Category Archives: atbreaksix

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.

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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)

durarara

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.

MORE DEAD MOBSTERS THAN I HAVE STICKS TO SHAKE AT (LAST MAN STANDING – 1996)

DENIZENS OF THE INTERNET, I AM NOT DEAD!  Contrary to popular opinions circulating through the tubes, I was not killed nor taken political prisoner by the head intelligence agency of Chile.  I repeat, I was "not" taken political prisoner by the central intelligence agency of Chile.  Okay, so maybe I was.  It wasn’t that bad.  Turns out they have Netflix.  (I don’t think they’re subscribed to Qwikster though.)  And so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last week or so.

What does that mean?  Well, that I was unable to see Moneyball last Friday.  However, barring any unforeseen complications (like foreign governments or my employers), I’ll likely see that and/or 50/50 this weekend.

So, with the very generous Chilean government’s Netflix account, I’ve been catching a bunch of B-movies or one that are about a decade or older.  Last Man Standing is a bit of both.  Well, it really is both of those things.  Still, I managed to watch it from beginning to end. 

Basically, this is your everyday mobster-western-detective-(color)noir-action film.  Nothing really new here.  Bruce Willis rolls into the dusty town of Jordan and proceeds to turn two rival gangs, the Americans and the Italians, against each other.  In the process, All but five characters die (two of which leave town) and we’re left with a bloodied Willis essentially leaving after having finished his business.  All together, the film is the cinematic version of pulp fiction (cheap books, not the movie).  Still, there are a few things to point out:

THE GOOD

Christopher Walken.  Let me start by saying that he is probably the greatest actor of all time.  Regardless of what role he plays, be it comedic or horrifying, my suspense of disbelief is negligible, allowing me to enjoy the spectacle as if it’s true.  In this particular role, Walken plays a sociopathic ginger, unseen in the first half of the film for which we only know what’s been said of him.  According to virtually every citizen of Jordan, he’s a monster.  In the second half of the film, we actually get to view this beast and recognize that a quiet exterior is broken by insanity which, in itself, is interspersed with moments of bright rationality.  Altogether, he is by far the most interesting character, entertaining even to his death.

THE BAD

The film starts out dry (it’s funny because it’s a western… yes, I’m ashamed of myself) with Willis driving through the desert and then getting into town where his car is broken by some thugs.  It’s pretty boring until he decides to return the favor and kills one of the American mobsters.  Then it’s ninety minutes of killing, shooting, and burning.  While it certainly eliminates the original dryness and provides for the action-seeking demographic, it grows stale rather quickly.

THE UGLY

Narration.  I get it.  It’s a staple of detective-noir films because it let’s the detective show off his wit and use of not-so-clever similes.  Still, there’s a limit to everything and this film certainly exceeds it.  It’s not an issue of poorly written monologues (I’d destroy a genre if I wanted to write about that).  The issue was that, much like our creative writing teachers told us, you want to show the audience instead of telling them.  While we certainly get a show in this film (enough fire and blood to fulfill any hunger for violence I had that night), the constant narration of the events that just transpired or the monotonous revelations of supposed emotions that pass behind the unchanging exterior.  (I secretly added that Willis’s acting was miserable, whether by writing or execution, he has no emotion.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

There’s not much to this film despite the genres it crosses.  It’s an interesting cast playing underdeveloped characters in a story that could have been far more entertaining had it not been executed so monotonously. 

Still, if you’re bored one evening and feel like watching a western town, whose sole existence is to house and fund the operations of two mobs, be torn to shreds by bullets uncountable, or if you’d like to see a sociopathic ginger Christopher Walken, this film might not be a terrible way to spend an hour and forty minutes.

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.

THE HELP (2011)

Look at the title.  Now look at the date.  Look back at the title.  Look at the date once more.  Sadly, you ought to recognize that this film came nearly four weeks ago.  So why am I reviewing it now?  Why am I not reviewing one of the films that came out two days ago?  Well, in the simplest sense, because The Help seemed better than any film released this week.  I had considered seeing The Debt, being a fan of stories about secret agents and intrigue, it seemed like it would be a good fit for me.  But then The Help shot up to the number one position in last week’s box office totals.  So, I decided to finally see the movie my mother had told me to go see weeks ago.

