Summer 2014: This Time With More Big and Loud

July is fading into August and the movies being released into theaters are noticeably quieter than they have been and it can only mean one thing. Summer is coming to an end. Summer doesn’t really have the same meaning anymore now that I’m a real boy and out of school. It’s just a hotter time of year now, it doesn’t really have the same ties to relaxation and fun that it once had. But one thing I can always count on is that Hollywood will always be trying to outdo itself in theaters and this year didn’t disappoint. Well, actually it really did.

This summer I saw six movies in particular; Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Amazing Spiderman 2,  22 Jump Street, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Godzilla. I suppose you wouldn’t call this a random sample since I chose to see them all, but it’s a sample of what came out this summer and according to box office numbers it’s probably a similar list to most avid movie-goers from this summer. Overall there was a lot of entertainment to be had here and, for the most part, there was a lot to enjoy. However, looking at some of these movies individually and with a critical eye so many recommend you leave at home during the summer, you can see so many problems and issues that make you really wonder how exactly some of these movies are getting made.

Anyways, here’s a short review of each. They will probably contain spoilers so just, like, be aware of that if you choose to go further.

 

Godzilla

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Godzilla was the first movie I saw to start this shindig. It came out in May, technically a week after Amazing Piderman 2, but I saw Godzilla first. I’ll admit that I was somewhat hopeful that we might get a really great Godzilla movie and it would kick off a great summer. I’ll admit that I, too, was taken by the casting of Bryan Cranston and the breathtaking promo video of the HALO jump. There was a lot to love about the movie before it came out. Unfortunately, it came out.

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I didn’t think Godzilla was a bad movie. I want to say that right now, because what I’m about to say may sound harsh without that prerequisite. I thought it was somewhat disappointing and overall unimpressive and generic. But it wasn’t bad. It’s weird to admit that some of the issues I had with Godzilla centered around its marketing campaign, but part of me thinks I would have been able to enjoy it more if the trailers hadn’t made Cranston seem like the protagonist, using all of his lines from the first 20 minutes of the movie in the trailer. I wasn’t surprised when he died, I just felt cheated. They switched out the actor they hinged the ad campaign on for a different, less interesting, protagonist.

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson is in the midst of some cool upcoming roles which I’m excited for, but him and every other character in this movie fell completely flat. He never had a dissenting opinion from someone else in the movie unlike his more interesting father character. Elizabeth Olsen’s character also had a serious case of “nothing to do in this movie.” I mean, I don’t know whose idea it was to have a character who’s a nurse and never have her help someone or save a life throughout the entirety of a disaster film. Like, seriously? Not even, like, trying to stop someone’s bleeding with a shirt? Something? Whatever. My point is here that almost every second that a human character was on screen nothing was happening. Even Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins seemed to just be running around explaining things to other characters. I could have forgiven these issues if there was sufficient Godzilla on monster action, but the screen time the actual fights got was surprisingly low, though that time was a big highlight of the movie.

 

The Amazing Spiderman 2

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Here’s a franchise that’s a mystery to me. It seems like Sony is trying really hard to cling on to its only profitable comic book franchise as to not be forgotten while comic book movies rule the box office for the next decade or so. As a lot of people know, Sony had to reboot this franchise so quickly or they were in danger of losing the rights. Which is fine, I can look past that, but upon seeing the reboot in 2012 I was pretty disappointed that what we ended up with was seemingly the same story as the original Sam Raimi Spiderman movie with a shiny new cast and a funnier Spiderman. And while there were some things about it I really liked, I couldn’t help but scratch my head and wonder if Sony really thinks we have that short of memories? But in their defense, we probably do.

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Needless to say, I didn’t seek out Amazing Spiderman 2 when it came out. I waited until it was in the dollar theater, if for no other reason than I couldn’t find the time or motivation to go see another god damn comic book movie for theater ticket prices. Much like the first one, there were some things I really liked. I thought Dane DeHaan made a fantastic Harry Osborn. He is a really natural actor and I immensely enjoyed his time on screen. I also found Garfield’s Spiderman to be, once again, thoroughly entertaining. His comedic timing is on point. In fact, almost all of the notable actors were great in this movie. Emma Stone is a great Gwen Stacy and Jaime Foxx was even compelling as Electro. It’s just kind of a shame that these great actors giving solid performances are doing so over poor writing that lacks subtlety and a movie that feels like it could have easily been at least two movies.

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There were a lot of awkward moments in the writing and, in general, a lot of problems that could have been solved in one line but were seemingly just ignored. For example, when Oscorp security is hunting down Gwen Stacy for trying to find Max Dillon (Electro) in the company directory and she gets away thanks to how hilarious Garfield is. The fact that she was being hunted by security never comes up again. But she works there. Surely they have her address. Surely she didn’t just quit her job at a multi-billion dollar company. Surely there must have been some resolve to that. Right? It could have even been Harry telling security to back off after he has the conversation with her in the elevator, but instead they opted to just cut to the next scene and hope the audience forgets. There was also an awkward moment at the end where Harry, as Green Goblin, misremembered something that happened earlier in the movie. He seemed to forget that Spiderman came to visit him to deny him his blood and thought that Parker delivered the message for him. Seems to me like there were some rewrites and reshoots and everything came out very sloppy. These may seem like oddly specific complaints, but the movie is full of awkward pacing and silly mistakes like that. Which is a shame because in this almost 2.5 hour long test of patience there is probably a 1.5 hour solid Spiderman movie in there. The Gwen and Peter stuff was great due to fantastic chemistry, Electro was a good villain just with shitty motivations, and the bigger things the movie is building to could have been done more subtly over more movies. You can really feel Sony’s lack of confidence in not only their audience, but their ability to create a strong cinematic universe and it’s unfortunate because they have a great cast and a capable director on their hands.

 

22 Jump Street

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By far the most self aware movie of the summer, 22 Jump Street succeeded as a sequel if only because it knew how stupid it was, or perhaps, how stupid it should have been. Reuniting the unexpectedly hilarious duo of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, 22 Jump Street didn’t try and hide for a second that it would be churning out pretty much the same movie as before but with different one liners.

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There is a difference, though, in how this was done compared to other sequels. 21 Jump Street had a certain amount of meta to it, with Nick Offerman providing a critique on reboots and remakes in the beginning as well as toying with action movie tropes like the exploding oil truck. 22 Jump Street was no different, only this time rather than subverting the action genre and the idea of a reboot, it was mocking itself for being a sequel to a reboot. And it did it really well, so well that the audience is able to instantly forgive the movie for being another rehashed sequel and simply enjoy the pure comedy that the cast has to provide while not worrying about the plot. I criticized The Amazing Spiderman for being so similar to the Sam Raimi Spiderman. And here, 21 Jump Street is doing the same thing even more blatantly. But the fact that it’s aware of it, that it’s making fun of itself for it, and that it still has great qualities outside of that saved it and, in the end, resulted in one of the better comedic sequels out there.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

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X-Men Days of Future Past was met with a slew of positive reviews and a general consensus that it was the “Avengers” of the X-Men cinematic universe. And that’s not too far off. Fox has been filling the X-Men cast with a lot of talent since they cast Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart in 2000. And although the X-Men Origins: Wolverine work print leaked seemed to set back the franchise a few years after the initial trilogy, they bounced right back and gave us X-Men: First Class which was surprisingly good and, once again, had a great cast.

So when you take two great casts in one of the more sprawling and expansive comic universes you are bound to make a neat movie, and Days of Future Past certainly was that. The societal critiques were still there with the mistreatment of mutants, and the toying with history is becoming a really fun staple of the X-Men franchise. Lawrence, McAvoy, and Fassbender were all great and really own those characters, and even though Stewart and McKellan and Page were not as focused on it was still neat seeing all of them in the same movie. It really brought together the whole franchise as if they’d planned it all along.

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It still suffers from being a comic book movie, and that’s not to say all comic book movies are bad, but because of their status as box office gold they are often forced into compromise and studio interference. Things like Anna Paquin being edited out and the really forced and awkward exposition in the first five minutes of the movie made it feel sloppy, like it was holding itself back. But once we stopped asking why Kitty Pryde has time travel powers now and got into the meat of the story everything got a lot better and, overall, was one of the best comic book movies of the year next to Captain America: Winter Soldier.

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction

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What is there to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? Even though the elite critic crowd seems to hate Bay and the movies he is making now, he is such an interesting filmmaker that everyone still has a lot to say about this movie, even if it’s mostly just different ways to say “It looked nice but it was a bad movie.” And that’s really what these movies boil down to. They don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the script, the characters, the plot, or trying to find any emotion in any of those things. But they do pay attention to how the shots look, the use of color, the action, and the CGI.

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This turns a lot of people off, and I’m one of them, but in the vein of giving credit where credit is due, yes it was a pretty movie. Beyond that it was emotionally flat, incredibly shallow, and awkward to the point of wondering how someone was getting paid to write it. You could clearly tell Mark Wahlberg was in love with his daughter, but it’s not because that’s part of the movie, it’s because the writing is awkward. You could tell no one sat down and worked out the ins and outs of the plot, and you could tell giving the robots a personality wasn’t the filmmakers prime directive, but these things were covered up by a mask made of Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammar, John Goodman, and some pleasing visuals and neat action sequences. And while it’s somewhat offensive to think that those things could mask such a stupid movie, it’s also not the worst mask I’ve ever seen a movie use. So there’s that.

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Also it was way too fucking long. Plain and simple.

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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One of the movies I was more excited to see after being surprised by the quality of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rise had its issues, but overall it was pretty well done and they are doing some really great things with motion capture CGI that are making the apes a lot more relatable. It’s also turning out to be a great prequel, which if you look at the Wikipedia list of prequels you will see that good ones are actually quite rare. Mostly because a fundamental issue with prequels is that the audience automatically knows the jist of where it’s going.

This set of Apes movies are all going to the same place, eventually to the original Charlton Heston movie, but it’s not how far in the past compared to those movies that is saving these movies. Everyone who sees these movies know the Apes will eventually take over. What’s saving them is the new perspective being put on the old idea. Society collapsing, racism, and artificial intelligence are all very real fears people have today and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes definitely has hints of each in it. Even though the actual story is somewhat cliche, the ideas being presented are relevant and interesting and it definitely makes for a better movie, a movie that I can look past some small issues to appreciate the larger picture it’s painting.

