Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey ★

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    "Fifty Shades of Grey" is a picture that not only tests my moral judgment as a criticand as a human being for that matterbut it is the quintessential temptation to lure me into breaking my golden rule of thumb. The foundation of my career in film criticism is based on the conviction that the subject matter of a film is somewhat irrelevant, as the structure enshrouding it should be the focal point.

    However, it is not the structure of "Fifty Shades of Grey" that perturbs me but its content, which is essentially a depraved reflection of modern society and our progression to a mindset dominated by primitive sensual instinct. In a manner of speaking, it is a depiction of everything that is wrong with our world today.

    Anastasia Steele, a highly intelligent college senior, is conducting an interview for her school's paper. The interviewee, Christian Grey, is the stereotypical billionaire playboy and a man who does not settle for anything less than what he desires, which in this instance, seems to be our young protagonist. The two individuals slowly form what can be deemed a "normal" relationship, and then the film slips into its unfortunate theme of emotional effect, which I'm sure worked wonders on its target audience. (If you are unaware of the proceedings of the plot, then I'll be as succinct as possible: Grey, a sexual sadist, hires Steele to become his plaything, and, well, you can see where this is headed.)

    The most prominent issue here is the characters and the lack of plausibility and depth that they provide. From an objective standpoint, Anastasia is a character brimming with possibilities and potential. I mean, here is a young woman on the edge of a self-dignified abyss, as she toils with the idea of shunning her pride in order to indulge in a realm of insatiable sexual desires as a means to achieve a specific end: her dream man. (In fact, there is a written contract that actually symbolizes how much self-respect she is willing to give up.)

    Yet, as the internal conflict truly seems rational, her attraction to this newfound beau does not; any self-respecting literature major, who partakes in influences such as Thomas Hardy, would never be attracted to a man of this stature. You may call it irony, but I call it hogwash.

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    Mr. Grey consists of the more subtle inconceivabilities, as it is hardly believable that a rich entrepreneur and businessman of this worth would be involved with a college student, let alone have time to wallow in human indecency at every moment's turn. An individual of this standing must work to sustain his lifestyle, yet we never see this take place, unless, of course, one considers a few minutes on a laptop to be the extent of a hard day's labor.

    Although the technique of name typing is employed in the name of "Grey," which evokes a sense of mystery and intrigue, there has to be something tangible for the audience to feed on. Naturally, we discover the basis for his raw and boundless pining for pleasure, but by the film's end, there is no way to measure the conflict's effect on his character. (This was obviously done in an effort to impart a "cliffhanger," which will inevitably lead to a sequel, and this is a problem.) If the intention here was to craft an allegory, in which the characters and events represent some mass identity of human nature, then it would be irrevocably brilliant, yet there would still be the complication of providing substance to the literal aspects of the personas.

    There are several scenes powered by sexual excursions, and even though the film banks on these risqué moments, they imply more than they show. Additionally, twenty-first-century communication, such as e-mails and text messages, is utilized to convey a character's emotions in a particular instance and to impel the plot forward. (This is an integration in today's cinema industry that I direly wish was eradicated.) Lastly, the picture relies heavily on its campy dialogue and actions, which can pretty much summarize the film altogetheras a joke with no punch line.

    What's worse is the climax, which becomes forced and rushed, and to be frank, it makes little sense. There is so little conviction in the final act that it arguably unravels everything the story has worked to become up to this point, which if it were true in its design, would be a confrontation of morals.

    This picture is a product driven solely by its romanticized notions of adolescent girl fantasies, clichés, and knight in armor-esque wishes. (What young woman wouldn't want to be whisked away in a private helicopter and spoiled with unimaginable material objects?) These parallel man's requirements to be in control, to nurture, and to lust for a fertile partner. However intricate this view into humanity may seem, it is nothing more than a ploy to cash in on the sadistic realm of modern America's sexual fetishes. And this is troubling.

