Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pathfinder ★★

    "Pathfinder" is a 2007 plot oriented film that begins with a rather illogical and bold declaration. It is learned that six hundred years before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon North America, a dastardly group of Vikings came to shore, hell-bent on slaying the native culture to purify the land and claim home. This picture is the story of one man, who rose to the occasion and fulfilled the prophecy that would save a civilization.

    A moment of history, that if recorded, would become an indelible and heartwarming memory.

    Unfortunately, this fantasized tale of destiny and fate becomes nothing more than your commonplace action film, complete with underwhelming characterization and a lack of enthusiasm. This is a picture that knows its intention, and still cannot provide enough substance to counter the brutality of its actions.

    Our history lesson begins with an inferior utilization of symbolism. A white stallion becomes the focus of this highly celebrated technique of filmmaking, although it is never efficiently charged with the attitudes and feelings that would warrant success. We are effortlessly told what this creature provides to the context of the film, and then hurled into the intricacies of the plot, which summarizes the film unintentionally.

    We are never meant to think for ourselves. A notion that comes hand in hand with a film of this caliber. We are to be bombarded with action sequences until our intellectual thinking process cannot be conjured any longer. In this respect, this film is a complete triumph.

    A young boy, who is found by a native villager among the wreckage of a Viking ship, is adopted and becomes a member of the "people of the dawn", an early Native American tribe. His adolescence is never indulged, and we are brought to his adulthood at a tumultuous time. "Ghost", a name that suits him quite well, has no identity and is mystified by his existence.

    To make matters worse, Ghost has fallen in love with Starfire, a beautiful woman from an aligned tribe. However, these matters are hardly of significance, as the external conflict of the Vikings arrives rather quickly and plunges this film into constraints that it could never conquer.

    The marauders, a walking group of clunky and oversized armor, attempt to astound us with their blatant symbolism of death, in this particular instance in the form of a raven, and their sound irony. They characterize the Natives as "savages", although it is obvious who possesses these qualities.

   The film progresses into a non-stop barrage of sword fights and confrontation. The suspense is strived for in several scenes and ultimately falls short. An imperfect exhibition of direction includes choppy camera movements and a spasmodic usage of color experimentation. The picture seems to adjust color temperament throughout, adding to the ignorance of its cause.

    Karl Urban leads a cast who are devoid of all emotion and left with a minuscule dialogue to boot. Ghost is a character, who by the end of the picture, finds his purpose. Sadly, this repossession of identity is lost among any consciousness, as his under developing personality justifies a cold shoulder. There is no reason to care.

    Throughout the history of cinema, action films have become a favored experience simply for their entertainment value and escapist mentality. I have reiterated the notion numerous times that these elements alone cannot define a picture. After all, if every film's intent were to merely amuse, there would be a significant loss of intellectual capacity among the minds of humanity.

    Roger Ebert, an inspiration to myself and arguably the most influential film critic of the 20th century, always reserved the notion that it's not what a film is about that makes it good or bad, but how it is about it. Thus, a belief that the supremacy of structure or form is the forefront concern of any criticism. A belief that I have adopted as the foundation of my analysis of the art of film. "Pathfinder" simply does not have a constructive form suitable enough for its motivations. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Firewall ★

    Bank security is an onerous profession. Of course, I am not referring to the tangible security in the form of a guard or officer of the law. For, the twenty-first century has evolved the bureaucracy of the banking world to a virtual level of existence, featuring the utilization of wire transfers and mobile transactions. How did we ever conduct our banking needs without technology?

    "Firewall" is a 2006 thriller that incorporates this cyber technology into the age old deed of bank robbery. Harrison Ford, an exceptional veteran actor who remains engaged in projects even today, stars in this underperforming film that features poor acting and a subdued atmosphere. Ford's inadequate performance turns a bad picture into nothing short of a nightmare.

    Jack Stanfield is the IT security chief at Landrock Pacific Bank in the beautiful, yet drab city of Seattle, Washington. He has a lovely wife and two children, consisting of a young boy and teenage girl and lives in a luxurious house hand crafted by his spouse, whose labor is that of an architect.

   We can deduce that Stanfield is passionate about the security system that he has implemented for this small banking chain and that he is a family oriented individual, through the dialogue of his own and other characters; two characterization techniques that can effortlessly inform us of our protagonist's disposition.

