Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Movie Review: Enemy (2014)

A rambling Rorschach, “Enemy” is surprisingly involving as it takes viewers down the winding road of a puzzle that does its best to hide the pieces. Grasping for the point of this seedy production tinged in yellowy dark lighting provides an array of options, as it infuses as much overwrought emotion as possible. One example of this is when a character falls into a heap for no cohesive reason. The fact is the situation is so legitimately fathomable, the creepy undertones the film tries to provoke comes across disingenuous.

When the story begins there is a scraggly teacher named Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal). His life is basic and repetitive. He is involved in a relationship with a practically speechless girlfriend (Melanie Laurent). While watching a movie he spots an extra (or atmosphere artist) who bears an identical resemblance to him, a doppelganger. This ignites a furious determination to learn who the man is and unravel the mystery as to why they share the same face.

It sounds like a logical thing to wonder and in the realm of mysteries the story makes for a compelling one. The underlying legend that if one is to spot their double, they will die shortly afterwards, would be a possible explanation as to why there is such an intensity surrounding this not so urgent circumstance and yet the film never plays that card. The paranoia, heightened emotion and fear exhibited by the main character, comes across strikingly irrational without this context.

There are subtle hints along the way pushing viewers to one conclusion and then another. There is a lack of consistency in these clues and that is what makes it difficult to follow along or enjoy the mystery. In remaining so purposefully ambiguous, it offers little to actually grapple with. The film is an illusion, a chance to take whatever you want from it. It is a case of pictographic ambiguity. There is no right or wrong answer. Similar to seeing a formation in the clouds, “Enemy” creates enough of an image to think something exists without ever substantiating anything. It attempts to incite the viewer the same way the aforementioned Rorschach test is designed to do. Continued...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Best New Movie Bets: July 25th

Best New Bet: "Lucy": Luc Besson’s latest is not exactly the movie one would expect given the advertising campaign which seemed to indicate a female powered action flick with sci-fi elements. In actuality it is more of a meditative analysis of evolutionary theory and Darwinism. Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) hardly beats anyone up with her fists and an actual fight sequence is hard to come by. The movie feels decidedly more Aronofsky than Besson. There are some intriguing principals and it stimulates the mind with scientific queries.

The plot centers on the titular Lucy (Johansson) who is forced into being a drug mule through a set of unwitting circumstances that lead her into the path of a vicious gangster. It’s her exposure to the super drug which gives her the ability to use her brain to its full capacity. Enter Morgan Freeman to explain the mechanics of this situation and you have the recipe for a sci-fi thriller that works.

Also Opening:
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as “Hercules” in this latest adaption of the mythological story directed by Brett Ratner. It’s a swashbuckling actioner that appears to be a cross between “The Scorpion King” (also starring Johnson) and the recent “Clash of the Titans” films. Worth mentioning is the film also stars Rebecca Ferguson who made a remarkable impression in last year’s mini-series “The White Queen”. She is a talent to be on the lookout for, as she is the rumored front-runner for the female lead in the next installment of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise.

“A Most Wanted Man” makes its theatrical debut after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in this espionage thriller directed by Anton Corjin, who helmed the methodical hit-man drama “The American”. Co-starring opposite Hoffman is a plethora of talents including Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright and Daniel Bruhl. To read more about what Eclectic Pop had to say about the film in January, click here.

Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton team up in the romantic comedy “And So It Goes” directed by Rob Reiner. Douglas stars as a pompous realtor who implores the help of his neighbor (Keaton) when his long lost granddaughter is unceremoniously abandoned at his home. Keaton and Douglas are a must-see anytime they make a movie. Having a similarly boisterous on-screen energy it will be interesting to see them play off of each other. Hopefully the script proves worthy of their talents.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Let's Talk About..."Fifty Shades" of Success?

This week the internet was shaken with the hotly anticipated trailer and first glimpse of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the film adaptation of the first book in E.L. James’ best-selling series. So many questions continue to surround the film.  Whether it will stay true to the nature of the book and how much, if any, explicit material will actually make it to the silver screen. Anticipation and curiosity has tinged the air of excitement surrounding it and after a troubled beginning (the originally cast Christian Grey, Charlie Hunnam, vacated the role shortly before production started) it finally got off the ground.

