Tag Archives: 2013

Top 10 films of 2013!

This is probably the best year for cinema in the three years I’ve been doing best and worst lists. Of the 131 films I watched, most were in the middle of the pack, but there were also an incredible 18 that I rated above 4 stars (not including 4-star films) and 12 that I rated 4.5 stars, making it very difficult for compile this list. Fortunately, there was only one 5-star film, so the top spot was never in doubt.

Here we go. 2013. 131 movies. The 10 best. In my humble opinion.

Missing the cut: Films that came very close and might have made my best-of list in most other years — World War Z (best zombie movie in years), The Conjuring (best horror of the year), Iron Man 3 (best action blockbuster of the year), Philomena (one of the most heartfelt true story of the year), Captain Phillips (one of the most thrilling true story of the year), Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen’s best in years), Blackfish (superb documentary), Nebraska (most surprisingly awesome movie of the year)

As per usual, click on the film titles for my full reviews.

 10. American Hustle

We did pretty well, didn't we?
Woo hoo! We made the top 10!

A superb “true story” script, razor sharp dialogue, skillful direction from a director in his prime (David O’Russell), sensational performances from a cast full of my favourite actors (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner) and just a whole lot of fun. For many critics, this was the best all-round film of the year. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but American Hustle was an absolute delight, with an energy and vibrancy few other films of any year can match. The other films ranked ahead of it on this list affected me a little more emotionally or otherwise, but I can’t deny that this was a high a top-notch production deserving of all its accolades.

9. The Place Beyond the Pines

Hey girl
Hey girl

This was a really unconventional film that put me off guard with its unusual structure, but I ended up loving every minute of it. I predicted in my original review that it would make my top 10 list and it has made the cut despite there being many other more highly touted films. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper are both electric in this ambitious epic drama that drew me in and refused to let go. I was blown away by its raw emotional power and its shocking ending. Definitely one of the most memorable films of the year.

8. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Time to go full retard
Time to go full retard

This Ben Stiller project was released to mixed reviews, though in my opinion it’s one of the most magical film experiences of the year. If you’re a dreamer with ambitions of grandeur then this is a film that will appeal to your sensibilities. It might be overambitious and overlong, but there’s something about Walter Mitty’s story that shot straight to my heart. And besides, it’s genuinely funny, with some moments of comedic brilliance sprinkled throughout. I was caught up in his magical world and didn’t want to leave.

7. Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue-Is-The-Warmest-Color-2
Hey girl, part 2

French film (ie subtitles), comic adaptation, lesbian theme, controversial sex scenes. I was sceptical when I watched Blue is the Warmest Color, believing I would come away underwhelmed despite the positive reviews. I ended up feeling like I had my heart torn out of me. Fueled by two of the most amazing performances of the year from Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, this is possibly the best romance I’ve seen on depicted on the big screen. It’s raw, it’s realistic, it’s heartbreaking. This is a coming-of-age story anyone — irrespective of your sexuality — can relate to and fall in love with.

6. Before Midnight

Still lookin' good, 18 years later
Still lookin’ good, 18 years later

I loved Before Sunrise. I loved Before Sunset even more. And so I probably had unrealistic expectations for Before Midnight, the finale in Richard Linklater’s magnificent trilogy. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, wrinkles and all, deliver the least romantic but most grounded experience in the series, with moments of hilarity interspersed with gut-wrenching drama. It’s an absolute delight that will make you question the essence of true love and the perfect ending to one of the greatest film trilogies of all time. You don’t need to have watched the other two to enjoy it, but if you have then you can’t afford to miss out on this gem.

5. 12 Years a Slave

Haven't you seen Shame? It's bigger than that!
Haven’t you seen Shame? It’s bigger than that!

The year’s most difficult film to watch, but also undeniably one of its best. Powered by what should have been an Oscar-winning performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor (damn you, Matthew McConaughey) and the sublime, understated direction of Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave is confronting, violent and emotionally draining — but it’s also a movie experience that leaves its impression on you like no other. Combining beautiful images and the ugliest side of humanity, this is a rare motion picture experience that beats you down and lifts you up all at once.

