The Things You Find On Netflix: Eli (dir by Ciaran Foy)


Eli (Charlie Shotwell) is a young boy who is allergic to everything outside.  As a result, he can’t venture out of the house unless he’s covered, head-to-toe, in protective gear.  Eli wasn’t always allergic, of course.  It’s just something that suddenly started.  Eli’s mother, Rose (Kelly Reilly) and her husband, Paul (Max Martini), are taking him to a special clinic run by Dr. Isabella Horn (Lili Taylor).  Because the clinic is sealed off from the outside, Eli can leave his plastic bubble.  Because the clinic is in a dark old building, we know that it’s either going to be haunted or run by some sort of cult.  In fact, it doesn’t take long before Eli is doubting not only Dr. Horn but his parents as well!  He keeps hearing voices that hiss, “Lie.”  And the only other patient at the clinic, a young girl named Haley (Sadie Sink), repeatedly tells him to be careful….

Eli is 98 minutes long and I lost interest after the first ten.  Basically, I was willing to give the film a chance but then a bunch of rednecks started to taunt Eli while he was walking around outside in his protective gear and I was like, “Yeah, okay.” Then they started throwing stuff at him and I was like, “Getting a little bit heavy-handed now.”  Then the suit got torn and Eli started screaming like he was about to die and the rednecks just stood there laughing and that’s when I said, “Okay, this is going to suck.”  There’s heavy-handed and then there’s just attacking your audience with a sledgehammer.  Sledgehammers give you a migraine.

Once Eli reaches the clinic, the film slows down to a glacial pace.  In theory, the slow pace should have helped to maintain an ominous atmosphere but …. eh.  To be honest, I’ve seen a lot of creepy clinics in a lot of creepy movies and there was nothing that special about this one.  It all leads to a big twist but, again, it wasn’t a particularly original twist and even the film’s attempt to blow my mind with a subversive ending just left me shrugging.  “Really?” I thought, “That’s what’s going to happen, huh?  Well, what can you do?”

Like a lot of bad movies, the script for Eli was included on the infamous Hollywood Black List.  The Black List is an annual list of the “best” unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.  A few good films have been made out of scripts on the Black List but, for whatever, the majority of Black List films always seem to turn out to be somewhat disappointing.  Broken City, for instance, was a Black List film.  So was The Beaver.  You can add Eli to the pile of mediocre Black List films.

Catching Up With The Films of 2018: Fifty Shades Freed (dir by James Foley)


“Mrs. Grey will see you now.”  (Insert your own eye roll GIF here.)

Occasionally, you see a film and, even though you know you should, you just never get around to reviewing it.  For instance, I saw Fifty Shades Freed when it was originally released in February and then I watched it again when it was released on DVD.  Both times, I thought to myself that I should write down my thoughts on the film, if for no other reason than the fact that I previously reviewed both Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker for this site.  And yet, I never did.  To be honest, it was difficult to really think of anything to say about this movie that I hadn’t said about the previous two films.

Fifty Shades Freed opens with Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (Dakota Johnson) getting married and going on their honeymoon.  It’s fun!  It’s sexy!  And it’s kinda creepy because, as always, Christian has control issues and he has to have his security team following them all over the place.  Christian freaks out with Ana removes her top on the beach.  Ana gasps at the sights of handcuffs.  There’s one hot sex scene that will temporarily make you forget about the fact that Jamie Dornan doesn’t seem to be that good of an actor.  It’s everything that you’d expect from a Fifty Shades honeymoon.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon ends way too quickly and then we have to deal with the marriage.  On the plus side, marrying Christian Grey means that you get to live in a really nice house and fly around in a private jet.  On the negative side, Christian is still basically an immature douchebag and, now that’s she rich, Ana has become a lot less likable.

Christian freaks out when he discovers that Ana is still using the name “Ana Steele” in her email address.  Ana explains that she’s Ana Steele at work but then, when she meets an architect named Gia Matteo (Arielle Kebbell), Ana tells her to stop flirting with her husband and announces, “You can call me Mrs. Grey!” with all the intensity of Kelly Kapowski announcing that she’s going to prom with Zach Morris on Saved By The Bell.

The marriage continues to play out like a perfume commercial written by Sartre’s bastard child.  Fortunately, there’s a few more sex scenes that are designed to again remind us that a good body can make up for a lack of everything else.  Unfortunately, Ana gets upset when Christian tries to humiliate her for real and a pouty Christian walks out of a shower as soon as Ana steps into it.  Ana is told that she’s pregnant and Christian totally freaks out because he still has all sorts of things that he wants to do with his money.  Christian’s a douchebag but he’s got a good body and he’s like super rich.  Have I already mentioned that?

Anyway, it turns out that Ana is being stalked by her former boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson).  Fortunately, all of the stalking allows Ana and Christian to rediscover their love for each other.  There’s a kidnapping.  There’s a car chase.  There’s a lot of music and a lot of scenes of Dakota Johnson looking confused and Jamie Dornan looking blank.  It’s a Fifty Shades movie.  What else were you expecting?

