Tag Archives: 9/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Machinist (2004) Review

Insomnia is an all too common writing device that lends itself in creating a story where the lead character reality conflicts with the actuality of the world. Much like Aspergers, Insomnia is highly favored in its usage to add flair to a story that in a direct narrative wouldn’t have worked. “The Machinist” is such a case by removing a linear narrative and eliminating conventional characteristic is an psychological thriller that delivers one stimulating and thought provoking experience.

The Machinist is about an industrial worker who hasn’t slept in a year doubting his own sanity. Its protagonist, Trevor Reznik, starts off as a sympathetic blank page. Merely creating an image of man who from the setup is seen doing something bad, but upon viewing him live appears to be an innocent man suffering without a crime committed. Reinforcing a positive image on Reznik personality and questionable one about his lifestyle. Once Reznik is setup as a character the next step is to fill in the blank to how he got to where he ended up. Steadily through the course of the movie more about Reznik is revealed entirely through his dialogue. While visuals do play a factor in understanding Reznik psyche, it’s not on the same level as the spoken words. Revealing Reznik entire life story indirectly to the audience with Reznik interactions. Reznik is by definition and description is average, but his action in delicate situations suggest otherwise. Until the revelation near the end Reznik maps other suffering onto himself. Turning exterior conflicts into internal ones when Reznik is uncovering himself through the worst possible action. Aside from Reznik, another plot device is a hangman game on a post-it note. The word only has six letters and the last two letters are filled out. If this plot device was to be removed it would have taken away from the writing. It understands that the journey it more pivotal than it’s predictable destination. Because of it, the word can be guessed correctly or make a guess that comes close to it, but doesn’t detract from its story. Instead it adds a dimension that’s worth examining. Alongside his trouble psyche, poor physical conditions, and now his inability to defeat guilt are all traits that follow him. Weaving an intelligent, psychological thriller that is both hard to read in development and engaging in its complicated protagonist.

Director Brad Anderson creates an uneasy atmosphere at a steady pace. A bleak, nearly colorless look, sadness and dread combined to portray the world through Reznik eyes. The atmosphere is aided by Roque Banos’ moody score, but it is especially conveyed by the tasty cinematography, which is extremely desaturated–almost approaching black and white at times. It suggests an appropriate desolation. This is also reflected in the locations and set designs. Everything relating to Trevor current matter in his apartment, the machine shop, or in his car is in muted, blue-gray tones. As if fabricated by some unknown nature that has a score to settle with Reznik. Playing with his head that those around are after him. In contrast to the brightly lit scenes that highlight a real world quality to them. Not removing itself from tragedy, Reznik in brightly lit scenes feels naturalistic. Never does he feel anything in particular is dead set against him in the bad turn of events finding some truth to them.

Christian Bale is skeletal as Trevor and visually captivating in embodying all his flaws. Christian Bale more than visually matches his part, but acts it with the same level of dedication. His physical appearance becomes a part of the character not so much the sole characteristic of the character or Bale performance. Physically we see Bale for the broken and hollow man he is, but also adds a trait of humor when joking about his skinny body. Bale portrays he can fit into society, and shows various traits of an unstable mind with his obsession that turns into rage. Becoming another broken person and not just a walking skeleton. The rest of the cast is overshadowed by Christian Bale terrific performance. They do a solid job even if they don’t leave a big impression. John Sharian plays pretty much a “Devil” type character with his sinister smile and deep voice. To say there’s nothing subtle about his performance is understatement, but rather fits the role just fine. He’s energetic always hinting at something sinister with his line delivery. Jennifer Jason Leigh much like her other co-stars is given a single personality just like Aitana Sanchez Gijon. Aitana Sanchez is more cheering and Jason Leigh is broody. Their characters receive minimal amount of development, but can’t do anything beyond the exterior of the characters.

The Machinist is a steadily paced psychological thriller driven by one character and actor. Christian Bale becomes Trevor Reznik disappearing into the role matching it perfectly both physically and in his portrayal. Bale performance alone would warrant “The Machinist” is worth viewing, but add an intelligent story and with a physiologically broken lead you have a film that demands your attention.