    Some may say, "Hey, it's just a movie," yet there is a bigger issue here. Profiting off of man's degradation is one thing, but we need to acknowledge this as a problem, not as entertainment. There is a part of me that feels that this picture could have been keenly astute in its aspirations if crafted for a Utilitarian purpose. It bears a slight resemblance to Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut," although it could never attain that level of intellectual engagement even if it tried. I will most likely come back to this film as evidence, which only proves this fact: No matter how immoral it may be, it is significant, even if it should be anything but.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water ★★

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    To say that a film's title exhibits little significance in this day and age would be a complete understatement, as one would have to go back at least twenty years to find a plethora of instances where a designation indicated more than just a simple restatement of events, or even worse, a lead character's name or attribute. I guess this is due to the fact that it is quite effortless to do so and much easier on the minds of Americans, who evidently have no capacity to think beyond a grade school level.

    "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" continues this debacle, as the filmmakers seemingly forgot their original intent and reserved the right to deceive moviegoers worldwide. If you are expecting your lovable, and squishy, sponge hero to indulge in our world (longer than a half-hour that is), then you will be in a state of utter disappointment, along with a hint of agitation, and rightfully so.

    For, the title of the picture (as well as several carefully edited trailers) implies that our protagonists will, in fact, shed the two-dimensional realm of hand-drawn animation, and yield to our three-dimensional environments. Not only is this a miniscule portion of the film, however, it is a glaring missed opportunity. The animation itself is quite enjoyable, and when compared to similar products such as "The Smurfs," it would seem downright state-of-the-art.

    It is beyond my comprehension as to why the film was advertised in this manner, considering children would be just as elated to see an extended SpongeBob adventure, in its normal format, on the big screen. The problem here is that most adolescents will remain satisfied with this outcome although this is one of those times when parents must impart their judgment, and let their child know: "You've been had." (Although I'm sure it is the parental guardians who will take the hit financially speaking.)

    The plot, or what can be deemed as the only noteworthy aspect of the film, proceeds like any other SpongeBob cartoon, with each character continuing their distinct roles and gag bits, albeit in the form of a third person narrative, which ultimately merges with our story to become a single account. The conflict, as tiresome as it may be, consists of the well-being of the Krabby Patty formula, the identity of which is once again in jeopardy. The only difference here comes in the construction of the antagonist, Plankton, whose character irony fuels a percentage of the dialogue, and warrants songs that teach him about teamwork and other wholesome patterns of idealistic juvenile behavior.

    There are a number of occasions where the picture pokes fun at itself, which include, most notably, the realization of just how irritating SpongeBob's laugh can be. Additionally, there is an enjoyable scene where Plankton enters SpongeBob's brain to find nothing but cotton candy and other sweet indulgences, complete with a reference to "The Shining." Nevertheless, these moments of glee are too far and few between, and are overshadowed by the standard Nickelodeon humor, which is mainly composed of jokes that pertain to one passing gas. (It has come to my attention that this jocularity will never lessen although it would be interesting to see Nickelodeon's public relations analysis that proves that children still actually find this material amusing.)

    Obviously, the motivation behind "The SpongeBob Movie" is to introduce this beloved individual to a new generation of youth, as the opening scene outlines the history of the Krabby Patty and Bikini Bottom in a monotonous fashion. That, and the ability to produce a whole line of new toys, so that children may emulate their favorite character after the picture's end. Yet, one must remember that nautical nonsense, presented in even the most sophisticated structure, would still be nonsense.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Lilo & Stitch ★★★

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    Somewhere along the lines of the creative process of Disney's greatest imaginations came a spur of the moment thought: For once, let us shed the modish and rather reserved boundaries of previous creations and indulge in a separate, and inhuman, route for adolescent intrigue. Thus, Stitch was born.

