Thursday, April 30, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Everywhere I look I find people who close their minds off to something, assuming the worst about a film without ever seeing a single frame. Perhaps it is a genre thing, as once something gets labeled it instantly turns off a certain portion of a potential audience. Comedy is too silly? Horror is too gory? More into realism than fantasy? It's up to each individual to carry with them these biases and it's also up to them to let their guards down for a bit and try and connect with a work outside their comfort zones, but for their sake I hope they can give any movie a fair shake. A lot of comedic pictures are dreadfully unfunny, but had I dismissed an entire genre I would have never discovered that the dude abides. A lot of horror attempts to grab for the lowest hanging fruit with entire narratives centered around torture and the shedding of limbs and lives, but I still couldn't wait to enter a theater recently and figure out what exactly it follows. I have connected in deep and profound ways with realism that feels intensely personal, but I wouldn't be who I am today without decades of admiring science fiction and fantasy storytelling that swept me away to other eras and worlds. 

Another problem is this bizarre desire to pledge allegiances to something specific and thus dismiss the other options out there. Star Trek or Star Wars? James Bond or Jason Bourne? Marvel or D.C.? Apparently once you pick a side, it prohibits that person from ever saying a kind thing about the "opposition" again. This whole concept baffles me. Sure I grew up in a galaxy far, far away, but that wouldn't stop me from learning about the original vision of Gene Roddenberry. I am a big fan of the Bourne films, but did you see how outstanding Skyfall was?

Which leads me to both the Marvel vs. D.C. comic book turf war and also my main overall point. Why can't I love both? Why can't I watch the masterful Nolan Batman trilogy one weekend and then the next treasure the Avengers on a quest to save the world? Sure I stylistically tend to prefer the dark and gritty over the bright and fun, but the tone of a picture is not the only factor in play. Man of Steel brought the exact dark and serious twist I wanted on the amazing story of Superman, but heaven help me with that crappy David Goyer script and Zack Snyder's addiction to zoom in on shit every chance he got, where as I approached Guardians of the Galaxy with some trepidation because it was clear before the film was even released that it would be far more of a comedic space opera than anything else.

I could have easily predetermined my eventual issues with Guardians of the Galaxy and not allowed myself to be swayed away from those thoughts no matter what I saw on the screen, especially after the failings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2013 when it came to comedy. Instead though, I treat it like an open minded challenge made from my brain to a filmmaker, in this case James Gunn: prove me wrong. Write a screenplay that will actually make me laugh and yet also feel some emotion. Entertain me with thrilling action but balance that with developed and nuanced characters that I can care enough about to either root for or again them. 

James Gunn proved me wrong. He delivered in every way I could have hoped for. He thrilled me, made me laugh more during this one movie than the entire MCU had before it combined, made me give a shit about a tree that can only say three words and a talking raccoon and even brought quite a few tears to my eyes. Guardians of the Galaxy is an absolute blast and my single favorite film from the studio thus far. 

Hours from now I will be seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron, and months later Ant-Man. Later in 2015 there will be a Bond and the awakening of the force, and then next year Batman will fight Superman and Captain Kirk will voyage out into the depths of space. Will all of these films be good? I have no idea, and I would be lying if I said I was confident in all of them. Pessimism is a normal part of the cinematic journey, but refusing to enjoy a movie for arbitrary reasons like what fan club you joined as a kid or what studio released it now is a sad reason to overwhelm yourself with negative thoughts and refuse to accept the positives. 

Instead approach each like a challenge and hope for the best. If you have had issues with Marvel films in the past so you decided to not see Guardians of the Galaxy, do what I did and give it a chance to prove you wrong. 

I'm glad I did.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Red Desert Review

The smog fills the air, the opening frames of the film Red Desert introducing us to a setting that is far from aesthetically pleasing. Gloomy is a word that doesn't even do these landscapes and skyline justice. Director Michelangelo Antonioni brings us right into an ugly, colorless world where even the people match the ground they walk in, muted by tones of grey.