9/10

Anime Breakdown: Angel Beats (2010) Series Review

Prior to writing this review, Angel Beats! could be best describe as an entry point back into anime for me. My introduction to anime is actually with Dragon Ball Z and Naruto which were enjoyable shows. At the time when I viewed them I just thought as them as interesting looking shows not knowing where they originated from. I never finished to completion either anime series (the video games several of which I have) therefore lost an interest in anime in general. It wasn’t until recently with the surge of my little brother fascination with anime that caught my attention. While I knew little about anime I enjoyed listening to what my brother had to say about the anime series he watched. My little brother did bug me to give anime it a try, but much like when I choose a film to watch I would have to research it. Thus I landed on Angel Beats! because the simple premise intrigued me to check it out and seeing how it’s a short series it would be manageable with my schedule. There’s no question my enjoyment of seeing Angel Beats! is far greater than most anime fans, but one thing it is for certain it’ll leave a strong impression.

Premise:

Rebellious teens fight in armed combat against one dispassionate girl’s supernatural powers in an afterlife high school. (Man is this synopsis significantly shorter compared to my Blue Exorcist review).

Good: Stellar Writing/Handling of Themes of Life and Death

Angel Beats! follow characters that are discontent with their former lives. A premise that is well handle thanks to the writing talent at hand. Combining sharp action, riotously funny humor, clever exploitation of the setting, musical performances, a cast of colorful characters where heavily moe (cute/ a term with a contrived definition) girls are in the minority into a polished package. All these culmination of elements work in sync with each other pulling off anything it sets out to do with great success. Often focusing on what would work best for its story over specifically relying on a noticable strong suit.

Uniting of all sorts of different idea weaving a world that can be best describe as a philosophical videogame. References to Buddhist theology, replete with long, philosophical discussions of reincarnation and its implications, along with more modern, tech-savvy ideas like computer games and programming. Representing an afterlife that works like that of a video game doing so with a good understanding of video game programing with Buddhism. This analogy is made even more obvious by when a character refers to large swarms of background students and teachers at the high school as “non-player characters.” This odd fusion of Buddhism and video games should have not click together, but strangely do. There’s some remarkable similarity made between the two as a retry after death in a videogame could be seen as a reincarnation in Buddhism in the series. Every episode in a way could be viewed as a like a video game level with branching path that either A.) Tackle the conflict blindly or B.) Organize a strategy each with their own risks and reward. Analyzing in great detail one’s own faith and the free will given to them to make difficult decisions especially knowing the life consequence of it.

Writing excels in every category especially when it comes to character focus episodes. Subtle characterization and down to earth dialogue can quickly leave their mark on the viewer no matter the amount of screen time characters receive. Episode 3 is where the strong writing is first shown its true powers. In a short length of time we’re able to connect with character Masami Iwasawa (pink hair! damn one of my weaknesses) whose dreams, past, and passion we get to learn about thanks to carefully written conversations that comes across naturally and not just mere exposition. For a series that want to touch upon many themes it has 13 episodes to do so and of course not everything comes together as it should have. However, the writing hardly gives any sign of uncertainty. Despite being 13 episodes it’s able to accomplished a number of themes it chooses to explore providing full closure on the series.  

Good: Execution of old tricks

For a form of entertainment that has televised series for over 50 years originality is difficult to come by. However, being a movie fan first I know as long as the execution works you can make even the most cliche of stories interesting again. That applies to Angels Beats! which for anime veterans will become familiar with the high school setting, absurdly powerful student counselor, open ending, down to the characters from the hero with a friendless background, the smart guy, tough girl on the outside whose soft on the inside, and what not. Anime fans will be able to pick out the tropes, but as someone who’s not familiar with anime tropes as so much writing devices what is used here works in the confined of the series. Each of the cliches and trope used in the series is executed properly to work. It’s not so much that what it does with them is different for the tropes, but in subtext have more than a single function.

Take for example the characters in Angel Beats! referred to as Angel who can manipulate her hands and turn them into weapons. Most of Angel’s abilities, such as Harmonics and (Hand) Sonic, Distortion, Overdrive, and Delay are various guitar effects. Angel is also a seen playing the piano in the opening of the show and mention in the series that she can play the piano professionally. Why am I bringing up what appears to be a series of random facts? Well Angel real name Kanade literally translate to “playing music” which is the main weapon our group of rebellious teens uses to distract the crowds or enemies during their operations. Scenes involving a character playing a musical instrument Kanade nearly always appears in. Most of which are important moments that explain the workings of the afterlife or a significant character moment. Even Angel herself intention is to drive the audience off her actual purpose in the world (which she even admits to doing poorly) provides a different perspective on to view the inhabitants of the afterlife.

