Her



Hell is having to explain the movie Her to somebody. A man falling in love with an operating system is definitely a bizarre premise and by all accounts makes Her a weird film, but there’s more to it than the surface level would lead you on to believe. It’s a wonderful commentary on human relationships as well as our rapidly changing technology and the way we incorporate it into our day-to-day lives. It also weaves a simple yet moving love story to accentuate the new ways we are meeting our emotional needs with technology. There’s so much warmth and beauty to this film that it has stuck with me since I first saw it this past Monday and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite movies.

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Unable to move forward with his divorce, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has slowly become a lonely introvert shielding himself away from society. Silently reaching out for some sort of connection Theodore eventually buys a new product called OS One. OS One is a personalized A.I. assistant designed to adapt and evolve into a more human like companion. Theodore chooses a female OS named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) as his companion and together the two help teach other learn about life, dealing with the complexity of emotions, and finding happiness.

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It’s a never-ending debate on whether or not technology is hurting or helping the way we interact with each other. We’ve never been more readily connected than we are now and yet there’s still a sense of detachment, especially in face-to-face communication. I’ve seen lasting friendships made through online communities and I’ve seen stories of malicious deception through online anonymity. Her takes this debate and provides us with a smart, funny, and often awkward look on both sides. The film opens up with Theodore going through the various different ways we use technology to connect with others but illustrating the emotional disconnect without the personal touch. From online chat rooms, video games, and automated news feed, Theodore wanders aimlessly through his life. He’s searching for some connection but each readily available avenue doesn’t provide him with the satisfaction he is looking for, as is evidently seen with his late night chat room partner.  Enter in Samantha. Together Samantha and Theodore hit it off far more than any of the other contrasting human relationships in the film. On paper the two are perfect for each other despite the fact that Samantha is a computer.

The biggest and obvious challenge the film faces is getting you to buy into this strange relationship. Personally it works for me largely due to the wonderful chemistry between Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. The conversations are playful and fun and the sense of happiness the two bring to the screen is undeniably warm. Scarlett Johansson especially brings Samantha to life with nothing more than her voice. The sheer range of pure emotion she brings to Samantha is pleasant and incredibly soothing. I found myself really invested not only in the living breathing Theodore but also the artificial Samantha. Her progression from an enthusiastic AI to something far more emotionally complex is interesting and served as a nice compliment to Theodore’s journey to understand his emotions. Joaquin Phoenix gives a great performance as well. He really captures the isolated sadness his character faces all while providing a warm sense of optimism. Both Johansson and Phoenix work in tandem to create a melancholy but beautiful look at human relationships and helps the film capture a true sense of love. Not just the romantic lovey dovey everything is perfect aspect but also the fears, the insecurities, and jealousy as well. By including this less than glamorous look into something as complex as love, the film impresses the rewarding experience of sharing your life with someone. Needless to say the film sold me on their relationship and it only opened up more interesting questions.

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I remember thinking it was strange how matter of factly some people accepted this bizarre relationship, especially when Theodore and Samantha would be out and talking in public. However, in this near futuristic setting where professional companies are created to write personal love letters for others it makes all the sense in the world. It took me a second to realize how disengaged others often were in the public settings yet still communicating with their own devices. To them Samantha and Theodore are no different, if they even stopped to take notice at all. It really showcases the similarities to the way we are today whether it’s through long distant relationships or purely Internet based relationships in both a romantic and non-romantic sense. We’re constantly bombarded with notifications from social networks, texts, and emails, all while holding extensive phone conversations with seemingly no one. It really showcases the film’s ideas looking ahead at the evolution of human relationships and how obsessed we are with technology.

Sure what Samantha and Theodore have is strange, but who’s to say we’re not that far off? To quote a soon to be over quoted line from the movie, “Falling in love is a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.” Samantha and Theodore found their own sense of joy so what’s it to others as long as they’re happy? They seemingly meet each other’s needs emotionally and are helping each other learn new things. Although the film does a good job of showing both sides of the argument it eventually tips it’s hat on how it feels in the end and I think it serves as a wonderful litmus test for your own feelings, which is what makes this film great.

