Category Archives: Advice

GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002)

Once again, I find myself writing at two in the morning.  But when you don’t wake before noon, you’ll probably be awake (and in my case, busy) as your neighbors sleep.  While I’m proud of (and slightly dismayed by) my nocturnal tendencies, at least I’m well entertained.  I’m probably the most productive college student I know.

So, what did I just see?  Gangs of New York.  In brief, the film is an entertaining and lengthy period piece.  Covering a time span of twenty years, the film could effectively tell two or three stories, though it primarily focuses on one.  The characters are entertaining, the story brilliant, and the period piece element had me sold.

Now, while I could describe movies in brief, that’s not where I make my living.  So let’s get this party started.

THE GOOD

Bill Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) was easily the most impressive character through out the film, being the most dynamic in sympathies and anger.  His appearance is strange for the glass eye with the American eagle embedded within it and his choice of attire always attracts the eye for contrasting and/or vibrant color in relation to the background.  The acts he’s involved in solidify his character though.  His various murders and eventual execution are interesting to watch for their symbolism, ferocity, and simple visual extravagance.

Though I can’t say much for a character that lived for no more than five minutes in this film, I can say that Liam Neeson’s brief role was well cast.  The character of "Priest" Vallon embodies the normal standards to which we hold Neeson’s personas and seemed more than a fair foil to Bill the Butcher.

While I’m a regular fan of well-executed period pieces, this film earns particular mention for the scale to which it portrays the time we’re to be observing.  The recreation of 1860s New York was done excellently (coming as an ever greater surprise when one discovers it was filmed in Rome).  Furthermore, I believed the costuming was done well or, at the very least, drew my attention without upsetting me. 

Finally, a theme in this film, "Honor among enemies" strikes an interesting chord with me.  The way Amsterdam and Bill and Priest operate under this principle, contrasting with the various armies, creates an interesting perspective and possible message that this film is trying to illustrate.  Perhaps it’s that more was changing in the minds and hearts of the American public other than the issue of slavery.  

THE BAD

Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays the protagonist, Amsterdam Vallon, fits the unabashed standard for young Irishman  Plays the period piece well enough, but it’s obvious that he was mainly cast for his popularity.  The role could have been filled by any number of actors who can feign an Irish accent and, in comparison to Day-Lewis, his performance seemed subpar.

On the topic of poorly performing characters, Cameron Diaz’s character, Jenny Everdeane seemed awfully formulaic and of little importance other than a vehicle to forward the plot or provide a reprieve from the action in Five Points.  Jenny, being the pleasant thief who eventually becomes DiCaprio’s main squeeze is mainly passive in her effects on the story, simply making Amsterdam uncomfortable and caretaking until he is well enough to make another attempt on Bill’s life.

THE UGLY

The film, being almost three hours in length, can be a bit sprawling if one isn’t entirely absorbed by the story.  In Scorsese’s vision for such a fantastic film, there are explicit acts but much of the film is also implied, which brings the issue of certain elements of symbolism making the film seem over the top (i.e., Bill’s glass eye).  Finally, the relevant historical context they add to the film (draft riots and lynchings) complicates the final battle with further pandemonium and further extends the length of the film.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This review has taken me… something like sixty hours (probably sixty-five) to complete, so let’s wrap it up.  Gangs of New York is certainly a good film.  In some respects, historical authenticity and the acting of Daniel Day-Lewis, it’s a great film.  For these reasons, I admire Scorsese for his work and recommend this film for all attentive/historically-minded/mature audiences over the age of thirteen. (It seems an appropriate high school film.)

DRIVE (2011)

Continuing this short streak of on-time reviews, I went and saw Drive earlier today.  And, quite honestly, I don’t know if I enjoyed it.  The film is truly different from anything else I’ve seen and would take about three reference films to give you a general idea of what it was like.  But I’ll bypass the name-dropping and just begin my assessment.  (I’ve tried to steer away from the massive paragraphs and instead typed up a bunch of bullet point thoughts when the movie ended.  The short paragraphs below are those bullet points fleshed out, but you might still see some odd bullet syntax.)

THE GOOD

Ryan Gosling’s character (I’m not being lazy, he doesn’t have a name.  In the credits, he’s referred to as Driver.) is one of the most enigmatic machinations I’ve ever seen.  His character is inherently inhuman for the brutality he exacts upon his aggressors and the manic-depressive behavior he exhibits.  And, while I’m so on the fence about him that it hurts, the lack of humanity works in his character.  Because he is a man with no name, he can be more or less than human.  (For anybody who’s read it, this is a bit like Shadow from American Gods)

Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) is an interesting character for his considerably more human portrayal, though he gets few precious moments of screen time before being executed to further the plot.  Returning from jail, he’s not the belligerent ex-con, but instead a caring father and family man who wants to repair the frayed ties to the people he loves and put his incarceration behind him.  Unfortunately, he’s not that lucky.

Irene (Carey Mulligan) and Benicio (Kaden Leos) are completely static characters, Irene the adulterous wife and Beni the aloof child.  As his father is being injured and subsequently dies, Beni’s demeanor changes little.  Irene’s feelings for Ryan seem to grow immediately following the death of her husband as viewed in the elevator scene and the film’s ending.

