Saturday, 28 February 2015

House of Cards - Season 3

Politics is about to become a serious talking point again. Well yes, there's a general election cresting the horizon in US this year; but here I'm referring to the return of House of Cards for a third season. With Frank Underwood now the most powerful man in the developed world, the stakes are higher than ever. Unrelenting pressure, power games, murder and that's just what you can deduced from the 45 seconds trailer of this third season. 

This third season of House of Cards opens promisingly enough. 
Truth be told told there's only one thing to spoil for the first episodes of the third season which comes a few minutes in: Doug Stamper is alive. He spent long enough in the coma for his motor skills and emotions to be a struggle and unpredictable. Much of Chapter 27 is devoted to Doug's attempts to get his life up and running again. House of Cards being a show devoted to depicting human beings as infinitely fallible, it doesn't take long. Kelly's performance is great and super effective, it feels good to begin this season with a very strong performance. House of Cards is clearly back in the game. 

As for Frank, it turns out manipulating your way into the White House is not the best way to win the hearts of potential voters, or your former colleagues on the Hill. His approval ratings have sunk even lower and he's lost the support of even his own party. During an interview taking place on The Colbert Show Frank tries to play down the dissensions in the ranks and pitches his ambitious vision as always. Most of Chapter 27 feels like table setting: we learn a lot on Frank's agenda as President, on Claire's ambassadorship proposal for the UN and we may see characters turn up again at some point. The most notable new addition comes later  in the season, in the form of Thomas Yates, a writer who Frank recruit for the sole purpose of writing a book about him. Frank wants the book to be about public policy whereas Tom wants it to be about the man. It could be also seen as a commentary of the show itself. There's nothing like the big premiere that ended the first episode of season 2 though, no Zoe Barnes being pushed in front of a speeding train. Moreover, now that Frank Underwood must govern a nation, the intrigue is necessarily of a different, more delicate sort. The question is not how high he can climb anymore but whether if it's possible he could fall. In fact early episodes of this third season of House of Cards indicate a change of direction, though plenty of worry remains as the Underwoods will continue to rule their world as the season goes forward. Being President and first Lady isn't as satisfying and easy as Claire and Frank expected. Both want more. Frank focuses on being reelected while Claire - in a storyline that harkens back to the Clinton years - wants to lead and do something. She wants to be political because that's what is in her blood. Power and Politics, these two understand it. Where House of Cards really succeeds this time around, is in the deployment of Robin Wright character as Claire Underwood. Its greatest strengths and vulnerability as well. While she evolved on the fringes of the main plot line in the first two seasons, here she's finally at the centre of the narrative. This third season is a great time to ask yourself: Do I still care at all about these people? It depends entirely on the characters evolution but I believe that there are still a lot of Frank left to dig into.

After all the brilliant strategies that the Underwoods have fooled all too easily in the first two seasons, a little pay back and a little failure plays well for House of Cards. However, now they have the ultimate seats in politics, Claire and Frank won't go down without a fight and in true House of Cards fashion will destroy everything and everyone in their path. In this dramatic stakes, this third season find itself in a scandal about how good it really is. Still Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey remain splendid as the central couple. Finally, as a  good soap House of Cards keeps the twists coming and that is what the audience wants. Writers remain shrewd observers of modern politics in many respects and this show shares a lot of key DNA with Aaron Sorkin's seminal series The West Wing in a more pessimistic way. It remains considerably fun to watch though. This handsome political drama effectively established Netflix as a home for premium quality programs. 

Overall House of Cards returns in terms of classy actors in high stakes setting and it's solidly entertaining. This premiere is gloomier, slower and far less fun but David Fincher's trademark prettiness is still here. You best clear your diary for the beginning of March.   

PS: Kevin Spacey won his first Golden Globe last January giving us this well deserved tweet of joy and happiness. 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

A washed-up actor, who once played an iconic superhero, battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of his Broadway play.

