Category Archives: Film Reviews

IR Film Review: SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2018 [Austin, TX]

The texture of many interviews in requisite Midnight and genre categories rendered the viewing of movies for review a little lighter than usual but two films squeezed in with a nature of inventiveness but also a throwback to genre for both.

Upgrade Director Leigh Whannell, know for the SAW films, takes a stab at science fiction under the Blumhouse model with surprising success. Speaking at the Q&A after the film, he acknowledged the texture of ‘The Terminator” as an influence but the inference moves with a much more complex fabric in terms of the human quotient. Owing more in certain terms to Schwarzenegger revenge movies though with more visual flair, the aspect of the lead character being a man not in control of his own body is an interesting existential dilemma. Simply because it was on Comet recently, “Monkey Shines” comes to mind because it involves the protagonist having to think of his life differently. Here after losing his wife in assassination hit and being paralyzed, Grey, an analog man in a near future world, is given a second chance through the aspect of an almost autistic scientist who injects with a thinking spine computer who can only be heard by Grey. The misdirection and notion of what we are seeing really makes it work especially in the action scenes which in the way they are done considering the physical structure of what is being presented is quite ingenious and undeniably brutal. The push forward again culminates in an existential dilemma that only a logical computer bent on survival could make. While there is inherent suspension of disbelief required at times, the pace and tone is pinpoint while allowing some black humor to shine through with exceptional results, especially on a budget.

Elizabeth Harvest This film pushes slightly on an adjacent part of the spectrum with nods to “Ex Machina” as well as the recent “Annihilation” and again it examines an existential journey but one where the person searching for their identity is not very clear on who they are anyways. It revolves around three major players: a newlywed (played by Abbey Lee from “Mad Max: Fury Road”), a significantly older Ciaran Hinds (as her scientist genius husband) and Carla Gugino (whose actual role changes throughout the film). The aspect of stillness and repetitiveness is approached for the necessity of invention and not in a “Groundhog Day” type of way. To reveal the twist is to reveal the movie but suffice to say the psychological element of imprisonment, either self imposed or self created encircles the entire proceedings. The essence of the focus and what it truly means beyond ego is done in a very simple yet complicated manner. The director is Sebastian Gutierrez who is known for writing the film “Gothika”, another film which was based on the misdirect of perceptions but also for directing films like “Electra Luxx” & “Women In Trouble” that subvert genre (along with frequent collaborator Carla Gugino). But like “Upgrade”, the reduced budget allows for simplicity of invention and not spoon-feeding the audience beyond essential and letting many of the characters motivations remain mysterious if unsolved.

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: PACIFIC RIM – UPRISING [Universal]

The essence of “Pacific Rim” in its original form lay in the otherworldlyness that always underscores a Guillermo Del Toro film. The fact that all the characters were just the slightest bit off without over-dramatizing the situation. The fact that they were slightly off center. The scenario in the first film was life or death…a world in fear that has to battle against the monsters from the deep. There was also an inherent darkness to the proceedings. Even in certain Godzillas movies and definitely Akira, the viewer got a sense that the world might actually end. That sense of dread or even consequence seems missing here..the human toll.

Granted this is a large robot movie but especially with a huge sequence towards the end the sheer destruction without perception of life including the pulling down of certain buildings lacks a certain depth. Even “Colossal” understood its texture in a larger space. John Boyega of recent Star Wars fame takes on the role of Idris Alba’s son here. Jake’s father Stacker Pentecost was lost during the Kaiju encounter and now Boyega’s character runs in the aftermath.

“Uprising” is a story about the redemption of a hero and granted here Boyega is more likable than as Finn in SW who always seems to be running away until he is caught red handed. The true heart comes though in the form of a teenage girl Amara who possesses technical know-how and a brazen personality but with a lack of social interaction. It is a perfect perception of youth today and her interaction with the Jaeger Academy works well as does her eventual authority.

The twist of the movie interceding with the villain tries to integrate the idea of Del Toro body horror in a way but it doesn’t quite work because the tone is off. Is the film fun in many ways…sure…but fulfilling in the world it creates…not so much. Even the perceived villain who dominates the business end of the film delivers only in the final minutes giving the climax a muted feeling in a way. What results is a spectacle with nacent stakes…or at least those felt in the gut.

D

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: RED SPARROW [20th Century Fox]

“Red Sparrow” is like some of the Cold War thrillers they made in the 90s but with higher resolution and a female lead. It takes to task the idea of power and uses it as a structure mechanism for Jennifer Lawrence’s Dominica, a Sparrow forced into duty at the hands of an ultimately paradoxical but conniving uncle played by Matthias Schoenaerts who is Deputy Director for the State Service in Russia. The movie has a classical beauty to it and understands the sides it is playing. It is new territory for Lawrence for certain, embracing the power of manipulation and sexuality in concert with the mind. But the inherent texture is that her character never loses sight in what she is doing by either manipulating the audience, her would-be captors or her would-be manipulators on either side. The essence ultimately is that she gets to live her life above suspicion but inherently lonely. There are essences of “La Femme Nikita” and even the more recent “The Villainess” at Cannes. However the pull of Dominica’s loyalties is never quite clear despite that this is part of the construct. Where does the innocence end and the manipulation begin? The genius at times of Lawrence in this movie is that she can switch in the midst of a scene from one side to another. There were brief glimpses of it in “XMen: First Class” but as she grows older it becomes more pronounced. She can never truly disappear, but like Sharon Stone before her, she can walk the line with inherent control.

“Red Sparrow” is ultimately not about resolution but survival in many ways and the bereft elements of character that betray those in the business of espionage who want more than their country will give. Joel Edgerton plays an American CIA officer who gives just enough emotional weight to believe that Dominica might be able to escape. But ultimately the grounded angle comes in the form of Jeremy Irons, an iconoclast of these multi tiered characters from “The Mission” to “Reversal Of Fortune” to “Dead Ringers” who allows just the right amount of plot support to make it work. The key essence of a spy in all elements is that you don’t know they are a spy even if they tell you so, whether you are seducing for information or telling a mark specifically what they want to hear. The music within the movie inherently beginning with the ballet at the beginning precludes the fall which is interestingly enough a parallel to “Black Swan” which was more bathed in metaphor. “Red Sparrow” is told with a straight forward texture while the murky nature of its characters snakes underneath with a taste of dread. It doesn’t rely on large car chases to make its point but in close contact with scenes that bite and allow for the understanding of characters that perhaps have no choice but one.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

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