The usual argument that critics tend to make with the Fifty Shades trilogy is that the movies are terrible but Dakota Johnson does the best that she can with the material.  Actually, both Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are pretty lousy in all three of these films but Ana was at least kind of a sympathetic character in the previous two films.  Unfortunately, Fifty Shades Freed sees Ana and Christian becoming a boring married couple and what little chemistry Dornan and Johnson had in the previous films completely vanishes.  As a result, Ana doesn’t seem like someone lucky enough to have fallen in love with a man who just happens to be super wealthy.  Instead, she just comes across like someone who sold her soul for a private jet.

Fifty Shades Freed is the weakest of the trilogy, done in by the fact that there’s really not much of a story to tell.  Ana and Christian get to live blissfully ever after and it’s always good to see happy mannequins.  I saw this movie with my best friend and we talked through the entire movie and I imagine that’s what we’ll do every time we rewatch it.

Film Review: Fifty Shades Darker (dir by James Foley)


The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is shaping up to be the cinematic equivalent of a twitter parody account.

That’s the conclusion that I reached today after my BFF Evelyn and I watched the second part of the trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker.  Since we had both read the book, we weren’t shocked when Fifty Shades Darker turned out to be a bad movie.  Hell, we weren’t surprised when Fifty Shades of Grey turned out to be bad, either.  Each subsequent book was worst than the one that came before it so, when the film version of Fifty Shades Freer is released next year, it should be the worst of all.

Still, nothing could have prepared us for the amount of laugh-out-loud moments and odd details that were offered up in Fifty Shades Darker.  Consider just a few:

Having broken up with Christian “I’m fifty shades of fucked up” Grey at the end of the previous film, Ana Steele (Dakota Johnson, doing penance in the hope of being sprung from Purgatory) is now working for a hip and trendy Seattle publishing company!  How do we know that it’s hip and trendy?  Well, it’s in Seattle and it’s called Seattle Independent Publishing!  (As opposed to Seattle Corporate Press.)  Her boss, Jack (Eric Hyde) leers at her in a style that basically screams, “Lifetime movie villain!”  There’s a scene in which Ana tells her editors that they should be making more of an attempt to reach readers in the “18-24 demographic” and everyone reacts as if this is the first time that they’ve ever heard about this concept.  You half expect someone to say, “18 to 24 year olds!  WHY DIDN’T WE THINK OF THAT!?”  Seriously, after seeing this, I’m going to send my resume to the Dallas Observer, along with a note that says, “18-24.  Hire me for more info.”

When Christian (poor Jamie Dornan, who I’m pretty sure was trying to blink out an S.O.S. signal at certain points in the film) and Ana first reunite, it’s to attend an art show.  Ana’s artist friend has filled an entire gallery with photos of Ana, the majority of which resemble the “sexy” photos that Darcy posted to her MyRoom page in that very special episode of Degrassi.  Christian buys all the pictures because he can’t handle the idea of anyone else having Ana on their wall.  This obsessive and controlling act is just enough to apparently make Ana reconsider her decision to dump Christian because he was being too obsessive and controlling.

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Christian eventually confesses to Ana that he’s only attracted to women who look like his mother and he punishes them because he’s angry with her.  “Oh, Christian, your Oedipal complex is so sexy,” Ana coos.  Okay, she doesn’t say that.  I said that and then Evelyn said something that I can’t repeat.  And then we laughed and laughed.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know that everyone has their issues and God knows, I’ve got a few myself.  But the minute a guy tells me that he’s only dating me because I look like his mother, that’s the minute I leave.

When Christian tells Ana about his messed up childhood, Ana responds by drawing on his chest with lipstick.  And I swear, that lipstick remains on his chest — without a smudge — for at least a few days.  Every time we would catch a glimpse of those perfect lipstick markings on Christian’s chest, Evelyn and I would start laughing.  I mean, drawing on your partner (or having your partner draw on you) can be fun but most people wash it off after a while.

(Incidentally, when the Scary Movie people get around to parodying this movie, you know that the lipstick scene is going to be recreated.)

Christian’s childhood bedroom is decorated with a poster of Vin Diesel.  When Christian is pouring out his heart, Vin Diesel is glowering in the background.  It would have been neat if the poster had suddenly come to life.  Perhaps Vin could have suddenly appeared in the bedroom and said, “Someday … BUT NOT TODAY!”

And I’m not even going to talk about the Ben Wa balls.

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Anyway, there’s really not much of a plot in Fifty Shades Darker.  Ana gets back together with Christian but says that she wants to have a “vanilla” relationship.  Christian agrees but he still keeps doing controlling stuff, like buying Ana’s company and freezing her bank account.  Ana gets mad.  Ana breaks up with him.  They get back together.  This happens a few times.  Christian tells Ana to stay away from a man.  Ana gets upset but then the man tries to rape her which feels like the film’s way of putting her in her place for doubting Christian’s instincts when it comes to men.  Kim Basinger pops up as the woman who introduced Christian to BDSM and tells Ana that Christian will never be happy in a vanilla relationship.  Ana says that vanilla is her favorite ice cream.  Here’s my thing: why can’t Ana come up with a more complimentary term than “vanilla” to describe her relationship goals?  I mean, Ana’s clever.  She came up with that whole 18-24 thing, after all.

