Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Get Hard ★★

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    "Get Hard" is a film whose plot desperately relies on the comedic stylings of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, yet when crafting such a project one vital aspect was forgotten: the material has to actually be funny. Not only are the jokes unnecessarily crude, but they touch on contemporary subjects that are just plain tiresome. How many times can one laugh at a situation infused with racial profiling and stereotyping? Not enough I assume.

    James King, a well-to-do Wall Street investor, is a man who seemingly has everything--a lovely Bel-Air home, a beautiful fiancĂ©e, and enough financial freedom to buy anything he desires. Darnell, on the other hand, is the owner of a small car washing business, Hollywood Luxury Bubbles, and is a man whose only goal is to move his wife and daughter to a nice neighborhood, complete with a school system that does not require police protection.

    After King becomes the prime suspect of a major fraud charge, he is given thirty days to collect himself before he is sent off to San Quentin, a prison whose reputation precedes itself. In light of these circumstances, King hires Darnell to prepare him for such an experience. (The reason being, of course, is because Darnell is black, and because we are supposed to find this amusing.) The two agree on a verbal contract and the rest of the picture proceeds to count down the days leading up to King's inevitable incarceration.

    What is most important about the storyline here is the dramatic irony which is begrudgingly used to gain a few extra laughs, much like the entire film itself. (In fact, even the title of "Get Hard" is utilized to discharge a chuckle or two because of its sexual implications, as immature as that may seem.) We know that Darnell is not as street tough as he conveys and this provides several instances where this contrast of knowledge and King's ignorance plays on itself. None of which is funny and all of which seems to be tedious in content. (Unfortunately, there is another execution of irony, however, I will not divulge into such topics due to its prominence to the film's resolution.)

    How does one prepare themselves for a ten-year sentence at a maximum facility? Well, there is the exercise of confronting large individuals in the park, in hopes that they will share some fighting techniques while beating you senseless. Additionally, if one loses all hope, the practice of conducting oral sex on a man becomes the most noteworthy route to survival. (This is not only as bad as it sounds, but we have to actually struggle to watch Ferrell commit such an act--which is not only disturbing--but unwarranted to begin with. It is an image that we could simply live without.) Lastly, there is the art of "keistering," which if you care to know what it consists of, then I suggest you search it.

    Two conclusions can be drawn from the body of work that is "Get Hard." Firstly, it would seem that Kevin Hart, a hot commodity in the comedic duo film, does not mesh well with the stylings of Ferrell. They each have an approach to obtain laughter that is "in your face," so to speak, and when engaging in a picture like this, it seems like everyone is taking and no one is giving. Of course, there are critics who feel that this is the comedic duo for a new generation, and although that is hardly the case, if it were true, then all hope would be lost for the genre of comedy.

    Secondly, it is rather obvious that Hollywood simply does not know what audiences find to be amusing; the material presented here is prime evidence of this. I've found myself more delighted by silent films such as Chaplin's "Gold Rush" than anything bestowed upon me here--which begs the question: Has Hart pondered the thought of a silent production? I feel that he would suit the mold quite fittingly.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Cinderella ★★★1/2

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    I've recently criticized Disney for their contemporary live-action renditions and the dubious themes that accompany such presentations. Of course, this is in regard to the moral implications or suggestions that assault the audience, as if we were incapable of living our own lives without the romanticized and fruitless guidance of films such as "Into the Woods."

    It is this notion that led me to believe that Disney, a brand whose name is synonymous with the terms animation and fairy tale, had completely lost its ability to provide a simplistic yet heartwarming creationone that dwells in the buoyant heart of human nature. However, it would seem that I spoke too soon. "Cinderella" is certainly a picture that encapsulates the beloved personality of Disney's Golden Age with relative ease; it is nothing short of a breath of fresh air and a reminder of what Walt Disney worked so tirelessly to bring into existence: Magic.

    For those of you who direly have need for a plot summary, here it is:

    Ella is a young woman who was born and raised on the principles of her loving mother, which consist of virtues such as courage and kindness. She lives a relatively tranquil life, that is, until the untimely death of her parents leaves her in the custody of Lady Tremaine, a cold-hearted widow who takes much pride in the mistreatment of her newly acquired stepdaughter. After being reduced to a servantand to essentially an object of pure disdainElla runs away only to find solace in the form of a young apprentice by the name of Kit, who is actually the prince of a neighboring province.

