Monday, August 4, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

You know how with some movies it takes a while to establish mood? Like sometimes the true mood doesn't show up for a solid hour? But there are some whose moods are made quite quickly.

And if you've seen James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy (which you probably have), it's pretty obvious as to which category it falls under. It's throughout the opening credits that the movie makes it pretty damn clear how different it is from the usual Marvel productions. It's not the poster child like Iron Man or Captain America; it's the crazy uncle no one really talks about. ("What a bunch of a-holes.")

I think what makes Guardians of the Galaxy work as well as it does is that it's aware that it gets ridiculous at times. (I mean, two of the heroes are a raccoon and a tree creature.) It practically basks in its own absurdity. (There's an absolutely perfect example towards the end.)

And those involved are clearly having one hell of a time. Chris Pratt acts as if he's playing a goofy mix of Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds, and it works. His co-stars (Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel) also kick serious ass. John C. Reilly, Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro easily entertain in their few scenes. Not to mention that Lee Pace and Karen Gillan are friggin' awesome as villains.

If I wasn't clear enough, Guardians of the Galaxy is easily the most fun you can have with a movie this summer. It also proves that a comic book movie doesn't have to be entirely serious. (Especially that post-credits scene. I mean, who the hell was expecting that?)

My Rating: *****

Friday, August 1, 2014

Holy crap.

I didn't even think it was remotely possible.

My blog turns five today.

I know my efforts in keeping Defiant Success thriving have been lacking for the past several months or so (I contribute both recovering from attending TIFF last September and my own personal issues as to why the blog's been lagging) but I assure you, I don't intend to end this blog anytime soon. Not with all these movies coming out throughout this year.

Here's to the coming years (and movies).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Belle

The main flaw for many costume dramas is that they're rather monochromatic in regards with the cast. Very rarely do you see people of color outside of the role of a servant (or slave). Yes, they didn't have much status in society then but a change of pace isn't too much to ask for, is it?

Amma Asante's Belle thankfully breaks free of that barrier by focusing on the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate daughter of a Royal Navy officer. Granted, the film doesn't focus on her whole story but rather one particular time in her life: as a young woman.

It's noticeable throughout Belle takes after a Jane Austen novel, right down to the prospects of a suitable husband. Though in other scenes, the film gets more politically involved than any of Austen's novels. It gets a little disorganized when the two mix, but it's still interesting to watch.

Another key detail throughout Belle are the interactions between the characters, which coincidentally is another trait found within Austen's novels. It could something as simple as a parting glance or holding hands but it can leave an impact. (What can I say? I admire small details like that.)

Belle is very, very good most of the time. It's when politics get mentioned that the film becomes a bit muddled. Thanks to the performances from Mbatha-Raw and Tom Wilkinson (as well as Matthew Goode's brief but heartbreaking role), Asante's film provides a much bolder portrait than anything Jane Austen's ever written.

My Rating: ****1/2

Chef

Every summer, the masses are bombarded with star-studded big budget projects. Mind you, during these months of high heat, people will probably see anything just to stay in an air-conditioned room for a couple of hours. But what if they want to see something on a quieter scale?

Thankfully, Jon Favreau is happy to oblige with his film Chef. A step away from his last few films, Favreau keeps everything on a smaller scale. (Quite honestly, I think I prefer his indie films more.)

As the title very much implies, food is the forefront of the film. It should come as no surprise that Favreau looked at other food-focused films like Eat Drink Man Woman and Big Night as inspirations. While not as great as those two films, Chef does make you not want to watch the film on an empty stomach.

Favreau also managed to enlist some choice actors for his film. Among some of the actors in Chef are Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt and Bobby Cannavale. (He also got A-listers like Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey, Jr. in smaller roles.) They all do very well in their roles and varied screentimes.

Chef isn't great but it certainly has its moments. However, if I had to choose between this and a mindless blockbuster, I'd go with this. Again, you can only handle so much when it comes to stuff blowing up in movies.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Snowpiercer

The post-apocalyptic genre has become quite popular in recent years. Perhaps it's because the audience likes seeing the underdog coming out on top (or at least try to). Or maybe it's because the various films, television shows and novels may provide an eerie insight for the not-so-distant future.

Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer is the most recent entry to the genre and it follows a familiar story: the survivors of a cataclysmic event try to overthrow the ruler of their condensed society. But Bong does something many films of the genre tend to ignore; he humanizes the characters.

It's also not a straight-up film of the genre either. Snowpiercer fits more comfortably amongst the action genre and again, it provides a variation of the genre. It's decidedly much more bleak than the usual shoot 'em up and as every frame of Hong Kyung-pyo's cinematography shows, it's both figuratively and literally a very dark film.

As well as Bong's direction and Hong's cinematography, there are many other details of Snowpiercer that catches the viewer's eye. The main aspect is that of the set design. Every small detail within each train car shows a completely different world to both the characters and the audience.

Long story short, Snowpiercer is most definitely a nice change of pace from the CGI-heavy action movies we get bombarded with every summer. Some scenes are a slow simmer but they all lead to a big payoff. Oh, and if you're still not convinced that Chris Evans can act, you clearly need to see Snowpiercer.

My Rating: *****

Ida

Sometimes it's hard for a film to tackle a heavy subject and still remain subdued. Often times the film gets bogged down by said subject and stays that way for the rest of its duration. However, there are those that stay subdued from beginning to end.

In regards to Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida, it graciously falls into the latter category. (Then again, it's usually hard to make a subdued film when it revolves around World War II and the Holocaust.) Rather than relying more on the flashy, dramatic moments, the focuses more on the quiet reactions from the characters.

The main characters are the titular Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) and her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza). Both lead very different lives; Ida is planning to become a nun while Wanda lives a lonely life of drinking. Their lives couldn't be any more opposite, certainly, but once they meet, they start to become similar.

The small details of Ida are what make the film all the more mesmerizing. Every sound from footsteps in the snow to the turning of pages in a book is echoed to provide a more intimate portrait. And the cinematography by Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski renders every shot as though they were photographs, each with a story of their own to tell.

Ida is a quiet film but that doesn't mean it can't leave an impact on the viewer. Filled with gorgeous long takes, the film shows how sometimes the smallest details make the biggest impact.

My Rating: *****

Friday, May 30, 2014

Locke

Films with a minimalist cast are often tricky to do. Sometimes there's too much for the few characters to do while other times there's not enough for them to do. It all requires the right balance.

Steven Knight's Locke has such a balance, and it shows throughout the film's short runtime. In the film's 85-minute duration, Knight relies on a short story, key actors and a sharp eye to make his film work. And boy, does it pay off.

The main star of Locke is Tom Hardy, who is definitely one of the best actors out of the UK in recent years. Here, Hardy proves he can carry a film very much on his own. (Then again, he more or less already proved that with Bronson.) The camera lingers only on him and damn, he knows what he's doing.

The main supporting actors (which are only their voices) are familiar names to those who have seen their fair share of British television. (Those actors, by the way, are Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott.) Much like with Scarlett Johansson in Her, they provide dynamic performances with only their voices. (I'm starting to see a trend form.)

Anyway, Locke is a very effective piece of filmmaking. Knight proves that you don't always need to go into grand detail to make a damn good film. Sometimes simpler is better.

My Rating: *****