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The Last Detail (1973)
Not bad, but too wooden overall
There is a popular concept that even though our world changes over time, people really don't, so we are still more or less the same as we were a couple decades ago. Well, when watching some films from that time, it certainly feels as if they were made for a different audience. I guess that's what moral ageing is about: if the film characters still feel like real natural people decades after, the film did something right. Casablanca is the kind of movie that haven't lost a thing over 70 years. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about The Last Order.
It's easy to be called a backwards moron by criticizing a movie nominated for three Oscars and starring Jack Nicholson, but I'll take my chances. The film's biggest problem is not even the plot, even though it feels way too straightforward, with side stories shallow as a puddle. It's the characters. Not a single person in this film felt natural, as if they were stiffly trying to impersonate someone but realized their failure and tried to compensate for it with over-acting. Monologues and dialogues, spontaneous yelling every now and then, all that stuff felt way too forced and uncalled for. Who knows, maybe 40 years ago the sailors were indeed overly aggressive and mentally unstable brutes mixed with whiny demented crybabies, but even civilians in this film act like people on drugs. Different characters on different drugs though, so I can admit some diversity on that account.
But, at the end of the day, you're left wondering what the purpose of this film was. To show the controversial deepness of people's souls which reveals itself in the most unlikely cases? Well, in that case The Last Detail didn't go deep enough and never dared to dig beyond the stereotypes and movie psychology. Was it to share a touching story that we should empathize with? That was it's also a miss, because the character of Meadows never felt like the person you'd feel for, instead, he looks like a halfwit who is always calling trouble upon himself, willingly or not. Being a sympathetic retard is a hard mission, and Forrest Gump is probably one of a few cases of that mission's success, but Randy Quaid is no Tom Hanks by any means.
Was this film awful, so that you'd regret spending 109 minutes of your time on it? Probably not. Is it safe to skip and spend your time on something else? Definitely so.
La La Land (2016)
Takes your heart out to play it like a piano, and does that just right
In a sense, creating perfect films and perfect relationships is a similar task. You just start with the best, and then simply keep it up, never compromising, not a single mistake, not a single wrong step. In a sense, it's a technical task: follow these rules - and you are bound to succeed.
However, simply perfect is just too simple. Too plain. When you come to expect the perfection, you start taking it for granted, and even the perfect things lose their shine and become kinda dull. But how to create something perfect if perfect itself won't cut it? The answer is: you just have to wing it, turning your heart into an antenna and listening to what it's telling you.
La La Land does just that. And, technically, what it does isn't perfect at all. The opening scene is way too cheesy and orchestrated, the dissonance between the people and their song is tiny, but stingingly apparent. And you're already bracing yourself for another hyper-hyped ultra-colored hymn to itself. At that point, the film's all but a future disappointment.
But the perfect relationships are not a sunny day on a loop - what's more important is being able to make it up for the flaws and turn them into the details you'll eventually love as well. So, after having overplayed the bravado at first, the film becomes softer and more delicate, not miming its song, however perfectly, but finding its own voice, honest and sincere. A voice in which Mia and Sebastian speak to each other. At moments gruff, at moments insecure - but ultimately telling the most true story there is.
Right here is where most other participants take the smooth road to an inevitable happy ending. And the summer in La La Land is sweet and promising enough to deliver just that. But will the technically perfect thing be really perfect? Or even a sunny day could get pale if not the clouds and rain to be its counterpart? So the summer is bound to turn into fall, and, once inevitable, the prospect of a happy ending vanishes like a sad pipe smoker's dream.
But that's when we're hooked with no way back. From that point on, we want to listen to the story, no second thoughts, no distractions, there's only us and the storyteller. Like children who stopped squabbling and all want to know if the prince eventually finds his fair lady. Our emotions are already at stake, and the elegance with which La La Land took them out of our pocket is almost illegal. The thief doesn't even conceal himself, playing our hearts openly, and it's tempting to stop playing along and call the police. After all, the emotional manipulation is indeed a crime, even when it's so sublimely carried out.
