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A Review of Snowpiercer (2013)

Snowpiercer is opportunely scattered with social commentary as a revolution to go from the back to the front of a super-train takes shape, forming a unique and impressive film. The carriages are a metaphorical representation of our society and a compilation of interesting characters make this journey-within- a- journey a memorable viewing experience.

Joon-ho Bong’€™s solid direction and a fine assembly of actors is the clear strength of the film. Some oddly-placed tonal shifts and choppy CGI due to its limited budget inflict a few dents, but this is a largely enjoyable grim-faced adventure. Chris Evans may have found his best role and delivered his best performance under the wings of the tightly-knit production.

The environment created within this always-in-motion world is cryptic and multifaceted. Rather than trying to ramp up everything, the film takes its time to breathe life into the characters & adds drama to its narrative construct. The result is a striking collection of imagery & stimulating sequences that many action-movies seem to pass-up. It’s hard not to feel invested in the fate of the train & its less-fortunate passengers while the story gloriously marches towards an exhilarating climax. This is a film that speaks to society and is neatly packaged for the large part; it deserves some reverence and I hope it finds success in its upcoming limited release.

Overall, as far as a mix of action and thought-provoking story goes, you’ll be challenged to find a better-constructed movie than Snowpiercer in recent times.








True Detective Review

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I’m a skeptic when it comes to even the best TV shows; they all seem to possess this reflex manufacture of forced sub-plots and useless information merely to stretch a simple idea in to a multiple season behemoth; irking me to no end. Sure a lot more detail can be presented this way, but what’s on display usually sings more to the tune of consumerism than quality. True Detective has broken that mold for me; it is the only show I will make an effort to own i.e. the only one I’d love to revisit.

Most of my admiration stems from the fact that I’m generally drawn to a well-crafted crime-investigation story that interweaves an environment highlighting how messed up our world is; David Fincher is a master of those. This is such a focused production, possibly because the creators knew from the outset that the lead actors will not be returning for future seasons. As a result, the makers seem to have added layers of this literary quality to the leads rather than unnecessarily elongating the narrative they are a part of.

The fact that this is a methodical detective tale that focuses on the characters rather than a jaw-dropping twist harkens back memories of David Fincher’s Zodiac. But this product is its own beast. Top notch- production value, grim settings, and a meticulously constructed background score makes this a shining example of greatness few movies would struggle to match let alone the TV binging universe. A technical highlight in the production is an excellent continuous shot of a shootout/escape (end of episode 4) that is among the best in the business.

The two leads charismatically carry this episodic crime-procedural on their shoulders aided by some of the best writing to grace the small-screen. They form a darkly resonating duo that hates each other’s guts, making them engaging to follow. So much so, that the mystery of the plot steps aside to the closure of their individual arcs. I was captivated by Matthew McConaughey’s acting & character again following the greatness he displayed in Dallas Buyer’s Club. His work here is equal if not better than that in my opinion; playing a wreck of a man who is infinitely alluring. The supporting cast is also impressive; Michelle Monaghan stands out in that department as a headstrong woman who braves the elements rather than taking it on the chin.

Overall, True Detective is expertly put together and unashamedly accepts its singular focus and presents two excellent leads; one at the height of his art. This is essentially an 8 hour movie full of nuance & reflective qualities of the highest order.

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Review of 12 Years a Slave (2013)

If Tarantino’s Django Unchained was a ‘cool’ & somewhat glib take on the period of slavery, then Steve McQueen’s visualization is the hard-hitting return to authenticity; an appropriate & more grounded look at American history’s darkest chapter.

In many ways McQueen’s vision is shocking & raw as his previous film Shame. There are waves of emotion & blood-curling scenes that will constantly crash against your senses; a few made my eyes twitch. But make no mistake, there is no manipulation taking place here; the story feels organic & consumes the viewer in the most genuine manner. The intention is to shed light on humanity’s damning actions & that is what it presents with a hauntingly captivating musical score & imagery. Consequently, it’s an exhausting emotional experience but a necessary one as well.