    This fateful meeting leaves the prince enthralled by the spirit and goodness of the mysterious handmaiden, which subsequently compels him to throw an elaborate ball for the masses in hopes that he may lay his eyes on her beauty once more. Naturally, Cinderella (a name in which her stepsisters kindly bestow upon her) is forbidden to attend, yet through the magic of her enigmatic Fairy Godmother, Cinderella will become the epitome of gracefulness that she has always reserved for her inner being and will find her way to that most cherished happy ending.

    The most striking aspect of this film (and the most unanticipated to be quite frank) is undoubtedly its construction as numerous techniques are employed with such delicate care that it becomes simply a pleasure to indulge upon. The hair, costuming, and makeup designs for the wicked stepmother and Cinderella, herself, are quite splendid and only help to accentuate the qualities of their disparate personalities. Likewise, the production design of the two notable settings (that being, Cinderella's country home and the prince's castle) is spot-on. The pastoral magnetism of the rich countryside not only alludes to the determination of Cinderella's character, but it ultimately comes to reflect the gentle soul of her being. Furthermore, the castle of the prince, in all of its architectural glory, is without doubt executed for sheer visual impact; nevertheless, excelling in its rudimentary aims.

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    Additionally, the utilization of lighting and cinematographic techniques was downright mesmerizing. (Several scenes are dictated by the brilliant use of these two forgotten and incredibly vital ingredients of filmmaking.) The employment of high-intensity, overhead lighting in the expository scenes brilliantly illuminates the aura of Cinderella's mother, who ultimately comes to symbolize the very fiber of her being; this is in direct contrast to the Lady Tremaine, whose scenes are enshrouded in shadows and characterized by a harsh diffusion of radiance. In fact, there is even the presence of an extremely underrated lighting effect as once the cruel Lady Tremaine arrives at the castle for the ball (in hopes that one of her crude daughters can coax the prince into marriage), we see fireworks literally light up her eyes.

    In true fairy tale fashion, we are brought into the fold via a subtle zooming of the cameraas if we were a general observer who had just become entranced by the events at hand. As a matter of fact, it is this objective, or spectator if you will, point of view that dominates the picture, and although it creates a sense of emotional distance between the characters and the audience, it is entirely warranted here. The cinematic composition of the film is exquisitely designed, as every object of dramatic significance is focused upon precisely in every scene and while depth is conveyed adequately through what normally appears to be a flat surface. (The latter of which is executed in a plethora of manners. None more startling, however, than the image of the Lady Tremaine, produced by way of foreground framing, as she is presented to us through the pane of a window and as she eavesdrops on a conversation between Ella and her father.)

    Beyond the visual department, however, are the performances of Lily James and Helena Bonham Carter, both of which never flounder in their vitality. James, in her first leading role in a genuine box-office production, is simply picture perfect in her interpretation of Cinderella, and her beautiful yet innocent appearance is so conceivable that we are ultimately distracted from her talents as an actress. Not only does her sincerity permeate the foundation of the film, but it is her reaction shots that emphasize the delicacy of her character. In essence, Cinderella is the tormented heroine, which is quite a difficult element to convey, especially when one considers the natural cheerfulness of her personality. Although emotional restraint is enacted without hesitancy, James shines in several scenes where this subtle pain must be felt in order to satisfy the needs of the performance.

    Carter, in a role that brims with stereotypical character irony (considering the despicable nature of her previous undertakings), portrays the Fairy Godmother in such a way that it enlivens the atmosphere of the picture invariably. She surely brings magic to a scene that desperately requires it, and, most importantly, she seemed to have a great deal of fun while doing so.


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    With all that being said, the gem of the film is unquestionably Cate Blanchett in her portrayal of the vile stepmother Lady Tremaine. Blanchett is unmatched in poise and demeanor as she controls scene after scene with her frigid execution of dialogue and mannerisms that conjure up thoughts of a snake in the grass. She is obviously more wicked than the original depiction of the same character, and it is this quality that is illustrated so well that it almost seems as if terror oozes directly from her physical appearance, among other places.

