Film Review: The Departed (2006)

Release Date: September 26th, 2006 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: William Monahan
Based on: Infernal Affairs by Alan Mak, Felix Chong
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin, Anthony Anderson, Kevin Corrigan, Mark Rolston, Robert Wahlberg

Media Asia Films, Vertigo Entertainment, Initial Entertainment Group, Plan B Entertainment, Warner Bros., 151 Minutes

Review:

“My theory on Feds is that they’re like mushrooms, feed ’em shit and keep ’em in the dark” – Dignam

I probably would’ve enjoyed this movie a lot more had I not seen the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs first. Reason being, this is an American remake of that film and frankly, it’s nowhere near as good but I’ll explain why.

To start, the acting is superb as fuck and really, that should go without saying if you look over the cast list. And really, I think that’s the one part of this film that possibly exceeds the original. DiCaprio is solid. Damon is solid. Nicholson is solid. Frankly, so is everyone else and there isn’t really a weak link in this chain of talent.

I think that for the lesser known actors and those with smaller parts, working with these other legends really helped them rise to the occasion. But some credit for that obviously has to go to Martin Scorsese’s direction. Scorsese, time and time again, always pulls the very best out of his actors from top-to-bottom in every production.

But this doesn’t discredit the acting in the Hong Kong film, which was also top notch and pretty damn close to this one even with the language barrier and having to experience it through subtitles.

One thing I’m not super keen on about this version is that it feels like the least Martin Scorsese film that the man has ever made… or, at least, that I’ve seen. It’s like Scorsese really wanted to replicate the tone and style of the original and while he did a fine job in replicating it, it sort of loses his patented touch. I would’ve rather seen him really take this story and make it his own.

Speaking of the story, I found this harder to follow than its source material. The Hong Kong film developed the characters better, especially the backstories. This movie lacked a lot of the extra context we got in the original between the Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon characters. I think that context was pretty important and maybe those scenes were filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.

What’s strange is that this movie is a whopping fifty minutes longer… fifty! Yet it feels like it has less story and the story that is present is a bit complicated. I feel like they tried to add extra layers into this where they didn’t need to be. While I don’t remember every detail of Infernal Affairs, as it’s been four years since I’ve seen it, but it did feel more streamlined and focused in spite of all the characters it had to balance.

It may seem like I’m shitting on The Departed but I don’t mean to. It’s just that I found a lot more value in the original.

This is still a damn engaging movie with characters you like, even the bad ones. It mostly moves at a brisk pace and as I’ve already stated, it’s a movie that’s greatly enhanced by its performances.

It was kind of cool seeing guys like DiCaprio, Nicholson and Damon come together in the same picture. It truly feels like a once-in-a-lifetime team-up and these guys worked together wonderfully.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Release Date: October 10th, 2017 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Based on: The Mighty Thor by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins, Taika Waititi, Clancy Brown, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Sam Neill, Matt Damon (uncredited cameo), Stan Lee (uncredited cameo)

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 130 Minutes

Review:

“Last time we saw you, you were trying to kill everyone. What are you up to these days?” – Bruce Banner, “It varies from moment to moment.” – Loki

The Thor movies probably get the least amount of respect out of the solo Marvel films. I enjoyed the first two, more so than a lot of Marvel’s stuff. Chris Hemsworth is fantastic, as is Tom Hiddleston. So when I learned that the third movie would also feature a version of the spectacular Planet Hulk storyline, I was super excited. When I learned that it was going to be directed by Taika Waititi (What We Do In the ShadowsFlight of the Conchords), my interest went through the roof.

To put it bluntly, this is now my favorite Marvel film. It actually eclipsed the Guardians of the Galaxy movies in both fun and scale. It is hard not to make comparisons between the films, as both Guardians and this Thor movie involve outer space adventures and a real lightheartedness missing in other Marvel pictures. My god, man… this was so much better than the drab and predictable Captain America: Civil War and light-years ahead of those convoluted Avengers pictures. This also had villains that matter and that look cool, unlike Baron Zemo, who was just some guy, or aliens on flying jet skis or killer robots for the nth time.

