Monthly Archives: October 2011

First rule of politics: don’t screw the interns (The Ides of March – 2011)

The somber and sorrowful tale of a political prodigy dirtying his hands with the democratic machine and becoming a seasoned, cynical veteran.  An excellent film for those who enjoy drama, politics, and the reinforcement of negative political stereotypes.

Once upon a time…

…in a small suburb outside of a big city, a young man sat and pondered his future.  He saw himself at the present, what resources he had and were available to him, and attempted to plot the course that would best suit him.  A doctor?  An engineer?  Perhaps a school principal.  But why did he want to be these things?  What good is the man who affects only himself?  I want to change things.  So he can change a life.  A group of people.  If he tried hard enough, a generation.  But what if he went larger?  What if he could affect not just one, but many generations?  What if he could not affect only a small group of people, but a country?  Or the world?  So he set his sights higher and, while he’d always look fondly at the lives of healers, inventors, and educators, this young man pointed himself at the throne of the most powerful man in the land.  Just before leaving his home and all of the things he knew to go learn in the central point of political power, he received a number of warnings all with same message: don’t let it corrupt you

Now, while the overwhelming majority of the people he knew were not involved in politics, they all had the same mindset; nothing that enters the political machine leaves it in the same state.  The Ides of March is one of the many films that reinforces that mindset.  But enough of my tale, let’s discuss the film:

For a kid who enjoys politics, George Clooney, and Ryan Gosling, this film looked like cinematic ambrosia.  So, perhaps my expectations were a bit high.  But what is young naiveté without hope?

So, after work this morning (side note: yes, I have a job now.  I’m a staff technician at my university library.), I went to the AMC in Georgetown and purchased a ticket for my third Gosling film in two months.  I left happy.  Though that’s not to say this a happy film.  Make no mistake, this play is closer to a tragedy than a comedy.  And a play it is, The Ides of March is the film adaptation of the stage performance, "Farragut North".  But I realize that I’m digressing, I’m supposed to tell you about the quality of the film, not its history.

Beginning with the actors, Clooney and Gosling were excellent in their roles, both playing characters to their strengths.  Clooney makes a political leader unparalleled by anything short of President Bartlett.  Gosling is an idealistic, young campaign leader, not dissimilar to Josh Lyman (yes, I know I should stop making West Wing references).  Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character was pretty much as expected, not a departure from the roles in which we imagine him.  My only true grievance with the casting was Paul Giamatti.  Personally, I have no qualms with him and tend to enjoy his films.  However, I feel that his character was underdeveloped and using a high profile actor for the role seemed like overcompensating.

In terms of dialogue, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.  Likely a byproduct of having once been a stage play and being about politics, good dialogue is an absolute necessity.  Still, watching Gosling toss around his lines with the suave aloofness we’ve come to expect and then hearing Clooney’s response as the next leader of the free world was greatly entertaining.

Also benefitting from once having been a stage performance, the writing is good.  When I was watching it in the theatre, it seemed to be a bit scattered, creating three or four possible plotlines that could have dominated the film.  However, it takes each of these directions and uses them to further Gosling’s fall into the realm of corrupt politics.  So while it may seem convoluted or unnecessarily busy for such a short film, it makes use of each element as a step in getting to the conclusion.

Altogether, I enjoyed this film.  It was practically made for me, employing some of my favorite actors in a story that’s based upon one of my greatest interests.  Like watching The West Wing with a prettier cast, it certainly made for an enjoyable afternoon.  That said, the film isn’t anything special.  Tales of dirty politics are far from new and neither drama nor tragedy are young.  Still, it’s a good film that will entertain those who go to see it.


A headless rider, an ethereal sword, and a benevolent Anonymous (Durarara!!)

Wait a minute, I’ve never heard of a movie called "Durarara!!".  What’s going on here?

Well, obviously informed movie-going audience, you’re right.  This isn’t a recent film.  In fact, I don’t think it’s ever been a film, but I may be incorrect.  Still, I’m not addressing a film this evening (technically, it’s morning, but I don’t care), I’m addressing an anime.  Now, to the uncultured audience (read: non-japanophiles), an anime is essentially a cartoon.  That said, the stories and animation are often better than those seen in the States.  Ergo, when I’m not watching movies, viewing a  couple of American or British television programs, reading webcomics, or listening to music, I might be found on my computer with an anime playing in the right half of my monitor. 