    There are a handful of differences between this rendition and the original: Most notably, being the presence of the songs and the importance of the surrounding animals. There is no denying that the songs were an integral portion of the original production, and although this film was never intended to be a musical, one is left to wonder how "Bippity Boppity Boo" could have complimented the eccentric performance of Carter. As far as Gus and company are concerned, their importance has diminished somewhat although they still provide an emotional outlet for Cinderella and the opportunity for unwarranted humor. The integration of the computer-generated mice is sufficient enough and never intrudes where it shouldn't. In fact, they still help Cinderella construct her evening gown for the ball, although the refashioned scene is surely not as grand as the original.

    "Cinderella" also finds success in the parallel storyline of the prince. The persona of our lovable prince charming is discerned through several well-crafted scenes in which we learn of his own conflict, which primarily stems from the temporal factors aligned with royalty and the accompanying pressure to marry within one's social hierarchy. This absolutely gives depth to a character that is universally renown for his flat personality, and it impels the story in the right direction time after time.

    Looking back, it is evident that the original "Cinderella" released at a pivotal time for the Disney corporation, as a heavy debt instilled a sense of uneasiness and melancholy throughout the company. The financial success of the film helped to eliminate the doom and gloom mentality, and it has since become cherished as a masterpiece of animation and innovation. Although this latest rendition does rely on the aforementioned theme of moral implication (which, in this particular instance, lies in the realm of courage and kindness), one thing has not changed: "Cinderella" is a film that teaches young children to never surrender who they truly are. She is a character of average stature who becomes a princess for seemingly no other reason than because she is a woman and because she never pretends to be what she is not. Every young girl dreams of becoming a princess; the story of Cinderella simply makes it happen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

CHAPPiE ★★

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    "CHAPPiE" is a picture that suffers mightily from a fear of making decisions or if you prefer the correct medical term, Decidophobia. Here is a story that has the potential to command a great sense of emotional depth from its characters, yet the hesitancy to capitalize on such notions places it in a constraint that it, unfortunately, can never quite escape.

    There was a point in the film where I thought CHAPPiE could possibly symbolize the youth of America, and the surrounding instruction of violence and degradation would have served as an accurate contemporary view of society's undoing; consequently, crafting a theme of social commentary, and if there was room for ingenuity, maybe a focus of moral implication. Another direction could have relied on CHAPPiE's innocence and the inevitable eradication of such sentiments. However, these aims never come to fruition, and ultimately become superseded by mindless action and subplots that would inspire moments of utter bewilderment.

    In a realm similar to that of "Robocop," we are introduced to a world filled with brutality, barbarism, and destruction, only to find out that it is in actuality the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, in the year of 2016. We learn that the local police force have been replaced by a mechanized artificial intelligence (by way of a choppy documentary style exposition) and that our main protagonist, and designer of the above-mentioned workforce, Deon Wilson, has an intention of bestowing one of the models with a human conscious. Unlike "Robocop," however, where the motive involved instilling cold blooded objectivity into an officer of the law, the film attempts to provide sensitivity to a universally recognized body of bolts.

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    Enter unwarranted storyline number one: Somewhere in the outlying provinces, among the threshold of poverty and in a place eerily comparable to the apocalyptic environment of "Mad Max," resides a group of outlaws who apparently have a large debt to a leader of another gang. This impels the three individuals into a scheme of kidnapping, where they stalk Wilson, force him to create CHAPPiE, only to threaten him with death afterward. The head thug, Ninja, begins to toughen up the demeanor of the adolescent robot (it becomes known that CHAPPiE's conscious will begin as a child, much like our own) by coaxing him into committing crimes of grand theft auto and by enshrouding him in a lifestyle filled with gold chains and bullet rounds. The objective? CHAPPiE will be utilized to achieve the most strategic of heists: robbing an armored van.

