One Minute Review: Cutie And The Boxer (2013) [3.0]

CutieAndTheBoxer-headerCUTIE AND THE BOXER // “Cutie And The Boxer” is the story of the artistic couple, Noriko and Ushio Shinohara, living in their Manhattan flat attempting to make ends meet through their art. Having moved from Japan to the United States, Ushio found slight stardom from his transition into the New York art scene. His sculptures made from recycled cardboard and his paintings made from his boxing with a canvas made him someone to watch. In 1969, Ushio met Noriko and 40 years later, they’re still married. However, Noriko seems to have regrets, having dealt with Ushio’s alcoholism and living in his professional shadow, being an aspiring artist herself. The documentary follows the couple in their everyday life, eating dinner with their son at their home, arguing on an elevator on the way to their studio, and painting alongside one another, supporting each others work along the way. While Ushio takes out his aggressions with boxing gloves and paint on canvas, Noriko finds solace in her passive aggressive series of paintings featuring a naked woman named Cutie and an abusive, alcoholic husband named Bullie.

My favorite part of the film is the slow motion paint-ladened boxing match between the couple at the end of the film. There’s something so poetic about this sequence and really ties the film together, grounding it in the beauty and messiness of art. Acclaimed at last year’s Sundance and recognized as a nominee at the 86th Academy Awards, “Cutie And The Boxer” sets out to present something unique by way of the couple’s art but their personal struggles end up front and center. At a short 82 minutes long and designed as more of a character study, this couple and their squabbles are tolerable in small doses. You wonder why the couple is still together, but then you realize a universal truth about relationships and the struggles of human nature and monogamy, no matter how much you love someone, you are never going to get along with them all the time. This is summed up by an innocent conversation between the two regarding their pseudo-characters in Noriko’s paintings: “Cutie hates Bullie?” “No, Cutie loves Bullie so much.”

[Directed by Zachary Heinzerling] [R] [82 min] [16 August 2013]   06three-stars

One Minute Review: A.C.O.D. (2013) [3.0]

ACOD-headerA.C.O.D. // Adam Scott leads a stellar comedic ensemble cast in a not-so-funny jaunt through exactly what the title suggests, “A.C.O.D.” or “Adult Children Of Divorce”. When you see a cast list filled with Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Amy Poehler (playing against type), Clark Duke, Jessica Alba, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jane Lynch, chances are high that most people will be driven to see that film. Scott plays Carter, who finds out his brother (Duke) is getting married after only a few months of dating someone. Pitted between his dueling divorced parents (Jenkins and O’Hara) and finding out that his childhood counselor (Lynch) wrote a book involving him and his issues with divorce, without his knowledge, Carter goes on a tail spin of meddling with the lives around him all while ruining many of the relationships in his own life. And even though this particular film does not hit its mark comedically, the cast alone is enough to keep it afloat. Almost better than the entire narrative of the film, the credits sequence features short interviews with the crew members who are children of divorce, as they explain their situations, which is a very clever way to ground the film a little more through true to life stories.

[Directed by Stu Zicherman] [R] [88 min] [23 January 2013]    06three-stars

Proof Review: Oculus (2014) [4.5]

Oculus-headerOCULUS // Turning an inanimate object into the main antagonist of a story is a huge accomplishment, especially when it comes to horror. Setting the right tone and building enough tension to get the audience invested in your otherwise outrageous ideas is pivotal in bringing that world to life. In “Oculus”, the inanimate villain is an ancient mirror that plagues the families that it comes into contact with. “You see what it wants you to see”, as the tagline insists. In the same regards, the audience sees what director, co-writer, and editor Mike Flanagan wants you to see, in his highly stylized editing sequences that blends two narratives into one. Interconnecting the story of two siblings recounting their childhood traumas involving the mirror while attempting to prove the existence of a paranormal presence within it, the lines between the narratives are so blended that you are never sure what time-frame you are in. We are in the middle of an original horror renaissance, following the success of films like “Insidious” and “The Conjuring”, allowing early masters like Flanagan a chance to step up and shine sooner rather than later in their career.

