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Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

"On the other side of this mirror is Mr Gray's red room."

“On the other side of this mirror is Mr Gray’s red room.”

For 40 years James Bond ruled the spy genre until the franchise was rebooted. Part of the reason–Austin Powers. Mike Myers satirized nearly every spy film convention in the book with his ‘International Man of Mystery.’ Enter Daniel Craig and a more “grittier” and “realistic” Bond. If Austin Powers was the satirical commentary to the first 40 years of Bond, then Kingsman: The Secret Service is the Austin Powers to the next generation of Bond films.

Kingsman stars Colin Firth as Galahad, one of the top agents in Kingsman, a private intelligence organization not beholden to any government. Early in the film the Kingsman, looking to fill an opening in their ranks, put a set of recruits through a series to test to see if any of them have what it takes to be the next Kingsman. One of the recruits is Eggsy, British newcomer Taron Egerton, whose character shows a lot of promise, but is undisciplined and rough around the edges. Overshadowing the initiation of these would be future Kingsman is the maniacal world dominating plans of tech mogul Valentine, played ever so colorfully by Samuel L. Jackson.

Where does he get those wonderful suits?

Where does he get those wonderful suits?

As a film Kingsman hits the sweet spot between realistic spy movie and satirical comedy. Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) melds his comedic and action oriented sensibilities into a spy film that is fun, action packed, damn funny, but also not so silly where it’s completely bonkers and unbelievable. Yes, it mocks the old Bond with those tropes that caused the aforementioned reboot (lighters that are grenades and umbrellas that shoot a myriad of projectiles). At the end of the day, Kingsman is smarter than that. It knows what kind of movie it’s trying to be and revels in it.

One of the things I love is the meta-ness of the film. At several points both Galahad and Valentine make reference to spy movies as if they’re not in one. The exchange is fun because they’re talking around typical spy movie tropes and how they won’t fall into them. You know them: the villain telling the captured spy his plans, the civil banter between adversaries who both know the real identity of the other. Call me a movie geek, but I ate all of that up.

"English . . . do you speak it?"

“English . . . do you speak it?”

Speaking of Valentine, he is definitely one of the highlights of the film. Samuel L Jackson has played many roles throughout his career; many of them good, many bad. Valentine has to be in the top 10. It’s not that he’s the most evil character Jackson has played that makes him such a good villain. It is more of his unique sense of embodying madness that makes him such a great bad guy. Granted, his character is portrayed as a genius and the richest man in the world so that attitude is warranted; but his simplistic reasoning plays right into his megalomania. The icing on the cake has to be the lisp that Valentine has. Usually something like this would be really gimmicky. Thankfully Jackson has some good direction supported by great dialogue that makes speaking with the lisp not so overdone. Save for not being too strong of a guy (and a fear of blood), Valentine is a pretty unique villain.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Valentine’s left hand woman and bodyguard, Gazelle. In classic Bond henchmen fashion, Gazelle lives up to her name because she has prosthetic blades for legs. But, the twist here is that they’re actual blades…Like sharp blades that can slice things. In one of the early scenes in the film Gazelle kills a man by literally slicing him in two. While totally implausible (and in some instances even a little corny), within the context of the film combined with the way her character is presented, you buy in to the fact that she is one badass chick. 

Just keep swimin'.

Just keep swimin’.

An aspect of the film that keeps things fresh is the initiation process that Kingsman puts their potential recruits through. Rather than train them, they test them by giving them real challenges that show what kind of people they really are. In one of their first tests, the recruits’ sleeping quarters quickly fills up with water. While this challenge not only tests how they react under pressure as well as their survival skills, the ultimate lesson they need to learn is that in order to be a Kingsman, they need to learn how to work as a team. After each test, someone is dropped from the program and as the film progresses, so does the degree of difficulty of their challenges. While their teamwork is tested time and again, other aspects of being a spy are tested as well: how they act under duress, can they pull the trigger when they need to, can they overcome their most basic fears. While in some instances the results of the trials are a little predictable, they’re still fun and intense nonetheless.

Should you find yourself watching Kingsman this weekend, just know this, you’re going to see a very fun, action-oriented, smart, and hilarious spy movie. Just the cheekiness of the characters had me laughing and fully invested. I guess that’s what I appreciated most about the film, the characters are all very well written and very well spoken. Never at any point did I think the film went over the top. While a lot of the situations in the film are unbelievable that isn’t the point. It’s not realistic, it’s fun. We have Daniel Craig and the new James Bond if we want a “real” and “gritty” spy movie. For a fun movie that pokes fun at the spy genre, we have Kingsman.

Cinematic Scene: Are we going to fight?

“Cinematic Scene” is an effort to bring to light some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film. This more technical analysis of the film lives at the end of each review as a way to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should pay attention to.

What really sets the tone for the film is this scene where Galahad dispatches a group of thugs in a pub who have been tormenting Eggsy. If you’ve seen the trailer then you know which scene I’m referring to. It’s the one where Colin Firth flips a switch and takes down this group of thugs. The scene is very well choreographed to be sure, but the editing and the way the camera moves around the room to follow the action really keeps you in the moment and gives the impression that Galahad’s actions are as equally calculated as the camera movements. Yes, we know from the onset Galahad is going to take care of them–it’s the fight sequence itself and the way Galahad weaves through the fight that make the scene mesmerizing to watch.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is now playing in theaters everywhere.

4.5/5 stars // rated R // 2hr 9min


Most Anticipated Films of 2014 (That Have Yet to Come Out)

“Do you have eyes on this?” Bradley Cooper scopes out the last crop of films from last year that you haven’t had a chance to see yet.

