Awards Season Feature Post

Awards Season 2015-16 Scoreboard

Carol Keeping a tally of the (wins/nominations) for this year's awards season. Scroll down way below to see which Awards are being...

Oct 5, 2014

Quick Takes: Man of Steel - Premium Rush - Stoker


            Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Dylan Sprayberry, Cooper Timberline, Harry Lennix, Christopher Meloni, Richard Schiff, Mackenzie Gray and Michael Kelly

                    Zack Snyder


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's just Snyder crapping all over us.

                   Superman dude can sure fly but alas, his film didn't soar. Wait, did I just call him Superman? That is forbidden because Superman makes him sound like some old, candy-colored hero of sorts. We should call him "Man of Steel" because that sounds macho and metal. This latest obsession in action blockbuster filmmaking to name, make and look everything dark has made way for tedious and tiring experiences. Film series and characters who never needed such things are being turned into poor, sad-faced protagonists. Superman... where is that hero we all loved? Where is his wit and charm? Why aren't his struggles more drawn and heartfelt? There is nothing about Snyder's Man of Steel that remotely makes us cheer, care or cry for our superhero. He is now a self-centered and shamelessly moronic brat. At least Batman used his wealth, gadgets and parental issues to be the hero his city needed. Christopher Nolan served as the producer on this film. I was hopeful that he was looking over this project and will make sure it turned out to be an exciting, complex and carefully weaved effort. But his name and involvement couldn't save this film. People were really excited for this film. I was in awe of the first teaser, very 'Malickian'. But then somewhere down the line, the more trailers this film got, the more it seemed to be just another flashy blockbuster. Poor Superman will never get a worthy modern incarnation. At least Singer tried and his effort was very watchable if not significant. Lets stop turning everything into Game of Thrones because that look isn't suited for everything.

                   Superman is and always will be my favorite superhero. Batman has the best films, Iron Man had the best debut film while Spider-man films had the most gleeful feeling of comic books. If only Snyder cared for what he was about to do with Superman, his obsession with campy misery, gloss, metal and dullness resulted in one of the worst superhero, summer blockbuster and my current least-favorite film of 2013. Man of Steel begins with the destruction of planet Krypton which I have to admit was the best part about this film. Nice to have a more detailed look into that part. You know the rest of the story. Jor-El and his wife sends their baby to Earth, the antagonist Zod is captured but later freed. 'Clark' is brought up by Jonathan and Martha Kent in Smallville, Kansas. Clark is confused and depressed by the powers he has and how much he isn't like anybody else in the entire world. He helps people out but never lets anybody know about him per his father's advice. Lois Lane comes in the picture, a spaceship is found, Clark learns about things, Zod strikes, Metropolis is destroyed and the film ends. At the end of it, I was so exhausted by the never-ending action and destruction that I needed to drink something. I have seen films that literally gives one a headache (Transformers 2 anybody?) but this film was a king-sized disappointment with so much wasted potential. While it is very well-casted film, the actors turns out to be used just for their name, looks or shouting abilities. There is no genuine 'acting' or emotions to be found. Henry Cavill looks hot but lackluster and typical. Amy Adams who? Her character has zero scope and connection with Superman or with herself. Michael Shannon screams a lot and is the only one who at least tries. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane perfectly suited for such a role are okay. Russell Crowe is same old same old.

                   Written by David S. Goyer, the film fails to find a balance between action and deep (what depth?) storytelling. The cluttered mess of voiceover preaching/brooding-lost handsome Superman and his exploration becomes a bore. I applaud their ambition but it just didn't work. That makes up almost half of the already overlong film and then finally you have the destruction of a giant city with lots of high-rises and millions of people who will die because heroes can't take their issues anywhere else. So many lives are lost but our hero only cares for his problems. I was praying for the film to end during those awful sequences after sequences. The action I wont deny is serviceable at times, nice use of flashy techniques. And both these halves are connected by unconvincing and lazy Lane-Kent relationship development. The character development which they were so keen to focus on is inert and terribly dull hence everything else becomes a core. No energy or friction, nothing to feel or root for. Overdone Zimmer score sure sounds good during flying sequences but most of the times, ears bleed. Visual effects ranges from usual Snyder-300-ish to dull cartoonish. Man of Steel is big but not bold. It has flash but no swag. Lacking charisma and hope. In Snyder I don't trust from now on.

Grade: D


            Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Wolé Parks, Aasif Mandvi, Jamie Chung, Christopher Place, Henry O, Boyce Wong, Brian Koppelman, Kevin Bolger, BoJun Wang, Sean Kennedy, Kym Perfetto, Anthony Chisholm, Lauren Ashley Carter, Aaron Tveit, Darlene Violette, Mario D'Leon, Djani Johnson and Wai Ching Ho