    Enter unwarranted storyline number two: In the midst of CHAPPiE's indulgence in this rather unsophisticated way of living, he becomes enamored with the presence of the resident female of the pack, named Yolandi, and after some time, he becomes a victim of Stockholm syndrome. This paves the way for several scenes to be infused with tenderness, and although they are touching at times, they are eventually drowned out by the existence of the first subplot and substandard acting.

    Enter unwarranted storyline number three: Vincent Moore, a fellow engineer to Wilson at the lovely corporation of TetraVaal, (the organization that produces these robot crime fighters) is a man consumed by jealousy, as his latest invention, the MOOSE, (a larger, more intimidating mechanical creation) has been passed over for production in favor of the Scout model. (CHAPPiE's make) This leads to the foreseeable acts of sabotage and revenge, as Moore is intent on ruining Wilson's success and regaining popularity among his co-workers.

    Dev Patel, a young actor who got his break in the 2008 film entitled "Slumdog Millionaire," is somewhat out of his element in this role, much like his co-star in Hugh Jackman, who has not looked more confused in a performance since "Movie 43," a part in which male testicles were attached to his persona's chin. Jackman is evidently the foil to Patel, although the lack of depth in the characterization of Wilson completely thwarts these efforts. (How can one emphasis, through contrast, the qualities of a character when they simply are not present?)

    The issue with "CHAPPiE" is its inability to dream; this was a perfect opportunity to divulge into a wonderful character study, however, we are left with nothing but a plot driven ambition that thrives in its contrived circumstances and less than innovative approach to filmmaking. There are two scenes, in particular, that serve as proof of this missed possibility.

    Firstly, there is a moment in which Wilson and Yolandi teach CHAPPiE how to paint that recalls the classic television program entitled "The Joy of Painting," starring one of my favorite human beings in Bob Ross. Wilson even paraphrases one of Ross' most famous lines, in which we are told that the canvas is our world and that it can be anything that we want it to be. Yet, this sentimentality is never utilized to its maximum potential and ultimately becomes lost under the plethora of gratuitous plotlines that hamper the picture's success.

    Secondly, there is an uplifting scene in which CHAPPiE partakes in a viewing of a "He-Man" animated program; subsequently, mimicking the main character's well-known catchphrase and movements. This brings to mind a similar instance in "The Iron Giant," where the central figure adopts the personality of Superman, in a venture to become his cherished idol. Although this idea has been used before, the teasing of such moments that are never delivered seems downright imprudent.

    Beyond these miscalculations, however, is a scene that accurately summarizes the complication at hand. After our main protagonist initially proposes his concept for a consciously aware robot, the TetraVaal CEO (played by Sigourney Weaver, who is also set to work with Blomkamp in the future "Aliens" production.) reiterates the undesired need for a machine that can write poetry, among other things. The fear to impart imagination, and even a hint of ambiguity, onto an audience, is an apprehension that must be forgotten in order to truly create a work of art. As far as heartwarming robot stories are concerned, "WALL-E" is still head of its class.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Focus ★★

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    For a film with the title of "Focus," there seems to be very little of it. I mean, here is a picture with an identity crisis. Is it a drama? Well, if it is, then it is an exceedingly poor one. Is it a dark comedy? I for one am not entirely sure, yet if it desires to partake in this designation, then it is certainly a bland rendition of the genre, as its crude humor and vulgar dialogue evoke anything but laughter.

    I guess the most fundamental question to ask would be: Is it worth watching? My answer would be a resounding no although I am sure that its vacuous entertainment value will not be lost on everyone.

    Nicky (Will Smith) is a seasoned con man who spends his time traveling the country with a small group of employees, roaming from city to city in an effort to pull off smaller cons, as we are told that the "big score" is only an illusion and quite unrealistic. Enter Jess (Margot Robbie), an amateur grifter who attempts to swindle Nicky by way of her sexual appeal. (Which is rather plentiful.) She ultimately fails, nevertheless, catching the eye of Nicky and subsequently persuading him to take her under his wing; after a period of "Con 101," the two hopelessly fall in love.

    The remainder of the picture relies heavily on the internal conflict surrounding Smith's character, as he was always taught not to indulge in the softer emotions. This leads to an inevitable break-up between the two lovers, which primarily sets the stage for further complication, as Nicky finds himself face-to-face with Jess three years later, after he takes his latest job in Buenos Aires.