Chris Hemsworth is absolutely dynamite in this and even though he has been great as Thor, thus far, this is the chapter in the massive Marvel universe where he really just shines and shows that he is not only the coolest Avenger but an actual friggin’ god. This is the film where Thor finally becomes Thor, the King of Asgard, the protector of his people and a guy that can actually take it to the Hulk.

Tom Hiddleston once again kills it as Loki and this is also where his road to redemption comes full circle. Sure, he’s got his tricks up his sleeves but when his big bad evil sister shows up to destroy his home, he can’t not be by his brother’s side when the chips fall.

Having the Hulk in this was also a real treat that just added weight to the actual threat in this film. This is the best that the Hulk has been and the movie really showcases his power and pits him not just against Thor but also Fenris, a kaiju sized wolf, as well as the mountain sized god, Surtur.

Speaking of Surtur, the first part of the film, which deals with Thor besting a weakened Surtur, was really cool. Ultimately, Surtur does appear in his full form by the end of the film. While he is Asgard’s version of the Devil and he brings about Ragnarok, which is Asgard’s version of Armageddon, Thor uses Surtur’s presence in the film to his advantage. I always wondered how they could actually handle and present Surtur in a film and Waititi nailed it perfectly.

Apart from Surtur, we get Cate Blanchett as the evil Goddess of Death, Hela. She is the older sister of Thor and Loki and has been locked away for eons. The death of Odin brings about her release and even united, the brothers cannot defeat her without additional help in the form of a newly assembled team of heroes.

Jeff Goldblum shows up as another villain, the Grandmaster. He runs a planet that has a massive gladiator coliseum. This is where the big fight between Thor and the Hulk goes down. Obviously, the two end up teaming up and taking it to every baddie in the film.

For what Thor: Ragnarok is, which is a fun comic book movie, it couldn’t be more entertaining. It’s really hard for me to give out a perfect 10 score when rating a picture but in the context of superhero movies and for the fact that it is a better Marvel film than both of the Guardians of the Galaxy outings, which both earned a 9, I have to give Thor: Ragnarok a 9.5 out of 10. It will take something quite exceptional to reach a 10 in this genre but maybe Waititi will give us an even better Thor picture in the future. He’s certainly capable of it.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Both Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Thor and Thor: Dark World.

Film Review: Interstellar (2014)

Release Date: October 26th, 2014 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Mackenzie Foy, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Matt Damon, Timothée Chalamet, Wes Bentley, William Devane

Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, Lynda Obst Productions, Paramount Pictures, 169 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down, and worry about our place in the dirt.” – Cooper

Man, where to begin?

Let me kick this off by saying that overall I did like this film. It wasn’t this generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as I had hoped and granted, those are massive shoes to fill, but this was a fairly okay effort by Christopher Nolan at trying to emulate Stanley Kubrick. And I say that because this film felt like Nolan trying to create his 2001 and his brother, who co-wrote the film, admitted to channeling 2001 while penning this story. Unfortunately, it fell short of coming close to the level of grandeur and wonder that is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also, it falls short of what Nolan has proven his skill level is capable of.

As far as visuals and sound, this film knocks it out of the park. I deliberately didn’t see this in IMAX, as I wanted to be wowed on a regular screen because that is how the majority of eyes will see this picture and to compare it to the amazing visual effects of other films throughout history, I wanted to see it on a level playing field and not on steroids. And truthfully, I’ve come to look at the IMAX thing as a fad like 3D. Until it is the norm in every theater, it isn’t what I consider the industry standard. It’s certainly a cool experience but films that rely on it, as greatly as Nolan has been over his last few films, just tell me that they are pushing their visual style and effects over their film as a whole: sparkle over substance. And that is what this film was. I got to the point where I was like, “Fuck these bells and whistles, just show me the damn film!”

There were amazingly shot sequences that used practical effects, which gave a lot of the important visual elements a sense of realism that can’t be manufactured digitally. This didn’t feel like a cartoon like the recent Star Trek films, it felt cold, dreary and authentic. In that regard, it had the real organic and realistic soul that 2001 had in 1968.

The score to the film and the sound in general were perfect. It definitely has an Oscar-caliber vibe to it and if the film isn’t nominated for the score by Hans Zimmer and for a best sound category, that would be a pretty shitty snub by the Academy. Additionally, it definitely deserves a nomination for visual effects.