There’s also a crazy woman (Bella Heathcote) who shows up occasionally.  We know she’s crazy because she’s dressed like someone who lives in an abandoned subway tunnel.  She occasionally grabs Ana and says, “I’m nobody!”  Hmmm….I wonder what that’s about…

(Well, don’t wonder too much.  There’s not a single mystery or question in Fifty Shades Darker that isn’t solved a scene or two after it’s raised.)

One of the redeeming things about Fifty Shades of Grey is that neither Dakota Johnson nor director Sam Taylor-Johnson seemed to be taking it all that seriously.  Dakota would pause meaningfully before delivering the worst of her dialogue, a sign that even she couldn’t believe what she was about to say.  Meanwhile, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s direction suggested that she found the story to be just as ludicrous and stupid as everyone else.  However, Fifty Shades Darker is directed by James Foley.  Foley is a veteran director, one who has been making films since before I was born.  He does a workmanlike job and you can almost hear him shouting, “Now, where’s my paycheck!?” during certain scenes.  Under Foley’s direction, there’s no winking at the audience.  There’s no hints of subversion.  Foley’s direction is very literal and more than a little dull.  He was hired to direct a big-budget version of a Chanel No. 5 commercial and that’s exactly what he does.

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The other big issue with Fifty Shades Darker is that Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan have very little romantic chemistry.  They both look good naked but that’s about it.  Jamie looks miserable to be there and Dakota seems to be trying to keep herself amused.  The lack of chemistry was less of a problem in Fifty Shades of Grey.  In that film, all that mattered was that Christian was rich and hot and Ana didn’t really haven’t anything better to do.  But, in Fifty Shades Darker, we’re asked to believe that they’re actually deeply in love and … no, it just doesn’t work.

Evelyn and I laughed through the entire movie.  In the past, we’ve gotten in trouble for doing this because we do have a tendency to get a little bit loud.  However, nobody in the audience seemed to mind.

Anyway, Fifty Shades Freer will be coming out next year.  Hopefully, someone will read this review and work my idea about the Vin Diesel cameo into the film.

Seriously, it would be great!

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Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Captain Phillips (dir by Paul Greengrass)


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Here’s an interesting and often overlooked fact:

It has been 17 years since Tom Hanks was last nominated for Best Actor.

When I discovered this fact, I was shocked because Tom Hanks is one of those actors who has a reputation for always getting nominated.  We tend to think of him as almost being a male Meryl Streep, an actor who will be nominated simply for showing up.  But, actually, the Academy last nominated Tom Hanks, for his performance in Cast Away, in the year 2000.

Hanks has given plenty of strong performances since then and he’s continued to appear in acclaimed and Oscar-nominated films.  And you would think, considering his apparent popularity in Hollywood, Tom Hanks would have been nominated for everything from Charlie Wilson’s War to Bridge of Spies.  But no.

Personally, I think Hanks should have been nominated this year for Sully.  But you know what Hanks performance truly deserved some Oscar recognition?

Captain Phillips.

Playing the title role in this 2013 Best Picture nominee, Hanks gave perhaps the best performance of his career.  That he was snubbed by the Academy is not only shocking but it’s actually a bit unforgivable.  Perhaps Hanks was so good that the Academy took him for granted.  Perhaps they thought that since both Hanks and Richard Phillips are decent, down-to-Earth guys, that Hanks was just playing himself.  For whatever reason, Tom Hanks deserved, at the very least, a nomination.

Captain Phillips was based on a true story.  This is another docudrama from director Paul Greengrass, filmed in his signature (and potentially nausea-inducing) handheld style.  (Actually, if any aspiring director wants to understand how to effectively use the handheld style, Greengrass is the filmmaker to study.)  In 2009, a four Somali pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama and took its captain, Richard Phillips, hostage.  Captain Phillips was eventually rescued by a group of Navy SEALS.  Three of the pirates were killed while their leader, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), was captured and is currently serving a 33 year sentence in a federal penitentiary.

This was a huge news story in 2009 with the rescue being described as being the first major foreign policy victory for the new presidential administration.  When Phillips was rescued, people took to the streets and the “USA!  USA!” chant was heard.  “That’s right,” the media and the government and the chanters seemed to be exclaiming in unison, “America’s back!  We were abused and it’s never going to happen again!”

A lot of that jubilation was because, at the time, the term “Somali pirates” conjured up visions of cinematic villains who would be more at home in Mad Max: Fury Road than in the real world.  The reality of the situation, of course, was that the “pirates,” whose deaths were celebrated as some sort of political victory for the government, were actually poverty-stricken Somali teenagers, the majority of which worked for warlords who remained (and still remain) safely hidden away.

One of the more interesting things about Captain Phillips is that it devotes almost as much time to the Somali pirates as it does to Phillips and his crew.  Rather than presenting them as a nameless and personalityless threat, the film allows Muse and his men to emerge as individuals.  Much as Phillips spends the movie trying to keep both himself and his crew safe, Muse spends much of the movie trying to keep an increasingly out-of-control situation stable.  Both Phillips and Muse are in over their heads.  Barkhad Abdi gives a smart and intimidating performance as Muse.  The film never makes the mistake of excusing the actions of Muse or the other pirates but, at the same time, it does provide a more nuanced view of them than one would normally expect.