    There are several sequences of heists which hinge on the prediction of human behavior and most of which are so absurd in their design that they would make the "Ocean" series of films quite proud. (The most notable consisting of numerous bets with a well-to-do businessman--at a championship football game--who apparently travels with millions of dollars in cash just for these occasions.) The highly sought after style of this genre does permeate the film, yet it is bogged down by a script that lacks any hint of imagination.

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    Will Smith, a prime example of a former personality actor who has completely eradicated his typecasting persona, is quite sincere in a lead role that suits his current interpretive method of acting, although much of the success can be attributed to the wonderful chemistry shared with his co-star. Margot Robbie is as beautiful as she is talented, and the young actress dominates the screen with her robust and quirky personality; an indicator that she can surely step into a more complex role than that of a trophy wife--a performance in which she indulged for "The Wolf of Wall Street." The humorous nature of their relationship strikes gold and becomes nothing short of definitive proof that an inter-racial couple can succeed in highlighting a box office production.

    Two noteworthy issues arise, however, when one takes it upon themselves to observe, instead of merely just seeing the picture. Firstly, it would seem as if the unification of the plot was thrown out the window in an attempt to actually come up with a story. Case in point: There is little chance that Smith's character would dismiss the young beauty in order to keep his dignity. (Most men would die for a shot with a gorgeous woman and millions of dollars in cash.) Are we to believe that our anti-hero is a man of morals? Hardly the circumstance I would say, considering he is a con man who steals, cheats, and relinquishes a portion of his good will each day for a chance to acquire wealth, among other things.  

    Secondly, and most important, is the nature of the characters themselves. Sure, they enliven the mood with their attitude toward one another, yet there is not much for the audience to latch onto. I cannot remember a film that provided such an emotional distance where the fate of the characters would seem negligible, and quite frankly, uninteresting.

    As a belligerent Smith parades around a nightclub, in what becomes the main deception of the film, one cannot help but to be reminded of a similar scenario in what was the actor's breakthrough television sitcom entitled "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." The young and charismatic personality of that Will Smith is something that this picture direly warranted, although I am sure Smith would never pine to relive such moments of his career. By the film's end, there was nothing left for me except a thought of a simpler past time, and one in which Smith's body of work can attest to; maturity is unavoidable.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Jackie Chan's First Strike ★★1/2

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    If you have never seen a Jackie Chan action film, then you are surely missing out on two wonderful aspects of filmmaking: graceful choreography and nonchalant humor. Although these characteristics are a staple in Chan's best pictures, it is the shortage of these irreplaceable things that makes "Jackie Chan's First Strike" pale in comparison to films such as "Rumble in the Bronx," the latter of which becoming relentless in its efforts to employ such techniques.

    The plot, as negligible as it may seem, centers on Jackie and his attempt to bust a former CIA agent's scheme to sell nuclear weapons to a Russian mafia. This takes our skilled martial artist to Ukraine, Russia, and ultimately Australia, as our protagonist must track down the arms dealer and restore justice to the world in the only way that we know he can: with a large dosage of wholesome fist fighting. There are twists, turns, and smokescreens, along with a plethora of dialogue that is not easily followed, considering the poor quality of dubbing. (Another mainspring of Chan's films.)

    Action scenes are in abundance, although it is the nature of these instances that fail to provide the fast paced and frenetic entertainment that we are normally accustomed. In fact, most of the action takes a back seat to the storyline, which is as unfavorable as it is unneeded. I guess the focus on such trivial matters is nothing more than a political decision, as it has been quite a struggle for Chan to get a national release here in the United States. Yet, that is the beauty of these films. (Who needs a story when the martial arts choreography deserves a stage of its own?)

    Sure, there is an opening sequence composed of racing snowmobiles and snow skiing gunman that provides an adequate fulfilling of adrenaline-laced insanity. Additionally, there is a fighting scene which sees Chan utilize a ladder, among other things, to fight off a group of adversaries who believe that our beloved hero has committed a homicide. Other scenes (consisting of a confrontation at a hotel and the local aquarium) tend to forgo the formerly mentioned action that makes these pictures so delightful, as the plot's resolving regrettably becomes the center of attention. As strange as it is to desire vacuous entertainment, this is a genre of filmmaking where it is direly warranted, and "Jackie Chan's First Strike" unfortunately cannot provide enough.