Shannon (Bryan Cranston) is a similarly static character.  He never does much to give his character depth, leaving us with a down-and-out auto shop owner who’s hired Gosling (and genuinely likes him) and has ties to the local mob.  While he’s inherently dirty for his ties to the mob and scheduling of Gosling’s "after-hours" activities, you grow fond for him throughout the film and are sad to see him killed.

The main mobsters of this film have received accolades from other critics and not without reason.  Nino (Ron Perlman) is a sort of horrifying ape of a man, who seems a sociopath until he has a conversation with his partner, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), and describes why life as a Jewish mobster is so difficult.  It’s almost endearing.  Still, Albert Brooks has more screen-time and effectively uses it to make something more than a one-dimensional mobster.  He’s a business man with friends who, begrudgingly, has to kill them.  While he seems to be a sociopath for the swiftness with which he kills, it’s business.  Still, it’s evident, on occasion, that his fondness for certain people extends to the way in which he takes care of them (i.e., attempting to be merciful when killing Shannon).

Beyond the odd assortment of characters, the film has an eclectic artistic direction.  There are many scenes in which we only see Gosling’s face and/or torso behind the wheel and the blurred background changing outside the windows.  It’s also a film that seems hell-bent on showing us that it takes place in Los Angeles.  (That last bit made me happy because I got to see shots of my hometown.) The most interesting artistic aspect of this film though, were the scenes resembling live theatre, where the lighting would dim on all players and sets save for the one(s) we’re supposed to focus upon. 

Finally, there’s an odd bit of irony in closing music.  A pop song with the lyrics "a real hero, a real human being" plays as Gosling drives away and the credits begin to roll.  It seems particularly ironic because those are the two things Gosling’s character did not seem to embody.  Gosling is less a hero or human, and more a destructive, though "just" force of nature.  He shows up, with no identity, enacts whatever he must, and leaves without anybody knowing who he is.

THE BAD

Film appears as if it’s 25-30 years old if not for the infrequent cell phone usage and a few cars.  That’s my succinct way of saying that, if they hadn’t shown us shot after shot of Los Angeles hot spots or made references to where everything was (Reseda Blvd, The valley, Echo Park, etc.), this film would have had no discernible time or place setting.  And doing so could have worked for this story, making it less real, and more a definition or attempt to redefine the archetype it was expected to fulfill. 

THE UGLY

Film will likely become notorious for seemingly unnecessary gore.  This film begins with driving and pleasant characters, enwrapped in some sort of intrigue (in this case, criminal acts to further advance their financial status quo).  Then Standard is being attacked by his old prison mates and everything takes a turn for the bloody after a failed heist.  Standard dies at the heist with multiple shot gun blasts to the back.  Then a female accomplice dies at the hide out after she takes a shot gun blast to the head (which we see in slow motion).  Gosling then kills the two assailants who’ve come to the hide out, one with a shot gun and another by ramming a pipe through his stomach/chest/mouth (I can’t remember which, just a lot of blood).  Then we have a series of knife/fork/straight razor based deaths and assaults, all proving a bit taxing on my stomach.  Luckily, I’d not eaten anything prior to viewing this film.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The film is not about the characters but about the actions they take out upon each other.  I know that seems a serious generalization and applicable to any film, but that’s what made this film different.  The characters didn’t need names or even backstories to tell the story as it did, it just needed faces and bodies to act out the motions.  The actions said more than words ever could and the film lingers in my mind because it chose not to tell me who I was seeing.

Now, leaving the review and entering the consumer advice (my old writing teacher’s gripe with critics), should you go see this film?  Well, it’s rated R for gore and nudity, so take that into account however you please.  It’s an interesting story that makes me want to read the novel it’s based off of.  So, while I can’t entirely say that I liked it, I do recommend it for others to form their own opinion on what will likely be a polarizing film.

WARRIOR (2011)

It wasn’t until yesterday that I began doing what I needed to do in order to fulfill the objective of this blog.  I went out the the cinema and saw a new release.  If you somehow managed to begin reading this article without looking at the title, the film I saw was Warrior

Now, before I begin my critique, I feel the need to mention a few things.  Most notably, I’m not really a fan of fighting.  I don’t watch WWE, UFC, professional boxing, or anything of the sort.  I’ve just never found it particularly interesting to see men harm each other for sport.  And, when I look at them as I look at NFL or MLB professional athletes, I think it an odd, if not disappointing choice of career.  However, much like 2010’s The Fighter, I adored this film. 