But really, this film totally belongs to Tom Hanks.  Captain Phillips works because of Tom Hanks.  It earned its best picture nomination on the strength of Hanks’s performance.  As an actor, Hanks could have easily coasted on the good will that the audience would have already had for him but instead, he fully commits himself to playing not Tom Hanks but instead Captain Richard Phillips.  The film’s final scene — in which Phillips goes into a state of shock and can’t stop talking — is a masterclass in great acting.  How the Academy ignored it, I will never understand.

Captain Phillips was nominated for best picture of 2013.  However, it lost to 12 Years a Slave.

 

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #17: 13 Hours (dir by Michael Bay)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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I recorded 13 Hours off of Epix on October 14th.

Before I say anything else about 13 Hours, I would like to be point out something that I haven’t seen mentioned in any of the other reviews of this film.  13 Hours is not just a recreation of the September 11th, 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.  (This attack led to death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Tyone Woods, Sean Smith, and Glenn Doherty, all of whom are portrayed in the film.)  13 Hours is also a very unexpected The Office reunion.  On The Office, John Krasinski played Jim Halpert while David Denman played Roy Anderson, the ex-fiance of Jim’s wife, Pam.  In 13 Hours, they both play members of the American security detail who spend 13 terrifying hours trying to protect the compound from a violent and heavily armed mob.

They’re both surprisingly well-cast.  As someone who absolutely loved The Office, I had my doubts as to whether or not I’d be able to believe John Krasinski — he of the iconic smirk and the adorable eye roll — as a battle-hardened, former Navy SEAL.  Jim Halpert with a gun!?  I wondered.  But Krasinski brings an unexpected gravity to his role, as does David Denman.  For that matter, the entire cast — and this is truly an ensemble film, even if it is dominated by Krasinski and James Badge Dale (in the role of Tyrone Woods) — does surprisingly well.  If I sound surprised, that’s because 13 Hours was directed by Michael Bay, a director who is not exactly known for his skill with actors.

It says something about how messed up 2016 has been that, for a few weeks in January, 13 Hours was the most controversial film in America.  When the film was first released, many commentators and critics were convinced that it was all part of a grand conspiracy to keep Hillary Clinton from being elected President.  Now, 11 months later, we can look back and — well, hmmm.  Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected President but that probably has nothing to do with 13 Hours.  If I remember correctly, 13 Hours didn’t exactly set the box office on fire.  It was pretty much forgotten by February.  Unless 13 Hours somehow convinced Hillary Clinton to not campaign in Wisconsin or Michigan, I imagine that it had little influence on the actual election.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor, for that matter, Barack Obama are ever mentioned in 13 Hours.  (Then again, the film also never tries to convince us that the attack was solely the result of a YouTube video, either.)  That’s not to say that there isn’t a political subtext to 13 Hours.  (It’s impossible to make a movie about Americans with guns in the Middle East without there being some sort of political subtext.)  However, that subtext has less to do with what happened during the attack and more about whether or not the U.S. should have even gotten involved in the Libyan Civil War in the first place.  If anything, 13 Hours seems to be suggesting that any sort of American military intervention in the Middle East is doomed to failure.

Make no mistake about it.  Thematically, 13 Hours is Michael Bay’s darkest film.  It starts with disturbing footage of the Libyan revolution and it ends with shots that linger over the ruins of the compound that several men were either killed or wounded attempting to defend.  Even those who manage to survive the 13-hour battle are left scarred, both physically and emotionally.  For perhaps the first time in a Bay film, no attempt is made to make war look heroic or inviting.  There’s none of the over the top sentimentality that typifies so many of Bay’s other films.  Instead, there’s just John Krasinski sobbing as he realizes that his friends are dead.

That said, Bay has to be Bay.  In some ways, 13 Hours is his most mature film to date but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t showcase a lot of Bay’s flaws as a filmmaker.  At 2 and a half hours, the film is at least 50 minutes too long and the scenes of Krasinski talking to his pregnant wife feel like they were lifted from an unpolished second draft of American Sniper and, as a result, they’re never as powerful as they were obviously meant to be.  As usual, Bay does better with the action sequences than with the human element.

In the end, 13 Hours is a frequently harrowing, if rather uneven, film.  If nothing else, it may be remembered for heralding the unlikely emergence of John Krasinski, action star.

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Film Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (dir by Sam Taylor-Johnson)


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If there’s anything that’s obvious from looking over some of the reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s that only after you’ve read the book can you properly appreciate the film.

If you haven’t read the book, you’ll probably watch the film and dismiss it as being a draggy film that has some truly terrible dialogue and which features two actors who look good naked but who have absolutely no chemistry.  You might appreciate that fact that Dakota Jonson, at the very least, appears to be trying to give a good performance.  You might even acknowledge that director Sam Taylor-Johnson manages to capture a few pretty images.  You might even be happy that she resisted the temptation to cast her husband, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (a.k.a., the least interesting bankable actor working today), in the role of Christian Grey.  But, even with all of that, you’ll probably still probably watch the film and, even with its artfully composed and shot sex scenes, think to yourself, “That was two hours of my life that I’ll never get back.”