Birdman is directed by newly Oscar winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and stars Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone. This film deals with a multitude of theme: one existence, one place in real life, how you view your own life, duality, Critics, family life, drinking, special effects and blockbusters.
Firstly, the way the movie was filmed surprised me: the film is made to look as if it's one continuous shot through clever editing techniques, really long takes and some very skilled actors to accomplish that. It feels like the opening shots of Goodfellas but for the entire movie which is a mind-blowing experience and kind of revolutionary. I can't even fathom how a movie can work like that. This aspect of the film makes us feel like we are behind the scene, on set with these people, it feels absolutely real. The score is very jazzy and feels unpredictable which is very similar to the movie itself. Michael Keaton plays Emma's Stone father, they have a difficult relationship. In fact, they all feel like they are pretending in real life and throughout the the movie Keaton character ears the voice of Birdman in his head telling him to do things; he also happens to have some mysterious power of some sort. This movie is WEIRD. Keaton character battle is a little bit like Dumbledore's saying "You do what's right or you do what's easy.". Undeniably every character in this film is dealing with an intense psychological issue of some kind that makes them feel split as they're two halves for one whole. It touches also, on distance, what your place in the world is and what you're here for. The movie is filled with brilliant metaphorical imagery which install thoughts into your brain, explained afterwards through very good film making and excellent acting. I can't say it enough but actors are AMAZING. Michael Keaton pulls off the best performance of his entire career, Edward Norton is the best he's been in years and Emma Stone may be the best she's ever been. 

Birdman approaches blockbuster movies, not in an insulting way, it questions our vision of this industry. However what hold the biggest impact on me is the way this film deals with Critics in general. In a scene Michael Keaton  literally explodes and exposes in a monologue each and every problem film criticism knows nowadays. It's heaven! Indeed, film critics do not talk about film making anymore, they do not talk of a scene structure or shot composition, they are looking for a quote they can put on a DVD cover (yeah DVD because I'm old fashioned). I'm guilty of those things myself but it doesn't make his point less relevant to me. An other scene assault on audience members that don't care about anything but green screen and explosion sequences. I do absolutely love good action movies and some big fun entertainment movies but I also respect Art films that are trying to be just ART: a film that has so much thoughts provoking behind and so much to say about Humanity, relationships and also movie business in our society. It emphasises perfectly the conflict of Hollywood right now: Blockbusters Vs Indie Movies. If you are in a Blockbuster it doesn't mean you're a bad actor as well as if you are in a smaller production it doesn't mean you're a good actor. This is breaking the fourth wall and talking to all of us. Plus, the fact that they reference real Hollywood people such as Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Ryan Gosling or Jeremy Renner. Those references are things we actually know as entertainment, as Hollywood movies and actors. It makes it feel more real, like it is happening in our world.

Overall everyone was great in this film. I felt like I was part of it, I was there, it was unique and original. Birdman is one of those movie you're glad someone made it happened. We really do need more movie like this one! After this movie you are going to notice all the scenes changing and all the jump cuts involved in the editing process of a movie, EVERYTHING. It's going to drive you nuts!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

American Sniper

Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle's pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. Back home to his wife and kids after four tours of duty, however, Chris finds that it is the war he can't leave behind. 

American Sniper is directed by the one and only Clint Eastwood and stars Bradley Cooper. In fact Cooper completely deserves his nomination for best actor in a leading role, he is terrific in this film and gives an excellent performance. Plus, the cinematography does look very good, action sequences are fairly well handled, there is definitely some suspense and heart pounded scenes as well. There are a lot of controversies surrounding this film, in the fact that a lot of people don't really think that this man should be idolised because of some of the things he has said on his own biography. What I liked is that this movie doesn't glorify war with the usual American honor and medals. The movie first trailer, with this kid carrying a RKG grenade, was the most intense trailer I've ever seen. The question is do I shoot him or not? Those decisions are one big/important key theme of the film and the fact that it's weighing down on this man; because no matter who you are you can't go to war, pull a trigger, have someone across from you die and don't feel anything. You do. It shows how ugly and damaging it is for a person. However Eastwood's approach of this story is a little too black and white as the subject matter is kind of a grey area. The movie itself does not explore any of that, it basically depicts him as a perfect war hero who rescued a lot of people lives but there is this downwards spiral in which the more he takes tours and the more he loses himself. There is this dark hidden story of this man who's deeply damage. It doesn't properly get into the more deep and darker aspect of what PTSD can do to someone and how it can truly affect a family. Some scenes show that Kyle is a wounded man but it doesn't get once again in the emotional core of it. Do you remember this clown from The Hungover? You can be sure that this man is going to stick around for a couple more decades. 