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Without going into too much detail the film begins to capture the painful fall out of any relationship. It’s wonderful that although this film is first and foremost a love story it manages to include a very thoughtful sci-fi narrative on artificial intelligence as well. As things begin to take a turn for the worst the film begins to shed light on its personal feelings about emotional needs. I’m always amazed at how we strive to imitate such human nuanced responses in machines but I highly doubt we’ll ever reach a point where it becomes the alternative. My feelings with technology and relationships seems to fall in line with the films in that although it can be a wonderful thing we still need that elusive human element to reciprocate true happiness. Like anything there needs to be a balance in the way we handle our relationships and the way we handle our technology. It was nice to see the film shed light on the way the OS One adoption was spreading through their society. People were interacting with their own personal AIs in a variety of different ways to meet a variety of different needs. There’s room for this technology to aid us in connecting with others and learning about ourselves but the moment it becomes an escape to hide away from facing our problems or pure instant gratification is the moment it becomes just a hollow experience.

As I said early the hardest job this movie faces is getting you to accept the idea of falling in love with an OS. Playing the devil’s advocate here, it’s a tough pill to swallow that will leave you unengaged and most likely repulsed by the absurdity. On the outside looking in it is such a weird concept and most of the drama and tension evaporates under this silly premise, leaving it wide open for unintentional humor. It doesn’t help that the idea of being absorbed by our technology isn’t exactly fresh grounds either. It’s a constant debate that’s has been beaten to death going in circles. However, if you can set aside your feelings and buy in for just a moment, you’ll be rewarded with a love story that is far more thoughtful and speaks more about love and human relationships than most traditional romance films.

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If you couldn’t tell I really loved the movie Her. On top of the thought provoking ideas the film provides it also creates such beautiful imagery. It’s a wonderfully colorful film with perfectly timed music creating an almost dreamlike perfect day. On the surface it seems to borrow just about every cliché moment from any indie feel good movie ever but it’s in its execution and knowing when to use these moments that make the film stand out.

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In addition to Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix, the film also features a sincere performance from Amy Adams who provides a heartfelt friendship to Theodore. Although it’s understated, Amy’s story mirrors Theodore’s in finding happiness. Amy’s journey and search for emotional reciprocation is a nice contrast to Theodore’s and shows the non-romantic side of emotional needs. Overall it’s such a warm movie and I’ve left the theater in a euphoric state and the glow has stayed with me since. If you’ll allow me to gush for a second it’s movie that really conveys the happiness about being alive and being in love. There’s a lot of depth to this film and it’s a great conversation to have.

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Interested in writing reviews or news posts for Thinking Cinematic? Contact me at ThinkCinematicReviews@gmail.com! You can also send your guest reviews there too!

Connect with me at:
Twitter: @TreyRSolis
Twitter: @Think_Cinematic
Email: ThinkCinematicReviews@Gmail.com

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Reviews: Hobbit, Wolf of Wall Street, Catching Fire and More


Long time no see! Reviews have been irregular lately but I wanted to start 2014 with an easy round up to get back on track. I’ve seen a lot of movies over the past few months and I wanted to write down a few quick thoughts on each one. Moving forward the review schedule will be a lot more lax than it used to be but I’m aiming to get back to writing more than I have these last four months. Somewhere along the way I felt like these reviews became very mechanical and emotionless which got away from what I really loved. I want to dial it back and focus less on formality and more on writing about films I enjoy. Anyway, here we go. First up, Ender’s Game.

Ender’s Game

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Ender’s Game was a major disappoint for me. The two weeks leading up to the film’s release I read the novel and was instantly hooked. I fell in love with the characters and was immersed in the constant struggles Ender faced. The movie does away with a lot of this struggle and instead focuses more on flashy action scenes. The battle room, which served as a major chunk of the novel, is skimmed over rather quickly along with all the relationships Ender cultivated with his time there. I never got the sense of Ender becoming the respected leader he was in the books. Also the dynamic between Bonzo and Ender is completely ruined due to a rather unfortunate casting choice that causes far more unintentional humor than it should. Simply put, the film hits the high points that were in the book but without the proper time to breathe it felt like a waste of time amounting to nothing more than popcorn fluff. I wish I could remember the Reddit user to give them proper credit but they summed it up perfectly. The Ender’s Game movie is as good an adaptation as watching someone’s vacation slideshow is a good vacation.