The pace and editing of the film was pretty disjointed as things would pop in and out of the film that just didn’t seem to fit or be necessary. I feel like a two hour version of this film would play much better. The time spent with Matt Damon’s character on a dangerous planet is way too drawn out.

When delving into the story of this film, it is a convoluted mess. Yes, things are pretty straightforward but there are a few minor plot twists and developments that come out of nowhere and don’t fit the overall narrative of the film. For instance, Matthew McConaughey’s character Cooper has a son who, for whatever reason, is obsessed with staying on his M.I.A. father’s farm even though it is killing his wife and child. This is a bizarre side story that just doesn’t fit within the film. And after his sister burns his crops and tries to kidnap his family, after he punched her husband in the face, he just stands there like a mute retard when confronted by her babbling about her dad’s magic watch sending Morse code through space and time through the power of love. It was reminiscent of the plot to a bad 80s music video.

Another bizarre plot twist that we are introduced to is when Anne Hathaway’s character Amelia Brand uncharacteristically pushes for the explorers to use the last of their fuel to visit the planet with her former lover on it. After being a hardcore scientist and being bred for this mission, probably all of her adult life, she is willing to throw all of humanity away on her own selfish heart. This just doesn’t fit her character leading up to that point and this also leads to the film pushing the concept that love is a dimension that can transcend space, time and every other barrier. Love is a force similar to gravity. The film lost me with this mystic woo. It suddenly felt like a Manga written by a 12 year-old girl.

And speaking of mystic woo, we come to discover that getting sucked into a black hole brings a person to some weird alien-crafted maze of windows that look into Cooper’s daughter’s bedroom at different points in time. This led to Cooper reaching out through love to send messages to his daughter years prior, which earlier in the film, were dismissed as a ghost. Cooper discovers that the ghost was real and he was the ghost. Cue panic-ridden crying and yelling by McConaughey for fifteen minutes as he is stuck behind his daughter’s mystic bookshelf in the center of a black hole.

The film confusingly represents love as a force like gravity and somehow love can make a wristwatch’s second hand talk to someone in the past with Morse code.

What is somewhat irritating is that Christopher Nolan consulted with a very knowledgeable physicist on this film but the scientific accuracy was pretty shitty. What I had hoped would be a scientific film where we might encounter another intelligence beyond our scope of comprehension, was instead a fantasy film wrapped in fairy tale where the superior intelligence was just fifth dimensional human beings trying to help their own race evolve and get off of a dying planet. I’d have to write a series of blogs or a book even on the amount of paradoxes here.

In regards to the black hole sequence, Nolan used his physics expert to help him create a realistic scenario and to make the sequence visually authentic. What we got was neither. Now while the black hole looked absolutely fucking amazing and grandiose, when McConaughey flew into it, we never experienced spaghettification. Also, black holes are so powerful that even light cannot escape them, hence the name “black hole”.

As McConaughey pilots his craft into the core of the cosmic maelstrom, we can still see things and the lights inside the ship give a nice cool glow in the cockpit. Maybe it is hard to tell a visual story in darkness but I feel like a black screen with the sounds of a ship being torn apart would have been more haunting, more realistic and added more credence and authenticity. What we got was Nolan’s version of the lone astronaut entering the monolith, except this one finds himself behind his daughter’s bookshelf. It wasn’t anywhere near as cool and epic as where David Bowman went in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hell, it wasn’t even as cool as where the crew went in Disney’s 1979 film The Black Hole. At least they flew through Hell filled with evil robots.

It is worth noting that this film also borrowed from 2001 in the character of the computer/robot named TARS, who was this film’s version of HAL 9000. Except TARS didn’t kill astronauts, he just joked about it and served more of an R2-D2 role.

In the end, Matthew McConaughey’s mission is a failure, in a sense, but I guess it inspired his aging daughter to work hard on equations and save humankind from their dying world. Her work leads to humans ending up on some Saturn-orbiting space station that is a complete rip-off of the cylindrical spaceship Rama from Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama. Being that Clarke penned the original 2001 novel and all its sequels, this brings Nolan’s “borrowing” of Clarke’s ideas and concepts full circle.