THE GOOD

First and foremost, I absolutely love the story of this film.  Fighting, while a major component of the film, is really just the vehicle by which the rest of the story is told.  More than fighting, we see characters developing in order to fight.  Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy spend less time on screen throwing punches and considerably more time conversing with their families, fleshing out their pasts, and building an observable rapport with the other characters in the film.  Where this story truly shows itself is in the family dynamic.  Hardy and Edgerton are estranged brothers, who are both estranged from their father, Nolte.  And, throughout the film, there’s no absolute moment of resolution.  Instead, Hardy grows minutely closer to (or simply less likely to throw a punch at) his father when Nolte hits his lowest point.  Edgerton "forgives" his father for ignoring him throughout his childhood, but still doesn’t actively engage him.  The dynamic between Edgerton and Hardy is more interesting and the actual meat of the film.  While they spend little time together on screen, you know throughout the film that their encounter is inevitable.  Then, upon meeting, you discover that Hardy resents Edgerton.  And, when they’re in the cage, Hardy holds nothing back. 

So, trying to not spoil this film too badly, I think I should move onto the characters.  While I’ve already summarized them above, their characters are so important to the quality of this film that I need to describe them in detail. 

First, and I am playing favorites here, is Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton).  In the beginning, we’re presented with a family man celebrating his daughter’s birthday.  Obviously an attentive father and husband, we recognize him to be a "good" character.  When he goes to work, as a high school physics teacher, we observe his classroom dynamic.  He’s well liked by his students for being entertaining and down-to-earth, which only reinforces our sympathy for him.  His good fortune goes south however, as his house is scheduled to be foreclosed upon and, in an attempt to earn some extra money by joining an MMA fight, he’s suspended from his job.  Ergo, we’re left with a good man struggling to provide for his family.

Our other main character, Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), exists as a stark contrast to his pure brother.  Tommy is the dark horse, an outrageously evident antihero whose amassment of issues seems almost ridiculous at first.  With the down jackets, watchman’s cap, and paper-bagged bottle of alcohol, he’s the stereotypical vagrant.  Luckily, he sheds the comical vagrant look to detail his background.  First a professional young wrestler with great aspirations, he eventually left his raging alcoholic father with his dying mother.  When she passed, he joined the marines.  Upon having his closest brother-in-arms killed by friendly fire, he goes AWOL, but doesn’t manage to escape the warzone before saving the lives of a few fellow marines.  Now on the run from military police, attempting to provide some sort of support for his fallen comrade’s family, he reunites with his father (still hating him) to begin training for the MMA world championship, Sparta.

Beyond Hardy and Edgerton, we have Nolte and a large supporting cast.  Nolte’s character, Paddy Conlon, is a regretful father.  Attempting to repair his long broken relationships with his two estranged sons, most of the scenes show him sad, making poor attempts to grow closer to his boys, but then being rejected in all of his advances.  His character lacks any real catharsis (a recurring theme in this film), but we find one warming moment when Hardy calms him down after he’s begun drinking again.  This moment comes in great contrast to his previous attempts, as we see that Hardy retains some amount of sympathy for his depressed father.

Now that I’ve essentially explained all that you need to know about the characters that affect the ending.  I can attempt to describe why I feel that this is the greatest film of 2011.  This film, while being an exciting action/fight film, is a much better drama film.  While we have the Rocky reference when Brendon’s wife yells at him for fighting, we have a much more heart wrenching scene in the film’s last ten minutes.  Watching the two brothers fight, one for his family and the other for revenge, and seeing that Edgerton doesn’t want to fight whereas Hardy wants to injure his brother, observing Edgerton’s victory becomes so much more painful.  Needing to prevent his brother from continuing, Edgerton dislocates Hardy’s shoulder.  The doesn’t stop Hardy though, and thus Edgerton is forced to continue through sobs and apologies, to incapacitate his brother.  I can honestly say that this is the first movie to bring me to tears in over a decade.    

THE BAD

While I’m in love with this movie, like any love, it’s not perfect.  There are two main points that I felt were not up to the same quality as the rest of the film. 

The first point is simply a minor qualm I had with characters that are the subject of much dialogue, despite making relatively few appearances.  The daughters, Brendon’s children, take this role.  As a major motivational force for Brendon and virtually every opening line of conversation other characters try to have with him, I was surprised that the daughters did not receive more screen time.

My other point is the ending of this film.  It leaves the audience more saddened than virtually any other ending could have.  While that’s admirable, it also leaves you questioning the fate of Hardy as he’s been discovered by the military police as an AWOL soldier but you never actually see him being taken into custody.

THE UGLY

I truly adore this film and therefore I only have one major point for this category.  My greatest upset with this film was Hardy’s first appearances.  His physical appearance and actions in the first few minutes made it very hard to sympathize for his character.  From the negative costume choice to the pill popping to his upset demeanor at every turn, it takes a considerable amount of time and flashbacks for the audience to recognize that he’s more than just a black sheep, he’s a person whose goals and aspirations are of some merit.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I absolutely believe that this is the best film of 2011.  While I’ve a special penchant for father-and-son films, my heartstrings are even more easily pulled by brother films.  So I have a small bias for this film.  Still, whereas I thought The Fighter was a great film, Warrior takes a great film and makes an excellent film.

FRIGHT NIGHT

Well, it’s been at least two weeks since I last reviewed a film in theaters.  And now, nearly a week after having seen it, and more than a week since it was released, I’d like to tell you what I thought about Fright Night.