Good: Gorgeous Animation

Animation is often cg-enhanced, looking slick and polished. Backgrounds are very detailed and animation alway appears smooth. Often bright and colorful the presentation boasts very good to excellent line detail as well as a nicely robust and well saturated palette. Character design is consistent and highly expressive. Their movement are never restricted in comedic situations applying cartoon physics. Resulting from characters being stabbed multiple times, being cut in half, seated in a ejector seat that crashes into the ceiling, and several other are made comedic in a series where no one can die. While character designs aren’t exactly innovative, they are colorful, especially with regard to the often oddly hued hair of several of the major players. Some of the concert sequences look good and almost seem to have been assembled with motion capture, so fluid and convincing are the girls’ movement. It looks especially lovely during the action scenes that support plenty of particles effects. Fast in movement with no bluff the action scenes are no doubt a high point sporting numerous tiny details and fast motion. Backgrounds are often minimal reusing the same locations while detail lack variety. Overall Angel Beats sports a nicely sharp and well defined piece of animation.

Good: Music

In Angel Beats, the SSS employs its own all-girl rock band to divert the enemy at choice times. Instead of using existing or commissioned music all songs were written and composed by Jun Maeda himself specifically for this series. Serving the series a purpose the songs by the all girl bands correlate with the series themes. Discussing characters specifics such as the strong desired to continue a dream, friendship, deception, and many others benefits to giving the band character. Giving them an identity and a clearly getting across their personality as individuals and as a band.

The result is an effective, low-key approach which supports the material, rather than leading it, and easily shifts from comedy to dramatic modes. The GlDeMo songs are all solid rock numbers save for a pretty solo ballad, and all of them suit their intended purpose well. Opener “My Soul, Your Beat!” is a lovely piano-fronted song whose visuals adjust slightly each episode to provide previews of the upcoming action. Also, the notes played on the piano are resemble a heart beat. Sneaking in symbolism into its music aside from just sounding good has as much depth given to its as the story. With lyrics that sound like they’re were written by teenagers are easy to understand and fitting the fictional world nicely.

Regular closer “Brave Song” is equally good and accompanies visuals which show major characters in the Battlefront roster and regularly update to reflect events in the series; watching for these changes can be a game unto itself. An alternate rock version of the opener fronts episode 4, while episodes 10 and 13 have the poignant “Ichiban no Takaramono” as an alternate but very appropriate choice. The music in the show if taken out can stand on their own. These songs support in developing the material as much as the rest of music do in supporting its series tone. While none of the tracks in the series can surpass the excellence orchestration and composition in ‘My Soul, Your Beat’ and ‘Brave Song’ the music in general tends to be of high quality.

Mixed: Not Enough Episodes

As much I praise the writing it doesn’t explore everything it wants in 13 episodes and 1 OVA (Original Video Animation/standalone episode created outside the series). Several characters back stories are left in the dust with a plot progressing rapidly. Often resorting to giving a majority of cast a catchphrase or quirk that gives them a specific identity. On the whole it makes the large cast distinguishable even if all aren’t treated equally. This lack of development for the large cast takes away from the emotional impact the final three episodes were going for. Many characters backstories are left to the imagination and also what occurred to them past the series ending is left blank too. That’s not even adding the new characters that are introduced later on in the series that add the headcount of unexplored lives.

Thematically the first halve of the series doesn’t fit the tone of the later half. Early episodes of Angel Beats! plays on its strong side of comedy that are meant to make us acquainted with our cast. Sadly it mindset past early episodes go all over the place jumping into either a straight up drama, comedy, or a mixture of both. In general the balance of drama and comedy is handle well doing what the series does best. Never at one point does either overshadowed the other. However, it’s undeniable how jarring the the series becomes compare to where it started. Noticeably distracting further highlighting the absence of certain elements that made you like the series in the first place. Once you hit a certain point in the series you know things are going to permanently change. Personally I like both the comedic and dramatic tone of the series, but as a whole there’s no denying how indifferent the series tone conflicts with itself scattering around the viewer emotions against the intended impact it wanted to send.