Thor: The Dark World

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Thor: The Dark World was satisfyingly entertaining, far more so than Iron Man 3. It was nice to get a deeper look at Asgard and how that side of the universe lives. The movie started off a little slow for me but it definitely picked up once Thor and Loki partnered up. My only concern is the film’s understandable love affair with Loki. Despite their dynamic stealing the show and being the source of the film’s fun, I felt like the film dropped all other aspects of the story to showcase them. I like Loki enough that I don’t want his character to outstay his welcome. For what it is though, Thor: The Dark World is a solid action film. I was a little surprised how much the early parts of the film reminded me of the Star Wars Prequels, in a good way of course.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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I was caught off guard with how much I enjoyed The Hunger Games when it first released in 2012. It was a decent film and covered enough of the books for me to be happy with it. Although my interest in the film didn’t make it through all the books, specifically the third entry, my interest was still piqued for the films. Catching Fire is an incredible follow up to The Hunger Games and delivers on intense action guided by strong performances. I was impressed with Catching Fire’s ability to incite so much anxiety within me, particularly in a scene involving a swarm of Jabber Jays that did a wonderful job of conveying great panic.

One of my complaints with the first film is the way it got away with a lot of the violence by quick cutting before a character died. It was somewhat of an understandable distraction but it was still off-putting nonetheless. Catching Fire’s strength this time around is the fact that the dangers Katniss faces is more elemental based than combat based allowing for the film to be more lenient with its violence and action. It was a much more immersive experience for me this time around it made the film a lot more enjoyable. Doubt it’ll convert any new fans but it’s definitely worth the time for those who already bought in the first go around.

Frozen

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Frozen was far more enjoyable than I expected and I happily ate crow for all my previous doubts. It’s a great throwback to traditional Disney musicals and features an impressive track of catchy songs, some of which I may or may not have had on repeat in my car for days after. The story plays wonderfully on old Disney princess tropes and provides a nice message for young audiences. It’s a simple story but the execution is charming enough to be entertaining for all ages. The animation itself is wonderfully done and features incredibly beautiful scenery. I wasn’t completely sold on the character models themselves, which at times felt too clean like they were something straight out of a direct to DVD Barbie movie. However this could have been a creative choice, as the character models feel more natural as the movie progresses further into its adventures outside the fairy tale setting. If you’re a fan of animation, especially old Disney films, than this film is a must see film.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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I’ve been conflicted on my feelings for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug for quite a while. The same old song and dance is that the decision to split this simple story into three films would be too much of a good thing. The Jackson Lord of the Rings fan boy in me was thrilled for a new trilogy but it’s never been more evident than with Desolation of Smaug that this may not have been the right choice after all. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time with Desolation of Smaug but it’s far from a film I would recommend to anyone. It feels like a series of inside jokes or stories that fans will enjoy but for everyone else it feels like it spends a lot of time accomplishing nothing.

The biggest crime the film commits is the gradual shift in focus from Bilbo to the dwarves almost completely. It’s somewhat understandable given that the Dwarves’ quest translates more to exciting cinema than Bilbo’s story but it’s only frustrating when the film decides to spend it’s screen time on superfluous subplots instead. The Legolas, Kili, and Tauriel love triangle is completely unnecessary, especially given the fact that we’re rushed through great moments from the book like Beorn’s House, Mirkwood, and the Wood Elves prison. It’s just a shame that for a movie called The Hobbit, the time we spend with the hobbit has slowly diminished. Overall it’s a narrative mess that feels like it’s obviously been spread way to thin.  Despite these troubling decisions, the film more than makes up for it with the outstanding River Barrel scene and it’s wonderful depiction of Smaug.

Smaug in particular is truly a great spectacle and is the series greatest animated character since Gollum. The dragon is emanating with power and ferocity that commands your attention every second he’s on screen. The dialogue between Bilbo and Smaug is wonderfully playful and conveys such a great sense of power Smaug holds over Bilbo. The film (surprise surprise) takes liberties with the Lonely Mountain scenes but by that point I was more than willing to forgive it and enjoy the ride. As enjoyable as these films are, in the end I can’t help but wish for a tighter film that focuses more on adapting The Hobbit than being inspired by it.