Karen Gillan stands out as the star of the film. As read from a Moviefone review, “Gillan is ready to be a movie star” which is absolutely apparent in this role. She nails her emotional marks no matter what they may be, making this unbelievable tale appear that much more authentic by way of investing fully in her character. The other stand out performance comes from the young Annalise Basso, who plays Gillan’s character as a child. Bringing out some of the best scares of the film, Basso has the look that makes everything scarier through her eyes. Her small stature along with her red locks makes you cringe when bad things are about to happen to her and she really pulls off the intense emotions just as well as her adult counterparts.

In the distorted reality of “Oculus”, pulling off a band-aid results in you pulling off your fingernail or stabbing what you believe to be the ghost could result in you stabbing a loved one. These are the tactics Flanagan uses to shock the viewer and craft his world and it works. Building some of the most memorable horror sequences of this decade, I will not soon forget a perfectly framed shot of Gillan biting into what she believes to be an apple and the utter shock that follows. Flanagan and his cinematographer have an eye for horror, mastering the placement of the camera for maximum effect, whether it is the high angle shots above the mirror, diminishing its characters in front of it, or a close-up on Gillan standing in the dark, with LED lights lined down the hallway behind her. Even the design of the mirror is elaborate, looking like a giant blemish sprawled out on the office wall that it inhabits. There is a richness to the film that makes it extremely approachable and that much more intense, allowing for a much more encompassing experience.

Mike Flanagan produces some of the most visually stunning and eerie set pieces in recent memory. Replacing gore with an overall feeling of dread, “Oculus” becomes more of a psychological thriller rather than straight up horror. Although many will state that the ending is telegraphed, I was in complete shock and awe when it happened, having been so wrapped up in the characters and their plight that I had no time to imagine where it would end. Masterfully handled, Flanagan also shows his utility in developing a horror film with an open ending that could easily spawn a sequel. With low budget roots and its heart in the right place, “Oculus” wins by being the most original horror film in recent memory.

[Directed by Mike Flanagan] [R] [104 min] [11 April 2014]    09fourhalf-stars

One Minute Review: Philomena (2013) [3.5]

Philomena-headerPHILOMENA // Human emotion is a complicated yet beautiful thing. Captured like lightning bugs in a bottle, the Academy Award nominated “Philomena” displays these complicated emotions in full force. Based on the true story of Philomena Lee, whose baby boy was taken from her by the nuns in the convent that took her in and adopted him away without her permission, Dame Judi Dench (as Philomena) does not miss a beat. Exploring a person’s ability to forgive as we follow the breadcrumbs to find her son nearly fifty years after losing him, Philomena’s breaking heart over the situation along with her always hopeful demeanor is the driving force for the film. Steve Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith, the journalist that agrees to help find Philomena’s long lost son. Faced with the aging Philomena, the generational gap between the two provides for most of the comic relief throughout the film, yet it is always the stronger emotions, like Martin’s guilt for chasing his own professional goals over actually looking out for Philomena, or the understanding nature of Philomena when faced with less than hopeful news. “Philomena” is not a drama for everyone and does feel designated for an older age group, but the one universal truth that does land for everyone is raw human emotion, a quality of most films that almost anyone can relate to.

[Directed by Stephen Frears] [PG-13] [98 mins] [27 November 2013]    07threehalf-stars

Proof Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) [4.5]

CaptainAmericaTheWinterSoldier-headerCAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER // Over the weekend, you are going to hear the words ‘70s espionage thriller tossed around quite a bit, to which I’ve already seen in about four reviews that I’ve read, and in all honesty, they are not wrong. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” feels less like a Marvel superhero movie and more like a crime drama. In a sequel to both “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Marvel’s The Avengers”, Chris Evans returns as Steve Rodgers, the alter ego to Captain America. Following the events in New York City, Rodgers is stationed in Washington D.C. working for S.H.I.E.L.D. still under Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) command. With the return of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill, this might as well be a S.H.I.E.L.D. sequel as well, with most of the story basing itself off this elite undercover group. With new faces like Robert Redford as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Alexander Pierce and Anthony Mackie as former “pilot” Sam Wilson whom later becomes Captain America’s sidekick Falcon, “The Winter Soldier” is anything but a retread.