    I must wholeheartedly agree with one of my contemporaries, that being Roger Ebert, as he puts forth the notion that a Jackie Chan film is one of an acquired taste. This is undeniably true and a fact that can only be realized after numerous showings of the like. There is just something about a man who risks his well-being in order to do his own stunts. (Most of which are in reality quite dangerous.) It takes a lot of pride and gusto to accomplish such feats, and Chan is really only doing what young adolescent boys attempt to do in every hour of play--that is--to become your very own action hero.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Marie Antoinette ★★★1/2

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    "Marie Antoinette" is an exquisite film if for no other reason than its elegant visual style, which captures the sublimity of the Romantic era of France in all of its conniving splendor. Sofia Coppola's chronicling of the egocentric queen is not only proof of her innate talent as a director (it is quite clear that the Coppola bloodline is infused with boundless ingenuity), but it displays her maturity in executing the art itself, which can be ascertained scene after scene. 

    Of course, it would be relatively impossible to indulge in every instance where the picture's beauty becomes prominent simply because it ruthlessly permeates each frame in such a manner that brings the phrase "feast for the senses" into relevance. From delectable treats to wardrobe and make-up, it is evident that the production design team worked flawlessly to resurrect this setting in its pristine glory, down to the minute detail. 

    However, the decision to utilize rough grain film stock was obviously the most critical determination of the visual blueprint, as the grainy texture (which can be comparable to an eye-sore if not performed with care) accentuates the story masterfully. One of the most difficult aspects of creating a period piece is the ability to recreate an atmosphere so that the audience's imagination does not have to; I was so enthralled at times that I thought to leave this place would truly be a sin.  

    Yet, as captivating as the picture may be visually, it is the direction that propels the story to success. Coppola's presence behind the camera can be felt throughout, as every cinematic point of view is used to its maximum potential. We journey with young Marie in a very intimate fashion early on as the subjective viewpoint is utilized to show events exactly as they were seen by the young queen; the audience becomes nothing short of a direct participant in the action while Marie takes her first steps into this foreign realm of wealth and power. This choice of presentation is undoubtedly brilliant and only alludes to Coppola's growth as a filmmaker. (There are also numerous shots of Malick-esque proportions, as slow and methodical scenes of nature are presented to us in their truest form--untouched.)

    To say that the film provides an abundance of symbolism would be more of an insult than anything, as it is not only provided but littered in every crevice of live screen and employed in every imaginable technique to date. Repetition is used to give depth to several concepts, including letters from Marie's homeland of Austria and gossip that can be overheard in every segment of dialogue. (The former symbolizing her conflicts and the latter symbolizing the pressures and nuisances accompanied with royalty.) 


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    Visual metaphors are crafted in the most subtle of ways and define numerous ideas such as the royal couple's inability to consummate and romanticized daydreams of Marie herself, as she inevitably partakes in infidelity. Single shot motifs are used to convey several notions, most notably that of vulnerability, which is best encapsulated by a scene in which Marie helplessly stands naked during her first-morning routine.     

    In spite of the bombardment of captivating styles and textures, however, it occurred to me that as well as the film divulges into the finer memories of Marie Antoinette's iconic lifestyle, it does not express the conflict adequately enough to bring this sphere of life into complete coherence. This is surely not to say that complications do not exist, as the pressure to adapt and to fulfill temporal roles would seem daunting enough, yet once they are provided, it becomes more of a distraction and hindrance than an added element to her character.

    Quite frankly, it places our resident actress, Kirsten Dunst, in an unflattering constraint, as scenes that direly warrant a depth of emotion become forced and unnatural; the latter being a reversal of the quality that Dunst undoubtedly expressed with pride earlier in the picture. Case in point: When Marie is told of news from home that would seem heartbreaking, Dunst is at a loss for conviction and her reaction shot fails to express the needed emotions convincingly.