4. Her

I'm not crazy
I’m not crazy

Spike Jonze’s sci-fi romance about the relationship between a man and a computer might be the smartest movie of the year. Not many films can be described as clever, eerie, romantic, heartbreaking and poignant, but that’s exactly how I would label Her, a modern day masterpiece where all the pieces come together in a neat little package. From Joaquin Phoenix’s pained protagonist and Scarlett Johansson’s perfect voice performance as the operating system of his dreams, to the realistic future vision of our electronics obsessed society, Her just works on so many levels. The best type of sci-fi is that which tells a compelling story of its own while also providing reflections on the life we live today. Her does that in such a moving way that it’ll be blasphemous for me to leave it off this list.

3. Rush

I'll race you for it
I’ll race you for it

This will probably be the biggest surprise of the entire list. While most would agree that Rush is a superior drama, I’m not sure many would call it the third best film of the year. But hey, I’m probably as stunned as you are. For someone who knows nothing of and cares little for car racing, Formula One and all that crap, I never expected Rush to provide one of the most engaging, thrilling film experiences of the year. Featuring two outrageously effective performances by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, the usual brilliance of director Ron Howard, and one heck of a riveting true story that even the best fiction writers would have trouble coming up with, Rush completely annihilated all expectations I had, and for that it nabs a spot in my top 3.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street

I'm the king of the world!
I’m the king of the world!

This “true” story polarized viewers with the excess it portrayed on the big screen, but for me, The Wolf of Wall Street is simply the funniest movie of the year. I love black comedies like Fargo, Pulp Fiction and American Psycho, all of which are some of my favourite movies of all time, and now this Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration will join them on my non-existent mantelpiece dedicated to dark humour. Say what you want about the inappropriate and immoral gags, sex, drugs and the record number of “F-bombs”, but if you ask me there’s no harder task than finding a film from last year that had sharper dialogue, funnier characters and more classic scenes of comedy gold. It’s a carefully planned and executed mess, one that’s too long at 3 hours but feels like it’s not long enough. While it might be far from perfect, there’s only one film I liked more than The Wolf of Wall Street last year.

1. Gravity

Why are we in such an awesome movie?
Why are we in such an awesome movie?

I’ve realized that I don’t give out five stars very often anymore, having doled out the perfect score exactly twice in the last two years out of around 240 movies. And so it follows that it takes a special film to achieve that honour. It takes a film that doesn’t just tick the right technical boxes on paper and/or appeal to my mind and my heart, but also has that extra something to elevate it to a different level. In my view, there’s only one film in 2013 that does that, and that film is Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi masterpiece, Gravity. This is a unique motion picture that creates new ground in terms of special effects and ventures into unchartered territory with its risky storytelling. Kudos to Cuaron for sticking to his guns in the face of pressure from studios to change his approach because everything paid off in the end, resulting in a very different, explosive, memorable and thought-provoking experience that’s unparalleled in 2013.

Movie Review: Nebraska (2013)

nebraska-poster02

Of all the Oscar Best Picture nominees this year, Nebraska was the one that interested me the least. Shot in black and white, it looked like a boring movie for oldies about a confused geriatric who is convinced that he’s won a million dollars after receiving one of those sweepstakes letters and is determined to travel nearly 1,400km to collect his prize in person (can’t trust the mail, you see).

Well, Nebraska turned out to be an awesome film, arguably my “surprise hit” of 2013. It’s not for everyone, but at the very least audiences will get a great laugh out of it because it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen this year. And looking past the laughs, it’s actually also a poignant and nuanced road trip drama about family, relationships, and the sad reality of middle America.

The insufferable geriatric described above is Woody, played by Bruce Dern, who is a very outside chance to grab the Best Actor gong this year. He’s stubborn as an ox, can’t hear very well and appears to be in the early stages of dementia. When he refuses to listen to his family that the sweepstakes letter is a scam, his youngest son, David (Will Forte), decides to take Woody on a road trip from Montana to the issuing marketing office in Nebraska just to shut him up.

The trip then takes a detour back to Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne, where he reacquaints himself with his family and old friends. He is joined there by his wife, played by June Squibb, and his eldest son, played by Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul!”), who have both taken the trip down from Montana to join him for a rare gathering. And what began as a farce would turn into an unanticipated family bonding session.