The question remains, will anticipation and curiosity create a box office success? It’s been years since the books became a global phenomenon as it swept its mostly female readers into an unabashed frenzy. Have temperatures cooled? Shocking film audiences with raunchy behavior will be more difficult than it was 3 years ago. A movie such as this can’t compete the same way it used to when Adrian Lyne’s dramas were steaming up the silver screen in the 80’s and 90’s. Cable series have consistently pushed the envelope and the cinematic thrill factor has been compromised as mainstream Hollywood films struggle to keep up. Where “Fifty Shades” could possibly lose ground is that given its casting of relative unknowns in the leads, curiosity to see them do something “outrageous” might not have manifested quite yet. 

Last year’s raunchy “The Wolf of Wall Street” divided audiences with its unabashed depiction of carnal activity. “Wolf” it seems, was considered a male-centric tale and the audience pushing “Fifty Shades” will undoubtedly be lead by females. “Magic Mike” and the “Sex and the City” films were financially profitable and there was a peculiarly limited (if any) controversy surrounding their release. On the other hand “Wolf”, also a huge financial success, faced enormous controversy in the press. “Fifty Shades” could still face controversial waters when it premieres and not necessarily for its content but the entire storyline, which raised eyebrows upon the book’s release.

As for the trailer itself, things appear promising. It played coy and the publicity machine behind the film seems to be taking a few notes from its titular character, staying shy on details and heavy on hints. Jamie Dornan made a remarkably positive first impression, capturing the mystique of the enigmatic Grey in the brief glimpse. While Dakota Johnson seemed convincing as the bashful Anastasia. Whether they share the palatable screen chemistry to convince audiences of the combustible tension between the characters still remains to be seen. One worthy thing to note is that director Sam Taylor-Johnson has undoubtedly nailed the aesthetic presentation to a T, a cold industrial flavor with a touch of blue-hued warmth. The filmmakers knew what they were doing on this one.

So what do you think? Will “Fifty Shades of Grey” heat up the box office? Is it still too soon to make predictions? Watching the ensuing months of publicity will undoubtedly be interesting as fans will either witness the arrival of a franchise or the buckling of expectations.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Let's Talk About...TV's Revolution & the Primetime Emmys

The Emmy nominations were recently announced and reaction to the snubs was on track with outrage in years past. The drama ballot included the usual suspects, veteran nominees “Breaking Bad”, "Downton Abbey" and “Mad Men” along with the star studded freshman series “True Detective” and cheeky newcomer "Masters of Sex". The comedy category enthusiastically welcomed "Orange is the New Black". As “Fargo” cleaned up in the mini-series category. The overall victor for the amount of nominations was the smash hit fantasy series “Game of Thrones”, breaking the unspoken edict that sci-fi series typically go ignored.

The greatest change of pace seen on this year’s ballot was the absolute takeover of cablers and internet-exclusive series that practically shut out the major networks. As a result network stars such as James Spader from “The Blacklist” were overlooked. Spader being passed over was a particularly painful oversight given how deliciously rich his performance on the show was. He is the main instrument responsible for catapulting it into a ratings hit for underdog NBC.

Perhaps most troubling is that a network series like “The Blacklist”, which produced 22 episodes this season, was shut out in favor of cable series that produce 10 to 13 episodes a season. At this juncture, cable series need to compete in a separate category. The work demand that it takes to produce half of the episodes of a network series, simply isn’t equivalent. For all intents and purposes, series like “Game of Thrones” are annual mini-series. “Fargo” wisely submitted under the mini-series category just as “American Horror Story” also does. Since there are so many series that meet that description it is time to acknowledge the variance and create a cable or “abbreviated form” category.