“Do you have eyes on this?” Bradley Cooper scopes out the last crop of films from 2014 year that you haven’t had a chance to see yet.

Critics nationwide came out with their ‘Best of 2014’ lists all last month. Even friends of the Project, Anderson Le with HIFF and Myong Choi of Frolic, posted their favorite films of 2014. As such is life in Hawaii, we’re not done with 2014 movies just yet. While the big studio films have all come out, there are still a number of smaller, independent features that have yet to make their way onto Hawaii screens.

And this is the reason why I’m not yet ready to close the book on 2014. We’ve still got so much more movies to watch! I mean really, what do we have to look forward to in January? Liam Neeson’s very particular set of skills for a third time (Taken 3)? Hell, even Hollywood doesn’t come out with their ‘Best of’ list for another seven weeks (the Oscars are on February 22). So, read up on what’s still coming down the pike for 2014 and try to check some of these films out in the cold dark winter for the multiplex that is the month of January.



With Dr Martin Luther King Jr Day right around the corner, it’s no coincidence that the Dr King biopic, Selma expands nationwide this week after it’s limited release in select cities on December 25th. Selma is a chronicle of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. David Oyelowo (Interstellar, Jack Reacher) is receiving a ton of accolades for his performance as Dr. King and is being heavily talked about as an Oscar nominee. Same goes for director Ava DuVernay who is garnering acclaim for craftsmanship of an amazing film that’s getting Best Picture buzz.

Website // Trailer
Release in Hawaii: Friday, January 9th

Inherent Vice


If high brow art house is for you, then Inherent Vice is right up your alley. Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon, Vice is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, The Master). I’m not really that much of a fan of PT Anderson, but critics seem to eat up his films every time they come out. Boogie Nights is the film I enjoy most from him, but his last film The Master definitely left me scratching my head. A lot of early reviews of Vice I’ve read say the film is very well shot and very well put together, but a bit confusing if you haven’t read the book. And then there’s Joaquin Phoenix. The usually stalwart actor’s performance in Vice hasn’t generated any talk for Oscar.

Website // Trailer
Release in Hawaii: Friday, January 9th

A Most Violent Year


I first heard about A Most Violent Year near the beginning of the festival season back in September. Year is the third feature film from director J.C. Chandor, whose first film Margin Call was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and whose second feature All is Lost garnered a lot of critical acclaim, most notably for Robert Redford’s solo (and for the most part speechless) performance in the film. With a lot of clout generated from his first two films, I’m definitely interested to see what Chandor has cooked up for his third go around. In Year, Chandor is working with acting power houses Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis, Drive) and Jessica Chastain (Interstellar, Zero Dark Thirty) and focuses on a couple in 1981 New York City who try to protect their business and family during the most dangerous year in the city’s history.

Website // Trailer
Expands Nationwide: Friday, January 30th



I literally knew nothing about Cake until it started popping up on Top 10 lists and projected Oscar contenders in early December. The reason . . . a lot of critics say that Jennifer Aniston’s performance in the film is Oscar worthy. The way her performance is being described is enough for me to want to check out the film. Luckily, the film also stars Anna Kendrick, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macey, and Sam Worthington–a pretty solid cast to round out a small independent drama and definitely not a bad option to check out late in the month.

Website // Trailer
Expands Nationwide: Friday, January 23rd

American Sniper


And finally, the movie everyone was asking me about during Christmas . . . American Sniper. A lot of people are excited for this film and if you’ve seen the first trailer for the film, then you already know how tense of a film this will be. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and check it out. You’ll definitely get sucked in by the trailer alone. Not only does the film look great, but Bradley Cooper is generating some buzz for his performance in the film and Clint Eastwood is also getting some attention for his direction. Thankfully, we won’t have too much longer to wait.

Website // Trailer
Expands Nationwide: Friday, January 16th


January isn’t just a cold dark time in winter, it’s also a cold dark time in the multiplexes as Hollywood waits for the stars to align to release their next big tentpole. With that in mind it’s also the perfect time to catch up on these films from 2014 that have yet to be released as well as other great films from last year that you still like to catch up with. For myself, you can add Only Lovers Left Alive, Nightcrawler, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Laggies, and Beyond the Lights as films from 2014 that I still need to catch up with.

2014 over with? Hardly. Preparation for your Oscar ballot starts now!

What films from last year do you still have to catch up with?


HIFF 2014: Revenge of the Green Dragons

Kev Jumba wields a box cutter. Man behind him is not impressed.

Kev Jumba wields a box cutter. Man behind him is not impressed.

One of the main problems with the gangster flick Revenge of the Green Dragons is the casting. Harry Shum Jr. from Glee as the godfather of Chinatown, New York in the 1980s?  Pfft. I’M more threatening than him and I stand at 5’2” on a good day with asthma. Justin Chon, a gloriously lively actor from 21 and Over , plays an immigrant who grows up within this criminal netherworld, but he was eventually reduced to screaming while pointing a gun and crying with extreme spittle throughout most of the film.

The real impressive performance actually came from Kevin Wa, also known as the hilarious YouTube sensation Kev Jumba. He’s the funny guy getting into Internet shenanigans with Ryan Higa and he’s absolutely, and threateningly, riveting here as Chon’s BFF who is also a loose cannon with a potty-mouth temper and an itchy trigger finger.

"That was my role on Glee."

“That was my role on Glee.”

In the end, even with the experience behind the directing team of Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo, the whole film felt like a production by a bunch of impressionable film school students who decided to do an Asian gangster movie.

There’s already a similar take on the subject in production, starring Lucy Liu as the Snakehead, the woman responsible for bringing in the Chinese illegal immigrants who become all of these gangsters; so as the characters tell each other throughout Revenge of the Green Dragons, karmically, what goes around, comes around.