Nebraska is one of those films that slowly grew on me. I never doubted the quality of the filmmaking in the first place, but I didn’t expect a family drama shot in black and white to be very entertaining to watch. However, the wonderfully developed characters and their hilarious conversations eventually won me over. In particular, June Squibb, who is up for Best Supporting Actress (a dark horse among favourites Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o from 12 Years a Slave), is simply magnificent as the snarky wife who is never short of a razor-sharp comment. I laughed at almost everything she said and really hope she wins.

Bruce Dern and Will Forte
Bruce Dern and Will Forte

Will Forte, a Saturday Night Live veteran, is also excellent as the forgiving son. His father is an alcoholic who never gave a shit about him, and yet he can’t help but look after him with a tenderness and patience that I found really moving.

The film says a lot about the dynamics of family relationships, from father and son to husband and wife, but also distant relatives you haven’t seen in years – who suddenly swarm in because they think you’ve struck it rich. I was impressed with all the characters, even the minor ones, each of whom left their own stamp on the film. It paints a cynical portrait of middle America, where the men of small towns have little to do except drink, while the stagnant economy leaves them with few options in life. But all of this is done with a gentle subtlety and the requisite humour so that none of it feels in-your-face or manipulative.

By the time the credits rolled, I realised I had fallen in love with Nebraska. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet film powered by wonderful characters and performances, a great script full of laughs, and a genuinely poignant story full of life’s uncomfortable truths. I think it’s director Alexander Payne’s best film yet.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Escape Plan (2013)

Escape_Plan_2013_Movie_HD_Wallpaper_39985743

If you want a lot of shooting, explosions and incoherent mumbling, then Escape Plan is just the film for you.

Sly Stallone is a sly man who is a master at breaking out of high security prisons. He’s like Michael Scofield, except he gets paid for it and doesn’t need to tattoo the prison’s entire floor plan on his body every time (plus he’s really old and ugly and pumped with steroids).

Anyway, he gets a great offer to break out of an insanely secured private prison, but as soon as he gets there he realizes he might have bitten off more than he could chew. Fortunately for Sly, there’s another clever dude in the prison with him played by the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and together they have to figure a way out of the prison despite the evil warden, Jesus (ie Jim Caviezel), doing everything he can to keep them there.

Look, I was under no illusions Escape Plan was going to be The Shawshank Redemption 2.0. I knew it was going to be silly and cheesy, but I also hoped it would be fun and entertaining. The first half of the film, at least, was exactly that. I had a great time watching Sly figure out ingenious ways to overcome prison security and him slugging it out with Arnie in good natured tussles.

As the film progressed, however, it became clear that the brilliantly concocted “escape plan” was actually just to kill everyone and blow everything up, which when you think about who the lead actors are it suddenly becomes perfectly logical. In that sense I was disappointed because the beginning of the film suggested they would have to come up with something extremely clever, but in the end they just went for the dumbest, and as it turned out, most effective route. That said, Sly strutting around in massive platform boots so that he looks nearly as tall as Arnie made the mission exponentially more difficult.

One major problem I had with the film was trying to decipher what Stallone was trying to say throughout the entire movie. It was already hard enough trying to understand Arnie’s accent, but Stallone was just impossible. All I kept hearing was “ruburuburuburubu” and possibly the occasional “Adriaaaaaaan!” The man needs subtitles, or dubbing, or preferably, both. Accordingly, some of the film’s convoluted plot also went right over my head, though by the end it was easy enough to work backwards and figure it all out.

The verdict? Despite the lack of surprises, Escape Plan delivers in terms of popcorn entertainment, cheesy lines and star power. I just wish the escape plan itself could have been cleverer.

3 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part II

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)

Percy-Jackson-Sea-of-Monsters-Cover

 I for one thought the first film Percy Jackson & The Lighting Thief, was underrated. Berated as a Harry Potter clone, I thought it was a fairly solid action-adventure flick that differentiated itself with its Greek mythology angle. Nothing special but certainly not horrible.

Given that it was a box office success, it’s no surprise that they went on to make a sequel, based on the second novel in the Rick Riordan’s series. This time there’s no world discovery phase as Percy Jackson (Lerman Logan) is already living at CampHalf-Blood (the offspring of Greek gods).

The story focuses on this special force field that protects the camp after a girl sacrificed herself and became a huge tree (yeah, I didn’t get it either). Of course, the tree is dying and Percy and his friends need to track down the Golden Fleece from the Sea of Monsters to heal the tree. There are raging mechanical bulls and predictable prophecies and other naughty half-god kids getting in Percy’s way. Oh, and Percy discovers her has a half-brother who only has one eye (he’s a Cyclops).

