3 stars out of 4
Make no mistake, director Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is an overwhelmingly visceral experience, a movie that on a pure visual level is simply astounding. Just how Cuarón, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and visual effects maestro Tim Webber (along with a throng of effects artists) pulled off the trick of making the audience feel completely immersed in outer space is mind-boggling. The fact that George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, playing two astronauts on a routine space mission fixing a Hubble Telescope, are also acting against CGI-enhanced imagery, make Gravity a technical triumph that also works as a pulse-pounding action adventure.
3.5 stars out of 4
At the heart of Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve’s new film Prisoners, there’s a rather lofty discussion that can be had regarding moral duplicity, vengeance, and the cyclical nature of violence. From one angle, the film exists as a procedural/revenge thriller that uses its ripped-from-the-headline stories of child abduction as a catalyst to play on the audiences emotions. On the other, it’s exploration of the moral grey area inherit in just how far seemingly ordinary people will go when the unthinkable happens gives it the appearance of something more profound.
3.5 stars out of 4
Kristina Buozyte’s Vanishing Waves is a mind-bending sci-fi drama where the term mind-bending is more than just a pejorative genre label. In fact, even though many might compare the Lithuanian-born Buozyte’s second feature to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Vanishing Waves feels more like a throwback to Ken Russell’s 1980 cult classic Altered States. Like that film, there’s a direct link being drawn between lucid dreamscapes and the psycho-sexual, a kind of subconscious need for primal urges to be both satiated and explored without real life consequences.
2.5 stars out of 4
Max is having a bad day. Or, more topically, Max is having a bad day like the 99% are having a bad day. The year is 2154, and Earth is an overpopulated slum; full of diseased citizens, grimy housing, and totalitarian robots. It’s a vision of the future not dissimilar from other like-minded dystopias, but because this one is engineered by the talented Neil Blomkamp of District 9 fame, it’s safe to say there’s an allegorical message behind all of the exoskeleton ass-kicking.
-FILM PICK OF THE WEEK-
Writer/director Jeff Nichols is a rarity. His first two films, 2007′s Shotgun Stories and 2011′s Take Shelter, were urgent spellbinders that showcased a knack for eliciting strong performances, deliberate pacing, and a terrific sense of place. With Mud, Nichols continues his winning streak with an emotionally heartfelt coming-of-age tale graced with nods to Mark Twain and Stand By Me.
BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO
3.5 stars out of 4
A woman trapped inside a sound booth screams at the top of her lungs. A man contorts his body while spewing a string of unintelligible shrieks and grunting noises. A freshly cooked radish is stabbed repeatedly. A watermelon splatters open like a crushed skull. Writer/director Peter Strickland’s homage to 70′s/80′s gothic Italian horror cinema Berberian Sound Studio contains such images, but most importantly, it’s how the accompanying sound effects are used that raises the film above just another winking genre deconstruction.
WORLD WAR Z
There isn’t a single drop of blood throughout director Marc Forster’s global zombie flick World War Z, which is curious since hundreds of random bystanders get their faces chewed to bits. Then there’s the scene where Brad Pitt, playing a former UN employee, uses a crowbar to bash a flailing member of the undead upside the cranium. Forster frames the action so that the impact is just out of frame, and it’s something of a modern miracle that Pitt doesn’t get a droplet of brain matter on his rumpled shirt. This is all understandable, of course, given the film’s PG-13 rating. Hoping to court the widest possible audience, the filmmakers have decided to make a zombie movie that’s not really a zombie movie at all.
MAN OF STEEL
2 stars out of 4
Zack Snyder should really just give up and make video games already. The filmmaker of such headache-inducing visual assaults as 300 and Sucker Punch has, for reasons that remain an enigma, been given the reigns to reboot arguably the most iconic superhero ever. Truthfully, Snyder seems like a genuine fanboy who unabashedly loves his source material, but he hasn’t yet been able to marshall his considerable enthusiasm into something cohesive. His adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s graphic novel Watchmen is a perfect example of a film that got all of the visual details right, but which largely failed to expound upon the social/political themes so many fans of the book cite as the reason for it’s greatness.