The Frozen Ground (2013)


Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 11:06 PM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 5.7/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 6/10

THE FROZEN GROUND (2013) - Scott Walker

Robert Christian Hansen is a serial killer who, between 1971 and 1983, raped and assaulted over thirty Alaskan women, and is responsible for the murder of at least another seventeen. Convicted in '83, he is currently serving 461 years in Spring Creek Correctional Center. Out of the seventeen he murdered, only eleven of the victims' bodies were ever recovered.

The Frozen Ground begins with the escape of Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens), the only survivor of Hansen's rampage. The film then goes on to tell the true story of Sergeant Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage), who goes on a personal manhunt and  successfully brings the serial killer Hansen (John Cusack) to justice.

Yes, the film sounds unbelievably cliche, for it consists of every single CSI episode you have probably seen. In the end, we know that the killer will get caught, and the first half will always emphasize on how horrifying his acts are. If there is one negative adjective to describe this, it would be "predictable." Then again, as long as the film remains faithful to its own substance, then we can and should be forgiving. Fortunately, The Frozen Ground takes its subject very seriously.

In terms of directing and camerawork, the film was good enough, not award-winning but not illogical or poorly done. The main component that sells its premise and plot is the use of location. Similar to The Grey and other Swedish films that take place in the winter, the film manages to get us to feel the cold, and it settles really well for a tense and dread-building atmosphere. In a way, the snowy state of Alaska is a character on its own.

For your greatest surprise, Nicolas Cage is fabulous here, playing a consistent, determined, and knowledgeable man who knows exactly what he is doing and how to achieve his goal. Yes, it is a tone down from his best works, but it is proof that he is getting back on the right track again. If he succeeds in another satisfying movie, he can most definitely attempt a turn around. He holds an interesting and suspenseful chemistry with Vanessa Hudgens on the screen, being the "caretaker" to the victim. As for his chemistry with Cusack, the air is thin, the music is quiet, and the stakes are tremendously high within the words they throw at each other.

Earlier in the year, Hudgens appeared in the explicit commentary-throwing Spring Breakers, in which she delivered quite a consistent performance. Though her character does not have much backstory nor substance, she portrayed a specific kind of archetype with great accuracy. Here, she does it again for a victim of rape and near-murder. Though I question her motivations of running away every single time, even during illogical moments, her character here is one who constantly lives in fear, hoping that the law can bring down the man who hunted her. She gives great pacing in line delivery and knows when it is best not to speak in a meaningful scene. In terms of her career, Hudgens seems to be on the right path, though it would be more eye-opening to see her do something less on the sexual side.

The main star in The Frozen Ground, however, is John Cusack, who plays the cold-blooded chameleon of a killer. He has a family, he works in a bakery, and he blends in. When he speaks, he speaks slowly and calmly, as if everything has already been planned out the way he wanted it. When he treats his victims, there is a sense of respect, but an evil respect where he "kindly" talks. To everyone else in the town, he is a respected citizen, which explains why nobody ever was suspicious of him in the first place. Cusack plays that quiet ghost perfectly, as he is slowly exposed to everyone by Cage, becoming the true psychotic man underneath. If there is one good reason to see the formulaic that is The Frozen Ground, it would be Cusack's performance.

In conclusion, though it offers nothing new to its genre, The Frozen Ground remains a serious, faithful, and intense piece of crime mystery cinema. Based on a horrifying true story, the film settles in a cold environment and takes off there with fine performances from all three leads. In its end credits, the film reveals that it is dedicated to all the victims, known and unknown. Honestly, though The Frozen Ground is not considerably a "great film," every victim would be thankful of this piece being made.

Blackfish (2013)


Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 6:54 PM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 9.8/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

BLACKFISH (2013) - Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Even if people argue that animals are different from humans, the process of keeping creatures in captivity is morally questionable. In this case, we are dealing with dolphins and whales, which have been scientifically studied to be the closest animal to humans in intelligence. They have problem solving skills, social traits, and even a portion of their brains that reside in emotion. In a similar fashion as the 2009 Best Documentary winner The CoveBlackfish brings us into the world of orca killer whales and the circumstances that they are living in in captivity.