Overall American Sniper is a well directed and acted war epic drama looking at certain point of  The Legend' life without truly exploring the depth of his emotional damage and PTSD. 

Friday, 13 February 2015

Big Hero 6

The special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes. 

Big Hero 6 is the first Disney animated to have Marvel characters in it as the story is inspired by the Marvel comic of the same name! Apparently we get Marvel movies in a form of Disney movies now: it is a good time to be alive! There's even a Stan Lee cameo! Life is good. A large theme of this film is science, how it could be use to help mankind and before the adventure even begins they make it look cool. What makes this film special is the relationship that forms between Hiro and Baymax. In fact, Baymax is one of the most lovable character I've ever seen in an animated movie, everything that come out of his voice and behaviour is hilarious. This bound that forms between them is what gives the movie its emotional core. We mostly have seen this movie before as it is a sort of amalgamation of The Incredibles, Iron Man, The Avengers and Terminator 2; but the movie is written and directed so well, is so funny, that characters are what drown you into it. Obviously this film is aiming children but the major theme being science it will appeal to all ages, it has this feeling of ingenuity which can influence and inspire children to make something special for mankind. This film tells a story that is realistic and that children can understand, sometimes in life certain things do happen and even though this is a fictional/fantastic movie there are a lot of human emotions to be felt; emotions that are not forced at all. It is good for kids to know that they're out there. Finally it has some quite entertaining action scenes however for an hour and a half long movie it also has some pacing issue, at one point I feel like the movie was dragging a little bit but then it goes on. 

Overall Big Hero 6 is a movie for the entire family in which everyone can learn something and be entertained.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Larry spans the globe, uniting favourite and new characters while embarking on an epic quest to save the magic before it is gone forever. 

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is the third Night at the Museum movie which gives us a third adventure. This film was definitely more entertaining than I thought it would be. At this point a third movie is just going to pay checks and have a bunch of CGI dinosaurs running around with historical figures. Don't get me wrong, it is a lot like that but it's pretty good. I may (I know I am) be still a big kid at heart but when I see Lancelot fighting a triceratops: I'm happy. There are some obvious parts in the movie where they could have find some other twists and turns rather than going for the obvious. Keeping in mind that the movie is aiming children nonetheless. The comedy however is historically speaking very smart; beside this cave man thing which is just dumb comedy and is bringing the movie down. If  he wasn't in the movie it would have been a pretty solid comedy movie for kids AND adult. Then adult based references start kicking, some surprised cameo as well and that I don't think a child could get them. Moments like that impressed me. Moreover, it engaged children because the magic that brings everyone alive at night is going away but what engage adult is the reliability of human characters, the heart brings us into a kid movie. At the beginning the movie was kind of lacking in this aspect until it excelled which is almost not deliberately done. It's not a spoiler but you know at the end of the film they're all saying goodbye and it's Robin Williams last film... He's saying his goodbye and it is really really deeply sad. It's even hard to watch. OK. I cried. Robin Williams is saying goodbye to us. It made me glad I watched the movie, that was a scene worth seeing for sure. This ending eclipse the rest of the movie and take to a whole new direction.        

Overall this film has some good jokes, some others fall flat. It's a fun adventure for kids and surprisingly for adult as well. If you are yourself a big kid and a fan of robin Williams I highly recommend it! 
"Magic never ends"

Jupiter Ascending

In a bright and colorful future, a young destitute caretaker gets targeted by a ruthless son of a powerful family that live on a planet in need of a new heir, so she travels with a genetically engineered warrior to the planet in order to stop his tyrant reign. 