Final Thoughts:

Angel Beats! is a short burst of great comedy, action, and drama while it last. It’s length holds it back from expanding into the show it could have been. Changing drastically in little time and leaving certain elements in the dust. No doubt anyone who enjoys Angel Beats will be disappointed when it ends quickly. What little the series does provide is undeniably entertaining and dramatically powerful with the creators heartfelt passion for their creation shown in the quality of their work.

Writing: 2/2

Execution: 2/2

Animation: 2/2

Sound: 2/2

Length: 1/2

Rating: 9/10 – A short run of an excellent show that balances everything it sets out to do. While it’s aim is bigger than its grasp there’s no denying what is perfectly executed vastly overshadows it faults.

Cinema-Maniac: Scream (1996) Review

Every genre has a formula none more repetitive than in horror films. Several films has proven if done right can still work, but as a reliance for a genre it grows repetitive and tiresome resorting to the same tricks that audiences are accustomed to spotting them whenever they appear. Scream takes established expectations and turns it around using it strongly to its advantage combining witty humor and tension.

Scream is about a killer known as Ghostface killing off teenagers, and as the body count begins rising, one girl and her friends find themselves contemplating the “Rules” of horror films as they find themselves living in a real-life one. Self aware of its own existence as a film and one in the horror genre it defies expectation with a witty deconstruction of its own formula. Characters are self aware of the rules applied to them in the film often bringing them front and centered to our attention. Whether or not the film chooses to take a route it gives to the audience is up to the writer to decide. Diverging between avoiding a pitfall cliche or embracing it raises greater possibility of shock. With options open to itself it not only follows a simple narrative, but also adds a layer complexity in its story and subtext that analyzes the gears of the working of average horror film. By playing against expectations every chance it has to mislead the audience is taken. Just about every character in the film can be suspected as being the killer each being more off putting in their timing when they appear. Misleading in confirming the identity of the killer maintaining uncertainty in trust to characters and anxiety when moving forward. Although not every dissection is done cleanly with several of the horror rules being used for cartoonish effect. While humor generally doesn’t detract from the horror element. What does subtract from the experience are some contrived murders and contrived reasoning for a particular characters survivor.

Dialogue is intentionally artificial with nearly every conversation sounding as unnatural as possible. Tossing references naturally, odd analogy, and rules how a horror film functions. Serving two great purpose in the film; one is the already established playing against expectations and the second is developing cliche characters. Not only are its characters walking and living cliches in an film knowledgeable about it functions, but also written with personality. They go beyond the standard genre trope establishing a clear background on characters, their current relationship with one another, and the part they all play in the film. Even Ghostface is also giving human traits having trouble killing his victims that equally pose the capability to escape. While none of the characters ever earn emotional attachment you will care about them in the dire situation they play a part in.

Was Craven made sure Scream was exciting with a creative deaths and tension. In particular his technique of using the camera to follow the victims and move it around his location, adding excitement and intrigue. He knows how to build suspects and he does keep you guessing framing shot in way not revealing everything in sight. Creating suspense in places where one would assume to be safe. The used of music is accompany the more horror oriented scene to create an bleak mood and not spoil the potential scare. Neve Campbell really finds the true essence of her character. Fragile emotionally to be sure, but she can also muster up great emotional and physical strength when necessary, as well as be very resourceful. Jamie Kennedy is great as a movie geek who revels in the rules of horror and even Courtney Cox does a good job of being an annoying television journalist. Matthew Lillard and David Arquette all get to provide the laughs and the differences makes it work. The rest of the cast are just great playing a different variation on familiar horror tropes.

Scream brutally dissects the conventions of its genre to hilarious success while delivering legitimate suspense by playing with expectations. Using a template and seemingly playing by it rules, but constructing it owns path add needed complexity and intelligence in a genre that wholly remains simplistic.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac:Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (Lik wong) (1991)

Riki-Oh is a Japanese manga that obtain minor success being adapted into two OVA (Original Video Animation) and a live action film, though trying to find any information on the manga series itself is rather difficult. This is a strange case in cinema where a live action adaptation of a manga surpasses it source in material in popularity and overall success. Reason for this being “Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky” is an material art film unlike any other; campy, driven with plot holes, poorly dubbed, bloody, gory, over the top nature gives the film its own identity that stands out like no other in its genre.