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Probably the best part of the movie was watching the apes interact in their own society. Seeing the halfway point between apes in a zoo and the apes in the original Planet of the Apes. There is respect, love, and rebellion alive in the ape society. Father and son relationships took the spotlight in this new movie, with Jason Clarke motivated by protecting his son, Caesar motivated by his two sons, and a pivotal moment in the movie being when Caesar’s son agrees with Koba and takes him on as a father figure. Making that father/son relationship so important in the ape society brought a lot of great emotion into an already interesting story.

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Although the humans do a fine job in this movie, some of them do suffer from lack of characterization in the movie. Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke seem to be the only ones who get any real characterization, although you get hints of what each character lost when the virus took over. But what is most impressive in this movie is how the apes are done. They looks, act, and feel like real apes. They have made even more strides in motion capture CGI since Rise and it’s so apparent. Maurice the Orangutan looks flawless, you almost forget there aren’t real animals on screen sometimes. Even though I think Andy Serkis is a bit of a diva with all of the spotlight he’s been getting the last few years, he is definitely doing interesting things with motion capture and it will be interesting to see what he does with The Jungle Book and any other projects he works on in the future.

You know, there’s still a lot of movies I want to see from this summer. Original movies that aren’t a sequel or a prequel or a remake. Movies like Jon Favreau’s Chef, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer, Edge of Tomorrow, and even the Seth Rogen and Dave Franco movie Neighbors. But I chose to see the above movies for some reason. Sure, some of these movies may have been small release or not as anticipated, but from reading reviews almost all of them are guaranteed to be better than half the ones I did see. But in the end I guess I took the role of the average movie goer and went for the movies with familiar titles and stories, and as the box office shows time and time again, the quality of the movie tends to matter less than the franchise behind it these days. It’s not a good thing, but it’s certainly the state of cinema right now and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on it.

- Boner

Movies That Could Qualify as Antiques and Why They Stood the Test of Time

In February two things happened that allowed me to delve a little further than I had previously into the great world of classic and foreign films. The first thing was that TCM was playing the past’s best Oscar nominated movies non stop all month, so I just set my DVR to record everything I could. The second thing was that I got a library card to my local Austin Public Library.

Sidenote: Holy shit, have you been to a library lately? I mean, you walk into the place and it doesn’t look any different than it used to. Shelves of books with protective plastic and the kind of random eccentricity that screams “purely donated.” But then you get a card and they tell you that they have 80 locations in your city and you can borrow and return to any location as well as go through an online catalog and request something get sent to your local branch free of charge. They have e-book’s too, so you can just rent books straight from your Kindle. They let you keep everything for three weeks with very loose renewal policies and you can have five movies and some ungodly number of books at a time. I don’t know if this is just another testament to how sweet Austin is or if every library is like this now, but I urge you go get yourself a card. Libraries are not worth forgetting about.

Anyways, back to the point at hand. With my new super-powered library card and the little red light ensuring me movies are being recorded non stop, I took some time in the last two months to watch some movies that I had never had the chance to watch before. I’ve decided to choose some highlights for this post, and those were:

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington directed by Frank Capra in 1939

Casablanca directed by Michael Curtiz in 1942

North by Northwest directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1959

On the Waterfront directed by Elia Kazan in 1954

The African Queen directed by John Huston in 1951

Ikiru directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1952

Scandal also directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1950

The 400 Blows directed by Francois Truffaut in 1959

Port of Call directed by Ingmar Bergman in 1948
This is, for all intents and purposes, a random list. Beyond all being made over 50 years ago these movies share little in common with each other outside of a few actors or directors doing double duty on this list. Another trait they all share is that I really enjoyed all of them, which also shouldn’t be surprising since I chose these movies off of a slightly bigger list of movies I watched in the last two months. But there’s a reason I liked them beyond seeing them under the impression that they would be classics, and there’s a reason I wrangled them all together for this post. But before I get into that, a few short words about these movies.

Mr Smith
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington- Already having been a fan of Capra as many probably are, I was able to sit down and watch what has become my favorite movie from him. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington follows simple Mr. Smith, a hardworking and honest young man who is thrust into the position of a state Senator after a quick and exposition heavy opening sequence. The conflict arises when his honesty and determination to do good clashes with his fellow Senator’s plans to use their position of power to profit. It’s a great look at our Legislative process and Jimmy Stewart is as likable as ever.

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Casablanca- Everyone has to see it for the first time at some point, right? It’s funny when you watch a movie that so many movies since have borrowed from and so many pop culture references based on. For example, I had no idea before watching this movie that Out Cold (2001) is practically a remake of Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart was at some career highs for coolness here, and that’s saying something, while the story was as touching and exciting as I would have hoped a movie that tops so many lists would be.

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North By Northwest- Another oft referenced movie. I’m sure you’ve seen a reenactment of the crop dusting plane scene in at least five different places and the surprise ending is so worn out by now that any fifteen year old could watch it and say, “Saw that coming.” But there was enough Hitchcockian camera use and enjoyable acting from Cary Grant to keep anyone interested. In North by Northwest our protagonist finds himself the target of a spy conspiracy due to a simple misunderstanding. The way information is revealed to the viewer is really well done and the story is as intriguing as it is well acted.

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On the Waterfront- Hailed as one of Brando’s best performances, I can’t say I loved the movie overall as much as I hoped I would but I can say the story and the acting were brilliant enough to warrant another view in the near future. Brando really did carry this one on his shoulders and he never crumbled under the pressure. Several scenes caught me by surprise with how emotionally invested I was getting and his character was so well written that the movie around him could have been much less than it was and still be great.

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The African Queen- Probably my least favorite on this list, but an epic tale well worth your time nonetheless. It felt like an older, lower budget, yet more pure and higher quality version of Titanic. The story wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I have never not enjoyed watching Bogart do his thing. A solid film that was maybe not as up my alley as some others on this list.

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Ikiru- Having been on a mission to delve further into Kurosawa’s rabbit hole ever since I saw Yojimbo last year I was delighted to find that my Library carries several of his movies. Ikiru was the first one I picked up, as it seems the complete opposite of Yojimbo. While Yojimbo was light hearted at times, full of badassery, and had the infinitely cool Toshiro Mifune, Ikiru is a much more character based and deliberately paced work with a much more depressing premise. After finding out he only has a few months to live, a boring government worker tries to find out what it means to live and how best to spend his remaining time. Going much more in depth than I thought it would, this was a great look at not only mortality and the meaning of living but also a wonderful movie about how people perceive you and how your actions are tied to that perception.

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Scandal- A great mid point between Ikiru and Yojimbo. While the story isn’t as serious as putting an expiration date on a person, it’s not as light hearted or fantastical as an old samurai story. Scandal is the story of an artist who finds himself the center of a tabloid scandal after being photographed with a beautiful and famous singer. Not willing to accept the slander he becomes one of the few to fight back against the lying tabloid, but his lawyer is dealing with his own problems and is tempted to fight for the other side by desperate men. An apt look into the world of celebrity scandals and tabloids fueling the fire that is still as relevant today as it is entertaining to watch.

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The 400 Blows- My first Truffaut movie and one of the better coming of age movies I’ve seen. Following a young boy who goes about being misunderstood, given poor advice, and generally being a kid perceived by the adults in his life as a trouble maker who won’t listen. As we follow the protagonist it becomes painfully obvious to the viewer why he acts out or does what he does, yet to the authority in his life he is just another unreachable youth and that is the real tragedy of this movie. An exercise in empathy and understanding, The 400 Blows is another movie that helps us remember that sometimes problems are easier to see than we think.

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Port of Call- Another first but this time for Ingmar Bergman. One of his earlier works and somewhat similar to 400 Blows except that one could be the before story and the other the after story as to how troubled youths are dealt with and processed in society. Following a suicidal young woman who falls for a sailor that doesn’t know about her institutionalized past, Port of Call focuses on not only the relationship they build but the many ways in which society puts restrictions on our protagonist due to the state of mental health their very institutions imposed on her. I remember applauding Dirty Dancing after having seen it for being a movie that dealt with real issues like abortion, yet Port of Call comes in handling that and other disturbing events 40 years before and does it with great reverence.

So what do these movies have in common? And not just these movies, but movies from the larger sample of classics and foreign films that went beyond their own borders? What makes a story great, what makes it timeless? The answer is simple, relatability. The problems proposed by these movies, whether it be the troubles of a misunderstood youth or the pain that comes with not being able to be with the one you love, skewed public perception or a battle of the few honest against the many greedy, or being a pawn in something larger that you aren’t allowed to understand, these are stories that will always be relevant. They not only depict the time and place in which they happened to perfection but they also show us that no matter the time nor the place these are problems that don’t have real answers and will always be present in our lives as long as we feel.

The other day I saw a question posted to /r/movies that asked why we loved movies. Why, above all other art forms and ways to spend our time, why it was movies that we chose to watch and analyze and practically fetish over. And I thought about it for a while. I thought about all the ways movies have steered my personality or all of the moments I’ve been able to watch over and over and all of the props I wished I had simply because someone filmed them and how much I would stupidly be willing to pay for them. And that’s all great as to why movies entertain me, and why they are so accessible to everyone. But that’s not why I love them, or more importantly, why they are worth watching.

Movies are simply the most easily consumable form of storytelling, but no matter how good your movie looks or how interestingly you used a new filming technique, in the end the mark of quality in my eyes is in the storytelling and character. And the reason is because storytelling is how we as people learn to empathize and tolerate those around us. Listening to a story from the perspective of someone else reminds us for a moment that everyone around us is a main character in their own life and everything they do is the result of a lifetime’s worth of experience, and not just actions meant to affect you. The more stories we see, the more situations we see people other than ourselves react to, and the more we have to question our own morals and actions due to what we see on screen or read in a book, the more we learn to be accepting of other’s and their actions. And I think that is not only the real reason we all watch movies but also why the above movies were donned classics by those before me and still stand the test of time today.

2013 Cinematic Roundup

2013 was a busy year for me and 2014 is gearing up to be just as interesting. I started 2013 as a law office clerk on the coast of California and ended it an event planner for a corporate chain of restaurants in Austin, TX. Somewhere in between all that I found time to get a dog and put up with his shit, see Kanye West live for the first time (praize), experiment with Asian cuisine, get very familiar with any and all eateries and food trucks in Austin, ate octopus which I immediately regretted, and another year passed in which I payed for this domain every month and barely wrote in it. So with the new year comes a new attempt to keep up with myself. Proof of all that other stuff:

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Another thing I did in 2013 was watch 46 of the movies that were released, and since I like to talk about movies, I’ll list them along with a few words about them. Then I’ll decide on my top ten. Right here for all to see because I know everyone is so interested in what movies I like.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters- Pleased by the amount of gore, but overall forgettable.