    "Lilo & Stitch" not only finds its way in a film that has several miscalculations, but it accomplishes its success through irregular techniques--that is--uncommon to Disney. The indulgence in an unconventional lead protagonist is not the only headway produced in this circumstance, as the animation itself seems to be one of a kind. (Although there may be a reason for this fact.)

    One of the last undertakings in hand drawn animation, in this particular instance, can only be described as "bubbly," as characters seem rather blown up and facial features tend to be round and livelier than I can remember. Other than making the older sister, and caretaker of Lilo, disproportionate as to what we know the average human dimensions to be, it does make for a terrific style of presentation.

    Stitch, also known as experiment 626, is an alien of sorts, who resembles an insect more than anything else, and who was designed to reek havoc in all of his endeavors. Naturally, there is an alien republic, who wants Stitch to be incarcerated because of his demonic exterior and behavior. This leads to your stereotypical prison break-out scene, in which our odd anti-hero hijacks a spaceship and makes his way to Earth and the little island of Hawaii.

    In comes Lilo, a rather sassy and fiery young spirit, whose wild imagination puts her at odds with her peers, and more importantly, with her elder sibling. She stumbles upon Stitch at the local animal shelter, as he is captured mistakenly as a dog, and subsequently falls in love with the small being. The rest of the picture relies heavily on this abnormal bond, and, unfortunately, the humor stemming from the ignorance and naivety of Stitch.

    Regardless of its emphasis, which ultimately centers on Stitch fitting into a family and striving to "belong," there is a heartwarming effect that takes hold toward the end of the film. Additionally, there is the disappointment that arises from the plot, as it eventually transitions into a rescue story, and there certainly should have been more of a focus on Lilo, yet it is hard to argue with the end result.

  It is inconceivable to think that such a modest and elegant production company could generate such a peculiar character, all while continuing its journey to provide wholesome entertainment. However, it is this distinct quality that Disney seems to direly lack in its contemporary mold of presentation.

  I mean, here we are in the twenty-first century of humanity's feeble-minded consciousness, which has not only provided substantial advancements in special effects (even if one believes that hand drawn animation was possibly shunned too quickly), but has come with the tools to seemingly make any subject matter come to life. It is truly a shame that we have to become accustomed to live-action renditions of past animation successes, instead of something that delves into the hearts of us all in a profound way. How many times can we possibly observe "Cinderella," and attempt to pose the question of: Gee, I wonder what's going to happen next?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Selma ★★★★

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    "I cannot hide."

    These three words faultlessly describe a man, of not only a rabid intellect, but one with a heart of pure charisma and pride. It is true that Martin Luther King Jr. was the face of this profound statement in human history, but beyond being the initiator of a seemingly unstoppable force, he was a family man with a deep respect for religion and humanity, itself; an aspect expressed almost too well in one of the best pictures of the year.

    It is a rather disheartening feeling when watching "Selma," a film that chronicles the famous events that resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965; to view such a influential personality, at the time of his greatest achievement, while knowing the tragedy that strikes soon after, is certainly the most demoralizing example of dramatic irony I've ever partaken in--at least, in a historical sense.

    The events of this turbulent period unravel, in the fondest manner in which we can remember them, and essentially focus on the personal conflict, and the battle of wills between Dr. King and Lyndon B. Johnson. Although it is quite a romanticized notion to think of this confrontation in an individual versus societal context, considering the abundance of support received from the African American community, as well as clergymen from around the country--but it would seem that is exactly what is taking place here.

    President Johnson, much like every other national leader, was a man of political priority, not to mention his attitude toward racial equality, which seemed to be obstinate at best. Yet, it is this static quality that fuels the picture, and in many ways than one. Johnson is utilized as dramatic foil to Dr. King, albeit indirectly, and the conversations between the two are arguably the most fascinating and vital to the structure of things; let's face it, there would be nothing to discuss here if it was just a simple meet and greet, along with a radical change of heart.