Jupiter Ascending is written and directed by the Wachowski's; it stars Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean and Douglas Booth. I love the Wachowski's works since I saw (and understand) The Matrix for the first time, but to this day with Cloud Atlas in mind I was a little bit sceptical. In fact, they are able as always to deliver an appealing and interesting visual experience. The opening scene itself is mind-blowing, the score is fantastic and the special effects are awesome even if sometimes it feels very fake and entirely CGI/green screen inserted. Moreover, Channing Tatum is pretty good and functional in this movie but his BOOTS are far more interesting! Very good and original idea! Sean Bean is great as well. Unfortunately there's nothing more to say about the movie... It starts pretty strong and suddenly it becomes this two hours long story about who own the earth. Mila Kunis doesn't really embody the character and the level of emotion you can expect when all of sudden you're caught in the middle of all those incredible things. Depicting a very weak woman, who, in several scenes is about to sign her life and inheritance away basically. Then each time, Channing Tatum comes to save her when she thinks he's gone: the usual damsel in distress. She's not a strong character at all, a weak woman who can't care for herself. Plus her Earth family is not relevant at all, that's why when an ordinary person becomes a big thing they usually make this person orphan. Why? Because it's easier. I am a little disappointed by the script for this aspect and as well as the romantic dialogues are hilarious when their not supposed to be. Finally, Eddie Redmayne doesn't become relevant until the end of the movie. This guy is a very talented actor but as I was afraid of: whatever he was doing in this film... It doesn't work! It doesn't feel right at all! At last, this movie has incredibly breathtaking action scenes, it is visually very good but there's not enough substance behind it for a good movie. In the first act and then unfold on a long series of boring conversations with strange alien creatures and awful character design. Even the most dramatic and intense scenes are turned into hilarious moment (not only speaking of this weird elephant things). This film is mess that may be why it falls apart. It starts with impressive series of scenes then the script is not cohesive at all: things just happened (they go to space, they go here and there, talk to him and then to her, etc.). 

Overall Jupiter Ascending could have been so much more than just great mythology, concept and an amazingly grand scope. Dialogues and random scenes happening in the middle of more serious, political and emotional ones are taring the film down. At least it looks great and everybody did their part well enough.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Interview

Dave Skylark and producer Aaron Rapoport run the celebrity tabloid show "Skylark Tonight". When they land an interview with a surprise fan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, they are recruited by the CIA to turn their trip to Pyongyang into an assassination mission.

The Interview is directed by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and stars Seth Rogen and James Franco. A huge controversy has been surrounding this film: a comedy movie... with Seth Rogen... Pushing that aside because I'm not here for the controversy. Firstly the best thing about this film is the chemistry between Seth Rogen and James Franco, they're good together, the contrast between the two of them is great as it establishes the movie from the beginning. James Franco knocks out of the part, he may be the funniest I've ever seen him in a movie. He plays a genuinely hilarious idiot in this film, he doesn't have a shred of common sense, he basically acts pretty much like his brother Dave Franco (sorry Dave). Plus, the first act of the movie is pretty funny, then in the middle it gets a little bit less funny with all the CIA/espionage things which were not as entertaining as they actually are; but towards the third act it definitely picks up and becomes more funny again. The writing is really clever and self aware, that's probably why it works so well for the major part of the movie. Moreover this film goes after the US and Korea but also and in my opinion most importantly after the media, depicting a kind of social satire of what headlines are made of; characterise by the opening few scenes with a couple of cameos to back that up. Unfortunately nowadays that's what we see everyday scrolling through the news. This is honestly the only thing this movie "attacks" in my eyes.

Overall Seth Rogen and James Franco are fantastic together, the comedy is there for a large part, in fact I laughed a lot in this movie. It's surrounded by a completely unnecessary controversy.