THE GOOD

All of the characters in this comedic horror film were very funny.  The actors were completely believable in their roles and no suspension of disbelief was required in accepting that the characters portrayed could be real people.  (Oftentimes, comedies present you with a number of strawman characters because it’s easy to make them do funny things.  This film employed real personalities whose comedic value were brought about by situational humor and witty dialogue, comedy that I value highly.)  Favorite actors were Colin Farrell and David Tennant as the former portrayed a modern-day vampire as I’d hoped and the latter as being a stupendously ridiculous character, yet still acceptable as a human being.

Beyond the characters, I was a fan of the story.  In my many years, I never got around to seeing the original Fright Night, and have no immediate plans to do so.  (I find that watching original films, after impressive remakes, usually leaves me disappointed in the quality of the original.)  So I can only speak of the most recent Fright Night and commend it for both portraying vampires in a way that I can appreciate (take that Twilight), and for being clever with what a vampire entails.  Aside from the standard, goes out only at night and avoids garlic omelets, the Fright Night vampire, Jerry, is clever about his host city (Las Vegas), the construction of his house , and the way he works.

THE BAD

This movie only suffers when it attempts to reinforce itself.  Truly, it’s almost a curse of humility where the writers, director, and special effects staff must’ve thought they’d not produced a funny enough film so they had to go above and beyond.  In that pursuit, we find a scene reminiscent of An American Werewolf in London, in which our protagonist’s friend is turned into a vampire and is nearly decapitated after losing an arm.  But he remains alive, so now our protagonist is attacked by a one-armed, head hanging vampire that now not only reminds me of the zombie from AWIL, but the Black Knight from Monty Python.  ‘Tis merely a flesh wound. 

THE UGLY

My sole qualm belonging in this section is the special effects work done in this film.  Blood effects seem overdone and Jerry’s transformation in times of extreme physical threat is a bit off-putting, with the transformed image looking poor in comparison to everything around him.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This was a greatly enjoyable film.  Though it is no cinematic masterpiece, it will likely become a modern cult classic, succeeding its predecessor.  I recommend this film as a comedy more than anything else because that’s what it did best.  It has mild thriller elements and a classic monster story, but you’ll probably want to see it for the laughs more than anything else.  (Well, the laughs and the scene in which our protagonist lights himself on fire to grapple with Jerry.  That was brilliant.)

APPARENTLY DANIEL RADCLIFFE CAN DO MORE THAN HUMP HORSES (THOUGHTS ON WOMAN IN BLACK AND GHOST RIDER 2)

A long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams, I was a small boy.  Very small indeed, around eight years old.  With few friends and a malleable mind, I turned to books for solace and stimulation.  The first of these books was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  This novel kindled a love for the series and reading in general for me.  This love, which has defined me for much of my life, did not extend to the Harry Potter films.

While my review of the most recent Potter film was begrudgingly positive, films past had left me indifferent to the status of the series and wishing for the productions to end.  And, because of his titular status, Daniel Radcliffe soon became a negative figure in my mind.  I felt that the character he portrayed, while debatably accurate, was a very depressing protagonist whose sole purpose, it seemed, was to make me dislike him.  I realize though, that this was merely a character and that Radcliffe could be an excellent actor in his upcoming film.

WOMAN IN BLACK

I first heard of this film today when a trailer appeared in my news feed.  Radcliffe’s name caught my attention and I can say that I’m not disappointed by what I saw.  While only so much information can be gleaned from ninety seconds of video, the trailer is a marvel in itself.  The settings are cold and bleak (It’s just England, I know).  The voices are even colder and reciting some of the creepiest poetry I’ve ever heard.  Radcliffe, himself, seems to have matured from the filming of the last Potter film and now looks like an admirable adult actor. 

I can’t say much more other than that it appears to be an Anglicized version of The Grudge, by which I only mean to say that the two seem similar, that I’m actually looking forward to. 

The current release date is February 3, 2012.  The trailer may be viewed here.

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE

Not so long ago, only about four years now, the first Ghost Rider film was released.  When I first saw it, I was enamored.  Unaccustomed to good films, I fell in love with the explosions and ridiculousness of Ghost Rider.  Upon a recent viewing of the film, I can tell you that it does not hold up to maturity.  The ridiculousness is less endearing and some scenes make me cringe in horror.  (Ignorance truly is bliss.) That said, I’ve no choice but to see the sequel, despite the frightening trailer that was just released.

In it, we gather little aside from the knowledge that Cage’s character is still forced to transform into the Ghost rider due to the prevalence of evil in the world.  In this film, the Ghost Rider is supposed to be more violent ("without conscience" was the phrase used in the trailer), and will likely lead to this film being more ridiculous than the first.  Evidentiary of this thought is a brief shot at the end of the trailer in which the Ghost Rider is seen literally pissing fire.

The release date is February 17, 2012.  The trailer may be viewed here.

A TRANSVESTITE WIN (REVIEW OF TOOTSIE)

For the uninformed, I have a cinematic curse following my romantic relationships.  My first date is invariably to see a movie (don’t judge me, I want a girl who enjoys film) and I let the woman choose the title.  Before Cate, my previous girlfriend chose the film He’s Just Not That Into You.  (While the film didn’t hold any significant message for our relationship, it was a foreboding experience).  As I said in an earlier entry, Cate and I saw Bad Teacher.  While not breaming with negative connotations, it was far from my favorite film. 