There’s another HIFF screening for the film today (Wednesday 11/5) at 8:30pm at Dole Cannery. It may be an imperfect piece, but for Asian gangster flick fans or YouTube groupies, it’s worth it for the amazing Kevin Wa performance.


HIFF 2014: What We Do in the Shadows

The flat of vampires in What We Do in the Shadows.

The flat of vampires in What We Do in the Shadows.

It seems like only yesterday when vampires were all the rage with Edward, Bella, and Jacob running around in those Twilight movies. With them and True Blood gone, it does leave sort of a void for someone to step in and do something with the vampire genre. Enter New Zealand writer/director/actor Taika Waititi (Boy) and his latest film, What We Do in the Shadows.

Shadows is a vampire comedy filmed documentary style where cameras follow the subjects and then intersperses that with footage of the subjects being interviewed–the same format that was made popular by Modern Family. The “documentary” follows a flat of vampires that live in Wellington, New Zealand and the trials and tribulations that ensue.

Believe me when I say that Twilight this ain’t. Waititi and frequent cohort Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, MIB 3) lampoon the standard tropes of vampirism through low budget special effects and by showing the audience how ‘real life’ vampires would react in everyday situations. If there was a way I could best describe it, it would be like Interview with a Vampire meets Seinfeld.

Taika Waititi as Viago

Taika Waititi as Viago

The film depicts how these particular vampires have to deal with everything from mundane tasks such as washing the dishes and going out clubbing to the finer details of vampirism such as dealing with werewolves, learning how to fly, and keeping a low profile. Each endeavor depicted presents it’s own set of challenges as the guys have to balance practical reasoning with their own sensibilities and baggage. This is perfectly illustrated in one scene where the guys get dressed up for a night out on the town, but since they can’t see their reflections in mirrors, have to rely on each other for fashion guidance. Compounding their situation, since all of them are over 200 years old, their dated fashion sense is pointed out by the youngest member of the group.

While the everyday situations that the group faces are funny in and of themselves, it’s probably the low budget special effects that makes the film stand out and really adds some charm. From rising out of a coffin, to turning into bats, to flying; anytime special effects are employed you can totally tell they’re effects; but that’s part of the fun of Shadows–it’s in on the same joke that the audience is laughing at when it comes to effects.

You won’t be disappointed by taking in What We Do in the Shadows, in fact, you might just see one of the best films at this year’s Hawaii International Film Festival. A vampire comedy? Who knew right?

The second and final showing of What We Do in the Shadows screens today, November 4, 2014 at 8:45pm. Director Taika Waititi was on hand to intro the film and conduct a Q&A at the first screening and we hear that his co-director Jermaine Clement will be joining him at the second screening.


Review: What If

Daniel Radcliffe bets he had some of that Harry Potter love potion right about now.

Daniel Radcliffe bets he had some of that Harry Potter love potion right about now.

How many guys (or girls) have faced the dilemma posed as the central conceit of What If: Can a guy and a girl just be friends without feelings/relationship/desire/sex getting in the way? It’s an interesting question and I’m sure at the very least someone you know has probably experienced the uncomfortable situation of being friends with a member of the opposite sex in the hopes that they can make the jump from friend to ‘something more’.

What If gives us Daniel Radcliffe, the grown up Harry Potter himself playing Wallace, a med-school dropout and relationship recovering 20-something living in Toronto. Still trying to get over his last relationship from a year ago, he happens to meet Chantry played by Zoe Kazan–a down to earth manic pixie dream girl who he has an instant connection with and who brightens up an otherwise dull party. After enjoying a wonderful evening of conversation and even walking Chantry home, she drops the bomb on him . . . she has a boyfriend but still wants to be friends with him. Awesome right? Dumbstruck and not really sure of what to make of the situation, Wallace talks himself into the friendship as having some sort of relationship with her is still better than nothing.

But that's what a good friend likes to do . . . watch you while you sleep.

But that’s what a good friend likes to do . . . watch you while you sleep.

What I like about the movie is that it feels pretty authentic how Wallace tries to navigate his friendship with Chantry. The role of being the good friend, the behind the scenes silent anguish, the rationalizing of it all; a lot of what Wallace goes through is exactly what happens when you’re in that type of situation. He wants to get his feelings out, but because of the complexity of the situation, he fears that once he does, he could lose everything.

The chemistry between Kazan and Radcliffe have between their characters quite good. Kazan plays Chantry as sort of a free spirit type, but a bit more reliable and reasonable as she’s always trying to make everything work (her job, relationship, friendship). Radcliffe on the opposite side is loveable and affable in his portrayal of Wallace. Their characters are obviously awkward at first, but as the film goes on and their friendship (and feelings) start to grow, you do see them as this cohesive unit and begin to wonder, “Why don’t they just get together?” If there’s one knock against them, it’s that their characters definitely feel like characters from an indie rom-com as they have a lot of weird and random banter between each other; more than I felt would happen in real life.

You're friend-zoning me? Seriously?

You’re friend-zoning me? Seriously?

Since it’s a rom-com, we’re obviously heading towards some sort of conflict where feelings come out, people are hurt and/or are mad, and we end up with a rift between the guy and the girl. While I won’t give anything away, I did feel the way both characters handled the confrontation was fairly reasonable (up to a point) and felt pretty authentic, unlike studio rom-coms where the girl has unbelievably high expectations or where a misunderstanding is blown WAY out of proportion. In these movies I also feel that someone has to be a dick since if there’s a love triangle, the third wheel is usually sacrificed so that the main characters can get together. What If handles both of these hurdles pretty well and I left the theater feeling pretty upbeat about where Chantry and Wallace ended up and how they got there.