Blackfish is a Sundance Official Selection documentary that mainly revolves around Tilikum, a 22.5 feet long bull orca that has been living in captivity since his capture in 1983. He is the largest orca in captivity today, and is most notoriously known for being involved in the deaths of three people, the third victim, Dawn Bracheau, being the main focus of Blackfish. The documentary also explores the moral ethics behind keeping whales captive as well as the inside talk that SeaWorld and business people go through during each controversial incident, all in the backdrop of interviews among whale researchers and former SeaWorld whale trainers.

To begin with, the documentary reveals that SeaWorld lies about the "fact" that whales in captivity live longer than out in the wild. Clearly, there has been scientific evidence that killer whales can have nearly the same lifespan as humans.

What Blackfish does best at is it immediately begins by telling us what happened to Tilikum and why he is a popular orca whale. In fact, the documentary begins with a short conversation about the description of the Dawn's death. Afterwards, through several interviews, the film spends the first half personifying and humanizing not only Tilikum, but all orca whales in general. From the deaths of baby orcas during capture to Tilikum being harassed by fellow captive whales, we slowly understand that all these incidents and living conditions build up or contribute to what is inevitably going to be aggression. The most tragic thing is... the people who pay for it are the whale trainers... the people who didn't do anything, and more, attempt to bond with the whales.

There is also a scene where a mother orca has her daughter taken away from her, moved to another park. The response of the mother is so heartbreaking, you can almost feel the humanity, the soul, and the heart behind that grieving creature...

Though the documentary may appear to be a bit manipulative or maybe even one-sided, Blackfish, with the help of the director, provides just enough factual evidence to back up their statements. These range from court dialogue to past news broadcasts to newspaper articles. The subject alone may be a smaller less widespread one than other award-winning contenders, but the film itself remains faithful and deep in its content and successfully makes its subject become an important one, no matter how small its scope is.

In the end, when we look at the incidents caused by Tilikum and other whales, incidents that have spanned over twenty years, we conclude what lessons we have learned. The answer is nothing. We have learned absolutely nothing for twenty years and we are still allowing these unnecessary deaths and accidents to occur. Worse, the media has the power to go on and accuse the wrong side. Once we are given a chance to look at both sides of the aisle, we can't help but just think "How dare they?"

In conclusion, Blackfish is a compelling haunting documentary that makes us rethink about whales in captivity in SeaWorld. I, for sure, am not going to look at SeaWorld and other aquatic parks the same way again. This should and will be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, and I will be there to support it if it actually wins. Emotionally stirring and magnetic to watch, Blackfish delivers like a heart-pounding eye-opener, with enough factual evidence and storytelling to shock and compel. In the end, when we see the former whale trainers go out into the wild to observe wild killer whales, we understand that these creatures are meant to be in the wild, meant to be together as a family, meant to be free.

The Bling Ring (2013)


Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 10:23 PM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 6/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 5/10

THE BLING RING (2013) - Sofia Coppola

Yes, this is a true story, a story of seven teenagers and young adults who burgled the homes of several celebrities from 2008 to 2009. These celebrities include Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Orlando Bloom. Stealing over three million dollars in cash and belongings, the group became a cultural icon to the public, revealing a sobering view of our modern culture.

The Bling Ring is the film depiction of this group's several burglaries, parties, and nights of their lives, before they are inevitably caught and prosecuted. The film mainly revolves around five teenagers in the film, including Marc Hall (Israel Broussard), Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang), and Nicki Moore (Emma Watson).

For sure, the film efficiently shows Sofia Coppola's visual style in directing. If you have seen her long wide takes before in films like Somewhere, then expect them here. Though the film depicted several burglaries, there is a single burglary scene that is consisted of one wide shot, showing the entire house with silhouette figures walking back and forth with clothing and bags in their hands, and runs for about a minute or two straight without cutting away. For sure, the film is artistic and beautifully filmed.

