Stephen reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (2011)

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos [Fullmetal Alchemist: Milos no Sei-Naru Hoshi 鋼の錬金術師 嘆きの丘(ミロス)の聖なる星] (2011)

Starring Rie Kugimiya, Romi Park, Hidenobu Kiuchi, Maaya Sakamoto, Toshiyuki Morikawa

Directed by Kazuya Murata


It’s been a while since I saw the Fullmetal Alchemist series, and my memories of it are pretty vague. But I suppose that’s OK since this film doesn’t rely too much on the source material. The series is about two brothers, Edward and Alphonse, living in a fantasy world with technology roughly equivalent to the mid-19th century, but with cyborgs! They try to use alchemy to bring their dead mother back to life. This does not work. In fact it doesn’t work so much that it literally costs Ed an arm and a leg while Al loses his entire body, winding up with his soul fused to a suit of armor.

Around a decade later, the brothers have grown up (or in Al’s case, not changed at all) and now work for the government with the idea that they will eventually figure out how to restore their bodies. For this film, the government sends them out on a mission to find an escaped criminal who turned out to be an alchemist himself. This quest takes them out to a border town called Table City which has a ton of political tension as two large countries have displaced the original natives to the area, and there’s a ton of rebels and spies running around.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (2011) →

Quick Takes: Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis

1Sheet_Master.qxdEastern Promises (2007)
threehalfstar

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinéad Cusack, Mina E. Mina, Jerzy Skolimowski, Donald Sumpter
Directed by David Cronenberg

Eastern Promises is one of the few Cronenberg films I had seen before starting this current run through his filmography. I liked well enough back then, but I remember also wondering why everyone loved it so much. Seeing it within Cronenberg’s catalog of films definitely gives it a new context, and understanding his style and proclivities also added considerably to the experience. Like A History of Violence before it, Eastern Promises is a near-perfect, darkly engaging film. Its story beats are somewhat familiar if you’ve seen a few gangster movies, but the way they are approached is different. Cronenberg’s signature graphic violence is also incorporated, here becoming something like “body violence” instead of body horror. It creates the same squirms and winces that his horror films do, but to a greater degree than any of his previous non-horror films. Eastern Promises really goes for it, and to great effect, with the stand-out moment being the intense, raw bathhouse fight between two knife-wielding assassins and a naked Viggo Mortensen. Once again, Cronenberg elicits incredible performances from the entire cast, crafting yet another phenomenal film. If you haven’t seen it, and you have the stomach for it, definitely check it out.

dangerous_methodA Dangerous Method (2011)
threestar

Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon, André Hennicke, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey
Directed by David Cronenberg

It was bound to happen. After so many Cronenberg films surprising me and winning me over, I knew they couldn’t all be like that. A Dangerous Method is this film for me. In general, I prefer a character’s action or forward movement to propel a story, instead of the more dialogue-based approach here. I wouldn’t say that I disliked the film, but more that it didn’t seem quite as solid and confident as Cronenberg’s other works. The timeline seemed to shift at random, oftentimes for reasons I was unable to comprehend. Repeat viewings might clear up some of these issues, but I don’t know that I really care to see this one again. I trust Cronenberg as an artist, though, especially by this point in his career, and his ability to craft exactly the movie he wishes to. In this case, A Dangerous Method is a film that I’ll have to reckon with in order to understand. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I guess I’m just used to having a more viscerally positive reaction to his films on a first viewing.

cosmopolisCosmopolis (2012)
onehalfstar

Starring Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, Paul Giamatti, Kevin Durand, Abdul Ayoola, Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire, Bob Bainborough, Samantha Morton, Zeljko Kecojevic, Jay Baruchel, Philip Nozuka, Mathieu Amalric, Patricia McKenzie
Directed by David Cronenberg

Well, if A Dangerous Method was the inevitable Cronenberg film that didn’t win me over, then Cosmopolis is the natural progression as the first Cronenberg film I outright didn’t like at all. It’s nearly impenetrable and hard to follow. Like Cronenberg’s previous film, this one is propelled almost entirely by dialogue, but this time it also primarily takes place in a singular location: a limousine. Cronenberg’s camerawork is impeccable and impressive — it never seems like the confines of this space limited his camera placements in any way — but when all it captures is talking heads with monotone voices, it’s just not all that engaging. There are elements and themes that intrigue me, and the third act does imply that a re-watch might be in order, but I think it’s too boring for me to ever truly enjoy. I’m sure Cronenberg made the film he wanted to, without compromise, but unfortunately Cosmopolis didn’t move me in the slightest. A true disappointment.

