essentially provides the glue that holds this film together and charms us with his resilience.

    The high elders of this caste structured society condemn Taylor and sentence him to lobotomy. With the help of Dr. Zira and her fiancé, Taylor and his muted female companion escape the crucifixion and voyage beyond the "forbidden zone." This leads to a startling discovery that places Taylor in a mental state of vexation and a forced realization that everything he believed about mankind was undoubtedly true.

    I can most certainly comprehend the skepticism that surrounds this film, considering that it has been the subject of many dubious sequels and remakes. (How can a film with actors dressed up as apes convey any sense of intellectuality or thought provoking ideas?) However, no matter how simplistic or absurd the exterior of this film may seem, it is a classic in the science fiction genre and has paved the way for some of the most brilliant stories ever captured on celluloid film.

    Although the prominent thematic concern in this picture is the plot, there is a sense of struggle with regard to Taylor's dignity and the dignity of mankind as a whole. Man as we know it has been reduced to a primitive life form and deemed a futile attempt at domestication.

    This topsy-turvy constructed way of life and inverted nature of evolution is something to cogitate on for some of us who, like Taylor, have found that man has lost the morality of his soul. Is it feasible that man could succumb to the conditions that would bring this impractical future upon us? Well, surely nothing is impossible. The image of the United States flag situated among the red dust of what used to be a fruitful existence of humanity should never be forgotten.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Gattaca ★★★1/2

    Can you imagine a world where significant diseases and mental deficiencies are eliminated before you are even born? A world in which imperfection is virtually non-existent? This is the idea spawned from the 1997 science fiction film entitled "Gattaca." Although it is a romanticized notion of human nature, it is our flaws that make us who we are. If everyone was bred to perfection, then life would almost certainly become very uninteresting.

    In the not so distant future, Vincent Freeman is born from the hands of God; therefore, there was no manipulation of mental or physical performance before birth. This leads Vincent to be susceptible to numerous health conditions, which can be diagnosed and predicted seconds after birth. Vincent's parents are told that he will live approximately 30.2 years and that he will indisputably suffer from heart complications.

    This will underline the meaning of Vincent's life from childhood to adulthood.

    Daring not to make the same mistake with a second child, Vincent's parents opt for the genetic security for their next son, Anton. This ultimately leads to feelings of neglect and disdain on behalf of Vincent. The two brothers grow up challenging one another, most notably to games of chicken, which leads to the boys swimming out as far as they can before one gives up. As a grown adult, Vincent dreams of leaving the atmosphere of Earth and flying among the stars. He will not be denied this and strives to overcome the genetic discrimination that would oppose this opportunity.

    The lead role of Vincent is given to Ethan Hawke. Although Hawke doesn't have the most prestigious résumé, he shines in this portrayal of a man who will overcome any obstacle, even genetic defect, to achieve his dreams. Hawke provides sensational voiceover work for multiple scenes, including a flashback that sets the tone for the entire film. Vincent is a very intelligent and cunning individual, and Hawke genuinely exhibits these qualities with relative ease.

    After leaving home and embarking on life's journey on his lonesome, Vincent finds himself working as a janitorial employee, which is common for humans born of natural conception. He ultimately finds himself cleaning windows and buffing floors at Gattaca, a space flight corporation, and realizes just how far he actually is from obtaining his goal although he is physically as close as he can be. To aid his quest in becoming a flight navigator, Vincent sets himself up to become a "borrowed ladder," which essentially steals the identity of a genetically enhanced individual to avoid discrimination.

    The man whose identity Vincent will be taking is that of Jerome Murrow, who was a competing swimmer until an accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. Jerome is perfectly content with giving up his name and bodily fluids, as long as Vincent provides him with alcohol and the lifestyle he is accustomed to. A rigorous daily routine of providing blood (and occasionally urine samples) to Gattaca, along with scrubbing off excess skin and hair, commences and everything goes as planned until a murder necessitates a thorough investigation of all employees. Vincent will find himself in a game of cat and mouse, which, ultimately, will bring Vincent face to face with his past and his future.

    Other notable performances include those of Jude Law and Uma Thurman. Law is the real Jerome Murrow, who is equipped with every benefit that human nature or genetic manipulation can provide. At first, Murrow begrudgingly participates in this scheme for the financial benefit; however, he warms up to the idea and eventually relishes in Vincent's successes. Law was a perfect cast for this role and helps to relieve the anxiety of our protagonist. Thurman provides the romantic outlet for Vincent in the form of Irene Cassini. Despite the fact that Irene was born of "valid" DNA, she also suffers from heart maladies. This reduces her to a desk position at Gattaca as she gains the admiration of Vincent, who is arguably the most talented navigator.

