Tuesday, September 30, 2014

No Good Deed ★

    "No Good Deed" is a worthless and aimless film, in which one could attach numerous other synonyms of the like to describe its incompetence. Its misguided attempts to thrill are trumped by an inept exercision of direction, acting, and a plot that would make even a B-horror film cringe.

    This is without hesitation the most idiotic picture of the year. Its presence is purely ignominious and rightfully so. For, if blunders of this caliber were commended, then everything we know and love about the art of film would be deemed trivial. Our time on this Earth is relatively short-lived and if Hollywood is going to continue to squander this utmost dearest period of our existence with asinine examples of film-making such as this, I will inevitably slip into a state of comatose.

    If you are here to receive a plot summary, then you will not be disappointed. (It is the only distinguishable facet of the film.) For, what happens or what takes place, is all this picture can yield. The only indication of characterization comes in the form of external action and uninspired dialogue. By the time the climax proceeds, there is no discernible reason to care.

    Colin Evans is a "feared" convict up for parole. During the parole board meeting, he is denied this opportunity to once again rejoin society--this also becomes the first demonstration of director Sam Miller's lack of experience, and ultimately, talent. The camera shifts uncontrollably, and rather unflatteringly, between speaker and antagonist, in an attempt to catch the reaction of Evans after seemingly every other word. (It is noteworthy, that the same effect could be achieved without the herky-jerky camera movement.)

    Our underdeveloped prisoner escapes confinement and steals a truck, only to wreck it during a late evening storm. He makes his way to a secluded home where he receives aid, or one could classify as a good deed, from Terri, a distraught married mother of two. She brings him in, dries his clothes, and indulges in routine conversation. Evans then proceeds to carry out a plan of revenge, the motivation of which is brought to our attention by film's end; however, it is much too late. Our concern is already lost and patience is already misspent.

    The remainder of the film, which plays out as a bad soap opera, consists of the heroine hitting Evans with household items and running. He recovers, and the cycle begins again. The atmosphere is created by a repeated utilization of thundering sound effects. We understand that it is a dark and stormy night; how much thunder do we really need? There are a plethora of other thoughtless actions and decisions that I care not comment on.

    In the end, "No Good Deed," which sounds like the title of a bad philosophy paper, cannot overcome the brainlessness at its core. Audiences nationwide should be ashamed of themselves, considering "Forrest Gump," a timeless classic and sentimental masterpiece that justifiably received an IMAX treatment and twentieth anniversary release, could not even reach the half million dollar mark. The other film in the discussion has already tripled its lowly budget of thirteen million, which would consider it a commercial success.

    There is a juncture in the picture in which our protagonist, Terri, asks her captor when the torment will end. I couldn't help but to contemplate the same notion, albeit under different circumstances. I have previously equated films such as this to a cesspool of unimaginative thought. However, in this particular situation, I believe that distinction would be too flattering.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Maze Runner ★★★

    As the box office reign of  "Guardians of the Galaxy"  and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" inevitably comes to an end, it lends the opportunity for another film to shift to the forefront and attempt to stimulate audiences nationwide. "The Maze Runner" is a science fiction tale that fulfills this elementary requirement, and it functions quite well considering the youth of the cast and the lack of experience in director Wes Ball. (This being his first feature length picture.)

    However, any film whose cinematic concern relies heavily on the intricacies of the plot, there will inescapably remain imperfections in other facets. Thomas, our naive and courageous protagonist, is never completely rounded out as a dynamic character. (Although, in the end, we can discern his, albeit diminutive, development through the effects of the major conflict.) His personality is derived from other character's memories and via distorted flashbacks that shift through dreams of his own.

    A less than quintessential tactic to understand our hero; nevertheless, sufficing here. In fact, Thomas' dialogue is starved in an effort to flesh out the personas of the other boys who inhabit this post-apocalyptic future, where no life seemingly exists, and where the obstacle to freedom is a towering maze. (For those of you who necessitate a plot summary, please bear with me.)

    There is Alby, the leader of the "Gladers," who serves his purpose as guide to Thomas. Newt, the second in command, who understands Thomas' train of thought and subsequently becomes a friend. Chuck, a young boy who warrants the comparison to "The Goonies' " Chunk without the annoying tendencies, operates as a mediator to the group. Additionally, Chuck essentially becomes the audiences' relative body to the film, as he is virtually tied to the ramifications of his peers' decisions and cannot escape the action. Lastly, there is the foil in Gally; a young man who highlights the few qualities of Thomas' that we are aware of through his extremely opposite approach to thought and action.