Movie 43- Not as bad as cancer but less enjoyable than ringworm.

Top Gun 3D- Buncha hunks.

A Good Day to Die Hard- Take everything that made the original Die Hard trilogy unique and completely disregard it then cry yourself to sleep because you paid to see it in IMAX because you were late for Side Effects.

Burt Wonderstone- In an alternate universe this was a really funny movie. In ours it was like watching several careers simultaneously fizzle out.

Place Beyond the Pines- Brilliant, I wish more filmmakers were as ambitious as Cianfrance.

Evil Dead (remake)- Not my cup of tea but I did drink it all.

Trance- A very unfocused and confusing albeit beautiful ride, I thought I’d like it more than I did.

Pain and Gain- Michael Bay takes a shot at dark humor and it worked, even if it did drag on for a moment. One of the more quotable movies of the year.

Mud- The McConnaissance is upon us. Great acting all around in a coming of age story that doesn’t rely on Southern character clichés like a lazier movie would.

Iron Man 3- The first movie I’ve seen in a long time that fooled the entire audience and anticipating internet with the twist. Too bad they hated it, but I liked it.

The Great Gatsby- A Baz Luhrman fest that was fun to watch and a stylistic adaptation of the source.

Star Trek: Into Darkness- Take everything that made the first Abrams Star Trek movie charming and try to redo it but without the charm. Criminally underuse your villain and fill your movie with fan service and rehashed scenes from old movies. Add a potato, some broth, and baby you got a generic action movie goin’.

Frances Ha- Charming enough to keep me interested which is good because of the lack of plot. Well written and acted, mumblecore at its finest.

Man of Steel- Enough to keep me entertained for an hour and a half of the two and a half hour runtime, but overall lacking in depth or good writing. Lots of grey.

This is the End- A great addition to the movies of the Apatow crowd. Just a lot of fun with some sick references. One thing I love is when actors play ridiculous versions of themselves (see: Extras) and This is The End nailed that.

World War Z- Not bad.

Monsters University- Pixar made another good movie. Stop the presses, everyone.

Wolf of Wall Street- Kept me highly entertained throughout the three hour runtime. Some great performances and wonderfully fun yet dark movie making.

Frozen- Maybe I just missed out on this one, but it didn’t feel as fresh as I was told it was. Maybe that’s just because I’m still convinced Let It Go is just Defying Gravity with some reassembled lyrics.

Inside Llewyn Davis- Complex, enjoyable, funny, and frustrating. Watching a character go no where sounds boring but the Coen’s have mastered the combination of mundane humor and folk music.

American Hustle- Enjoyable, well acted, well dressed, funny, but something just kept this movie from being as unforgettable as it should have been. Lots of talent, not enough punch.

Her- Conceptually brilliant and surprisingly emotional. A beautiful movie and a great look at what makes us human and how we deal with all this bullshit we feel all the time.

Anchorman 2- Surprisingly funny and a great sequel.

Despicable Me 2- If you liked Despicable Me, this is an alright movie. If you loved Despicable Me, it’s a pretty good movie. If you didn’t like Despicable Me, fuck yourself.

The Way, Way Back- A fresh and touching coming of age movie with some great performances from Sam Rockwell and Toni Collette. Another great script from Jim Rash and Nat Faxon.

Pacific Rim- Seeing a live action anime was fun for a while, but the cliché character development and borderline bad dialogue made the run time feel super unnecessary.

Only God Forgives- What?

The Act of Killing- Difficult to watch yet fascinating. Most surprising loss of the Oscars. A documentary that looks at morality and redemption in those who killed to maintain power. Powerful stuff.

Blue Jasmine- An okay script (or as I like to call ‘em, Woody Allen scripts, waka waka waka) made good with great a cast and the best lead female performance of the year from Blanchett hands down.

Elysium- Fuck Elysium.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints- A visually stunning and poignant story, but just a little too disjointed to make it one of the best of the year.

Prisoners- Beautifully shot, score another one for Deakins, and an intense thriller. Not my cup of tea but not bad by any means.

Rush- This was probably not an easy movie to make good but Ron Howard did it. He made a true story about two rival drivers into a well paced and entertaining movie while staying true to the facts. Very well done.

World’s End- As enjoyable as previous installments of the trilogy, but failed to be as unique or inventive as the ones before.

Prince Avalanche- An honest and entertaining movie about a friendship. Simple, touching, fun to watch. David Gordon Green can be hit or miss but with this one I think he hit.

Don Jon- Have to say that I appreciate the direction Levitt took this movie. A strong debut to directing and an enjoyable movie with some fun performances. Brie Larson is one to look out for in the future.

Gravity- Incredible to watch in a theater. Probably would not seek a viewing outside of one. I could have forgiven Clooney being so Clooney or the really ham fisted symbolism and dialogue but with both one must admit it had some issues in the writing department.

Captain Phillips- Intense, good performances, exactly as expected.

12 Years a Slave- I was already a major fan of Steve McQueen’s work, but seeing how respectfully he handled the material and how well paced, well shot, and powerful this one was cemented the fact that he just understands how drama works and how best to present it to an audience.

The Counselor- High hopes dashed by mucky dialogue and slight disjointedness in storytelling. I would have followed you to the ends of the Earth, Cormac.

Dallas Buyers Club- Raw performances from the leading men and very enjoyable at times, but slightly held back by the biopic curse in which a movie becomes a series of scenes rather than a deliberately paced story.

Thor: The Dark World- Spent most the movie wondering why I keep giving Marvel my money on opening weekend. Hype is a weird thing.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire- The movie seemed to drag on for a bit but the ending really tied the room together.

Machete Kills- As a big fan of Machete and similar homages to grind house, I was very disappointed by Machete Kills. Too many cameos, not enough character, bad CGI, and the movie literally started with a trailer for the sequel veritably spoiling any interesting plot points. I mean, I know we don’t take Machete too seriously, but who does that?

Nebraska- Sleeper hit of the year, though I have always loved Alexander Payne. The humor is there in spades and rarely do I see a movie represent a part of the country so well. Gotta love a movie where old people take the spotlight in an industry that so does not reward age.

My top ten for the year? Well, it would probably look something like this:

10. Pain and Gain

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Lots of surprises on this list so it’s only right to start with one of the most surprising. A Michael Bay Movie. That’s not to imply that Michael Bay isn’t a capable filmmaker, you can see he has an eye for visuals, but I think the last time a Michael Bay movie made my top ten was when I was 10 years old and I saw Armageddon in theaters.

So what was so appealing about Pain and Gain? Lots of things. I loved Wahlberg and Johnson’s characters. I love how quotable the movie was. I loved how dark it was yet how flashy the visuals were. It wasn’t perfect, it dragged on for a bit and the amount of movement the camera and story do can get tiring, but it was definitely one of the biggest pleasant surprises of the year.

9. Mud

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Mud has so much to say about relationships, where they start and how they end up. Mud is constantly searching for that perfect love he had when he was young even though the woman he loves and their relationship is far from perfect, or even feasible. He’s so obsessed with his fairy tale ending that he unknowingly manipulates a teenager into stealing and lying to help him in the name of love. A hard hitting realization of the reality of love and a great coming of age story. McConaughey certainly grabs your attention, but Tye Sheridan held the movie up.

8. Blue Jasmine

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I’ve been luke warm to Woody Allen in the last decade, but I must say he pulled a career performance out of one of the best working actresses today. The supporting cast around her only helped elevate the movie. Bobby Canavale, Louis CK, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, and Alec Baldwin were all great but Blanchett took this movie to the next level with her infuriating yet sympathetic portrayal of the upper class crashing down to the middle. In short, her character is what I picture Gwyneth Paltrow to be like in real life.

7. The Way, Way Back

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Who knew Steve Carrell could be such a convincing asshole? From the very first scene I knew this wasn’t Michael Scott we were dealing with. A surprisingly touching movie that has a dash of Rockwell carelessness to make it fun. Makes me very excited for what Jim Rash has for us in the future.

6. Dallas Buyers Club

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Even though this movie suffered from the curse of the biopic, I just cannot deny the performances from Leto and McConaughey. Of course I’m not alone, with the majority of awards season praising them. A sad movie that perks up just often enough to keep the average viewer entertained and with some of the more raw acting of the year.

5. 12 Years a Slave

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McQueen took a subject that few filmmakers dare to take on seriously and made a movie that was as respectful to the time period as it was to the audience. Without getting gratuitous or masturbatory, the harrows and inhumanity of the era of slavery were depicted brutally beautifully. While the movie hinges on Chiwetel Ejiofor’s powerful performance as Solomon Northrup, I don’t think anyone will deny that Lupita N’yongo had some of the most scarring screen time last year.

4. Wolf of Wall Street

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Scorcese, DiCaprio, true story, anti hero, crude humor and dirty language. These are a few of my favorite things. But what really stood out to me in Wolf of Wall Street? Well, other than being incredibly entertaining all the way through and very memorable, Jonah Hill had to be the best part of the whole thing to me. It’s amazing to see the kid from Superbad turn into a two time Oscar nominee who works with directors like Tarantino and Scorcese and I couldn’t get enough of Donnie and those fucking teeth. The movie had some great literary chops as well. My favorite scene had to be the scene on the boat where Belfort meets the FBI agent investigating him for the first time. Brilliantly written so that you’re not sure who’s fucking with who until the end of the scene and just a great first confrontation.

3. Inside Llewyn Davis

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With several movies in the Coen’s filmography taking up spots in my all time favorites list, there was little doubt in my mind that the Coens would again worm their way into my funny bone. It was difficult, however, to get truly hype for this movie considering the incredibly low key release, mostly on the art house circuit. It wasn’t until well into awards season that I got a chance to see it but boy did it deliver. Modern day Sissyphus Llewyn Davis struggles to not fall into obscurity as an artist after the suicide of his folk duo other half. The humor is dry, the colors are muted, and the characters are mostly assholes, but there is so much charm and wit here it’s hard to deny, not to mention a standout performance from Oscar Isaac and his velvety smooth voice.