With summer winding down and movie-date night options being really scarce, What If fills that void by being a rom-com that’s fairly realistic and isn’t melodramatic. I’m sure guys won’t be clamoring to see it, but they can take comfort in the fact that What If rises above the rest in the genre. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s cute; and you could do far worse seeing something else this weekend.

What If expands this weekend and can be seen at Consolidated Kahala 8, Consolidated Ko’olau Stadium 10, and Regal Dole Cannery 18.

3.5/5 stars // rated PG-13 // 1hr 42min


Don’t Let the Honoka’a People’s Theatre Go Dark!

The grand dame of Honoka'a.

The grand dame of Honoka’a.

Here on Oahu we’re fortunate enough to have a number of different theaters to choose from when we want to go to the movies. As the years have gone on, cinema and the movie going experience has changed and theaters have had to struggle to keep up or face going out of business. The biggest success story is probably our very own Consolidated Theatres which boasts nearly 100 years of “Entertaining Hawaii.” However, many of the small and community based movie houses that were quite prevalent 40-50 years ago have nearly all disappeared (more here).

On the Big Island, one of these small town movie houses is still in existence and to this very day and still provides an awesome cinema experience and public service for its community. The grand dame of Honoka’a, The Honoka’a People’s Theatre, was built in in 1930 and since then has been creating a unique cinema experience for the community for 84 years. On-going renovations since the 90s have diversified the theatre’s use and it has also become a renowned venue for live performances. Here’s a bit more info on the Honoka’a People’s Theatre from their website:

The People’s Theatre is the largest theatre on Hawaii Island, with 525 seating capacity and a large 50 foot screen. The theatre has a DTS surround sound system, 35 mm and digital film projectors, a 50 ft stage, dance floor, 30 stage lights, 4 roving scanner lights, two side balconies, dressing rooms, basic live PA, and a grand piano. The lobby hosts a concession stand, dining area, and ticket booth. Available upstairs for performers during large events is a greenroom area with a kitchen and lounge area.

The People's Theatre back in the day.

The People’s Theatre back in the day.

Though the Honoka’a People’s Theatre has managed to stay open, they are currently facing the same issue that many small mom and pop and single screen community theaters across the country have faced in recent years: digital conversion. With film prints almost entirely phased out by the big studios (Disney, Fox, Sony, Warner Bros, Paramount) theaters have had to convert to digital projectors or face shutting down. While the People’s Theatre may not shut down, they’ll definitely lose a big chunk of their history if they are unable to continue to show movies.

Currently the Honoka’a People’s Theatre is hosting a number of fund raising events in an effort to raise the $60,000 they need to secure a DCI-compliant digital projector. Along with these events, they have also created a campaign on Kickstarter to help those that want to donate. As of this posting they are about $22,000 away from reaching their goal with five weeks left to go.

Inside the theatre with a view of the screen, stage, and some of the 525 seats the theatre holds.

The interior of the theatre as it appears today with a view of the screen, stage, and some of its 525 seats.

The Red Band Project was fortunate enough to visit the Honoka’a People’s Theatre earlier this summer, and though we weren’t able to take in a show, we did get feel for how “grand” the grand dame of Honoka’a is. As lovers of movies and the cinema experience, the Red Band Project has already backed the Kickstarter campaign and now we put it out there for you to donate. Though you may never set foot in the Honoka’a People’s Theatre, please consider donating (even a small amount) as unique cinema experiences such as this are hard to come by these days, especially in Hawaii.

For more information about the Honoka’a People’s Theatre, check out their website or Facebook page. For more on the history and personal recollections of the theatre, see the piece written for Hana Hou magazine. If you’d like to donate to their fundraising efforts, head over to their Kickstarter page and leave a few bucks for a good cause!

See their Kickstarter video below:


Review: Life Itself

Renowned film critic Roger Ebert is front and center in the documentary Life Itself.

Renowned film critic Roger Ebert is front and center in the documentary Life Itself.

When film critic Roger Ebert passed away last year I’ll be honest . . . I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until I started reading some of the many remembrances and tributes that I really got the sense of how big of a deal this guy was. Yeah sure he had that movie review show back in the day and the man did help coin the most recognizable rating system in the world, but outside of that I never really knew who he was or what made him so great.

Did I ever read him? No. Do I have aspirations to be like him? No. Then why the interest in watching a documentary about him? Since his passing I’ve read up on some of his work and I’ve come to better understand who he was and why he meant a lot to the film community. He helped turned film criticism into something that was legitimate, something that people read and respected, and had the forum to reach a lot of people and talk to them about film. He was knowledgeable, eloquent, and wrote with a voice that was quite unique. In the end, watching Life Itself is something that I felt I just needed to do in order to continue calling myself a movie lover.

Going into my viewing of Life Itself there were only a handful of things that I knew about Roger Ebert. There are the basics of course: he had the first tv film criticism show Siskel & Ebert with Gene Siskel, he was from Chicago and worked for the Chicago Sun-Times, he was husband to Chaz, and that he had lost the use of his voice due to cancer. While this knowledge base is probably more than most people know of him, Life Itself examines many other facets of his life and really dives into the things people knew most about him.

Roger with wife Chaz on the night of their wedding.

Roger with wife Chaz on the night of their wedding.