Now, what does this have to do with a film that was released before my birth?  (It’s nearly thirty years old, having been released in 1982.)  Well, on our second date, after watching X-Men: First Class (for my fourth time), we went back to her house and watched Tootsie, a surprisingly enjoyable film about an actor cross-dressing to find work.  I say surprising because often cross-dressing comedies are just slightly better than those employing solely sexual and scatological jokes.  In this case however, the characters are believable (enough) and you’re quickly drawn into their drama. 

Now, while the film was good, it deserves a longer review than what I mentioned above.  Let’s get started.

THE GOOD

I’ll try not to start by praise the writing as I have in earlier posts, so I’ll start with the acting.  While there was a small cast and they all performed admirably, the acting of Dustin Hoffman was far above my expectations.  Unlike many other films using a transvestite as a major, comedic plot device, Hoffman’s characters (both male and female) serve to bring drama in along with the laughter.  Furthermore, this film requires a much less severe suspension of disbelief than other films with similar stories.  (In layman’s terms, Hoffman is a rather convincing woman.)

Aside from Hoffman’s impressive ability to portray both sexes, what did I enjoy from this film?  If I’m writing positively, it must be the writing.  And more specifically, the dialogue.  The film revolves around Hoffman’s most recent acting gig, a recurring role on a daytime soap opera.  The stereotypical cheesiness of the soap’s dialogue provides an excellent juxtaposition to the dialogue and acting off the set.  The weaknesses of the former serve to emphasize the clever word exchanges between cast members and the excellently pithy one-liners of Bill Murray.

THE BAD

While the suspension of disbelief was minimal for Hoffman’s female character, the same cannot be said for his/her romantic suitors.  Throughout the film, his female character (Dorothy) is courted by two men, a cast member from the soap opera (John Van Horn, played by George Gaynes) and the widowed father of a friend (Les, played by Charles Durning).  The former fails because his character is purely comical and his advances simply grotesque.  The latter fails for being a dim-witted character, knowing Dorothy for a week before proposing to her.  I detested the first for being a stupidly simple character, and the second for simply being stupid.

THE UGLY

The only note that may strike an off chord with some viewers is that the conclusion doesn’t satisfy all of the possible plotlines that were begun throughout the film.  The most notable of these is that Hoffman’s male character never truly solves his romantic issues, though it concludes with he and his current interest walking home on good terms.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The film is most enjoyable and worthy of multiple viewings.  It’s a light comedy with dramatic and romantic aspects.  Altogether, I thoroughly recommend that anybody watch this film at least once.

CLEVER, BRILLIANT, HILARIOUS (REVIEW OF CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE)

Hey party people, today has been excellent.  (When I say today, I mean Tuesday.  The issue here is that I don’t sleep.)  I went out with Cate again, saw an excellent film, and some other things I really ought not talk about online.  But what matters here?  The film, of course.  And what, pray tell, was that film?  It was Crazy, Stupid, Love

Now, I know I told you that I was going to review The Guard this week, but I’m afraid that film has been put on a back burner.  With only two weeks until my semi-permanent departure from the West Coast (I’m going back to school in two 13 days), my time has become valuable through rarity and my friends and family are claiming timeslots so quickly that I really should have a secretary to keep track of everything.  So, with all of the crud I’m scheduled to do, and the number of things I’d like to do, The Guard will have to wait for a slow day or until I return to DC.

Now, let’s talk about the film I saw:

THE GOOD

First, this film was brilliant.  It truly was.  After watching a miserable comedy four days ago, this was such a reprieve.  But what was it exactly?  It was a comedy starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julian Moore, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, and several others.  It was a film supported greatly by witty dialogue, well-written characters, and satisfactory cinematography.

Let’s skip the actors and talk about the characters.  The story revolves around a husband and father, Cal (Steve Carell).  At the beginning of the film, his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), tells him that she wants a divorce.  The next hour of the film is Cal meeting Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a professional womanizer, and learning the intricacies of meeting women (a skill he never developed as he married his high school sweetheart).  The second hour comprises of failures brought about by Cal’s womanizing, Cal’s attempts to regain his wife, and Jacob’s growth into a real character (a human being with feelings and a backstory, of sorts).  All the while, Emily is having flings with David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), Cal’s 13 year-old son is trying to romance his 17 year-old babysitter, and the babysitter is trying to romance Cal.

Now, the film becomes truly great through its dialogue and writing.  Carell’s character is never stupendous when it comes to being clever, but it’s made up for by Gosling’s and Stone’s characters.  Stone continues to be the clever redhead as she’s been in every other film (it’s okay, I love her), and Gosling plays a lovably mysterious lothario.  Whereas these two characters are the sole sources of wit, the full cast is utilized in the well-written scenes.  While Cal’s transformation from boring father to eligible bachelor is both entertaining and impressive, the best scene comes just before the film’s climax as all the characters meet up in a major plot twist and comedic violence ensues. 