It still feels derivative, but like its predecessor, Sea of Monsters offers sufficient entertainment, humor and special effects (though the effects are barely passable because they look video gamey in several places) for fans of the series. There’s plenty of running around and pretty magic-fuelled action sequences, though I have to admit I had a bit of trouble keep track of the convoluted plot and the plethora of characters.

Regardless, pretty much anything with Alexandra Daddario (who plays Annabeth, the Hermione of the series) is worth watching in my books.

3 stars out of 5

Monsters University (2013)

Monsters_uni_post_2

It’s quite unusual for an animated sequel, or any sequel for that matter, to come 12 years after the original, but that’s what they’ve done for Monsters University, which is actually a prequel to 2001’s Monsters Inc.

I saw Monsters Inc when it came out at the cinemas but don’t recall it being particularly good, certainly not in the same league as Toy Story. Which is why it surprises me to say that Monsters University is an excellent animated film and a strong prequel that outshines its predecessor (or is that sequel?).

Set at an undisclosed number of years before Monsters Inc, Monsters University details how one-eyed green monster Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and huge dotty monster Sulley went from rivals to best pals and from students at a “scare” university to owners of the company we know they will one day run.

The film is driven by the stark contrast between our two protagonists – Mike is ambitious and determined but lacks the physical attributes to be a scarer, while the privileged Sulley has all the attributes of a wonderful scarer except he lacks motivation and desire. Naturally, the two clash heads early on, but circumstances force them to work together as they participate in the university’s annual Scare Games.

Despite my bias against animations, the bottom line is that Monsters University is very funny and is a film that can be enjoyed equally by both children and adults. The writers do a great job of taking advantage of the comedic opportunities and stereotypes offered by the university setting and display witty creativity in the monster designs and the overall concept of the Scare Games.

The voice performances are brilliant. Crystal and Goodman go without saying but I was also impressed by the great supporting cast that included the likes of Steve Buscemi, Charlie Day, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Bill Hader and Helen Mirren.

Definitely one of the better animated films I’ve seen in recent years.

3.75 stars out of 5

Run (2013)

run

Run is a gimmick movie about the growing phenomenon known as “Parkour”, which is basically free running. I could explain it, but you’re better off watching this video below.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tznXBzETFUI

In short, Parkour is insane stuff, so you can imagine that a movie about it would be pretty cool. Run’s Parkour sequences are choreographed very well, but that’s about the only strength of the movie because everything else about it, from the plot to the acting, was frighteningly bad.

The story revolves around a 17-year-old kid played by William Moseley (Peter from the Narnia series!) who is a Parkour expert on the run with his criminal father played by Adrian Pasdar (yes, the dude who flies in Heroes!). He hides his identity at his new school but still ends up making friends with a bunch of kids who are, surprise surprise, also into Parkour!

There’s some juvenile stuff, some teen romance, and eventually when the bad guys (headed by Eric Roberts, brother of Julia) catch up to them they must use their Parkour skills to escape and defeat their enemies.

I guess if you watch the film simply for the Parkour sequences and ignore the laughable acting, the cringeworthy romances and the contrived plot, then Run is arguably a fairly entertaining movie. But then again, there are so many great Parkour clips available on YouTube now that you don’t need to watch a movie to see these amazing acrobatics. That said, having not been familiar with Parkour before, I didn’t mind it too much.

2 stars out of 5

Don Jon (2013)

don jon

I have a sizable man-crush on Joseph Gordon Levitt like most heterosexual males, and so I was really looking forward to Don Jon a project written and directed by the man himself.

Gordon-Levitt plays an Italian-American stud, Jon, who loves the ladies but loves whacking off to porn even more, even when he starts dating the drop dead gorgeous Scarlett Johansson, a 10 out of 10 according to Jon’s crude rating scale.

The film is more or less a critique of the modern superficial male, who objectifies women and can’t figure out why they don’t feel physical or emotional fulfilment even when they dating a girl most men can only dream of being with. It also says something about the modern superficial female, who holds men to an impossible standard by comparing them to the perfect male characters from unrealistic rom-coms.

