Tag: chris pine

Outlaw King

Outlaw King (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

With a keen eye for beautiful vistas of majestic cliffs overlooking rivers and oceans, verdant forests, and flat terrains plagued with bogs, “Outlaw King,” directed by David Mackenzie, is visual splendor. It has a knack for placing the viewer into its particular time and place. But the deeper it gets in excavating the conflict between Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine), soon-to-be murderous king of Scotland, and the tyrannical King Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane), details are presented in a cursory and unsatisfying manner some of the time. Its constricted two-hour running time does not allow for the material to breathe between major turn of events. Right when one is finished, the next one is presented. It becomes a challenge to buy into the passage of time and so a fully immersive experience is not achieved. In the middle of it, one considers that perhaps telling the story in the form of mini-series might have been more effective. The work is elevated, however, by committed supporting performances, from Florence Pugh as Elizabeth de Burgh, Robert’s intelligent, supportive, and headstrong wife; Billy Howle as the irascible Prince of Wales with serious daddy issues; and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as revenge-driven James Douglas whose lands have been taken away on the basis of treason. I wished to know these figures and all their complexities, but we are provided only a glance.

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time (2018)
★ / ★★★★

At least its intention comes from a good place.

“A Wrinkle in Time” aims to empower young people to learn to love themselves, to embrace their flaws yet remain open for the possibility of self-improvement, to be malleable should the occasion call for it, to be proud of being smart and self-reliant. But director Ava DuVernay has failed to make a truly captivating picture for children and young adolescents because the approach is often ostentatious rather than introspective, quiet, and personal. One gets the impression that she wished to create a film that would be remembered for years to come. But in order to achieve this, it appears she has forgotten one simple rule: the emotions behind the situations shown on screen must not only ring true, they must be treated with constantly evolving complexity that runs parallel to the growth of the person we are asked to follow.

I found the movie to be intolerably fake, from the expensive special and visual effects down to the would-be tears streaming down a child’s face during the most dramatic moments. With the former, it is so obvious whenever actors are emoting in front of a blue or green screen. As a result, the supposedly costly visuals look cheap and laughable. I’ve seen much more convincing visuals from modern video games. With the latter, clearly Visine or water was dropped onto eyes of actors and they were instructed to look sad. One sees through the sham almost immediately because when they cry their eyes do not even look slightly red. Their lips do not tremble convincingly. Involuntary ticks associated with sorrow or despair are nowhere to be found.

At its most preposterous, one gets the impression that a fashion show is taking place, particularly when Meg (Storm Reid), our heroine who goes on a quest to search for her missing father (Chris Pine), an accomplished NASA scientist, crosses paths with Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), beings in the form of adult women who possess the ability to travel across time and space. These veteran performers deliver a parade of annoyance, particularly Witherspoon who appears to not have created a character that is worthy of the story’s fantastical universe. But perhaps the dialogue shares equal responsibility, too.

Screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell appear to not have an understanding of what piques children’s curiosity. Nearly every line that characters utter is dumbed down. Helpful life lessons are as subtle as a kick in the gut. Once in a while a complex scientific term is thrown around—but do not be fooled: as a person with a solid scientific background, let me tell you that these serve merely as decoration. I found it maddening that the material is afraid to explain an intricate concept yet its overall message touches upon the value of being inquisitive. Why must these writers make the same mistakes as generic children’s films that have nothing to offer except busy activity and noise?

Notice its misguided use of music. Score and soundtrack are omnipresent—most distracting and inappropriate because there are moments in the film when the characters and the audience must ruminate. How could we get into a place of genuine feelings and deep thoughts when such musical signals shove us into feeling or thinking a certain way? This creates an impression that the filmmakers do not trust the audience to come up with their own conclusions. How can we feel empowered by our own experiences with the work when there is implication that there is only one way to respond to it?

This interpretation of the beloved novel by Madeleine L’Engle is a disgrace for it does not practice what it preaches. Great movies for children are memorable exactly because they are personal stories told through a filmmaker’s personal touch. They do not aspire to be big, they just are—and sometimes time actually makes them bigger, grander, more definitive than they were. Here, DuVernay’s signature is drowned by all the blinding colors, meaningless noise, and stupidity wrapped in bad fortune cookie aphorisms.

