All posts by The Blog of Big Ideas

About The Blog of Big Ideas

A young man trying to find his way through art, design, love, family and friendship.

20th Anniversary Film Review: The Fifth Element

Author’s note: I rewatched the 4k restauration of the original 1997 film “The Fifth Element” in a local theater. This review is meant as a revision and appreciation of the film, having had the benefit of time to inform the impact and cultural significance of the piece in the cinematic landscape. 

Very few films in the history of Hollywood offer as much popcorn-friendly entertainment with as much artistic flamboyance as The Fifth Element. Written and directed by Luc Besson, the film is, per the director’s own analysis, an European interpretation of an American sci-fi blockbuster: colorful, playful, effortlessly cool, and sometimes nonsensical yet always fun to watch.

Continue reading 20th Anniversary Film Review: The Fifth Element

Months in Review: February, March & April

The tail end of winter seems to have left us and, with it, the start of a new romance in my life. For that and other professional reasons, I have, once again, neglected this blog of mine. Even so, my appetite for movies remains unchanged even if life has a way of sneaking up on the time you thought you had.
In the last three months (February, March and April) I have watched a total of 24 films. The average rating for these has been a solid 3.34 out of 5. There have been a handful of highlights courtesy of a group of films from 2016 that sit among the best reviewed of the year. Such are Fences, Edge of Seventeen, Hidden Figures and Lion. However, I have also been disappointed with cinematic efforts that I was genuinely excited to see. Such are Florence Foster Jenkins, Ghost in the Shell and, to some extent, Hacksaw Ridge.

Below is a list of short reviews for all of these films in the order in which they were seen:

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) [ 2.5/5 ]

There are few things as dull in the cinematic landscape than live-action superhero films that cannot give a human dimension to the comic or cartoon they are based on. The first in the Captain America series adapted to the big screen attempts to create tangible and believable humans out of its heroes until it introduces its main villain and offers up a rather simplistic and comical world-spanning conflict that lacks detail and depth. Dare I say that while Chris Evans is a great casting choice from a physical point of view, I think the actor’s performance was a bit of a disappointment. His more recent efforts as Captain America show he could have done better here.

THE INNOCENTS (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

A touching drama that deals with yet another dark story of oppression and injustice in times of war and violent foreign occupation.  What I found especially notorious was the film’s careful depiction of piety and religious devotion because it carefully challenges its value to society without preaching a more liberal point of view. The Innocents is a modest yet effective piece of film making well worth watching.

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (2016) [ 3/5 ]

At its best, Florence Foster Jenkins is a moving portrayal of a larger-than-life personality whose love and devotion to music could conquer all. At its worst, the film is a silly comedy that dares not to rise above watching a talentless songstress (Merryl Streep) take the stage gleefully unaware of her obvious limitations. Hugh Grant was a nice surprise in his role as Ms. Jenkins’ devoted husband.

WOMAN IN GOLD (2015) [ 3/5 ]

A miscast Ryan Reynolds is completely out of his depth next to an ever convincing Hellen Mirren playing a Jewish lady who having escaped Nazism in her youth, decides to fight for her family’s lost inheritance: a priceless painting. Unsurprisingly, I found her personal story the most compelling bit of film even if the director and cinematographer did little to make it more visceral.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO… (2014) [ 3/5 ]

A largely self-promoting short documentary about the most coveted award in cinema. It is neither a valuable historical document, nor a moving reminder of some of its best pop culture moments. Instead, it is a documentary that attempts to give meaning to the Oscars, offering some interesting insights along the way.

JULIETA (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

Another nearly masterful pulp from the inimitable mind of Pedro Almodovar. Though Julieta is as well-crafted and stylized as any other film Almodovar has made, the layers of suspense and intrigue don’t quite add up to a satisfying payoff. At the end, the story felt too loose and unresolved and I left the theater wanting more.

LOVING (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

A small and timely film that pushes a tragically little known love story that, despite its very humble beginnings, managed to change the rule of law in the United States. Both Joel Edgerton and Ruth Nega were stupendous in roles that demanded a great deal of nuance, silence and introspection. Perhaps the film’s commitment to match the modesty and pace of the leading characters was its greatest flaw, never daring to loosen its strings to the source material.

HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) [ 4/5 ]

An effective and purposeful bit of cinema that excels in the retelling of a great story with the use of an apt and charismatic ensemble cast that manage to marry drama and comedy effortlesly. Hidden Figures is the kind of feel-good film that ticks all of the boxes of good ol’ Hollywood entertainment whilst falling short of cinematic artistry.

HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) [ 3/5 ]

The truly surprising thing about the film is that it is the kind of bland and slightly sugar-coated retelling one would expect from a director who hasn’t made some of the most violent films of the last 10-15 years. When Mel Gibson directs a war-themed movie, one could have frankly expected borderline cringe-worthy violence, larger-than-life performances and non-stop action. Perhaps Hacksaw Ridge is Mel Gibson’s way of telling his many detractors that after movies like Apocalypto and The Passion of the Christ, he is also able to make an audience-friendly Hollywoodesque film that ticks all of the right boxes without ever truly exceling at any particular thing.

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016) [ 4/5 ]

Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 films

The kind of teen dramedy that I have been waiting for. Hailee Steinfeld is nothing short of superb in a role that fit her like a glove. This is a film that, despite its intrinsic lack of maturity, manages to be both funny and, at times, profound. The Edge of Seventeen is one of the best coming-of-age American stories of the last few years. Extremely re-watchable.

MISS SLOANE (2016) [ 3/5 ]

A severely tacky and misguided attempt at liberalism masked by Hollywood flair and very adept acting courtesy of Jessica Chastain. Though Miss Sloane seems like a film concerned with its story and its characters, the end reveals it was actually more concerned with surprising us and making a political statement. Though I believe there is certainly a place for films with a clear political agenda; this is a project that was so eager to drive its anti-gun and anti-corruption statement across, that it forgot to give these characters a human dimension that went beyond archetypes.

FENCES (2016) [ 4/5 ]

I have always had my reservations when it comes to adapting plays and theater to the big screen. Though Fences is every bit as moving and complex a character and social study as you are likely to see, it never ceases to feel like a play that is best suited to the stage.
Having said that, there is much to appreciate and consider in Fences such as its still relevant source material and the extraordinary pairing of Viola Davis and Denzel Washington.

GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) [ 3/5 ]

A visual spectacle that successfully creates a futuristic world that is both compelling and beautiful. Fans of the anime have been divided in their praise even if the film clearly attempts to cater to them by staying faithful to some of the most notorious elements of the series. Beyond that, the film lacks the depth and invention to create fully fleshed out characters, leaving many plot opportunities largely unexplored.

COLLATERAL BEAUTY (2016) [ 2.5/5 ]

An awesome cast whose talents were largely wasted in a film that touches on typical holiday movie themes and sentiments, but without it ever feeling effortless. The twist in the last act is not entirely surprising and even though there are some truly heart-touching moments, most of these are diluted by a tacky and uninspiring script.

THE SEA OF TREES (2016) [ 3/5 ]

When The Sea of Trees abandons the weird metaphysical vibe that seems to hang over almost every bit of dialogue and plot device, there are moments in the latest Gus Van Sant project that hint at a kind of introspective depth that belongs in a better film. Matthew McConaughey was not in his A game, even if he had at least a couple of scene-stealing moments. Aside from his sometimes stupendous performance, the talents of Naomi Watts and Ken Watanabe are criminally underused.

20TH CENTURY WOMEN (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

Every bit of 20th Century Women takes us back to the 1970s, in the midst of the Vietnam War, where Comunism was seen as a threat to American life, and where there were women who after having joined the workforce during WWII, could not simply go back to the status quo. The film is about the women who grew up in this time period, and the women who came after, both young and old. The film is also about their relationships to men but, more importantly, to a teenage boy who may, after all, need less guidance and help in growing up than they all think.
I wish the film had focused a bit more on the relationships between these characters and spent less time attempting to be offbeat. I’m also not sure if the repetitive flashbacks helped the pace of the film which, at times, felt a bit fluffy and empty.

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016) [ 4/5 ]

 Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a funny and charming New Zealander adventure film about a rebellious boy stranded in a forest with his foster uncle that, due to some miscommunication and misfortune, quickly develops into a national manhunt of hilarious proportions. Both Sam Neill and teenager Julian Dennison are perfectly cast and have enough chemistry to make a franchise out of this. The film is thoroughly entertaining, in the way that the Goonies or the Sandlot were.

