Tag Archives: drama

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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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.

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.

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