As cynical as that is, Don Jon does offer up some hope as Jon begins to undergo changes after meeting a mature-age classmate played by the wonderful Julianne Moore. But can he stop jerking off to porn in favour of real sex? That’s the real question.

I really wanted to like Don Jon, and there are indeed things to like about it, such as the performance of Gordon-Levitt and some witty interactions between the characters, including with his father (Tony Danza!). But as well-made and edgy as it is, it’s just not quite good enough to be great. The film is promoted as a comedy-drama, but the jokes are more “nice observation” or “I can relate to that” rather than stuff that will make you laugh out loud. And much of it is so brutally honest that it becomes extremely uncomfortable, especially if you are a guy, but my guess is that cringe is exactly what Gordon-Levitt intended.

It’s a nice little directorial debut for Gordon-Levitt that showcases the talent and potential he has as a filmmaker, but Don Jon falls short of being the memorable smash hit I hoped it would be.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Last Vegas (2013)

kinopoisk.ru

The idea’s not too bad: a bunch of old friends (emphasis on “old”) catch up for one final hurrah in Las Vegas. Throw in four huge stars — Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Klein — as the leads, toss in a few old jokes (again, emphasis on “old”), and that’s Last Vegas in a nutshell.

I didn’t have a huge problem with Last Vegas, but there was really nothing to like about it either. Directed by Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, National Treasure 1 & 2, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), it’s a very safe, mildly amusing comedy driven by the star power of its four leads. On the other hand, there’s not much to sustain the film apart from the gimmicky old jokes, and the result is a frequently lame, utterly forgettable experience that you’ll likely erase from your memory in a hurry. It’s a film that wouldn’t have been contemplated without its stars, and is in any case probably best reserved for the straight-to-DVD rack.

Douglas, De Niro, Freeman and Klein are childhood friends who grew up on the tough streets of Brooklyn and remain in touch today as seniors dealing with their own separate problems. De Niro’s character is still mourning the loss of his wife, Freeman’s character is battling an array of physical ailments and his overbearing family, and Klein seems to have lost interest in life. In comes Douglas’s character, seemingly the most charismatic of the group, who is about to get married to a woman less than half his age, and decides to throw a bachelor party in Vegas with his three oldest friends.

So as you might have guessed, the whole fish-out-of-water scenario is designed to put four old guys in a place they’re not expected to be comfortable with, and having us watch them have fun drinking, dancing, splurging and having the time of their lives. The Hangover for Geriatrics is essentially the idea, and it’s not a bad idea, except that it doesn’t work for very long. The running joke throughout the film is that old people are clueless and not cool, a schtick that just keeps getting rehashed again and again. But given that they are the protagonists, the film then tries very hard to convince us that they are, after all, very cool indeed, and young punks who disrespect them will come to regret it. And of course, all four of our heroes will learn important life lessons when it’s all said and done.

I’ll have to be brutally honest here. After a nice setup, the film devolves into cliches and becomes painful to sit through. The jokes are obvious and repetitive, and despite the best efforts of its stars (including the adorable Mary Steenburgen as the love interest), the film is inescapably bland and predictable until its merciful conclusion. It’s not horrible, it’s just…meh.

I am probably making Last Vegas sound a lot worse than it actually is. If you are in the mood for a streamlined plot, obvious jokes and 105 minutes of stereotypical icky Hollywood feel-goodness, then Last Vegas is borderline enjoyable. If you expect more than that from a film with four screen legends, like I did, then chances are you’ll end up bitterly disappointed.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013)

dyatlov

In the winter of 1959, a team of nine experienced hikers ventured into the northern Ural mountains in Russia on an expedition. Days later, they were all dead. Soviet investigators found that the hikers tore their tent open from the inside and ran out into the -30 degrees Celsius temperatures in socks and bare feet. While there were no signs of struggle, two of the bodies had fractured skulls and two had broken ribs, though there were no signs of external trauma. Another was missing her tongue. Oh, and there were traces of radiation found on some of the bodies. With no rational explanation for the bizarre deaths, investigators concluded that the hikers perished from “a compelling natural force”, and the mystery became to be known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident.

More than 50 years later, a UK-Russian production decided to make a film about the incident, with famed filmmaker Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea) signed on as director. Instead of making this a movie about what happened during the incident itself at the time, however, the producers decided to make a modern “found footage” movie about a bunch of American college students who decide to make a film of themselves retracing the steps of the fateful hikers.

