Indecent Proposal ★★★★

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Money can buy many objects and feelings. But can it buy love? The obvious answer would be no. And as a subject for a movie, that might be considered an old topic. But Indecent Proposal, which explores it in a most blatant manner, is surprising. The film is deeply moving and romantic.

David and Diana have been in love since high school. They are now adults, married, and trying to make a living. But they’re both in the housing industry which is declining. His architectural skills aren’t in demand and she hasn’t closed a sale in 6 months. They’re behind on payments and growing depressed because of it.

Then John shows up. He’s a known billionaire who people like. He meets David and Diana in a casino, and after seeing Diana, respectfully asks her to sit next to him during a betting game. In return, and to show appreciation, John pays for their accommodation at the casino hotel. Then later, in the most blatant portion of the film, he will kindly offer 1,000,000 dollars to David so he can borrow Diana for one night of sex.

Indecent Proposal will explore the result in a predictable and yet mesmerizing narrative. The story isn’t convincing because of the decision. What are the chances of somebody making that decision in real life? But the movie feels true towards the feelings involved. This is a movie about deep regrets and forgiveness.

There’s something unusually deep and intelligent about John. His attraction to Diana isn’t entirely clear. It’s a physical attraction at first. And then it grows emotional. But then how can a man build a sincere relationship around money? Then again, take a closer look at John, and we sense a person who knows what he wants and who he wants to love. He’s more than just another player.

The performances are strong and heartfelt. All three are key to this films greatness. Woody Harrelson plays David as good natured, easy going, but a risk taker. Demi Moore as Diana is like David but more affectionate. And Robert Redford as John is calm, intelligent, and not easy to read.

This is a provocative and yet very romantic movie. It’s an attractive picture aided by soft lighting. The director is Adrian Lyne who is familiar with handling the subject matter. Ultimately, this is a story about three people who didn’t respect the value of true love. They played with valuable feelings and paid for that mistake.

 

 

Mad Max: Fury Road 3D ★★★1/2

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Mad Max: Fury Road is the work of a rich imagination. Like Metropolis, Star Wars, and even the Hobbit, it has its own world. Think about large machinery operated by slaves, a villain breathing through an apparatus, and beings who look and behave like monsters. And now mash them together into a primitive civilization of death, and this is Mad Max: Fury Road.

It begins with a mountain region that reveals a bizarre society. They are mostly men, bald, painted, and under the ownership of a Warlord. As a convoy is being arranged to transport some important women, a ritual takes place. A convoy of weird vehicles are being assembled and readied to set forth. But one problem will creep in. The truck driver, a tomboyish woman, will have plans of her own. She plans on driving somewhere else. She intends on taking the women with her.

So Fury Road, which is the fourth in a series (previously starring Mel Gibson) is about a vehicle chase. It’s similar to the other three films. But where this movie specializes in, is its look. It’s a striking display of costume, set, and vehicle design.  Punk artistry filled with zest.  CGI is incorporated into action but with lots of authentic objects and places. These are ideas of the original creator, director, and writer George Miller. This is his hellish vision. A thundering assault on the senses of sight and sound.

But as for weaknesses, there are two, one more subjective than the other. One is in the halfway point where the action stops for conversation. The talks relate to sad memories of a lost civilization, emotions that were already covered in the previous three movies. To hear these spoken again is somewhat unnecessary. Another is the film’s lack of a central human character. Tom Hardy plays Max reasonably well. He is important to the plot and appears in most scenes. But he is not the original Max. Hardy’s Max is a brute, a savage. Gibson’s was more human, controlled against and not by the insanity around him. Hardy also costars with Charlize Theron who is given about the same amount of screen time as the driver. Theron has always been a reliable actress and is convincing here as a woman of sheer determination.

But off-course these weaknesses will prove minor, when experiencing what is the most action packed blockbuster of the summer. It is a sight to see, particularly in 3d which enhances the artistry and brings everything up close. The 3d format deserves a chance for this film.

Death Becomes Her ★★

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Death Becomes Her is one hell of an absurd comedy. That’s meant as an observation and not a complement. Picture this: After a heated argument over a man, Goldie Hawn starts pummeling Meryl Streep’s head with a shovel until it sinks down between her shoulders. She doesn’t die because it’s meant to be funny but the scene is still shocking.

Hawn plays Helen, a writer hoping to publish her first bestseller. Streep is Madeline, a has-been actress who is trying to keep her fame. The guy, played by Bruce Willis, is Dr. Menville a famous plastic surgeon who is in love with Helen at first, but later falls for Madeline’s seduction. The situation is that both women want to marry Dr. Menville but the doctor is too easily seduced by physically beauty, that both women engage in a competition.