THE BAD

This movie was brilliant.  That said, it was far from perfect.  In this section, we have Cal’s youngest child, Molly (Joey King).  The character had so little written that it only provided two chuckles throughout the film’s duration.  The first was to watch her dance and ignore the plot taking place, and the second was to excuse herself from an awkward situation.  Altogether, the character was about as well-fleshed out as a family pet. 

In addition to the disappointing daughter, I felt that Moore’s character served only to advance the plot or bring in more interesting characters.  She was often either a means to keep Carell on-screen or to bring Kevin Bacon into the light.  Otherwise, her character simply wallows in a poor situation she brought about, making it very hard to pity her.

THE UGLY

Like most comedy films, there are moments where it seems that the writers may have crossed a line in decency or simply played the same joke for too long.  As far as decency goes, the only lines crossed were the ones where a thirteen year old discusses his masturbation habits with his uncomfortable babysitter, and when the babysitter photographs herself naked. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

This movie is an excellent and successfully funny comedy.  I wish I’d seen it when it came out.  Regardless, I still recommend that anyone who enjoys romantic comedies, or brilliant dialogue, see it immediately.

COWBOYS & ALIENS: AN INVASION ALMOST INCONSEQUENTIAL

Like every Thursday night, I went out last night to catch a midnight movie.  Unlike most weekends though, I had three choices: Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Smurfs, or Cowboys & Aliens.  While the first didn’t seem a bad choice, my companion didn’t feel like watching a Steve Carell picture.  The second, however, seemed terrible from the first trailer I viewed.  So, I’ll be boycotting the annoying film and its atrocious use of 3D graphics.  Ergo, my friend and I went to see Cowboys & Aliens last night.  (This seems like an awkward case of the game Clue.  It was Tom and his friend, at the AMC, with the Sci-Fi Western.)

THE GOOD

To start, this is an action film.  So we should expect a fair number of explosions, guns and knives aplenty, and enough jaw punches to pulp Jay Leno’s epic mandible.  In these respects, Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and the aliens certainly deliver.  From the opening scene in which Craig kills three riding bandits/bounty hunters, to the first invasion sequence as the town explodes and its citizens are captured, and finally with the concluding battle against the invading aliens as the town’s forces war with the entire invasionary force in a canyon, the action scenes stand up to today’s standards.

As a fan of westerns, I enjoyed the historic elements present in this film.  I enjoyed the costuming, seeing that the characters were well dressed without coming off as pretentious, up until the end when everybody’s living off the new gold market.  Aside from the costumes, I also enjoyed the set design.  Classic western town elements were present, from the local saloon, to the town jail.  While I felt that a bit too little time was spent in these areas so as to recognize the detailing, it seemed well put together at first glance.

THE BAD

Like I said before, this is an action film.  So, while we’re expecting gratuitous violence and accompanying one-liners, we should not expect impressive character growth or any real depth to this film.  Like before, the film delivers here as well.  

Craig plays the stereotypical western badass.  He is Jake Lonergan, an ex-bandit amnesiac who begins the film working only to repair his memories but eventually sides with the townsfolk to return their abducted kin.  Ford portrays the crotchety, old bastard bigot and corrupted cattle owner, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde.  Like all main cast seemingly misanthropes, he eventually comes to forget his racism and show compassion for his ignored son. 

On the other side of these awfully shallow or predictable characters, we have the confusing and unpredictable.  Most notably, Olivia Wilde portrays a young woman, Ella Swenson, who follows Craig throughout the first seventy-five percent of the film.  Her reasoning is that the aliens had abducted her people long before the film began and she believes that he can locate them.  Then she’s struck by one of the aliens, dies, is cremated, and then comes out of the fire.  She then informs everybody that she’s an alien who has taken a human form so as to work alongside Lonergan and the town to destroy the aliens that have no sanctity for life (caring only for the local gold).  She ends up sacrificing herself to destroy the alien ship in a large explosion before it can return to the alien home-world.

THE UGLY

The biggest issue of this film, aside from Wilde’s phoenix return and subsequent trans-species romance with Lonergan, was that deaths were almost completely ignored in this film.  The preacher’s death seemed to be the one to which the characters showed the most emotion for, but that took place in the first half of the film.  Wilde’s death was a brief, “He’s dead, Jim”, but she comes back, and then proceeds to die again, with the latter death being unspoken as all the characters simply disburse.  Lonergan’s wife/lady-friend from before the film’s beginning, who we later discover was disintegrated upon the alien ship, similarly was left without feeling.  Craig walks into their old house, sets down some flowers, sees a hummingbird, and then walks out smiling.  Even in the final moments of the film, when the quiet town is seen to be growing and changing because of the new gold, everyone is grinning without any lamentation over their fallen comrades and lovers.

FINAL THOUGHTS

At this point, I’ve said it several times: this is an action film.  Therefore, it will be viewed by an audience who want action.  They’ll not be looking for character development or historical accuracy or any real emotion.  They’ll be looking for gun shots, haymakers, and explosions.  For that reason, this film will definitely satisfy them.  It does the western genre justice while simultaneously developing a new type of alien (large, green, neck-less beast things with superior technology and multiple sets of arms) for the general public to mull over. 