The result is a mixed bag. As a low budget movie with no-name actors and a director still reeling from The Long Kiss Goodnight in 1996, The Dyatlov Pass Incident is actually quite clever, entertaining and occasionally frightening — relatively speaking. Renny Harlin still has some tricks in his bag and knows how to create tension and scares that don’t keep relying on the same tactics.

Much of the intrigue, however, stems from the crazy mystery itself and the script’s creative take on what happened to the hikers, which is not bad given that none of the theories (from avalanches to Yetis to aliens to secret military weapon tests) have been accepted as foolproof. I won’t give away what this film speculates, though all I will say is that it is fresh and no less stupid than what’s already out there.

On the other hand, the decision to turn this into yet another lame found footage flick in my opinion backfired by making the movie less real and authentic. What it means is that we have to deal with the wobbly cameras (though not as bad as in some films), the irrational reasons to “push on” with their expedition despite massive warning signs, and forcing the characters to hold on to their cameras when they are running for their lives. It makes the film campy and silly. We’ve seen so many of these attempts since The Blair Witch Project that this approach mostly annoys and irritates rather than create more tension, and it’s baffling why studios keep doing it.

The acting from the cast, especially the five American students, also leaves a lot to be desired. They just aren’t very likable or believable, and we just can’t wait for them to do meet their inevitable gruesome end. Part of that is the fault of the script, which is solid from a big picture perspective but doesn’t do much for the characters. The low budget also means the special effects are fairly poor and often look video gamey (and as a result they had to utilise a lot of darkened shots).

On the whole, The Dyatlov Pass Incident feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity because it is such an intriguing mystery. With a more conventional format (as opposed to found footage), a bigger budget, more bankable stars and some tweaks to the finer aspects of the script, this could have been a great film. At best, it’s a surprisingly entertaining DVD rental or on-demand flick (which is how I watched it), and I suppose that’s not a bad thing given its humble ambitions.

3.25 stars out of 5

PS: The film is titled in some regions as Devil’s Pass, which is generic and completely uninteresting, whereas its original title, The Dyatlov Pass Incident, is far more intriguing. The stupid poster for Devil’s Pass also has a naked woman with her back turned to the camera, which also makes no sense if you’ve seen the film. Go figure.

PPS: Trailer below, though I should warn that there are major spoilers from about the 1 minute mark. Never ceases to amaze me how trailers like to ruin everything.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mbq3dR-SEr4

PPPS: If you are interested in reading more about the incident, including the most prevalent theories, check out the links below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyatlov_Pass_incident

http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2012/01/mountain-of-the-dead-the-dyatlov-pass-incident/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2401175/Dyatlov-Pass-Indicent-slaughtered-hikers-Siberias-Death-Mountain-1959.html

http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/dyatlov-pass-incident-strangest-unsolved-mystery

http://amnationalistcouncil.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/the-dyatlov-pass-mystery-solved/

Movie Review: The Bling Ring (2013)

the-bling-ring-movie-poster-2

Despite critical acclaim, I haven’t been a big fan of Sophia Coppola’s earlier works, such as The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation, both of which I felt were somewhat overrated. Her latest (written and directed), The Bling Ring, is based on the true story of a bunch of self-entitled rich kids in LA who break into the homes of famous people such as Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, and Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr. Apart from Paris Hilton, however, the other stars refused to take part in the film and archived footage was used instead.

The film features an impressive cast headlined by Emma Watson, who shines as the bratty and care free Nikki, with Vera’s sister Taissa Farmiga (from American Horror Story) playing her more naive younger sister Sam. These two are the biggest names, but they are really supporting characters, with the parts of the ringleaders taken up by the manipulative Katie Chang and the central protagonist Israel Broussard, the only male member of the gang.

The Bling Ring is categorised as a satirical black comedy, though it certainly felt a lot more like a semi-serious drama with just a sprinkle of satirical laughs. It’s really about how shallow and stupid these wannabe celeb rich kids are, thinking they could actually get away with something so brazen, but also about how ridiculously bad the security is at the homes of Hollywood celebs! Seriously, most of the time the kids just waltzed right in!