PATERSON (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

A character study of great introspection and nuance. Paterson zeroes in on the rather unremarkable life of a bus driver (also bearing the name Paterson) whose gifts as a poet are only lower than what we imagine to be his overbearing humility. I saw Paterson as a typical American male type, taught to keep his feelings within and avoid confrontation at all costs. Even though he loves his girlfriend and finds himself liking his job at times, there is an undeniable air of deep frustration and anger that flirts to be exposed. It is precisely that flirtation with a blowout that makes Jim Jarmusch’ latest film an equally frustrating and engaging viewing experience.

THE DISCOVERY (2017) [ 3/5 ]

With elements of science fiction, horror, drama and some dark comedy, The Discovery is a film with many interests, but in doing so it lacks focus and purpose. Stars Rooney Mara and Jason Segel are perfect for the roles of troubled offbeat outcasts. Unfortunately while each one works on their own, together they lack chemistry. In its last act, the film also becomes hostage to its desire to surprise, giving us an ending that seems at odds with the pace and character of the rest of the movie.

ASSASSIN’S CREED (2016) [ 3/5 ]

Having played the game, it is remarkable that the film adaptation chose to focus on all the aspects of the game that were least enthralling. After all, we saw very few of the acrobatics and lethal killings that came to define the series and, instead, remained held up by a lackluster story that seemed to be strewn together from The Da Vinci Code franchise and National Treasure. The film is only saved by a surprisingly strong cast with the likes of Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Brendan Gleeson and Jeremy Irons.

LION (2016) [ 4/5 ]

Lion is a fine film in that it tells the extraordinary true story of Saroo Brierley with a lot of heart and empathy. In what should be a career-defining performance for young Dev Patel, Lion pulls at the heartstrings of anyone human enough to relate to the feeling of being a son and/or a parent. The ending alone is emotionally wrecking.
Beyond the strength of the central story, the film is a bit light in both content and cinematic value.

THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (2012) [ 3.5/5 ]

In a world that is increasingly more divided between rich and poor, The Queen of Versailles is a timely documentary about excess and greed that is told with surprising compassion. Though there is a clear intent to criticize a society that equates success to wealth, the film avoids lecturing us by letting the actions of the family it focuses on to speak for themselves.

DIOR AND I (2015) [ 3/5 ]

For the fashion connoisseurs, few documentaries will be as gratifying as Dior and I. The film is both a celebration of one of the last “great houses” of haut couture, and an inside look at the process of crafting a fashion line from scratch. To those interested in the artistry and validity of documentaries, Dior and I will play as a long television episode rather than a feature film focused on the ascension of a bright new designer (Raf Simmons) to a very old and respected house of fashion. Nothing more, nothing less.

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004) [ 3/5 ]

Of all of Wes Anderson films this one is perhaps his most quirky, but lacking the charm of Fantastic Mr. Fox, the pulpy quality of The Grand Budapest Hotel and the childlike spirit of Moonrise Kingdom. It doesn’t help that every character in the film is terribly unlikeable, with a Bill Murray at his most drab and mellow.

Preview to the Academy Awards. Best Films of 2016

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

In anticipation to the 89th Academy Awards, I have decided, unlike years prior, to post a list of my favorite films released in 2016. As it were, this is an ever-changing list which will shift and evolve as years pass, as both my tastes and my impressions on filmmaking continue to change. This is also, I presume, an incomplete list missing some highly praised bits of cinema like: The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Toni Erdmann, The Salesman, 20th Century Women, Paterson, Elle, Fences, Lion, and some others. With that in mind, I’m satisfied with the collection of more than 60 films I did manage to watch that were released in the US in 2016. The list of “favorites” adds up to 15 films, which represents the amount of movies that I gave at least a 4 out of 5 rating. 
At the end of the post I will also offer some thoughts on the top categories for the Oscars, regarding who should win and who will likely be taking an statuette back home.

Continue reading Preview to the Academy Awards. Best Films of 2016

Month in Review: January films and tv

st-vincent

January is a month of cold weather, new year resolutions and catching up with films released in the latter part of the bygone year. It is also the month of the much-anticipated Academy Awards nominations, and a sleuth of other award shows where Hollywood practices a yearly ritual of congratulating itself.

