‘Don Jon’ Review

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Overall Rating:  3/4

Cinematography

This is what I mean about comedies being able to have a style/look to them. The aesthetics of the film, from lighting to composition, aren’t cheapened just because it’s a comedy. Interesting enough, it comes from Thomas Kloss who may remind some of Fear. Don Jon is his best film in terms of creativity in cinematography, and hopefully he works on another one with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the future.

Acting

don_jon_addiction2The feelings I get from Don Jon are that Joseph Gordon-Levitt really is that guy. He’s believable, from the voice-overs to the sinister stare he gets when on the prowl for his next hook-up. I keep trying to remind myself of the dorky kid from 10 Things I Hate About You.

Scarlett Johansson plays both trashy and privileged well. Her character is obnoxious, but I enjoyed her in the role. Tony Danza isn’t a babysitter anymore to say the least and he’s great in this film along with his hilarious on-screen wife played by Glenne Headly. Brie Larson hardly speaks in this film and still adds to the dysfunctional family dynamics.

Julianne Moore cries and gets naked. That should be the title of her biography.

Directing

I find it impressive when a director gets such powerful performances while starring in the film as well, like Ben Affleck in Argo. They don’t stand behind the camera, watching from the same perspective as the audience. It’s much more subjective and interactive and I think that takes a different set of skills from a director.

You watch Don Jon and can’t help but realize that Joseph Gordon-Levitt really did what he wanted with his film of which he is the director, writer, and leading man and that he did it well. It’s different and entertaining. The film is unapologetically what it promises from its trailers and Joseph Gordon-Levitt definitely has my respect and blessing as director for being especially ballsy (points for my most appropriate use of “ballsy” ever).

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The structure of this film is basically what’s seen from the trailer in that it’s almost a feature-length montage sequence. The paralleling of the same scenes in certain locations works for Don Jon by not slowing down the pace or losing any of the film’s humor in the repetitions. The repetitions also play off the film’s emphasis on one-sided relationships in clever ways, especially when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character confesses his sins to an indifferent priest whose identity remains unknown.

The third act falls short when it becomes reminiscent of lovable, dark comedy from the early 70s, which I’ll leave unnamed to avoid Don Jon spoilers. The ending is too awkward for this film mainly because of how forced it feels in relation to backstories and character arcs. Still, I admire this film for pushing boundaries and not holding back on its premise.

Score

Nathan Johnson, who composed other films starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt such as Looper and Brick, scores Don Jon. It’s nice that Joseph Gordon-Levitt got to know the people working in those departments on his non-directorial films and that he appreciated their work. Now as a plug for Brick, everyone should see it. It’s probably the best work from either of them and it’s completely underrated.

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‘Prisoners’ Review

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Overall Rating: 3.5/4

Cinematography

I had no idea who the cinematographer for this particular film was, but as I watched it I kept thinking of how incredible it all looked. It felt familiar, too. When the end credits rolled, seeing the name Roger Deakins made perfect sense.

Deakins, one of the greatest directors of photography, can do no wrong. A very small handful of men find themselves in his league, such as Kaminski and Richardson. With 10 Academy Award nominations, this man is the Meryl Streep of cinematography. His work has a mesmerizing quality of elegance. In Prisoners, the subtleties and smoothness of his camerawork are hauntingly impressive. The lighting for this film is intentionally consistent, unlike Skyfall’s variety, so the film maintains its performance-driven quality. His lighting, while not being overpowering, is still striking; especially in a moment where Detective Loki throws open a door to a basement. With negative space and scenery, Deakins creates the sense of a tension that is both beautiful and disturbing within the shots.skyfall_deakins-620x435

 Acting

Prisoners contains a large group of people who know how to nail mannerisms, even for somewhat vague roles. This proves the power of emotionally driven performances, even when all the background information doesn’t lend itself to dialogue in the script. Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Hugh Jackman really did their homework and threw themselves into disturbing roles of characters with moments of contempt and redemption. Viola Davis, Maria Bello, and Terrence Howard play the broken-down parents of missing children with depth, and Melissa Leo is almost unrecognizable.