What you have, in my estimation, is a good looking, often times visually amazing film, that unfortunately sells itself short by tapping into the Stanley Kubrick/Arthur C. Clarke well too often. The major difference, is that Kubrick took risks and did things that challenged filmmaking and changed it forever. Nolan played it safe and didn’t leave us with anything daring, as he seemed to be more interested in making a commercial success and an homage, as opposed to something more authentic and true to his heart. However, this is the difference between Kubrick and Nolan. One is the professor, the other is a really good student that idolizes the professor a bit too much.

Is the film worth a watch? Definitely. Is it destined to be a beloved classic? Probably to some but it lacks the depth and originality to truly make it stand on its own legs.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Nolan films that don’t feature Batman.

Film Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Release Date: December 12th, 1999 (Fox Bruin Theater premiere)
Directed by: Anthony Minghella
Written by: Anthony Minghella
Based on: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Gabriel Yared
Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Davenport, James Rebhorn, Sergio Rubini, Philip Baker Hall

Mirage Enterprises, Timnick Films, Paramount Pictures, Miramax Films, 138 Minutes

talented_mr_ripleyReview:

This was a picture loaded with a great up and coming cast of big stars at the time of its release. It features Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jack Davenport.

I like the film but it does have its issues.

To be completely honest, The Talented Mr. Ripley is just too drawn out. The running time is pretty long and probably should have been shaved back a bit. Sure, 138 minutes isn’t excruciating but some scenes felt too long or unnecessary. Maybe it is a true adaptation of the book, I haven’t read it, but I feel like all of this could have happened at right around 120 minutes. It just needed to be tighter, especially the second half.

The thing is, the film has layers to it, I get that. But when you strip everything apart, a whole lot happens and then you hit a wall with the pace of the story.

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) goes to Italy to convince Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) to return to America. While there, he becomes infatuated with Dickie’s life to the point of developing psycho stalker characteristics. Ultimately, Dickie grows tired and bored with Tom and rejects him harshly. Tom, losing his shit, murders Dickie. Tom, who is a self-proclaimed master of imitation, pretends that he is Dickie, so that he can live his life. Dickie’s lady, Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow) is then strung along with Tom’s charade, assuming that Dickie is still alive. Dickie’s friend Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman) grows suspicious and winds up murdered by Tom. All the while, Tom continues to string Marge along, as well as everyone else that crosses his path. All that happens in the first 75 minutes or so. The remaining hour and its use of time is the real issue.

The film is pretty fascinating until you hit that wall. Then you just kind of want to see it wrap up and it finds ways to add more layers, mostly unnecessary to the resolution. Spoiler alert, there really is no resolution. There were multiple Ripley books however, so maybe the film was left with an open ending because of that. As a stand alone film, it just feels sort of empty and Tom getting away with his final awful act just seems implausible, considering what he’s done up to that point.

The other thing that works against this film, is that no one is remotely likable, except for Jack Davenport’s Peter Smith-Kingsly and Cate Blanchett’s Meredith Logue. Both of them, however, while important to the story, don’t have anywhere near the amount of screen time as the top billed stars. Both are tragic characters, due to their association with Tom but they aren’t as fleshed out as they should be.

Another negative was the opening credits sequence. The titles felt odd and out of place and were somewhat distracting. The editing techniques were maybe done to convey that Tom is broken or has a split personality but it makes the film feel dated in a bad way. Here we have a majestic looking motion picture that primarily takes place in 1950s Italy but the first thing we see is an over-stylized 90s credits sequence.

The story has a very Hitchcockian feel to it. Frankly, I’m surprised that Alfred Hitchcock didn’t try to tackle this book. It has everything that makes those classic Hitchcock films work yet it just didn’t capture the same sort of magic. And that’s not really due to having a mediocre director, as Anthony Minghella has helmed some fine films: The English Patient and Cold Mountain, for example.

The acting is superb, the cinematography is stellar and the overall direction was great. There is a lot to love about The Talented Mr. Ripley, despite my complaints.

Matt Damon was friggin’ perfect as Tom. Jude Law was charismatic yet despicable as Dickie. Gwyneth Paltrow was a bit grating and annoying at times but that was due to how her character was written.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is worth watching, for the most part. I just don’t think that it was as effective as it could have been.

Rating: 6/10