Well, if you still had strength to resist, the last shreds of it fall when Ms Stone takes the lead. And it's not just her ability to act or sing, which was out of question a long time ago. It's how she takes the razor sharp blade of emotions concealed within the script, and pulls it out in one impeccable move, like King Arthur once did. And oh boy, don't you just start shivering at that moment, so bright she shines.
And just after that, it becomes really inevitable. The mastermind of this brilliant spectacle, Mr Chazelle, might be young, but when he's behind the wheel of a story he wrote himself, he doesn't miss. Every single romantic nonsense that we used to laugh about - like "and she felt as if those five years have never passed, as if she was right there, in that quiet restaurant at Christmas eve, her eyes on him, as if nothing else existed" - becomes alive in his hands, and he literally takes us on a journey others could only describe. The feeling you experience at that moment... it's pure magic, something that not only makes you forgive the pompous intro, but makes you realize that it was the only right start for something that led you where you are now. And that's when your feeling is finally complete.
Technically, La La Land isn't without a flaw. And if I was a grumpy old fart, I might've groaned on about it for a bit. About Ryan Gosling's questionable singing, or the plot's lack of complexity, or the ending being not what we might want it to be. But that doesn't really matter, after all, it's just technicalities. What does matter is what the film emanates - love. Love for art, love for those who dare to dream and dare to follow the dreams, who dare to be open and true. Love for life itself. The kind of love that shows the passion of the person whose heart that love flows out of. And these feelings don't just show off or simply graze you. They reach out to you. They ARE THERE for you.
And for letting me take that love as my own, La La Land, thank you.
The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
An innovative gem of the zombie genre
It's more or less modern UK, and it's at apogee of a zombie apocalypse. The remaining humans are scattered across several military bases, surrounded by constantly amassing hordes and with no long-term chance of survival. The only hope for humans is the vaccine, and to develop it they need the second-generation zombies. However, there's a tiny little detail: those zombie kids actually look and behave like regular children. Well, at least while not hungry...
The zombie movies have been with us for several decades already, and during that time the zombie concept has evolved drastically: from a slow-walking dead corpse, to a running corpse, to a super-strong killing machine with teamwork traits. But all these changes never affected the way humans deal with the zombies - it was always the same old shoot-run-hide game. Of course, there are some notable exceptions, like Shaun of the Dead or an alternative ending to I Am Legend, but they were just tweaking the minor details without changing the big picture. There's also Warm Bodies, but that's essentially a fairy tale. The main principle remained: that no matter how complex the zombies have become to keep the audience's interest, they were always an enemy, no questions asked. And that was the solid rule. Until now.
No, The Girl with All the Gifts does not try to simply whitewash the infected and make us feel bad for them. In fact, most of the zombies - this time called hungries - shown here are still mindless predators motivated by nothing but the smell of living flesh. But the film dares to take one step further and assume that no matter what kind of infection causes humans to turn into these uncontrollable beasts, there still might be something sentient left in them, and, in some cases, that sentient side expresses itself in very non-trivial ways.
The main achievement of the film is that, for the first time in the history of the genre, it's not simply about humans and their survival. This time we get to see the other side of the story, and learn how it is to be an infected - and to combine the typical bloodlust of a walking corpse with the typical curiosity and desire to explore the world pertinent to a child. What starts as a simple "us versus them", gradually transforms into "us with them", and maybe even "us for them". And we learn that, just like Paddy Considine's character says, there are no good or bad people - we all just do what's in us to do. In that sense, the only "bad" thing about zombies is that they hunt us - but they do that simply to survive, just like we humans do. So are we really that different? And do we have more right to survive than them?
I'll be honest: this film is far from perfect. In addition to the classic list of zombie inconsistencies, it creates a number of its own. And the flaws of the model in which the film's universe is supposed to exist are quite obvious. More to it, using children to weaken our emotional guard and make us more sympathetic is kind of a low blow. But maybe it's a blessing in disguise, because, even though we see those children kill and devour others, including our own, we can't help appreciating that there's more to them than just hunger or self-defense. That, no matter what their nature dictates and no matter how clearly they realize that in that cruel world there's probably no place for both hungries and humans, they can care for us, and sometimes even suffer for us fighting against their own. And even if the world as we know it is bound to die, as if all the woes from Pandora's box have been unleashed on it, that unlikely temporary bond leaves a place for the warm feeling called hope. Hope that even the end of the world might not be the end.