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricki follows a young man with superhuman strength who’s incarcerated at a prison run by corrupt officials and seeks to use his martial arts to clean up the system. Most difficult part of adapting a 12 act manga onto a film is making its story logical. Undergoing major changes (Riki, the protagonist, motivation is slightly altered with a newly created character) from it source material the film has a disjointed and surreal feel. Things don’t come across as clearly as they should through silly explanations, though it does fit the tone of the film. Everything said and done in the story is nonsensical not once taking itself seriously. In a film where the protagonist can literally punch a hole through a criminal stomach (of course it occurs in the showers) a serious tone wouldn’t fit the nature of the characters action. It’s protagonist just like all the characters are simple minded playing a singular define role. Riki is clearly the hero, the warden clearly the villain, the “Gang of Four” are clearly the henchman, and the prisoners (often used to move the plot) are the onlooker of the events. These characters remain simplistic in order to mix a prison film with an anime story. Our protagonist stands up against the man, the hero faces the warden’s equally powerful henchman, the prison dealing in drugs, the torture to break down the hero spirit, and so forth combine elements of two different narratives working wondrously with one another. If anything could be taken as a negative in the writing would be Riki was made too powerful making scenes where Riki could easily overcome an obstacles all the less believable. While the film as a whole lacks any sense of logic at least aspects however goofy were explained as oppose to Riki weakness which is simply passed off in a single sentence.

The English dub of the film is awful in good way adding to the film cheesy nature. It bodes well with the acting as expressions are over the top and there’s nothing subtle about the actors performances down to their appearances. Uttering deadpan dialogue blending with the amount excess on screen. Su-Wong Fan performance while average looks like person who punch a hole through someone stomach and a welcoming presence that carries the film with ease. Mei Sheng Fan regardless if viewing the dub or not is wonderfully cartoonish. His over the top expressions and lack of any sense of subtle line delivery perfectly fits into the whole nonsensical world. As for other actors they’re simply here to either play a good guy or bad buy; either acting tough or acting weak. Choreography is performed very slowly and the fights themselves are very basic. Fight scenes won’t impress with their complex choreography, but they are cleverly designed to contain moments only this film can offer. Lets face it how many other martial art films can you name where a fighter literally uses his own intestines in a attempt to strangle his opponent to death. Perfectly framed like its source material every gory moment is a memorable one that shows the best mixture of low budget particle effects. Every gore filled moment has an excessive amount of blood and body pieces flying or hanging from what’s left from the person body. All the blood effects soaked effects admirably provides a sense a fun and intrigue. Especially in the film climax where Riki faces off against a paper mache monster ending in what’s to date the bloodiest climax in the martial art genre.

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is campy, over the top, nonsensical fun that goes for sheer entertainment value. Its framed violence replicates the manga it’s adapting, the practical gory effects are impressive and every one of them offers something memorable, and is the best mixture of what viewers enjoy from bad movies without actually being a bad movie.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: Monsters University (2013) Movie Review

Prequels regardless of what series they belong to always run the risk messing up a franchise timeline, creating plot holes, and possibly lessening the film that came before it. In the case of Monster University it wants to fill a gap that wasn’t weak in its predecessor. It could have taken the route set out for it to be an easy cash grabbed, but instead rejects that label aiming high as its predecessor creating a world filled with lovable characters.