    The plot is simple enough to be expressed in the time allotted and complex enough to keep us puzzled until the end, where, unfortunately, all continuity is lost. An entity is collecting the youth of our nation and, month by month, sending them up into the "Glades," a small grassy area within the center of an impenetrable maze. All is routine and peaceful until a young boy named Thomas is sent into this enigmatic realm. His curiosity and pure stupidity give rise to numerous events, some of which justify consequence, all of which spur the plot further.

    Thomas aspires to be a "runner," an elite few within the group who run the maze and memorize the layout for future reference. Circumstance gives him the chance to complete his aspiration and persuade most to enter the maze to escape. A young girl who is designated as the last to be sent in, seemingly for procreation purposes, strengthens Thomas' resolve and sends these adolescents into the final stretch.

    "The Maze Runner" excels in a few aspects of its construction, and, therefore, it becomes noteworthy. Suspense is littered throughout the film and, although much of it stems from the "closing" of the maze's walls or characters squeezing through tight spaces, it never fails to entertain. Another notable scene of suspense includes the banishing of one member of the clan after he had been stung by a "griever," a mechanical creature that resembles an amalgam of a spider and any other unsightly organism that you can think of.

    Furthermore, a youthful cast projects an ambiance of quality acting and provides a solid experience. The other significant character in the picture--the maze--is constructed well enough to avoid a complete debacle. It towers, it is intimidating, and it actually consists of several features of movements and variations. Without these characteristics, we would be bombarded with a larger than life depiction of a "Temple Run" video game.

    Although the concluding scenes of the film could logically exist within the confines of the plot, they are unflattering to say the least, and they diminish the continuity of the picture as a whole. Humor, which had been relatively absent, is suddenly introduced in a tawdry fashion; emotional restraint, which had been exercised successfully, is completely forgotten. There is a point where the film could have effortlessly ended and relieved us of these unmotivated scenes of ineptness. They were overdone, and it was a costly mistake.

    While a sequel has already been slated for a September 2015 release, one has to wonder what Hollywood deems as commercially successful. I guess a weekend in which the picture earns back its budget fits the bill, even if it is the only such time in its run.

    I will remain adamant about the notion that "The Maze Runner" is the best film that this story can conjure, unless, of course, subsequent installments prove otherwise. The dramatic irony that is introduced in the denouement of this origin tale will ultimately dominate the sequel, and this is never a sure-fire way to create dramatic effect. After all, in subsequent treatises, the maze will be departed and another conflict must prevail. What good is a maze runner with no maze to run?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Natural Born Killers ★★★★

     "If I was a mass murderer, I'd be Mickey and Mallory." So implies a young man featured on a commercially successful television show, that highlights the careers of America's hottest homicidal participants. This fatefully menacing couple are the center of  Oliver Stone's eleventh directorial ambition. One that glorifies senseless violence, all while making a profound statement of its own.

     This picture is littered with an array of disparate film techniques and tactics, which create an unforgettably frightful ambiance. Stone douses his characters in red and environments in green. Symbolism and extrinsic metaphors are fruitful and flourish within the confines of the plot. Variations of color, black and white, and animation are tamed into a spectrum of free flowing conflict. A dissension that underlines the intricacies of the relationship between freedom, society, and the media.

    Essentially, however, this picture goes beyond its cold blooded killers and provides an issue of individual versus society. Or the media. A line only of thin stature could separate the bond of these two distinctions of humanity. Stone manipulates television sitcoms in a dark satirical fashion, and even addresses television viewers, while portraying its dehumanizing proclivities.

    Our characters are even more of an extension of Stone's argument. Domestic violence and child abuse fuel their, often misguided, intentions and has molded them unfit for society. Stone accomplishes the act of feeding us this information by usage of haunting flashbacks and simple symbolic acts. Such as placing The Belle Jar in the hands of a young and absorbing Mallory.

    The often rudimentary plot is straightforward. Mickey and Mallory fall in love, and intend to take their frustrations and anger out on the external world in which they live. They kill until their hearts are content and bicker at one another, as if they have been married for decades. After much bloodshed, the dynamic duo stumbles across a Navajo rancher and his grandson. This scene lends the opportunity for several symbolically induced images and even some effortlessly interpreted meanings. Such as the projection of the Native rancher's thoughts on the young newlyweds, "too much t.v."

    Eventually, they are captured by a sadistic example of character irony in detective Jack Scagnetti, who moonlights as a vicious human being that kills for gratification. The last third of the film rests in the interior walls of a prison facility, and focuses on a live television interview with Mickey. It is conducted by Australian journalist Wayne Gale, enthusiastically portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. , and is to air during halftime of the Super Bowl. A gig that most entertainers only dream of obtaining.