Z for Zachariah

Z for Zachariah (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

After a nuclear war, the majority of the planet became uninhabitable. One of the exceptions is the valley that Ann (Margot Robbie) resides in which was somehow protected by the nuclear fallout and quite possibly has its own weather system. Although Ann has lived with family, it has been a year since the rest of them attempted to find survivors outside of the valley. To her surprise, while doing her usual chores and rounds, Ann crosses paths with a man named John (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a research engineer wearing a suit designed to protect from radioactivity. Soon enough, despite their initial but important differences, they decide to live together.

“Z for Zachariah,” directed by Craig Zobel, is a contemplative piece that works as a chamber drama and barebones science fiction. Credit to the casting directors for choosing actors that are comfortable portraying many different emotions very often in one scene. This is because, aside from the main plot involving faith and science, the film is also about the images the characters paint in the viewer’s mind as they recollect traumatic memories.

Scenes that stand out involve characters simply sharing a meal or standing in a room and talking to one another. Particularly moving is when Ann opens up about her extremely isolated existence in the farm, what she had to go through before meeting John. We get a taste of her lifestyle during the first ten minutes as she trudges forward during her usual routine, a dog being her sole companion. Although the word “suicide” is never uttered, the subject is brought up with an elegance and a sadness. One cannot blame her for considering such an action and yet one ought to commend her strength for ultimately continuing to live, to keep fighting.

The pacing is slow and deliberate which is most appropriate in a story like this. Thus, the material is successful is building a lot of sexual tension between John and Ann. It is critical that we believe they are eventually drawn to each other, despite their differences especially when it comes to believing in God, because their feelings for one another—whatever it is exactly—is challenged later, upon the arrival of Caleb (Chris Pine), who claims that he is on his way south due to news that there is a colony of survivors there.

On some level, the picture works as a thriller in the final third as we begin to question how far a character, or characters, is willing to go in order to defend or upend the status quo. The ambiguous ending is wonderfully executed because clues are laid out for further dissection. It is up to us to decide which avenue to believe. In the wrong hands, it could have been simplistic, too fixed, altogether too clear, offering no sense of mystery or questioning. More importantly, the ending shoves us into the mindset of its characters.

Loosely based on the novel by Robert C. O’Brien, “Z for Zachariah” is a piece of work that is polished, certainly shot beautifully, but has enough roughness around the edges—its ability to take risks to be exact—to keep it fascinating. It is made for a more contemplative, empathetic audience.

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

“Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins, is yet another superhero picture that is over-reliant on CGI and does not offer enough imagination to impress or move the viewer beyond images presented on screen. This is especially inexcusable since the film is over two hours long. What results is a barely passable popcorn entertainment—clearly not a project that will be remembered decades from now and be utilized as a bar to be met for the sub-genre. I find that it possesses a skeletal idea of what it wishes to be, but the execution lacks the necessary inspiration to create first-rate entertainment.

The casting of Gal Gadot is spot-on not only because of her physical beauty. While capable enough of carrying both dramatic and comedic moments, I enjoyed it most when the performer simply stands among a crowd and yet our eyes gravitate toward her. Magnetism is something that a person naturally possesses and Gadot has plenty to spare. She manages to stand out even when computerized special and visual effects invade the screen to the point of overload.

Notice that the best scenes in the picture are moments of levity, whether it be Diana, having been raised on a hidden island, discussing the pleasures of the flesh (and how she read twelve volumes of a book detailing such information) with an American pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who is obviously attracted to her or Diana being forced to try on different articles of clothing so she can fit in with the crowd in London. When the material does not take itself too seriously, and willing to slow down the plot so we can get to know the characters a little more, it is refreshing in ways that other superhero movies are not. This is because the jokes are specific to Diana’s story, where she comes from, and what she hopes to achieve.