 Directing

Denis Villenueve pushes these actors over the edge. He does not hold back in presenting the horrors of this film’s subject matter, and that is what a movie with this kind of a context needs. This is not the kind of film for playing it safe and the pacing of this film never slows down or speeds up where it should not. It hits those beats with ease, even for a film that goes well over 2 hours. This film must have had an incredible editor as well.

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This is screenplay is an emotional roller coaster. The moments rise and fall in heartbeats, and in numerous moments I caught myself gaping at the screen, literally on the edge of my seat. It gives hope as fast as it takes it away and has you questioning right and wrong throughout.

There are controversial motives in this script, but it is the ending that leaves most viewers divided. Aaron Guzikowski leaves the final moments open for interpretation, where many hope for more closure. Still, even with its twists and turns, how often is there closure in these real-life situations? The answer is hardly ever, and the screenplay provides more closure than it may even need to. Sure, it’s an open ending that fades out moments too soon for some, but whatever comes after should be obvious. The ending, while not perfect for everyone, is perfect for the film. It is an ending that leaves a lingering feeling with you long after the film finishes, and haunting and hopeful feeling that’s hard to shake off and is much more powerful than relieving every emotional wound this film inflicts.

 Score

I am not sure I have ever experienced more stress watching any other film. Probably not, and a lot of that goes to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, which is as seamless to the film as Roger Deakins’ camerawork. The score is subtle as well, which is admirable. Sometimes scores, in a self-indulgent way, draw too much attention to themselves for these sorts of stress-inducing films, but like the lighting, this score does not overpower. By not overpowering, it elevates the emotional drive of the film.

‘Gravity’ 3D Review

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OVERALL RATING 3.5/4

 Cinematography

It’s beautiful. George Clooney doesn’t need to mention it as much as he does because we all know it. The reflections in the space-suit helmets, the pitch-black starry sky, and the appearance of Earth are a lot more believable than any other space films.

The best part of the cinematography though is the intricate long takes that draw you in right from the opening sequence, with a camera that feels like it’s floating and spinning in zero gravity along with the astronauts. It’s a film full of long takes that reminisce that really amazing car scene from Children of Men. The entire film ends up feeling so much like a long take that I began forcing myself to pay attention to when there would finally be cuts. Needless to say, Emmanuel Lubezki, who works frequently with Cuarón and likewise has an adaptable filmography, nails the negative space as well. A space film isn’t awesome without negative space anyways.

Acting

It’s a good thing Sandra Bullock got this role instead of any of the other potential actresses. She’s emotional, she’s funny, and she’s honest. There’s never a sense that she’s trying too hard to sell the believability of a scene, and she definitely made me nearly want to cry at one point (that rarely happens for me). There are a lot of emotional shifts that go with her character and she eases well into those transitions.

Give her another Academy Award, especially for that whole final act.

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George Clooney plays a charming , space-man version of George Clooney. That’s basically it, and you love him for it. It’s easy enough to picture Robert Downey Jr. in that role he almost had, but that shouldn’t take away from Clooney. His character is just the space partner Bullock’s character needs, and I’ll leave it at that before I give away too much.

Directing 

Alfonso Cuarón’s filmography exhibits a versatile range of films, all of which he executes well. Gravity is no exception, and it’s arguably his best cinematic endeavor, although that’s a tough contest against Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá Tambien, and my personal favorite of the Harry Potter films. What is there to say except that this guy is a genius? In his films, no matter how elaborate or action-oriented, the best thing he accomplishes is getting to the emotional core through subtleties in the performances of his actors.

Writing

Gravity, written by the director and his son,  provide a satisfying amount of backstory for its characters. That’s obviously important for any film, especially ones with minimal characters for audiences to, no pun intended, gravitate towards. More importantly for this film in particular, without giving anything away, is that the backstories add an extra layer for the audience putting themselves in the character’s positions. Would we just give up? Would we be so optimistic, calm, or trusting? Would we make or accept those sacrifices? There’s enough backstory for empathy, and that’s crucial for a film that has you holding on to very few characters in one place (yes, in the context of movies I call space a single location). There’s a good balance of existential crisis and humor as well. I doubt that’s easy to pull off, but Gravity makes it appear so.

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The ending is pretty damn powerful too. I wish I could tell you what it is.  Go see this film. Seriously.