The Wolf of Wall Street

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The Wolf of Wall Street is vile, unapologetic, and downright immoral, but I loved every second of it. It’s definitely not a film for the faint of heart but if you’re willing to join the ride it’s an incredibly bizarre trip. Sex, drugs and alcohol dominates the life of Jordan Belfort and watching the slow descent into depravity and madness is a train wreck that you can’t look away from. The film’s humor is definitely dark and often reaches such ridiculous levels that you can’t help but burst out laughing. American greed through the eyes of Scorsese is extremely uncomfortable and brutally savage. Leonardo DiCaprio gives an absolutely remarkable performance that blurs the line of insanity and absurdity, undeniably making Jordan Belfort DiCaprio’s craziest character yet. Jonah Hill also delivers a wonderful performance that shows the actors incredible range of talent. Hill and DiCaprio share a wonderful on screen dynamic that is the heart of the film’s humor.

The thing I loved the most about this film is the way it’s able to bring the audience crashing down to reality no matter how bizarre the rampant drug fueled escapades ran out of control. There’s such a stark contrast between the seemingly invincible wolves of Wall Street and the real world people that they’re affecting as well as the real danger that they’re putting themselves through. It’s these brief reminders throughout the film that provides a quick realistic glimpse of the self-centered protagonist that the film seemingly shines a glamorous light on. It’s a subtle touch but it’s the point of the film that there is no moral compass here. We’re supposed to be upset and bothered by the film.

I’ll concede the movie isn’t for everyone though. Much like Jordan Belfort, the movie doesn’t know when to quit. I felt like the film could be trimmed down to make a tighter movie, and the excessive narration can feel a little spoon-fed at times. The Wolf of Wall Street may end up being my guilty pleasure, but it’s a film that more than deserves your time at least once. Oh, and trust me when I say this film earns it’s hard R rating.

Interested in writing reviews or news posts for Thinking Cinematic? Contact me at ThinkCinematicReviews@gmail.com! You can also send your guest reviews there too!

Connect with me at:
Twitter: @TreyRSolis
Twitter: @Think_Cinematic
Email: ThinkCinematicReviews@Gmail.com

Miami International Auto Show


In honor of the Miami International Auto Show the fine folks over at Priority One Jets have started a discussion on the most iconic cars from the big screen. They’ve asked me to help share their post as well as add a few thoughts on a car that I believe to be iconic. First off let’s look at a couple examples that they’ve come up with followed by my own inclusion at the end.

This week, thousands will be traveling to Miami for one of the largest and most prestigious car shows in the nation. In honor of the Miami International Auto Show (November 8th- November 17th), we have compiled a list of some of the most iconic cars in film and television. Whether you plan oncatching a private jet to Miami, or just following the action through your computer screen, auto enthusiasts will be left begging for more!

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Aston Martin DB5

Skyfall: “Bond. James Bond.” Besides having one of the most recognized phrases in movie history, the quintessential spy films are also famous for their lust-worthy selection of automobiles. Considered by the Aston Martin company as “one of the most iconic cars ever produced”, the DB5 model has appeared in 6 of the Bond films. From its film debut in 1964’s “Goldfinger” to a small-scale 3D printed replica in  “Skyfall”, the Aston Martin DB5 continues to be an irreplaceable piece of Bond history.

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Lincoln Continental

The Godfather: Hailed as one of the greatest gangster films of all time, Frances Ford Coppola immortalized the Lincoln Continental for both movie and car enthusiasts all over. The two most recognizable models are the Limousine and the Coupe, which were featured in pivotal moments such as (Spoiler Alert!) Sonny Corleone’s untimely demise. In January 2013, two of the vehicles used in the film were auctioned off for a cool $120,750. Guess they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse!

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1992-1993 Ford Explorer XLTs 

Jurassic Park: Now I feel obligated to preface this by saying you’ll never find anyone more useless than me when it comes to vehicles but if I had to choose an iconic car it would be the Ford Explorer XLT from Jurassic Park (1993).  The vibrant greens, yellows, and reds of the custom painted tour vehicle easily stood out in the film and are featured in some of the most memorable scenes from the classic film. The Ford Explorers are such a huge centerpiece for our first introduction to the T-Rex that they’re nearly inseparable. Whether it’s being pushed off a ledge, or being smashed through the sunroof, the Ford Explorers XLTs served it’s purpose through some truly gripping and terrorizing scenes, easily becoming an iconic piece of cinema.

For the full list of iconic cars and more sure to head on over to Priority One Jets and join in on the conversation!