January was a good and productive month in every respect for me. In terms of film, I managed to watch a total of 14 (more than my usual of 10 or 11) with a very high average score of 3.61 out of 5. January was also the first time in about two years that I felt compelled to give a film a perfect score (La La Land), while a couple of others received 4 out 5. This month came my discovery of SyFy’s series “The Expanse“, which is easily the best first season to a science fiction show since Battlestar Galactica.

Without further ado, below is the compendium of short reviews for films in the order in which they were watched. At the bottom you will find my impressions on The Expanse.

Continue reading Month in Review: January films and tv

Film Review: La La Land

la-la-land-2

La La Land reminds me of an old passage I once read: many great artists in history did not excel at being true originals, but at being exceptional in their craft. Such is the case of a film that without being groundbreaking manages to excel at every step, delivering a cinematic spectacle unlike any I have seen in years. Continue reading Film Review: La La Land

A return to blogging. Best films watched in 2016. 

arrival

There is much I could tell you and share about the past year. About 10 months have passed since my last contribution to this tiny creation of mine. Fortunately for those who may still stumble upon this blog of mine, I will not bore you with the details of what happened or did not happen between then and now. Instead, I will attempt to give you my very succinct impressions about the best films I watched this year (released in 2016 or prior) despite my almost complete absence from the blogosphere.

In total, I watched 111 films in the last calendar year (7 more than I watched in 2015). The average score was a very decent 3.28 out of 5, which tells me I’ve managed to avoid a lot of duds. Notwithstanding the relatively high average, I only scored 4 movies at 4.5 out of 5, and none managed a 5 out of 5.

Without further ado, below is a list of the best films I watched in 2016 grouped by rating, but in no discernible order beyond that.

Continue reading A return to blogging. Best films watched in 2016. 

Film Review: The Witch (2016), a horrific masterpiece

image

We have built houses, bridges and caves to shelter our soft bodies from nature’s unforgiving nastiness. Whereas a bad farmer dies of starvation but a good farmer sells what he cannot eat.
Robert Eggers’ The Witch is as much about men and their faith, as it is about the never ending struggle of men in Nature.

Continue reading Film Review: The Witch (2016), a horrific masterpiece

Months in Review: December & January (2016)

Revenant

How quickly do months fly by when you are busy. It seems like only a week ago I posted my last review. As quickly as my newfound motivation to blog a bit more came to me on January 1st, as quickly it evaporated not from a lack of desire, but from a lack of energy.

With a bit of a delay, I share with you my brief thoughts on the films I had the chance to watch in the last month of 2015 and the first of 2016. A total of 21 films were watched, 12 in December and 9 in January. The average rating was a very good 3.35 out of 5. The following are ordered in the way they were seen:

Continue reading Months in Review: December & January (2016)

Film Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

h8

After eight feature films and an ever more recognizable brand of cinema, we have come to expect a certain type of movie from Quentin Tarantino. He is, in many ways, the gold standard for many young and unapologetic film makers out there that think they have a new and distinct vision to share with the world. In the 1990s, Tarantino represented a break from Hollywood formulas that had been in place for most of the 1980s (with a few exceptions of course). To supplement his unique style of film making, Tarantino had the kind of rebellious anti-establishment personality to match that made his work instant cult favorites.

Continue reading Film Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

2015, The Year in Film

STAR WARS POSTER

After nearly two months of no activity in my blog and a few hours away before the end of 2015, I simply couldn’t let December pass me by without offering something to reminisce about the year.
I hope this coming year finally gives me the purpose to really devote some time to blogging, as I’ve wanted to since I started it about 3 years ago.
There are also a couple of series to catch up with, like my reviews of the first season of Mr. Robot, and my ongoing monthly round-ups.

Anyway…

2015 was a year filled with great films, many of which I have yet to see. In lieu of a “best films of 2015” post, I will instead share thoughts on the films I watched this year, whether they were first released 50 years back, or just a month or two ago. The following list will comprise some of the greatest movies I watched (grouped by high ratings of 4.5 or 4/5 only as there were no perfect scores given) and some honorable mentions that did not quite make the cut . The following are limited to films I had not seen before or that I had not seen in their entirety until this year.

Continue reading 2015, The Year in Film