Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Nightmare Review

Dreams. I had plenty of good ones growing up but I barely remember them. The nights where I would drift off to sleep and play the role of the hero. Find a level of courage the conscious me could never achieve. Save the day. Get the girl. Drive off into the sunset. These worlds would thrill me temporarily and put a smile on my face, but the feeling was fleeting. The good ones didn't resonate. 

Nightmares. Those stayed with me. Those haven't left. 

When I was a kid, at an age I can't be certain of but I know it was a single digit, I had a reoccurring nightmare about a clown that would kill one of my classmates every night. I would go to school and one more desk would be empty. The teacher didn't explain why, but we all knew. Eventually I was the only one left. I knew it was coming but no one tried to stop it. I heard something running up the stairs toward my bedroom. The clown came crashing through my door holding a giant knife.

Then I woke up. 

I still have the occasional stretch of slumber that was meant for rest and relaxation but instead it is filled with terror. These days the nature of them is different than it was back then, with my family often times the one in peril and myself being helpless to save them, but I wake up and I am alright. My family is alright. I close my eyes and go back to sleep knowing everything will be okay.

The documentary The Nightmare is about the fascinating and unfortunate reality of people suffering from sleep paralysis, a condition in which a person is temporarily unable to move or speak in any way as they are falling asleep or waking up. Directed by Rodney Ascher, the film is essentially broken up into different actual victims of the phenomenon telling their stories with reenactments which at times can be downright frightening, as one of the more common things to happen to them are hallucinations of shadow men approaching them as they lay helpless. 

Some of these people dealing with sleep paralysis admit that they believe at some point they will lose their lives to the condition, that they will simply never be able to pull themselves out of the nightmare. When I think of the clown dream I had as a child, it terrifies me, but it isn't a real threat. It never was. My classmates were in their desks the next day and the day after and the day after that. My door never came crashing down. It's only a dream, I continue to remind myself. It can't hurt me. 

What an awful thought, to truly believe those shadow men could hurt you. To believe you may never wake up.

While the subject matter was compelling and extremely interesting, as I was completely unaware of this condition before watching, where The Nightmare fell short for me was in the execution of the material. I wanted some more science behind it or even a deeper discussion into the lack there of. I wanted more knowledge as to why these people are hallucinating, why the shadow men are standing over them watching them. The film is literally nothing but stories and reenactments, nothing else for roughly 90 minutes and eventually the well starts to run dry in terms of interest level when it becomes apparent the tone and flow of the documentary is extremely one note. I felt like this could have played a lot stronger as a 44 minute television special with commercial breaks rather than an entire film at double that length.

Still, I won't soon forget about the condition and some of those visions these poor people are dealing with. Truly haunting. Makes me thrilled to only have to face my nightmares.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Warriors Review

The Gramercy Riffs. The Rogues. Turnbull AC's. The Baseball Furies. The Orphans. The Punks. The Boppers. The Lizzies. The Electric Eliminators. The Hi-Hats. The Hurricanes. The Jones Street Boys. The Saracens. The Satans Mothers. The Savage Huns. The Moonrunners. The Van Cortlandt Rangers. The Boyle Avenue Runners. The Gladiators. The Panzers. 

"Warriors, come out to pla-ay."

21 gangs all summoned to meet at midnight. Summoned by Cyrus, leader of The Gramercy Riffs. 

"Can you dig it?"

Cyrus calls for peace between the gangs. A truce. Outnumber the police, control the city. The crowd erupts into applause.

Shots ring out. Cyrus falls dead. Luther, leader of The Rogues, points the finger of blame at The Warriors. Framed and on the run, they need to find a way back to their home turf. The only chance they've got is through enemy territory. 8 Warriors against 20 gangs that want them dead.

The Warriors is a 1979 film directed by Walter Hill which was initially negatively received and it is easy to understand why. Those looking for total realism need to look elsewhere, which is a difficult concept to negotiate in your mind considering how real the locations feel but despite this the experience mostly feels way more fantasy in nature. These gangs walk city streets and it's as if not a soul exists outside of their world, just a mixture of characters wearing different, sometimes ridiculous costumes to represent their crew. The dialogue is seemingly nothing to write home about but the more you invest yourself in Hill's moody and stylized world, the more you recognize that it fits the tone of the picture with perfection. This is a movie that deserves its cult classic status.

The real reason I love The Warriors is the most simple one: it is so damn entertaining. No matter how absurd a gang seems, with The Baseball Furies being a perfect example of how ridiculous it can get, Hill's vision never goes too far for me. Some will sit down to watch The Warriors and deem it too silly, and I cannot argue this notion. The thing is, I love that it does feel so silly and yet walks a tightrope between that and just a hint of gritty brutal realism that allows the audience just enough motivation to care about the fate of the members of The Warriors. 