Monster University is about the relationship between Mike and Sulley during their days at Monsters University. Narratively predictable not because the outcome is already set in stone, but because a story like this has already been told plenty of times. Carrying over a speculatively evil headmaster, oddball underdog heroes going up against the college champions in a competition, flunking classes, threat of expulsions, fitting into the crowd, and several overused situational jokes. At it worst you will know where the story is heading with bad jokes thrown in, however overcoming those issues is strong writing. Both Mike and Sulley arcs have a familiar starting point that stronger resonate the more it develops moving forward. Its success lies in the duo relationship bringing to challenge the same struggles and differential life philosophy they came to challenge. Going left field with its cliches with truthful messages; one of them being failing to reach your dreams and how that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A philosophy often ignored in a genre where success is always guaranteed for being positive. Making these messages effective are it cast of characters. Vibrant as they might be each go through their own arcs becoming fleshed out as our protagonists. Wanting to spend time attaching to these characters for who they are instead of by nature. An attachment that becomes more powerful in the final act which is easily the best act of the film. Seeing our characters growth in the final act makes a great film in a strong one that’s dramatically powerful. Showing the true strength of the writing and its characters friendship. Just like its characters, expectations are thrown at the plot refusing those expectations to become better than anyone expected it to be.

Animation is top notch. Sporting more than a eye pleasing color palette designs of monsters are varied. These monsters might share anatomy similar to a human offer a range of different appearances being insect like while other being straight up bizarre. Some having fur, some having scales, some not having legs, and whatever pops into the animators mind. It oozes in creativity for it universe inhabitants, though the environments are nothing spectacular. Environments don’t have any new spin to them in any form going against the film theme of defeating expectations. Voice acting is all stellar with the standout being the strong chemistry between Billy Crystal and John Goodman. Delivering on the comedy, drama, and enhancing the film with their presence. Helen Mirren is strict and overpowering. Steve Buscemi has his wonderfully evil voice that’s memorable even in a film that necessarily has no villains. The film score while not noteworthy does is job adequately whether it be mellow for a touching moment or upbeat for a fun sequence.

Monster University follows a straightforward route taking different directions to reach the same destination with different outcomes. Going into Monster University you know where the journey is headed and you know what the destination is, but what matter most is who you are taking it with. In this case the characters you take the journey with make every minute count.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: Carlito’s Way (1993) Review

Al Pacino and Brian De Palma collaboration brought one of the most iconic gangster to film with “Scarface”. A film that would define both of their careers making “Carlito’s Way” a unique enigma. While both are about man wanting to be better then he is both are the polar opposite in terms of tone, atmosphere, and pacing. In the end “Carlito’s Way” doesn’t surpass “Scarface”, but neither is it inferior in any noticeable way.

Carlito’s Way is about a Puerto Rican former convict, just released from prison, pledging to stay away from drugs and violence despite the pressure around him and lead on to a better life outside of N.Y.C.. Moving along at a slow pace “Carlito’s Way” tells an engrossing story. Allowing enough time to develop every major player that come into play in the story. Getting across every character history with each other, how each one lives, and interweaving each conflict into a single narrative that never becomes lost among many of its characters. Filled with a wide cast they never undermined our main character, but instead build upon Carlito’s character who doesn’t follow a traditional narrative. What we don’t see is the rise of Carlito to power, but instead we do see is the traditional fall. What makes this fall different is fully understanding Carlito’s world how he sees it and how he goes against the image given to him. Yes we know the outcome of Carlito’s life in the beginning of the film which in no way detracts from it story. It’s a quite a feat to make a thrilling climax when the outcome has already been shown. It seems the plot would have gotten everything right if it weren’t for stock characters. Sure the stock characters are well developed from the drug addicted best friend, crooked cops, a promising new young criminal, and many more unfortunately play out like a cliche. At its heart “Carlito’s Way” story fits B movie territory where’s it biggest strength lies using it towards its strength and not so much as a concealing weakness. It might be retreading familiar ground with stock characters helping you connect the dot faster than the plotline, but getting to the already known destination is an engaging character piece.

Director Brian De Palma acknowledges that “Carlito’s Way” is one giant slice of cheese with style. He pushes every motion and emotion to operatic proportions, ringing every ounce of drama. With its impeccable compositions, precise camera work, glacial tracking shots, baroque tone, sublime action sequences, and flamboyant acting, this is a film in love with its own form. Al Pacino’s performance as Carlito is the heart of the movie. Compelling, tough, and intelligent from years of dope dealing and soaking up the gang-land atmosphere around him. Framed by a jet black beard, Pacino spends the film always dressed in black, navigating his death dream like a fallen angel. Pacino spends the film alternating between a stance of fast-talking macho posturing and one of melancholic regret. He wears the face of a corpse, of defeat and acceptance, his flashes of confidence a hip old mask which doesn’t know if its going or staying. Then there’s Sean Penn as Kleinfeld, a scheming, vain little man who starts off seemingly as legitimate as a lawyer of criminals, but as we soon learn, he has slipped into a world that he has no place to belong in. Kleinfeld, with his balding, curly hair and nervy, cranked voice. However, when the viewer looks into his eyes, both terrified and ravenous, one can understand the pathway to excess that most conventional crime movies take for granted.