Score

Steven Price’s score strikes plenty of emotional chords in this space epic. It does a perfect job building tension in an immensely stressful atmosphere while not losing the sense of how amazing the visuals are. It doesn’t take away from the hauntingly silent, breathtaking environment (again, no pun intended… well maybe a little), even though it also motivates a reminder of a horrifying situation. My only issue is the heartbeat sounds interwoven into the score at certain moments, because heartbeats are overdone and I think we can be a little more creative than that.

Safe House Review (On-Camera Structured)

This is the first film review I ever wrote and it’s also featured here.

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Training Day and The Bourne Ultimatum had a kid. They named it Safe House. However, these over-protective parents lived on the fearless side of action-movie life; it seems that they were slightly traditionalist in teaching when it came to their cinematic progeny. Even so, Safe House runs throughchase scenes with thrill-kicking baby steps where good cop/bad cop characters and treacherous government agencies cross paths in a sordid South Africa. While Safe House is somewhat cautious, it is still a well-acted, engaging, tug-of-war film that stays true to its action genre.

I know that calling an action film “cautious” is a paradox since such movies follow plotlines fraught with danger. Step 1: Break things, crash cars, and terrify innocent people. Step 2: Kill people. Kill lots of people. Even add throwaway characters whose sole purpose is to die. Step 3: Have a hero. Have an antihero. Just have someone stopping the unstoppable bad guy. Safe House definitely does not stray from this formula for danger, as seen in the following clip: [INSERT: “Frost Attacks Weston While Driving Through Cape Town”]

The film’s disadvantage though, may come from David Guggenheim’s script because the traitor’s reveal does not surprise much and viewers probably won’t feel sympathetic toward many characters falling victim to the first, lethal step in the action-movie formula. Even in Training Day, we feel the injustice of a drug dealer’s death, and Jason Bourne loses not only his true identity, but also a love interest somewhere in his trilogy.

Film Title: Safe House

Regarding Safe House, there is a massacre of men from early on in the film by mysterious characters who are after the notorious, former CIA agent Tobin Frost, played by Denzel Washington. The men fighting off the intruders include Frost’s cross-examiner and his team. Prior to the entrance of the intruders, the cross-examiner orders the disabling of cameras in the safe house for an undocumented, torture-filled interrogation of Frost. After these unethical actions, viewers have no reason to feel sympathy toward the cross-examiner and his comrades once the shoot-out begins. Now obviously the bad guys win this fight or the story stops there, after an easy victory about 20 minutes into the film, so screenwriters should at least make viewers feel the impact of the loss of life by having characters worth caring for. Here is an easy solution, Guggenheim; think backstory. Even that poor cop in Reservoir Dogs, had a family, and even the Joker’s concocted story of his scars presents itself as a believable, sympathy-inducing tragedy the first time it is heard inThe Dark Knight.

While no Quentin Tarantino or Christopher Nolan masterpiece of a screenplay, Safe House still provides two main actors who give impressive performances. Ryan Reynolds, especially, makes a dedicated effort to prove himself outside of the comedic roles where he seemingly now has a comfortable, cushioned seat eternally waiting for him in that genre. When his character, subordinate CIA agent Matt Weston, ends up being the man who must keep Frost within an arm’s reach and bring him to a new safe house, Reynolds’ Weston shows a range of emotions while never abandoning his moral code. At first, Weston spends his monotonous workdays answeringphones, twiddling his thumbs, and endlessly waiting for a less sheltered job. Nothing says, “I need some ominous, Denzel Washington type of apathetic criminal as a house guest” quite like that kind of inactivity.

Frost tells Weston, “First rule is to protect your house guest. I’m your house guest,” and so the party begins. For the rest of the film, Frost tries escaping Weston’s rookie handcuffs while Weston tries keeping Frost cuffed to anything conveniently around. So the CIA’s most-wanted double-crosser and, quite simply, a really good person are unenthusiastically attached. Inevitably, they show their effects on each other.

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Dynamic characters develop throughout the film; they learn, adapt, gain insight. Skilled actors must convey this character development. Reynolds does that during Weston’s “bonding” time with the icy Frost—puns intended. He goes from being a crying, nervous beginner to a confident, unstoppable justice seeker. Not bad for the guy in all those romantic comedies.