The film is broken up into three parts: his early life and his rise to being a film critic, the years of working with Siskel and Ebert colleague Gene Siskel, and his final years after the loss of his voice. Clocking in at two hours, the film gives you more of a look at Ebert’s life than you would expect. Documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters) leads us through the usual steps in Ebert’s life, interviewing friends, family, colleagues, and other film related acquaintances along the way. Probably most heartfelt are the scenes of Ebert shot while in the hospital or in rehab as we get to see him at moments where he appears worn down and is a far cry from the critic that we knew him as on his tv show.

While a lot of the info from his early life that sets up his rise to being the consummate film critic as well as his more recent medical troubles was all very interesting; it was probably the portion that focused on his relationship with Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune that was the most fascinating to watch. I had heard somewhere that they bucked heads a lot, but I didn’t realize to what extent until this documentary. Here you have two men, very knowledgeable, both very self assured, and both with strong viewpoints; opposing each other on many different occasions. How could the most recognizable film criticism show in the world happen with two men that were almost always at odds with one another? The answer . . . film.

Gene Siskel and Roger debate the merits of film on At the Movies.

Gene Siskel and Roger debate the merits of film on At the Movies.

From practical jokes on one another, to trying to out scoop each other covering the world of cinema, to taking pot shots at each other while filming the show; the sense that you get from the film is that these two men tolerated each other because they always wanted to be the best and the other guy was alway there to challenge them. Probably the most disheartening thing in the film is that both of these men didn’t realize the unlikely friendship (yes, friendship) they had until it was too late for both of them.

To kind of put a bow on the whole thing, Life Itself isn’t for everyone. It’s a documentary first so if you’re looking for fiction then this definitely isn’t for you. As for the subject matter itself–I found much of it engrossing. But then again, I love movies and I like talking about them so Life Itself is definitely in my wheelhouse. And that’s the kind of the demographic this film is for, for those that really love film culture. With just about a two hour runtime, it will probably wear on the average movie watcher. If you’re in the target demographic with me, then get your popcorn and be prepared for a film that I give two thumbs up.

Cinematic Scene: Tube Cleaning

With documentaries being rather straightforward (visually) and filmmakers using employing file footage and one-on-one interview shots, I was fearful that I would have to omit this portion of my review. However, one scene in particular stand out as soon as I saw it. By this point in the film Ebert is in the hospital and director Steve James does not shy away from some of the more unpleasant activities that he has to go through.

In the scene, a nurse is seen at Ebert’s bedside. She asks him if he’s ready for his tube cleaning or suction. At first you’re not sure what is about to happen, but then you see her make a motion near Ebert’s throat and next thing you know you see him wincing in pain. Up until this point we’ve never seen Ebert weak or sickly–even with his operation and the loss of his voice. He’s always remained upbeat and full of energy. However, this is the first time we see a chink in his armor; and it’s a startling one. It’s mainly because you can almost feel the pain he’s going through just from watching the reaction on his face. I’m not sure how painful that cleaning procedure actually is, but watching Ebert go through it sure looked like hell.

Life Itself will be playing selected days and times at the Doris Duke Theater at the Honolulu Museum of Art from August 15-21. It is also currently available on VOD services.

3.5/5 stars // rated R // 2hrs


Review: Guardians of the Galaxy


They’re really not a bunch of a-holes.

With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel makes a bold move by taking a cast of characters that not a lot of people are familiar with and gives them the big screen treatment. While at this point any film within the Marvel Universe might seem too big to fail (The Avengers $1.5 billion worldwide, Captain America: The Winter Soldier $713 million worldwide), Guardians will be a proving ground of sorts for them. Should Guardians flop it could signal that smaller comic properties might not work. Should it prove to be as successful as the other Marvel Universe films, Marvel can start printing their own money because then they will be able to turn nearly any character or property into a new franchise.

I am here to tell you that Marvel has nothing to worry about.

Guardians of the Galaxy marks Marvel’s first foray into outer space. While we got to see some of that in The Avengers, Guardians wholly takes the action off of Earth. It centers around a ragtag group of unlikely alien outlaws that come together to stop an evil psychopath from destroying peaceful civilizations. Though it does sound kind of out there, it’s got Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel to give you some sense of familiarity.

I'm Star-Lord man.

I’m Star-Lord man.

One of my biggest concerns going into the film was that I’ve always felt space based or cosmic characters really have their work cut out for them. With nothing to ground them here on Earth, how are audiences supposed to relate to characters that have nothing to do with us? Guardians gives us relatability straight off the bat with the origin story of our protagonist Peter Quill. Even before the film’s title is shown we see the circumstances around Peter’s abduction from Earth as a kid. Even though in the very next sequence we see Peter all grown up as the dashing and good looking Star-Lord, there is a sense that probably deep down inside of him, being away from his family is something he probably thinks about from time to time.

A lost child far from home and taken away from his family; that’s a fear that any parent can tell you they’ve thought about at some point in their parenting careers. With that in mind, it gives the audience an instant connection to Quill and a way to buy in to the movie.

While we get an instant connection to Quill in the first ten minutes of the film, both as a kid and as an adult, the rest of the team doesn’t get as much definition character-wise. Unlike The Avengers, Guardians doesn’t have the luxury of films building up characters and leading into the team-up. In this film, we meet each of the Guardians for the first time and everything we find out about them is built up through their actions and conversations in the film.


I am Groot.

From the trailer we are told that Star-Lord is a thief, Gamora is an assassin, Drax is a maniac, and Rocket and Groot are thugs; they shed these labels fairly quickly after their introductions. Once the Guardians come together and start working with one another; that’s when the film really starts to become fun. We get to see how each of them think, how they carry themselves in a fight, and their vulnerabilities as well.