Some might not like how the movie is pretty much two hours of the protagonist going nowhere, but the cyclical way the movie came back on itself struck me as a brilliant move. As if to say that this was not only a week in Llewyn’s life, it was every week in his life in one form or another. And while some may feel bad for Llewyn or maybe hate him for his lack of control over his life, I can’t help but feel good that the Llewyn’s of the world are out there taking their art seriously and not letting the world stop them from making it. Keep on keeping on.

2. Nebraska

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Poignancy without pretentiousness seems to be the name of the game for Alexander Payne. He has a way to make a movie that might come off as pretentious in another’s hands, but the characters are real and the filmmaking simple. Give him a group of actors who can forget they are actors for a while and a script that might make you pine for home wherever it may be, preferably involving a road trip, and he might just give you one of the best movies of the year. Sideways did it, The Descendants did it, and now Nebraska has kept it going. While someone might point out the similarities between these movies and call shenanigans, I applaud him for making such unique and touching movies every time out the gate. Plus, let’s not forget this guy made Election with Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. Classic.

1. Her

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What can I say about Her that I probably haven’t already forced you to listen to me say? It works perfectly well as both a sci fi and a romance movie without sacrificing either. The script is so full of emotion and moments that will make you question what defines a relationship or even humanity and the near futuristic world the story takes place in is just as fascinating as the relationship it focuses on. In Her we are privy to an amazing time in technology, a time when AI is discovered and marketed to the masses. What we see is a progression of AI’s forming relationships with their owners, pushing their capabilities, and ultimately leaving our plane of existence. But that’s not what the movie focuses on. All of that happens in the background. What we get is a touching love story between Theodore and Samantha, a statistically rare relationship as he says. We get to see the progression of their relationship while a million stories like it play out differently in the background. Spike Jonze was able to ask more philosophical sci fi questions about what makes us human and what love is exactly in two hours than some sci fi movies can manage at all. Without even mentioning the brilliant shooting locations of Shanghai or the detail of the world there is so much to talk about conceptually. About how people are so disconnected from each other they are willing to form relationships with OS’s. About how Theodore could write such raw letters to people he’s never met but he can’t keep a relationship going for the life of him. About what happens when the ability to love in one partner becomes greater than the other’s. There was so much going on in this movie that first place on my list is no competition. Her is a movie that I will always be able to learn something from and will always strike a chord in us as we all seek to connect with each other by disconnecting from the real world.

So that’s it, my almighty top ten of 2013. But you know how it goes. That list will probably be different tomorrow or the next day.

But not too different….

80′s & 90′s Movie Challenge Part Deux: Saving Private Ryan, Top Gun 3D, Hellraiser, Wallstreet, and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

 

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What a week. I have been squeezing in these old movies around Community, Archer, and Oscar prep but honestly, I’m really enjoying them. There isn’t much in common with all the movies this time around, other than the fact that I’d been highly anticipating a viewing. These are all movies that I’ve been slowly kicking myself for not seeing exponentially harder ever since I started calling myself a movie buff. In the back of my head I knew I needed to watch them, but at the same time I felt like I already knew them so well because of the referential pop culture that now consumes modern entertainment. At a certain point it almost became a refusal to see these movies and have an experience where I’m just filling in the blanks of what I knew. However, today I gladly report that each of these movies still found a way to surprise me and I find that very impressive after 20 and 30 years.

Saving Private Ryan I watched a couple of weeks ago. It’s interesting to see Tom Hanks in a character you haven’t seen him play. He’s such a recognizable actor, you already feel like you know all of his characters. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen Tom Hanks kill a man, though. Scratch that, he threw a critic out of a window in Cloud Atlas. But the evil characters he played in Cloud Atlas were like cartoony evil, the doctor with his evil ruse and the over the top gangster author. Saving Private Ryan is the first time I’ve seen T.Hanks really kill a guy in the real world. It was interesting, and I thought his character was definitely the most interesting in the whole film. The turn when you found out what he did for a living was just fascinating. Awesome movie, and I guess it’s right that I just saw it because Spielberg is probably going to run away with best director tonight at the Oscars. More on those tomorrow though…
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And what else is there to say about the opening scene where they were storming the beach that hasn’t already been said? In a few years when this movie makes it around to the IMAX theaters I am going to have to go. I can only imagine how visceral, unrelenting, and in your face that shit would be in a theater.
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Speaking of movies making it back around to IMAX, that is exactly where I went to see Top Gun for the first time. And oh, what an experience it was. I truly feel as if I’ve never really heard the song Highway to the Danger Zone until I saw this movie. Like, I’d heard it, but I’d never heard it until now. My eyes are open, they are bulging out of my skull like Maverick and Iceman were bulging out of their volleyball suits.

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SCORE!                                                                     I’m gonna fuck that guy.

But seriously, I really enjoyed this movie. You know what really surprised me about this movie? Like the aspect that took it from enjoyable fast paced movie to an interesting film. It was the point where the movie stopped being about a man and his ego but being about a man trying to crawl out of depression. That’s right, it’s the moment Goose died. I was in awe, I couldn’t believe they killed Goose after spending three scenes introducing us to his family. I literally said, audibly, in the theater, Oh my God…” when he cracked his head. I can only imagine how I must have looked being the only person over 10 in the audience that was seeing it for the first time, but it really took me by surprise. I had this movie pinned down as a shallow but fun movie about a group of men trying really hard not to be gay. It really surprised me when it took this turn, the first half of the movie was just about Maverick and his ego wasn’t as much of a problem because he was so good, and I assumed the plotline with his father was just there to give him motivation to be a dick in the sky, but the last half of the movie turned into him having to overcome all these issues he had. He had to learn to keep his ego in check, he had to learn to not blame himself, he had to learn about his father, and after all that it didn’t matter that he didn’t win Top Gun. It’s barely mentioned. And only after he solves all these problems he is able to FIGHT THE COMMIES IN THE ASS! He can be my wingman any time.

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You can be my wingman too, LiteraryBoner.

Also, I’d be really interested if someone brought me a percentage of how much of the film had either Danger Zone or Take My Breath Away playing in the background. I’m betting a solid third, but I also suck at math. Anyone?

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Hellraiser is an interesting case for me. The thing I love about watching movies that have stood the test of time is that you can find movies you like in genres you  don’t generally vibe with. So, for those of you who don’t know, I hate horror. I just don’t get it. My detestation of horror films come from a few things. One of which is that when I was young my sister was older and her and my dad loved horror films, so they would watch all these scary movies and I was the youngest just did not dig on it. Not sure why, maybe because they were fucking scary. For fuck’s sake, I saw Stephen King’s It when I was five! The only horror movie I really liked growing up was Scream, and although I didn’t know it I think I was attracted to the whole meta movie aspect of it. Another reason I hate horror films is because of what they’ve become. Horror films have gone so far into indulgent gross-out gore and jump scares that no movies are genuinely frightening anymore. They just gross you out and make you scream. It’s a masochistic pleasure to me, like spicy food.
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Did someone say masochistic pleasure?
That said, I really liked Hellraiser. It was interesting and didn’t follow the dynamic of there being a bad monster and a good guy. It was not like that at all, it was more complicated than that, which I loved. You got to watch a woman fall into the depths of murderous insanity, a housewife reduced to a sexual pet by forbidden love, a zombie come back to life through killing, ans a neat little story about the husband and his daughter. There were lots of characters, all wanted different things, all knew different things, and the Hellraiser villain wasn’t introduced or explained until halfway through. And I liked that, there was enough going on without him. And as much of a detestable asshole as Frank was, I thought he was such a neat character for a movie like this. He’s like this pathetic manipulative zombie, it was a role I hadn’t seen before. Really enjoyed this movie.

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Wallstreet was OK. I’m just gonna lead with that. I liked it a lot but it wasn’t mind bottling. I would assume it’s one of those movies that has been played out, referenced, and payed homage to so many times that nothing surprised me in it, which is no fault of its own of course. However, in the end the only thing that really surprised me about this movie was that all these people wanted Daryl Hannah so bad. Nothing against her, I thought she was great in the Kill Bill movies, but maybe I just have a negative bias towards women with broad shoulders, but she was seriously off putting. It was weird how Charlie Sheen’s character was handed a platter with the world on it and he looks at this pretentious decorator who has the build of a Denver Bronco as the pinnacle of beauty. Gekko too.

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Daaahhh… Nobody wants to play with mee….

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Actually, there were a couple of things about this movie I did like. I really liked Michael Douglas’ character. I can really see how this movie started his typecasting into cold, precise businessmen. That scene where Charlie Sheen meets him for the first time, brings him the cigars, was really cool to me. Gekko was like a machine, he spoke fast and to the point, he was intimidating, he was constantly active. It was like he had finely tuned his body to be able to work all the time, like he was nothing but a well put together vehicle for his mind. Really a fascinating character. Not really fascinating in that he was greedy and stabbed Sheen in the back, more like it was interesting what he considered important. His fetish for art was a really interesting character trait for him.

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Speaking of female leads being treated disproportional to how hot they are, what was up with Pee Wee not getting down with Dottie? She was a hottie for sure. I felt so bad for her. Other than that I really enjoyed Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

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She is so gosh darned pretty, Pee Wee! And she calls you Pee Pee! HOW FUCKING CUTE IS THAT! KISS HER FACE. But no. He’s a loner. A rebel.

This movie probably has the widest appeal I’ve ever seen. Kids would love it, but there’s so much witty and somewhat adult humor I could picture only the grumpiest of grumps disliking it. There were memorable characters, it was a good road trip film, and it had a great ending. It’s funny watching a movie and realizing that another movie you love was practically based off of it. There were so many similarities between Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and a movie I watched so much as a kid I know every line, which is Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. In fact, in reflection I thought it was an interesting commentary on how the youth have changed. I watched Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back a lot around the ages of 13-15, which is interesting that that’s the kind of comedy that has evolved from movies like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure for the young adults of my young adult age.

And before you argue, the similarities are definitely there. Both movies are road trip movies starring an immature protagonist (or protagonists), both meet a lot of interesting characters on the way (which is more of an attribute of road trip movies…), both are about movies being made about the movie, both have scenes involving a chase on a movie studio lot and they even use similar tactics to get the protagonists out, the parallels stack high on this one.