Washington “good guy” roles exists in films like Inside Man and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. His criminal, ruthless, and reprobate characters, like Detective Alonso Harris in Training Day and Frank Lucas in American Gangster, have far more complexity and disquieting intrigue. Add his Safe House character to that list. At times, Washington seems like playing Frost is too easy, but he is at his best when with his character’s foil, Reynolds’ Weston. The two effectively challenge each other at packaging their relationship of being both enemies and comrades for a neat delivery.

Safe House‘s director, Daniel Espinosa, also effectively borrows from The Bourne Ultimatum‘s use of shaky cameras. The camera—or eyes of the audience—places viewers in the middle of the action, next to the characters, or even with their point of views. If characters are crashing through windows or involved in violent brawls, as seen in Safe House, shaky cameras put viewers on edge in an engaging, suspense-building way. Unsteady cameras make viewers feel as if they are also running with the characters rather then sitting and watching the action stroll by.

So, Safe House is not a mere infant walking, running, and jumping off buildings in its parent’s deadly footsteps. It is more like a wunderkind Bourne in good Training, but still young at that. Safe House colors carefully in the lines of the genre’s formula, but at least that means there is no incomprehensible mess all over the page, or big screen.

‘The Bling Ring’: Why Is This A Movie?

OVERALL RATING: Do I really have to rate this? 0.5/4

Cinematography

This movie is so fascinating if you want to see obnoxious people do cocaine in a car, or cocaine in a club bathroom, or sit in a closet. There’s the added bonus of seeing repetitive security camera footage. Oh, and you’ll love all the paparazzi videos of no-talent celebrities that you never cared about seeing before. Cutting edge. Seriously, how much money did they give Harris Savides and Christopher Blauvelt to do this?

Apply lipgloss... for the entire movie.

Apply lipgloss… for the entire movie.

Acting

Vapid, obnoxious characters everywhere. I doubt their real-life counterparts fare any better, but this is a film. If an audience is going to spend money and 2 hours of their time watching these losers, then at least add some dynamics. None of their underdeveloped, pathetic backstories do anything for sympathy. I stand by my opinion that Emma Watson is not a very good actress. Her American accents create painful movie-going experiences and that goes against the fact that the person she portrays in this garbage probably cannot even articulate the alphabet. I’m not going to bother talking specifically about anyone else because they all bore me beyond belief.

Directing/Writing

The only director note this movie probably had was, “sound annoying and look busy by snorting cocaine.” At least Sofia Coppola stays behind the cameras nowadays. That’s the only kindness this film does for us, but we’ll still never forget The Godfather III. I’d expect a career of cinematic brilliance as an apology for that, but it seems like the joke is on everyone else for letting her make this film and reminding us that she doesn’t understand characters, not even in writing. There are more trips to Paris Hilton’s closet than character development in this film. We all know people take selfies but we really don’t need to see an entire movie of it. The film presents such an awkward structure as well, but

Every other line in the film: "Take a picture."

Every other line in the film: “Take a picture.”

the nonlinear moments and voiceover cut-ins add nothing interesting. This entire film could’ve been 30 minutes long and still told the same dull story. It could’ve been 10 minutes long and maybe we’d have an interesting short film, or zero minutes because it shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Music

The music is the only thing that works for this film… until the characters sing along to nearly every song.

‘World War Z’ Review

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OVERALL RATING: 2.5/4

Cinematography

Swarms of zombies seen from afar. Anything up close and personal is left more for the imagination. There are quick moments that Ben Seresin does a great job capturing, such as the red flare lights, pharmacy scene, and rainy runway aesthetic. The films takes the audience to many different places under various conditions, and Seresin does a great job keeping up with those changes. Overall, it seems like his best cinematic work.???????????

Acting

There are no outstanding performances in this film, except maybe from a couple zombies. Brad Pitt plays it straight as Gerry, the family man well-endowed with survival skills. Pitt is a brilliant character actor and roles like these don’t do justice for his talents. I’d rather see Tyler Durden fight zombies, Detective David Mills investigating the cure, or Rusty Ryan steal from a zombie-infested research center. We hear of Gerry’s backstory in dialogue, but why bother if he’s just so normal and blasé? Gerry seems quick-witted and more importantly, unflawed, making his character much less interesting.