Suddenly a vibrancy enters the frame and it is impossible to not notice. Her red hair flares with intensity despite not really being all that bright because an image so stark explodes with even the slightest infusion of color. The contract between that red and the green coat she is wearing feels out of place in such a drab and polluted land. She walks side by side with a child and she approaches a man holding food. She appears desperate and hungry, perhaps an indication that the subject matter of Red Desert will revolve around the impoverished, except she offers to pay for the sandwich despite it being already half-eaten. Something isn't quite right here.

I discovered after watching this film that it was the first time Antonioni utilized color in a picture, and boy is utilized an appropriate word. The entire thing is stunning, as pastel colors that normally would seem inconsequential in a typical film pop here in a way that actually feels a bit uneasy. It is clear that this is intentional rather than accidental, that the backdrop of grey buildings and white smoke and a rolling fog only serve as a canvas in order to make the reds and blues grab out attention. Perhaps we are seeing the world the way Giuliana (Monica Vitti) sees it, as it is made clear early by her husband that ever since a recent auto accident, her mind has not been quite right. 

While the colors of various set pieces do draw our attention and speak quite loudly on their own, the fact that the lead actress Monica Vitti is strikingly beautiful doesn't do Antonioni a disservice either. For every reason imaginable it is impossible to look away from this strange yet wonderful film, a movie that looks to dazzle all of the audiences senses rather than merely entertain on a narrative level. The sizzle of a room painted entirely the same unsettling tone of red. The way Antonioni uses sound in various scenes like when inside the factory near the start of the film or as the characters occupy a tiny dwelling right next to a river with a ship docking right outside. The mesmerizing eyes of Giuliana throughout the entire experience. Red Desert is appealing and yet off-putting. It is both beautiful and ugly. It is sexy and surreal.

Some films end and whether I love them or loathe them, I move on quickly and don't really look back. Perhaps I will revisit them someday or perhaps I will never give it another thought. I could dive right back into Red Desert tomorrow. Despite being locked in from start to finish, I know I didn't truly see everything that Antonioni wanted to convey with this film. I am fascinated by both what I know and also how much more there must be to uncover.

I love all different types of movies, but my passion for cinema resides somewhere in the same realm that created a film like Red Desert. Much like consuming food, every day I enjoy what I eat and I am left satisfied, but every so often a meal can be so much more. Red Desert has flavors to it that danced across my taste buds in a way that I would not only remember for some time, I would want to go back to that restaurant every single day if I could. 

Red Desert is absolutely delicious.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Decades of Cinema - 10 Best of the 2000's

If you were curious to check out my previous "Decades" lists and other stuff as well, this link will take you there.

Here are my ten favorites released between the years 2000 and 2009.

10. Oldboy

Gosh, if you haven't seen Oldboy, you should, but let me follow that up with a disclaimer: if the content or the direction the narrative takes proves to be disturbing, please don't come back and blame me. I'm sure this Korean revenge thriller would be too much for some, but it's just right for me.

Also, please, don't watch the recently released Spike Lee U.S. remake before seeing the original. Start with the masterpiece, then decide if you want to compare the two. 

9. Memories of Murder

Let's just stay in South Korea with the incredible based on a true story crime-drama Memories of Murder. This one tells the story of the first ever documented serial killer in the history of the nation, and it is an atmospheric, chilling and flat out great film. Have a South Korean movie night and watch the first two on this list back to back. 

8. Zodiac

From back to back South Korean films to now back to back tales based on truth involving serial killers, notice a theme thus far to my favorite films from this decade? Yes, I like my dark and ominous thrillers. They just tend to work for me, especially when they are as brilliant as David Fincher's Zodiac

7. The Dark Knight

We stay in the darkness but with a bit more of a fun flair, moving into the superhero sub-genre with The Dark Knight, although really this is just an epic crime drama masked as a comic book movie. Without a doubt the masterpiece of the Nolan Batman trilogy featuring that already pretty iconic performance from the late Heath Ledger. I recall when The Dark Knight was first released there was a lot of "greatest movie of all time" talk associated with it. Unfortunately I can't go that far, but it certainly is one of the finest achievements of its decade.

