In a year… No, in a Quinquennium full of huge blockbusters with over the top action and acting, it’s rare that, we, film goers, can find a simpler or even quieter film to enjoy. Even in independent films, they have gotten a bit more chaotic than usual. Just this year, we had the following films: Green Room, Swiss Army Man, The Lobster, The Neon Demon, Demolition, and Midnight Special. Of course we had some quiet films, such as Borealis (it’s an unpopular Canadian drama, okay!), The Meddler, and that god awful film that I despise, The Man who knew Infinity…. UGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! So to get to the point, Little Men joins the rankings of the quaint and quiet unpopular films collection. The best thing that I can say about Little Men, is that it was simple, but effective. Character motivations, plot, and morals were very well structured which makes the film more believable. I came into this film blindly. All I knew about the film was that it was about a boy, and someone who died in his family. To be honest, this is all you need to know. I thought going into the film almost blindly, helped me enjoy the structured part of the film.
Another thing that I heavily praise about the film, is that it felt more like a better version of Boyhood. Even though Boyhood has a massive run time of 165 minutes (2 hours and 35 minutes), it never fully delved into relationships between friends, neighbors, and even community. Admittedly, in a few scenes they do show this message, but not as many then you think. Little Men has a short run time of 85 minutes (1 hour and 25 minutes), and demonstrates these themes with great determination. It doesn’t shy away from the other people surrounding the plot. Even though some sub-plots that happen during the film, are a tad bit slow, but in the long term, it helps advance the plot and characters of the feature.
Speaking in a matter of characters, all the actors who play there roles, deserve a plaque for most overlooked acting ensemble of 2016… So far of course. All the actors deserve more recognition desirably, and this definitely includes Michael Barbieri and Greg Kinnear, who were the stand outs. Barbieri plays a kind a Boston/jersey kid who matches his tone and accent with near perfection. Every time he says something, it’s almost like you can “feel” his character. This makes him more likable as a character in the film, and is over all effective. Kudos to you Barbieri! As for Kinnear, in previous films, I felt like he didn’t show all he's got. I’m talking about Little Miss Sunshine and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise. He was just meh in those films. But in this film, the tables turned, and he truly plays a believable, motivated, and complex character in the film. As for everybody else, there were all solid. I do have some minor nitpicks for Theo Taplitz performance as our main protagonist, Jake. His acting at times felt very robotic, even to the point of Kristen Stewart in Twilight kind of level.
As for the negative, I did felt the music was a bit overused. I’m not saying the songs were bad or anything, heck, I would get the soundtrack on a CD (or if it’s notavailable in Canada, I’ll just get it on ITunes. The problem is that I heard the main theme song four times during the run time of the film. It’s not like in a Spielberg film where they play the popular verse and continue it with something new. No, it’s the same exact freakin song. Understandably, the film did have a low budget, but there was no reason to edit around the soundtrack. Heck, the film doesn’t have much music in the first place, so why didn’t they just cut off one song! Also about the editing, too much fade outs. I hate it when that happens! THERE’S SOMETHING CALLED CROSSFADES FOR A REASON! You know what, forget it. It’s excusable. In the end, Little Men is an effective piece of media, with compelling characters and a solid plot. Definitely in the Top 10 Character Pieces of the year.
Woody Allen, is not what you would call a
very “versatile” director, like Kubrick and Spielberg. Of course, he does have some
films, that would go under this category, such as Blue Jasmine and Crimes and
Misdemeanors, but most of his films follow a certain pattern. And to be honest,
that’s okay. If you have a formula that works with your plots, then go with it.
As long as you try something new, visually and aesthetically with a couple different
characters sprinkled in. Allen does this greatly, creating films that you may
have seen before, but still would resonate you because of that little sprinkle
of magic, that makes the Woody Allen film that you’re watching, a bit different
from the rest of his films. He does his formula pretty well, and this defiantly
counts in his new film, Café Society. It has what you need in a traditional
Woody Allen film. Sharp dialogue, a romantic interest, a setting that has a great
production design (preferably to be taken place in the past), and a Jew (or in
this case, a Jewish family!) Society has it all. And in the end, I came out of
the film, smiling with delight. Even though the film is flawed, there’s a lot to
dive into about this fun feature film.