Directing 

Expect more of an action movie than a blood-and-guts film. Marc Forster does a great job capturing the global chaos of a zombie apocalypse, but he does not focus much on individuals in danger, leaving audiences with less sympathy toward the film’s many zombie victims. The film constantly moves from place to place with its shaky camera, which is understandable given the circumstances of a global apocalypse, but it needs more beats for Gerry’s character. I attribute this to a lack of character development and while it may not be in the script, Forster could have found some moments within scenes like when the family finds shelter or in Gerry’s many nightmares.

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Writing

Many last-minute, drastic script changes went into this film, resulting in an entirely new ending. Once Pitt’s character leaves his family, the film gradually loses its sense of danger. Zombies are everywhere, but he’s the only character the audience really needs to care for and they already announced the sequel. The film throws so many odd characters into the mix as well without really making much effective use of them.

It is an interesting world when zombies run, rather than shuffle around, but anyone familiar with Zombieland won’t see World War Z as pushing any envelopes. In fact, the film loses its edge by its second act, and there’s arguably no tension at all in the convenient and hasty final act. This film does a poor job of setting anything up for the sequel as well, ending as a standalone feature.

Score

Marco Beltrami’s score surges through the film but it’s only after that you realize its impact. It’s not about scares, but it is about the tension that builds during a global crisis. The score maintains the suspense of the film more than any other aspect. It’s especially unnerving after Gerry and his family realize that a traffic jam soon becomes a Philadelphia zombie takeover.

‘The Heat’ Review

I’ll start by saying I wasn’t in the best of moods before seeing this but thankfully, this film in not what a lackluster trailer had anyone believing. Many still may not enjoy it but I think that as a comedy, the film did what it should because I felt better while watching it. I even laughed a few times.

OVERALL RATING: 3/4 

Cinematography

I don’t believe that comedies shouldn’t have an identifiable style. Usually, it’s the darker comedies, like In Bruges, that take the risk but I think it’s time for the genre to try a little harder. This is why I appreciate The Hangover films because even as mass-appealing comedies, they have a specific look. This is also where praise for a lot of Simon Pegg and British films comes in. The Heat doesn’t really light any cinematic sparks in this department though, which is especially disappointing since you may know the cinematographer, Robert D. Yeoman, for his work on Dogma and many fantastic Wes Anderson films. As a filmgoer, if you’re only looking for some inspiring lighting or memorable long takes, this isn’t the film for you.

Acting

Melissa McCarthy outshines Sandra Bullock, and everyone else in this film, but both women have great awareness with physical comedy. They swear as much as they like as well, which is a lot with McCarthy’s insults, and it’s unapologetically funny. As per usual, McCarthy’s husband cameos in the film as well. Another great appearance is from Nathan Corddry, for any fan of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and other recognizable television faces include Kaitlin Oslon from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Tony Hale from Arrested Development, and Andy Buckley from The Office.Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 8.17.28 PM

Directing 

Paul Feig, above all, is probably the reason this film does hit its comedic beats. His body of work proves his diversity with comedy (yes, not all comedy is the same and not everyone works well with each style), and he sets high standards for female-driven comedies, especially because of Bridesmaids. He seems to be the perfect director for McCarthy as well. She’s one of the funniest women around, but it seems that especially with Feig does her natural humor as the inappropriate character with heart please audiences the most.

Writing

The payoffs are predictable in Katie Dippold’s script, but at least the film keeps its pace. The problem with many comedies that extend over the 90 minute mark is that so many lose comedic steam midway through. When the energy gets lost in the script, the audience loses the laughter momentum as well. The Heat, playing off of its predictability, comes with a variety of  moments so ridiculous that it’s hard not to laugh, like McCartney’s “bad-cop” interrogation style or Bullock’s knife encounter. Not bad for a comedy that extends over 2 hours, especially since a sequel is now in the works.

"The Heat" New York Premiere - Outside ArrivalsThere is an issue with the generic lead characters. I wish they were something new to the buddy-cop genre rather than uptight FBI agent and reckless cop. The fact that they are female leads doesn’t excuse this lack of character development or make it refreshing. Merely dealing with gender doesn’t push any envelopes if the females are written like stereotypical male characters. This is the same issue Zero Dark Thirty had, because why are strong female characters basically written like a male, yet constantly proving themselves to men?