6. Children of Men

7 years before he won the Oscar for Best Director for his work on Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron gave the world Children of Men and it is a science fiction thriller that works in every possible way. Written, directed and performed with perfection and that glorious photography from Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki, this is a movie that literally, and let me stress that word because when I use it, I use it correctly, LITERALLY gave my wife a panic attack as she watched a battle sequence. 

5. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

This is the moment where people think, oh okay, so three of the top five will be the Lord of the Rings trilogy. No, you may be surprised when one, probably considered the greatest installment by the majority is actually left off the list. The Fellowship of the Ring, however, is a totally worthy epic fantasy adventure, and the trilogy as a whole I revisit every single year when fall rolls around and the weather outside gets brisk. It just feels right.

4. Spirited Away

The attention to detail from Hayao Miyazaki in Spirited Away is breathtaking, arguably not only the defining masterpiece from Studio Ghibli but also in the history of animated cinema. Magical, mystical, haunting and beautiful, You might see this and think, but I can't watch animated movies anymore. I'm an adult. Nonsense. The craft of a Miyazaki should be admired by people of all ages.

3. No Country for Old Men

Surely you saw this one coming, right? I named my blog after it! A flawless film with a perfect conclusion, an ending that angered some but for me it was sublime. No Country for Old Men is a Best Picture winner that was worthy of the award.

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

What a glorious example of perfect blockbuster filmmaking. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has always been and will continue to be my favorite installment in the trilogy, a perfectly paced marvel that feels so damn epic, it's more like an event than a movie. The Battle of Helm's Deep is my favorite sequence in the entire saga, which helps elevate this one to the top.

1. Inglourious Basterds

The second time Quentin Tarantino has held the top spot of a decade for me, and Inglourious Basterds happens to me my second favorite of his work behind only Pulp Fiction. The ultimate revenge story, a grand what if tale involving Nazi's and a woman avenging the brutal deaths of her family members. It's clever, it's funny, it's made with astonishing confidence and as usual it has a screenplay that you could close your eyes and just listen to and still love the experience. A few specific scenes, like one that takes place at a basement bar, are so perfectly executed and so deliciously Tarantino. No one else on the planet could make a scene like that work so damn well.

Next list will be the last, my ten favorite films released between 2010 and now. Might sound like a small, watered down sample size, but trust me...this decade has been pretty incredible, including my favorite film of all time.

Batman Begins Review

Those two words we dread nowadays as the superhero sub-genre continues to flourish financially and thus take up most of the screens at the local theater each weekend: origin story. We dread them because they typically are mentioned due to reboots of heroes we are already so familiar with, their origins are like that tale your Uncle tells every single year at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Spider-Man is abandoned by his parents, lives with his Aunt and Uncle and gets bit by a super special arachnid. We get it. A wee little Bruce Wayne walks down a dark alley with his parents when a shady criminal spills the blood of the elders, a memory that haunts him until the day he decides to don the cape and cowl and beyond. Been there, done that.

The imaginative and highly skilled Christopher Nolan at the helm of the story of the Dark Knight though? Yeah, I would watch that. Over and over and over again, because Batman Begins is dark and delicious fun.

Gotham is bathed in shadows and plagued by a violent, seedy underworld, yet despite the serious tone and cold aesthetic I am unable to take my eyes off of the ominous, gloomy world built by Nolan here. The rain pours down and each frame feels crisp and alive, appropriate for the moment. The revival of a character beloved but absent from a good film in over a decade prior to Nolan stepping in to bring him back from his Joel Schumacher induced cinematic death. It was a wonderful feeling, sitting in that cinema shortly after this film was released and feeling all of the pessimism and ugliness associated with Batman on the big screen wash away. 