Quick Takes: Nightmare City, Your Highness, The Foot Fist Way

nightmare-city-poster-161Nightmare City [Incubo Sulla Cittá Contaminata] (1980)
AKA City of the Walking Dead

fourstar

Starring Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, Francisco Rabal, Sonia Viviani, Eduardo Fajardo, Stefania D’Amario, Ugo Bologna
Directed by Umberto Lenzi

I’ve had Nightmare City on my radar for a while, but the arrival of Tom Savini’s crowdfunded remake-to-be gave me that extra little push in the right direction. Simply put, Nightmare City is a fuckin’ blast. I’ve always been a firm supporter of traditional, walking zombies, with the focus on the incessant nature of the never-tiring horde instead of the more immediate threat that running zombies deliver. But Nightmare City, the first film to use running zombies, proved to me that they can be just as fun, if not more. Director Umberto Lenzi crafts a film with scene after scene of pure balls-out madness, and the way it all bursts forth and inundates the unsuspecting viewer is incredible fun. One moment I was in tense apprehension for what might be behind that aircraft door, and then WHAM! A fucking horde of mud-faced, bloodthirsty fiends runs out, and the rest of the movie never lets up. The running zombies work here because Lenzi still embraces the overwhelming nature of the horde, while also delivering more fun than I think I’ve ever had with a zombie movie. It’s firmly a B-Movie, though, so many will scoff at its low-budget FX, but I say fuck all that and just have a good time with it!

yourhighness_1Your Highness (2011)
threestar

Starring Danny McBride, James Franco, Rasmus Hardiker, Natalie Portman, Toby Jones, Justin Theroux, Zooey Deschanel, Charles Dance, Damian Lewis
Directed by David Gordon Green

Not sure how to review this one because it’s the kind of movie you pretty much know how you’ll feel about it before you watch it. If you liked Eastbound & Down and you’ve come on a quest for more Danny McBride to put in your head, Your Highness is a hoot. It helps if you also have an affinity for ’80s movies, specifically ’80s fantasy flicks like Beastmaster or Conan the Barbarian. If you’re not that person, I can’t imagine this being anything close to entertaining. But for me, I’m firmly in the first group, so I really enjoyed seeing Danny McBride in a fantasy setting. The ’80s-style CG lightning was also a quick way to my heart, but I think the perverted, Yoda-like Wise Wizard, brought to life by a puppet, really sealed the deal. Where a lot of ’80s throwbacks just feel like modern movies, Your Highness actually gets the spirit of ’80s sword-and-sorcery movies down pat, and it’s got more than its share of hilarity if you’re in the right frame of mind.

foot_fist_way_xlgThe Foot Fist Way (2006)
threestar

Starring Danny McBride, Mary Jane Bostic, Ben Best, Spencer Moreno, Carlos Lopez, Jody Hill, Ken Aguilar, Collette Wolfe
Directed by Jody Hill

Your Highness got me in the mood for some more Danny McBride, which naturally led me to The Foot Fist Way. McBride plays a Tae Kwon Do instructor that is every bit the foul-mouthed blowhard you’d expect him to be. The character is not as defined as McBride’s Kenny Powers role on Eastbound & Down, but you can clearly see the beginnings of that idea in The Foot Fist Way. Fans will definitely enjoy this one, but as this is the roughest of the McBride films, it’s not one to show everybody. Of course, I love me some martial arts, so the parody of that environment and the characters that inhabit it hit very solidly with me.

Quick Takes: Ride Along, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Afternoon Delight

ride_along_xlgRide Along (2014)
threestar

Starring Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Callen, Laurence Fishburne, Dragos Bucur, Gary Owen, Jacob Latimore, Jay Pharoah, Benjamin Flores Jr.
Directed by Tim Story

Like many action comedies, it would be easy to rip Ride Along for having a dumb plot and sequences where our heroes would never survive if it were real life. But action comedies aren’t real life, so as long as I’m laughing more than I’m not, I’m happy. Ride Along made me happy. Ride Along has gotten fairly dismal reviews from almost everyone, and while I can’t defend it as some great piece of cinema, it’s definitely more fun than the consensus makes it appear. What it comes down to is that I think Kevin Hart is funny, and I also love me some Ice Cube. Together they make a great comedy duo. The action could have been shot better, but this is a small complaint in a quick, fun, entertaining movie. Clear your mind for a night and just ride along with it.

a92058kywgvRise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
threehalfstar

Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Tyler Labine, Jamie Harris, Ty Olsson, David Hewlett
Directed by Rupert Wyatt