Quill is easily the character that’s most relatable to us since his is the lone human in the film. Out of all the characters though, it’s Rocket and Groot that I enjoyed the most. With CGI characters, it’s sometimes a gamble because what you’re seeing isn’t a real raccoon or a tree that’s a living being. Since we know they’re fake, how do believe them as characters? Guardians answers this by making them nuanced and very well defined. The way Rocket talks, what he says, and how he acts and reacts in situations makes him a smart and savvy guy who people underestimate not only because of his size, but because they perceive him as a rodent as well. Rocket overcomes this by proving his worth in a number of situations in the film that allow him to showcase his smarts and make him more than a raccoon bent on destruction.


I need that guy’s leg.

Groot meanwhile, he doesn’t say that much; in fact he only says one line repeatedly throughout the film. It’s the way he says it and his mannerisms that tell us about him. He is the straight man to Rocket’s wild man. Probably what I loved most about him is that everyone seems to understand exactly what he’s saying even though to the audience he’s only saying one line. It’s like he has his own language that only people in the movie understand while we in the audience have to decipher it–which isn’t too challenging because the context of each scene informs us pretty well as to how he’s responding.

What helps these two CGI characters to be even more believable is that Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel change their voices ever so slightly that they’re not readily identifiable by them. Sometimes when you have a prominent star playing an animated or CGI character, having them use their regular voice takes you out of the film as you see the star behind the voice and not the character they’re trying to portray. That’s not the case here. Never once did I see Cooper or Vin, just Rocket and Groot. With great character building and solid voice work, these two characters blend so well into the fabric of the film that after a certain point I believed they were real.

Gamora and Drax on the other hand I felt could have used a little more development. While we sort of find out Gamora’s background, her motivations for becoming a Guardian aren’t all that clear. Same sort of thing goes for Drax. Quill, Rocket, Groot, and Gamora meet up with Drax while in prison and then he joins the party pretty willingly when he has a big ax to grind with Gamora. One thing I really liked about Drax though is that they made his character very learned and matched it with the way he spoke. From what little knowledge I have of his character from the comics, I thought he wasn’t as smart as they made him in the film. The way he spoke blew me away as I really wasn’t expecting that and it also provided some hilarious situations as well.

Going green in Trek isn't as cool as going green in Guardians.

Going green in Trek isn’t as cool as going green in Guardians.

While overall I liked the characters and the way they interacted with one another, my biggest quibble with the film (and it’s a minor one at best) is the way the Guardians came together. I felt that they banded together a bit too easily. It probably has a lot to do with how the motivations of Gamora and Drax aren’t fully made clear, so when a team up is suggested it doesn’t feel fully authentic. It was as if they shed their initial reservations about the others too willingly. I know this is Guardians of the Galaxy, so at some point they were ultimately going to join forces, but unlike The Avengers where we knew where each of them were coming from, since this film is doing a lot more, some plot elements don’t get their due–character motivations and setup being two of them.

Once the film gets past this hurdle and the Guardians do come together, that’s when the film really starts to take off and live up to the exuberance that you feel from the trailers. Each of the characters plays to their strengths and you see how they work well together. Groot and Drax are their heavy hitters for sure. Gamora can hold her own, but her inside information is what really helps the team. And while Rocket sort of feels like savviest Guardian among them, Quill’s cunning tempers Rocket’s negligence. That is why Quill makes a great leader for them. While everyone else sort of only sees their goals for the mission, Quill uses his wit to focus their individual motivations and bring them together. That’s why he’s Star-Lord man!

With each Marvel film contributing to the makeup of the overall Marvel Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy does its fair share of world building. While I won’t give away any of the easter eggs or reveals from the film, it did make me wonder if some of this extra universe building was really necessary.

No, Merle from The Walking Dead isn't the easter egg you're looking for.

No, Merle from The Walking Dead isn’t the easter egg you’re looking for.

In the last Marvel film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there is a major universe changing event that happens that will definitely affect all Earth based Avenger films that come afterward. Back then I wondered whether this world building was at the expense of telling Cap’s story similarly to how the Stark/Iron Man story was sidelined by all the SHIELD stuff in Iron Man 2.

Ultimately, the universe building in Guardians isn’t on the level of The Winter Soldier or even Iron Man 2, but I did still feel that the underlying storyline that they added in was a little hamfisted and should have either been left out of the film or integrated better. They could have even saved something like that for the post movie credit scenes that they so love to include.

One of the fun things about Guardians is its soundtrack. Unlike almost all of the other Marvel films that predominantly only have a film score (instrumental music), Guardians of the Galaxy utilizes a soundtrack that not only adds some fun and nostalgia to the film, but gives the audience another connection back to Earth as well. I would venture to guess that anyone over the age of 25 will have heard most of the tunes in the film like Blue Suede’s Hooked on a Feeling or Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love among others. Subtly though, the soundtrack is another way that connects the audience back to Earth. Because we know these songs and we know that these are Quill’s jams, that gives us relatability to his character and gets us to buy into the film that much more.

Overall Guardians of the Galaxy is a solid film and I don’t perceive Marvel having a flop anytime soon. With another great superhero team on their hands who knows what Marvel will be able to do next. Do they bring out lesser known Avengers to feed into this universe? It’s totally possible, they can’t keep the core group of Avengers indefinitely so phasing the older guys out but keep making Avengers movies with new Avengers definitely makes sense. Now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded into outer space, the sky isn’t the limit anymore. The Guardians of the Galaxy have made sure of that.

Cinematic Scene: Guardian Battle Planning

“Cinematic Scene” is an effort to bring light to some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film and lives at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should pay attention to.

“Cinematic Scene” is an effort to bring light to some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film and lives at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should pay attention to.