The editing alone is a bit flabby, cutting away at awkward times, but at other moments, holds a stylistic flavor, especially when the group looks up information regarding each celebrity on the internet. In strangely similar ways as Spring BreakersThe Bling Ring finds moments in which the characters are caught up in their moment of infinite happiness, as if they have everything they ever wanted. The slow motion kicks in, the music swells up, and the audience is engulfed.

Unfortunately, that is all that The Bling Ring has to offer, which is shamelessly less than it could have delivered. Just like in her previous films, Sofia Coppola leans away from characterization and dives straight into the art of cinematography and pacing instead. Prioritizing on one aspect of the film is one thing. Focusing on that aspect alone and nothing else is another. As a result, even when Emma Watson pulls off an interesting performance, she cannot fight against Nicki's shallow personality and cardboard archetype.

Though there are five characters in the film, practically all of them have the same personality with no backstory given. Without origin or explanation of motivation, the narrative only scratches the surface and never dives into the substance of the subject, which is a real disappointment when the film is about a group that defined a culture. One can easily remake the film and have the group steal from any random wealthy man. It didn't need to be about The Bling Ring. If David Fincher came to the director's chair instead, he might make this a second Social Network. Script would become an emphasis, editing will become smart, and dialogue amongst characters will become fast and clever. Sadly, with Coppola leading, the film did little to no thematic exploration.

In conclusion, The Bling Ring is another failed attempt at Coppola engaging the audience from the characters' world, almost like her signature in filmmaking. There is a sense of disconnect for substance, a confusion over what the film actually wants to say, and overall becomes an underwhelming effort that should have been so much more powerful. Just like the characters in the film, The Bling Ring is sadly shallow, in which unique filmmaking and intriguing performances cannot possibly save.

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)


Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 2:19 PM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 6.9/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013) - Justin Lin

The Fast & Furious franchise, from this point on, will be known as one of the greatest turn-around series in film history. It began with only thin plotlines of car racing, grossing less than $400 million worldwide, then evolved into a heist plot in the fifth entry with over $620 million, to the current one this year, grossing over $780 million. Today, it is known as Universal Studio's most successful franchise of all time. However, when the sixth film's title card arrives, it only says "Furious 6." Why not just call it that then? We see Fast & Furious 6 everywhere on the posters and trailers. Come to think of it, Furious 6 has an interesting ring with its previous Fast Five. It sounds cooler, more slick...

Furious 6 continues where Fast Five left off, revolving around Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), living a peaceful quiet life with Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), and their newborn baby. He is soon tracked down by Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) once more, this time persuading him to help take down a former British Special Forces soldier named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), after showing him a recent photo of his long-dead girlfriend Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez). After gathering his crew together one more time, Dom accepts the mission in exchange for having all of their criminal records wiped clean, allowing them to return home to the United States.

Just like the previous installment, the chemistry between Diesel and Johnson is ingenious to watch. Two big tough guys work together to take down a common enemy. Whoever is messing with the duo is in big trouble. Once again, the film has a great sense of comedy, all delivered through lines of dialogue within the group, proving that the witty screenwriting from Fast Five still has some fuel left to run this entry. Though most of the funny moments occur between Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson, there still exists a bond among the people. Like they say it, they are a family.

Furious 6 for sure has a load of preposterous action sequences, in which cars defy gravity and characters defy physics. There is an entire scene with a tank and a finale with a plane, or "planet," that jazzes up the entire screen with explosive entertainment. And again, the film slows down at crucial moments, developing characterization and building suspense for the plot. The pacing of the romantic subplot between Dom and Letty is careful and aware. Any person who has seen the previous films would know that the two loved each other very much, and that Letty's death in the fourth installment was a scar to the lead characters. Now that she is alive, our favorite criminals attempt to bring her back.

In my review of Fast Five, I wrote that I would be returning to the theaters to see a sixth entry, hoping that it is just as enjoyable. Fortunately, it is. Might not be as straightforward and complete in storytelling and plot, but just as explosive and exciting and electrifying to watch. Ever since the franchise departed from the street racing theme and became a general action genre, the Fast & Furious movies have just earned themselves a much larger and better audience. 