"Can you dig it?"

You bet I can Cyrus. I will always dig The Warriors.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Evil Dead Review

Growing up, my family owned a small cottage residing in the middle of the woods in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. The scenery was beautiful, especially during fall when the world was changing from the typical sea of green to a vast array of colors that spiced up the world in autumn. During the daylight I would walk outside and smell the air. Fresh. So fresh and clean and alive. At night you could look up and see every star imaginable, an impossibility back home as the fog of metropolitan pollution would make the sky appear to be so dull. 

Something changed though when it was time for bed, when the lights went off and I was surrounded by silence. The fact that we were so separated from society no longer seemed cute or freeing or exciting. It felt dangerous and ominous, like no one would be there to help us if evil lurked in the shadows or behind the trees. I still remember looking out the windows in the dead of night and allowing my worst nightmares to play out in my mind. Was I being watched? What was that noise? What's moving over there? 

Pull the covers over your eyes and think happy thoughts. Think about the daylight. Think about the freshness and the stars and the peaceful silence. Embrace it. Don't fear it. 

Just drift off to sleep, and whatever you do, don't think about The Evil Dead.

See, as a kid I saw this film, probably at an age that was far too young. It made me afraid of the concept of the simplistic cabin in the middle of nowhere. It terrified me to think about a representation of evil swooping quickly through the woods towards me, an entity that couldn't be noticed until it was too late. It made me tremble when I would look through the windows at the still of the darkness and wonder what might be out there. 

Sam Raimi brought the world a wonderful piece of horror cinema and he did so utilizing a very paltry budget, at least in terms of what it cost even back in 1981 to craft typical Hollywood fare. That's just it though, The Evil Dead isn't typical. It's a film that almost entirely takes place in one location with a small cast including the breakout performance from Bruce Campbell, and while it may not be as satisfying for me as the far less serious sequel, it still hits so many right notes with it's solid scares and ridiculous looking demons that I find delightfully entertaining.

Unfortunately our family no longer owns that cottage, so all that lives on in my mind is nostalgic memories of the way it looked when our car pulled closer to it after such a long drive. The walk down to the beach and the way the moist sand would feel against my bare feet. The grass filled with all of those vibrant leaves, a world preparing to transition from long days and warmth to the darkness and chill of winter. The stars. So many stars.

I will remember looking out the window and seeing a shadow. Everything is going to be okay Scott. Just drift off to sleep, and whatever you do, don't think about The Evil Dead.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

White God Review

Eventually they will rise up. Inevitably, the abused and and the neglected will reach a breaking point.The sadness and the anger and the hate will boil over. 

Too many people turn on their televisions and see the chaos of a riot, a city on fire, and instantly think ill of those with the torches. Savages, they will call them. Thugs. The plight of the broken and the desperate will continue to be ignored. No one stops to ask, why are they really doing this? Why is the city on fire? Why would they carry the torches?

When the world turns its back on you, you can scream for help but no one will be there to hear it. The hopelessness of reality washes over you. The cards you have been dealt will never be good enough to win. 

Eventually they will rise up.

As an animal lover, White God is a challenging pill to swallow but in the end, when reflecting on the entire experience, it is as important and beautiful as it is brutal. The film tells the story of a teenage girl named Lili and her dog Hagen. When we first meet Lili she is being passed off from her mother to her father, and with her so goes Hagen. It is instantly clear that dad is not a dog person and it's just a matter of time until their ability to coexist vanishes. He literally puts Hagen on the side of the road and drives away. A devastated Lili vows to find her best friend again. 

The world is cruel to anyone or anything deemed lesser than those with power over it. The pain that Hagen goes through as he is tossed between owners, each with different motivation as to why they acquired the dog in the first place is heartbreaking. It's a physical pain of being beaten and tortured. It's an emotional pain of no longer being loved. 

White God is crafted beautifully and performed with absolute excellence, and that doesn't just go for the human characters. The dogs in the film were awarded a special Palm Dog Award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, which sounds like a cute gimmick but the ability of these canines to completely carry entire sequences with their movements and body language is nothing short of remarkable. The two dogs that shared the role of Hagen, Bodie and Luke, essentially play one of the two leads in the picture and they do so in a way that really resonates emotionally. I don't know if it's fair to say that dogs had charisma or perhaps it was just the realism of their pain, but I became intensely invested in their story while so many people in movies fail to grab me and make me give a shit.

The comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes are sound, but more than it being similar to other animals attacking people films I was struck by White God being an allegory for the racial and class oppression that is far too prevalent in the world today. We see the looting and the protests and instantly we question why it had to happen, but before those cameras were rolling it was happening for months, years, decades even. When people have no hope, when they are given so little opportunity to make something of their lives and the only way to have your voice heard is to light the city on fire?