The performances are strong, but there is a strange distance about them that makes it hard to really get under their shallow facades. I felt like I was just watching a bunch of silly kids doing silly things while thinking it’s really cool, without ever really caring for them or what they were doing. They felt one-dimensional; I didn’t get to know them, nor did I want to. Part of the blame has to go to Coppola’s direction, which didn’t stand out for me, and failed to deliver the substance I had been hoping for. Maybe it was an impossible task to accomplish, given that the source of the story is essentially limited to news clippings, but even for a brisk 90-minute film (which was probably already stretching the material) it felt like more depth and insight could have been achieved.

In the end, The Bling Ring came across as superficial as the characters Coppola was trying to portray. Maybe it was too nuanced for me to get, but I didn’t find it particularly funny or engaging. It was an interesting idea to tackle and the performances were stellar, but more had to come from the characters since we knew from the beginning what they were doing and what ended up happening to them.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: American Hustle (2013)

american-hustle-poster-636-380

The highly anticipated American Hustle reunites acclaimed director David O’Russell (Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter) with the stars from his two previous films, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and Christian Bale and Amy Adams – and the result is arguably his best film yet.

Set in the late 1970s, the movie is very very loosely based on a true story, thus prompting the line “Some of this actually happened” at the beginning of the film. I don’t want to give the plot away, so I’ll just provide a basic premise by saying that Christian Bale and Amy Adams play a pair of low-level con men (or should that be con people?) who bite off a little more than they can chew when they team up with Bradley Cooper. Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s wife and Jeremy Renner plays a mayor. The brilliant cast is topped off by the likes of Louis CK, Michael Pena and Robert De Niro.

As the title suggests (it was originally titled American Bullshit), the film is all about scamming people in an era when people are a little more naïve and trusting than they are now. It’s technically an entertaining caper drama, but American Hustle is also one of the sharpest, wittiest and funniest black comedies of the year. Though they are very different movies, the offbeat tone of the film is similar to Silver Linings Playbook, so if you enjoyed that you’ll love this.

The wonderful characters are what make American Hustle such a pleasure to watch, and each of them stand out in their own way. The film is almost like an intertwining collection of fascinating character studies, and what’s more is that the chemistry between all of them is amazing — the way they play off each other, react to each other and talk to each other. Just rapid fire nuggets of gold all the way.

Christian Bale is his usual solid self, but again went the extra mile by piling on the pounds and shaving part of his head to make himself look like a fatty with an elaborate comb-over. He is the only man in Hollywood who can go from this:

bale1
Empire of the Sun (1987)

To this:

bale 2
American Psycho (2000)

To this:

bale3
The Machinist (2004)

To this:

bale4
Batman Begins (2005)

 To this:

bale5
The Fighter (2010)

To this:

bale 6
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

And now to this:

bale 7
American Hustle (2013)

Bradley Cooper is as good as he was in Silver Linings Playbook, and I think Amy Adams has never been better. Of the three leads she is probably the one likeliest to win an Oscar.

I am of course biased about this, but I reckon Jennifer Lawrence absolutely stole the show. She is just magnificent, so natural, so delightful, so hilarious; a laugh a second and full of impact in every scene she’s in. Jeremy Renner delivers an understated but important performance, and Michael Pena’s comedic chops shine through despite few words. I was ready to call this the best ensemble cast of the year and I didn’t even know Robert De Niro and Louis CK were in it!

The film is arguably a little too long at 138 minutes, but the script is tight and the dialogue razor sharp. O’Russell’s direction is enthusiastic and vibrant and again, the performances are just ridiculous. I don’t doubt that it is the best ensemble cast of any film in 2013, and I expect a load of Oscar nominations coming the film’s way. The film has already garnered 7 Golden Globe nominations, with O’Russell’s direction and screenplay and the four leads all earning nods along with the film itself.

I don’t know if the film will win Best Picture or if it will go down as a borderline classic, but American Hustle is certainly one of the best films of the year. A pure joy to watch.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: It also has probably the best soundtrack of the year!

Movie Review: Rush (2013)

rush

I don’t get or know anything about Formula One or car racing, or even cars for that matter – which is why I am surprised to say that Rush, based on the real life rivalry between F1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, is one of my favourite movies of 2013.

This sports biopic follows the careers of the British prodigy Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) and the Austrian genius Lauda (played by Daniel Bruhl from the time they were lowly Formula Three drivers until their meteoric rises to the F1 circuit, with the majority of the focus placed on their epic 1976 season.