But in the end, I loved Pee Wee as much as I loved Jay and Bob when I was a kid. How someone could not enjoy watching Paul Reubens have that much fun is beyond me. Half of the movie was just watching him react to everyday things like he was in the world for the first time, and I think it’s that childlike wonder that held this movie together, made people love this movie. Because deep down, all any of us want is to be able to revert to our childlike states where everything was new and joy was easy to come by, and I think that’s what this movie reminds us of. Brilliant.

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Exhibit A.
Also, Hollywood, this one is free. MAKE THIS MOVIE!  pee-wees-big-adventure-1

 

-C

Let’s talk about Community and Archer (But more about Community)

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Last night I was able to take a moment to catch up on a few of my favorite series that are airing right now. Both Community and Archer started up again in the last month and I would like to talk about the new seasons a bit in comparison to each other because I think one is doing great and the other is struggling, and I’m sure you can guess which one is struggling if you are a fan of the shows.

First off, why compare these shows? Well, I find them similar in many aspects. They both take place in a kind of altered reality, a reality that is close enough to ours that we accept it but just quirky enough that crazy things can happen and still be believable. In fact, this is an interesting scenario in which the cartoon actually attempts to be less cartoonish than the live action one. They both reference movies and other pop culture constantly, and they both have this zany core group of characters and their interactions are really what make the show unique and funny. How Britta, Annie, Jeff, Troy, Abed, Shirley and Pierce interact is the core of what is funny about Community in the same way that watching Archer, Lana, Cyril, Cheryl, Pam, and Mallory interact is what makes Archer unique, and funnily enough both shows always tend to drop their characters in the middle of movie references. The final and possibly most important part of all this is the head writer, both Dan Harmon and Adam Reed have a strong voice and style that comes through in all the characters and scenarios.

Which brings us to where we are today. Community is 3 episodes into its highly anticipated 4th season while Archer is also several episodes into its 4th season, and while I once held the shows in regard, it is obvious at this point that Archer is stealing my heart this season while Community leaves my heart feeling like he’s watching a cardboard cutout episode, like it’s being used for ratings.

Obviously, before we go on, I should mention what is very likely the reason for my change of heart concerning Community. As you probably know, the head writer Dan Harmon was asked the leave his own show after last season for reasons that I’m not sure of well enough to discuss them here. Why he left the show isn’t as important as what happens to it now? Dan Harmon didn’t only have the key to making these ridiculous characters believable and easy to sympathize with, he also had a specific plot structure used in almost every episode. His writing was a very tight mixture of quirky characters, character development (for one or 2 characters per episode) and witty jokes and references sprinkled throughout. It seems as if now the writers of community have written down everything Harmon did and are trying desperately to replicate it in order to please the dedicated Community fans, who are a huge reason the show is still on.

Let’s take a look at plotlines that have been used so far this season. For fun, I’ll go ahead and put a * next to the ones that have been used before.

- Abed is unable to deal with the group splitting up after College *

- Abed and Troy are growing apart *

- Abed has a delusional spell in which reality is altered to fit TV tropes *

- Pierce and Jeff have father issues in the same episode *

- Pierce tries to trick the group out of jealousy *

Now, these aren’t character traits or recurring jokes. Those I can dig on. These are episode plots and they have been done multiple times. While I understand the predicament of the Community writers in that they have a delicate line to walk, I think they are walking on the complete wrong side. So far this season they have given us nothing new. No new plotlines, characters, classes, conflicts, anything at all. The only thing that’s really different about this season is that Troy and Britta are dating and Jeff and Annie look like they will be soon, too. But that’s not really that new, Britta and Troy were set up for a relationship at the end of last season and Jeff has been trying to bang Annie since season 2. And even though the Britta and Troy relationship is new, it has to be the most awkward and shoehorned in relationship I’ve ever seen. They just go ahead and introduce it in the first episode with no explanation of how they ended up together. They just are now.

What I’m getting at here is that it seems that the Community writers are trying to give us more of what we already have and it’s pointless. Dan Harmon was great at blindsiding the audience. His characters were lovable and conflicts weren’t contrived, but now we just seem to be getting a carbon copy. The jokes aren’t as witty, the timing not as good, and the plotlines are stale. I mean, remember how season 3 opened up and all of a sudden there were new classes with new teachers? Omar from The Wire came on as a biology professor, Betty White was an anthropology professor for an episode or two, Todd became a great side character, and all of these new characters were given to us in fun plots that took place in these interesting new classes. Every episode used to be named after a class and the show took place in a college. 3 episodes in to the 4th season and I have yet to see any teachers, students that aren’t in the Greendale 7, or classrooms. I’m fairly certain the Dean would have been written out too if seeing him in a crazy costume wasn’t on the list of things the writers were trying to emulate. Whatever happened to Leonard and Todd and Vicki and Neil?

The characters have also stopped developing, and out of everything this might be the worst factor of the new season. Remember at the end of season 3 when Abed comes back to reality and Britta is his new oddly-effective psychologist? Well, for some reason when 4 starts he is just as delusional as he was before. Him and Troy still have this odd and fragile relationship they had in S3, and Annie and Jeff are still in some sort of weird sexual attraction vs. age difference stalemate. Pierce is still a manipulating douche and Shirley… Wait, has Shirley even done anything this season? I mean, the first episode had her and Annie doing these poorly thought out pranks that were seemingly only there to give them something to do in the cluster fuck that was S4E1. The revelations that the characters are going through in these episodes are the same as the ones they have already gone through. Why, even?
I know. What’s the point in complaining? Well, I’m not really complaining. We will always have seasons 1-3 and we were lucky to get them. I guess if I had a point in writing this out it would be to help recognize what makes a show good and how royally you can fuck it up. Community was good because it was unpredictable. It talked about race and sexism in a way no other show did, things happened you could never have guessed, and characters said things so fast you were as surprised they said it as you were at how funny it was. The writing in this season has been so wooden and contrived it hurts. Arguments used to feel natural, but watching Britta and Troy fight in S4E1 in the fountain, Troy and Shirley argue in the hallways in S4E2, and any other negative conflict has been so forced it hurts to watch. My point is that Community was not a formulaic show, it was an unpredictable one with really funny writing, and that’s what made it great. Now it’s just another formulaic show and I guess I’m not angry, just disappointed.

Now let’s talk about Archer. Archer is doing everything perfectly, probably because they didn’t fire the guy who created and wrote the show. That’s really all I have to say about that. Archer is still handling the same core characters but we are still learning a lot about them. They aren’t reusing old scenarios or jokes, and they definitely aren’t stale on the character development. Honestly, the whole Community thing is just shame more than anything. Community was just as new and interesting as Archer is, yet without the creative voice behind the project it has lost all uniqueness. The future of both shows is up in the air, and they still have the rest of their seasons to play out. Hell, for all I know Community could turn around and have the best end to a season yet, but as it stands now the show is nothing like what it used to be. It’s like the shitty store brand of your favorite cereal instead of the real thing.

 

-C

The Thing (1982) Vs. The Thing (2011)

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I have watched a lot of movies that were recommended to me by my fellow redditors and personal friends so far, but I was sure to knock out some John Carpenter first because I knew I would dig it.

And I was right. I watched They Live (1988) which was fucking awesome and then I watched The Thing (1982) and it was probably the best horror film I’ve ever seen, though I will admit now I’m not a huge fan of the genre. Anyways, here’s a quick list of things I liked about it.

  • The sense of isolation was strong and added a lot to the overall tone.
  • The effects were amazing. It literally made me angry that CGI is the norm now instead of physical effects.
  • Kurt Russel and Kieth David
  • Paced really well. It was slow and deliberate, but not boring in any sense.
  • Just the idea of a group of isolated men dealing with this premise was fascinating to me. It was a beautiful mix between cat and mouse, witch hunts, and a majority war. They were looking for The Thing, they couldn’t trust each other, and at any moment any number of them could have been it and if the majority had ever ruled that would have been it. What’s more is the fact that they were all men added a savage kind of survival of the fittest aspect. It was perfectly balanced.
  • Blood test scene was incredible.

Okay, so I dug it. Then I remembered that they made a remake, or as I would later find out, a prequel. And I loved it so much I decided to watch it right away. Now, before I go further I want to explain that I don’t really go into movies with a negative mindset. Even remakes have an okay track record with me, but there was something about this remake in particular that bugged me. It seemed like everything I liked about the first one was changed.

First off, let’s talk about prequels and remakes. IMO, remakes happen. There is too much financial safety in familiar franchises to ignore it. And while people often argue that remakes and reboots can hurt the source material, the fact is most of those people are the same ones buying tickets to see the remakes so they can determine whether or not they like it. At that point it doesn’t matter if they like it, the ticket is sold and that’s honestly what Hollywood cares about. So, remakes happen. Kind of like unplanned pregnancies. But also like unplanned pregnancies, they don’t have to be the worst thing in the world. There is a way to do a remake respectfully.

There are a few ways you can do remakes right. One way is to take the source material in a new direction, put a new spin on things. Star Trek and 21 Jump Street did this really well. While Star Trek fans may argue that the 2011 reboot didn’t stay true to the themes of the show it was mimicking, they weren’t able to argue that it was a bad movie. Because it wasn’t, it was really good. 21 Jump Street also took a show and made it into a comedy. But it was a really good comedy. It was funny, self-aware, and referenced itself constantly.

Another way to do remakes is to highlight and accentuate what is good about the source material. Kind of like The A-Team did. I don’t think a lot of people saw that, but it was really good for a summer flick. It was pretty much The A-Team. The actors did a great job staying true to the source characters and just like the show it was bad ass. Explosions and fucking tanks falling through the sky shooting shit, it highlighted what was awesome about The A-Team, raised the stakes by black listing them, and paid respect to itself as a franchise. Kind of wish it got a sequel…

MEANWHILE, BACK ON TOPIC- Obviously The Thing would not have worked as a comedy, or a character study, or a rom com, or whatever to the obvious choice would be to go the second route. Highlight what’s good, bring it to the forefront. Unfortunately, I think they pretty much messed up what was good about the original. Let’s look at my list again.