Eventually they will rise up.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Battle Royale Review

The scene where the girl on the television screen names each kid, one by one. It's chilling and totally brilliant. Most of them are terrified of what awaits them on the outside. A couple of young men seem to be there for different reasons, a look of determination on the face of one and the other is calm. Too calm. Everyone in that room has just learned that the only way they will live beyond the next 72 hours is by being the last one alive when the clock runs out. Surreal. This must be a nightmare. 

Why would they do this? A classroom of adolescents chosen randomly for such a fate. It's too cruel to even comprehend, yet in this Japanese dystopian setting it is an idea concocted by the government to maintain order and keep the youth in line. The irony. Maintaining order through brutal chaos. The Battle Royale Millennium Act. Once a year the participants are chosen but the unlucky group won't realize what is happening until it is too late. One minute they are on a field trip, a bus full of 9th graders taking pictures and having fun. Suddenly they wake up with a collar around their neck. Let the games begin. 

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, Battle Royale is a gloriously harsh display of violence, a cacophony of screams and bullets that on a simplistic level serves as brutal entertainment but don't be fooled: this isn't a story centered only on blood spills and cheap thrills. Obviously the main question on display during Battle Royale is the one being addressed fictionally by the Japanese government: What the hell is wrong with the culture of youth today? Personally, I think the better question is what the hell is wrong with the people raising them?

A child grows up reveling in the image of those who show them the world. Those who are supposed to love them and only want the best for them. I live down the street from a kid who is, frankly, a little asshole and the easy response to such behavior is to scold the child, but when she steps in front of a mirror I see her parents looking back. I see the people who brought a miraculous life into the world only to show it that being rude and violent is an acceptable normality. 

So how does the Japanese government teach the kids to behave and stop the violence? By forcing them to misbehave and resort to violence. It is this counter-intuitive hypocrisy that fuels the picture, along with the excellent way frenetic action and surprisingly nuanced performances from the cast of young people are weaved together to form a story that somehow feels both sadistic and heartfelt. These kids are friends and some of them are just getting a chance to grasp the meaning of the word love when all of it is ripped from their arms in an instant. They'll never have the chance to grow up and learn how to be better people on their own. 

Painfully vicious and darkly comedic, Battle Royale is an incredibly smooth experience that clocks in at under two hours and yet it finds a way to build multiple characters amidst the blood, giving us a reason to actually give a shit when they take their last breathe. It's not a film for everyone, but those who can appreciate a blend of violence, mayhem and social subtext will absolutely love the ride. 

When Kiriyama comes up that fiery hill, machine gun in hand and ominous music playing as he approaches? I can't stop smiling no matter how many times I see it.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Cop Car Review

Two young boys are out wandering a long way from home. Through their dialogue we quickly establish they have run away, though why is a mystery. Suddenly they spot a cop car and they hit the dirt, worried they may have been spotted. The car is empty, but the officer is near. An open beer bottle still resides on the hood. Go touch it, one of them says. I dare you. As we all learned in A Christmas Story, a dare isn't something to be taken lightly, although we never reach triple-dog status here. So they each take a turn touching the care, but it isn't enough. Next thing you know they are sitting in it, pretending to drive when the keys literally fall in their lap. Would they actually start it up? Could they actually drive away?

A cop parks his car in the middle of nowhere with sinister motivations. Two men in his trunk although only one is still breathing. The perfect spot to bury the ultimate evidence. The silence of being alone in a place shrouded by trees. He takes the last drink of his cold, delicious beer and places the bottle on the hood. He drags the body away, though why is a mystery. Why did this man have to die? Why is the other one still alive? Why doesn't matter. After taking care of half of his problem, he returns to find that something is missing. His car. Where the fuck is his car?

Cop Car is the new film from director Jon Watts and I can't quite wrap my mind around the experience just yet. I don't know if sleeping on it will help. It's a film that at times thrives because of confident direction, especially during a brilliant sequence towards the end of the movie taking place on an empty road. Empty beyond these two cars, a pickup truck and a cop car, the showdown we were waiting for. It is a sublime example of how to utilize the space of the setting and the sound of the natural environment, as we aren't inundated with a blasting soundtrack but rather the rustling of the wind and the rhythmic clanking of an operating oil well. 

Unfortunately it fails almost as much as it succeeds, as I can't quite decide what the goal was here tonally. The closest style I could compare Cop Car to would be the work of the Coen brothers, only not nearly as effective in its blend of comedy and thrilling dramatic sequences. The boys are the most fun aspect of the picture but their stupidity transcends the level of humorous to an absurdity that almost seems to try too hard to be funny when it really isn't.  The police officer is played by the familiar face of Kevin Bacon and his performance is so campy and ridiculous that I think? I remain undecided on the presence of Bacon. For the way the character is written, he pretty much nailed it in every way but at times it was just too much. 

