Monday, October 26, 2015

The Assassin

Inscrutable.  That sums up Director Hsiao-Hsien Huo’s The Assassin. 
Yes, there were incredibly beautiful costumes by Wen-Ying Huang, a good performance by Qi Shu as the Assassin and some wonderful static scenery shots by Cinematographer Ping Bin Lee.  

But, when the camera moved or didn’t move, as the action was happening just off screen, I wondered how Huo was named Best Director at the Canne Film Festival.  It made me think of an old film in which sexist men brought unsuspecting, unattractive women to what they called a “Pig Party.”  I thought, perhaps, the French judges were picking out the worst possible directing and making fun of the Director named Best.   Honestly, a first-year film student would know better than to make some of the ridiculous choices made by Huo. 

There are some restful scenes with birds singing, during which you can take a few short naps and, as the film progresses, you can have some laughs at the boring and/or idiotic scenes, but, unless you’re into clothes, I don’t think you would want to waste your time with The Assassin.

I give it a 2.2 out of 5.

The Last Witch Hunter

Director Breck Eisner’s The Last Witch Hunter started off hokey with Vin Diesel looking ridiculous in bad 13th Century makeup and garb as he battled the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht), who created the Great Plague.   
But, within 5 minutes, those who stayed were in the 21st Century where he, as the last witch hunter, was still around after 800 years, keeping the world safe from the dark witches.

Though, unfortunately, depicting all witches as dark, the script by Writers Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless also suffered from too many cooks stirring the same pot and became confusing at times.  However, the overall story was interesting and the presence of Michael Caine and Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) made this worthy Halloween viewing for those who want to experience a few scares.

Production Designer Julie Berghoff’s spooky sets also deserve kudos.

I give The Last Witch Hunter a 3.1 out of 5.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Bridge of Spies

Director Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is a finely spun web of political gamesmanship that is based on the true story that led to the exchange of convicted Russian spy Rudolf Abel for American Pilot Francis Gary Powers.

The tight production starts with a strong script written by a surprising collaboration of the Coen Brothers and Matt Charman that has come to life with the realistic Production Design of Adam Stockhausen and the usual brilliance of Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski.
While Tom Hanks is excellent as the insurance lawyer James B. Donovan, who was wrangled by the CIA to engineer this exchange, it is Mark Rylance, who gives the standout performance as Rudolf Abel.

The film tends to move along at a slow (but comfortable) pace that is true to the slower moving times of the late ‘50s/early ‘60s.

In my opinion, the only error is in the overkill of one needless shot at the end where Donovan views from a New York train a scene that harkens back to something he saw happen from a train in Berlin.  Since we’ve already gotten the point from the shots just prior, this brings a groan rather than the intended feeling.

At its best, however, the film is a testament to the honor that enemy combatants owe each other; something that seems to have disappeared in this era.

I give Bridge of Spies a 4.1 out of 5.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Crimson Peak

Writer/Director/Producer Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is a gothic horror/romance that builds in palpable tension to twists and surprises in the end.

Del Toro’s solid story, written in collaboration with Writer Matthew Robbins, is backed up by the amazing sets of Production Designer Thomas E. Sanders and the fabulous costumes of Costume Designer Kate Hawley, all of which are beautifully photographed by Cinematographer Dan Lausten.  Composer Fernando Velázquez completes the mood with a sound track that is both haunting and eerie.

The cast, led by Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston, plays to perfection.  It’s especially fun to see Ms. Chastain play against her usual type as the villainess. 

Reminiscent of Hitchcock, the horror aspects are more of spooky mood than gore, though there is blood spilled, as well. 

It’s refreshing to see this genre resurrected in the hands of a modern master.

I give Crimson Peak a 4.2 out of 5.


Goosebumps is an embarrassment for all connected to it, so, out of kindness, I won’t mention any names.

The direction is artless, the dialogue is abysmal and the acting is awful.

I thought American Ultra would be the worst movie of 2015, but Goosebumps is a lower level of dreck, just above Crimes Against Humanity.

Recommended for children under 4…but only if you don’t like them.

I give Goosebumps a 1- out of 5.