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.

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‘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.

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.