Archive for June, 2013

The Iceman

Posted by admin On June - 29 - 2013

Portrait of a Stone Cold Killer: The notorious Ice Man Richard Kuklinski is still an enigma today. One can only speculate on what through in his mind as he disposed the bodies in a most gruesome fashion.


An ordinary Polish man, struggling to make ends meet in NJ, ran into all the wrong people who gave him an offer he could not refuse, and uncovered his true calling in life that of a remorseless killer. If you’ve heard the expression, “Skeletons in the closet” before, one would have to wonder if the notorious Richard Kuklinski had a walk-in closet that extended 7 city blocks. By the end of the Iceman, the mystery remained was there ever a soul underneath the relentless thick layers built upon over the years?

Directed by Israeli filmmaker Ariel Vromen, The Iceman was a biopic that didn’t feel the need to over explain every thing about its central lead. Thus it preserved a sense of mystery, an essential ingredient when filming a story about a larger than life killer. Glimpses of Richard Kuklinski’s past are portrayed through 2 lines of dialogue. He had an abusive upbringing and his brother was just as troubled.

Michael Shannon who has an affinity for uncanny roles and memorable performances, was a natural fit as Richard Kuklinski. No stranger to playing a subdued character with a constricted affect and disturbed, internally preoccupied look, he gave a character with very little background, some subtle personality and even a sense of humor in a complex role that called for emotional detachment at very intense, violent moments throughout the film. It was that delicate balance that made Kuklinski not unlike any person whose profession entailed making objective decisions in ending life.
As his character’s love interest, Deborah played by Winona Ryder juxtaposed Shannon’s performance as someone who was emotionally fragile, trusting, and hopelessly naïve. While Richard buried his emotions, he was drawn to Deborah because there was a sense he could see that she accepted being emotional and wore her emotions on her sleeve. The dynamic of these two lovebirds that inevitably start a family life became the focal point for Kuklinski’s motivations and need to lead two lives.

Like all mob related films, it became clear that the ability to lead two lives never worked out like it did in comic books. In the end, untrustable people have no qualms about selling someone down a river. While Ray Liotta mailed it in as his 4th sleazy low-level mobster role, the performances of David Schwimmer and Chris Evans added some fresh, quirky characterizations, sporting some of the grungiest looks and fashionable staches.

For the great performances, The Iceman rated fine bourbon that became more and more complex as you worked your way to the bottom of the glass.

Cheers,

Ron

Oblivion

Posted by admin On June - 25 - 2013

A Bitter Pill to Swallow: Beech played by Morgan Freeman shines a light in the dark for Jack played by Tom Cruise and this time, there’s no red or blue pill to choose from.

Sometime in the near future, mankind endured a catastrophic alien attack that wiped out most of human life and civilization. Stationed above the Earth in an outpost resembling a condo designed by Apple overlooking what was once NYC, Jack (Tom Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are a watch dog/maintenance team entrusted with surveying the last collection of vital supplies before accompanying the mission to travel to the next star. When the departure date became imminent, Jack’s intuition caused him to have second thoughts about the course laid out for him. Like an itch he couldn’t scratch, Jack questioned orders and started to investigate on his own without authorization. His behavior pattern might suggest a psychotic break or the possibility that there was something wrong?

Director Joseph Kosinski brought together familiar components from 1970s Science Fiction films such as the Omega Man and Silent Running. When Cruise trekked out into the wasteland, there was something contemplative about man’s mortality, his legacy, and how at peace the Earth looked. Similar to his previous film Tron Legacy, he brought a polished, sophisticated use of computerized special effects that never failed to inspire a sense of beauty in the midst of urban ruin. Oblivion was a good-looking movie that one might not even need dialogue to enjoy the art captured its camerawork.

However the story suffered from too many cliché plot twists that never raised the bar from the material it was inspired by. Even though Tom Cruise was electric and his presence was commanding, familiar roles played by Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko flattened out the performances. In the last 10-15 minutes Oblivion delivered an ending that didn’t offer many surprises. Thus the film became generic.

Oblivion offers the familiar distinguished taste of a house brew. It won’t make you regret you had it but it won’t compel you to drink another.

Cheers,
Ron

Vampirella

Posted by Greg Butler On June - 17 - 2013

 

“Vampirella; a Playboy magazine!” said sarcastically by one of the older kids on the block, as I tried shielding the cover from judgmental g eyes. There were other published anthologies such as “Creepy” and “Eerie”, both had a fair share of nudity and violence, mashed with horror genre, but the Vampirella issues at least in the early ones  seem to have a more emphasis on women be it as victims or perpetrators in the stories.