Personally the greatest snub dealt by the Emmys was the total lack of attention paid to “Bates Motel”, a series that delivered in every episode of its season. As a “Game of Thrones” viewer, its fourth season lacked consistency before blowing it out of the water in its finale. “Fargo” suffered a parallel problem, having a consistently stellar run before collapsing at the finish line in the finale. In contrast, “Bates Motel” faced the uphill battle of a sophomore season and managed to more than succeed clearing the hurdle, a struggle a lot of shows fail to maneuver. “Bates” has extraordinary talent both in front of and behind the camera and it showed, given how it maintained the initial season’s quality. For it to go unrecognized is a cataclysmic snub.

As the landscape of television changes it will be interesting to see how the Emmy’s transform with them. It has been said that television is experiencing a renaissance and a lot of actors with major star power are jumping aboard. It’s an exciting time and a rewarding one for viewers as the barriers between movie and television stardom continue to blur. The Emmys will respond in time and transitions require just that, time and patience. Making sure shows aren’t lost in the shuffle and the talent that deserves to be highlighted isn’t a casualty of the evolution should remain a top priority in the meantime.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

TV Report Card: Bates Motel: Season 2

Overview: Norma attempted to hold together the fragile life-force of her family and business, Norman continued his descent into madness, Dylan became more engrossed in the local drug cartel, as Emma felt on the periphery of all of the excitement. Meanwhile, Sheriff Romero tried to keep the peace in White Pine Bay.

Storyline Pros: For the Bates family it was a season filled with criminal intrigue, romantic excursions and the surfacing of dark secrets. The only series to consistently deliver in every episode, “Bates Motel” lived up to its outstanding freshman season and then some. Picking up after last year’s cliffhanger concerning the murder of Miss Watson, Norman was inconsolable as the airiness of summer, soon gave way to sinister truths. Norma’s fear for his mental health reached perilous heights and their relationship started to buckle under the strain of their shared fear. 

The most fascinating aspect of the series continues to be the art of its ambiguity. It wisely avoids painting itself into a distinct corner, remaining malleable to several interpretations, which works heavily in its favor. It’s more lifelike in that regard as reality isn’t always so cut and dry.

Norma, by far the most fascinating female character on television, is a force of maternal nature and feminine resilience, the gritty survivor trying to thrive in the face of bleak odds. This season her journey as a mother saw its share of obstacles. Her relationship with her two sons grew tricky as her confession to Norman last season played out in surprising fashion. “Bates” went for the jugular in a bold plot twist that dared to push the limits of a taboo subject. While some shows would’ve simply played it for shock, “Bates” played it for story, hitting its emotional notes and fallout with utter sincerity. 

As much as Norma openly tries to be a good mother to Norman, it was watching her admit she’d not tried half as hard for Dylan and why, that led to her greatest evolution. The journey of the Bates family’s dynamic from delicate togetherness at the start of the season to being torn apart in conflict and then trying to find their way back together again was a core storyline that breathed into every facet of the other plots.

The drug storyline intersected them with the rest of the town, which was essential to the umbrella story. It also drew Sherriff Romero into things, putting him back in Norma’s orbit. Emma’s entwinement with the family provided a pure juxtaposition to the often muddled moral waters they were immersed in. She’s innately good and a strong moral compass for the show. 

There continues to not be a single weak character in the ensemble as they are all written with exceptional profundity. The protagonists are flawed in mysterious ways and “Bates” consistently challenges its audience to try to judge their decisions and intent. The fact is you’re often too engrossed in them to ever make a call. Continued...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

TV Rundown: July 13-18: Pretty Little Liars, Tyrant & more

Witches of East End: After the premiere’s “oh my” moment where Ingrid hooked up with a blue entity that bared a striking resemblance to Dr. Manhattan, the series went for another sight shocker. This time it concerned recently returned prodigal son, Frederick, as he charmed his Aunt Wendy’s earring by reciting some things in a foreign tongue (Latin?), swallowing the item and then bringing it back up. After Wendy got her jewelry back, it was hard to determine which lack of knowledge was more upsetting and detrimental to her health. Her nephew bewitching her adornment or the way he went about it.

Under the Dome: Dwight Yoakam guest starred on this week’s episode and he brought acid rain with him. With Big Jim put out of commission early in the episode, Barbie and company had to join forces to save Rebecca, the mega brainy high school teacher, who’d been kidnapped. As Big Jim’s newfound partner-in-crime, the dicey Rebecca has made herself essential to him and a major asset to the show. Her chillingly sinister logic lead to a moral cliffhanger that will play out in next week’s episode. 