A movie like this is pointless without a strong cast, and McQueen has amassed a powerhouse ensemble. From Chiwetel Ejiofor’s heart-tugging lead performance to Michael Fassbender’s heinous villain, the film is laced with award worthy contenders. The aforementioned share some tense scenes together and the supporting cast gets a fair chance to shine as well.

Fassbender is a chilling embodiment of evil; his introductory scene is fascinating as he manipulates the Bible to justify his actions which is something one can easily draw parallels to. It is more-or-less the same thing currently taking place on the other side of the world as manipulation of religion takes place to kill innocent people. I was also blown away by an incredibly emotional performance from Lupita Nyong’o. in a film full of hopelessness her character-trajectory may be the most tragic.

Overall, 12 Years a Slave is a master filmmaker’s unflinching take on one of humanity’s lowest phases. It carries an immeasurable heft of emotion you are not soon to forget. Tarantino’s take was a revenge-adventure, McQueen’s is a nightmare of horrors.


Review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Desolation of Smaug is a marked improvement from the first installment of The Hobbit. From the onset, I was quite surprised at how much of an action-movie this actually was; it barely tries to settle down to breathe. Despite being impressive, I noticed via the editing that many scenes with Beorn and in Mirkwood forest were left on the cutting floor for Jackson’s inevitable extended editions. The adventure develops a new sense of urgency as we are now exposed to lands & characters previously unseen in Middle Earth and the escapade gets darker harking back memories of the greatness of LOTR. I have little doubt that once all 3 movies are released and seen as one, these will be worthy, but slightly lesser, companions to the LOTR trilogy.

Once again, Jackson nails the epic adventure feel and the material is immediately transportive and captivating. We are introduced to some compelling supporting characters with varying screen-time. Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) is visually rendered quite differently compared to the book and thankfully is not generic as described therein. He is given ‘manimal’ features & an alluring mystery that will surely make him a memorable character by the time we get to the final movie’s climax & extended edition. Thranduil gives of this ethereal vibe and is superbly played by Lee Pace; giving us a different side & hence more weight to the Elves.

Smaug, an iconic beast of Middle-Earth, is as magnificent as the book describes him to be. Cumberbatch’s heavy vocals (with the help of some digital alterations) and movements (yes this is our first motion-captured dragon) make the villain more intimidating than merely size. Peter Jackson also nails his interactions with Bilbo as he did with Gollum in the last movie. The attention to detail on to the dragon is sublime and watching it talk and move is a truly mesmerizing & unforgettable experience. Avid fans were hoping Smaug would be the greatest dragon in cinematic history and that is the case as the character delivers in terms of both menace & personality. Smaug on screen encapsulates greed & bloated ego just as Tolkien inscribed.

Even the characters not in the book, Legolas & Tauriel, added substance to the subplot. It’s not a far stretch to imagine that Legolas would be present at the time the Dwarf-company passed through his father’s realm. Also, I found Tauriel very likable indeed (nothing to do with her looks I assure you); her character brought both warmth & fierceness whereas the source had completely overlooked the gender. 

Other than character moments, the choreography of some of the action sequences was impressive. The spider attack and the barrel escape were tremendous; but the Bilbo’s banter with Smaug & his resulting rage leads to an unexpected battle & fantastic cliffhanger that sets us up for another 12 painfully long months of waiting.

Overall, while Desolation of Smaug deviates significantly from the book’s lighter tone, it marvelously captures the grandiosity of the LOTR films & is technically masterful.


Review of Out of the Furnace (2013)

Out of the Furnace is a somber, dark, & unwavering story featuring a cast of heavy-hitters like Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, and Casey Affleck. Throw in producers including Leonardo DiCaprio, Ridley Scott & music from the legendary Eddie Vedder; quite a package and all this weight fortunately lifts the film impressively.

There is no joy to be found in this movie; it is persistently subdued & gloomy in terms of both atmosphere & narrative much like Prisoners earlier this year. The film starts off by showcasing Woody Harrelson’s psychopathic character. He is brilliant and chilling as the film’s villain. Bale showcases a stoic performance as a man who is on the brink of losing his composure while things fall apart around him. There are few moments where he breaks; a powerful scene with Zoe’s character on a bridge is the highlight. Casey Affleck is magnificent in his supporting role as well; he has an intense scene with Bale that is off the wall fantastic. I find it criminal that he has not been nominated for the supporting category awards thus far.