With cover like that how could I resist

 

 

She was the brain child of the great Forry Ackerman, creator of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. The basic origin was that Vampi was the sole survivor of a planet of vampires, where rivers once flowing with blood was slowly drying up.  She escapes on a manned rocket-ship back to earth where she befriends a drunken washed up magician named Pendragon. Taking a serum that curves her blood-lust and pursued and later befriended by a new generation of Van Helsings, each story would deal with her battles with a cult called Chaos and other dark forces.

 

The legendary Archie Goodwin would take on the writing chores later and perfected the twist ending to her twelve page adventures. Arguably these were the quintessential version, short as they were, it had a breezy quickness that hit the points it wanted to make. No heavy handed plot to detract its concise narrative.  Of course the stories wouldn’t have half the impact if not for Jose “Pepe” Gonzalez great artistic rendition of the the title character. Coming in at issue # 12, the makeover created a stunning siren,  seductive,  sexually chaste without the nymph prancing nature of her  more active  half sister of the sci-fi film Barbarella,  of which Forry  semi-christened our  gal  her name.

In the years to come, Vampi would be reinterpreted by other publications, whether manga styled or superhero horror,   concepts  that will continually evolve for every generations.

Before Ripley,  Xena, or Buffy,  she was the first female  ass kicker of fantasy horror genre.

By the way ignore the Roger Corman film Vampirella, the campy approach and low (low) budget is an injustice to the idea of the original, in other words it sucks.

 

The Purge

Posted by admin On June - 16 - 2013

Bad Company: Thanks to horribly repetitive horror/suspense films, not every one in America may be proficient at handling disaster drills but no one in this country will hide under the bed during a break-in.

In the tradition of nihilistic not-so-distant future satires the Purge, a right wing American act to deal with interpersonal conflict, legalized manslaughter for 12 hours and somehow that release of aggression has eliminated crime and unemployment for the next 364 days of the year. Ethan Hawke, played James Sandin, an unscrupulous home security salesman who celebrated the Purge like it was the Christmas holiday. Business for home security systems against invaders was never better for those who could afford them. To further draw parallels, the day was commemorated with blue flowers that harkened back to the tradition of putting out poinsettia plants on Christmas. While James Sandin and his wife played by Lena Headey acknowledged the Purge, they were not participants. They chose to stay home, protected by their security, divorcing themselves and their kids from the psychotic, senseless slaughter outside their door. When his naïve son offered shelter to a homeless man fleeing a hunting party during the Purge, the successful suburban American family faced an unpleasant moral dilemma: Sacrifice the homeless man marked for death and guarantee their families lives but lose their dignity and children’s respect. Save the homeless man and take their chances with their lives at stake.

James DeMonaco, director of Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) and The Negotiator is no stranger to Mexican Standoff scenarios where every one with a motive is a threat and no one can be trusted. The build up tension was well played until the siege had begun and the participants were put in motion. From that point, the film steadily de-evolved into a level of predictable, repetitive stupidity more reminiscent in schlock horror but without the dark humor. Missing from the carnal stew was a few slices of well placed socio-political dark humor that director Paul Verhoeven delivered in Starship Troopers and Robocop. Without the humor the story became too concentrated in one area and the film unraveled quickly and clumsily. Still there was just enough with the enticing premise to warrant a sequel where one hopes the morning after the Purge, the writer/director explain how they prevented soaring health care costs and call outs.

As a result, the Purge could have been that bargain worth 5 times its value. Instead, it really was a $4 beer special sold at market price.

Cheers,
Ron

Star Trek Into Darkness

Posted by admin On June - 15 - 2013

Hormones in Space: Young Captain Kirk played by Chris Pine (left) drinks obsessively, sleeps around, and disregards Star Fleet regulations until Admiral Pike played by Bruce Greenwood (right) gives some fatherly advice on how to be a better Captain.

The Romulan Ale fueled fraternity of rule breakers are back, in Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel to JJ Abrams’ re-imagining of Star Trek as Animal House meets Star Wars. After having survived a Romulan attack from the future, raw and inexperienced Captain Kirk and his crew have learned very little from the lessons bestowed upon them by Admiral Pike and the elder Spock from the alternate time line. After having survived a near death experience forcing the crew to break the Prime Directive, Kirk and Spock still has trust issues to the point where the younglings aren’t even sure they like each other. To further complicate things, young Spock struggled to balance his duties as a first officer and continuing to dip his pen in company ink with Communications officer Lieutenant Uhura. If that resembled an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 in space, the film was very much an angst ridden tweener drama with shots of Romulan ale if not for a post 9/11 trope that involved two villains, looking to escalate the tension between Starfleet and the Klingon Empire. Unfortunately there are no POV outside of Kirk and Spock to give any fresh insight to make the stand off on the edge of Klingon space more dynamic. Benedict Cumberbatch played the rogue mystery man at the center of the storm. When the money shot of his true identity was unveiled, one should have expected a bewildered, “So What?” from an inexperienced Kirk, a confused, “huh?” from most of the audience born after 1989, and from long time Trekies “Groan.”