    The conflict, which serves as the driving force for any film, becomes an externally personal struggle of two opposing wills. Thus, the ingenious bank robber, who orchestrated the ransoming of Stanfield's family, will stop at nothing to blackmail Jack into transferring an absurd amount of money (in this particular instance $100 million) into his offshore accounts. Where have we seen this premise before?

    Although it is quite accurate that thrillers often times defy logic to create a plot which permeates suspense and action, this notion does not pertain to this specific film. "Firewall" executes this formula in a completely reverse position. The idea that an IT security chief for a lesser known bank could be extorted is not improbable, just quite unlikely. The shortcomings in this sense involve the deficiency of suspense and lack of substance in the action sequences.

    Jack's incompetent attempts to derail the schemes of our criminal mastermind have no concrete ramifications and can never spur the plot where it needs to go. He fails. He's threatened. He tries again. Jack's half-hearted efforts to thwart the opposition only succeed with the aid of a cell phone and a GPS tracker in his dog's collar. Two conveniences that would not have been present a decade earlier in this timeframe.

    Harrison Ford has been the focus of numerous pictures of this stature, most notably as the persona of Jack Ryan. His ordinary appearance and likable personality give him the advantage of persuading the audience into the realm of conceivability. (An IT expert may actually imagine himself as Jack Stanfield.) Nevertheless, Ford has lost his allure in this manner and gives a jaded performance, which is evident in several painstaking scenes, including when Jack begrudgingly fires his quirky secretary.

    "Firewall," a title with no real significance, would have only been saved by a strong showcasing from Ford, which unfortunately never came to fruition. The supporting actors never hold serve with their roles and the external action is limited to the confines of a bank and Jack's home. This all leads to a tedious climax that features a sixty-three-year-old Ford engaging in hand to hand combat. When the credits roll, the feeling of exasperation subsides.

    With a modest revenue obtained from the box office (although compared to the failings of today's films, a $20 million profit is respectable) and another $20 million in DVD purchases, "Firewall" proves that Harrison Ford can still attract audiences. The word escapism once again comes into context. However, if viewers honestly feel that this film relinquishes them from their everyday nuisances and provides an exuberant experience, then there is little I can do for them.

   There is an abundance of Charlie Chaplin pictures that would better fit your entertainment appetite.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ★

    In the realm that is film viewing, there are three easily identifiable types of spectators: There are the countless individuals who savor movies purely for their entertainment value, the diminutive amount of souls who still regard film as an art form and the medial folks whose position lies somewhere in-between these categories. Alas, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is a 2014 picture that gives rise to a timeless dispute that pits recreation versus fine art. (Meaning, should we grade the above-mentioned picture merely as a form of amusement, considering its relative goal and aim, or do we still view it as a constituent of the art of film? Well, I'm afraid that even a combination of the two concepts results in a poor showing here.)  

    Now, regardless of the rationale that will send masses scurrying to the steering wheel of their automobiles and into the dimly lit theater of their choosing, this is a picture whose existence cannot be justified by the notion that its sole intent is to entertain. If anything, these genetically mutated heroes provide a wearisome cinematic experience, and, as an exhibition of art, it utterly lacks any sense of passion.

    The plot is simplistic enough and would be recognizable to anyone who has seen even a glimpse of  "Turtles" material. April O'Neil is a Channel 6 news reporter (based in New York City, an ideal destination for a list of heroes) who spends her time delving into the risky business of investigative journalism. Although, to be frank, her work would hardly be as prominent as the likes of Carl Bernstein or Bob Woodward.

     Meanwhile, the Foot Clanservants of the turtles' archnemesis who have been reduced to mere soldiers with rifles in this unimaginative renditionare terrorizing the city under the command of the villainous Shredder. This leads to an inevitable meeting between the turtles and O'Neil, as April makes it a habit of investigating the activities of the poorly named group of lackeys. With a nod to the original film, there is a very brief description of the turtles' beginnings (provided by the father-like figure in Master Splinter) and a kidnapping that will see these four brothers face-to-face with The Shredder on a New York rooftop.

    Megan Fox is quite forgettable as the passionate reporter April O'Neil, a character whose backstory has now become linked to the turtles. Fox is an actress who got her "big break" via the success of the "Transformers" franchise, and she certainly gets her chance here to shine in a dialogue-heavy role. Unfortunately, Fox can never fully grasp the quirkiness of her character, and she ultimately provides yet another dumbed-down performance.