While there are many fun and action packed scenes in the film, it’s a quieter one that enjoyed the most. It comes just a bit before a big battle in the film while the Guardians are talking with one another and trying to strategize. I would say that it’s in this scene in the film where we can finally call them a team. No longer are they worried about the smaller things that they were concerned with when we are first introduced to them at the beginning of the film. In this scene they are all finally on the same page, opening up to one another, and are thinking as a single unit. Of course they banter and jest as well, and that definitely is part of their team dynamic, but it’s this one moment that stands out because finally, they do become the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy is now playing in theaters everywhere.

4/5 stars // rated PG-13 // 2hr 2min


Top 5 Movies Based on Graphic Novels

Yes, that's Captain America himself Chris Evans leading the way, this time in Snowpiercer.

Yes, that’s Captain America himself Chris Evans leading the way, this time in Snowpiercer.

We here at the Red Band Project are excited for the upcoming release of Snowpiercer. Directed by Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho (Mother, The Host) the film stars Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and John Hurt as some of the last survivors on Earth who reside on the Snowpiercer, a train that continually navigates the frozen globe keeping its inhabitants alive. It’s a sci-fi fable that deals with class struggle amidst the backdrop of a future where the world is frozen over.

Due out tomorrow at Consolidated Theatres Kahala 8, the film is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. While Hollywood has been quick to jump on the comic book craze, it’s also adapted its fair share of graphic novels. While similar in many respects to comic books, graphic novels are usually self contained stories told in one book or a set of books and are not ongoing series.

This got me thinking, we’ve had all sorts of graphic novel adaptations, some of them good and some of them pretty crummy, but which ones have been the best? Listed below are my Top 5 Films Based Off of Graphic Novels . . .

#5 – Old Boy (2003)


Loosely based on the Japanese manga series written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi, Korean director Park Chan-wook‘s film of the same name is quite the twisted tale of revenge. I’m not going to lie, it’s the total 180 that this film pulls that got it onto this list. I remember the first time watching this film thinking it was going one way and then I get the rug pulled out from under me. Talk about mind blown. The way Chan-wook tells the story and how well he sets the table is was drew me in. That and the utter brutality in the film, the first I’d really seen like that, is what helps to make this film stand out.

#4 – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


If there was only one thing I could say about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, it would be that it makes me proud to have played video games at least for a time in my life. Based on the series of graphic stories by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the movie is jam packed with video game references and is so smart about the way it uses and portrays them that it’s no wonder that it holds a special place in the hearts of geeks everywhere. When you combine that with Edgar Wright‘s vision and style, the movie is truly unique and a love letter to video games, comics, music, and geeky pop culture. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World gives us a glimpse into a world where real video game conventions (extra lives, power ups, restarting levels, bosses) do exist and is so awesome that it made me wish I could live in that same world as well.

#3 – Sin City


Based on a few of the novels from the Frank Miller series, Sin City the movie is also directed Miller and Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids). The movie’s visual style is definitely what draws you in and for the record is really is quite gorgeous. The stylized black and white look with accent colors popping up every once and a while to add mood and tone to the film simply blew me away when I saw it for the first time. That combined with the engrossing and criss-crossing neo-noir crime stories that involve these checkered characters in this disreputable city really engages you. While comic book movies up till this point really tried to shy away from their paper based roots and go for realism, the coloring and stylization of Sin City made it truly feel like it was a ‘comic book movie’ through and through–and I thought it really worked for the film.

#2 – V for Vendetta


There is just so much good stuff going on in V for Vendetta that whenever I see it on TV, I almost always get sucked into watching it. Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, the film version of V for Vendetta is an awesome example of when you take rich source material and create an appropriate adaptation. Themes in the film such as government having too much control, fear of the people warranting government protection, and propaganda spread by the government all underline growing sentiment that was going on in a post-9/11 world when this film came out in 2005. Add to the mix a very charismatic (and sharp tongued) character with a righteous mission in V and like I said, there’s a lot of stuff here to like. The film also has some snappy fight sequences with stylized use of V’s daggers that make him even more of a loveable folk hero. “Remember, remember the 5th of November,” from his lines of dialogue to the way he carried himself, though you never saw his face, Hugo Weaving did an awesome job of portraying V. From a strong lead character, to themes in the film that overlap with real life, to a fun story; V for Vendetta is a prime example of what a good graphic novel adaption should be.

#1 – 300


While Frank Miller‘s graphic novel 300 isn’t the thickest tome, the translation from page to screen is really spot on. The way Zack Snyder literally took what was on the page, used green screen digital backgrounds and visual effects to create a visual look that was similar to what was on the pages of Miller’s book, the film adaptation is a visual spectacle to behold. Couple that with the charismatic portrayal of Leonidas by Gerard Butler and mighty Spartans would be forever engrained as pop culture icons. While the story is fairly straightforward, it’s the ferocity and undauntedness the Spartans exude on screen that get you pumped up and make you wish you were in battle with them. With a great visual style, colorful characters, and a never say die attitude, Leonidas and the brave 300 is quite possible the best film to have been adapted from a graphic novel.


Of course a whole slew of graphic novels from a wide range of genres have had the film treatment; 30 Days of Night and Constantine from the horror genre, Road to Perdition and A History of Violence are period dramas, and American Splendor and Ghost World in the indie vein. While quite a few films were considered, in the end many didn’t make the cut. A few honorable mentions that just didn’t make it onto my list: Men in Black, The Mask, and i. If you have any suggestions on what should have made the list, sound off in the comments below.

While Snowpiercer certainly won’t be the last graphic novel to be adapted into a movie, it’s definitely one we here at Red Band have been looking forward for quite some time. Be sure you check it out this weekend at Consolidated Theatres Kahala!