    Nevertheless, the most startling facet of the film can only be the dramatic irony that is at play behind the scenes. If you are familiar with the history that accompanies this characterization, then you surely know what this is in reference to. The simple fact that we become empathetic towards a persona who certainly does not deserve it is a testament to the picture's aims. It humanizes a character in an attempt to evoke sympathy from its audience and it succeeds invariably.                 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tracers ★

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    My experience with this picture was certainly one of a humbling tone, considering the fact that I never thought another action film starring Taylor Lautner would come to fruition--yet it has--and much like the 2011 floundering entitled "Abduction," it would seem that the same ploy is being utilized in order to gain that highly sought after net revenue.

    Even if the chief objective succeeds (that being the generation of a few million dollars to accompany a low-budget production), there is another notion that should be acknowledged. It is obvious that Lautner has come to accept his typecasting future, as his face once again headlines a story, that not only provides little depth to its structure, but seems to be infused with boundless mediocrity. An actor who becomes caught in the snares of typecast is a delicate creature, who warrants much empathy.

   For those of you that are direly interested in the plot, here it is: Cam, a young bike messenger with a somewhat troubled past, resides in New York City; it is the only place that he's ever known and his accurate knowledge of the streets enable him to succeed in this modest career, as he tries to scrounge rent money (even a garage space costs $550 per month in this economy) and make loan payments to the local Chinese mafia. At this juncture it becomes evident that Cam is the victim, a role that Lautner knows all too well, and that we are supposed to sympathize with him, even if there is no beguile to justify it.

   In a seemingly fateful incident, our protagonist meets another adolescent by the name of Nikki, who is as beautiful as she is troublesome. Nikki is part of a group that roams the urban regions of New York practicing the art of "parkour," which consists of free body movements, such as running and jumping, that are exercised over any obstacle. Yes, it is as silly as it sounds, and although it does take some athletic ability to control one's movement with precision and speed, the stunts provided for us have a hint of lifelessness to them.

   The rest of the film is dictated by these swift motions, as the hand-held camera becomes the most vital tool for its construction. Beyond the fact that it is choppy and unflattering in every sense of the word, it becomes slightly monotonous and quite uneventful (in fact, I found my mind drifting off to general wonderings, including the observation that the inner city was teeming with vacant warehouses and buildings, clearly in an attempt to give our fleeing characters running room); throw in a corrupt DEA agent and secretive missions and the parkour athlete transitions into a "Tracer," which pays better but comes with increased risk.

   In light of all these statements, a burning question comes to mind: What has happened to the action genre? Is this truly what we have sunken to? It is correct to take the budget of the picture into account, however, it does not defend against sheer lack of inspiration. The production design, specifically pertaining to costumes and wardrobe, is virtually non-existent, as the actors sport jogging clothes and sweat suits, the color of which can summarize the film in all of its capacity, and that would be as bland.

   With Liam Neeson as the sole anchor of these types of films, and with the declining prominence of actors such as Jason Statham, there does seem to be a sense of leeway for a rising action star. I've stated before that it is not Lautner's inability to act that obstructs him from success, but the roles in which he partakes. If the former "Twilight" heartthrob has any chance of overcoming this hindrance, it will be due to gaining maturity and shedding this teenage persona. This product is nothing short of a growing pain for an actor who is not manly enough to play bigger roles, which consequently binds him to these types of performances that suffer from poor writing and innovation.

   As the lights of the showing regained their vitality, there were two lingering thoughts that dominated my mind. Early in the film there is a scene that plays on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," as Cam, a lowly bike messenger, attempts to converse with Nikki, a well-to-do parkour enthusiast. She is suspended in the air while he is begrudgingly attached to the ground. Although the names of Montague and Capulet are not uttered, it does allude to such notions, if only for a brief moment, and one can only imagine what could have been if they would have remained with this formula; at least it would have been more entertaining.

   *On a side note, it has come to my attention that the mafia seems to be slacking in the manner in which they qualify loan recipients. I mean, why give fifteen thousand dollars to a young man who has little ability to return the investment? Is this just an excuse so that they may later injure the individual in question? It seems to me that the stereotypical mob needs a new image, and apparently an accountant.