Batman Begins is the way an origin story should be done, and I can't help but wonder if the showrunners of the new Daredevil Netflix series were influenced by this one when they began crafting their rather brilliant series. Spread out over thirteen hours rather than a mere two, it is difficult to compare the two in terms of storytelling and character development but the tone and the atmosphere feel remarkably similar. If Batman Begins was in fact the model to build off of, they picked a wonderful picture to replicate.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

City Lights Review

The fictionalized events of the Best Picture winning 2011 film The Artist were a reality faced by Charlie Chaplin when he began production on his timeless classic City Lights. The world of silent cinema was at a crossroads as the public began to embrace the magic of sound and Chaplin had to make a decision: move away from the style that made him one of the biggest stars of motion pictures or continue on, seemingly a step behind the progression of the medium. 

Chaplin continued on and released City Lights the way he had originally intended, and it is not only considered by many to be his finest personal achievement, it is one of the highest regarded pictures in history. Safe to say he made the right choice.

Chaplin portrays his iconic Tramp and he falls in love with a blind girl who dreams of being able to afford a medical procedure that may return her sight. The romance is touching and truly beautiful. The comedy is top notch as usual, as Chaplin always finds a way to make me laugh and fill me with joy, and the final sequence of the picture resonates so deeply it is impossible to forget. 

While Modern Times continues to be Chaplin's masterpiece, City Lights is just a slight notch beneath it. An amazing film that the world still flocked to see despite the world of cinema leaving that era behind, and what a treasure to know City Lights was close to never existing. Thank goodness it does.


Clouds of Sils Maria Review

I recently celebrated my 31st birthday, but my Kristen Stewart memories go back to when I was still a high school student, months away from graduation. Lord knows I don't recall a thing about what was going on in my social life at that time, or what classes I was taking in school, yet I can vividly remember sitting down in a theater and getting ready for a brand new Fincher thriller on the big screen. Was I blown away by my introduction to this child actress portraying the diabetic/asthmatic daughter of Jodie Foster? No, probably not, but there was certainly a talent there that would show itself eventually. It was a safe bet this wasn't the last I would see from this very young fresh face, but I never could have anticipated what the future would hold.

Six years after the release of Panic Room, here is that girl again only now she is starring in some bullshit vampire nonsense that would turn into a franchise, billions of dollars pouring into executives pockets while inspiring precisely no one in the process. She became a source of hatred from teenage girls around the world who all loved one or both of the pale male creatures that read their lines like slabs of wood alongside her. Memes were unleashed insulting her lack of range. Followed by middle aged men paid to take pictures and scorned for alleged love affairs with married directors, that glimmer of hope I saw way back when had become toilet bowl TMZ fodder that would never reach its potential. 

Suddenly, we have Camp X-Ray, an above average film with an even better lead performance. Julianne Moore took home trophy after trophy for her work in Still Alice, and rightfully so, but no one really talked about the strong, confident supporting work from that familiar face that played her daughter. Was this the same joke, the same train wreck tabloid headline that would forever be nothing more than a high school girl with a 200 year old hunky boyfriend that shimmers in the sun?

Well, little did I know that the best was yet to come, even after those two performances. Kristen Stewart is a revelation in Clouds of Sils Maria, and yet she still may be hiding out in the shadows of an even stronger lead. Juliette Binoche is an early but serious Oscar contender, playing an aging movie star who refuses to accept the inevitability and relentless nature of time. She is asked to take the stage for the revival of a play she had starred in 20 years earlier, but not for the same character. No, that role is still meant to be portrayed by the young and Maria no longer fits that bill.

The chemistry shared on screen between Binoche and Stewart is remarkable, Binoche playing the slightly unstable and increasingly unhinged star who cannot comprehend being pushed out of the spotlight by the new generation of talent and Stewart always by her side as an assistant. Their conversations in private are thought provoking and insightful and it is important to note that they aren't merely words, nor are they just some reflections to teach us that aging sucks. There is more in play here as we watch someone try to look themselves in the mirror and find a way to leave their younger former self behind, try to accept the facts of life and the concept of time. No matter how much we all wish to stop it or even just slow it down for a moment, time continues to move forward.