At times Cop Car is so wacky and strange that it feels like a comedy I couldn't take seriously, and then seemingly with the flip of a switch the tension is dialed up and the dialogue is disturbingly dark and I was left wondering what the hell this movie was truly trying to accomplish. When it's good though, it's so good. It's the type of work that leaves me wanting more from Watts but also fully confident that I will get just that in the future. He clearly has an eye for how to shoot a sequence with a delicate and patient hand, framing everything wonderfully and making the audience wonder not if but when the bullets will start flying. 

When the lights are flashing and the car is flying down the road through the darkness, I was hooked. I just wish it wasn't so silly along the way.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Name a film, I will watch it and review it!

Okay, here's the deal. Have a favorite film? One you absolutely hate? 

Let me know what it is and if I haven't already reviewed it, I will give it a watch and do so. That simple.

Despite seeing a whole lot of movies in my life, there are still plenty I have never gotten the chance to sit down and enjoy yet. Looking for the extra motivation to give some a spin that I may have otherwise never gotten to.

Oh, one disclaimer to this: I draw the line with anything like The Human Centipede. I made a vow to never watch a single moment of those films and I stand by that.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Casino Royale Review

17 years. That's how long I went without watching a single Bond film. Way back in 1997 I went to see Tomorrow Never Dies in the theater with a buddy and frankly, I didn't care for it. I don't recall the specifics as to why, but I can still see images of Pierce Brosnan and Teri Hatcher gallivanting around the screen and I know I wasn't really interested in reliving the experience again. It felt like the death of a franchise for me, which sounds heartbreaking but I was never married to it to begin with. I could easily live with 007 in my life.

Fast forward to 2014 and I couldn't ignore the bouquets being tossed in the direction of the Sam Mendes helmed Skyfall. I told myself writing off Bond because of such a dated sour taste in my mouth was ridiculous and perhaps I was missing out on something special as a result. I had to give the new entry a shot, and that is an aspect of these films that I do completely appreciate, the fact that you can essentially jump in anytime you want and never feel lost.

So I dived head first into Skyfall and what a refreshing, invigorating experience it was. The film had a tone to it that I never associated with the franchise in the past, as I had always paired the name James Bond with the word silly. Nothing about Skyfall is silly. The set pieces, the cinematography by the brilliant Roger Deakins, the performance from Daniel Craig in the iconic lead role. Javier Bardem the villain. I was hooked early, I fell in love throughout. I knew I needed to open myself to the previous Daniel Craig entries. 

Thus here we are, my next step in my Bond evolution by going into the past a bit, back to 2006 when Craig first stepped into the rather sizable shows in Casino Royale and yet again I find myself impressed. The pacing only on the rarest occasion tends to feel borderline languid but anytime I began teetering away from being completely compelled, something would happen that pulled me right back in. The film, while not quite as jaw dropping and ocular-gasmic in the photography department as the dazzling Deakins, is still crisp and appealing enough to keep my retinas glued to every frame. Craig again is exactly what I would want from a Bond, a serious yet quietly charming, intense yet believable in moments when he maintains his cool kind of guy. 

Shockingly, the women are yet again beautiful here but who would expect any less? It's a Bond film and it comes with the territory. Caterina Murino, Ivana Milicevic, and Eva Green, who I will admit I found distracting at times because of her strange facial expressions reacting to various situations. When things got intense, a strange facial expression. When she was confused, strange facial expression. When she was concerned, strange facial expression. The only times she seemed natural and convincing was when she was asked to either be sexy or actually emotionally traumatized, as a scene of her sitting in the shower trying to wash figurative blood from her hands was a moving moment. 

Interestingly, a lot of my enjoyment during a film involving poker hinges on how the game is represented on screen. I am a man who loves to sit down at the felt and play some intense and pressure filled hands of Hold'em, so when the rules of the game are butchered in a screenplay it drives me nuts. Do some research and display it accurately if you feel it is necessary to include it. Casino Royale has multiple scenes involving high stakes action and the results here are a mixed bag. On the one hand, I am pleased as punch that the rules were adhered to throughout showing that those involved in the writing process had a strong knowledge of the game, but the quality of hands players were achieving on a regular basis was absurd. It built up the dramatic stakes and probably elicited some gasps from the audience, each player turning over an amazing hand only to have it trumped by the next in line, but for me it only earned an eye roll. A small potatoes complaint, I know, but it still did detract from the overall experience for me. 