So, while I doubt that this movie will be a huge success (though I could be wrong with their advertising pushes), I’m sure it will be enjoyed by many.  And, if you ever wanted to see Daniel Craig ride off into the sunset atop a horse, this movie will not leave you disappointed.

THE FIRST AVENGER (CAPTAIN AMERICA FILM REVIEW)

I have to say, I really love midnight film showings.  Almost invariably, you’ll view the film in a theatre packed with the titular character’s greatest fans.  The amassment of viewers will undoubtedly cheer at every punched jaw, gasp when our protagonist is about to be executed, and cheer some more when they escape their doomed fate.  Somehow, however, I did not experience this last night.  Rather, I viewed Captain America: The First Avenger in a near empty theatre, no more than twenty-five people in attendance. 

Regardless, those who were present enjoyed the film.

THE GOOD

Where should a film revolving around World War II do it’s best?  In the war scenes.  Allow me the assuage your fears for another superhero film by saying that the cinematographers did an excellent job with the large-scale fight scenes.  Watching Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) invade enemy bases, punch out Hydra guards, and release four hundred prisoners from rows of jail cells was immensely satisfying.  The further Michael Bay-esque explosions in the background appropriately added to the atmosphere.

But beyond the action (in an action film), what did I like?  Well, I was appreciative of the film’s casting director whom I believe did an excellent job in this film.  All of the characters seemed appropriate for their roles from Chris Evans to Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter) to Hugo Weaving (Johann Schmidt/Red Skull).  My favorite cast member however, was Tommy Lee Jones.  I’m regularly enamored with his characters so this is nothing new and, like he does in virtually every film, he added comedic relief to this film with his gruff sarcasm. 

Though not out of place for a comic book hero, I was not expecting much from the dialogue in this film.  Unlike the stereotypical monologues found in the pulp pages, the dialogue in this film seemed balanced and logical, while still coming from virtually one-dimensional characters.  What I found the best was Evans final dialogue with Atwell just before he crashes the plane.  It wasn’t overly dramatic or a depressing goodbye, it was the emotionally fulfilling avoidance of saying goodbye that alluded to the underlying romance in the film while not allowing the traditional action film to be dragged down by it. 

Finally, like all of the Avenger hero films thus far, Captain America has a scene that shows after the credits.  Unlike the previous films that only alluded to the next hero in the series, this scene is essentially a full trailer for the Avengers film.  While I’ll, in turn, write a review on that trailer soon, all I have to say here is that the trailer is excellent and certainly worth waiting through the credits for.

THE BAD

While I greatly enjoyed this film (I suppose I’m a bit of a superhero geek at heart), it wasn’t perfect.  In fact, it made a fair number of mistakes with the first being that it suffers from some truly dreadful montage scenes. 

The first of these is when Steve Rogers is only Captain America on stage, selling war bonds to upper class Americans back at home.  It’s about five minutes of dancing girls, Evans selling bonds, and watching him poorly stage-punch a vaudevillian Hitler.  While it’s not particularly upsetting, it grows old as soon as Captain America learns his lines (in the beginning, he’s reading them off of his shield).

The other, considerably more dreadful montage takes place after Captain America becomes a battlefield hero.  Just after releasing the four hundred prisoners and returning to base, we have a two-to-three minute montage of Captain America kicking butt with his team, blowing up elephant-sized tanks, and having Red Skull show up after the slaughter and shaking his fist ruefully.  Scenes like these are what scare people about superhero films.  Moreso than completely one-dimensional characters, it’s the cheesy lines and illogical behavior of the villains.  Watching Red Skull shake his fist at the thought of Captain America makes the film’s villain seem almost comical which is completely destructive for the horrifying mystical Nazi. 

Beyond the montage scenes, I found the pacing of the film to be lacking.  My brother kept saying that the film could have been broken into three films and, while completely wrong (though they may have been three comic books), I understand what he was trying to get at.  The film has three major points of action: the initial invasion and prison break, a train-heist of sorts, and the final battle.  The issue is that, from the point when Steve Rogers is irradiated into Captain America, there’s little to no downtime.  It’s action, Action, ACTION!  It seems as if each of these action scenes is broken by a few minutes of dialogue about whatever just happened and a one-liner. 

Finally, I felt the defeat of Red Skull lacked the fulfillment of being beaten by Captain America.  Instead, Red Skull essentially destroys himself in a manner strangely reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  He’s destroyed by holding a Cosmic Cube (Marvel universe construct thingie) and transported into space or something.  The scene just looked as if it was channeling other films with the Indiana Jones death and alluding awfully heavily to Thor and Norse mythos. 

THE UGLY

There’s little else to say negative about this film aside from the external references it kept making.  After some reflection, I can accept the Thor references as they’ll be teaming up together in The Avengers

However, I cannot accept the Raiders of the Lost Ark death and a few others.  The first of these is a short series of Evel Knievel stunts that Captain America takes on a motorbike.  While I’ve nothing against the motorbike, feeling that it’s thoroughly American and a fitting means of transportation for a human superhero, this film messed it up. 