Cumberbatch’s performance had a cold, calm, calculating presence but his role was nothing more than a plot device to quicken the pace to a sprint at the end with not a moment to contemplate the meaning behind all the running, shooting, explosions, and screaming. The standout performance was Zachary Quinto as Spock. His performance has elevated Spock as the center of Abrams’ universe. He distinguished himself from Nimoy in that Spock used his cold logic as a defense mechanism to be cruel to his human crewmates. Apparently Vulcans have learned the value of embrace your stereotypes. Chris Pine’s Kirk took a back seat as a punching bag and always 3 steps behind the other superior alien characters. This depiction of a fatherless Kirk was very unlikeable in that he’s just plain foolish at every juncture. Shatner’s Kirk was always a coy, brash young man but he wasn’t stupid. Kirk’s recklessness had a virtue. His ability to provoke his opponent into doing something foolish. Re-imagined Kirk just did the most foolish things without any rhythm or reason. It didn’t seem to be necessary to have Kirk in the Captain’s chair at this point. Something one wonder could very well happen if Pine decides to take on another franchise.

In the last 20 minutes the obligatory fan service was hastily slung around, having ignored plot holes it generated so Abrams could deliver the theatrical climax of a giant vessel rammed through downtown San Francisco that realistically slaughtered thousands. To top that gratuitous scene, a final chase between Spock and his nemesis on top of moving transport ships. When the bad man was put away, there’s cut to a nice speech on a clear day about duties and value in the face of terror that never addressed the fact, Kirk and his crew had to break every rule in Star Fleet bring an end to this conflict.

Captains are supposed to make the ultimate sacrifices for the crew but that was never Kirk’s problem. His problem was putting himself in constant jeopardy that led to others taking the hit. Lost in the ADD of CGI was all the life lessons, which made Star Trek so much more contemplative. Instead, its a look that continues to be shallow. Despite the clean, polished look of the film, I have to rate Star Trek Into Darkness a lite beer. It’s not completely unsavory but it never left me with anything memorable. Instead it made me cherish the original Kirk and Spock even more.

Cheers,

Ron

 

Sinister

Posted by Greg Butler On June - 4 - 2013

sinister stills, summit entertainment, ethan Hawke

Oh what has Paranormal Activity has wrought.

 

With apparently no end in sight, the “found footage” ploy rears it’s over used head again in Scott Derrickson’s Sinister. The approach this time around  is to combine it with back to basic  film narrative as the story plods along. There is however a wonderfully eerie scene at the beginning with an old  Super 8 film shooting  from a distance. A  family of four, hooded and bound, slowly being hanged from a tree mysteriously. Bodies in marionette motion, dances silently in the air before coming still. Losing that effective momentum,  the movie jets ahead to the present as a new family  moves  into a house,  headed by a once successful crime novelist Ellison (Ethan Hawke).  Unbeknownst to his wife  Tracey ( Juliet  Rylance) and the kids, the previous tenants were murdered of which Ellison is secretly researching for hopefully his next bestseller. In the attic he discovers a set of  Super 8 films (yea you know where this is headed), each depicting the gruesome demise of other families in different fashion.  Upon a second viewing, because we know once is not enough, a spectral visage appears in the background.  Rather than turning over the found evidence to the local authorities,  he splices, edits and digitally downloads the films to his computer ( a expertise not seen since Spielberg first picked up a camera)  consults a professor of the occult Vincent D ‘Onofrio (clearly doing a cameo cash grab here), who tries to keep the story on track..sort of.

The snuff footage is  effective but directer   Derrickson doesn’t have a follow up to sustain it, it’s all the cliches of movie horror past–overly long with a meandering third act. Having Hawke’s character wander three times around a darken house, without the common sense to turn on a light switch for at least two of the occasion is  redundantly clumsy. By the way the demon that shows up serves no  purpose other than what not to wear next Halloween.

I give this a domestic beer served at room temperature.

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Thoughts on Cinema is dedicated to film reviews. An uncompromising opinion on the intellectual, artistic, and entertainment value to the consumer. With rising ticket prices, we dedicate ourselves to present to you content regarding what you should or should not be viewing. -Ronald H. Pollock Founder and Editor in Chief

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