I love the original Planet of the Apes films, but after seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes I think it might be hard to go back. I’m shocked how much I enjoyed this one. You really couldn’t ask for a better modern take on the Planet of the Apes saga, although I do wonder if they’ll stick with CG for the more evolved humanoid apes if they continue the series. I suppose they will, but Rick Baker’s makeup from Tim Burton’s 2001 remake was so good I kinda wish they’d do that again. Anyway, if you’ve been on the fence for the last few years, definitely watch this one! By focusing the story on a single ape, we are able to feel for the character, right down to the point of cheering the apes on during the film’s climactic (and awesome) final act. I can’t wait to see the sequel!

afternoon-delight-posterAfternoon Delight (2013)
threestar

Starring Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch, Jessica St. Clair, Michaela Watkins, Josh Stamberg, John Kapelos, Keegan Michael Key, Annie Mumolo
Directed by Jill Soloway

Afternoon Delight walks a thin line between drama and dark comedy, delivering both very well and remaining engaging throughout. At least for me. I can imagine this one will split people, as it’s pretty much nothing but spoiled white people problems. They are problems nonetheless, and something as life affecting as being unhappy in a relationship shouldn’t be trivialized. Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is the unhappy one in question, and her life changes course when she visits a strip club with her husband and another couple. Rachel becomes somewhat obsessed, or at the very least highly interested, in getting to know McKenna (Juno Temple), the stripper she connected with. One thing leads to another and McKenna is living in Rachel’s spare bedroom. What makes Afternoon Delight so interesting to me is how much director Jill Soloway seems to be saying with the film, without actually saying it. There’s so much to dissect about the character relationships, revealing insightful takes on truth, trust and the relationships that shape our lives. Kathryn Hahn is superb as Rachel, giving a raw, emotional performance that deserves acclaim, and Juno Temple is a perfect, confident complement to Hahn’s nervous energy. Very good, but definitely not for everyone.

Shame (2011)

shame_4Starring Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie, Lucy Walters, Alex Manette, Hannah Ware

Directed by Steve McQueen

Expectations: Fairly high.

twohalfstar


Shame is the type of movie that is supposed to make you think, where the ending is more ambiguous than conclusive, demanding a good after-film discussion so that you can wrap your brain around what you just saw. I say “supposed to” because while it was clearly the intent of director Steve McQueen, it definitely did not have that effect on me while I was watching. Well, I did think about why so many people seem to regard this film so highly, but I don’t think that counts. 🙂

Shame is about sex addiction and the shame that surrounds it. Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a sex addict, and he has no intention of doing anything about it. In the first few minutes of the film we see that his life is largely composed of consuming porn, masturbating and having anonymous sex wherever he can get it. But one day he returns home to find his sister (Carey Mulligan) in his shower, hoping to stay awhile with him. This definitely wasn’t in his plans, but he allows her to stay.

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The Rescuers (2011)

therescuers_1Starring Martin Gilbert, Stephanie Nyombayire

Directed by Michael King

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


The atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II are among the most egregious crimes against humanity in the history of the world. This is an undeniable fact, and the stories of the survivors are equally undeniable and powerful. It’s impossible not to be moved when those who fled the Nazi regime as children return as aged adults to where their visa was stamped by a kindhearted diplomat. But as powerful as these stories and these specific moments are, The Rescuers still feels like it needs to handhold its audience a bit with highly emotional, overbearing music.

This was my main problem with the presentation of The Rescuers, as the music feels completely unnecessary for the film to work. On top of that, something was wrong with the sound mix on the screener I received for review, so whenever music was playing (which is almost constantly) the narration was nearly inaudible unless I cranked the sound way past comfortable levels. Clearly this was not the director’s intent so I will try to look past this technical issue in reviewing the film, but I can’t deny that it definitely clouded my experience with the film.

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Conan the Barbarian (2011)

ConanTheBarbarian_1Starring Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan, Bob Sapp, Leo Howard, Steven O’Donnell, Nonso Anozie, Raad Rawi

Directed by Marcus Nispel

Expectations: Super low.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Against all odds, Conan the Barbarian is not a gigantic failure. They sure try in a lot of ways to drive the film into the ground, but thankfully they aren’t completely successful as this re-imagining of Conan’s origin story is pretty damn entertaining. But a good film it is not, although I was pretty fooled for the first 30 minutes or so. This section is by far the best in the film, and as soon as it’s over and Conan is actually Conan, things start to turn south.

This isn’t really a remake, as the story is completely different from John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian. In broad strokes they are somewhat similar, though, as both films open with Conan’s family being brutally murdered by an evil villain and Conan wishing for revenge. The villains are nothing alike, but they share a foreboding, formidable screen presence, inspiring a young Conan on his quest for revenge. So I suppose in this way it is a remake, but a remake in basic premise alone.

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