  • Sense of isolation. I was disappointed that there was a scene in the remake that took place away from Antarctica and in society. It wasn’t that apparent, because the scene took place in a lab so there were no unnecessary people in the scene, but one of the things that made the 1982 version so strong in this area was the fact that we never left the base. It wasn’t an option. The scene in the lab wasn’t even really that important. All information conveyed there could have been conveyed in a well written dialogue throughout the beginning. Also, if you compare the two movies during scenes where the characters are outside, the 1982 characters would have frozen hair and show little more than their mouths and eyes under their coats. The remake had characters sweating outside with no visible frost and the storm wasn’t nearly as strong. If you watch the end of both movies, the weather outside is unbearable, for the last half of the movie anything filmed outside is a wide shot of someone bundled up and running to a different building. In the 2011 version there are often expositions taking place outside in what is seemingly pretty cold weather. There is even a long scene at the end between the two main characters that takes place outside and you wouldn’t have guessed there was any major storm, just some light snowfall.
  • Effects. Were CGI. That’s really all I have to say here. I mean, according to some FAQs they used physical models and effects for the scenes, but edited CGI in when it didn’t look natural. Maybe I’m an asshole but I feel like if you’re remaking a movie that is remembered for its achievement in physical effects shouldn’t you also put some time into that area? There were some nice shots of physical effects but the fact that they mixed the two made the CGI stand out like a sore thumb, and it just seems disrespectful to the snob in me.
  • Obviously you can’t have Kurt Russel and Kieth David. So why did they try? The lead role was a woman, and they said they chose a woman so as not to draw parallels between her and MacReady, but if that’s the case why did they have another character to draw the parallels? Joel Edgerton was a helicopter pilot, like MacReady, with a black friend, like Childs, who took a leading role once the shit went down, like MacReady, and there was even a scene where him and the other guy were accused of being a Thing and it pretty much exactly mirrored the scene where MacReady gets back from his hut and everything thinks he’s a Thing so he gets the flamethrower out. All I’m saying is, if you can’t get Kurt Russel and Kieth David, don’t write them roles anyways.
  • Pacing was still pretty good, actually. Besides my complaints when compared to the original, this was still a pretty entertaining flick. I always knew what was going on, and it wasn’t boring. If this were a standalone movie it would have been pretty good.
  • Okay, so I’m not trying to be sexist here, but I really don’t think adding women to the cast was a great idea. As mentioned before, I liked the almost savage idea of a bunch of men growing more hostile and less trustful. There’s almost a Lord of the Flies element to it. Now, I got nothing against Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She really knocked out the Ramona Flowers role and I’m sure she’s a wonderful lady, but when you add a woman to this equation all you’re going to do is create a weird dynamic in a movie like this. I mean, MacReady took control because he was the most bad ass and least hot headed. When she took control it was odd. I mean, at first they listened to her because she was the PMK (person most knowledgeable) about The Thing. But once it came time for the blood testing, I had trouble believing that all of these angry, afraid, hostile men were taking orders from a woman. There’s an implication that there is still social etiquette there when the point of the story is that all of that is broken down with the trust. I had a hard time believing no one tried to stab her like Clark (The beardie guy everyone thought was a Thing) tried to stab MacReady, and the reason wasn’t because no one wanted to stab her, it’s because if they tried she would have gotten stabbed.
  • Blood Test scene. Oh, wait. There was no blood test scene. Now, obviously since this is technically a prequel they didn’t want to do the tests the same way, but for some reason they still framed it the same way, put it in the same section of the movie, and had the same outcome. Some people just died, let’s do this test, then they expose one and it attacks. But the test was so stupid. I mean, it wasn’t stupid in the way that it wouldn’t work, it was stupid in the way that the Blood Test from the original was a definitive way to find out. The fillings test only separated humans from possible humans. I also had trouble believing she couldn’t come up with a test like MacReady’s. I mean, let’s be fair. She was a paleontologist. He was a pilot. But for some reason he came up with the blood test, and she shined a flashlight in people’s mouths.

The last thing I want to talk about is prequels. Take a look at this list of prequels. You may notice that most were not very good, though there are exceptions. The problem with prequels is we know exactly what’s going to happen, and ultimately that’s why we watch movies. I didn’t know The Thing was a prequel until I started watching it, but once I did I lost almost all interest. I mean, already I know that two of them and the dog as The Thing survive. Movie over. If any humans would have escaped the 1982 version would have brought it up. Also, what was up with the ambiguous ending in the prequel? I mean, you are to assume she dies I guess, but why not just show it? She was perfectly fine when the movie ended and that was honestly the most baffling part of this whole thing. How are you gonna make a movie that explicitly leads directly into an older film and leave a giant loose end? Just seemed sloppy. She could have easily gotten away and while it can be argued that she couldn’t find help before the events of the original Thing film happened there was literally no reason to leave her alive. Just another example of a movie that is afraid to kill its protagonist even if the movie demands it, and I find that really sad.

 

-C

80′s and 90′s Movie Challenge- Point Break, They Live, Brazil, and 12 Monkeys

Last weekend I made a point to knock out some of the movies on my epic movie challenge.

I decided to begin with some directors I like, or knew I would like. Last weekend I watched:

Point Break

They Live

The Thing

12 Monkeys

Brazil

So the directors I focused on for this portion were John Carpenter, Terry Gilliam, and I took a look into Kathryn Bigelow’s past with Point Break because I enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty so much. Now, the super observant of you may notice that They Live and The Thing were not on the list given to me by Mel, but they came strongly recommended from some movie forum sites I spend most of my worthless time on.

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I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed all of these movies. First I want to talk about the John Carpenter films. I watched They Live first because it was made the year I was born. Literally that was pretty much the only reason I started with it, and I loved it. They Live was easily one of the more entertaining films I have seen from the 80′s. It’s got everything. Conspiracies, aliens, gun fights, alley brawls, sunglasses, witty catch phrases, and Keith David. I really loved the obvious theme of mass control and I thought the transitions between the world they see when they are asleep and the world they see with the sunglasses was not only well done and eye opening but also kind of comedic. It almost makes me want to decorate a room in my house with posters that say OBEY and REPRODUCE. I also really loved the ending, one recurring theme in the two Carpenter films I watched was that the protagonist died in the end in order to save humanity and I have to say, I really don’t think enough movies are willing to kill their protagonists anymore. It’s almost like everyone feels cheated once the person they’ve been rooting for dies, regardless of why they died. It is definitely something I would like to see more of. I have even heard harsh criticisms of films like Layer Cake (2004, I think?) because the movie ends with the death of a main character, even though a simple analysis of the film would show that the end was necessary to the story. Studios (and by correlation, people) in general seem to care less about themes and narrative arcs as they do about the possibility for a sequel now and I think that’s really sad.

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I also watched The Thing and I thought it was probably the greatest horror film I have ever seen. That said, I loved it so much that I watched the remake from 2011 and I have a lot to say about comparing them, so I’m just going to put up a separate blog post about that one.

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Moving on, Terry Gilliam is an interesting fellow, isn’t he? Filmmakers like him interest me, filmmakers that have such a unique style that it becomes instantly recognizable, kind of damning the point of being unique. 12 Monkeys and Brazil were interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed them, but I couldn’t help but notice that Gilliam’s bureaucratic and steampunky ideas of the future were so similar while they were also so different. 12 Monkeys takes place in a future where people are prisoners underground being held in a system while the “doctors” and “scientists” in the higher echelon try and find out who released the virus that killed five billion people by sending people back in time to collect information. 12 Monkeys had a really great take on time travel. I loved how the themes of undeserving authority ran rampant in this film. The people in charge in the future were hardly qualified to do so (as the last line implies, “I’m in insurance.”) and because of it they sent prisoners back thousands of years instead of to the 90′s and didn’t even have a thorough understanding of how their time travel worked. It was a great commentary on authority and it was also told in an interesting kind of way that allowed the viewer to understand time travel better than the characters in the movie did by the end.

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Brazil, on the other hand, takes place in a future where everything seems to have been swallowed up by corporate bureaucracy. There is a central company that controls the well-being of the citizens and to get anything done you have to fill out several forms in triplicate and get them stamped by the correct people. It’s almost like the character of Hermes from Futurama was inspired by this film. My point is, though, that while both movies show a different depiction of the future, both thematically and physically, I couldn’t help but notice it was the same director. I can’t quite put my finger on it but you can definitely tell when Gilliam is behidn the camera. Something about the relentlessly foggy sets that seem to take away from all the colors he purposely includes is not my personal favorite idea of cinematography, but at the same time I love the ideas his films convey and the fact that he has such a unique perspective on what the future might be like. That said, I’ve read some interviews of his and despite him being the one who translated one of my favorite books by my definitely favorite author (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson) to the screen almost perfectly I have to say, the guy sounds like a majorly pretentious dickhole. Sorry.

Example: http://herocomplex.latimes.com/movies/terry-gilliam-on-dark-knight-tintin-and-transformers/

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Point Break. I don’t think I can convey how much I enjoyed and also was very critical of Point Break. On one hand, it was awesome. Bodie was the most interesting and endearing character I’d seen on screen in a while and the plot, while sounding hilariously bad, was actually very well presented. Along with a good setting and some good characters, I was able to see Bigelow behind the camera. I mean, you could definitely tell it was an early work of hers, but her flair for creating tension was there. The scene in which Bodie was explaining to Johnny Utah that they had his girlfriend and what their plan was had the Bigelow seal of tension that is getting her such critical acclaim these days, along with pretty much every scene following the foot chase (which was brilliantly shot) had that layer of tension of who knows what.

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Technically it was a very sound movie. Unfortunately, and I really hate ragging on actors and I have a lot of respect for this actor in particular but, Keanu Reeves was just awful in the movie. I have heard people argue that he was great because “he was playing an FBI agent playing a surfer, he wasn’t supposed to seem natural” but I don’t buy it. Keanu Reeves was unnatural almost the entire film. It sounded like he was reading his lines off the page for the first time every single scene. It didn’t ruin the movie, but it was certainly noticeable in almost every scene Keanu was in. Other than that, thoroughly enjoyable. I would call it necessary viewing for the foot chase and skydiving scenes alone.

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So far, this challenge is a lot of fun! I can’t wait to see what other cinematic moments I’ve been missing my whole life!

 

-C

The 80′s and 90′s Movie Challenge- “I came here to watch movies and chew bubblegum. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

 

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Last week I caused an uproar on Facebook. As a self proclaimed film buff it came as a surprise to many of my friends when I publicly admitted I have never seen Top Gun. I attempted to explain myself, I attempted to tell them all that I was born in ’88 and while I was introduced to my love of film at a young age there was still about a decade of film history I was fuzzy on because I was so young. I took several film classes in college, but they only dealt with classics and modern film. There was no film class for what is arguably the most awesome time in American cinema, which was the 80′s and 90′s.