Conversely, when the material takes itself too seriously, the tone is dour, uninviting, and at times soporific. All of us have seen war films before and great ones shake us to the bone. The events that transpire here is a bizarre combination of real-life drama and comic book. Clearly, these extremes do not mesh well. A diluted version of reality is thrusted upon our laps and somehow we are supposed to find entertainment value out of it. Since the screenplay by Allan Heinberg lacks depth, it simply does not ring true on any level.

In addition, broad topics such as corruption, horrors of war, sacrifice, and heroism are touched upon, even mentioned outright, but these ideas are never explored in such a way that we are given insight as to what these words or ideas mean to the characters we are supposed to be rooting for. Instead, a pattern emerges: an idea is brought up and it is immediately followed by a relatively uninspired action scene. This is especially pervasive during the final hour of this drawn out film.

Those looking for dimension, depth, and insight from superhero pictures are bound to be severely disappointed by “Wonder Woman.” Here is a picture with outposts—important events that must be introduced into the plot in order to create a semblance of story—but the journeys between these outposts are rushed and lacking in flavor. I take comfort in the fact that the romance between Diana and Steve offers enough surprises.

The Finest Hours

The Finest Hours (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Craig Gillespie’s “The Finest Hours” depicts an exciting, suspenseful, and seemingly impossible rescue mission that is based on actual events that took place in 1952. It works because it is interested in specific details of the jobs at hand—both from the U.S. Coast Guard perspective and the men stuck on a sinking ship during a terrible storm.

The screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson ensures that we understand the tasks at hand. Notice that when something needs to be explained because many of the viewers are likely to be unfamiliar when it comes to the particulars of rescue efforts and keeping an oil tanker afloat, vivid dialogue is employed coupled with a relatively calm background. It takes its time so that we are able to construct images in our heads.

Our expectations are slowly developed—and either upended when things go horribly awry or a sigh of relief fills the air when something goes right eventually. There is an efficient balancing act between action-thriller sequences, particularly of a small motor lifeboat led by a crewman named Bernard “Bernie” Webber (Chris Pine) that must make it past a barrier of enormous waves, and its dramatic core. We are reminded constantly that the characters on screen are real humans who are flawed, fragile, and determined.

I also appreciated the details of how the environment takes its toll on its subjects. For instance, inside of the oil tanker that had been split in two, we notice the increasing level of fatigue of and amongst men from having to work for many hours straight not only in order to keep the ship afloat but also to steer it in the right direction and be on the lookout for rescue. Their energy is inversely related to the rate of the ocean water swallowing them whole.

Casey Affleck plays Ray Sybert, the SS Pendleton’s engineer whose first task is to convince about half of the crew that taking the lifeboats as a means of survival is a bad idea. There is a growing but subtle weariness to his performance that I found compelling. We understand that he does not see himself as a leader but one who is forced to lead nonetheless because the others do not know as much as he knows. He has doubts in himself and it does not help that a few others have doubts about him, too.

“The Finest Hours” is likely to be criticized for embracing a more traditional approach of showing a rescue mission. While the picture is not adventurous in terms of form or structure, it is nonetheless comparable to those considered to be superior films within the sub-genre because it is constantly grounded in reality, it presents many specific details of what a certain occupation entails, and there is increasing level of anticipation throughout. It is not simply about getting from Point A to Point B. It is concerned with the process.

Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Hell or High Water,” written by Taylor Sheridan, offers a plot involving two brothers who decide to rob banks in rural areas of Texas but it should not be mistaken for a standard action picture that has nothing on its mind other than a final battle between men of crime and men of law. Credit to the writer for creating a thoughtful and intelligent story about men driven by a purpose and in their journey finding themselves fueled by desperation.

The story’s template is all too familiar and so we believe we know exactly where it is heading. But most refreshing about the film is its ability to surprise consistently, whether it be in terms of plot direction, the beautiful interior details of its characters, or the symbolisms between the land and the men living in it. And although the picture consistently moves forward with a sense of purpose, notice it is willing to slow down at times so we can pay attention a little closer to the plain faces of men and women in these small towns. Here is a picture about poverty in forgotten places of America, where the poor remain poor for generations and the banks keep their eyes on the profit at the cost of human dignity.