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    "Selma," in many respects, is a beautiful film to behold, not only for its emphasis on the human condition, which provides numerous scenes of a sentimental composition, but for its aesthetic expression as well. There is a sense of warmness provided by a color palette consisting of yellows and pale blues, which give the film a soft and diffused look, the ladder of which being executed through a magnificent display of lighting. (A seemingly forgotten art in the Hollywood of today.) In fact, there are several instances where the lighting becomes the most important facet of the scene itself, which only proves how indispensable this craft can be.

    David Oyelowo, an actor who has spent the last decade wallowing in bit roles and insignificant parts, finally hits the mark here, in what is undoubtedly a breakthrough performance. To step into the shoes of a man of this stature is a complicated task, yet Oyelowo never shows any signs of distress and is as calculated in his delivery than most actors could ever dream. The most prominent characteristic of this portrayal is clearly his ability to capture Dr. King's natural rhythm of speech, which gives a subtle insight into the soul of this iconic figure. There was never a moment where I sat back and thought of this man and his importance to this country, but it was more of an involved feeling, which is a quality that every actor should strive to achieve.

    With regard to the sole weakness of the picture: It was a poor decision to add written logs, that absolutely have no purpose in the frame of work, except to become nothing more than an annoyance and distracting blemish of what is an otherwise blatant masterpiece. We understand that American intelligence was keeping note of Dr. King's movements and actions, and this act of displaying information that we are already aware of, is not only unwarranted, but it is one of the most striking flaws I've taken into account.

    The individual who made this erroneous choice of design should suffer the consequences although I am sure it will go unnoticed by most moviegoers, who have become quite accustomed to things of this sort.

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    What makes this picture so devastatingly unique is its theme, which in the context of cinema history, has been shared by disparate subject matters, most notably ones that pertain to individuals who compete in the sport of boxing. The struggle for human dignity is a delicate matter, and one that is incredibly relative to real life. Every moral being has dealt with this ideal at one time or another, and although "Selma's" concern can really only be appreciated by African Americans, it is an eye-opening topic for all.

     In many respects, it is the closing scene that encompasses the point of conveyance for the director, and something that surely must never be swept under the rug, to never have light illuminate its importance again. It is an issue that has been discussed, from the days of Frederick Douglass to the contemporary world, by the likes of Dr. King, of course, and more recently, Derrick Bell. Beyond the posing of "scorching irony," it is this idea of white consciousness that becomes a valid argument.

    This illusion of equality has produced a moral attitude, which has unknowingly dominated the minds of white Americans for centuries. A manifestation of psychological identity, so to speak. Now whether or not you believe this makes racism a permanent aspect of life is highly subjective; however, one can not refute its fundamental significance in modern society. While "Selma" cashes in on this reflective state of mind, one cannot help but to wonder as to how much more of an impact Dr. King could have made.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron ★★★★

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    There are times in cinema history where a film will provide a sense of enlightenment and elation, even almost unknowingly, in a package that would seem downright unfit. It is quite a romanticized notion to believe that a children's picture could ever sustain a message as powerful as the one found in "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," yet it does, and in such a way that speaks directly to the human soul. What Dreamworks has created here is a film that will stand the test of time, simply because we need it to.

    Spirit is a young stallion, born on the open grasslands of the West. It is a picturesque lifestyle, accommodated by pastoral images, teeming with wildlife. His appearance, seemingly modeled after the skin tone and strong facial features of a Native American, is that of a majestic creature, whose freedom is the very fabric of his nature. This delicate animal will become our guide, as we venture into a world unlike our own, and one that should never have been taken away from us.

    One of the most underrated aspects of film-making, and one that would seem rather elementary on its surface, is the flexibility of the medium itself, which not only can shun the spoken word with unrelenting vigor, but it can convey words, emotions, and feelings, in the most subtle of fashions. It is worthy to note that not one single character in the film utters a word of dialogue, except, of course, for the human beings, who are utilized for more of a symbolic purpose; they are not here to ruin the structure with dull exchanges or overbearing monologues.