Then, after watching the Captain jump of ramps as things explode behind him, we’re forced to watch a chase scene with our protagonist and team of leather-garbed Hydra agents riding their choppers through a forest and fighting with laser weapons.  It screamed Mad Max and left me puzzled over why the film needed this thirty second scene.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Though my negative thoughts are often greater in number than the positive things I’ll say about a film, that’s simply the routine here.  Altogether, I greatly enjoyed watching this film.  It’s refreshing to have such a stereotypically “good” superhero take to the silver screen after every other studio has aimed for the antihero in the last decade.  While I would quickly lose favor with this if it became the standard, it was fun to watch and I greatly recommend this film to anybody who enjoys superhero or action films.  Also, with minimal graphic violence (save for one Hydra agent being instantly chopped up by a plane propeller towards the end of the film) it’s an excellent one for children.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (FILM REVIEW)

Writing in a mild state of delirium with the image still fresh in my mind, I have to say that the movie was good.  It did a lot of things I liked, a few things I didn’t like, and then just made me feel like I’d watched a previous Transformers’ film with a slightly different plotline.

THE GOOD

This movie follows the previous movie in terms of story and characters.  The only continuity break that was truly noticeable was the departure of Megan Fox (see THE BAD for more).

As expected with any Michael Bay film, and doubly so for his opus, the Transformers franchise, we’re treated to two hours of explosions and car porn.  Now, if you take a quick look at IMDB (it’s okay, I’ll wait) … (not), you’ll see that the movie runs just over two and a half hours.   So, why did I say two?  Well, this follows the Transformers’ model of providing a semblance of background story in the first twenty to thirty minutes to enable the film to revolve around a central concept or event.  This is then followed by the fire effects everybody bought tickets for.

THE BAD

Remember that little note after the departure of Megan Fox above?  This is where it comes back.  Now, I remained completely ignorant of the growing feud between Fox and Bay, only understanding that she would not be in Transformers 3.  I understand that and naturally assumed, for continuity’s sake, that the film would briefly allude to her absence and then proceed with the story.  In fact, I’d previously spoken to some friends about the exact situation.  I assumed the characters would bring her up (not by name) and say something about her dumping him.  That would have solved the problem completely.  And the scene began just so.  But then something a bit unprofessional happened.  Two of the autobots made comments about her, one saying that he didn’t like her, and the other calling her mean.  Perhaps this was prompted by history I missed, or written for comedy’s sake.  However, if it wasn’t, it seems more than just a little bit petty.

THE UGLY

After that obnoxiously long rant, what more could I possibly have to say?  Well, there were a few final details that stood out. 

First, this movie seemed to be making a lot of references that were funny to notice, but then immediately diminished the quality of the film.  For instance:

  • The “Boomsticks” (one of Wheeljack’s weapons),
  • “There can only be one” (uttered by either Sentinel or Megatron during the final battle),
  • and Optimus’s “Fight for Freedom” speech (not sure if this is original or not, but it has an Independence Day feel to it).

Second, the racism equilibrium.  If I remember right, a group of people claimed two characters from the previous Transformers film were derogatory towards African-Americans.  Well, this time the tables were turned with what my friend pointed out as being a few Nascar Transformers known as The Wreckers.  Sadly, I thought they’d been Scotsmen.  Not sure just how bad that is for my North-Western European heritage, but whatever.  Upon further investigation, it seems one of the three voice actors was British.  I feel slightly less wrong.  (God save my ignorant American soul…)

Third, this movie vaguely held a plotline similar to the previous films, but made the characters considerably more static.  In fact, the characters, having been caricatures in the past, became caricatures of caricatures.  The parents were painfully, disgustingly unaware of any impending danger or what matters of their son’s life should be left alone.  The new girlfriend was a standard damsel in distress for the entire film, not the tough-girl we’d come to expect from Megan Fox.  The human villain was evil to his own death, just progressing from casual jerk to harbinger of destruction.  Worst of all though, was Shia LaBeouf’s character, whose most consistent emotion was a temper tantrum involving screaming and poor displays of violence. 

Finally, this film seemed darker than the previous two, even when accounting for the death of Optimus and Sam in the last one.  Instead, this one goes over the top with betrayals and the utter destruction of Chicago.  It also makes use of guns similar to the weapons employed by the tripods of War of the Worlds.  Furthermore, the story doesn’t try to reconcile the thousands, or perhaps millions dead at the end of the film.  The loss of life isn’t even recognized after the final battle.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Well, looking at what I’ve written here, it seems that I felt negatively about the film more than anything else.  But that’s not really true.  The movie is not a cinematic classic and has plotholes that must’ve made the script look like swiss cheese.  That said, this film does exactly what it promised to do:  It gave you transforming robot-cars and explosions to satisfy even the most deranged of pyromaniacs. 

I would recommend this film for teenagers (probably not the best film for children under 8 ) and anybody else looking for an explosive action film that doesn’t require great thought.

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