    This is not your stereotypical science fiction film. There are no alien life forms or preposterous special effects. It is a well-crafted exhibition of thought provoking content and ideas, some of which do not seem so far-fetched with the rapid evolution of technology in the twenty-first century and beyond. Even though pre-birth genetic enhancement is seemingly impractical, if given the chance, I am undoubtedly sure that mankind would foam at the mouth of such a thought. (Why live in a world of uncertainty when your very best can be ensured from conception?)

    "Gattaca" is a film filled with symbolism and intrigue. It relinquishes the atmosphere of a thriller while enticing us with its simple, yet futuristic environment. A beautiful score accompanies this film and the opening scene, which outlines the daily routine of Vincent preparing himself for a day at the office. Discrimination is a vice that many of us live with every day; however, when being birthed naturally warrants prejudice, then we have truly lost the meaning of life and the delight of its defining moments. You know, limitation can be a beautiful thing. If everything came easily, then we would surely lose the nature of our soul.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ★

Image result for the amazing spider man 2 movie poster

    Much is to be said of blockbuster films simply because they earn hundreds of millions of dollars and they essentially strive to bring delight and elation to a rather monotonous reality. Superhero franchises are most certainly a constituent of these types of films because of their allure and entertainment appeal.

    "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" will generate millions in revenue and will place a smile on the individual's faces whose hands were involved; however, it does not excuse the fact that this film is a failed attempt at delivering any sense of integrity to its construction. It is a blatant slap in the face to anyone who can see past the tawdry humor and computer graphics to find that the cupboard is bare. The opportunity to save this rendition of our lovable Spider-Man is squandered into oblivion.

    The film begins with the back story of our protagonist's parents and builds on what we already knew following the previous film of this installment. Richard Parker was dismissed from his position at OsCorp, and his research essentially placed his family's lives in danger. After fleeing aboard a private jet, an assassin succeeds in killing the pilot of the aircraft and sending the Parkers into the unknown, but not before Richard uploads a very important file to his database.

    For the present, Spider-Man succeeds in derailing a criminal's hijacking of a truck filled with volatile substances in an extremely comical fashion. (This is the first indication that this film will not lend itself to a dramatic tone.) Spider-Man also receives a call via cell phone in which we learn that he is running late for his high school graduation. Of course, Peter makes it back just in time to obtain his diploma and plant a hero's smooch onto Gwen Stacy, the apple of his eye.

    Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone reprise their roles of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, respectively. Their relationship becomes more complicated this time around, considering the promise that Peter made to her father and its effect on his conscious. Gwen breaks up with our hero, but it is not long before they rekindle their flame and become friends once again. Stone is relatively unimpressive in this sequel, and her innocence becomes astray, along with the importance of her character.

    After bestowing some praise on Garfield for his performance in the previous film, he becomes nothing more than a prop in this computer-enhanced dominated story line. His quirky and shy demeanor is not as tolerable as before and some scenes, including the first meeting with Harry Osborn, are downright awkward and insufferable.

    The conflict for our story comes in the form of three villains, although one briefly appears at the end as a transition into the next film. Max Dillon, a nerdy and forgotten employee of OsCorp, is rescued by Spider-Man in the opening action sequence and, subsequently, gains an unhealthy obsession for our hero. After being forced to work overtime, Dillon becomes the victim of a horrendous accident that transforms him into a walking manifestation of electricity. Jamie Foxx, a hot commodity in Hollywood the last two years, steps into this role and delivers a subpar performance. Unfortunately, Foxx is subdued into the character of Electro, whose only goal is to kill Spider-Man.

    Harry Osborn, a staple in the Spider-Man universe, returns to the silver screen as the inheritor of his father's corporation. Harry learns of the illness that has taken over his father and is told that it will soon reveal itself in his body. After trying to negotiate with Spider-Man for the cure, Harry is forced to consider other options, which leads to the creation of the Green Goblin. Spider-Man must overcome these obstacles, which culminates in a rather unimaginative conclusion.

    Personally, I am very much accustomed to the character of Spider-Man that can be found in the colorful pages of a 1980s comic book; he is intelligent, clever, and thought-provoking. The morality of this persona has been forgotten and thus muted by computer enhanced graphics. A large portion of the film is dedicated to scenes dominated by CGI, and it is truly sad to think that much of this film was done behind a computer and not behind an actual camera.