Pretty Little Liars: Hanna decided to take matters into her own hands through some minor subterfuge and help Ali leave town. She would ultimately be found out and scorned by Emily for her attempt. What Emily seems incapable of coming to grips with, is that her fellow Liars and other members of the community are having a difficult time forgiving and forgetting Ali’s menacing reign of terror as easily as she has. Even after Ali was caught on tape stating her lack of remorse, Emily still blindly defends her. 

Similarly, Aria has forgiven and forgotten all of Ezra’s dastardly behavior. The series deserves credit for portraying the tunnel vision that often comes with infatuation. However, it fails to explicitly state that is what Aria and Emily are suffering from. Instead, it justifies their blind loyalty without much fanfare.

True Blood: By the end of this week’s episode which mercifully ended the kidnapping storyline, there was one question that lingered in its aftermath. Who the heck was Kevin? They disrupted the flow and content of the show so Jason and Sam could break the news of his unfortunate demise to his widow. The bewildering fact is the whole time this was going on, I had no idea who Kevin was or why we should be spending so much time on the development of his death, during an episode of the final season. 

Tyrant: Since the beginning of this series there has been one nagging character that continually distracts from the other’s cunning and intelligence. That would be Barry’s wife, who after 4 episodes, still cannot grasp the danger her family is in. Despite countless warnings and close calls, she insists on putting her family in the center of the storm. If she wants to continue giving Barry sage advice, she can Skype him. Elsewhere, one character that continues to transfix is Jamal’s wife Leila, a mysterious and compelling spirit, who will hopefully be explored with greater depth in the near future.

The Bold and the Beautiful: Aly and Oliver’s sweet love affair hit a rough patch this week. Thankfully it didn’t put them out of commission for long because Oliver impersonated a knight at Medieval Times to earn back Aly’s trust and mend her broken heart. This surprising pairing has been a refreshing reprieve from the triangle drama and usual indecision that composes other relationships on the show. They’re a young couple worth rooting for and it’s been wonderful.

Line of the Week: “The cops in this town should be riding around in clown cars.” – Caleb to Hanna on “Pretty Little Liars”

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Best New Movie Bet: July 18th

Best New Bet: I Origins: A trippy mindbender that attempts to unravel the scientific reasoning behind the old adage “the eyes are the windows to the soul”. Written and directed by “Another Earth” helmer Mike Cahill, this film appears to be similarly tackling sci-fi drama in a modernized fashion. Indie film mega-talent Brit Marling, who starred in Cahill’s remarkable breakthrough (she also co-wrote the script), stars in a supporting role as a molecular biologist and the colleague of Michael Pitt’s character.

When it premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Cahill won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for the second time (he previously won for “Another Earth”), an award given to a film that portrays a scientifically based story. Cahill’s knack for sharing an astonishing sci-fi concept amidst an intimate human story is his core strength as a director and could be the key to “I Origins” being something really special. 

Also Opening: The raunchy comedy “Sex Tape” starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal as a married couple who decide to spice up their relationship with a private home video, only to have it accidentally go viral to their friends and family. As one might suspect, high jinks ensue. Joe Kasdan who directed Diaz and Segal in the exceptional “Bad Teacher” is behind the camera here and that definitely bodes well for expectations.

The sequel to last year’s surprise box office hit “The Purge” steps away from the home invasion narrative of the first movie and instead focuses on 5 strangers who wind up caught in the crosshairs of the deadly ritual. The initial film’s sleek and thought-provoking plot got lost in the shuffle 20 minutes in, whether the sequel aims to dig deeper, only time will tell.

Opening in limited release is Zach Braff’s Kickstarter funded indie “Wish I Was Here” co-starring Kate Hudson. It tells the tale of a man/hipster grasping for his identity when his life takes a few unexpected turns.

Are you looking forward to any of these movies? Eclectic Pop wants to hear from you! You can share your thoughts by tweeting @EclecticPop or leaving a comment below.