REVIEW: Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)

In the year 2027 the world’s biggest celebrity is also the world’s youngest person… and he’s 18. The women of earth have been infertile since 2009 and humanity has descended into a form of organized chaos. Enter Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a relatable chap who lost his own son years ago, living in a proud yet hectic Britain. He’s about to be caught up in the secret center of this global dilemma through a group led by his former wife. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine (who I never thought I'd hear say "pull my finger") join some relatively fresh faces for Alfonso Cuaron’s adaptation of Phyllis Dorothy James’ novel.

My expectations were kept low simply because the premise sounded too good to be true. Author James has found a way to plunge modern day society into a situation where we are forced to look at the nuts and bolts of reality while also scoping out the bigger picture rather than doggy-paddle through our convoluted environment of wishy-washy falsehoods and shove our heads further up our own asses. Cuaron handles the proceedings in an ultimately realistic fashion that strongly echoes the stubbornly simple vibes of other recent realism-revolution indies. That realism makes for a film-going experience that feels mostly unique now but may become victim to over saturation if the style flux continues. What it does provide to massive success is a tense existence in which anything feasible can happen without warning - an existence that I would imagine is fairly similar to present-day Baghdad.

The entire art team, from costumes to set decoration etc, did a stellar job bringing this pre-apocalyptic world to life with intricate detail. It’s so wonderful to see a film, particularly one of the sci-fi strain, whose crew has thoroughly thought through the probable environmental and technological evolution of humanity so that the final product can reflect a future that actually makes sense. There were also some nice nods to classic and modern art masterpieces, including Pink Floyd's Animals album.

The soundtrack featured a variety of musical genres with songs from some lesser known artists. Most notable among them was the groovy, forgotten and very appropriately placed "Bring On The Lucie" by John Lennon. Also, and I’m putting this here because I’m not going to try to build it into a separate paragraph, the screenwriting team avoided exposition in most every way. Sure, there were a few moments of the hackneyed okay-we-only-have-2-hours-to-tell-this-story syndrome but aside from that we didn’t have any sidekick characters narrating the action for us as if we were trained wallet-monkeys who aren’t capable of understanding visual themes and story progression.

As I mentioned above, I was worried that Children of Men’s premise was too good to be true. I didn’t think the conclusion would do justice to the initial idea and that it might even run the risk of becoming cheesy. I was thankfully proven incorrect in my doubts - this film holds up very well and should be seen by everyone. In an odd way, considering its fanciful nature, it’s eye-opening. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a new film and left the theater with a humbled and/or enlightened feeling.


QUICKIE: Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2007)

The desperately contemplative Don Johnston (Bill Murray) is haunted by his nickname, Don Juan. As his current girlfriend (Julie Delpy) leaves him, a mysterious letter arrives in the mail, announcing that he has a son. With the insistent help of his neighboor (Jeffrey Wright), he will visit every woman who could potentially be the letter's author. A variety of undeservedly lesser-known actresses (Tilda Swinton, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy and Sharon Stone), Christopher McDonald, Pell James and Chloe Sevigny among others come together to give flavor to this proud, independent film.
At first, I felt like I was watching someone play The Sims. Character goes here, character performs action. Character goes there, character performs action. Things did start to pick up as the simple storyline moved along, however, and I found myself sufficiently entertained. Jarmusch, with the help of Murray's deathly sober acting, made me laugh at reality. It's always nice to see a film that relies very little on the improbable (even when dealing with the most trivial of matters) and presents life as it actually, probably is.

For being my first Jarmusch film, I didn't notice anything eclectic or outstanding about the filmmaking, but there was one quality in the film's structure that I found intriguing - Rather than spend too much time developing the multitude of characters, Jarmusch instead leaves it up to the audience's own experience to discern how they feel about each new person by relying heavily on the exteriors (and occasionally interiors) of their homes.

Having been released in a very recent age when the 'indie' was overly 'in', Broken Flowers finds its own footing and provides a unique film experience. If you've got a slow evening ahead and want to watch something that's calm yet retains a good entertainment value, check it out!

REVIEW: Miami Vice (Michael Mann, 2006)

In 1984 a television show hit the idiot-box airwaves and proved successful for its six-year run. Miami Vice, starring Don Johnson as "Sonny" Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas as "Rico" Tubbs gets a shot of millenium adrenaline in Michael Mann's 2006 cinematic revamp, replacing the leads with Colin Farrell and Mann vet Jamie Foxx, respectively. Mann served as an executive producer on the original series and even wrote on episode (Golden Triangle: Part 2) so it would seem fitting that his innovative digital approach that was introduced in 2004's powerhouse Collateral would be perfectly suited for this re-imagining. Gong Li, Ciaran Hinds, John Hawkes, Barry Shabaka Henley, Luis Tosar, Tom Towles and John Ortiz join the cast.
I was highly anticipating this one and while it was completely different from what I expected (basically a more action packed version of the already ruthless Collateral) it still delivered plenty of very powerful stuff. The somber first two-thirds are slow-paced and this is where the film meets with most of its opposition. I felt that the character and storyline development was expertly handled, however, and once it gets to the final third it pays off big-time, proving the full experience entirely worthwhile.

Mann's use of digital cinematography is more subtle in this outing, creating a less experimental mood throughout. His exploration of South Florida and its underground drug cartel is enticing, particularly for someone like myself who has lived there for several years without learning much about the illegal trafficking.

Farrell and Foxx are sure to meet with criticism simply because they aren't given as much to do as one might expect from two lead heroes, but they play the stoic badasses effectively. The supporting cast is equally effective, featuring many budding stars (I.E. Hawkes, Ortiz, Li).

The soundtrack features some excellent songs such as One Of These Mornings by Moby with Patti LaBelle and Nonpoint's cover of Phil Colins' In The Air Tonight, executed to perfection alongside John Murphy's original score.

So while you may have heard that this is a mostly forgettable and overrated flick, I beg to drastically differ. It's a mature piece intended for adults - check it out and decide for yourself!