The performances are precise and worth looking into. Ben Foster and Chris Pine play the brothers, Tanner and Toby, respectively, with such electrifying intensity that scenes where they remain quiet usually command a high level of tension. Quite opposite in temperament and personality, we cannot help but wonder which is the more dangerous: Tanner the more dominant and explosive of the duo or Toby the more intelligent and patient of the pair. Early on we realize how and why the brothers’ partnership works—and, equally important, why it is a formidable force, a fascinating challenge, for a nearly retired Texas ranger, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges).

Bridges brings his expected strong presence—a trait that many viewers take for granted. Bridges has numerous amusing lines, especially when interacting with his American-Indian partner (Gil Birmingham), but also appreciate instances when he doesn’t say a word and his eyes communicate paragraphs in just a few seconds. Bridges is such an experienced performer that he is able to communicate something entirely different by simply changing the way his character breathes or gives out a look a few degrees to the left. Right from the very first scene where we meet his character, we know that the ranger is highly intelligent, curious, and one who has captured a lot of criminals in his time. This makes him either a wonderful protagonist or antagonist—depending on which party the viewer ends up rooting for.

Aside from eye-catching shots of the land and the horizon, here is another beautiful detail the film offers: there is no standard hero or villain despite an ordinary plot involving cops and robbers. Since the material takes on enough detours in order to get us to understand what makes its characters tick, either way we become convinced soon enough that the material, directed by David Mackenzie, will offer no expected dramatic ending. There is only life and the continuation of that life with positive or negative consequences based on what had transpired.

Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond (2016)
★ / ★★★★

In terms of quality, Justin Lin’s “Star Trek Beyond” is several solar systems away from J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek,” an exciting, thrilling, mainstream summer blockbuster that has more similarities with the classic “Star Wars” pictures than it does with its original material. There is great energy and freshness to Abrams’ film, elements that are sorely lacking in this installment, resulting in a dour, slow, expected foray into what is supposed to be uncharted regions of space.

It begins from an interesting perspective given that the USS Enterprise and its crew are in their third year of a five-year mission. Led by Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), we feel the team’s fatigue which stems from the day-to-day responsibilities that have begun to feel more like chores. From a storytelling standpoint, it works because it is a way of relating to the audience directly: Although the characters’ mission involves space exploration, what they do is still job and so there are times when excitement hits a low point. But the writers, Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, fail to take this perspective in fascinating and thought-provoking directions.

Instead, we are given a whole enchilada of action. Although they can be appealing once in a whole, it comes across as painfully standard. None of the extended shootouts, spaceships crashing on landscapes and onto one another, or even the hand-to-hand combats are memorable. One gets the impression that kinetic movements and a sci-fi action noises are simply served to appease viewer expectations rather than to challenge, question, or provoke. Put the film on mute and the images mean nothing because the majority of them are computerized anyway; there are no concrete ideas for us to hang onto and ponder over.

Because the screenplay is dirt poor, notice that even the musings of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto)—usually the most curious and amusing of the crew—sound forced and out of place. The attempts at humor are even more awkward; the timing from the actors are there but the material’s wit is lightyears away. These exchanges are supposed to function as reprieves between the elaborate action sequences but they, too, do not offer anything of value. Over time, I caught myself actually looking forward to the battle scenes not because they are necessary better but at least they are steps taken toward the film’s conclusion.

It is said that movies within this genre are defined by their villains. Krall (Idris Elba) commands a terrifying swarm of bee-like fleet but the character himself lacks any dimension worth exploring. Some effort is put into fleshing out the villain during the final act but it is too late by then because we have ceased to care about his motivations; the special and visual effects, the noise, and other distractions have completely taken over.

“Star Trek Beyond” is missing an identity and substance. Compared to its two direct predecessors, notice there is not one moving scene to be found here that precisely digs into why this team and its members are worth investing our time and energy into. It is clearly inferior, not at all within the league of its livelier and more thoughtful antecedents.