    Instead of commenting on the unsightly designs of our four protagonists and their lovable Master Splinter (I'm afraid the film's realistic approach to the turtles' look comes off as offensive and downright displeasing), I will reminisce on my experience with these so-called Ninja Turtles.

    As a child growing up in the 1990s, there was nothing more intriguing than the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Children of the baby boomer generation had Superman to fixate on and to imitate during imaginative roleplaying. For anyone who was born in the late 1980s, or beyond, had the Ninja Turtles. Their appeal is highly subjective, yet they remain as an avenue for interesting conversation. I've collected an excess of memorabiliaincluding the original graphic novels, which tend to depict these heroes in a much darker tone.

    With a foreseeable sequel already scheduled for a 2016 release, the hopes that this interpretation would be short-lived are dashed. The original feature film portraying these four brothers will undoubtedly remain as the finest depiction, and, when it's all said and done, this film becomes nothing more than a product comparable to that of "The Next Mutation," a Turtles spinoff that was as bland as it was forgettable. This Turtles revamping has embraced a culture that I simply do not understand.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ★★★★

    The twenty-first century has been a trying period for the film industry, as Hollywood strives to produce the caliber of pictures that permeated its Golden Age, the 1970s, with considerably less talent and imaginative writing. Consequently, creating an overabundance of reboots intending to bring classic films into context for a new generation of moviegoers. "Planet of the Apes" is arguably one of the most influential science fiction films to ever grace our presence, so the inevitable re-fashioning of this product was never deemed unexpected.

    "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is a 2014 sequel that expands on the re-imagined origin story of this popular franchise. This is a film that satisfies the needs of an average viewer, as well as the intellectual spectator. With a brilliant display of computer generated characters and action sequences, along with an impressive and thought provoking story, "Dawn" is positively one of the best pictures of the year.

    Our story begins a decade after the previous film as the man-made virus, aptly named the Simian Flu, that instilled a remarkable level of intelligence into our primate counterparts becomes the sole initiator of humanity's extinction. Caesar and his band of fellow apes have created a society infused with morality, located just outside of San Francisco in the Muir Woods. They have even fabricated a set of commandments, taught to the younglings by the resident Orangutan, Maurice.

    The complication that resides in this dramatic structure is straightforward; human contact is made. A group of surviving humans, who are genetically immune to the infection, have established a civilization inside the tattered walls of the war torn city. Their aspiration to regain power is frayed, once realized that the hydroelectric dam they need to activate rests in the territory of the apes. This leads to the strenuous task of communication between disparate cultures.

    Caesar, the alpha male and proclaimed leader of the apes, will undergo several difficulties, including alienation from his own kind. (A sentiment also experienced by Julius Caesar, the man in which his name was adopted.) Caesar is a strong characterization, which is highlighted exclusively by the dramatic foil in Koba. This tension between leader and second in command will fuel the conflict, which becomes a symbolization of the struggle between civilization and barbarism.

    "Dawn" excels in providing realistic depictions of the computer generated based characters, whose mannerisms are created by real actors. Although each ape has discernible scars and skin complexions, each also contains distinctive facial qualities of his own right. An insuperable task to furnish individuals, which could have easily been a misfire. There is never a feeling of uncertainty wondering which character is which.

    The human element comes in the form of Malcolm, played by Jason Clarke, and the leader of the surviving members of the human race, Dreyfus, portrayed by the veteran actor Gary Oldman. Malcolm is an intelligent and sensible man, who is the spokesman for peace between the opposing factions. Yet, his numerous attempts to ingrain trust into Caesar prove to be futile, as villainy never seems to sleep. Oldman is a strong casting for a character that is limited in dialogue and screen time. His presence is warranted, however, as Oldman powers through several scenes that are weak in composition, including a rallying speech to evoke hope from the remnants of humanity.
     Additionally, who could forget the symbol that lingers in the background of the apes' camp. The outline of Caesar's window from the first installment has now translated into this second film, with brilliant utilization of context to satisfy the creation. This symbol has been fueled with feelings of comfort and serenity. It comes to represent the contentment of family and home; an innocence lost from Caesar's childhood.

    This is a rare film that provides a moral riddle for its thematic concern. In essence, when a picture delves into the unbounded realm of ideas for its theme, it becomes a highly subjective process for the likes of critics and audiences. There have been convictions of theme such as anti-war and anti-gun. One could even invite the belief that this picture is an idealized illustration of the relationship that forged the early Americas, between the Native Americans and the colonists. My position firmly rests in the thoughts of trust and coexistence. Two characteristics of this modern world that are quite often absent from consideration.