The way Maria looks at her. The cynical way she views the world and more specifically the industry she calls home. The way Valentine looks back, with admiration that is balanced out by honesty and integrity. The optimistic way she approaches art and keeps an open mind about genres and weighty themes and the people that play the roles she sees on the stage or on screen. As their dialogue intensifies and the tension between them becomes palpable, I couldn't shake off the feeling that Clouds of Sils Maria was inspired in part by Bergman and the way he portrayed women in Persona. As the clouds roll in, I admired them with a feeling of certainty that I had correctly predicted the seemingly out of nowhere twist a bit in advance, but this didn't take anything away from the experience. It's handled with such class and intelligence and artistry that even when I saw it coming, as a fan of cinema I was thrilled at the concept and its execution. 

It's early and I have no idea what level of supporting performances we will see later this year, but whether she deserves it or not (she does), I have a gut feeling Kristen Stewart will not receive recognition from the Academy for what she achieved during Clouds of Sils Maria, and a part of me doesn't really give a shit. No awards will change how I felt watching these amazing actresses work together in harmony, with certain sequences playing like the perfect demonstration videos for anyone who dreams of becoming an actor. What does need to stop, however, is this misguided notion that Stewart is a punch line to a joke.

She can flat out act. Her subtle, nuanced performance in Clouds of Sils Maria with her deadpan delivery that perfectly sits along side the highs and lows of Binoche is top notch stuff, and the film itself is, at this point, the best of 2015 thus far.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Andrei Rublev Review

People always say "You can do anything you set your mind to", but is that really accurate? Could I have pursued a multitude of professions when I was growing up and determining a path for my education? Certainly. Could I have worked harder, maintained a stronger focus on my goals and been at the top of my class? Sure. It is amazing what a person can achieve when they know what they have to do to get to where they want to be.

Yet I still don't truly believe the word "anything" belongs in that first quote. Some people can work night and day and become great, but it takes more than that to be a genius of a craft. I was pretty good at basketball growing up, but no matter how hard I practiced, no matter how many shots I took, I was never going to be Michael Jordan. I also had a pretty strong knack for golf. At one point I was even the Captain of my high school team, but no matter how many rounds I played, I was never going to be Tiger Woods.

I bring this up because some films take me to a place that resides far beyond words like admiration or fondness or even love. Sometimes I will watch a work and my first reaction is one of jealousy because I think to myself, "Why couldn't I be capable of making something like this?". I was born in April, the year 1984 and by the time I took my first breathe I honestly believe it had already been decided: I was never going to be Andrei Tarkovsky. Only a few men in the history of cinema even play in the same league. Some people are just born with a gift that is hard to comprehend.

There is a level of brilliance on display during every minute of the epic picture Andrei Rublev that is difficult to even put into words, and there are a lot of minutes to analyze along the way. Clocking in at well over 3 hours in length, deciding to sit down and devote not only your time but also the mental energy it takes to devour such a movie can be daunting. Trust me though, it is worth it. 

Despite the fact that obviously we are not watching real footage from 600 years ago, Tarkovsky manages to create some authenticity with a sometimes crude and dated look to the film, but this isn't a flaw, it is actually quite stunning. Typically when I see a period piece taking place during a similar time, I can't help but see it as a Hollywood picture attempting to capture a realism that is impossible to create. Tarkovsky somehow transports us back to an era long before a camera could even be there to film. Everything seems to be lit naturally, something that is especially noticeable during sequences taking place indoors, when a face is shrouded in shadows only to be illuminated by the flicker of light from a candle. No matter how dull and dour and grey and cold the image appears to be on screen, it is consistently beautiful to look at.