Gravity


Summary:

At its core Gravity is a wonderfully tense sci-fi thriller. The feeling of isolation is incredibly overwhelming and the long takes in space are truly breathtaking. Visually the film is outstanding and is one of the rare films that is enhanced by 3D. The minimum use of score and sound enhances the feeling of being stranded in space and the movie is able to play on this wonderfully. The film is story telling at its finest and makes wonderful use of beautiful symbolism and narrative symmetry. Dr. Ryan Stone is the movie’s main focus and watching her rebirth and character transformation is an incredibly wonderful experience. Gravity is a masterful film and easily one of the best to come out of 2013.

Gravity had me sold from the very first trailer. After being stressed out from the first two trailers I swore off watching anymore in an attempt to experience this movie as fresh as possible. The going in blind experience more than paid off and Gravity has easily become one of my favorite movies of this year. Beautiful, stressful, and overall satisfying, Gravity is simply amazing.

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A bio-medical engineer, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), accompanied by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), embarks on her first space walk while on her the space shuttle mission Explorer. When a debris shower crashes into the shuttle it causes a chain reaction of destruction that leaves the two astronauts stranded out in space with no communication. Together the two must work together to survive with little oxygen and no transport.

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Gravity’s story is simple but it’s story telling at its finest.  The primary theme of the film is letting go and moving on, and it works wonderfully against the backdrop of space. The overwhelming feeling of isolation for Dr. Stone and Kowalski is ever present and the danger is captivating. Much like the trailers, the film greatly stressed me out and I found myself constantly holding my breath throughout the film. The film really hones in on the dark beauty of space and the terror of being alone.  Gravity is also one of the rare films that is greatly enhanced by the 3D. The extra depth perception really hammers in the feeling of isolation with our characters seemingly floating out right in front of the screen with a beautiful depiction of Earth in the background. The 3D also enhances the feeling of zero gravity with all the random objects within the shuttles floating around in and out of scene, and even more so with the debris shooting past our characters outside on the space walk. This extra depth adds so much visual satisfaction to the film, that my only gripe is not being able to see it in IMAX 3D.

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Dr. Ryan Stone is the main focus of the film and her character arc is incredibly rewarding from beginning to end. I’ve been reading a lot of Dan Harmon’s story circle, which is a streamlined version of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, so you’ll have to forgive me if I’m gushing here but Gravity follows this to a tee.  We get to witness the rebirth and growth of Dr. Ryan Stone and the film adds in so much beautiful symbolism and wonderful story symmetry that it’s hard not to get caught up in the cyclical nature of the film. I want to go a little more in depth with this but it’ll feature a lot of spoilers so if you haven’t seen the movie please skip the next few paragraphs.

Story Spoilers

We learn in the film that Dr. Stone tragically lost a child after an innocent playground accident. She’s alone and unable to move forward from this event and her life has been greatly impacted by this ever since. This theme of loss and facing death, as well as letting go and moving forward, is so wonderfully depicted in this film. When we first meet Dr. Stone she is timid, awkward, nervous and easily frightened by the space walk. When the debris crashes into the shuttle she is flung into orbit and violently sent spinning out of control without being able to stabilize herself. This Dr. Stone gives in and panics while easily accepting her death. However, Kowalski eventually rescues her and the two embark on a journey to get home. Through small talk Kowalski learns of her child’s death and begins to comfort her and advise her on the importance of living life to the fullest even after dark times.

Through the course of the movie we watch Dr. Stone undergo change, eventually losing Dr. Kowalski and having to fight for herself. There’s a scene in particular where Dr. Stone finally makes it to ISS where we get to see her symbolically shed all her emotional baggage (her space suite) and watch her rebirth into a Dr. Stone that is now able to remain calm and alert, let go, and focused on getting home. It’s little symbolic moments like these that make the film so visually and narratively rewarding. I could go on and on about this but I’ll leave it up to you to discover. It’s seriously wonderfully done.

End Major Spoilers

I’ve got admit going into this film I was a bit worried about the inclusion of Sandra Bullock. Though I never doubted her talent wise, she seemed to stick out with the tone of the movie. I’m happy that I’m eating crow here because Sandra Bullock’s performance is simply perfect. George Clooney is wonderful as well, and easily plays the smooth and ever calm Kowalski. The two work great together and are able to deliver some humorous banter despite the heavy setting.