Carlito’s Way is a slow and engrossing character driven crime drama that will keep you watching even though you know the fate of the main character in the beginning of the film. Well directed and well acted Carlito’s Way will absorb you into its world and characters all the way through the end.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) Review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire follows Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem. Structurally “Catching Fires” sticks too closely to “The Hunger Games”. We go from District 12 to the Capitol and the training period and then into the Games. The “been here, done that” vibe is inevitable, but improved upon its predecessor is in character development. Characterization strengthen the film structure from what’s already a tale of love, faith, strength, and humanity against the system into a compelling tight narrative. Spending time building its world to understand why this future is in constant conflict and seeing the effect our characters actions have on the world. Touching on the difficulty of being a living symbol through Katniss; who has greatness thrust upon her uncertain on what exactly to do with that power. It’s this conflict that makes Katniss a dynamic protagonist fighting what she believes is right versus what is seen as being right. Not only are major characters given more depths, but minor characters leave an impression including those specifically designated to be plot points. Some scenes are specifically written as comedy relief to ease the drama before the hunger games. While the film ending does only serves as buildup what came before is more than satisfactory for a complete narrative.

As for its political side the film lacked subtlety. Its in your face with moments designated to discussing Katniss position as a symbol in a revolution, a public execution of a revolutionary, what’s at stake defying the government, what previous freedom was lost, and many aspect are constantly present throughout the film. It does so without shoving down any sort of message down its viewer throat. Thought provoking it is not barely exploring the government sides of politics beyond wanting more and maintaining that power. A missed opportunity no doubt, but nothing noticeably damaging to the film narrative. The undertone romance between Peeta and Katniss which no longer remains underdeveloped is an undertone political one. Controlling the image of influential figures while in context subtly hides its intention with a double meaning. One might simply past the romance aspect of being nothing more than a romance, but doing so is missing another layer of added humanity. Katniss love interest are more than just guys she likes, they are metaphor; choosing temptation to live in a bubble away from the world problem with lip service versus being part of the world taking position in its conflicts.

Francis Lawrence direction borders on if its isn’t broke, don’t fix it mentality to the material. Rather than recreate everything Francis Lawrence merely expands on all ideas and makes them clearer and more concise. There is continuity from a change in style, tone, and authentic that doesn’t alienate it from it predecessors. A large part of continuity also works is because James Newton Howard music utilizes all of his prior thematic material to bring you back into the world. With Howard’s score, and Francis Lawrence’s direction, it makes the film feel familiar both aurally, and visually. The action scenes themselves work narratively, but the set pieces are empty of any creativity and ferocity. Once a promising setup is in place for an action scene the film falls victim to a standard execution of them playing like a straight cliche; playing around the idea one of our heroes drowned, the sacrifice after carrying someone destine not to survive for long distances, shooting a lethal projectile (in this case an arrow) pointed at an ally to hit an enemy behind ally, protagonist losing grip against a strong uncontrollable force, sharp object narrowly avoiding hitting someone’s head, everything needed for a generic action scene are here visibly clear.

Jennifer Lawrence (the only reason I’m seeing this series) exudes the spirit of Katniss in every breath and pulse of the film. Controlling every single emotional nerve of the audience with vacant stares and dimpled smiles breaking every stereotypical mold attached to her. Josh Hutcherson balances the sensitivity of love and charm with the emotional conflict of a ravaged heart with effortless poise. The interactions between Hutcherson and his merry company form the highlights of the film, filled with the cackling chemistry. Woody Harrelson delivers a matured and restrained performance while Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne blends in simplicity. Donald Sutherland is exceptional as President Snow in his mannerisms lends a third dimension. Supporting cast includes Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. Malone in particular sets into this role that is so eccentric, so over-the-top, and manages to make Johanna somewhat relatable and real.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire improves on its predecessor even if it sticks too closely to its structure. Strong characterizations raises the stakes as well as expanding what came before it without alienating newcomers nor fans. Supported by a strong, tightly woven script, and a confident direction it improves upon the predecessor foundation refining old tricks that work better the second time around.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: Apocalypse Now (1979) Review

I recently re-watched Apocalypse Now and my views on it is still the same. It’s a great movie and a classic.