‘Man of Steel’: Lacking Personality and Effective Parenting

OVERALL RATING: 2/4

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Cinematography

This superhero film has a specific look. Visually, it’s one of those films you know looks great, but you don’t really care for it because it’s a wanna-be darker version of Superman that keeps masquerading itself as hopeful. Amir Mokri lights beautifully. Lord of War proves that even while much of his other work seems questionable, but Man of Steel falls short in story and characters, turning aesthetic appeal into a shallow surface. It’s like a costume, with nothing really super once you look past the cape… except maybe Henry Cavill’s abs.

Acting

Superman has no personality, and it’s probably because of his awful dads. One’s just some teleporting conscience in the form of Russell Crowe while his human dad is like a sadder version of Kevin Costner from Field of Dreams who tries teaching his son morals by being, well, kind of immoral. Sorry, Jonathan Kent, I’m pretty sure we don’t scold our super-human son for saving drowning children, but if your goal was to raise your alien son as passive, lacking personality even in comedic moments, and accepting of anything anyone tells him, then congratulations because Henry Cavill played along.

Zod comes back with a vengeance... and weird facial hair

Zod comes back with a vengeance… and weird facial hair

In fact, this entire film needs a personality reboot for the entire cast, except Michael Shannon does have his moments… playing the part of Michael Shannon. If you want a fun game while seeing this movie, imagine Zod as the angry sorority girl Shannon emulates for a Funny or Die episode.

Directing 

Zack Snyder, please leave. How is he still making films? How is he even working with an Iranian, Amir Mokri, after 300? Does he even have emotions because I cannot pick up on that with his films? Ok, I’ll give him a little credit and that’s about 30 seconds of the film when young Clark Kent fashions a cape for himself while playing with the family dog as his father of passive-immoral teachings looks on.

As for action, which is all Snyder cares for yet can’t entirely pull off, Superman’s fight with some Krypton girl is interesting enough until things get too heated up, much like the rest of this fiery mess. They really had a good time with the CGI fire on this film. It seems like there are so many different, strange action sequences that play out like moments from Thor, Hercules, and other strong-man movies so that more objects can fall to the flames. For a film about a superhero who can fly, a lot comes crashing down.

Writing

Why so serious... all the time?

Why so serious… all the time?

The film of disjointed moments and easily-resolved flashbacks. Nolan helped with the story and writer David S. Goyer is no newcomer to the superhero game, but where The Dark Knight Rises fell short, Man of Steel falls shorter. Basically, the lesson from this script is that superpowers and a pretty face don’t come with a super personality or vast emotional range. I do believe Cavill has the talent, but there’s nothing in this script for him. The comedic moments are poorly timed and his moments of heartache come with shouting, “No!” and, “Don’t do this!” for about 5 seconds.

As for an extremely picky complaint, there’s the actual reveal of naming the man of steel “Superman” that’s too cheap and poorly timed. The first half of the movie, even the film’s title, neglects referring to its protagonist as “Superman,” and I wish they kept it that way. We all know who he is, and this film want us to see that symbol as standing for something else, like “hope,” so don’t fly too far ahead of yourself if you want us seeing something more than an ‘S’, writers.

Score

I honestly cannot remember what the music sounded like in this film, or how it made me feel. Actually, I felt nothing. For a film that makes Superman a symbol of hope, hoping for another reboot instead of a sequel is a better option.

Iron Man 3 Review

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Iron Man is my favorite superhero and Tony Star’s return definitely did not disappoint. The film is everything one hopes for out of a Shane Black, Robert Downey Jr. reunion. Another plus, this film is just called Iron Man 3. Not Iron Man 3 followed by a colon and some obnoxious line. Take note, sequel writers.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/4

Cinematography

Robert Downey Jr. has impeccable timing, both in line delivery and physicality. That requires camerawork that hits those marks with him, and I could write an entire review about the greatest rack focus shot in the history of rack focus shots. This is when the focus switches from a record player to Tony Stark seductively dancing. Just like that, John Toll became one of my favorite directors of photography.