So, now that we know what anime is, why am I writing about one?  Well, I’d originally planned on writing about Mulholland Falls, but that movie’s kind of depressing and I can’t must the will to right about something that will bring me down right now.  So I’ve decided to write this enigma of a cartoon.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Why?  Because first and foremost, this is a blog about my distractions.  To be slightly more specific, it’s the media I consume.  And, while it will often be about movies, this time it’s about anime.  So, let’s get started on Durarara!!: (I’m not that excited, the exclamation points are part of the title)


Okay, so, we’ve got this anime. And it’s about some high school students in Japan (completely original concept, I know).  But there’s more to them, they’re not your average Japanese school kids (these writers, seriously, I can’t imagine where they come up with this stuff).  But that’s pretty much where the standard stuff ends.  You see, much like Last Man Standing, this is where a bajillion different genres mash together. 

As my title said, we have a headless rider, an ethereal sword, and a benevolent Anonymous (sort of).  So what does that mean?  Well, we’ve got an odd sort of story that revolves around underworld of Ikebukuro, Japan, a dullahan (Celtic mythos: headless horserider of death), a sword that magically creates mindslaves.  Yes, it’s an odd little compilation of storylines that could each easily be their own series.  But together, well, if you’re willing to follow the often rambling tale, it’s grossly entertaining. 

Allow me to try and disseminate the elements a bit.  Our headless rider, the dullahan, in now in Ikebukuro and rides a motorcycle instead of the traditional dark steed.  Branching away from the mythological background as an alternative to Death, Celty (our dullahan), is a beautiful (though headless) woman who serves the criminal underground as a courier whilst looking for her lost head.  She serves roles comedic and benevolent, often being the protector of the less supernatural characters.

The ethereal sword is a bit stranger than the dullahan.  (Didn’t think that could happen, did you?)  Well, the sword is part of a girl.  Or the girl is the sword?  I don’t exactly know, it’s not perfectly explained.  But the girl/sword was born of strife or love or a lack of love or something… Yeah, I’m not the best at explaining this part, but that’s because it’s all over the place.  So, she wants love.  And she stabs people.  To turn them into mindslaves.  To extend her network of… love.  That totally worked better than I expected.  So.  Let’s move on.

Finally, (far from it) we have the benevolent Anonymous (of sorts).  It’s a very cool concept in this anime that takes the center stage more than anything else.  So, one day, a couple of kids thought it would be cool to start a gang online.  A gang that was open to anybody who said they wanted to join.  So they created this group and called it The Dollars.  (Odd name, unoriginal concept, still really cool.)  And, like Anonymous, this group lacked an evident hierarchy.  So, of course, we have anarchy.  Some members use the name to perpetrate acts of destruction while others use it to increase the numbers of people doing good in Ikebukuro.  It interesting to see the two fronts competing against each other and the orchestration of the mass actions the group endeavors. 

What else is there in this conglomeration of plotpoints?  I’m glad you asked.  We have a superhumanly strong, bartender-dressed collections officer, a maniacal sociopath who deals information and tries to direct the city through his interventions, a black, Russian sushi chef, a squad of Delta Force-like motorcycle cops, a guy who’s in love with the dullahan’s severed head, and two girls who have an abnormal amount of love for the boy who adores the head. 

Yeah, it’s a strange anime.  But, like I said before, it’s grossly entertaining.

As both an American and a Los Angelino, I’m a little bit worried (American Me – 1992)

An interesting film for those from Los Angeles and who have a desire to see a visual dramatization of modern gang activities in the American prison system.  Altogether, I find it difficult to recommend this film to a general group, but those who satisfy the aforementioned qualities. 

My fellow Americans:

Now that I’ve hit the weekend (and I have the ability to procrastinate on a scale unparalleled by college students since the last draft), I’ve begun a Netflix binge (probably two or three movies).  And, because of my collegiate status (meaning that I don’t know how to receive mail), I’m usually the actual Netflix as opposed to Qwikster.  To further explain myself, I’m currently cycling through my Instant Play queue.  So I can’t exactly see any particular films that I want, more often genres of interest.  Which leads me to today’s movie, a member of the crime-drama genre, American Me.

This movie’s kind of up and down for me.  In any sense, it’s not a bad drama.  But what’s being portrayed, who’s being portrayed, heck, the overall plot prevents me from empathizing with the characters (neither the protagonist nor any other member of the cast).  Still, allow me to begin my review:

First of all, the movie is interesting for the sense of history involved.  It begins with the Zoot Suit Riots (which I like because I’m currently going through a Neo-Swing phase in my music) and the growth of Los Angeles from the 40s to the 80s.  Furthermore, the portrayals of East LA and Folsom are not unbelievable.  That said, these images make me glad that I don’t frequent East LA (actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been there) and have me worry for the state of our prisons.  But this was the 80s.  Things must have gotten better, right?