However, if you have read the book, then you will be capable of watching the film and understanding that, as flawed as it may be, 50 Shades of Grey probably should have been a thousand times worse.  It may seem weird to praise Sam Taylor-Johnson for managing to create a below average film but, considering her source material, below average is probably the best that could be hoped for.

Both the film and the book tell the same basic story.  Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a 21 year-old English lit major.  We know that she’s intelligent because she knows the difference between Thomas Hardy the writer and Tom Hardy the actor.  We know that she’s innocent because, the first time that she interviews Christian Grey, she wears a sweater.

As for Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), he’s a 28 year-old multibillionaire.  We are constantly assured that he’s the most interesting man in the world, despite the fact that he actually seems to be rather dull.  He likes Ana.  She likes him.  But Christian doesn’t do the relationship thing.  Instead, he explains, “I fuck.  Hard.”  (As opposed to doing so limp…)  He’s not interested in having a “vanilla” relationship with Ana.  Instead, he wants her to sign a contract in which she’ll agree to be his submissive.

That’s right — Christian claims to be into BDSM.  And, in order to prove that point, he has a red dungeon that’s full of stuff that he apparently picked up at a BDSM yard sale.  The dungeon’s red, of course.  In both the book and the film, a good deal of time is spent attempting to explain BDSM and, in both cases, you’re left with the feeling that Christian got most of his knowledge from reading Wikipedia.  In many ways, Christian comes across like someone who has never had a drink pretending to be drunk.  He tries really hard but … no.

Anyway, a lot of the film comes down to Christian trying to get Ana to sign a contract.  Ana agrees to give up her freedom.  When she asks what she gets in return, Christian replies, “Me.”  Which, if Christian was being played by Ryan Gosling or Michael Fassbender, might be an incentive.  But instead, he’s being played by Jamie Dornan who, quite frankly, looks embarrassed to be there.

Those who have read the book will be pleased to discover that Christian’s immortal line of “I’m fifty shades of fucked up!” has been included in the film.  Dornan delivers it like an actor who has given up and who can blame him?  To her credit, Dakota Johnson manages to keep a straight face.

Here’s the main problem.  Christian Grey is a stalker asshole.  He’s an obsessive control freak who is basically using the BDSM lifestyle as a way to cover up the fact that he’s a sociopath.  Though that was not author E.L. James’s intention when she wrote the book, that’s who Christian Grey ultimately turns out to be.  And that’s the way that Jamie Dornan plays the character.  It’s not that Dornan is a bad actor.  Just watch him in The Fall and you’ll see that Dornan is capable of giving a very good performance.  Instead, you just get the feeling that he looked at the 50 Shades script, saw that Christian was an impossible character to play sympathetically, and decided to give the most literal performance possible.  When you were reading the book, you could always imagine some redeeming features for Christian.  But, when you watch the movie, you’re forced to accept this very literal interpretation of the character and it quickly becomes apparent that the only reason why anyone would possible love Christian is because he’s rich.

Meanwhile, in the role of Ana, Dakota Johnson actually does a pretty good job.  Fortunately, the film jettisons Ana’s narration and we don’t have to hear any details about what her inner goddess is doing while being ordered around by Christian.  As a result, Johnson’s interpretation of Ana is far different from how the character was portrayed in the book.  Whereas the book’s Ana seems to be desperate to be loved by Christian, Johnson’s Ana often seems to be struggling to keep a straight face.  Whereas the book’s Ana took the whole contract thing very seriously, Johnson’s Ana always seems to be on the verge of rolling her eyes.  It gives the film an interesting subtext in that you never quite believe that Johnson’s Ana could be as intrigued by Christian Grey as both the book and the film insist that she is. Instead, she mostly seems to put up with him and his kinks because he buys her expensive gifts.

And, since Christian is such a jerk, you really don’t mind the possibility that Ana’s main motivation might be materialistic.

(Another great thing about Dakota Johnson is that she seems to be sincerely embarrassed whenever she has to tell anyone that her name is “Anastasia Steele.”)

Finally, a word about Sam Taylor-Johnson.  On the basis of Nowhere Boy, she’s a talented director and, as far as 50 Shades of Grey goes, I think she does the best that she could possibly do.  At the very least, she seems to realize that the film is a bit ludicrous and she wisely plays some of the book’s worst moments for subversive laughter.  Considering that 50 Shades of Grey is one of the worst books ever written (and, by that, I mean that the book’s prose is so clunky and overdone that it’s damn near unreadable), Sam Taylor-Johnson probably does deserve some credit for making a movie that’s only below average as opposed to disastrous.  At the very least, I hope that 50 Shades of Grey will not damage her career in the way that Twilight damaged the equally talented Catherine Hardwicke’s.

I forced my boyfriend to see it with my on Valentine’s and there were a lot of couples in the theater.  But, for all the talk of how 50 Shades of Grey launched a thousand fantasies, it’s not a particularly erotic film.  The sex scenes are well shot but, since Jamie and Dakota have no chemistry, they also feel very clinical and detached.  (Add to that, for a film that’s being identified as being a chick flick, the camera spent a lot more time lingering on Dakota’s naked body than on Jamie’s.)  All the sex that followed couples viewing 50 Shades on Saturday night had more to do with the romance of Valentine’s Day and the glory of being in love than with the film itself.