The Ides of March (2011)
A gun pulled out but never fired
Let's face it: the only two places where politics has also become a form of entertainment are the United States and Westeros. Anywhere else, all these stances, movements and statements would be either formal or plain dull. But the American life managed to turn politics into a reality show, and politicians into media stars, an achievement matched only by the product of G.R.R.Martin's creative mind. But, unlike The Song of Ice and Fire, the American reality show takes place in our own world, and it doesn't seem to have a final season any time soon.
So, when life gives you such a never-ending source of inspiration, it is only natural to start capitalizing on it. In that sense, The Ides of March is hardly the first film about politics and political intrigues, although, having been released two years before House of Cards, it still had a lot of unconquered media land around. Combined with a stellar - and I mean it - cast, it could seem that success of The Ides of March is a deal decided. But, just like we're constantly reminded by this very film, there is no such thing as a guarantee of success. But what could possibly go wrong?
One problem with this film is its way of creating suspense by first setting the rules and then changing them when you expect it the least. True, politics is a cruel mistress and fair play is not to be expected. But even in cheating there must be some logic and consistency, otherwise the characters' actions become rather random and plot twists forced. A young and ambitious campaign coordinator who's "not like everyone else" because he needs to actually believe in the person he promotes - to become easily distraught and seduced by a most predictable competitors' move. A candidate, all-out solid stand up guy with rock hard principles - to turn out a vicious predator and abuser. A young woman who made a mistake but tries her hardest to deal with the consequences - to simply give up when all is seemingly over. Such things just don't make sense. And even when they do, they are never given much premise to create at least some credibility. As if people act drastically out of character simply for the kicks of it. Such erratic scenario succeeds at creating not suspense in the audience, but paranoia, making you imagine things and see crooked shadows where everything's actually plain and clear.
But even that low blow could be justified if The Ides of March managed to deliver some kind of culminating strike, to exploit the inner pressure the film's been building during all its course. Some revelation, light or dark, it doesn't matter, at least something clear and definitive. But that's where the film fell painfully short, just abruptly ending at the moment it's been leading us towards through the whole second act. Instead of even trying to explain the illogicalities it exploited, or at least settling for the plain and coherent ending with no hidden implications, the film decided to play smart and hint at some game-changing turn towards the end, but instead of actually taking that turn satisfied itself with a hollow point, trying to convince us that it's a masterful open ending we could finish in our imagination the way we liked. It seems, George Clooney was too busy with self-adoration, being all dashing and daring, courageous and caring in front of the camera, that he forgot to orchestrate the show behind it. And instead of a true open ending, a smart way of not rubbing in the eyes of the viewer a set of most probable outcomes the film has previously set clear through its actions, we received an empty ending, leaving us with not enough consistency throughout the film to even begin guessing what could be implied or inferred for real and not be a product of our already inflamed imagination. Such move, instead of provoking curiosity and creative thinking, robs us out of the only satisfaction we could get out of this film: the satisfaction of finding out how this unhealthily hectic set of events actually unfolds. Which might be fine for the cruel genre of art house, but, within the framework of political reality show entertainment, equals to no fun at all.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Smart black women, white assholes and Kevin Costner
It's 1961, and NASA is engaged in an all-out space race. Just like the title says, there are three kinds of people working there. The black women do all the dirty routine of numeric calculations, the white assholes act all snobby and superior, and Kevin Costner supervises all that hodgepodge with a tired face. Things begin to change when the black women manage to make themselves indispensable and start complaining. Little by little, some white assholes become slightly apologetic, and some black women get promoted. Kevin Costner even takes down a "colored ladies bathroom" sign with a huge crowbar. But even then, the black women keep doing all the dirty routine work.
I'll be honest, this film has made me feel angry. But not because of the glaringly racist behavior of the white characters towards the black ones. That is probably rooted in reality of the 60's segregated Virginia, and it's been made clear multiple times that even the relatively good people become abusive jerks when they are put inside the broken down system that condones such abuse.