Moving away from my fear of people and urbanities, let’s look at our leading actor.  James Edward Olmos, as always, is excellent in this film.  While the idea of a gang member growing hardened by jail and then softening seems a bit odd, Olmos does well in the role, going so far as to gain the audience’s sympathy for a drug trafficker/murderer.  While this role was towards the earlier end of his career, it was also his directorial debut, and I believe he performed greatly in the dual role.

The remaining cast, while participatory, often seemed uninspired or their characters lacked anything near the depth of Montoya Santana (Olmos).  Ergo, I can’t say whether they were good or bad as the writing left them with little.

Quickly moving onto the writing, it was impressive for it’s ability to be gruesome without being gore.  Activities transpiring within the prison are graphic in nature and appearance, very gritty, and much further thought on said activities may leave some feeling nauseous.  From raping and murder to the acquisition of drugs and gang member initiation, there were quite a few disturbingly criminal acts.  But I suppose that’s reality and, in portraying it, this film does well as a drama.

Finally, in connecting with the audience, the emotion of the film is really pushed by familial sentimentality.  With the beginning narrative describing Olmos’s parents, the ending with Puppet killing Little Puppet (Puppet’s little brother), and the continuation of La Primera (Santana’s gang) with Olmos’s little brother, it’s the connections and acts perpetrated by or against them that evokes such harsh feelings within the audience. 

To wrap this up, the film is harsh.  It seems calm in the way that the characters speak and act throughout most of the film (interspersed with the occasional murder or riot), but those occasions have actions that are universally painfully and threatening.  So, while I won’t recommend this film for most and I cannot say that I particularly liked it, I can say that it was still a good movie.

With the odds stacked against it, I was happily surprised (50/50 – 2011)

An excellent buddy film, enjoyably comedic with seriousness becoming of such a dark topic.  Recommended to all age-appropriate audiences.

To my adoring public:

Okay, despite my grotesque amount of soon-to-be-due homework, I decided to go out and see a movie this morning.  That’s right, I love you webizens so much that I’m willing to sacrifice my education so that you can remain an informed movie-going public.  Well, that and I really wanted to see something.  So it was a toss-up between Moneyball and 50/50. 

Now, I had originally planned on seeing Moneyball.  It looks excellent and I’ve never had much faith in Seth Rogen.  However, on the way to the movie theatre, I had a change of heart.  I decided that I had at least ought to make the attempt to remain current, so I chose this week’s major release.  Ergo, today we’re looking at 50/50.

Now, a brief point before I begin, I’m moving away from the good-bad-ugly format.  It seems too rote for art and thereby limiting the message I can convey or forcing me to make points where I don’t feel they’re relevant.  So we’re just going to roll through this thing freely.  Let’s get started:

The best place to start is where I had the least faith.  Seth Rogen plays a surprisingly enjoyable character, Adam’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) friend, Kyle.  Despite being a repeat of the obnoxious frat boy we’re accustomed to, the character grows more appreciably serious towards the end.  The exemplary friend, though thickly veiled by the boisterous exterior, is both alluded to and later evidenced by the way he deals with the final moments preceding and following Adam’s surgery.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, though not as enjoyable as his role in Inception, performed well in his character, Adam Lerner.  Acting as a real cancer patient cycling through periods of numbness, anger, and depression, he puts up a believable face in spite of the heavy comedic influences.  Standing out firmly from the rest of the film is the scene in which Adam has a nervous breakdown in Kyle’s car.  Gordon-Levitt thrashes about a bit, but makes the scene truly memorable with an incredibly startling and primal scream. 

The plot of this film (cue Tom’s rant on the writing) was actually excellent.  I went in without expecting much and was taken aback by how enjoyable and true the character development seemed to be.  With Adam progressing through the stages of grief, a young psychiatrist learning her technique, and the friends and family attempting to cope (in many different ways) with the possibility of losing Adam to cancer, it’s both a simple and implicitly complex tale.  Still, it easily wraps itself up at the end, leaving only a few unanswered questions, those these are easily dismissed for what we’re shown.

That’s not to say that this film was perfect.  The blossoming of the relationship between Adam and his psychiatrist, Katie (Anna Kendrick), seems unlikely and added only for the movie to end on a more enjoyable note.  Scenes with the cheating ex-girlfriend, Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard), are grossly foreshadowing their impending break-up and then over-the-top in Adam’s cathartic revenge.

However, despite it’s minor problems, the film did well.  Something as off as old men eating cookies laced with marijuana, though at first seeming uninspired, actually goes on to surprise as one of their deaths proves a major  emotional turning point for Adam.  This reality mixed with the fantasy go on to give the film a great balance and leads me to recommend 50/50 to anybody who enjoys dark comedies and playful dramas.

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