What makes the story interesting is that its characters are a product of some subtext the film is hinting at but not hammering us over the head with. This includes things like globalization, struggling small-town economies, & the post-war toll on a soldier. I am always fascinated by movies like these as they present a sort of grimy sense of hope in a setting with a feeling of doom in the air; quite the narrative paradigm. You are treated to humanity’s worst attributes & yet are locked in. In addition, it throws in some interesting dramatic turns & layers of social commentary I did not see coming.

Overall, Out of the Furnace delivers on what the trailer promises; tremendous performances in a bleak but gripping story.


Review of All Is Lost (2013)

All Is Lost is a solid little movie; bordering on the silent variety actually. It possesses a tremendous physical & nuanced performance from Robert Redford; nice to see he had a good movie left in him.

It is another survival story much like Gravity earlier this year but may find itself compared to Castaway more often. It may be a result of primacy but if I were to make a comparison, All Is Lost comes off as a more personal, less iconic, yet of the same high quality as Tom Hanks’ version. There are fantastic quiet moments of reflection & inflection that the film floats on. It is quite impressive how the film gives us no background to Redford’s character, instead we get to know him purely through his actions and reactions. The physically daunting nature-centric obstacles are also impressively realized and the sequences of watching his character trying to overcome them are quite harrowing.

Where the movie missed a beat for me was the ending; instead of settling for a rather conventional one there was a perfect moment where the story could have ended only a few minutes earlier. It is interesting as this moment came off as where the movie would end; the screen goes to black…but we carry on. I really feel that would have pushed the film in to greatness territory for me.

All is Lost is a quality movie that will go criminally under-seen at the theaters, but I hope more people can seek it out so it gets the appreciation it deserves.


Review of Man of Steel (2013)

Man Of Steel is a largely introspective look at the character with Nolan’s hand evident in the origin story; shades of Batman Begins & grounding the story in ‘reality’. But Zack Snyder seems to have been set loose in the last 40 minutes or so where you clearly see his flair for action. He also presents nice set-pieces and sequences at Krypton; which was not well-explored previously.

The action is exhilarating & impressive; the production design & fight-sequences are jaw-dropping and dare I say the best I’ve seen in a superhero film thus far. Those who complained about the lack of it in the previous Superman film(s); you get more & better action here than all previous Superman films combined.

Narrative-wise, there really isn’t anything groundbreaking to be found; it is essentially a story about inner-conflict & self-discovery; but that it is used well for the first time on Superman specifically adds a degree of freshness to it. In fact, it lays a solid foundation for the franchise to excel from. Apart from the all-out destruction in the film’s climactic battle, Snyder has littered the film with some memorable scenes; one involving a tornado beautifully hits the emotional chords and the flight sequences of Superman, particularly his first take-off, are spectacular. Even though Zimmer’s thundering music is quite effective and I loved the new theme music; I did miss the absence of the iconic Superman theme. That and a small line towards the end were my only minor complaints.

The casting is spot on, Henry Cavill is given a different character to play; there is no inherent charm or clumsiness that Christopher Reeves’ & his successor Brandon Routh’s characters possessed. This film and its secondary cast is almost completely devoid of humor & fluff. Cavill makes the character his own and does a fine job. The supporting cast is well handled; Russell Crowe getting more screen time than expected and Michael Shannon’s Zod proving an able & intimidating adversary. There are moments in fact where Zod gets upstaged by his deadly partner Faora-Ul. Also, Amy Adams’ chemistry with Cavill is done right & the scenes with his father, played amiably by Kevin Costner, gave the film moments of heartfelt emotion.

Overall, Man of Steel succeeds as an origin story of the iconic comic-book character; the balance between his mythology/narrative & action is aptly handled and yes this is the best Superman movie ever made…by quite a few miles! My days of complaining about not seeing a really good movie with the most iconic superhero of all time are finally over.


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