The world they inhabit seems earthly enough but supernatural forces are in play. As Streep grows sad about her facial wrinkles, she is handed a calling card belonging Von Rhoman, a beautician who can make women look youthful. A sexy prima dona, Von Rhoman lives in a castle with body guards and keeps a potion that emits a pink glow. Once taken, it grants eternal youth to the drinker. It’s an opportunity that can’t be missed by Madeline.

What a big mess this becomes. One woman is incredibly vain while the other is out for revenge. When both of them get into confrontations, the film deliberately becomes vulgar. There are acts here that will surprise any viewer. Helen and Madeline will fall down stairs, get shot, and break their bones with a sick sense of humor. Comedy intended offcourse.

The performers are completely onboard with this material. Willis, as the Doctor, is really awkward than he has ever been onscreen. Streep and Hawn must have had a blast with their roles of high comic energy. And Isabella Rossellini, as Von Rhoman, is bold as a temptress who leads a funny cult of individuals (not to mention two Dobermans).

Death Becomes Her is directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future), and is outrageous , off-color comedy. Not really funny though. The material is thin and not much happens apart from a back and forth between the two women while their man regrets ever meeting both of them, and they regret ever trying the potion.

The Mighty Ducks ★★★

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Gordon is sentenced to community service. He must coach a Hockey team of rowdy, unruly kids. They are an unmotivated bunch. They’re complacent with being losers.

When he first meets them at a park (he arrives in a limousine), Gordon’s appearance gives them the wrong impression. He is ridiculed by them and vice versa. But much later, he’ll  be able to discipline them into training. From basic skating to handling hockey sticks, he’ll even train them to pass using eggs instead of hockey pucks. And some new recruits will provide game playing strategies–One big guy can shoot with a lot of power, while a female figure skater can serve as a distraction to opponents. Together, we will watch this team reach the championship in games that are exciting to watch (more exciting than one might think).

So here is a familiar movie that’s meant to be light entertainment, which it is. But because sports movies can be metaphorical about life, they can be meaningful. The Mighty Ducks is frequently cliché, typical, and predictable. But it is also motivational.

Gordon is the driving force. A brief flashback reveals a heartbreaking moment where he misses a game winning shot at a Hockey championship. His coach gives him a look of disapproval  and Gordon is crushed. Fast forward to current times, and he is a hotshot lawyer willing to do anything to win a case. Even if it means cheating.

Emilio Estevez has a screen presence of playfulness and mischief. So he suits the part of an immoral Gordon undergoing character improvements. Other actors include the late Lane Smith as a mean coach, Josef Sommer as Gordon’s boss, and a cast of personalities in different shapes and sizes like Joshua Jackson, Elden Henson, and Shaun Weiss. Heidi Kling becomes Gordon’s romantic partner.

Ultimately these are characters who realize their good sides. Gordon is a cheating lawyer who later faces his mistakes. The team are a group of punks who eventually grow into their right minds. Gordon decides on calling his team the Mighty Ducks and although the name was inspired by his law firm, Ducksworth, he is more inspired by the animal- behaving like a team and never quitting.

The Mighty Ducks is packaged as fun, family entertainment directed by Stephen Herek. But catch a viewer at the right time, and it can be something special.

Mr. Turner ★★★★

Mr-Turner

He was in love with nature. J. M. W. Turner was an influential British painter who had a passion for landscapes. His works gave special attention to sunlight, the vapors in the air, patterns of smoke, and ocean waves. When he painted an 18th century vessel at sea, one can reason that his interest was in the ocean, not the ships.

But one can also reason that Mr. Turner didn’t love people. He looks surly, frequently grunts, and isn’t concerned about affection. When his ex-wife and children visit, he shares no warmth. And observe his behavior around some women (his servant for instance), and we see an ill-mannered, almost shocking personality.

Ironically, the film depicts him as socially active. He was part of the Royal academy, sharing advice with fellow painters, giving lectures, and attending parties. And when he does fall in love with a kind woman, he says “You are a woman of profound beauty” with complete sincerity and assurance.

So what kind of a film do we have here? Mr. Turner is an unbiased portrayal of a character. We see his favorable and unfavorable sides. His greatness as an artist isn’t celebrated. The unconventional style of his paintings is observed, given respect, but also shown indifference. His meticulous attention for the color of the sun and water demonstrates a mastery. But his brushing style was odd compared to some romantic painters of his generation, who mocked his works.

But what a cinematic experience this is. The performances are absorbing. Timothy Spall plays Mr. Turner as a man of deep wounds and thoughts, but driven by a passion to paint. Other noteworthy performances include Dorothy Atkinson as Mr. Turner’s devoted and quiet servant, who is in love with him but too servile to open up. And Marion Bailey as Sophia is his lover, whose good nature is charming and boundless. These three performances are award worthy.