Regardless, Casino Royale is a rock solid slice of Bond that makes me feel like I will certainly dig the follow up, Quantum of Solace. I hope so at least, because after going more than half my life without believing in the Bond brand, I'm back. I'm so very, very back.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Fish Tank Review

Mia is angry. She's abrasive and vulgar and violent. 15 years old and already thrown out of school, it becomes apparent within minutes that her life is a lonely one. We see her surroundings, a downtrodden community that almost feels lost, like a world that has been shoved aside and forgotten. A world a lot like Mia. We meet her mother, a woman who seems damaged and emotionally corrupted. A woman who hates the world just as much if not more than she hates herself. A woman a lot like Mia. We meet her little sister Tyler, a young girl with a mouth just as foul as the women whom she calls family. Born into this home, into this world, with this mother. A child never has a chance. 

A fate just like Mia's.

One day, Mia meets Connor, her mom's new boyfriend. The world around her is exactly the same, yet it's different. The woman who brought her into this world is just as detestable, but now she has someone to dance with. A handsome, mysterious man. Connor. A positive addition to their dynamic capable of breaking up the routine of predictable misery, or yet another stormy cloud hanging over a girl who could use a ray of sunlight? 

Fish Tank is a film soaked in sadness with a palpable bleakness emitting from nearly every frame, and what really allows it to hit you where it hurts is the unfortunate realism found in Andrea Arnold's lens and the superb performances, especially from Katie Jarvis in the lead role as Mia and Michael Fassbender as Connor. Something about the way Arnold films Fish Tank made me feel voyeuristic throughout, at times like I was a fly on the wall watching Mia deal with her anger and pain alone and at other times as if I was seeing the world around her from her perspective. When Mia is watching her mother and Connor through the crack of a door, I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable, like I shouldn't be there. A feeling of anxiety as I wondered if Mia would be noticed. I felt anxious and a distinct lack of comfort often during the second half of Fish Tank, with a few sequences destined to linger in my mind for quite some time. 

Mia is never meant to be a likable character yet somewhere inside the performance of Jarvis I found that I cared about her, that I understood her situation and empathized with her. Some people just adapt to their surrounding and circumstances and it can get ugly on the surface, but deep down there is a person who gives a shit and just wants to be happy. A person who just wants to be noticed and feel loved. We get a glimpse of that side of her character when she encounters a beautiful horse chained up and Mia attempts to free it. The horse is a victim of these surroundings as well and much like Mia, it deserves more from it's life. It deserves better.

Towards the end of the picture, a scene takes place between Mia and her mother, a sad woman dancing alone to Nas' song "Life's a Bitch", and inside the simplicity of this sequence there is a raw and honest power that hit me pretty hard. For the first time Mia truly sees her mom. For the first time she understands.

Sometimes you just need someone to dance with.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Bourne Identity Review

The month is June. The year is 2002. The guy is named Scott Henry Anderson. I am that guy.

Scott Henry Anderson was 18 years old. Going to prom with his first real girlfriend. Graduating from high school. 

After a six year long ordeal with epilepsy that started on a fateful summer day while on vacation with his family, Scott had to undergo a 24 hour test of his brain to see if he could be medically cleared of the condition. That girlfriend I mentioned? She drove to his house to dump him that day. The day of the brain test. She literally could have picked ANY OTHER DAY to do it. She just couldn't wait another 12 or so damn hours. 

No, don't make any sad poor him noises when you read that. I'm not looking for sympathy. That is one of the funniest stories of my life and I tell it now for laughs. I want to include it in the plot of something I write in the future. Dude gets dumped while wearing a fanny pack containing a little computer monitoring the functionality of his brain via roughly a hundred cords connected to his head. It was June and I was wearing a knit hat to cover them all up. I was told to take it easy that day. She drove to my house to try and break my heart during that specific set of 24 hours.

I fucking love that story.

Let me get back to my point. What was my point? Oh, right. Prom, girlfriend, epilepsy, high school, swampy summer knit hat head, ex-girlfriend, and no more epilepsy. None of those things matter now beyond a comical quip and a distant memory. What does matter from the month of June, the year 2002?

Jason. Fucking. Bourne. 

I can't get enough of watching Matt Damon be awesome. I have a hard time describing exactly why I love these films. I just do. The intense action sequences, the tone of the experience, the score blasting through my head as he weaves through traffic with precision. I never get tired of watching The Bourne Identity. I put that beautiful Blu-ray disc in and that opening scene fills the screen, a mysterious man unconsciously floating along in the ocean during a storm, and I get excited all over again. It isn't just the joy of sitting down and screening this one installment again, it's knowing in the back of my mind that soon after I will give number two a spin. Then three. Hell, even the far less successful fourth entry sans Damon. 