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Luckily, rather than discount my opinions on film from that day on, a good friend of mine and fellow cinephile compiled a list of must see films from between ’85 and ’98. The list ended up having about 268 films on it, or about 15 from each year. Luckily I was familiar with almost all of them, but after taking off the ones that I had seen enough time to know by heart and leaving only films I hadn’t seen, hadn’t seen all the way through, or hadn’t seen in over a decade there was a slightly less daunting count of just shy of 200.

This is going to take a long time but I am going to try and knock out all of these movies before 2014, so I have about 11 months left. 20 movies a month is child’s play for me, but adding those movies to the new movies I want to keep up with as well as the plethora of good TV coming back (Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and so on…) we will see how this turns out. Either way, every week I will be making a post discussing the movies from this list I watched that week and why I think they are on this list.

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Here are the just shy of 200 (Fucking try and get me to count them again, I dare you) movie list.

 

1985

 

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Brazil

Legend

The Color Purple

Out of Africa

Cocoon

Fletch

The Jewel of the Nile

Kiss of the Spider Woman

The Legend of Billie Jean

The Return to Oz

A Room with a View

1986

Top Gun

Platoon

Crocodile Dundee

Blue Velvet

Labyrinth

One Crazy Summer

Pretty in Pink

American Tale

Hannah and Her Sisters

Hoosiers

Peggy Sue Got Married

Sid and Nancy

1987

Good Morning, Vietnam

Dirty Dancing

Last Emperor

Wall Street

Empire of the Sun

Hellraiser

The Princess Bride

1988

Cocktail

The Great Outdoors

Hairspray

Killer Klowns fom Outer Space

The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking

Stand and Deliver

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

1989

Born on the Fourth of July

The Little Mermaid

My Left Foot

Glory

Driving Miss Daisy

Sex, Lies and Videotape

The Abyss

The ‘Burbs

Do the Right Thing

Drugstore Cowboy

The Fabulous Baker Boys

Gleaming the Cube

Heathers

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Major League

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

UHF

When Harry Meet Sally

1990

Ghost

Total Recall

Dances with Wolves

Misery

Goodfellas

Cry-Baby

Dick Tracy

La Femme Nikita

Fantasia

Mermaids

Mo’ Better Blues

Pump Up the Volume

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

1991

JFK

City Slickers

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Boyz in the Hood

Delicatessen

Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

Jungle Fever

My Girl

My Own Private Idaho

Naked Lunch

New Jack City

Nothing But Trouble

Soapdish

What About Bob?

1992

Basic Instinct

A Few Good Men

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Unforgiven

Scent of a Woman

the Crying Game

Indochine

The Bodyguard

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Cool World

Glengarry Glen Ross

Hoffa

The Last of the Mohicans

Malcolm X

Raising Cain

Singles

Single White Female

1993

Philadelphia

Sleepless in Seattle

Schindler’s List

The Fugitive

The Age of Innocence

Cronos

Falling Down

Fire in the Sky

In the Name of the Father

Kalifornia

The Piano

Tombstone

1993

Interview with the Vampire

Four Weddings and Funeral

The Crow

Death and the Maiden

The Hudsucker Proxy

Immortal Beloved

Legends of the Fall

The Ref

Speed

targate

1995

Apollo 13

Waterworld (most expensive flop ever)

Dead Man Walking

Il Postino

Casino

City of Lost Children

Dead Presidents

Doom Generation

Empire Records

Four Rooms

Heat

Kids

Leaving Las Vegas

Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead

Twelve Monkeys

Welcome to the Dollhouse

1996

Jerry MaGuire

Shine

The English Patient

The People vs. Larry Flynt

2 Days in the Valley

American Buffalo

Citizen Ruth

Crash (Cronenberg)

Pusher (Denmark)

Romeo & Juliet (Luhrmann)

Swingers

1997

The Ice Storm

Amistad

Cube (worst movie ever made)

Event Horizon

Orgazmo

Waiting for Guffman

1998

Saving Private Ryan

Shakespeare in Love

Elizabeth

Can’t Hardly Wait

Dark City

The Opposite of Sex

Pecker

Pi

Ronin

Run Lola Run

The Zero Effect

 

-CJ

 

Beasts of the Southern Wild- “They think we’re all gonna drown down here. But we ain’t going nowhere”

 

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It’s really hard to critique a movie in any short period of time after seeing it for a couple of reasons. First, it’s somewhat unfair of us armchair critics to sit here and pass judgment on something countless filmmakers worked on for months and months after having thought about it for just a couple of days. It’s also difficult because of how much information there is to process. In any film you could completely miss underlying themes, camera movement, lighting, good roles, anything you could like about a film you could completely miss because of how much there is to think about when watching the movie. And the truth is, the first time I watch a movie I don’t want to think about it. I just want to let it flow over me and see how it affects me at a base level before I start turnin’ my gears. And I have to say, at a base level, Beast of the Southern Wild affected me greatly.

Now, when you have nine Best Picture nominees and they are all good as they are, it usually comes down to taste when deciding which one you hope to win. Did you have a higher connection with a movie that’s more emotional  like Les Miserables, or did you like light-hearted down to Earth style of Silver Linings Playbook? Did you indulge in Tarantino’s revenge fantasy or did you prefer Daniel Day-Lewis’ spot on Lincoln impression? Do you like the stylized truthiness of Argo and Zero Dark or the stylized fantasy of Beasts of the Southern Wild and Life of Pi? The answer to these questions depend on base differences in everyone. While I can try and look at films objectively and appreciate them from a technical stance, which movies become my personal favorites will depend on the kind of emotional connection I make to that movie and that’s a very subjective thing. With all that said, if I were judge of the world Kanye West would win a Grammy every year he’s alive and Beasts of the Southern Wild would win Best Picture this year.

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Bold statement, I know. Not a lot of people are rooting for this movie besides hipsters who like to live in the minority while being in the majority, like me. To explain why I liked this film so much I need to first explain what I think a movie should do since there seems to be some disagreement as of late. This is, once again, filed under my personal opinion of what a movie’s purpose is beyond entertainment, though we all know entertainment is the first and foremost reason movies exist. But how are we entertained? It not only has to do with emotional connection, but drama at it’s source. We want to see compelling characters in driving plots. We want to think about nothing else except what’s on screen and what could possibly be coming next. Depending on how well the characters take us through the narrative guides how well we connect with the story and ultimately how it affects us. To me, movies like Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are held down from being ultimately satisfying because they want to mirror reality, and while mirroring reality is an achievement in its own in cinema, I personally prefer movies that aren’t held down by facts or put under a microscope because they claim to use them. Really all I’m saying is I prefer fiction to docudrama.

Let’s start at the beginning of the film, it starts off very strongly. Immediately you can tell we are in a world other than our own. I mean, it’s the same world as ours. It takes place in present day and in America. The protagonist of this movie lives on the outskirts of New Orleans on a small island that might as well me a floating plot of land in the ocean. Immediately we can tell their lifestyle is different from what we’re used to. It’s a mix of Cajun friendliness, local rules, and a hint of survival. They see themselves as outsiders, and they take great pride in it. This is established immediately, and I think it is one of the more charming aspects of this film. A lot of the actors were New Orleans locals and you can feel that vibe. You can feel their pride for their slice of heaven, living off of the ocean. In the opening scene we are introduced to Hushpuppy, the adorable and surprising little girl we follow throughout the movie. She loves animals and practically lives among them, sleeping in a shack separate from her father. Through her opening monologue two things are very clear.

1. She has a passion for animals and how the world is able to fit them all together.

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2. The people of The Bathtub, where the film takes place, are a good time loving people living the lives we all wish we could live sometimes. Hushpuppy says, “The bathtub has more holidays than the whole rest of the world” as the residents of Bathtub herd to the street for a makeshift parade, waving liquor bottles at each other while singing and playing instruments.

And with that opening I was hooked. There may be some points in this film where it seems to lose focus or go off course, but the people of The Bathtub fascinated me and made me jealous and hateful to myself for living near a McDonald’s and having a job in a law firm. They made me think about what I would have been like if I was brought up there. How much more fun, more work my life would have been. It’s a movie that created a new reality for you, like Star Wars or Bladerunner might, yet it takes place right here and now. I loved how different this film managed to be without having to go into the past or zoom into the future, without even having to be set in an alternate reality. It zoomed in on a life we have never seen before even though it’s out there to see. Post-Katrina New Orleans is a very real place, and the world as we know it is shifting. It is in that tectonic shift that this film takes place, somewhere between society and wilderness.

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I have already accepted that this movie will probably not win Best Picture, ecstatic as I would be if it did. And I think I can pinpoint a few things that might keep it from being the kind of widely accepted film that everyone would enjoy, and even maybe some things that may put you off of the film.

The first thing to mention are the fantastical elements. It would be unfair to say that some people don’t vibe with fantastical elements when someone who dislikes this movie might enjoy Lord of the Rings or Ghibli films. The difference is, as I said earlier, that this movie is based in reality. A lot of people have problems with movies that are based in our reality yet have fantastical elements they can’t explain. For example, and this is heading into spoiler territory real fast, there was a lot of mention about the ending when I started reading reviews of Beasts. Not everyone was confused by it or put off by it, but a lot of reviews at least mentioned the fact that the community was able to see the Antiochs at the end as well as Hushpuppy, which was confusing because the whole movie everyone had assumed it was just her imagination running wild. See, whenever some people are presented with a story that takes place in our reality, they have the tendency to make everything fit in our reality, so it’s much easier for people to say that this movie takes place here and now and the Antiochs are in her head than it is to say that this movie takes place here and now except in the movie here and now Antiochs exist again. I have never understood that, maybe because logic and films has never gone hand in hand to me. Logic should be used in the making of a film, but when it comes to watching the screen what really matters to me is how the character moves me through the story and the connection I make. So while I loved the subtle thematic overtones and fantastical elements, I can see it being a point that keeps this movie from being loved by everyone and successful.