First, the aesthetic! Similar to
Midnight in Paris, it has the traditional black and white titles at the start
which indicates who stars in the film in alphabetical order and much more. The
two settings, Hollywood and New York, felt very natural in its design. The
design also contributes with the costumes as well. Similar to Hail Caesar!, but
a bit better in execution, Café Society has great clothing that matches the
characters persona’s and identity’s. Also in the environment discussion, I felt
the film was surprisingly more violent than it was going to be. Legit, there
was some serious blood shit that happened in this movie. What surprised me the
most, is that the Canadian rating didn’t even mention violence! Just language
and Tabaco use! Yeah, I saw the trailer, and I did see bobby being roughed up,
but this was one BIG surprise. A wonderful surprise in-fact. I thought the action, like
the production design of the film, matched with the time period it was
indicating. Also, just a random fact to put out there, Café Society is the
first Woody Allen film to be filmed with Digital Camera’s. I’m sorry, for the
random fact, just felt it was right… Anyway, other than the style or “environment”
of the film, what’s also good?
The performances, especially Steve Carell who
plays a mildly dysfunctional Hollywood studio executive. He matches his performance
with care, which makes some of the twists and turns, more shocking. This also
goes for Corey Stoll, who plays Ben, the brother of our main protagonist,
Bobby, who is basically your out of control, family loving, gangster. Other stand outs, were Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen
Stewart, Jeannie Berlin, and Anna Camp. The only performance that I felt was kind
of weak was Blake Lively. She was okay…. Kind of like Ana de Armas in War Dogs,
but she just plays her lines just fine! Good enough for the final cut of the
film, but not enough to get a best supporting actress award, or even a
nomination. Heck, maybe not even a recognition for her work on the film.
now the negative. I felt the later second act, to the end of the film, felt
quite unnecessary. It was basically a bunch of subplots that were entertaining
at first, but later graded on me. Lots could have been cut out, and the film
would have had the same morals and “identity.” Another complaint, which takes
place in the third act, is that I felt, Bobby, our main protagonist, felt unnecessarily
manipulative. Yeah, I know, something did happen earlier on in the plot, but
that tone in his personality and confidence just felt out of place. Other than
that, Café Society is a hell of a good time. With a great aesthetic, some stand
out performances, and great music, Café Society will remain as one of the more
memorable films of 2016.
When it comes to marketing, in big blockbusters, most
of the time, it’s either spoiler filed or flat out misleading in tone and
quality. Such examples can be Suicide Squad, The Bourne Legacy, and now, War
Dogs. Not to be mistaken, I thought War Dogs was a great film. It’s one of
those rare examples of marketing that misleads the audience, but helps with the
emotional impact in the end. The thing is, War Dogs is not a huge drug filled,
swear filled, and fun filled film then you would believe from its marketing. War
Dogs has the editing and tone of The Big Short, mixed in with some elements of
Scorsese and De Palma.
Some of these elements can be seen through character
motivations and actions such as Jonah Hill’s character, Efraim, who is
basically a sneaky lunatic bastard. And based on the story, is the villain of
the plot, seen by Miles Teller’s character, David. Jonah Hill plays the
character of Efraim with perfection, and always makes me smiles, when his
character (or persona) gives out a hilarious laugh that is quite indescribable.
Just imagine, a dying llama, mixed with Mark Hamill’s joker laugh. As for
Miles, he’s decent. He has a solid performance with some memorable moments, and
at the end of the day, you care about him. Just not in an impactful way. And
this leads up to my complaints.
At times, the film is predictable and cliché,
unlike The Big Short, which actually attempted to shy away from those elements.