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Visually the movie is outstanding and is accompanied by a wonderful score. The incredible long takes are truly awe-inspiring and offers some intense moments of dread. The decision to omit audible explosions and sound in space is greatly appreciated and the film is able to play on this. There’s a scene in particular with Dr. Stone letting out frustration by screaming and pounding on control panel. The scene is very moving and very chaotic and when the film cuts to outside the shuttle everything is quite again and the contrast is moving. This continued use of minimal score and sound helps to enhance the feeling of being in space. These little details all culminate into a truly masterful film and are able to deliver an experience that is truly breathtaking.

I’m very hard pressed to find any negatives that aren’t more than being nit picky. The main focus on Dr. Stone leaves little room for any other characterization, but it’s understandable. This lack of characterization does make some moments of the film a tiny bit overdramatic as well. The film also tends to overstate its lessons and it feels a little heavy handed. Finally the dialogue can be a bit cheesy but it’s a fine border between cheesy and funny so for the most part it works. Plain and simple I love Gravity. There are few movies that are able to deliver an experience like this and it’s worth every second.

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At its core Gravity is a wonderfully tense sci-fi thriller. The feeling of isolation is incredibly overwhelming and the long takes in space are truly breathtaking. Visually the film is outstanding and is one of the rare films that is enhanced by 3D. The minimum use of score and sound enhances the feeling of being stranded in space and the movie is able to play on this wonderfully. The film is story telling at its finest and makes wonderful use of beautiful symbolism and narrative symmetry. Dr. Ryan Stone is the movie’s main focus and watching her rebirth and character transformation is an incredibly wonderful experience. Gravity is a masterful film and easily one of the best to come out of 2013.

Interested in writing reviews or news posts for Thinking Cinematic? Contact me at ThinkCinematicReviews@gmail.com! You can also send your guest reviews there too!

Connect with me at:
Twitter: @Treyrs20o9
Twitter: @Think_Cinematic
Email: ThinkCinematicReviews@Gmail.com

Prisoners


Summary:

Dark, captivating, and frightening, Prisoners is an experience worth seeing. Prisoners features a religious subtext that does a great job of being present without being overtly in your face. Hugh Jackman’s performance as Keller Dover is incredibly powerful and flips between disturbing and sympathetic. The anguish he feels over the loss of his child is wonderfully portrayed on screen and the road it takes us on is dark and twisted. Aside from Jackman’s and Gyllenhaal’s characters the rest of the cast feels like an afterthought and aren’t given fleshed out characters to work with. It may not be perfectly woven but there’s enough there to maintain investment and keep the audience glued to the screen. It’s definitely a performance driven film and on that alone it succeeds as a highly entertaining movie.

I’ve had my eye on Prisoners for quite a while. Although crime thrillers generally tend to follow a predictable pattern, Prisoners came out swinging with some pretty intense performance in just the trailer alone. Now having seen the movie I can say that Prisoners is definitely an entertaining movie and a much-welcomed treat in this otherwise dry spell at the theaters. Dark, captivating, and frightening, Prisoners is an experience worth seeing.

Prisoners Theatrical poster

When the daughter of Keller Dover goes missing, the devout family man is forced to do what ever is necessary to bring his daughter back. Feeling the cops are limited in their power, Dover takes matters into his own hands and begins following his own leads. With the pressure mounting and precious time passing, Keller Dover discovers just how far he’s willing to go to protect his family.

There’s a lot to appreciate here, but I’m going to start off with the negatives just to get it out of the way first. My biggest complaint with Prisoners is the lack of characterization for most of the characters, especially given the two and half hour run time. The movie feels so deeply focused on Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), and Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) that the rest of the cast feels like an afterthought. Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) and his family are hardly used, despite having the great potential to serve as contrast to Keller Dover and his approach to finding his daughter. Even the Dover family is hardly touched on aside from a few scenes with a depressed bed ridden Grace Dover (Maria Bello). The families’ reactions feel so glossed over that I felt like we never really got the chance to know these characters. Even Detective Loki , despite a fantastic performance by Gyllenhaal, leaves something to be desired. The movie hints at his past career but we are never given anything substantial to chew on.

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Now the end of the film isn’t a negative aspect but I feel like it’ll be a very controversial ending, especially given the audience’s reaction in my theater. The film places the ending on the audience to fill in the gaps for themselves. For the most part it’ll work if you’re a bit forgiving but I feel as though the religious subtext and character progression needed to be handled a bit smoother for us to buy into the ending. Now it’s hard to go over this without potentially giving away spoilers so for the cautious I suggest skipping over the next two paragraph. The first will be discussed in vague terms but the second will be full blown spoilers.