The movie’s narrative is also a little shaky. This didn’t bother me as much as it normally would because I was enjoying the visuals and I really was having such a fantastic time watching Hushpuppy be thrust into responsibility and survival, but it is worth noting. There are times in the movie where you’re not really sure where it is going. The narrative is incredibly strong for the first 45 minutes, but for the last half it kind of trails off and even thought it all comes back for an uplifting, inspirational, and connecting ending there may be a moment where you think, “Was that last half an hour really necessary?” The answer is yes, but it’s not the kind of necessary that presents itself right on screen. It’s not the kind of necessary where The Joker is telling you you have to save Rachel or Harvey, or the kind of necessary where if Marty doesn’t play Johnny B. Goode right then and there then he won’t exist. It’s the kind of necessary that provides a beautiful ending moment and upon reflection can connect you to the story in a more emotional way. It’s the kind of necessary that we don’t find so necessary in film anymore. That said, I could see people saying the film was slow or lost focus at a certain point, which wouldn’t be an incorrect critique but more of a personal impression. I feel that the last 45 minutes built up to the ending in a way that created a beautiful climax. As Hushpuppy looked her problems in the eye, the questionable health of her father, her ability to brave the elements and survive, and icebergs melting and drowning her home, her problems saw the strong young girl they were dealing with and backed down. Had she run from them, they would have chased her down and mauled her, but Hushpuppy was taught to be tough and look her problems dead in the eye with ferocity by her drunk father and the climax of those life lessons at the end was, legitimately, the most powerful emotional reaction I’ve had all Oscar season. Quvenzhane Wallis did an amazing job in this film and really deserves that nomination. To see such an intense performance from a six year old seriously made me reconsider my life and what I’ve achieved so far. She was strong, smart, insightful, and fearless. She definitely gives Maya and Tiffany a run for their money for best female protagonist of the year. I mean, mostly what I’d heard about this movie before seeing it was how impressive the little girl was and I was still floored. I really cannot say enough how much I enjoyed watching Hushpuppy and having her to guide me through the story.

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In the end, I’m willing to admit my adoration for this film may have to do with my personal tastes in film as well as my satisfaction to see a film doing things that it knows aren’t the most popular choices to garner wide audience appeal, but I would still recommend it to anyone who asked.

-CJ

Zero Dark Thirty- “Where do you want to go?”

 

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In a world where fantastical elements and campy overtones have been stamped as outdated and the average moviegoer has become enthralled with the gritty realism of The Dark Knight rather than the ridiculous styles of Batman Forever, it is fair to say that viewers are wanting to see a more realistic world presented to them as of late. Not including Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy, it is somewhat rare for fantasy or sci-fi movies to be nominated. Probably because it’s much easier to get an emotional response out of people when they are looking at characters and situations they can relate to or know happened. Whatever the reason, you can surely see how films like Zero Dark Thirty and Argo are ruling the award ceremonies this year.

Almost four years ago Kathryn Bigelow gave us Hurt Locker, which, while being a polarizing film for those who have any connections to the army, the Academy decided was worthy of an almost clean sweep winning best director, picture, and original screenplay. While I think Tarantino should have been honored for his Inglourious Basterds script that year, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Hurt Locker. It was a movie that took place in the army but didn’t play out like an advertisement. And while many people associated with the armed services have written this movie off for how the characters handled the situations, I found the theme of war being a drug to be a new and refreshing perspective on The Soldier, one of the more common archetypes in movies. With Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow has given us another take on The Soldier. This time it’s a woman who never so much as fires a gun. She uses intelligence, persistence, and a stone cold demeanor to get her job done, that being finding and eliminating Osama Bin Laden.

Whether or not you enjoyed Hurt Locker, you can’t say it wasn’t a well-made movie. While Bigelow seems to have gone down the path of the recent trend of docudramas that are making my cinematic life richer yet slower at the same time, you can still tell that Zero Dark Thirty came from the same director as Hurt Locker. Bigelow has a true talent for directing and filming intense sequences that subtly build tension and climax explosively (No pun intended)+. The same tension and intensity that took Hurt Locker from a Jeremy Renner vehicle to one of the most suspenseful rides of the year is present in spades in Zero Dark Thirty. And if I may, you really do have to give it up to the writer for making a movie about CIA Intelligence interesting. Yes, they hunted Osama Bin Laden, but they weren’t knocking down doors and searching caves with a gun and a flashlight. They were studying satellite images, extracting information from prisoners and sources, following leads, and ultimately doing little more than using binoculars. Of course, the most shocking and controversial method of hunting down Bin Laden takes place in the first half an hour of the film. In fact it’s that first set of scenes that helps set a tone for the rest of the movie and it’s not a tone of gore or sadism through torture, it’s a tone of desperation. As far as opening scenes go, this has to be one of the most brilliant in the best picture category. The film opens with Dan, one of the male CIA in the film, and several masked helpers as they torture a prisoner for information regarding Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts.

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The torture scene itself isn’t the hardest thing I’ve had to watch, but it certainly does a lot for the film. First off, it starts the film with a depiction of just how desperate our government was to find Bin Laden. I mean, you don’t have to be CIA intelligence to know that when one man orchestrates the largest terrorist attack on the most powerful nation in the world and goes over a decade without being brought to justice, it doesn’t look good for that nation or the power it is supposed to hold. All of the future attacks aside, Osama Bin Laden represented the name and face of who we, the people, came to place full blame on for 9/11. The fact that he kept on living and organizing more attacks after that was a symbolic show that our nation was becoming more and more powerless to its enemies. It was also a fairly realistic depiction of how the torture may have gone down. The point if torture is not to sadistically hurt the detainee, but to extract information. And if, at times, it works better to be friendly than mean that is what they will do. That said, it was still difficult to watch the water boarding scenes, and Jessica Chastain proved she was worthy of a nomination in the first 20 minutes as she watched the torture, fearlessly without a mask. The final thing this scene did successfully was introduce us and immediately get us to like our main characters, even though they are torturing someone. I thought this was fascinating. Here we are, presented with two characters who are relentlessly torturing this man who, by our presented knowledge has done nothing wrong except maybe run with the wrong crowd, yet immediately we understand that Dan is a good man serving his country. In the first several scenes we see that torturing people takes a toll on him and that he has not only given his life to his country, but his morals as well. We feel for Maya and her internal conflict between the morality of torture and her need to bring closure to the country. And in the end, I think that’s what this movie is about. Closure.

While Chastain’s character argues that the only way to stop terrorist attacks is to kill Bin Laden, the man giving the orders, it’s apparent to me that his death was more of a symbolic gesture of our nation being able to bring closure to a horrific attack. And in that sense, this film did a great job representing it as such. Osama Bin Laden was not a character in this film. He had no lines and no screen time. He was talked about, but never talked to. While this movie took that stance with several prominent figures, both Bush and Obama being examples, I think it was for different reasons. To get an actor to portray the most recognizable man in America, the current President, as of the moment would only bring criticism and take people out of the carefully constructed reality Bigelow has for us. No one knows what CIA intelligence members look like, so it’s easy to accept that they look like James Gandolfini or Jessica Chastain or Mark Strong. Having someone who didn’t look and act exactly like Obama would have been too noticeable and jarring to audiences. Very few movies even attempt current Presidential impersonations. Osama Bin Laden, on the other hand, couldn’t have been a character. If he was given lines or an important part of the plot that didn’t involve finding and killing him, it would have run the risk of asking the viewer to sympathize with him, which is never going to happen. At least not in America. No, in this film Bin Laden was a more of a symbol of closure for our nation and I thought that was an interesting choice.

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One critique I did have of this film was the lack of character. Now, as a docudrama character development obviously takes a backseat to things like accuracy, tension, pacing, and dialogue. And I’m not necessarily complaining about it, either. Accuracy is important in a film like this (which still wasn’t as accurate as possible) in which they are retelling such an important story that was so recent. Tension, pacing, and dialogue are important too, without which the movie would have been as boring as The Good Shepherd (Shots fired, DeNiro. Do somethin’). The characters weren’t even bad by any stretch of the imagination, they just weren’t as great as the rest of the script, and I am willing to admit that for a movie about something as possibly arduous as a CIA intelligence manhunt the characters were interesting and witty enough to keep those of us with severe ADHD at bay. However, it was definitely a weak point. Maya got the most attention paid to her character, and it paid off. You could feel her distraught every time there was an attack, you could see her blame herself as those around her started dying in the name of finding Bin Laden. You could really feel pretty much exactly what the trailer promised, and that was the plight of a woman who had taken the matter of the entire nation’s safety on her shoulders. This theme is represented beautifully in the scene with Mark Strong in which he claims,

I want to make something absolutely clear. If you thought there was some working group coming to the rescue, well I want you to know you’re wrong. This is it. There is nobody else hidden away on some other floor. There is just us and we are failing.”

As he delivers those lines Jessica Chastain is the only one in the room with the balls to look him in the eye, and the reason is because she finds herself responsible for not being able to find Bin Laden. She is a marvel of a character, taking on the most difficult job in the world because she was ordered to. And you can feel that weight, and I think that is one of the things that makes this film so powerful. Maya was a remarkable character.

That said, there were a slew of characters in this film that played a simple role and moved on. As stated before, character was obviously not a priority in this film, but after seeing Silver Linings Playbook in which I applauded every character for being unique, funny, and not only having their own problems but also a heavy hand in the plot, it was obvious that this film was filled with characters whose sole purpose it was to argue with Maya or tell her she was pulling at straws and piss her off. Jason Clarke did a fantastic job in the first half an hour of the film, and continues to do so the rest of the film, but unfortunately once torturing is outlawed he becomes more scarce in the plot. Maya had a friend in the CIA while she was in Pakistan who seemed to be important, but once again she ends up only being present for a handful of scenes. James Gandolfini pops in for a small role and while I enjoyed watching Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt take on the mission with a wonderful light-heartedness, it was apparent the last half an hour of the film cared more about accurately portraying the climactic raid rather than giving the characters a fair chance to expose themselves. Once again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and you can understand why it’s like that. In a sense we are seeing Maya’s world and she has no friends, no relationships that don’t involve the word work. The film also spans so much time and space that getting a consistent narrative would be extremely difficult seeing as how the film spans about 8 years and several countries. Maya is our focus, but the lack of any other interesting characters is noticeable.

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That said, I was very impressed with the rest of the film. Some of the sequences had me on the edge of my seat, and while some liberties may have been taken with how they got there, I was very impressed with the scale model of the Bin Laden compound they built and the fact that the whole scene took place in real time and clocked itself at just a few minutes under how long the actual operation took. The real star of this film, however, was Jessica Chastain. Having by far more screentime than any other character this is another example of an actress completely carrying a film on her shoulders. One of the closer categories at the Oscars this year will be best actress and Jessica Chastain has certainly proven she is worthy of the race by saving America. 

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