In conclusion, Furious 6 works the formula of the series like a Formula One. The outer shell of the vehicle may look cleaner and newer, but deep down, the engine and gears are still the same. Composed of everything that made Fast Five so furiously original in the franchise, Furious 6 is the brand new carmageddon, proving that this new vehicle can run just as well a second time, living life on the fast lane.

The World's End (2013)


Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 4:26 PM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 9/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

THE WORLD'S END (2013) - Edgar Wright

This is it. The final installment of Edgar Wright's Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, the previous two films being Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. All the major players are back and the crew is here on their third roller coaster ride, and the ride alone is thankfully one of the most enjoyable ones this year.

The World's End revolves around Gary King (Simon Pegg), a hedonistic alcoholic, a crazy fast-talking cock of a man. He says that he is one of a kind. I cannot agree more. There is indeed only one Gary King. The film follows King as he tracks down his four estranged friends to complete the Golden Mile, an infamous pub crawl that includes twelve pubs total, located in their hometown of Newton Haven. The group attempted the crawl twenty years earlier as teenagers, but failed to reach the final pub, known as The World's End. Of course, King's friends have all moved on to have adult lives and responsibilities. King himself, on the other hand, remains the same over the years. In the middle of their crawl, the group discovers that the town has been invaded by alien robots.

Story-wise, it seems like the aliens have nothing to do with the story of the group's pub crawl. You will be surprised. There is an efficient thematic tie-in that makes the entire film make sense.

If you have ever seen Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz before, then you will find The World's End very familiar in the visual department --the editing, the sound effects, and the stylistic transitions are still here. Its fast pace makes the entire film feel hyper, and pretty soon, you'll feel hyper and pumped along with it. As a result, the movie can feel a lot funnier than it is supposed to be, which is a good thing. For sure, watch all three Edgar Wright films together back to back.

The World's End, through many heartful moments, proves that it is Simon Pegg's most original performance, though in terms of best performance, it's a tad short of portraying Shaun. Here, he talks unbelievably fast, and remains a jerk to his friends, yet his friends still deal with him. On our perspectives, though, he is hilarious and the type that we are willing to tolerate comically. For Nick Frost, on the other hand, he is surely the best in this film out of all others. For me specificallly, the cliche "loser" archetype that Frost plays in almost every British comedy was starting to get old, and here he plays a character who is serious and sincere, but through alcohol, becomes crazy. For the rest of the supporting cast, they each have a thin but classifiable personality, and thankfully, every line of dialogue they say fits who they are.

In case you have never seen the films from the Pegg/Frost duo, note this: This is classic golden British comedy. It is the kind of comedy where either you are on board or you are not. For me personally, they hit and miss. The language is vulgar, very vulgar. There's drugs and alcohol. The humor is crude, violent, and cynical. Yet, with the help of Wright's direction, the entire tone and atmosphere of The World's End is hilarious.

In conclusion, The World's End is the same reckless heartful piece produced from Edgar Wright and my favorite comedic duo that's alive today. With the sharpest dialogue, stylistic editing, and a large plethora of entertaining scenes, Wright's final installment finishes off with intriguing commentary about society today that fortunately fits in perfectly with the plot, without pushing itself. Like the lead character, The World's End is a reckless but lovable circus.

Lee Daniel's The Butler (2013)


Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 10:33 PM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 7.2/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER (2013) - Lee Daniels

Although Lee Daniels had a previous success with the film Precious, something tells me that he is becoming another Spike Lee, and I do not think that is a good thing... At least Daniels knows how to pour his passion into his pieces without being preachy or completely one-sided.

The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), an African American who eyewitnesses several significant events regarding civil rights in the 20th century during his 34-year service as a White House butler, from Eisenhower to Reagan. He is married to Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and has two children, the eldest son Louis (David Oyelowo) being a constant fighter for equal rights. As years and decades progress, Gaines finds himself torn between the world of the whites and the world of the blacks.