The screenplay, written by Tarkovsky and his co-writer Andrei Konchalovsky, took more than two years to put together and the time and effort is not lost on me as I witnessed this epic masterpiece unfold. Every word feels perfect and they are all delivered by an expansive and flawlessly assembled cast of unknown actors. As an audience, we may not literally see all of the work that goes into the entire craft of a film but often times we can feel it. Modern day studios try to churn out films and their sequels year after year, and you can sometimes sense that they were rushed. The focus was on box office receipts rather than art. Andrei Rublev is the antithesis of this mentality. You can practically soak in the amount of passion that went into every single frame.

I was once asked why I would root for Tiger Woods at a time when he was winning practically every tournament he played in. "I love to watch greatness at its absolute best.", I responded. 

That's exactly how I felt as I experienced Andrei Rublev


Friday, April 24, 2015

The Place Beyond the Pines Review

When the film opens, Luke Glanton is the hero. A brilliantly executed long take has us following close behind him as he walks through the grounds of a carnival, but he doesn't move with any urgency despite being told he is needed. He strolls with confidence and a swagger that announces to the world, they can wait. Past the flashing lights and the dangling prizes, the eyes of the public turn and watch him move past but he seemingly doesn't even notice. When he arrives at his destination, Luke Glanton receives an ovation fit for a celebrity. Handsome Luke and the Heartthrobs. His pulse doesn't even appear to pick up an extra beat. Luke Glanton is as cool as a cucumber.

Later on, a young, brave police officer receives the call that a bank robber is on the run near where he is located. Wrong place, wrong time. His name is Avery Cross, and that moment every officer must be ready for has come to fruition. His weapon is drawn and he may have to use it. A beautiful wife and a newborn son are waiting at home, but this intersection between good and evil could mean Avery is about to take his final breathe. Is it as black and white as good and evil though? Is either side ever so purely one or the other? A split second decision blurs these lines. The ground is covered in blood and a good man begins to associate with the corrupt. The life of a man ends and whether a sinner or saint, they leave behind a trail of tears from those that cared for him. The death of one has altered the fates of many.

15 years later, the lives of two teenage boys intersect almost impossibly. Two young men connected from the moment they were in diapers and yet they come together without even knowing the past. Jason and AJ. They are living with the ramifications of decisions made before they could even voice a single word. They are their father's sons. 

The Place Beyond the Pines is presented as a three-act play, with stories and characters overlapping in ways that will reverberate through time. While the narrative loses power and strength as it goes, with the story of Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) resembling what I would define as a masterpiece and the final act involving teenagers still living in the shadows of their fathers not quite matching up, I still feel the end result of this work by Derek Cianfrance is pretty remarkable, ambitious and compelling throughout. 

What I wrote above doesn't even begin to tell the whole story of these characters and their lives, the nuance that makes them complicated rather than cut and dry archetypes. If you haven't seen The Place Beyond the Pines yet, do so, and what you will see is an epic made on an indie budget. A sweeping story with an intimate scope. 

Most of all, you will see a great film.


The Circus Review

Here I go again, expressing more fascination and admiration for the life and career of the great Charlie Chaplin. I recently decided to take my first journey with him to The Circus, a setting that certainly could play to the comedic strengths of The Tramp and his brilliant handle of what was needed to make slapstick funny. It did just that, as all the usual laughs were present and accounted for and on a purely entertainment level, Chaplin did not disappoint yet again.

What is remarkable is what Chaplin went through off screen while The Circus was in production, proving that once the camera started rolling, he could flip the switch and transition from a painful existence to a charmed fiction with ease. All while this one film was being made, the man behind the character had to deal with the death of his mother, a bitter divorce from his second wife and the IRS coming after him for unpaid back taxes.

Despite all of this, The Circus is an absolute joy of a silent film which is something I say often about the work of Chaplin. The utilization of amazing set pieces and his ability to entertain so naturally work together in harmony throughout, and my love for Chaplin continues to grow.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Decades of Cinema - 10 Best of the 1990's

My previous "Decades" lists are here: 1920's1930's1940's1950's1960's1970's, and 1980's. Here are my ten favorite films from the 1990's.