I always say know as little about the plot as possible when seeing a movie, and in this case I would implore you to avoid all spoilers. Even though it is a true story (one which Lauda says is very accurate), Rush is full of dramatic turns (no pun intended), and knowing as little as possible will significantly improve the experience. I’m still stunned that some of the things in this film actually happened in real life.

Intentionally filmed by director Ron Howard with a gritty 70s feel, Rush offers intense racing sequences that don’t feel like they’ve been aided by special effects at all. I used to always scoff at F1 racing whenever it came up on TV because to me it was just a bunch of people driving cars around in circles. The presence of a live crowd was even more baffling considering the cars speed by so fast that you can’t really see anything, not to mention that it can be pretty dangerous too. But Rush has given me an appreciation for racing and an understanding of how much skill, discipline and risk-taking is involved at the top of the sport.

In some ways, the film’s drama away from the racing is even more thrilling. Hunt and Lauda are polar opposites who push each other to the limit. Each live by their own rules – Hunt is the wild, arrogant and charismatic playboy who thrives on natural talent and instincts, while Lauda is the disciplined, mechanical and calculating engineer who is afraid to let emotion affect his driving. There is a mutual dislike but also a deep respect and complicated sense of envy between the two, and their clash of personalities is what makes the movie so compelling from start to finish.

I’ve always considered Chris Hemsworth an average actor at best, but in Rush he is absolutely magnetic – it’s by far the best performance of his career. Daniel Burhl (who has received a Golden Globe nomination) is more understated and the lesser known name, but he is in every way Hemsworth’s equal, both in terms of screen time and performance. Both characters, despite their obvious flaws, are likable due to the crafty script and the performances, and because of that, you feel like you are rooting for both them despite the fact that there can only be one winner.

In all, Rush is my surprise hit of the year, and even without the surprise it’s still one of the best movies of the 2013.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Carrie (2013)

CarriMoretz

I guess it was only going to be matter of time before they attempted another remake of Carrie, the classic 1976 horror film based on Stephen King’s first published novel of the same name. Technically, this is just another adaptation of King’s novel (there was another TV movie version made in 2002, and an ill-advised “sequel” in 1999), though the standard it will be compared against will always be the version that made Sissy Spacek famous and boosted the careers of Nancy Allen and John Travolta.

This time, the film stars Chloe Grace Moretz as the bullied but “gifted” school girl Carrie White and Julianne Moore as her religious fanatic mother. Judy Greer plays Carrie’s sympathetic gym teacher, which is unfortunate for a horror movie because I will always think of her as the crazy secretary in Arrested Development.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1alISOTGfE

Anyway, it’s hard for me review this new Carrie objectively as a standalone film because it is so close to the original film and fails to offer anything genuinely new apart from improved special effects and some updated technology in the lives of the students (such as smartphones and YouTube). This is not to say it’s a bad film, because it’s actually a pretty good remake driven by excellent performances from the two female leads. Moore, in particular, was absolutely freaky and helps you understand why Carrie turned out the way she did. The real question is why they felt the need to make it again when the original was so iconic and still remains effective. 

If you have not seen the 1976 film and don’t know what happens in the story then you could find Carrie a terrifying experience. There are some effective horror moments executed craftily by director Kimberly Peirce, whose previous works include Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss. For me, however, it was difficult to truly enjoy Carrie because I knew what was coming. Everything that happens in the first half of the film boils down to that one pivotal moment, that one key scene — and most people should know what I’m talking about here — so there was a sense of inevitability throughout the whole thing. It’s just not the same when you are expecting it.

I do have a few other problems with this version as well. For starters, Chloe Grace Moretz is just too damn pretty to be the Carrie White, even when she’s “uglied up”. Even if she’s brought up by a lunatic and socially inept it’s difficult to imagine her being such a target. Secondly, the “villain” of the movie, a girl named Chris, was too one-dimensional and evil, while her friend Sue, was too “nice”. I know that’s how the story goes but a little more nuance would have been welcome.

Carrie 1976 is widely regarded as a landmark horror film and garnered Oscar nominations for the two leads. Carrie 2013 is still a decent horror movie and a pretty good remake, but that’s all it can hope to be.

3.5 stars out of 5