Some of the cinematography are like paintings themselves. Landscapes are perfectly framed. Lighting is romantically captured. Even home interiors are pretty to look at. The screenplay engages us with images and a penchant for dialogue that feels true to characters that speak them (subtitles may be required though, due to heavy accents). The entire film transports us to an old place, time, and culture. This is a complete movie. The director is Mike Leigh and he has created his own work of art.

Avengers: Age of Ultron ★★1/2

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The limitations of splendid CGI are occasionally a problem. To sight an example, let’s observe the opening sequence of Avengers: Age of Ultron, where we see Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk rushing towards a fortress. They’re running through a hilly forest and mowing down dozens of opponents at such a fast pace (of maybe 40mph), that no threat is felt towards them. The CGI is wonderful to look at. But none of the physical motions appear real.

However based on box office results, CGI isn’t a concern. The Marvel Universe is too rich with imaginary worlds, characters, and plot, that there is no reason to care about anything else.

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the foe is Artificial Intelligence. The A.I. is awakened by a source from a powerful staff (once owned by Loki, the villain in the first movie). This happens after the staff gets taken by the Avengers during an invasion. It gets relocated to Tony Stark’s home where the A.I. is conceived. Travelling online through Stark’s data base, it begins to control various weapons and later assumes a body through the use of platinum armor, naming itself Ultron.

Ultron shares the same objective as A.I.’s from other movies: to protect the Human race. In doing so, and like in other movies once again, he means to control the human race. He creates his own army of robots (that look a bit like Iron Man suits). There’s an endless supply of them. Problem is, they don’t really hold up well against the Avengers and end up like target practice.

The two additions to the Avengers are Quicksilver(Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch(Elizabeth Olsen). The former is lightning fast and the latter can control minds. They are not immediately members but their skills are very effective. Scarlet Witch, in particular, messes with a lot of minds in this movie which raises one too many issues for characters and the viewers.

But the film has two redeeming factors. One is the comedy banter (although not as funny as in the first movie) and the second is Tony Stark. Because he is the most interesting individual (Dr. Bruce Banner is the second), Stark is given an inner conflict that suits his personality. He’s a good guy, but with an inventiveness and ego that make him lose moral judgement. “We are mad scientists”, he tells Banner.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is not disappointing. The original cast resume their roles with comfort. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johannson, and Jeremy Renner are good, physical actors who can pretend to be their characters. Their action is plenty and some of it is spectacular. The villain is a challenge because he travels online. And the Hulk and Black Widow develop an unexpected relationship. So Joss Whedon has directed another entertaining film. But there are too many ideas that it can be overwhelming.

Black Sea ★★1/2

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Black Sea is expertly directed by Kevin Macdonald (director of The Last King of Scotland) who knows about tension and how to wield special effects. We do worry about deep ocean dangers, the functionalities of an old submarine, and the lives of its miserable operators. But an adventurous film, this is not.

The films main protagonist is Robinson, played by an authoritative Jude Law. He’s a former Captain of underwater salvage expeditions who has just lost his job. He is also a divorcee who painfully misses his family. His overall situation silently angers him.

While having a drink with friends, a story is told about a lost Russian submarine in the Black Sea that is carrying large amounts of Gold (An explanation reveals that it was supposed to be delivered to Adolf Hitler in relation to World War 2). Rumor is, the sub is still there, intact, and with every piece of gold.

So Robinson is motivated for a heist job. He meets with a rich business man to borrow a submarine and hires a crew of his own. Like him, they suffer from unfortunate times. We are introduced to a cast of shady individuals well played by Scoot McNairy, David Threlfall, Bobby Schofield, Karl Davies, Konstantin Khabensky, and Grigoriy Dobrygin. Some are British, Some are Russian. Ben Mendelsohn plays a psychopath who is hired for unknown reasons.

Routine scenes take their place as we watch the crew being assigned their duties, performing it, and having an obligatory meeting where they discuss their individual shares of gold. It doesn’t take long for these men to dislike one another. One guy thinks that the more experienced workers should receive more gold. Another is tempted with murder, so that everyone’s share increases (an idea that some of the other men don’t disapprove of). This is a grim movie.

But it is also typical. Some scenes are common depending on how many movies you have seen. How many times have we seen adventurers unknowingly stand on top of their discovery (in other movies, this usually happens when a character uses his arm to brush off dirt, exposing the item, and is followed by a distant overhead shot of the scene). Or how many times have we seen an unfortunate character lose his footing and fall into a bottomless pit? The film is able to generate the expected response from us, but only briefly.

Black Sea has the potential to become adventurous, given the story of an old submarine heading towards lost treasure.  Tragically, the only exploration done is on the behaviors of its crew.

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