(That, of course, is one of the huge differences between 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike.)

50 Shades of Grey apparently made a lot of money this weekend and, if you’re reading this review, chances are that you’ve already seen the film.  So, I’ll just conclude by saying that the film is not as bad as most people were expecting.  It’s just not particularly any good either.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing what Dakota and Sam Taylor-Johnson do in the future but Christian Grey can just stay in his red room for all I care.

(And now that you’ve read the review, why not have some real fun and check out the Fifty Shades of Grey text generator!?  Click on refresh a few times and you’ll have an erotic best seller of your own, ready to be published and to make you rich!)

Trailer: Sabotage (Red Band)


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Since Arnold Schwarzenneger left the California governor’s office and politics he’s gone back to doing what he was good at (or at least good at during the 80’s and 90’s). His first couple of films since getting back in front of the camera has been average at best (though I must say that Last Stand was pretty fun).

Now, we have him back in another film, but this time around one that’s a very hard, gritty R-rating that he hasn’t done since ever. He’s always had rated-R films, but they had a certain fun tone to them. With David Ayer’s Sabotage it looks like Schwarzenneger is trying to flex his hardcore bones. It’s definitely a surprise to hear him curse like a sailor during the red band trailer.

Sabotage is set for a March 28, 2014, release date.

Review: Pacific Rim (dir. by Guillermo Del Toro)


PacificRimIMAX“2,500 tons of awesome” — Newton Geizler

I’ll just say it outright and get it out of the way and say that Guillermo Del Toro is one of the few filmmakers whose body of work has earned him my admiration. The Mexican-born filmmaker has made some of the most fully-realized and visually-beautiful films of the last twenty years. It doesn’t matter whether its genre staples like Blade II and the two Hellboy films or arthouse fares like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro has a unique talent for making one believe in the world his films inhabit. This is probably the reason why Peter Jackson had tapped him to direct the film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The man just has an eye for every detail, no matter how big or small, that he believes will add to the overall experience of watching his films.

When delays and behind-the-scenes studio bickerings kept the production of The Hobbit from moving forward Del Toro was already two years into pre-production of the long-awaited new trilogy, but finally backed out. He would try to make one of his dream projects his next move with the film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s classic At the Mountain of Madness. This was a film that looked to set the horror and genre scene by storm. It was a story that was right in Del Toro’s wheelhouse. The film would require him to create a believable world where cosmic Elder Gods and Old Ones existed and still make it terrifying and awe-inspiring. But once again his ideas would require a huge budget from the studios and his stance on making the film an R-rated one finally shelved it (though hopefully not for good).

With two major productions either cancelled or dropped out of, Guillermo Del Toro was now without a film to direct and it’s been years since his last (Hellboy II: The Golden Army). Maybe it was providence or just plain ol’ dumb luck, but in comes a screenplay from Travis Beacham which included such terms as “Jaegers” and “Kaiju” and Del Toro finally got a film that wasn’t an adaptation of someone elses work, but something he could build from the ground up and make his own. That film was and is Pacific Rim.

Pacific Rim finally arrives in cinemas around the world and it couldn’t come at a better time. The last couple years have seen summer blockbusters get bigger and bigger. Each new blockbuster tried to outdo the next with something more extravagant, louder and, to their detriment, more complex and convoluted in their storytelling. This is not the case for Pacific Rim which comes in with a simple premise that managed to stay together from start to finish: giant robots fighting giant monsters.

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From that idea was born a film that lends itself well into Guillermo Del Toro’s visual and world-building talent. He had to find a way to make this film, that harkens back to the old kaiju films from Japan’s Toho studio and its mecha/giant robot anime genre, a believable world where adventure and spectacle ruled and not post-modern deconstruction and cynical characters and storytelling. It’s an endeavor that succeeds, though not perfectly, to do more than just entertain but also show that sometimes the old ways of telling a story does belong in this new world of hi-tech filmmaking.

The plot to Pacific Rim is simple enough and an extended opening prologue narrated by one of it’s lead character (Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy fame playing the role of Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket). Sometime in the very near future an interdimensional rift (called The Breach) in the Pacific Ocean where two tectonic plates meet open up to allow gigantic creatures dubbed by people as “kaiju”. These kaiju wreak destruction and havoc on a massive scale to the world’s Pacific coastline cities like San Francisco, Manila, Cabo and Tokyo. When conventional military means take too long and and only nuclear options remain on the table the world’s governments band their resources and technical know-how to find a new weapon to combat these kaiju. In comes the “Jaeger Program” where two pilots control 25-story tall giant robots through a “dark science” called “The Drift” to finally fight the kaiju on even terms.

We see through this prologue how the “Jaegers” and their pilots have become rock stars in the eyes of the public as their successes stems and stops the tide that’s been destroying cities in the Pacific Rim for years. It’s also in this prologue that we get to the point of the film where this success has led to overconfidence and the beginning of the end of not just the “Jaeger Program” but that gradual slope that leads to humanity’s inevitable extinction.