    The main protagonists, consisting of Spirit and his love interest, Rain, provide an adequate dosage of tenderness through facial expressions alone, which is not only impressive, but unmistakably beautiful. There is a certain indefinable quality that makes these creatures so astounding, and it can only become more exquisite when woven into the tapestry of this fine art. Although limited in its technical abilities (which in this particular instance would be computer graphic imaging, as some scenes become choppy and unflattering), it is this aspect that succeeds invariably.

    Naturally, it would be a futile attempt to express such a profound conviction, especially to children, without some sort of direction. A voice-over narration is used to spur the events of the plot, along with several songs composed by Brian Adams, a 1980s rock n' roll artist, whose presence helps to express the situation at hand, and ultimately, the inner emotions of Spirit, himself. I'm sure that these compositions will delight most children, even if it becomes an oppressive technique by the film's end.

    "Spirit" is a picture that reaches out and touches upon a subject matter that would instill most men with a heart of melancholia, yet it never relents in its strive to give us what we need; a sense of satisfaction from a time that was filled with anger and hatred. Spirit not only symbolizes the West in general, but he represents freedom and the ability to overcome persecution. The picture is fueled by its cosmic irony treatment, in which Spirit is beaten down time after time, robbed of every opportunity of independence. We are always there to feel his pain and relish the moment in which that feeling of liberation is attained once more.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Paddington ★★1/2

    There is much that can be learned from "Paddington," one of many films to attempt the daunting task of translating success from the black and white pages of a children's novel into the most visual of all arts. Of course, I am not referring to the actual events that take place, or the venture into a formulaic approach, which provides a wholesome concern comparable to any episode of the timeless sitcom by the name of "Full House."

    Paddington, an uncoordinated yet lovable young bear, is a member of a rare species that is on the verge of extinction. (Apparently, this includes the ability to speak English and a natural love for marmalade.) After his residence in "darkest Peru" is damaged, Paddington jumps ship to London, a destination highly regarded within the family, consisting of his aunt and uncle. There he will participate in an endeavor to become accepted and to find a home. (The latter of which makes little sense, considering he had a home, but for arguments sake we will look past this defect.)

    We watch as our inexperienced protagonist struggles to find compassion in the confines of a train station--that is--until he meets the Browns, a quirky group of four who would hardly seem the quintessential fitting for a newcomer. (We are introduced to this pack of individuals in the most informative manner, in which we ascertain the uptight personality of the father, the kind soul of the wife, the energetic nature of the son, and the typical pre-teen attitude of the daughter, which is fueled by the technique of leitmotif as she continuously announces her embarrassment.)

    Naturally, the free-spirited mother brings him in, despite the apprehension of the husband, and the rest of the picture is defined by the father's uncertainty surrounding the adoption, along with rather puerile humor, which stems from Paddington's ineptitude in situations that arise through daily life.

    The presentation of the film is arguably its most prominent strong suit, and it seems as if it were created by Wes Anderson, himself, as it very much resembles his work in its visual style and utilization of pastel colors. Additionally, the lighting is especially apt, as it highlights objects of the greatest significance, namely Paddington, in the most delicate of ways. As for the computer generated bear: He is cute and quite lively in his facial expressions. I am sure there are limitations to creating such mammals without making it look too cartoonish, although he surely evokes a sense of sophistication when compared to the likes of "Yogi Bear."

    It has been a long time since I have witnessed such an abundance of symbolism (mainly by way of intrinsic metaphors) in a children's picture, and it was certainly a refreshing sentiment. The majority of them are visualizations, which convey a character's particular feelings at the time and which are infused with special effects to accommodate such notions.

    The most heartwarming example takes place in the train station, as once Paddington is discovered, the word "found" flashes with joy, as he unknowingly took refuge under the lost and found sign. Other symbols are charged quite easily, including his red hat, yet they never exude an adequate amount of emotion to be very effective.