THE GOOD

Let me begin by saying that this film was incredibly well written.  And that was expected.  Why?  Because it was a novel before it was a film.  While readers of the original literature may always find issues regarding the move from text to motion picture, it’s virtually guaranteed that whenever you have the book-to-film scenario, an excellent story will be told.

While I say an excellent story was told, unlike many of my other posts (especially those involving Emma Stone), this has nothing to do with clever dialogue.  What was truly great about this film was that it told a story that mattered, a period piece taking place in Jackson, Mississippi of the early 1960s, using people that were real.  These were not human caricatures based off stereotypes, nor were they fabrications made to present the image of one side being better than the other.  They were constructed of narrative voices and histories that, in tandem with good actors, made the characters into people we’d recognize and cheer on or despise.

These characters and the many men and women who played them performed very well in this film.  Of all the talented actors and actresses, a few deserved special commendations.  The first of these is Viola Davis, who played Aibileen Clark.  She is, if not the protagonist, certainly one of them.  Her character was incredibly balanced in terms of emotion and intelligence, and Davis performed the role so well as to have me completely believe she had always been a maid as her mothers before her.  The second is Octavia Spencer, the actress and basis for the character Minny Jackson (author of The Help claimed that Spencer was who she pictured Minny as when she was writing).  Next is Emma Stone, who portrayed the writer Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan.  Stone is beautiful as always (which is a slight conflict that I’ll discuss later) and retorts with snappy quips to any negative situation as she does in all of her movies.  Then there’s Bryce Dallas Howard, who was the film’s antagonist, Hilly Holbrook.  She perfectly assumes the role of "the character we love to hate".  After Howard, we have Allison Janney and Sissy Spacek, mothers to Stone’s and Howard’s characters, respectively.  Both were incredibly funny when the film called for a laugh, and otherwise acted as women in their positions would.  I applaud them both.  Finally, and a bit of an oddity for how little we see of him, is Nelsan Ellis, who takes the role of Henry the Waiter.  That’s right, we see so little of him that he doesn’t receive a last name but a job position.  Still, I thought he was one of the most impressive characters for being eternally kind and pleasant in a time of strife, and being a vehicle in order to move the plot forward. 

THE BAD

It’s difficult, though not impossible, for me to find elements within this film that I did not enjoy.  The first, and probably most important, is the absolute ending.  Or rather, the lack of such a thing.  To spoil the film, though nobody should watch this film for the ending, it’s about the humanity displayed.  So, it ends with Skeeter’s book, The Help, being published and recognized by Hilly.  Hilly has Aibileen’s mistress fire her and threatens to call the police.  Aibileen has an emotional moment with the child she has been nannying for years, and then leaves the house with a few tears as the child screams.  Then we have a voice over by Aibileen saying that she retired at that moment and is ready for whatever the future may bring.  But that’s the biggest issue.  She has just lost her job, the people of Jackson are slowly realizing that the book is about them, Skeeter is leaving for New York, and black people are being killed during the tumultuous years leading up to the civil rights movement.  While the final image you’re left with, Aibileen walking down a street flanked by large trees, is pleasant, it leaves you wondering if there is any sort of happy future for her. That said, this is probably the best ending as we could hope for as fleshing out the rest of her life (or the next few years) would have been a real detraction from the plot.

My only other qualm is the choice of Emma Stone for Skeeter.  While I adore Emma, Skeeter’s character is supposed to have image problems.  Supposedly unattractive in high school and having issues with men throughout the film, it seems off that such an attractive actress (especially recently if you’ve seen Jim Carrey’s recent confession) would be chosen for the character. 

THE UGLY

Only one item can be placed under this heading.  And it’s when Spencer’s character feeds her mistress a chocolate pie into which she has mixed her own excrement.  (Even writing that is painful, at least as I try to remain even remotely professional.)  So, while the concept is a little disappointing for such a good film, it was done (I’m going to regret this next word for many, many reasons) tastefully.  You only come to know what’s in the pie through dialogue and it’s the reactions to this event that are truly hilarious, particularly Spacek’s laughing at her daughter.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I highly recommend the film to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.  It’s enjoyable to watch and particularly so for being an impressively human and balanced drama.  Lastly, it’s a rather long film, about two and a quarter hours, meaning that you get your money’s worth without it feeling overly lengthy.

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.)

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