The true source of my anger about Hidden Figures is that it uses that racism theme, sometimes intentionally hyperbolized, to cover (or even promote) its own shallowness and laziness. To excuse the unrealistic bullshit like a black female computer (yes, that was a person, not a machine) who calculates trigonometry on the fly in her mind with a six-digit precision, solely to impress the big brass on an important meeting. To justify a full lack of logic when a person is being reassigned to the aerodynamics division and, in order to get to her workplace, must pass through the aerodynamic tube seconds before a potentially deadly experiment commences. To make us skip the fact that a person from a completely different field may learn how to program a mainframe computer solely by reading a book the size of Alice in Wonderland taken from a two-bit local all-white library, while the dedicated engineers IBM sent to set up the machine are walking around helpless, unable to even plug it in properly. To make us believe that the space flight math is so complicated, but at the same time show us the moments like a think-tank head explaining the orbital trajectory to his colleagues as if they were demented 7-year olds.
And it's not just the technical stuff. It's even the romantic line between the characters of Taraji P. Henson and Mahershala Ali, who basically spend just a few minutes of screen time together before he suddenly proposes. If only all the weak moments of this film were a result of some abrupt and forced development - then I could've said that maybe it's the brutal editing to blame. But, with more than two hours of running time and with so many details messed up, it's not the editing. It's very lazy writing.
As we know, a year ago the black community of the US felt offended by the lack of colored people nominated for the Oscars. They threw a big fit and complained. So, I guess, the numerous high-profile films centering on the black people's issues, past and present, are a response to those complaints. However, despite having gotten their wins and nominations, the people behind these films seem to forget one simple truth the capitalist societies are built on: that only through fair competition the highest quality results are achieved. But if you can win or get nominated simply because you're black or you're telling these whimsical and ridiculous stories about white-collar females at NASA who have to run half a mile simply to find a colored bathroom... Well, that's far from fair. And that's why 12 Years a Slave is a truly epic film, rightfully in the IMDb Top 250, and the likes of Moonlight will be buried and forgotten once the hype lies down.
Come think of it, there's a reason Kevin Costner looks so tired in this film. Being the only white American allowed to be decent in a black power/white guilt flick and being constantly put between the hammer and the anvil of these two extreme opposites is a heavy load indeed.
Like watching water fall
Water falls from the bright air. At first it's just water, nothing out of ordinary. And Paterson starts out just as an everyday life of an ordinary person, a small drowsy man in a small drowsy town. Things float by smoothly and softly, and you could almost hear the metronome ticking.
But then you start losing yourself and falling into a trance. You start seeing things, and catching thoughts, like flies woken up by the warm spring sun. Thoughts about life, and how different it is for different people, and how our life paths go different ways and how sometimes you lead the way and sometimes you just have to follow. Even if you wanted to catch all of those flies and put them in one big straight line, you'd fail, and they'd fly away uncategorized. Don't try to analyze, just let yourself flow along.
And then the stream gets more rough, unwilling to stay forever on a leash. And you realize that the water of your life, however repeating itself from day to day, is still not the same. That things do happen that may bring major change, like the rivers change their course when their nature's ready for it. And yet again, you might fight the flow or let it carry you on. Both options are feasible, leaving your future path open.
But eventually, even the troubled water calms down. And no matter what shore you found yourself on, you can see the stars reflect on the surface, and trace your way onwards again. Or just sit and contemplate the water fall on its own.
Paterson is really a meditative experience. I wouldn't call it thought-provoking though, since it doesn't give you much ground for analysis. What it does give, however, is a certain calm and an invitation to reflect on your own life and just let yourself perceive through feelings some aspects that you might have been ignoring, incidentally or on purpose, in that busy everyday life of yours. To look at things slightly from above, with no hurry or pressure. What you see from there, and what you do with what you see, is up to you though. But no matter what, the sun still rises every morning and sets every evening. That's the only metronome out there going steady, but at least that one had never let you down. At least so far.
A total chaos
This is the kind of a movie Statham earned bad rep for. And it doesn't even deserve a review, except that writing one might give you a chance to save 106 minutes of your life, a luxury I didn't have. So here goes.