10. The Matrix

Forget about the shitty sequels for a second and just remember how damn cool The Matrix was when it was released in 1999. I had never seen anything like it, a noir science fiction experience that, at the time, pushed the boundaries of cinema in ways I could have never imagined. 16 years later and it has aged quite well, perhaps because it was ahead of its time.

9. The Shawshank Redemption

I know there are plenty of people who frown when a person mentions their love for The Shawshank Redemption. I am one of the lovers, not the frowners. The whole film is still such a warm blanket for me, but those last 30 or so minutes? My goodness, just thinking about the conclusion of this film makes me joyful and tingly. 

8. Good Will Hunting

Superbly written and performed, Good Will Hunting is the type of film that I can watch over and over and over and never grow tired of it. Add in the recent passing of the great Robin Williams and watching what is arguably his finest performance as an actor makes the entire experience even richer. 

7. Fight Club

Where as I made sure to mention that The Matrix has not aged poorly, Fight Club actually tastes like a fine wine. This shit is more delicious with each passing year. One of quite a few masterful efforts from director David Fincher, a cinematic mind fuck that has, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant and strangely beautiful final scenes in recent memory.

6. Goodfellas

A cinema lovin' buddy of mine correctly pointed out that I left Raging Bull off of my list of the best from the 1980's. This wasn't an accident, I think it is an outstanding film but it simply didn't make the cut, but the absence of Scorsese was not going to happen again. I can't even begin to imagine a best of the 90's list without Goodfellas.

5. The Big Lebowski

I am often times guilty of not taking comedy films seriously enough. I love them but for whatever reason I have trouble ranking even the best of the genre up near the best of other, more dramatic work. This does not apply to The Big Lebowski though, which is not only my favorite comedy of all time but one of my 25 favorite films, period. The 1990's were such a strong part of my film lovin' life that the top 8 of this list all rank in my top 50 overall.

4. Eyes Wide Shut

The final achievement from the genius Stanley Kubrick and this is a film worthy of the words misunderstood masterpiece. Advertised as a sexy thriller with the "it" couple at the time of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman starring, in reality this is a brilliantly creepy, hypnotic advertisement for monogamy. Deemed a "lesser" Kubrick upon its release, Eyes Wide Shut is anything but.

3. Se7en

Was I too young to see Se7en the first time I did? Absolutely. Do I regret this for even a second now? No. Not at all. When I was 12 years old, I had seen very few examples of "great" cinema and Se7en was eye opening for me, and not just because of the shocking content. The craft is out of this world, featuring an aesthetic that is somehow simultaneously crisp and yet gloomy and dour. This and, ironically, the next film on this list are the two movies that taught me how evil the world could be at an age when I couldn't really comprehend such a thing.

2. The Silence of the Lambs

I can't even begin to try to figure out how many times I have watched The Silence of the Lambs. I recall watching it numerous times and loving it and yet never knowing until years later that it had been so successful at the Oscars. It's easy to understand why, since if you offered me 100 dollars to name a flaw of the film I would come up empty and stay broke. The performances are incredible, including the iconic evil turn from Anthony Hopkins as the infamous Hannibal Lecter. The storytelling maintains a perfect, intense flow throughout and Buffalo Bill gave me nightmares when I was young. I welcomed the lack of sleep.

1. Pulp Fiction

Quentin Tarantino is an incredible screenwriter, and I honestly believe Pulp Fiction is the greatest screenplay ever written. A perfect cast utilizing perfect words with perfect execution leads to an end result like this, the best film from the 1990's. "Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead."

Next list I will move into the current century with my ten favorite films released between 2000-2009. The image over is from one of the movies that will make the cut. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Kid Review

"A picture with a smile -- and perhaps, a tear."

The more I learn about the real Charlie Chaplin and just how complicated life was for the man behind the Tramp persona, the more I respect his work as an artist. His father, Charles Chaplin Sr., left the family when Charlie was merely a year of age. His mother, Hannah, had a complete mental breakdown only a handful of years later and Charlie was sent to live in the Hanwell School for Orphans and Destitute Children. 