    Peter Parker is seemingly insignificant, and his career with the Daily Bugle has been reduced to e-mail correspondence with Jonah Jameson. Despite the fact that I am utterly repulsed by this film, I remain hopeful that the next chapter will finally steer into the direction of tribulation and gloom. This film teases that notion with the hallucinations of Gwen's father and the guilty conscience of Peter. (The presence of Felicia Hardy may also help right the ship.)

    As the character of Spider-Man is continually portrayed in an unflattering manner, a question presents itself: Where is Stan Lee? The creator of our hero has also been reduced to a negligent role and can only be found in cheap cameos. I only hope that at the end of the day Lee doesn't regret the sale of his creation.

The Amazing Spider-Man ★★

Image result for The amazing spider man film stills 2012

    A dingy box in a flooded basement is re-positioned, and an unforeseen light shines upon a brown leather briefcase. The initials "RP" are etched onto the latch, thus creating the foundation for a trilogy of films intending to re-invent the story of Spider-Man. Although it is a brave attempt of romanticizing a superhero in a twenty-first-century light, we are ultimately left with a rather vacant feeling. With a lackluster plot and an exhibition of numerous shortcomings, "The Amazing Spider-Man" is nothing short of ordinary.

    Of course, many of the same components of the Spider-Man universe make it into this 2012 reboot. Uncle Ben and Aunt May are still the caretakers of a teenage Peter Parker; Flash Thompson continues to reign destruction on the flock of nerds at the local high school; Even Dr. Curtis Conners, who is removed as Peter's professor, continues to act as the premier scientist of New York City and remains a role model for our young superhero; Mary Jane, despite her seemingly irreplaceable presence, is superseded by another love interest. (The only notable difference comes in the form of blonde hair.)

    Gwen Stacy, who is portrayed by the young and talented actress, Emma Stone, becomes the leading lady in this rendition, which recounts the origin of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Stone is quite exuberant and kindles a sense of innocence out of her character, who is as beautiful as she is brilliant in the field of science. Stacy is very much a straight-laced young woman who happens to be the daughter of the police captain. She never asks to fall for this mysterious teenage boy, but cannot distance herself from the clutches of adolescent love.

    The life of young Peter Parker is no different than that of your stereotypical nerd. He is a science whiz, and his extracurricular activities include photography and being socially awkward. However, this Peter Parker does not entirely fit the description of your quintessential dork. His wardrobe is that of a proclaimed hipster, he wears contacts, and he displays the skills of a seemingly talented skateboarder.

    Nevertheless, Peter Parker attends Midtown Science High School and is at the top of his class. After coming across his father's briefcase in the basement of his aunt and uncle's home, Peter becomes infatuated with learning what happened to his parents on that dark and stormy night, which highlights the opening of the film. This will also lead Peter on a journey from within as he copes with his past and his new found abilities.

    Andrew Garfield takes on the lead role of Peter Parker and does his best to approach this character with his own sense of style and integrity. Garfield displays excellent awareness with his execution of dialogue and mannerisms, which helps to set the tone for the film. He comes off as a shy and relaxed individual, who can burst into emotion when necessary. In addition, Garfield and Stone's chemistry is clearly present, although it does seem forced at times.

    After becoming endowed with these extraordinary abilities, Peter decides to confront Dr. Curt Conners and give him the missing formula that would put his research over the top. However, coupled with the fact that Norman Osborn is dying and that an anecdote is needed, the pressure to enact human trials forces Dr. Conners to use the formula on himself, which leads to disastrous results. The Lizard is born, and it is up to Spider-Man to stop his reign of terror and the plan that would see all of New York City become humanized lizards.

    This all leads to a rather tedious climatic ending, which sees sacrifice and a touch of dumb luck. A promise is made and broken within the next few scenes; therefore, leaving us with the notion of a second film that will seemingly generate much of the same miscalculations that this film preserves. Longing for an atmosphere produced by films such as "The Dark Knight" is all but a misguided dream. Only a film of that magnitude would save this franchise from complete nonfulfillment.

    There are many things that we can look past with regard to this film, but it still cannot fill the void of dismay. Sure, we can get used to the fact that this Spider-Man uses a cell phone and that Ben Parker's murder scene is all but humdrum; however, there are many facets of this film that just cannot be overlooked. (This includes a scene in which Spidey learns of the Lizard's diabolical plan simply by pressing a button on Dr. Conner's computer, which, in turn, spawns miniature lizard men to sprout from a tower and cover the screen.) This makeover of Spider-Man is nothing more than an increased diet of CGI, which strives to overshadow the fallacies that believe a lack of planning and execution can yield a terrific film.