    Mickey and Mallory's incarceration allows another character to make his mark. Warden Dwight McClusky is an eccentric and high blood pressured individual, who condemns our two protagonists and will not rest until their death becomes truth. Tommy Lee Jones is simply unforgettable in this role of domineering power and authority.

   What message is Stone trying to convey with this picture? He takes stabs at numerous schools of thought and even has the time to poke fun at two films that star Al Pacino. His prejudice is clear, although his motivations may never be. As mentioned above, the symbolism is so rampant that it would take one several viewings to transition from an intuitive grasp of ideals to a firm enlightenment. One thing is for certain, the style of this picture is historically significant.

    As for the violence that has supposedly been influenced by this picture; I must say that it is not surprising, as it is undoubtedly tragic. Although it has been over fifteen years since a documented homicide has referenced the film, we have to face the reality that film does influence. And that may even be constituted as an understatement.

    Whether it takes the form of a child imitating his favorite on screen superhero or an adolescent engaging in murderous acts like their cinematic role model, it will happen, and often. Blame cannot rest on the shoulders of a filmmaker for exercising his American right to create a film with fictional characters and events. Fault should lie with the accused. Even a young adolescent must know the difference between fiction and reality. If you honestly believe going on a murder spree will propel you to fame and glory, as it did Mickey and Mallory, then what hope is there for peace? Luckily for humanity, ignorance is not contagious.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ★★★★

    As this indolent induced era of summertime drifts into oblivion, one can't help but to reminisce on films of day's past. The dog days of summer have been infused with blockbuster pictures, offering nothing more than a vapid level of entertainment. This period of the film industry has dwindled away and left us with a reduced intellect, along with a slothful mind. Autumn cannot come soon enough.

    When we think back to films of recent memory, ones that have touched us with their warming grace, a story of a young boy, with little knowledge of his individuality, seeps into the consciousness. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is the first film in a franchise that has since swept the world with its amazing characters and adolescent intrigue. A masterful combination of environment and atmosphere set this origin tale above all the rest of its breed.

    The delightful exposition begins on a darkness enshrouded night on Privet Drive; a seemingly quiet and serene suburban neighborhood that could not have been better depicted, even if Norman Rockwell had painted it himself. Our glimpse of first life comes in the form of an elderly man, whose beard can be used as a timeline of a vast string of memories. He pulls out a contraption that inexplicably captures the light of the street lamps. Thus, an indication that this is not your ordinary tale.

    Next appears a small cat, who certainly isn't what she seems to be. Our feline morphs into an older woman, who permeates sophistication and elegance. Lastly, a motorcycle comes into sight from above. Hagrid, a tall and bulky man who would fit the profile of a Paul Bunyan progeny, swoops down and delivers our protagonist in style. Harry Potter is to be left with his aunt and uncle. Never to hear of his past or future. Of course, until the time is right.

    As the younger years of our main hero are to be a magical experience, (with a family-oriented ambiance) the choice of direction, in this case, couldn't have been more ideal. Chris Columbus, a man who has birthed captivating films from "Home Alone" to "Mrs. Doubtfire," brings his distinct brand of imagination to a film that seeks to defy the constraints of reality. Columbus never fails in his exercision of the artistic semblance of truth, as he successfully creates a world that has never existed and, most likely, never will.

    The exterior shots of the Hogwarts Express, chugging along to the school of witchcraft and wizardry, are the most aesthetically pleasing scenes of the film. And the institution itself, becomes a home to our young Harry. Where peers are fatefully befriended and bonds are everlasting.

    Secondary characters are introduced in unforgettable fashion. Most memorable being the personas of Severus Snape, the overbearing and intimidating professor, and Draco Malfoy, who pleasantly serves the purpose of dramatic foil. Severus Snape is a name built to impose fear, as the pronunciation essentially mimics the words of sever and snake; a brilliant tactic of name typing. Malfoy is also extremely utilitarian, and accentuates the qualities of Harry masterfully.

    Harry Potter advances through his first year of education with an external conflict of competition, stemming from the brutish game of Quidditch and the rivalry of the disparate houses to supernatural villainy. Internally, Harry battles the uncertainty that surrounds his existence, and his feelings of contempt. Thereby, implanting a theme of the struggle for identity. A most promising premise for a picture of this caliber.

    John Williams, a name that I never tire of hearing, creates a tone of elation with his ingenious and beautifully performed scores. The quality of his work, by this particular moment, has pervaded films for decades over. Ne'er lacking in enchantment or refinement. I have witnessed countless performances that would not have been as formidable, if not for the underlining tonality of Williams' genius.