Bring them all on. Bring on more Jason Bourne. 

I recall hearing about problems during production of The Bourne Identity that put the entire project in jeopardy. Typically when you hear stories like that, you get the Fantastic Four reboot, a finished product that you can just tell was put together through chaos rather than comfort. I don't sense even a sliver of unrest here. Whatever happened between the studio, director Doug Liman, screenwriter Tony Gilroy and the cast, it resulted in a wonderfully crafted and exciting picture that I am still eating up 13 years later. 

So here I sit, a 31 year old married man with a beautiful daughter, the memories of my adolescence fading away with each day. Except for June of 2002.

Prom, girlfriend, epilepsy, high school, swampy summer knit hat head, ex-girlfriend, and no more epilepsy. 

Jason. Fucking. Bourne. 


Monday, August 10, 2015

Fantastic Four Review

Near the end of the film, a military General says to the four heroes of this story something along the lines of "We want to continue our relationship...".

No sir, no we don't. You don't speak for me.

I watched this already knowing of the terrible death the new Fantastic Four reboot had suffered at the box office, and I am just fine with this fact. If it's still breathing, kill it. Put it out of it's misery. Give these characters to more capable hands, and no, I am not just Josh Trank bashing right now.

As a big fan of his debut film Chronicle, I know he is better than this. I know it. That film had imagination and intelligence and a sense of originality that I admired from the first frame to the last. Without knowing the specifics of what happened behind the scenes with Fantastic Four, I can smell the studio induced trauma all over the finished product. Something strange happened here, and it isn't pretty. 

While nothing was ever particularly great or even totally compelling here, at least the first half of the film had a decent tone and somewhat forgivable pacing to it. The character development was completely awful, that I can't give any credit to. Showing us that Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a geek and that his parents don't like him almost blowing up the house doesn't justify some sort of inner turmoil and sadness with the payoff being him mentioning how he wished he was adopted. We see that Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) likes to drive cars fast and he sometimes crashes them into poles, much to the chagrin of his father. Great. Sue Storm (Kate Mara) is his sister and works with their father and is adopted, which makes Reed jealous because his parents didn't like when he almost blew the house up. Ben Grimm/The Thing (Jamie Bell)...well, who gives a shit about him? He is Reed's friend.

That's it. Those nuggets and tidbits of information are what we have to hold onto when suddenly chaos ensues and they wake up with superpowers and absolutely nothing was done to make me care about their fate because nothing was built up in any way. To be clear, this is the part of the film I didn't hate, so that gives you an indication of the tone of the rest of this review. The first half wasn't good, at all...but what happened next floored me, and not in a positive sort of way.

One year later. It says those words across the screen and then suddenly the narrative goes into warp speed to the point that it was almost laughable. They have powers and we barely get a chance to see them let alone try to understand how they are coping with such a massive change in their lives. They just take a few minutes to show them off before the rest of the plot unravels in, no joke, roughly 20 or so minutes. That's it. The villain, Dr. Doom, doesn't even become the villain until there are 10 minutes to go in the film. 10 damn minutes. We get villain doing villainous things, the Fantastic Four uniting to stop him, the absurdly brief "action" sequence, the triumph of victory, the cute and trying to be clever dialogue to close it out and then the credits roll in 10 minutes. It's unbelievable. I have never seen anything like it, and I refuse to believe this was the vision of Josh Trank. This feels like a bunch of suits who have no idea how to tell a story cutting it to pieces until it barely had a pulse.

Since I mentioned the dialogue, I need to address how terrible that was as well. I could go over the multiple times in which someone says that they need to work together to be strong because being apart, being alone makes them weak, but I won't. I don't have the heart or energy to complain anymore. Fantastic Four is a not so good film initially that tumbles down a hill into hell as the pacing of the second act feels as if I was cartoonishly watching what was happening while holding down the fast forward button.

When Reed Richards tells the various members of the military that he needs 10 minutes to fix something, I couldn't help but think, no man, you are going to need at least 40. Go back in time and start this thing over and let some scenes breathe. Let us get to know the people we are supposed to cheer for. 

A 90 minute superhero origin story. Fantastic Four never had a chance.


Scarface Review

Tony Montana. A Cuban refugee arriving in Miami with nothing. A man who had to work from the very bottom doing absolutely anything necessary to move up in the world. A man that embraces the blood on his hands rather than wash it off with guilt or shame. He earned everything he has now because of that blood. 

Tony Montana. The world is yours.

I have watched a whole lot of films over the course of my 31 plus years on this planet but until now Scarface was not one of them. I don't really have an explanation as to why not. I recall as an adolescent being a bit turned off by the idea that the story of Tony Montana was being embraced as if it was a glorification of such behavior, that his life was something to strive for rather than a cautionary tale of any kind. So many put the poster on their walls and looked up to Tony as an idol, as if he was a representation of anyone with any background being capable of finding their own american dream.