To avoid confusion on whether or not this film is worth seeing, and the fact that there are more flaws than there are strengths, I will point out the problems first:

For each president in the film, they were all well portrayed for each of their screen time, which is sadly only about fifteen minutes each, which slowly leans into the problem with The Butler: the pacing and directing. Each presidency in the film feels episodic, and when one presidency ends, the next one instantly begins, with text revealing how many years have passed. The problem is the film awkwardly transitions at this point, which, due to the amount of presidencies, happens at least four to five times throughout its narrative.

In terms of casting the historical figures, they were great. Robin Williams plays Dwight Eisenhower, James Marsden plays John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan. Also, you get a nice cameo appearance of Jane Fonda as Reagan's wife. Regrettably, given all of these great actors, they are "just there" to play the character. Honestly, they could have been played by any actor who just needs to look similar to the presidents.

Unfortunately, this type of episodic uneven narrative also applies to every historical event that the film portrays, from the Freedom Riders to the Black Panthers. In terms of historical accuracy, the film stays faithful, and efficiently chooses real black and white footage or real radio broadcasts to portray these events in the most realistic way possible. The problem that this causes, though, is that the film ultimately begins jumping between telling the story of Cecil and telling us the horrors that occurred out in the streets. Sometimes, the realistic footage can come off as heavy-handed gimmicks that gets the audience's emotions to be manipulated. At the same time, in some way, The Butler can feel like a history lesson of which civil rights event came first and which event came next. For sure, there are many moments in the film that are excellent. There is a scene where Cecil is invited to a state dinner. The aftermath of that is brilliantly staged. Sadly, the rest of the film can feel like a history mini-series crammed into two hours and twelve minutes.

If I can make one correction to The Butler, it would be, strangely, to extend the film by another hour. Stretch out the narrative more. Give each historical event some space for the audience to breath and let us feel the amount of time that has passed. Give some extra room for Cecil's younger years so that we become more emotionally compelled. The film may be a biopic about the civil rights movement, but it is still "a film made to tell a story," and if this means it would become a three hour long historical epic, then so be it. It's for the good of the movie as well as us, the audience. Gone With the Wind was four hours long and it needed to be.

Without Forest Whitaker playing the lead and an appealing cast, The Butler would be worth practically nothing. Whitaker gives one of his best performances, on par with his haunting portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Through facial ticks, eye twitching, and pauses between line deliveries, Whitaker delivers his character's feelings, thoughts, and emotion through to the audience. Even when the narrative focuses more heavily on the history of the civil rights movement than the actual character of Cecil, Whitaker holds enough power to carry the film on his shoulders. I would not be surprised if Whitaker receives an Oscar nomination for Actor in Leading Role.

Backing up his performance is a very lovable supporting cast, including a surprisingly devoted performance by Oprah Winfrey, who portrays a caring wife and mother torn between her two sons' lives and the constant absence of her husband. Oyelowo plays a very determined and passionate fighter for African American rights throughout the film. You feel and root for him in one of his main scenes that involves sitting at a counter, as well as any chemistry moments between him and Whitaker, as father and son. Cuba Gooding Jr. portrays the lead butler in the White House and one of Cecil's best friends, playing the stereotypical comic relief character. Almost every supporting act here is made to enhance our attention on Whitaker's performance as our most lovable butler.

At the end of the day, even though The Butler suffers from more problems than it does strengths, the film is a prime example of its strengths outweighing its flaws. Despite its problems, the movie is filmed and put together with a passion, with strong efforts from both cast and crew. With this kind of scope, the film could have ended up a whole lot worse. It is inevitably ambitious and bold, and that alone deserves respect.

In conclusion, The Butler serves as an emotional Hollywood-style epic that revolves around the experience of African Americans in the land of the free, while following just a simple little man in a simple family. In certain ways, you can call the film Forrest Gump Civil Rights Version. It has a similar sentimentality. It may be short of greatness for directing and storytelling, but The Butler is still passionately executed with an exceptional cast and is inevitably tender to watch.