    Of all the fine art forms that this external world has to offer, the art of film is the only one that is bound by its collaborative nature. One individual would never be able to fulfill the requirements of a task such as making a motion picture. From set designers to assistants to the director, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is a collaboration that warrants the skills of numerous intellects. Much like the circumstances of the film call for the various expertise's of our three main characters. (Hermoine sufficing for intelligence, Harry for courage, and Ron for good company.)

    The brilliance of "Harry Potter" lies within the character himself. His relatability to any child is what makes this picture excel. What child wouldn't want to imagine himself or herself stepping into the extensive halls of Hogwarts, where the surroundings are filled with the symbolism of life, both literally and figuratively? (Many of the paintings can converse, and others become a mirror of actual occurring events. My favorite of which, is a painting of four wizards sitting roundtable, as Harry and others also have an intense discussion.)

    What child dares not to imagine themselves at the sorting hat ceremony or involved in mischief with close friends? The answer would be relatively minuscule. For, it is in the instinctive nature of children to project themselves into the role of their favorite lionheart. A technique that Harry Potter invariably succeeds in. After all, he's "just Harry."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Forrest Gump ★★★★

    In the vast world of cinema, there are pictures that are built to bring us joy for just a fleeting period of our existence. Their run is often short lived and becomes nothing more than a grain of sand in the hourglass of time. On the contrary, are films that are constructed to endure. To remain in our consciousness, even if thousands of pictures are released henceforth. "Forrest Gump" is undeniably categorized with the latter.

    As this film justifiably receives its twentieth-anniversary release and an IMAX treatment, we are transported to a realm of pure euphoria. The rich characterizations that touched our hearts so many years ago are brought to life on the silver screen once more. A warmth that has not been felt for years on end is now present again. And what a feeling it is.

    Instead of droning on about the plot of the film, which is inescapable with regard to a new release, I will discuss what makes this picture a lasting portrait of splendor. With a sufficient amount of symbolism, a convivial soundtrack and score, and a remarkable theme of character, "Forrest Gump" reassures its position as one of the greatest experiences of all time.

    Straying away from a linear structure, our story begins "in media res," or in the midst of things. As Forrest sits patiently on that famous bench in Savannah, Georgia, to catch the number nine bus, he divulges into past events of a glorious life that has seen moments of agony, confusion, and unrelenting happiness; a film has never been better suited for flashbacks.

    His journey from adolescence to adulthood has been accompanied by unforgettable personalities. Lt. Dan Conner, a strong presence over the duration of Forrest's life, begrudgingly becomes the dramatic foil, which brings Forrest's traits into a bold spotlight. Lt. Dan is extremely conscious of his destiny, a notion that our main character can never fully grasp, and has a pessimistic view of the world. Opposed to Forrest, who seems to find joy where it would most certainly seem forgotten.

    Jenny, the love of Forrest's life, is a dynamic character to say the least. She roams the countryside searching for answers and ingests the various drugs introduced through the decades to fill the void that her abusive childhood inevitably created. Her attraction to Forrest is complicated and is never fully realized until time had taken its toll. (This may be due to her feelings of disdain and the thoughts of unworthiness.)

    Within these contexts, Forrest absolutely becomes one of the most lovable characters in recent memory. His lack of understanding and situational awkwardness lends the opportunity for a respectable dosage of humor. These distinctions also pave the way for several heartwarming, and even disheartening, scenes in which Forrest is shown the harsh facets of reality.

    "Forrest Gump" is littered with symbolism to support the boundaries of its design. The bus is a terrific depiction of new opportunity, appearing whenever Forrest transitions from one phase of his life to the next. Whether it is the beginning of his school career, a stint with the Army or the passage into fatherhood, a bus becomes the vehicle of metaphorical conveyance.

    Additionally, there is the white feather. Its presence at the beginning and the end of the film warrants some level of recognition. Its subtle approach through the air of this fictional realm, through traffic, and ultimately into Forrest's personal space, symbolizes the frailty and delicateness of life. A conviction that Forrest touches upon in one of the most beautiful scenes of the picture.

    There is no discernible "major" conflict in "Forrest Gump." His trials and tribulations can be related to any real living human being. The death of a parent, the loss of a spouse, and ultimately, the search for identity. "What's my destiny mama?" A question Forrest desperately asks his mother on her bedside. A question that is never really answered, although one can come to their own conclusions.

    One of the most brilliant aspects of this film includes the utilization of the stock characters, who sit beside Forrest and indulge in his stories of glory, loss, and innocence. They also reside in his tales. The female college roommate, who overhears an intimate moment. The barbershop patrons, who continually seem dumbfounded by breaking news on the shop's television. The drunken simpletons, who taint Jenny's dream of singing on stage.