                    David Koepp

                  Not sure that there is much to say about "Premium Rush" beside the fact that it has limited appeal and can be watched during some lazy Sunday afternoon. I wasn't planning to watch when it was released two years back but it happened to be on TV recently and I had nothing to do so there seemed no harm in giving this a try. I mean why wont anybody watch a film where The Who's "Baba O'Riley" is playing in its opening scene? Directed by David Koepp and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Wilee the bike messenger, this action thriller is about people cycling around NYC to deliver packages. JGL is another reason to watch this film because he is JGL. Wilee has put off his bar exam because he can't sit in an office. He doesn't like to be confined by life, people or jobs. So he is one of the many bicycle messengers cycling around the city delivering packages from one place to another. It is not a very safe job obviously because bicycles aren't really used by people for much 'traveling'. When you have roads filled up with motorcycles, cars and taxis, it is bound to be dangerous for cyclists to make their way through the hustle let alone those whose job is to drive their bicycles really fast. Wilee as the goofy name might suggest is a thrill seeker, sometimes selfish and ignorant and other times you can actually stand him. He hates brakes (literal and metaphorical), nothing can stop him. This film begins with an accident very stylishly shown and the entire film sort of 'approaches' to that part via flashbacks and flash-forwards, a digital clock on the screen helps us out. It is an interesting choice to have the film broken down like that, the juggling of time and different plots which at the end all comes together. And by then you find out the why and how and what? There is a package that Wilee gets from a University and that becomes the focus as a dangerous cop Bobby Monday (Shannon) is after it. He chases Wilee who goofs around on the road and gets away several times. There are other characters as well like Wilee's rival bike messenger Manny (Parks) and Wilee's girlfriend Vanessa (Ramirez) who challenges Wilee in their own way.

                   I don't think this film is as thrilling or exciting as the title implies but it is a fun watch. There is nothing alarmingly negative about it while nothing particularly great either. It is a harmless film that keeps you invested on the thin stuff. The way this film is divided and then re-assembled deserves a slow clap. Sometimes there is too much of the surface-level shenanigans like Wilee visualizing different scenarios in his head to find the most convenient route among the heavy traffic or the GPS maps thing. These elements are basically what the filmmaker and screenwriter aims for to keep their audience interested in the film. That is their primary focus while the mysterious parcel and its heavy reveal doesn't have the impact or enough weight to really call for or justify all the build-up. The characters in Premium Rush aren't really developed because the focus is mainly to provide cheap thrills. That is not to say that the audience and their intelligence level is put to a test or anything but the films aims for the rush and excitement of the next step, next advancement, next stop. In doing so and with the limitations it inevitably puts on itself, the film never truly reaches the highs it promises or hints at. Some silly sequences that almost makes you laugh. But hey, this is far from a bad film. I guarantee slight thrills and some smile on your face for a decent amount of time. The performances aren't great though. Michael Shannon continues to play cartoonish characters in these mainstream films but here he is on an entirely different level of it. I loathed his character, everything about him. Shannon while not really outstanding maybe had fun doing it. It has a cool soundtrack and score, some nice flashy style and the basic look of the film is very straight-to-DVD but not cheap. Premium Rush isn't very exciting or outstanding but you might enjoy watching it despite the flaws which distracted me.

Grade: C+

STOKER (2013)

            Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, Phyllis Somerville, Ralph Brown and Judith Godrèche

                    Park Chan-wook

                  "Stoker" marked Park Chan-wook's English language debut, his first film made in Hollywood. He has always been known to me as the director of "Oldboy". Since watching Stoker, I have seen the other two films in his infamous Vengeance trilogy. He is that South Korean filmmaker who always surprises me with the unpredictable films he puts out as well as the varied reaction it initiates. For instance I am not a fan of "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance". Anyways, Stoker was only my second film from the famous filmmaker and well, it was not a particularly good one. One thing that I really loved about this film was the cinematography and the other, Nicole Kidman of course. It wasn't really hard to notice while watching this psychological thriller that it was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt". The themes, plot and motifs somewhat resembled that film but this isn't a remake because writer Wentworth Miller deviates a lot and introduces further absurdity among the characters. The use of staircases, euphemisms, mysterious but charismatic characters, very Hitchcokian. There is a Southern
Gothic  sensibility to this film, a psychological melodrama of sorts. The main problem with this film is the lackluster, uninspired and occasionally stumbling writing. No amount of visual delight or arty editing can compensate for it. Well I guess it did to some degree because I didn't end up hating this film entirely. I would have if it wasn't for the visual delight and seductive film that it was. There is no compelling narrative in this film and it bites you. When the film ends, you are just left with the beautiful shots and aesthetic appeal of it. No characters or their motifs, no secrets or ambiguity, no insanity of the story, no metaphors or inspirations. It is watchable but definitely not for everyone.

                   Stoker is the story of 18-year-old India (Wasikowska) whose life takes a turn when her father, Richard (Mulroney) dies. At his funeral, India and her unstable mother Evelyn (Kidman) are visited by Charlie (Goode), Richard's brother. There is something mysterious about his sudden appearance. He is hiding something, his past, where he has been and what he has done all these years. Matthew Goode really looks charming as Charlie, India's uncle. There is something evil about his face and the way he keeps pushing himself into India's life. She will soon find out the truth but what exactly will she do? The film rarely ignites its narrative with the ambiguity it so openly surrounds itself with. There are a few metaphors thrown here and there. Spider crawling up India's skirt, a predator nourishing under her and she has no choice. A family is a family, legacy is passed on. It is so easy to sum the entire film, actually I just may have given away the entire thing. That is how thinly this film have been imagined. Yet there is something about the look, camera angles and editing of this film that keeps you interested if not invested. Forget the plot, you know it already. There is no study or critique of any kind in this film, no exploration or elaboration. Just a concept stretched to showy techniques and style. Stoker is a hollow film basically but not entirely devoid. No real dread or drama, no underlying message. The characters are at times pretty laughable but thanks to the actors, they never reach the absolute level of it. Kidman is ravishing in her close-ups. Mia Wasikowska isn't. There is well-done production and costume design to this film. Occasionally some scenes have good appeal like the shower/masturbation sequence or the piano part. I really don't know what else to say!

Grade: C