As always, a superhero film is only as good as its villain and The Winter Soldier is the perfect antagonist to Captain America in more ways than I’m willing to share in this review. Despite Marvel’s marketing attempts to give away all of its secrets in the trailer, I will not contribute to this downfall of cinematic twists. With a metal arm and numerous high profile assassinations under his belt, The Winter Soldier’s next targets include Nick Fury and Captain America himself. With several high impact fight sequences between the two, among many other fight sequences in general, this becomes the most action packed Marvel film yet. Straying away from the norm as far as previous Marvel installments are concerned, I often found myself forgetting what film was I watching, completely immersed in the story and constantly caught off guard with which depth these characters are taken to, from fighting their own to discovering a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. layer back at Rodger’s training grounds. All of this combined with a formidable challenger in The Winter Soldier and nothing in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is earned without a fight and a tough one at that.

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One Minute Review: Primer (2003) [4.0]

Primer-headerPRIMER // “Primer” is a dense, low budget, science fiction film that sets out to explore the bare bones of time travel and the relationship between friends in discovering the ability to travel through time. Solidly produced on a $7,000 budget, Shane Carruth writes, directs, produces, edits, stars in, and scores this little American Indie that could. After stumbling across the discovery of time travel, two friends working out of their garage attempt to work some financial gain by way of entering into a box and letting their doubles go back in time to work the stock market. Intricate in their plans, the teams downfall occurs with their general lack of understanding despite coming off like they know exactly what they’re doing. Dealing with their doubles head on, the film requires multiple viewings to pick up the often dense material and shifting timelines. The most rudimentary and homegrown look at time travel to ever grace film, “Primer” is subtle and decisive on the subject matter and almost requires a basic knowledge of physics to follow. Despite the learning curve, the deadpan and spot on deliveries of the cast make the film feel real. Not to mention a script that has these actors speaking like actual astrophysicists. The perfect example of a low budget, independent film done right, “Primer” opens the door for science fiction subtly in cinema that allows for less CGI heavy infusions and more dramatic, down-to-earth endeavors.

[Directed by Shane Caruth] [PG-13] [77 min] [8 October 2003]    08four-stars

One Minute Review: 47 Ronin (2013) [3.0]

47Ronin-header47 RONIN // Too often does Hollywood take the path of overindulgence, expanding so much on one simple idea to the point where you hardly recognize the original story. “47 Ronin” is this epitome of a simple story masqueraded with so much flare and convoluted with so much mythology that the studio fails to see the golden story that they original had. Based on Japanese lore about a real-life group of forty-seven masterless samurai seeking revenge for their master, at first glance, I was truly hoping for this centuries greatest samurai tale. Even with Keanu Reeves as frontman, I was willing to see this as a bigger budget step up from Tom Cruise’s “The Last Samuari”, filled with sword fights and revenge, capitalizing on an American made version of films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. However, the “47 Ronin” that you hope for is not the “47 Ronin” that you get.

The more creatures and shapeshifters that are added to the film, the lower this film falls in quality, often taking the easy ways out in lieu of CGI rather than practical effects. None of the fight sequences hold any sort of memorable qualities and the brash attempt at a love story is laughable at best. Keanu Reeves holds his own next to the extremely capable sword fighters like actor Hiroyuki Sanada as Oishi, the leader of the Ronin, but neither man ever really comes into their own enough to cause for applause. Having just recently viewed “Babel”, my respect for the Academy Award nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi is at an all-time high (also starring in “Pacific Rim”) and despite the character she is given, Mizuki the witch, Rinko does a superb job at fitting the villainous role, in look and demeanor. Thrilling on the most basic of levels, I do have to give the film-makers at least some credit for following through with the poignant ending that could have easily been ruined with a change of heart. Not to say this iteration of the Japanese tale is not entertaining, but for what it could have been, this film misses its mark.

[Directed by Carl Rinsch] [PG-13] [118 min] [25 December 2013]    06three-stars