    Robert Zemeckis has crafted a brilliant picture and his motivation is clear. We are not meant to simply view Forrest's life, but become a part of it. This becomes evident during a confrontation between Forrest and Lt. Dan in the wounded barracks. The camera swings around the bottom of the bed, as they interact on the floor, settling under the bed at a side angle. Thus, giving off the feeling that we are eavesdropping on a private conversation.

    The performance of Tom Hanks need not be discussed. His acting will speak for itself. Hanks will always be Forrest Gump.

    This is a film that I hold dearly to my heart. It is a film that I can view every day and never persuade myself that its repetition would bore me. My favorite scene involves a recollection of Forrest's, as he sits beside the bed of Jenny. It is accompanied by some of the most aesthetically pleasing scenes I've ever laid eyes upon.

    The key to "Forrest Gump" is its expression of humanness, and essentially, emotional restraint. This is very important to any picture that defines itself as a serious drama. This quintessential performance of this element places the sentimentality at hand in a position to succeed invariably. It never fails to reach out and grab the audience by their emotional cord and never let go. It creates a feeling that you never want to end.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Land Before Time ★★★1/2

    Hand drawn animated film's golden years have most certainly passed. Their days of arousing excitement from audiences young and old are just a glimpse in the eye of today's film industry. Computer generated imaging has essentially placed hand drawn animation into a stranglehold that kindles the term "obsolete."

    Nevertheless, there was a time when technology did not influence the entire production of a picture. A time when passion and ingenious storytelling overwhelmed the ideals of advertisement and quick development. "The Land Before Time" is a gem of a picture, that released at a stagnate period in the world of Disney. Thus, lending the opportunity to charm audiences worldwide, before the inevitable Renaissance era would effortlessly evoke amnesia of such films in the minds of us all.   

    The plot that encompasses this picture is filled with despair, confusion, and hope. Littlefoot is born into a dying breed of dinosaur. His frightfully thin family consists of a loving mother and her parents. Cataclysmic events have tarnished the beauty and fruitfulness of the Earth, resulting in a migration to the "Great Valley," an imagined oasis that rests far from natural devastation. 

    If there is one aspect that fuels this film, it would be the rich characterizations that accompany Littlefoot on his journey to tranquility. Ducky, a small but courageous young dinosaur, is a beloved example of leitmotif, as she continuously repeats the phrase, "Yep, yep, yep" to express her pleasure in a given circumstance. Cera, an adolescent Triceratops, serves her role as the dramatic foil to Littlefoot. She is opposed to collaboration and utilizes her head as a ramming device, rather than a vehicle of contemplation. 

    Additionally, there is the personality of Petrie. A prime example of irony within the confines of character. Petrie is a flying dinosaur, who is frightened by the thought of actually executing this action. (Visualize a shark, an animal born to kill and eat their prey, who is terrified at the idea of devouring meat.) Petrie is also a pleasant illustration of name typing, as his name mimics the word of "petrify," which summarizes his persona unequivocally. Lastly, there is the character of Spike. A newborn dinosaur who exercises the technique of caricature, by placing an emphasis on his insatiable appetite. 

    "The Land Before Time," the original film that spawned a highly successful franchise, excels in providing a dialogue that meets the necessities of young children. Instead of issuing terminology that would be lost even on the minds of mature adults, the film describes the breed of dinosaurs that compose our characters in an innocent fashion. The expressions of Longnecks, Three-horns, Spiketails, Swimmers, and Flyers are utilized to supersede the often complex, and considerably unpronounceable, names of our prehistoric counterparts. Even the ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex, the external conflict in this particular treatment, is reduced to the name of "Sharptooth." 
    Don Bluth, along with the producing efforts of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, has instilled this picture with a subtle display of symbolism and theme. The tree star that Littlefoot's mother gives to him symbolizes hope, and the reminder that harmony is only a small journey away. The theme of loss of innocence is touched upon, but can never fully prevail over the plot driven atmosphere. Littlefoot's consciousness cannot withdraw from naivety or childish actions. 

    There are heartwarming scenes, the best of which, feature Littlefoot communicating with his mother in the afterlife. Humor is plentiful and tasteful--a facet of modern day children's films that have become rather tawdry in an attempt to please the masses. 

    With the dying art of hand drawn animation lingering, (there is currently only one man who still executes this art in a professional manner) these films from the past take on greater importance. Although Don Bluth became an afterthought of the Disney company, his independent projects remained as the only competition to the mega corporation's efforts. This is due to the fact that his writing ability, along with his splendid imagination, provided a remarkable mood that fascinated the young at heart. They simply don't make them like this anymore.