The bulk of the film deals with the last few days of the war when the world’s government have stopped funding the Jaeger Program and instead have pooled all resources and manpower towards building massive anti-kaiju walls along city coastlines as a measure of defense. The Jaeger Programs leader, Marshal Stacker Pentecost (played by the ever-present Idris Elba who seem to live the role), believes that his Jaegers and the Rangers piloting them still can finish the war once and for all with a final strike on The Breach with the remaining four Jaegers left in his arsenal. When the politicians tell him no he resorts to dealing with the less than legitimate sector to fund this final strike. But for this last mission to succeed he needs one of his best pilots back from the brink of remorse and mourning to pilot an older, refurbished Jaeger by the name of Gipsy Danger.

From then on the film takes on the premise that Del Toro promised when he first took on the project. We finally get to see giant robots fighting giant monsters.

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Pacific Rim lives on it’s simplicity. Whether the simplicity of it’s story, dialogue, characters and themes. The film works within those parameters and does it well. One never feels lost with in the film’s narrative. There’s nothing convoluted with this film’s story. Some have said this need to be simple is an inherent flaw. I would agree with this if someone with less talent took on the job. Del Toro understands that keeping the story simple doesn’t mean dumbing it down, but keeping the promise of what the audience expects from a genre film of giant robots fighting giant monsters needs to deliver. The film’s simplicity allows for the story to flow from it’s hi-octane action sequences to it’s more personal moments without having it seemed forced.

Even the characters themselves come off as the archetypes of past adventure films. Whether it’s the stern father figure leading the pack to the hot-shot hero looking to redeem himself for a past failure to the cocky rival whose hothead personality acts as a counter-balance to the hero’s. Even the mysterious newcomer whose past acts as one of the film’s central emotional anchors harkens back to an earlier era of storytelling that preceded the more realistic and gritty era of film narrative born during the late 60’s and 70’s.

These characters some would call one-dimensional or plain cardboard cutouts, but in the context of the film being seen they work. We get enough of what motivates each character to fully understand why their characters do what they do in the film. The motivations range from honor-bound duty to accomplishing the mission, to revenge, redemption and just plain old-school heroism. Yes, this film brings back heroism minus the recent trend to downplay such an archaic notion. The film treats heroism as something noble born out of the shared sacrifice and the need to do what’s right and to protect not just the person next to them but everyone else who cannot fight the monsters that are at their doors.

The characters of Raleigh Becket, Stacker Pentecost, Mako Mori (played by Oscar-nominatedted actress Rinko Kikuchi who channels her inner anime not just in her attitude but even her appearance) and even the dueling scientists Newton Geizler and Gottlieb (played with manic and eccentric enthusiasm by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman respectively) all come off as heroes who accepts the challenge and nobility inherent in the term. They don’t balk at the duty put on their shoulders, but go full-bore in making sure what they do doesn’t have any moments of self-doubt or cynicism. These are characters who don’t become heroes because they were forced into it. They’ve made their choice and thus have to realize that taking on the mantle of heroism would mean making the ultimate sacrifice.

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Yet, for all the talk of themes and narrative styles the film will ultimately live or die on the film’s promise. Does the giant robot fighting giant monsters hold up?

I can honestly say that it does and goes beyond what the studios have been hyping it up to be.

The action sequences between the Jaegers and the kaiju have to be some of the best action sequences of the past decade if not even farther back. It’s a loving homage to the classic daikaiju and mecha of old from Japan that Westerners grew up watching on Saturday mornings on the local UHF channels. It’s mecha anime like Mazinger Z, Macross, Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Tetsujin-28, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and many others seamlessly melded with the old-school monsters flicks from the Toho Studios with kaiju bearing the iconic names of Godzilla, Gamera, Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah and many more. Pacific Rim is a film aimed at the inner-child of men and women who grew up watching these films and shows, but also one that seeks to fire up the imagination of the current generation of children who have been fed on the latest trend of snarky and self-doubting heroes.

The fights between the the jaegers and kaiju also does one thing that most Hollywood filmmakers who make action films have been unable to pull off. I’m talking about action sequences that remains as kinetic and explosive as any we’ve seen in the past but also aware of it’s space and environment. Pacific Rim’s action sequences never come off as being confusing. There’s no hand-held, cinema verite stylistic choices when it came to filming these sequences. We know exactly which jaeger is doing to fighting and which kaiju is fighting back. Even while set mostly at night and in the rain (or in some cases in the water and underneath in ocean), these fights and the digital effects created by ILM (with some practical ones from Legacy Effects) come off just as clear as if they were done for daytime. In fact, having them set at night with the many differing kinds of light sources available in the scene sometimes gave the fight scenes an almost psychedelic look with Hong Kong’s neon-lit streets and cityscape to the reflected bio-luminescence of the kaiju to the utilitarian lights on the jaegers themselves.