Feeling abandoned at such a young age took its toll on Charlie, and thus his 1921 film The Kid is far more intimate and meaningful than it might seem on the surface. Sure, it resonates emotionally regardless because of the touching on screen relationship between The Tramp and the young child (played by Jackie Coogan), but think of what this role must have meant in a deep and profound way to Charlie. A story about rescuing and taking in an abandoned child, with a much happier resolution than what he experienced.

The story, though, is not without its fair share of heartache, on screen and also behind the scenes. The narrative of the film finds ways to tug at the strings of your heart, but the tears really fall when you discover that in real life Charlie lost his infant son only days before production began on the movie. Days before he was embracing a young Jackie Coogan on screen, holding him so tight you could tell he never wanted to let go, his actual son passed away. So while as expected The Kid is filled with all sorts of perfectly executed slapstick comedy, the type of material that made Chaplin a star, those dramatic scenes that expertly balance the laughs with the tears were not just the product of fictional storytelling. This wasn't just acting. 

The Kid is painfully autobiographical and as a result, it is timeless.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

The old adage is to never judge a book by its cover, but we all do it. I genuinely try not to in regards to any films I have not yet seen, but it is impossible to stop the mind from wandering away and finding reasons to be either overly optimistic or pessimistic despite limited advanced knowledge. The key is the ability to keep an open mind, one way or another, and be willing to accept the fact that you may have been wrong initially. It's okay to be wrong. When it involves a movie I expected to be a disappointment and instead it dazzles me from beginning to end? In that case I love being wrong.

I was wrong about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Very, very wrong. Thank god. 

It all began way back when they announced that Anthony and Joe Russo would be directing the superhero sequel. If you aren't entirely familiar with these two gentlemen and why their names would make me cringe initially, let me help you out. Prior to any involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most prestigious projects on their resumes were directing comedy sitcom episodes and the wacky movie You, Me and Dupree. That's it, and when I was fresh off of bitching about the misguided screenplay for Thor: The Dark World that was loaded with far too much unfunny comedy, you can imagine my skepticism about bringing in a couple of guys who had only very similar experience and nothing else.

So there I was, me and my pessimism sitting inside a theater waiting to be proven right. The lights dim. The show begins. Only a few minutes later, I knew I was going to be wrong. I knew I was in for a treat. The tone was not only serious, it has a feeling of importance to it, like what would unfold during those 2 hours would carry more weight and meaning than anything done during the previous eight films that came before it. The direction was surprisingly slick and confident, the action hard hitting and delivered in only the right sized doses. I don't mean to pick on Man of Steel, a movie I liked but certainly did not love, but the last 45 or so minutes of it are exhausting and ponderous. After the 200th skyscraper has fallen and the 800th angry punch lands on an opponent, you start to check your watch and wonder when the hell it will end. Here, the Russo brothers knew how to limit those blows and cut an explosion or two out, instead focusing a great deal on character and story and performances. It pays off, big time.

Finally, cue the music, light the fireworks, it's time to celebrate. A solo film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe got the damn villain right. Actually, let me rephrase that. An MCU film brought a totally kick-ass, shockingly cool bad guy to a Captain America movie, and I was so excited to actually find the evil component of one of these pictures compelling. The Winter Soldier is so darn awesome, and his back story as to how he ties into the whole situation matters and actually resonates. No more farting Mandarins or bland tribes of evil elves, no no. The Winter Soldier is legit, the type of figure that draws your attention in the frame rather than make you roll your eyes and wonder what could have been.

The movie I always believed Marvel was capable of, the one that would nail the tone and the atmosphere and find a perfect balance of everything needed to tell a great story had finally arrived, and it was directed by the Russo brothers, a couple of comedy guys who seemingly had no business crafting something so cool. I judged this book by its cover. What was inside proved me so totally wrong.