First off, don't be fooled by the mumbo jumbo. This film tries so hard to look smart and slick, but ends up typical Statham stupid. The all so meaningful lines all around feel like a random scramble of big words instead of the pieces of one big puzzle that would fit together towards the end. In fact, there's no big puzzle at all: this film is so devoid of any logic and consistency that 30 minutes in I ultimately gave up trying to even guess what's going on.
But turning off your brains won't help you sit out this one. Chaos is not decent even at its action aspect. A handful of fights and shootouts, also feeling just randomly put in, are all that's gonna be served to you. And served so lazily that the film doesn't even bother trying to explain why all the stupid stuff like an unexpectedly activated loud beeper while a person carrying one lies in an ambush could happen in the first place. In fact, it's even for the better, because when the film actually tries to explain something to create at least a resemblance of some mystery unfolded, it fails so miserably you'd wish you never heard that nonsense at all.
Please, don't repeat my mistake by trusting the "it's not so bad" reviews. I don't know if the authors of those are brain-dead or just trolling. But this is not even a typical Statham movie. This is much worse, a total wreck I hope Statham and Snipes feel ashamed of now. Although, when you participate in a garbagefest like this, I doubt you worry too much about integrity or conscience. After all, such films are made with strictly one purpose in mind: to rob the naive and gullible audience out of some cash. Well, don't be a tool and stay away from this mess of a film, instead, spend your time on something more exciting, like taking a crap or washing dishes. You're welcome!
Rogue One (2016)
Looks solid, but feels uninspired
Not a long time ago, in our very own galaxy, the filmmakers decided to create a prequel to Star Wars: A New Hope. And they really wanted to do it by the book: by putting in a list of recognizable actors, a plethora of characters and locations and tech, old and new, making the story emotional with the force of family bonds and the sense of duty. They even showed us a glimpse of Darth Vader as a cherry on top. Sounds cool, right?
True, on the surface Rogue One looks very grand. But, as we have learned from the case of Death Star, even grand things may have very small flaws that ruin everything. And for Rogue One those flaws are characters and pacing.
Indeed, with so much bound to happen and with only 133 minutes of running time, you must move quick to cram everything into the timeline. But for some reason Rogue One doesn't feel consistent in its density. At times it's painfully slow and almost boring, with people talking and arguing and debating some more. And at other times it flicks through characters and hops planets like a mad rabbit, causing a degree of "what is this place/person again?" frustration even in a prepared SW viewer, while outright alienating the freshmen (although the same freshmen could digest The Force Awakens just fine).
Another stone pulling Rogue One down is the main characters, or rather the actors playing them. I don't mind Felicity Jones or Diego Luna at all, they are fine actors per se. But they are not fit for the action figures. Jones may deliver a sharp punch at times, but mostly she makes that sad puppy face - and you just quit buying into her fighter spirit. Same with Luna: no matter what he does, he looks awfully tired and overwhelmed, dragging our mood down with him.
Maybe if we had characters as vivacious and fierce as Rey and Finn as protagonists, the whole story would feel different. But we have what we have, and despite all the graphic lushness, a number of nostalgia-inducing moments, characters twisted and conflicted inside, and actual space fights, Rogue One feels like one major drag, where everyone does something, but only the bad guys actually believe in their cause. The space fights are overly long and tediously repetitive, the graphic lushness mostly resorts to cold space or desolate deserts, and even the character twists and development, with an unexpected sense of common purpose and a timely remorse for the former wrongdoings, have a whiff of generic movie psychology. Two slightly redeeming points of this film are the blind monk, but even he gets annoying towards the end with his repetitive chanting and inconsistent potency, and the Ben Mendelsohn's character, who is a typical Mendelsohn's not quite good but not entirely evil guy. As a mirror character of Domhnall Gleeson's General Hux from The Force Awakens, he's done a much better job. Too bad it wasn't enough to salvage the whole enterprise.
When The Force Awakens turned out to be a soft reboot instead of being an independent story, I was hoping that maybe it was for the best and that way the filmmakers would be able to expand on the original story and give us additional depth, the chance that was skipped back in the time of the original trilogy. Rogue One is definitely an attempt to fill the blanks and deliver some background. But so far it's more of a miss than a hit. So hopefully it will be a lesson learned for the SW film crew: that spin-offs require as much effort as the main story films. You were inspired enough to bring the Star Wars back to life - now use that inspiration again and put it to good use.