To be specific, I’m talking about the last 30 minutes of the film, and all the
scenes involving David’s wife (played by Ana de Armas.) Those scenes are just so
plain, compared to the rest of the film. Their just ordinary scenes that you would most likely see in a boring biopic, or by the numbers drama. And this doesn’t help for Ana de Armas, whose performance wasn’t strong
in the first place. Yeah, she’s convincibly pretty, but with her heavy accent
and delivery of lines, it just felt so out of place. As for the rest of the
film, War Dogs is an entertaining intelligent blockbuster, with some well-directed
cinematography and action, appropriate music choices, good performances, and a
stellar script. I do hope other huge studios would follow this film as an
example. To keep it simple, the film is like the main two characters. Legendary.
The Final Master is a 2016 action drama,
directed by Xu Haofeng, the writer of the acclaimed 2013 film The Grandmaster.
Before going into this flick, I almost saw no promotional material. I only read
the synopsis of the film and saw the poster of the film a couple weeks before,
at my local cinema, and thought, “That is one dope ass poster. I NEED IT!” So
already, with a cool concept of a master creating a martial arts school before
World War II, and an awesome poster, I had a bit of expectations going into the
film, but not much. But after seeing the film, I can say that The Final Master,
needs to go back to film school and work on its execution, pacing, story, and
character arks. The Final Master is a muddled, un-motivated, mess with a pace
of a small ADHD Child drinking tons of Fruitopia while watching an Asian action
Sometimes, during the 109 minute run time, you don’t even know what’s
happening. Things go by so fast, you barely have a second to compensate what
you just saw, because it goes on to the next scene. The reason why a film like
Mad Max Fury Road works so well is because it has a simple plot that relies on
minimal subplots. Because the story is so simple, you can follow and understand
while the madness is happening on screen. But for The Final Master’s sake, you
don’t even get to understand the characters interests and motivations until it
gets mentioned in another scene. And even then you lose track. There’s too many
things going on, and it would help if some characters and scenes that weren’t
very interesting or helpful to the film, can be left forever on the cutting
room floor. You might have heard the overused phrase “Quality over quantity” And
I can clearly state that Xu Haofeng ignored this phrase completely while
directing and writing this film.
For the acting, I thought the main
protagonist, Chen, was kind of like a discount Lupin the Third. To be honest,
I’ve only seen one Lupin film (the Hayao Myasaki film), but only from that
film, I can see what they were trying to mimic. And Jesus, did it flop. His
character has the personality of an action figure. You know, those figures that
have their identity and minimal personality traits on the back of the card
board box. So what is he? Cunning? Yes. Clever? Yes. Only focuses on one clear
motivation, until he clears his mind conveniently in the third act? Yes. Relies
on anime cliché’s? Yep. And that’s pretty much it, except that he is really
skilled in martial arts. For the love interest in the film, she basically has
the same motivation as Chen. Actually, almost every character in the film has a
similar motivation like Chen. Except for one, Master Zou. She kind of reminded
me of the character Princess Kushana, from Naussica of the Valley of the wind. The
Difference between Zou and Kushana is that Kushana actually has an interesting
motivation and plot that surrounds her, while Master Zou, as stated before, the
pacing goes so fast you don’t even get to understand the character. The only
time that I felt Zou’s motivation, is during the climax, in a grandiose alley
sequence and even then, it was quite underwhelming.
As for the positive, the
action is terrific. It’s well choreographed martial arts fun. At times, I was
shocked at how the actors pulled off their own stunts. No wonder it won the Golden Horse Film Festival - Best Action
Choreography award! Also accompanying the action, is the cinematography. Some
of the filters used in the film felt more like a modern atmosphere instead of
using its filters to depict a pre-World War II setting. This also goes with the
production design and the costume design in the film. The Final Master is an
off paced, clunky Asian action film with not much to offer. The only complement
is that it kicked its way for some bad-ass action!