    What "Paddington" primarily teaches us, is what not to do with regard to film-making. Here we have an adorable persona, accompanied by an exquisite setting, hampered by the lack of an imaginative script. Instead of focusing on the complications involved in finding a new home and the difficulty of fitting in, we are guided into a second storyline, which not only has no worth, but distracts us from the most important interactions at hand.

    Maybe the conflict of reaching a foreign land, and attempting to find the security of a family, could have been a bit more strenuous, as opposed to throwing in an evil taxidermist, which subsequently transforms the picture into an eerily similar representation of the 1992 family film "Beethoven." (Both fathers have some trouble accepting the new "member" of the family, and instead of a wicked taxidermist, there is an immoral veterinarian.)

    Not to mention the fact that not one single individual was in a state of shock from seeing a walking and conversing bear. I for one, would not be able to suppress my curiosity. What it basically boils down to is--we were ultimately robbed of what could have been a brilliant character study, which would have appeased both children and guardians, alike. It is just another prime example of a film that has a quality story within its structure, yet never fully realizes it.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Movie 43 Zero Stars

    Over the course of my brief, yet fulfilling stint as a film critic, I've encountered an innumerable amount of "bad" pictures, however, none as egregious as the film entitled: "Movie 43." It is a pathetic excuse for film-making as it is, yet it is so much more than that. It is a testament to the lack of respect and appreciation for what this art represents, and it is the only picture in which I have actually felt a loss of intellectual capacity after viewing.

    Sure, I've sat through an abundance of pictures that warranted the action of pulling one's bodily extremities out of their sockets, just so that you can have something to slap yourself back into coherence with, but this film accomplishes an even more daunting task--a feeling of pure physical sickness and a sense of empathy for anyone who actually paid money to see it upon release.

    With that being said, "Movie 43," structurally speaking, is a series of short and rather horrendous clips that intend to provoke some hint of emotion, whether it be laughter (although that is highly doubtful, considering the stupidity of the material) or psychological nausea.

    Of course, there is an underlining degree of satire, which touches on modern aspects of society, including the insensitivity of parents with regard to teenagers, the degradation of sexual fetishes, the commercial industry, the ignorance of mega corporations, the obsession surrounding plastic surgery and the racial stereotypes that fuel American athletics.

    Nonetheless, it is a moot point; for, it is fashioned in such a way that can only be described as mind-numbingly atrocious, and, quite frankly, it is an encroachment on our rights as human beings.

    Unfortunately, there are some notable actors that grace our presence. The short list would include the likes of Hugh JackmanKate WinsletRichard Gere and Halle Berry, among others. It would seem as if their pride and dignity as professional actors was completely surrendered in an effort to obtain (what else?) monetary gain; not to cast aspersions, however, but this becomes evident after every utterance which can be deemed a line of dialogue.

    I assume this lack of conviction was due to the daydreams in which our resident stars brewed over, which highlighted what to spend their hefty day's earnings on. Unless, of course, it was their intention to become a constituent to what can be designated as the worst contemporary film ever created.

    It has become quite a dilemma for me (with regard to the grading scale) when it comes to pictures of this stature. My intention is to never denounce a film to this degree unless I find it to be morally appalling and offensive to the population of this wonderful country. (In fact, the only film that I have given "Zero Stars" up to this point is the fourth installment of the "Transformers" franchise, which is an outright affliction to the wallets of millions of individuals, when it could be best spent elsewhere.)

    Not only will I impart this rating onto this particular picture, but I will place an emphasis on just how pernicious it is. The most simplistic aspect of my job is to recommend good films and forewarn audiences of the inferior ones. Now, if you find yourself with an irresistible hankering to actually view this wretched excuse for entertainment, and subsequently find it to your liking, then there is little hope for you. For everyone else concerned, you have been warned.