With optimistic but not through the roof expectations, I sat down and decided to finally absorb the vision of director Brian De Palma and writer Oliver Stone, and what I watched was nothing I could have expected regarding my concerns over themes and the portrayal of the character of Tony Montana. Scarface is a brilliant piece of cinema, one with a lot to say regarding immorality and excess and materialism and the repercussions of striving for so much wealth and power. We see the words multiple times throughout the picture: the world is yours. The story of Tony Montana is about what happens when you try to own the world. 

The script is wonderful, a sea of foul language and hilariously vulgar yet clever lines that are absurdly quotable. The performance of Al Pacino as Montana is so richly over-the-top that it somehow transcends silly and actually works perfectly for the material. What really won me over and practically had me drooling was the ingenious direction by De Palma, who ditches a traditional and static camera for one that smoothly and beautiful flows through rooms, from outdoors to indoors, from characters to security cameras and back to where it started with such patience and ease. I knew the violence was coming. I knew Pacino would spout the iconic "say hello to my little friend" line eventually. I didn't know the craft of Scarface would be so sublime. 

Tony Montana. A Cuban refugee arriving in Miami with nothing. A man who found himself at the top yet he was never satisfied. A man with blood on his hands that cannot be washed off. The blood of even those who remained fiercely loyal to him from the beginning. A man who fell just as quickly as he rose, and the impact on the way down is a lot harder. 

Tony Montana. The world is yours.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Review

Fast paced and exciting action sequences, amazing set pieces, beautiful women and Tom Cruise, I finally caught up with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol as I realized it would probably be a beneficial experience as I hope to see the new film Rogue Nation soon. Honestly, I'm not sure how I managed to avoid this one for four years as I had seen the previous three and Ghost Protocol was quite possibly the best received critically of the bunch.

Turns out that praise was well deserved: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a damn fine and fun film. 

It helps if I clarify that I am a Tom Cruise fan, and frankly it baffles me so many people out there are not. Yeah, I get it, the dude is a bit crazy personally. Here's the thing though: I don't give a shit. Go be a Scientologist and jump on couches and say weird nonsense and freak people out. It doesn't bother me in the least. I'm not looking for Cruise to be an awesome guy and I'm not looking to be his buddy, I'm looking for great cinema and he either knocks it out of the park or tries his best to do so every single time out. As an entertainer I find Tom Cruise to be pure bliss, and he was a sublime choice to play the role of Ethan Hunt in this franchise.

Cruise is joined by an ensemble that includes Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Lea Seydoux and Michael Nyqvist, and the one name on that list that leaves me feeling conflicted is Seydoux. Not that there was anything wrong with her, quite the opposite actually. I'm still trying to decide if there was not enough or just the right amount of her, because I was left wanting more. Her character is intriguing, dangerous, and sexy and just her presence in the frame made those scenes feel more compelling, so on the one hand I felt let down by the relatively small amount of screen time she was given but on the other, perhaps more would have been too much. Can't help but feel short changed though.

Despite my relatively minor quibble regarding wanting more Seydoux, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a blast with certain sequences getting my adrenaline pumping and literally moving me to the edge of my seat. Top notch work from director Brad Bird and everyone else involved in the production of this one. I can only hope Rogue Nation comes close to matching it.


Moon Review

"I hope life on Earth is everything you remember it to be."

Three years. Three long years.

One man, alone on the moon.

Two gorgeous women eagerly await his return. His wife and his infant daughter, a little girl named Eve that he barely knows. A little girl that needs her father.

His name is Sam Bell, and his time is almost up. 

His interactions with the computer GERTY (voiced brilliantly by Kevin Spacey) keep him sane, at least thus far. Things are changing though. Sam is seeing things, the extended isolation invoking hallucinations. 

It's a long time to be alone so far away from home. Three years. Three long years.

His time is almost up.

Moon is the debut feature film from director Duncan Jones, and what a breathtaking way to start a career. It's a picture that feels limited in scope but it thrives because of the intimacy of the whole experience. Many will see the genre of the film listed as science fiction and instantly imagine going on a journey to distant worlds. They will think of action sequences and hostile aliens and a crew aboard a spaceship on a mission to save the world. Moon has nothing of the sort. It tells the story of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), the only man residing on the moon. His job is to harvest helium-3 and send it back down to Earth where they are using it to fuel the world, but his contract is about to expire.

Three years. Three long years.

His time is almost up.