During the on-going Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade Green Beret who has set himself up as a God among a local tribe. I liked the story to be honest, though while at times it did feel slow I found it nonetheless to be a smartly written movie. Though this does take place in the Vietnam War, i’m surprise the direction it was taken as it main focus wasn’t the war, it the mission of our hero Willard and how he’s admiring the man he was assigned to kill. My only complain about the story is the last twenty minute, it’s just wasn’t as good as the rest of the movie. It also felt really dragged on and I felt it loosing momentum and ends up with a good ending that could have been better.

Now usually what people expect from war movies is of course allot battles. If you’re one those people you’ll be disappointed as it main focus is on the characters and not winning the war. I’m glad the movie goes in this direction as I honestly think it was the only way to make a movie like this and make as mesmerizing and incredibly entertaining as it is. The music perfectly fits into the movie, it adds more emotion to certain scenes, and makes it a more memorable experience. If you’re expecting a final battle like in Saving Private Ryan you’ll be disappointed as well, that’s why this is consider one of the greatest movie ever made. It takes a war movie in a entirely different direction which makes it stand out from every other war movie ever made.

Apocalypse Now is certainly deserving to be called one of the greatest movie ever made. Though I still found the last twenty minute not to be at the same level as the rest of the movie. This one of those that gotten better age and will always have a place in movie history.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: High Plains Drifter (1973) Review

If there’s ever an actor that would sell me in watching a western, that man would be Clint Eastwood.

A gunfighting stranger comes to the small settlement of Lago and is hired to bring the townsfolk together in an attempt to hold off three outlaws who are on their way. The best thing about western is that they have good story, and this one is no different. I was mostly satisfied by the story as the more it went on the more I got interested. The small supernatural elements made it more interesting in my opinion as it added a more unique feel as I was watching this. One thing about the story that’s bad is that the town people are represented as cowards for the whole movie and they don’t exactly improve though the at the end either.

As always, Clint Eastwood performance is spectacular as “the stranger” or nameless cowboy as he known for. Whenever Clint Eastwood is given a unnamed Cowboy you better expect nothing but the best. The direction was great, the cinematography was great, and cast fit well into there characters.

Now this may not be as good as some of Clint Eastwood other western, especially Unforgiven, but it’s still a nice alternative and a unique take on the western genre from the man who is the best in that genre.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: City on Fire (1987) Review

I was thrilled watching Reservoir Dogs so I decided to check out the movie that Quentin Tarantino borrowed heavily from, though not as good, I found it to be a great movie.

An undercover cop, played by Chow Yun-Fat, infiltrates a gang of thieves who plan to rob a jewelry store. The story sounds familiar, but Quentin Tarantino doesn’t borrow everything from this movie. For example, the bank robbery going bad is actually shown, Chou Yun-Fat character also has a love interest that wants him to commit to her, and Chow Yun-Fat character really wants to quit his job throughout the whole movie. Yet despite these differences, it’s not as good as Reservoir Dogs. The story main problem is that Chow Yun-Fat character back story to wanting a marriage with his girlfriend is really not that interesting at all or adds emotional weight to this character from the audience.

The good and bad things about this movie also comes from the bank robberies. The first took too long to execute and wasn’t all that entertaining and fun. Though the second and last robbery was a little better. Seeing the bank robbery go bad was entertaining in it own right, but the Mexican stand off at the end didn’t thrill as much as it should have. City on Fire is like Reservoir Dogs, except it shows the robberies, a marriage back story, and not as captivating performances.

City on Fire is a surprisingly good movie despite not being at the same level as Reservoir Dogs as a whole. While I stilled like the movie, I feel that anyone who seen Reservoir Dogs won’t be able completely enjoy it in the same level. Still worth checking if you’re curious where Reservoir Dogs came from.

9/10