John Toll doin' his dolly thing on the set of The Thin Red Line

John Toll doin’ his dolly thing on the set of The Thin Red Line

Toll has a diverse style. He can probably figure out the cinematography for any genre based on his variety of work so far. His films include Almost Famous, Braveheart, Tropic Thunder, The Thin Red Line, Gone Baby Gone, Adjustment Bureau, Cloud Atlas and even It’s Complicated. Fun fact, he is also the cinematographer for Breaking Bad’s pilot episode. What a guy, right?

Acting

The old: Legend has it that when Robert Downey Jr. was born, Stan Lee held him like Rafiki held Simba over a cliff in The Lion King. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. Tony Stark is Robert Downey Jr. Everybody knows this. It’s a law of the universe. You know you love it when Tony summons his suit with his smart-guy Jedi powers now too.

Paul Bettany, who voices Jarvis, has so much comedic timing for his role. This is the most underrated performance in the trilogy. His robotic sass and nonchalance is perfect. You keep doing you, Jarvis.

Stan Lee with a young Robert Downey Jr.

Stan Lee with a young Robert Downey Jr.

Likewise, it’s great seeing Jon Favreau in a somewhat larger role. Pepper shows off her badass side that even throws Tony off guard and Rhodey can’t even keep a password a secret from Tony. Someone send these three on a vacation.

The New: Ty Simpkins plays Harley, Tony’s newfound partner in crime. This kid is a great actor who can hold his own with Downey Jr. Not a lot of adult actors even say they pull that off.

The re-generating characters became a little cliché, but this is a comic-book action movie so that’s what it needs. Honestly, I wanted one of them to regenerate and say, “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”

Without giving anything away, Ben Kingsley’s performance did not sell me until halfway through the film. You hate Guy Pearce the entire time. Even when you should feel bad for him, you hate him. He’s that annoying nerd who gets too much power, like in The Social Network when Rooney Mara tells Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg “…you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”

Directing 

Shane Black is cooler than you

Shane Black is cooler than you

Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. cannot get it wrong when working together. Black, new to directing a Marvel film, knows exactly which character needs screen time devoted to them and when. Because of this, the story never lags. This was the problem with Iron Man 2, where too many characters played by talented actors did not fit seamlessly into the story. Iron Man 3 corrects that mistake, creating a better flow.

Writing

Shane Black has the gift of screenplay dialogue and structure and the biggest shame is how underrated he is. I haven’t quoted an action movie right after leaving the theatre this much since Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. His character duos, such as in Lethal Weapon, always come with the right dynamic and this man gets voiceovers right when so, so many get it wrong. He knows how to make voiceovers important to a story rather than a cop-out for actually showing it. If you don’t believe me, see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang right now. Literally go watch it right now because if you haven’t seen it, then there’s a huge, cinematic hole in your life.

Fun fact: Black’s incorporation of Christmas in his screenplays inspired one of the greatest, well-structured action films ever, Die Hard. THANK YOU! Black is a motivated writer who sticks to the Christmas setting in his films for good reason. In this great article, Black explains why Christmas figures so prominently into his stories and how Harley represents a Christmas Carol-like ghost of Tony Stark’s past. If you don’t think these reasons are a cool way to tell a story then I don’t know you, bye.

Score

I thought my perfect half-Iranian Ramin Djawadi, worked on Iron Man 3, but I guess I was wrong. He did work on Iron Man though. Anyways, Brian Tyler does an amazing job with the music and I feel like a bad person for not giving him enough credit. Recently working with a musician myself for the first time in scoring a film, I realize how important they are to completing the movie. Those actions sequences, as elaborate as they are, may not entertain in the slightest without the work that Brian Tyler adds to the film. He hits those cues perfectly too. Even if you know where they story ends up, Tyler does a great job building the tension and keeping an audience invested in the scene.

Easter Egg

Looks like Robert found a friend to help him deal with all that anxiety. Even better news… Tony Stark will be back.

And those end credits were pretty damn cool and nostalgic for the last 5 years.

Jurassic Park 3D Re-Release

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Visually, Jurassic Park is one of the most incredible films ever made with an entertaining 3D re-release. The lighting, from projectors to headlights or flashlights, makes the film as aesthetically badass as a theme park of dinosaur clones. Camerawork, more than the plot itself, draws the audience in. Every shot motivates pulling attention somewhere. I loved it. I’ll watch it again, and more times after that.