    There is another question that arises from the context of this film. When will computer generated characters receive nominations from the Academy? Caesar's performance is a few scenes shy of this prestigious recognition, nevertheless, giving us cause to ponder. Although this may seem like an illogical notion, it would be naive to dismiss it, considering we live in the age of technology. I strongly believe there will be a day when an actor, created solely by a computer, will win the nod for Best Actor.

    It is quite uncommon for a franchise, that has been re-created, to become something more than just a poor imitation of the original. An occurrence that is far too frequent in today's film industry and that appears to be an endeavor for financial benefit. I would imagine that "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is the finest depiction that this atmosphere can create.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hercules ★★1/2

    The character of Hercules has been dissected in various forms of media for as long as I can remember; a favored persona for his charismatic appeal and entertainment value. The self entitled film "Hercules" is one of two pictures this year that have delved into the elaborate history of this Greek demigod and produced an adventure tale with little substance. Although this film contains the star power of Dwayne Johnson, it cannot overcome the limitations of a subpar script and poor direction.

    This emotionally starved rendition of the beloved Hercules has shunned the mythological facet of his heritage, thus bringing him into the context of an average Joe. A romanticized notion that is hardly conceivable and can never fully coax the audience into receiving their trust. The Twelve Labors have been reduced to mere fairy tales and Hercules is now employed as a humble mercenary, who collects his weight in gold for a myriad of tasks.

    Accompanying our hero on his countless journeys are a team of skilled warriors and a death wishing prophet named Amphiaraus. There is the proficient knife throwing and money-oriented companion in Autolycus. A trusted, yet demented warrior in Tydeus, and the virgin huntress turned marksman in Atalanta. Also along for the ride is Hercules' story rousing nephew, Iolaus. We are introduced to these characters through a rather uneventful expository scene, which comes complete with a marijuana reference.

    The plot is rather simplistic and requires Hercules to train the army of Thrace, proposed by Lord Cotys' lovely daughter, Ergenia, which gives him a reason other than financial prosperity to engage in this seemingly arduous assignment. Thrace has become weak and feeble; consequently, becoming the target of a savage warlord named Rheseus. It will take the resilience and patience of our protagonist to strengthen these men, thereby bringing peace back to the lands of mortal man.

    The film ultimately delivers what we would expect in any action driven picture. There is a plethora of bloodshed and stimulating sequences, along with a blend of sexual humor. Johnson pummels victims with a heavy handed club, while the rest of his cronies dish out justice in other, less sophisticated manners. There is nothing remotely distinctive about the fast paced progressions, which are hampered by a mediocre exercision of direction.

    Johnson is a relatively distant individual and sentiment seems neglected in all respects. He is reduced to short and less than memorable speeches intended to rally the forces--a restraint that is disappointing, considering I believe Johnson is capable of more than just a hollow exhibition of dialogue.

    There are some positives, however, that attempt to distract us from the film's weaknesses. With any picture that markets a physically superior hero, the actor must embrace the dedication to reveal a physique that identifies with their fictional equivalent; a commitment that is highly respected. Johnson exceeds expectations in this regard and almost thwarts the notion that he is a typical mortal man.

    Unfortunately, "Hercules" simply becomes another peg on the ladder of prosaic summer blockbusters; a humdrum performance of vapid entertainment. The plot twist is foreseeable and isn't suitable for the profusion of possibilities that Hercules can bring to the silver screen. It's only a matter of time before another adventure featuring this less than flattering rendering comes to fruition.

    As "Hercules' " time in the box office comes to a close (with a minuscule profit in tow) it only highlights the fact of how films are rapidly devoured by audiences over the laziness induced days of summer. One blockbuster is overshadowed by the subsequent, with little remorse. Regrettably, this film did not stand a chance considering Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" was forthcoming. ("Guardians" time will be upstaged shortly.) Though, maybe its for the best that this effort was eclipsed.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy ★★★

Image result for Guardians of the galaxy

    With an assortment of characters and a never-ending archive of source material at their disposal, Marvel has indisputably become the leader in summer box-office hits. (In fact, I would consider the company to be nothing short of a pioneer when it comes to creating commercially successful franchiseswith names that can be overheard in households worldwide.) Nevertheless, it seems as if Marvel's latest creation features a cast of characters whose identities may not amass the same prestige as say "Captain America."