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Yet, it still all comes down on whether the promised throwndown delivers and yes it does. We’ve come to learn that even ILM can make the most awesome looking digital effect visuals but still having them end up being confusing because of the filmmaker involved. Some have called this the Michael Bay Effect. Even some of today’s most visually talented filmmakers have fallen prey to it, but not Del Toro who eschews rapid-fire editing and shaky-cam moves. He instead goes from strady shots both close-up and wide to show the battle progress from one move to the next as we see each counter-move develop into more counter-moves. These jaeger-kaiju fight scenes have an almost balletic grace to them despite the massive amount of destruction heaped not just on each other but their surrounding environment as well. They also have a sense of weight to both jaeger and kaiju. With each step, punch, crash and bodyslam there’s a sense of real actual weight being protrayed on the screen unlike films like the Transformers trilogy and, more recently, Man of Steel during some of it’s major action sequences.

Once again this boils down to the simplicity of the scenes and how this choice makes the fights more exciting and thrilling than anything we’ve seen this summer. Up-and-coming filmmakers looking to find out how to set, block and choreograph action scenes could find no better filmmaker than Guillermo Del Toro to learn from.

So, does this mean that Pacific Rim is a perfect film which has no flaws and can do no wrong. It’s a question that probably splits critics and those who talk endlessly about film, but the simple answer is that Pacific Rim is not a perfect film. It does have it’s faults that’s born out of it’s simple narrative and simple-drawn characters. Yet, these flaws also comes across as strengths depending on who ones asks. But as a piece of action-adventure filmmaking that promised the simple idea of giant robots fighting giant monsters the film was perfect.

Pacific Rim reminds us that Guillermo Del Toro is one of the few filmmakers who definitely earns the label of genius. It’s not hyperbole. It’s just fact. It takes a genius filmmaker to do the sort of varied films as he has done throughout his career both as director and producer and still have each and everyone of them feel original (whether they are or not), thought-provoking and just plain old fun. Pacific Rim may be Del Toro’s love letter to his childhood loves of mecha anime and daikaiju films from Toho and other such studios, but it’s really a rallying cry to audiences both young and old that blockbuster filmmaking doesn’t have to be gritty, journeys through psychological darkness to be successful. He’s brought the fun back in epic, grandiose filmmaking that hopefully becomes a trend and not a one-shot.

P.S.: Also, make sure to stay to watch the end title sequence that was created by Imaginary Forces to make a sequence similar to the awesome end titles for The Avengers last year. Plus, there’s a small scene mid-credits at the end that ends the film on the proper note.

Trailer: Pacific Rim (Official Main)


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Ok, this is the final and most awesome trailer of Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming giant mechs vs. kaiju (giant monster) blockbuster spectacle, Pacific Rim.

While it might look like so many trailers and teasers about this film will spoil the film for those still to see it I must say that it doesn’t. This latest and last trailer from Warner Bros. still uses scenes from previous teasers and trailers, but just extends each sequences a second or two longer. We get some new images of the jaegers and kaiju fighting, but just extended versions of what we’ve already seen. In the end, this latest trailer still doesn’t give a chronology of how these scenes fit in the film.

I know people probably have their pitchforks and hater-hats on to tear Pacific Rim apart for being too CG, all-action and no brains despite not having seen it. Or worst yet…Looks like Transformers.

I say to these people they should just stay home and go watch their indie, arthouse film that only ten other people have seen and let those of us who enjoy spectacle of this magnitude to enjoy (or not) what Del Toro seem to have cooked up in his mad scientist brain of his.

I don’t go into this film thinking it’ll be a new standard in high art in cinema. I just want to see a giant rocket punch smash into some interdimensional giant monster face.

Pacific Rim will punch fans and detractors a like in the face this July 12, 2013.

Behold, Through the Shattered Lens’ own Jaeger contribution to the fight: Ferrus Mannus.

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Trailer: Pacific Rim (Wonder-Con Exclusive)


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July 12, 2013 will be the date that will go down in otaku history when anime and live-action finally come together to prove that dreams of a live-action versions of some of the most beloved anime titles can work outside the animator’s studio. Guillermo Del Toro may not admit it but this Wonder-Con exclusive trailer for his upcoming Pacific Rim is chock full of anime influences.

Giant mecha aka Giant robots piloted by humans: CHECK

Giant monsters alien or interdimensional in origin: CHECK

Humanity brought to the brink of extinction and living in fortified cities: CHECK

It sounds like the basic outlines for anime of the past 30 or so years. There’s a bit of Neon Genesis Evangelion. There’s definitely a healthy dosage of the Mazinger Z DNA in this film. We can’t forget the classic Voltron that introduced many young people in the West in the 80’s to the joy of ultra-violent anime. Outside of anime there’s the Ultraman versus  kaiju live-action Saturday serials that continues to be popular in Japan to this day and was a staple of any growing boy’s entertainment agenda on Saturday mornings.

Whether this film lives up to the hype it’s been gaining since the first teaser was shown late last year is still an unanswered question, but for fans of action anime this film looks like a love-letter to us and everyone else should just hang on for the ride whether they want to or not.

Plus, for those not steeped in otaku culture it has something for you as well: Jax Teller, Luther, Clay Morrow and Charlie “Kitten Mittens” Kelly.

On July 12, 2013 will be the date to cancel the apocalypse.

Source: Joblo Movie Network