OVERALL RATING: 3/4

Cinematography

Jeff Goldblum shinging bright like a diamond.

Jeff Goldblum shining bright like a diamond.

Nerdy filmmaker joke of the day: the dinosaurs aren’t the only ones drawn to the lights in Jurassic ParkDean Cundey is an amazing cinematographer when it comes to motivating light. Those turns of the camera, or slide-ins to perfect close-ups, couldn’t get any better. That one shot, where Sam Niell gets in the car then leaves after Tim bugs him is so simple yet so impressive.

While Cundey’s recent films are not up to par with his pre-2000s filmography, I appreciate the people who have variety in their cinematic careers. He even worked on Apollo 13Jurassic Park, and The Parent Trap in the same decade. As one of my favorite filmmakers, David Fincher, said, “Don’t be so pretentious that you think everything you make is ‘important.’ There’s room in this world for popcorn fiction and movies that are exactly the sum of their parts.” If nothing Cundey does in the future measures up to Jurassic Park, then fine, because that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still the guy who directed photography on Jurassic ParkThe Thing, and the Back to the Future trilogy.

Acting

Sam Neill is a loveable jerk and his partnering with a couple of kids is perfect because, well, at the start of the film he hates them. What better way for developing a character that can’t stand know-it-all kids then to throw them into some contained, jungle death trap together? Don’t those moments they watch giant dinosaurs attack tiny dinosaurs just tug at your heartstrings? The real bonding moment: finding out Tim’s dad didn’t build him a tree house either.

Work it, gurl.

Work it, gurl.

Jeff Goldblum’s the major source of comedic relief.  He’s the guy you want around when the prehistoric party gets a little too crazy. He knows how to break a leg and still partaaay, am I right? He’s loveable, he’s annoying, and he’s a great backseat driver.

Side note, let’s all take a moment of silence for Samuel L. Jackson.

K moving on…

Directing

I respect Spielberg for taking such insane concepts and making them incredibly believable. His job is selling the story and he always does. Another great Spielberg trademark is his lighting. Sure, that is all for the director of photography, but Spielberg works with different cinematographers (notably Kaminski), yet that light always streams through a room beautifully for any of his films. It illuminates people in a way that real life probably never does, which shows that no matter who is DP is, Spielberg should get a lot of credit for that as well. He also knows when there are some great kid actors lurking around. I don’t know what he’s putting in their candy but somehow… thespians! That man is the Willy Wonka for child actors. Did that make sense?

Writing

I’ll give it to Jurassic Park for a perfect blend of suspense and comedic timing, but apparently everything in Jurassic Park, while deadly, is also convenient enough for an escape. So don’t worry, you may get electrocuted at 10,000 volts and bleed out of your ears, but everything will be okay. The foreshadowing is so subtle and purposeful I could cry tears of joy, like Dr. Alan Grant’s buckling his seatbelt foreshadowing how the species later mutates like frogs. Still, remind me where major plants in the story went? No, I’m not talking about the plants that those “vegietarian” dinosaurs love eating, I mean that creepy embryo thing didn’t all go to waste now did it? Does this mean I need to see the other films? I mean I will, but I heard they’re not good so….

Score

Can we talk about John Williams? Look at what this man is musically responsible for: Star Wars, the Indiana Jones films, Jaws, Superman, Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, E.T., Schindler’s List, War Horse, Harry Potter, Catch Me If You Can, and Home Alone.

How does someone have this much talent? Do you think he has his soundtracks on his iTunes and listens to them when he wants to pretend he’s Indiana Jones on a horse with Lincoln fighting sharks from Superman’s galaxy far, far away, that can’t find their way home from a theme park in Nazi Germany until a bunch of bank-fraud, DiCaprio-Clone burglars show up then everything turns into this civil war which leads to this world war and Tom Hanks shows up telling him, “You’re a wizard, Harry,” but he’s like, “no, I’m John Williams and you’re welcome.” Like I just did there, he knows what building suspense is like, except he does it with music so that’s a lot cooler. His score tells you a story in itself, also like I just did because do you not get the point I’m making? There’s never a dull moment, even when things calm down. He has five Academy awards. This guy is amazing.