Moon seems so damn simple and yet it feels complex and enlightening when I let it bounce around my mind. It's a beautiful and deeply personal exploration into a few very interesting themes, an example of which is what it means to be human, to feel, to love, to remember. It's heartbreaking, hell, it's more than that. It's devastating and painful with one scene in particular striking a chord in me every single time I watch it. The tears...oh the tears...they come bubbling to the surface and there is no stopping them.

One man, alone on the moon.

Three years. Three long years.

His time is almost up.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Jupiter Ascending Review

Everything about the film Jupiter Ascending is beautiful.

The dazzling visual effects are beautiful.

Mila Kunis is beautiful.

Half wolf man Channing Tatum is beautiful.

Eddie Redmayne...well, no, Eddie Redmayne isn't beautiful. His character is weird and his performance is weirder. Also, it's bad. His performance is real bad. A part of me doesn't really blame him though because obviously the work he did here was acceptable to the filmmakers. They saw what was happening, hell they may have even asked him to portray it exactly this way. I can't imagine why because it was ridiculous, but for them to roll with it means it clearly somehow fit into their vision. 

The script isn't beautiful either. It's a few other B words. Baffling. Balderdash. What's the other one?

Oh right. Bad. The script is bad too.

Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum and those visuals though? Beautiful. Yep, just keep thinking about those aspects and trick myself into believing I really enjoyed Jupiter Ascending. Think about all of those beautiful things...

Nope, can't do it. I can't deny those other B words. There is just too much bad present in Jupiter Ascending to love it. Here's the thing though: despite this, my conflicted but optimistic relationship with the Wachowskis allowed me to still technically enjoy the experience of watching this film as for whatever reason I admire their ambitions and the spectacle they put on. These are the wonderful, bold cinematic minds behind The Matrix and the stunning adaptation of Cloud Atlas, two films comfortably resting in my top 100 of all time, yet for some reason they also craft such strange misfires as well. Perhaps that is just the down side of having big ideas and being so passionate about them, that sometimes they hit all the right notes and we can feel the love they have for their work in every frame and other times it seems like they were just throwing shit at the wall and pieces of it refused to stick.

Jupiter Ascending tells the story of a girl named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) who seemingly was born destined for greatness yet nothing about her life feels great, which is rather appropriate for a movie that is so gorgeous to look at and yet lacks any semblance of a meaningful narrative capable of elevating it. 

Jupiter finds out that she was right all along, that her existence is far more important than her current state of affairs as she is genetically marked as royalty and is next in line to claim her inheritance which is the right to own a distant planet. On paper the story seems kind of interesting: it isn't. It's really uninspired and does nothing to grab hold of me emotionally in any way, despite obvious efforts to do so. 

In the end, Jupiter Ascending is a lot of beautiful and a lot of bad. I choose to be a glass-half-full kinda guy and think more about the beautiful.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Tig Review

If I were to tell you a film was "simple", would you assume I meant it in a negative or positive way? It sounds so negative, to call something as complicated to make as a film "simple", but often times simplicity can be so damn wonderful, especially in regards to a documentary. 

So damn wonderful, the simplicity of it all. 

Except here's the thing: if you push aside the actual skill of the filmmaker and the fact that the new Netflix Original Documentary Tig is about one woman and her personal journey, there is nothing simple about what we see happening on the screen throughout. Life isn't simple. Death isn't simple. Joy isn't simple. Pain isn't simple. 

Cancer isn't simple. Comedy isn't simple. Love isn't simple. Heartbreak isn't simple.

Yet here I am, still basking in the simplicity of Tig. I absolutely adore the narrow focus of the picture, the fact that we are seeing her various stand up bits, from the material that gets used on a daily basis to the absolutely iconic and game changing set she did one shortly after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, but these jokes carry so much more weight the more we get to know and learn about the person delivering them. 

This film is about her, but it's also about so many other people in the world who have been knocked down over and over and over again and had to find the strength to get back up again. The people who have emerged on the other side of tragedy with a smile on their face that seems incomprehensible considering their pain. The people who manage to find humor during a time when the desk just seems to be stacked against them time and time again. Tig Notaro is a wonderful, strong, inspiring person and this film does a brilliant job of reflecting these traits while, again, maintaining a simplicity in focus and vision that makes the whole experience feel honest and intimate.

Illness, tragedy, heartbreak, disease, and then amazingly, laughter. Moving forward even when everything seems to be pushing her back. Finding hope in a world that can seem so hopeless. 

I never once felt manipulated or mislead by the story of Tig Notaro. Not once. I laughed, I hurt and I was emotionally moved by both her darkest moments and also when her brightness still managed to shine through. When the final frame disappeared from the screen, I couldn't shake the power of seeing the human spirit triumph over so many hardships. 

The filmmaking and storytelling approach of Tig is simple. 

Yet nothing is simple about Tig.