    Thus, "Guardians of the Galaxy" blasts off into theaters with a relatively diminutive amount of faithfuls, and this only adds to the movie's allure. (There hasn't been this much curiosity surrounding a superhero film, I think, since the 2009 endeavour entitled "Watchmen.") Although interest has reached a financial climax, this production cannot escape the reality of a comically overwhelming script and several monotonous villains of a mechanical nature.

    Peter Quill, our sole human protagonist, is an eccentric and humble man who was abducted from Earth at a very young age. This is brought to our attention via an overly dramatic expository scene, which, I'm afraid, permanently devalues the tone of the picture. (The reasoning behind this kidnapping is unknown to us, that is, of course, until the conclusion, when the film inevitably sets up for a sequel.) In the present, Peter spends his days as a renegade and self-proclaimed outlaw. (His self-given nickname of Star-Lord is about as prominent in the universe as his negotiating skills, which, I must say, aren't very reputable.) We first meet Quill as he collects a profitable metal orb in which he plans to sell on the planet of Xandar.

    This mysterious orb will become the single most important plot point in the film, and it leads Quill on a journey where he unintentionally encounters the rest of our leading cast. Gamora, a female warrior with radiant green skin, tracks down the orb under the instruction of Ronan, an intergalactic being obsessed with, you guessed it, universal destruction. Rocket, a genetically engineered raccoon with the heart of a lion, is on the search for anything that will bring monetary value when Quill's warrant brings him into context.

    Along with his tree-like companion in Groot, Rocket and company are ultimately arrested and taken to a penitentiary among the stars. This leads to the inclusion of Drax the Destroyer, a brawny and intelligent alien who becomes hell-bent on fulfilling his relentless, insatiable appetite for revenge. This crew of misfits will have to come together if they have any desire to escape this prison and sell the universally prized orb for prosperityan unsuitable objective for "The Avengers," mind you, but one that feels right at home with this inept group of self-centered heroes.

    If this film has anything to hang its hat on, it is the rich characterizations that lead the way. Chris Pratt headlines the cast as Star-Lord and brings a certain air of charisma to the group. (His recurrent womanizing and his love for classic pop songs permeates the film, and the latter routinely provides a delightful pause to numerous scenes.); Zoe Saldana, a resident actress in other blockbuster franchises, is as feisty as ever in the role of Gamora; lastly, Dave Bautista, a renown professional wrestler, sticks to what he does bestbeating up bad guys. Although Bautista is limited to these engagements, he does perform the formal dialogue of Drax in a surprisingly on cue manner.

    And who could forget the computer-generated constituents to our band of mavericks? Rocket, a fabrication influenced by The Beatles' classic song entitled "Rocky Raccoon," is the barometer of the group, as his emotions are guided heavily by his surroundings. Furthermore, his comically inclined dialogue seems to hit home more so than his other companions. (There is something indefinable about a rough talking raccoon that conjures laughter.)

    Groot, basically a walking tree, is limited to repetitive assertions of his name, although Rocket seems to discern more out of his partner's external thoughts. Groot can be menacing or kind; however, it is his empathy for others that provides the picture with this direly warranted sense of sentimentality.

    It is painstakingly obvious where "Guardians'" imperfections are hidden. Its reliance on tawdry humor, which is completely lost on my conscience, is uncomplimentary, to say the least. Additionally, there is the rather feeble antagonist in Ronan, played by the up-and-coming actor Lee Pace, who can never quite convince us of his intentions. The ever-popular motive of universal eradication is overemphasized in numerous fictional tales, and, unfortunately, this simplistic plot device brings little to a story that deserves much more.

    Despite its shortcomings, "Guardians of the Galaxy" will surely entertain with its spectacular display of special effects and a cast that brims with box-office appeal. It's just, Marvel has become very accustomed to utilizing the humor that is at the heart of their beloved comic books; it is this amusement that is lost in translation when creating a film. With another addition to this mainspring, the desired concentration that can be seen in the "Dark Knight" trilogy is realized as futile.

    If Marvel truly expects to continue with this formula, then one obstacle does come to mind: In order to proceed with this underlying comical tone, the characters must remain static. However, it this attribute of staticity that must change in future installments, and it is this transformation (or the lack thereof) that will ultimately determine whether or not the subject matter can take that next step. One must always remember that humor will induce laughter, but drama will feed the soul.