Prisoners features a religious subtext that does a great job of being present without being overtly in your face. The morally ambiguous decisions Keller faces conflicts with his religious beliefs and he must choose how far he’s willing to go to save his daughter. By the end of the film though not everything is wrapped up nicely and it’s left up to the viewer to fill in the gaps that it seems that the writers weren’t too sure how to fill in themselves. The question is then left in the audience’s hands to decide whether or not Keller had gone too far and if redemption is possible. The ultimate question here though is asking what would you do in Keller’s position? It’s definitely something to chew on and I normally enjoy ambiguous endings like these but in Prisoner’s case I feel like this could have been handled a little better. Although I applaud the subtext for not being cumbersome, I do feel that the film glosses over the stripping of Keller’s religious beliefs in a speedy fashion. I think given the time to show Keller’s transition would have helped to have guided the ending a little better and left a more satisfied response from the audience.

Major Story Spoilers

And if you delve even further into the spoilers the ending comes up somewhat hollow. We eventually learn that the kidnapper’s motives are due to a personal war against God. After losing their own child they kidnap and murder other children to force parents to lose their faith and turn into demons like them. Now, the ending of the film finds Keller trapped in the kidnapper’s secret bunker. The children have been found but Keller’s whereabouts remains unknown. The final scene ends with Detective Loki at the crime scene with an excavation crew digging around for more evidence. As they’re leaving Loki believes to hear a whistle being blown by Keller from underground, but isn’t entirely sure. He begins to leave and he hears the whistle one last time before the film cuts to black. To me this feels hollow because if we are to believe that Keller never makes it out of the bunker then he never realizes that his daughter is safe and has been found. However, if we are to believe that he is found and then reunited with his daughter it seems as though the kidnapper’s war with god is a victory given all that Keller has done, legal repercussions aside that is. Again this is the question that the film asks of you but I feel like the choices we are given in this this choose your own adventure story feels like it messes with the film thematically.

End Major Story Spoilers.

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Now that being said, Prisoners still manages to overcome these obstacles based on performances alone. Even with thin characters the actors bring together an authenticity to them that would otherwise not be felt. Hugh Jackman’s performance as Keller Dover is incredibly powerful and flips between disturbing and sympathetic. The anguish he feels over the loss of his child is wonderfully portrayed on screen and the road it takes us on is dark and twisted. Jake Gyllenhaal also gives us a wonderful performance alongside Jackman. Gyllenhaal brings an ever-building frustration to his performance that depicts his turmoil between abiding by the law and stopping at nothing to find these girls. It allows for some intense explosions of anger and the performance is outstanding.  Finally, Paul Dano’s performance is absolutely stunning and brings so much to the screen while saying so little. His performance is creepy, saddening, and overall captivating. I couldn’t help but feel both sorry for and disturbed by Dano anytime he was on screen.

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The film itself is beautifully shot in a gloomy way and captures the looming feeling of dread. There’s a constant state of despair throughout the movie and it allows for some truly frightening moments. Although not necessarily a horror movie, there are scenes in the film that completely caught me off guard and had me jumping in my seat. The film threads the story along wonderfully and watching everything tie together at the end is enjoyable. It may not be perfectly woven but there’s enough there to maintain investment and keep the audience glued to the screen.  When Prisoner’s only fault is wanting to know more about the characters then it’s definitely a good problem to have. It’s definitely a performance driven film and on that alone it succeeds as a highly entertaining movie.

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Dark, captivating, and frightening, Prisoners is an experience worth seeing. Prisoners features a religious subtext that does a great job of being present without being overtly in your face. Hugh Jackman’s performance as Keller Dover is incredibly powerful and flips between disturbing and sympathetic. The anguish he feels over the loss of his child is wonderfully portrayed on screen and the road it takes us on is dark and twisted. Aside from Jackman’s and Gyllenhaal’s characters the rest of the cast feels like an afterthought and aren’t given fleshed out characters to work with. It may not be perfectly woven but there’s enough there to maintain investment and keep the audience glued to the screen. It’s definitely a performance driven film and on that alone it succeeds as a highly entertaining movie.

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