Review: Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson takes a trip to indie town as she portrays an alien (?) on a mission to seduce men in Under the Skin.

Scarlett Johansson takes a trip to indie town as she portrays an alien (?) on a mission to seduce men in Under the Skin.

When you envision art house films, I’m sure many people conjure up things happening on screen that just make no sense. People doing things for no apparent reason, films that have very little dialogue, something with off the wall sound effects or score that just puts you in a really weird place. While movies that challenge the audience to think can put a moviegoer on top of the world, films that overdo it just make your head hurt by making the viewer ask the question ‘why?’ too damn much.

Such is the case with Under the Skin. While there is a very loose assemblage of a story, character motivations aren’t clear and the film challenges viewers to piece together what’s going on on their own. While my brains weren’t fried while watching Under the Skin, I did find myself scratching my head one too many times wondering what it all was trying to say. There’s definitely some high concept stuff going on here, and if I have to venture a guess some of it involves the exploration of what it’s like to be a human as well as sexuality.

So what exactly is Under the Skin about? Well, it stars Scarlett Johansson as an (for lack of a better term) otherworldly being in the body of woman wandering the Scottish countryside picking up men. While at first things appear to be sexual in nature, things take a dark turn when this being lures men into a dark space (literally) and under the pretense of having sex with them, kidnaps them to another dimension and destroys/devours/absorbs them. It’s really not that clear what happens to these unfortunate fellows that fall victim to this trap, but they go in expecting one thing, and never come back out.

While it may read as twisted, in the film things are a lot more vague with no real explanation given for why men are being lured into this space. What adds another layer to all this is that men who are chosen need to meet certain criteria to be selected–usually those who are unattached, live alone, and have no family. Are these types of men more sexually aggressive than others? Is that why they are being targeted? The film doesn’t really say, but it does give Johansson’s character serial killer like tendencies the way she selects men that probably won’t be missed.

Again I can’t be certain, but if I had to venture a guess, a big part of this whole thing has to do with Johansson and her peeps studying us humans. While a majority of the film is spent following her hunting down men, several other scenes in the film depict her observing reactions of ordinary people. One scene in particular she purposely falls down and just lies there on the ground. Passers-bye stop and offer assistance to see if she’s alright, but we never quite know why she does what she does. In another strange and creepy sequence, we see her stand idly by as someone drowns while another person tries to rescue them.

While a lot of this weird stuff goes on for more than half of the film, things change when Johansson encounters a man that is different from all the men that she’s selected previously. She seems to take to take pity on this soul and after the encounter her character and motivations seem to shift towards understanding what it’s like to be a human–as if she wasn’t doing this before. Things such as taste, what it’s like to be taken care of, what it’s like to have a sexual experience, and even what it’s like to be afraid Johansson’s character seems to experience for the first time after this pivotal encounter.


One thing I will give the film huge credit for is its score. Right from the onset you are put on unnatural footing by the wistful and somewhat synthetic score. Throughout the film suspense builds with many long and slowly building notes that not only increase in volume, but in pitch as well. Coupled with the vague storytelling on screen, most of the time I had a heightened sense of awareness just from the score alone.

At the end of the day though, I was entertained by the technical aspects of the film more than I was the story; which for me is problematic. While I don’t think you’re supposed to relate or even identify with the Johansson’s character, without anyone’s motivations, I never understood where the film was really going. Was this otherworldly being ensnaring these men to feed off of them in some way? Was she doing it for kicks? Was she studying them? Was she exploring what it was like to be a human being? And why did this being have to look like Scarlett Johansson for?

While I think my second to last question might be the most insightful one, who’s to say with the vagueness of it all. Under the Skin is definitely a challenging film to take in, so I give anyone credit who ventures to check it out. Though it is very picturesque, well shot, and creates a wonderful sense of foreboding and tension with its score; I needed a bit more from the story to get under the film’s skin. For me, it was all above the surface really.

Cinematic Scene: Going Under the Skin

"Cinematic Scene” is a new element to reviews. In an effort talk about some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film I’ve decided to break off a specific section at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should pay attention to.

“Cinematic Scene” is a new element to reviews. In an effort talk about some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film I’ve decided to break off a specific section at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should pay attention to.

So what exactly does happen when men get lured by Scarlett Johansson‘s feminine wilds into another dimension? While this may sort of venture into spoiler-ish territory, in the grand scheme of the movie describing this scene doesn’t really give anything away. But, on the off chance you’re extra cautious, proceed with caution after the break . . .


ScarJo is not amused by this SPOILER ALERT.

A couple of times in the film we see Johansson’s character lure men in to an alternate space that is completely black. While on several occasions we see both of them disrobe and the men sink into the floor, in one instance we get to see what happens after the guy gets sucked under. In the scene, the newest victim to succumb to the trap finds himself floating in a liquid like state. As he looks across the dark expanse he spots another victim, seemingly the last person that fell prey to the same trap. Though it’s dimly lit, you can sort of make out that the life seems to have been slowly sucked away from this guy since he looks wrinkly.

Then, before you have a chance to fully take in what’s going on, the guy vaporizes in a jump cut and in his place all that’s left is his skin. It just floats there like a deflated human balloon; eerily flapping back and forth with the current. It’s a really striking scene save for the fact that a dude was just vaporized. It’s also so abrupt that it keeps you off balance but at the same time blows you away as well. Technically its really creative and though creepy, there is sort of an elegance to it.

Under the Skin was released yesterday as a digital download via iTunes or Amazon. It will be released on Blu-ray/DVD on July 15.

2.5/5 stars // rated R // 1hr 48min

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