Patriots Day (2016)
Would've been better as a documentary
People are captivated by the extraordinary events. And people love to be entertained. So what could possibly be better than a dramatic story of extraordinary nature. Especially if it's based on real events, shows the heroism of simple people and touches the audience's sensitive patriotic spot.
That's basically a recipe for Patriots Day. Take the case of the Boston Marathon bombing, the largest terrorist attack in the US since 9/11, show it through the eyes of several regular people, first introducing their personal lives and then following them along the course of the main events. And finally, when it's all over, add some first-person moral lessons and conclusions, so that we all realize for sure how important and pivotal that event was for the people and for the world, and feel privy to its changing momentum.
All by itself, it's a pretty good, even noble approach. But there's a tiny little detail that changes everything: that all that must sell somehow, because even the extraordinary stories have to be entertaining. So the otherwise consistent and self-sufficient story is being infused with dramatization, laying it on even thicker where it's already been thick, and creating moments that might not have been there in the first place simply to make the story more of a thriller. A very similar thing happened just recently with Deepwater Horizon.
The result becomes a product with the typical Hollywood spin, but proudly called "based on real events". That it might be, but on the basis of real people's actions, beliefs and lives there has been put enough creative imagination for the film to feel at times fake, at times cheesy and at times way over the top. And we will never know for sure if some or other moments that touched each of us personally happened for real, or they were skillfully injected by the filmmakers to genetically modify the movie and make it more appealing to the audience. Having fallen for this trick before, I refuse to be bought so cheaply again. So I really wish movies such as Patriots Day were made as documentaries. Yes, maybe they wouldn't sell as much, but at least they would be sincere and true. And what if not truth and sincerity do such stories try to uphold?
God and humanity: Scorsese at his deepest
I had quite distorted expectations towards this film. One review I scarcely read called it a "sado-maso flick with priests". And, considering Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield's sleazy mugs, I was almost expecting some perverse variation of 50 Shades of you know what. Well, truth be told, I have never been so wrong in my life.
Silence is a story of two Jesuit priests from Portugal, who go to Christianity-intolerant XVII century Japan to discover the fate of their mentor. That's basically all the story on the surface. Beneath it, though, it's a journey much more profound and mind-provoking. A journey that, depending on how deep you're able to analyze the topic, might make you ponder whether religion is a virus that cares solely about spreading, whether the only thing multiple religions produce is people's suffering, whether your high spiritual beliefs and principles are worth letting people die, whether faith really needs the tangible symbolics, and whether god actually cares about people, or the only thing he cares about is being worshiped properly. And that's just the obvious philosophical and theological concepts Silence reaches for, and if you wanna look harder you might find even more food for thought here.
Seriously, this is not a film you would wanna watch in a movie theater. Besides two and a half hours of its running time, I spent at least another hour for just pausing and debating over what's going on and what do those actions imply with the person next to me, sometimes digressing from the film's context towards the universal concepts of humanity and civilization evolution. And that rich ground for discussion, something way beyond the scope of a mere review, is probably the most impressive of Silence's achievements.
Still, this film is not just its story, which is primarily a merit of the book the film is based on. It's the way that story is told. And I don't know what kind of cinema magic Scorsese put in here, but he has managed to do an almost undoable job: make the film clearly speak to you between the lines, conveying the most complex and confusing and even intimidating topics and concepts without saying much out loud. The silence that finally revealed to Rodrigues the voice of God is probably the same silence in which we can hear everything that this film has to say, and more. It may sound silly or trivial, but trust me: it's no small feat to raise topics of such magnitude - and make them obviously relevant to our turbulent world of today where people kill and die in the name of various gods every day - without being cryptic like Umberto Eco or pop and glossy like Dan Brown. My only complaint about Silence is its ending, opting out of the open interpretation and thus losing the precious ambiguity and at the same time the philosophical potential of such, but otherwise what Mr Scorsese did out here is nothing short of divine, whether you believe in god or not.