Archive | January, 2015

Bound – Review

29 Jan

Well with a new year comes new movies, and one that I’m really gearing up to see is the Wachowski’s newest film Jupiter Ascending. I don’t know if it’s gonna live up to my excitement, but what better way to get ready for it than talking about one of their earlier movies, their directorial debut in fact. When The Matrix arrived on the scene in 1999, it blew audiences into the stratosphere, but before that was a little, yet critically acclaimed, film called Bound. I didn’t know what to expect going into this movie, so my I went in not expecting too much, but what I got was a fantastic neo-noir film filled with sex, violence, and tension that forces you to the edge of your seat.

bound_ver6_xlg

 

Corky (Gina Gershon), an ex-con and professional thief, has been hired to renovate an apartment that just so happens to be down the hall from mafia launderer Caesar (Joe Pantaliano) and his girlfriend Violet (Jennifer Tilly). The job starts innocently enough until Violet begins taking interest in Corky and the two begin a relationship behind Caesar’s back. Finally getting sick of the lifestyle, Violet confides in Corky that she wants out and to start a new life with Corky, and the only way to do that is to steal $2 million of stolen mafia money right from under Caesar’s nose. Corky soon concocts a plan and the two lovers set it into motion, but it soon begins to go very wrong when suspicions arise and bodies start piling up, literally.

To me, the Wachowskis are almost too cool. The Matrix movies (and yes, I mean all three) are some of the coolest examples of film making that I can think of. Cloud Atlas was an incredibly ambitious film, but I can’t really offer my thoughts on Speed Racer since I haven’t seen it. Now I can add Bound to the list of really cool work that the Wachowskis are responsible for. Like I said before, I really had no idea what to expect going into this movie, but what I got was a claustrophobic neo-noir with some of the tightest writing I may have ever seen. It’s not rare for the suspense of a movie to make me excited and tense, but the suspense in Bound didn’t seem to end at a certain point, and not only that but it was paced so well. It kept me needing to see what happened next by stretching out certain scenes, but I never felt bored during the entire two hours this movie was on.

bound-1996-money-tilly-thumb-425x228-37230

 

Like Danny Boyle and Kevin Smith both did so well in their debut films, the setting of Bound, for the most part, takes place in two apartments. Of course it reminded me of Shallow Grave a lot more than Clerks, but what I’m trying to say is that you don’t need a lot of set pieces and locations to make an intense movie. I don’t want this review to turn into a film essay, but it’s such an interesting choice to keep the action and story in such a confined place. Just think of the title of the movie: Bound. The characters are not only bound to each other and the plan they concoct, but also the small area of their apartments. This also just goes to show how excellent the writing is in this movie. It’s easy to have big shoot outs and chase scenes to create suspense, but creating suspense out of silence and confinement takes talent.

I feel like the word to describe this movie is simply just “cool,” which makes sense because noirs are traditionally thought of as being a really cool style of film making. Bouncing off the excellent screenwriting comes excellent dialogue that are, at the risk of sounding redundant, performed by a really cool cast. Like his characters in The Matrix and Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Joe Pantaliano proves once again that he’s really good at playing a scum bag. It’s fun to hate Pantaliano’s character, but it’s also fun looking down on him and laugh at how pathetic he is. The real focus of “cool” in this film revolves around Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly. I love seeing badass women in movies, but seeing two badass women as leading characters in a noir film is just a dream come true.

Bound is one of the most impressive debut films I’ve ever seen, and as I mentioned before can join the ranks of debut films like Shallow GraveThe Following, and Clerks. It also reenforces the idea that less can often be more in creating a suspenseful and intense film. The cinematography combined with the stylistic camerawork and exceptional screenwriting makes me wish that in some alternate universe, I made this movie. It’s almost intimidating. The bottom line is that the Wachowskis are two very talented film makers, and solid evidence can be seen at their first attempt at a feature film. It’s almost too awesome.

Advertisements

Once Upon a Time in the West – Review

22 Jan

I’m not a huge fan of the Western genre, especially American made westerns of the 1950s and the early 1960s. There are a few exceptions, like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, and some modern films, but westerns in the 1950s and 1960s don’t really hold my attention. But let’s talk about Spaghetti Westerns, a sub-genre that can only be described as the graphic novel western. These are a different story altogether, and hold my attention way more than their American counterparts. When one thinks of this genre, the first name that should come to mind is Sergio Leone, and today I want to take a look at his hyper-stylized 1969 film, Once Upon a Time in the West.

Once-Upon-a-Time-in-the-West-Poster-Wallpaper-HD

The story of this film follows different characters each with different goals which all intersect throughout the film. A man nicknamed Harmonica (Charles Bronson) arrives in the town of Flagstone looking for another man named Frank (Henry Fonda). Harmonica’s intentions are mysterious and his gunslinging is vicious. Jill (Claudia Cardinale) is a former prostitute from New Orleans who’s come to Flagstone to be with her husband, who she doesn’t know has just been murdered by Frank, along with the rest of his family. Cheyenne (Jason Robards) is a bandit who’s been framed for the murders of Jill’s husband and his family. He soon meets Jill and begins helping her, along with Harmonica, to save the land that is rightfully hers and get revenge on Frank and his employer.

I said earlier that Spaghetti Westerns are the graphic novel equivalents of the John Wayne/John Ford type of Western. Right from the get go, it’s clear that Once Upon a Time in the West is all about style, style, style. The beginning of this movie can objectively go down as one of the best beginnings in the history of film. The only soundtrack is the sounds of a train station as three hired guns wait for a train to arrive so they can finish off their target. How long does this last? A few minutes? No, it lasts about 15 minutes and not one of those minutes is boring. It’s an auditory sensation of hyper realism and gets you in the mood to go into this twisted old west. The cool doesn’t stop there, either.

Once-Upon-a-Time-in-the-West-5483_8-e1404235823565

 

There’s a great story that Henry Fonda told about Sergio Leone that I just have to include in this review. Apparently, the main reason that Leone wanted Fonda to play the villain was because he was always casted as the good guy in movies, and Leone wanted people to lose it when Fonda’s character is first revealed murdering a family. Well that’s ridiculous, but it works great because Henry Fonda plays it cool and deadly as the hired gunman Frank. Still, the rest of the cast is awesome. Jason Robards has excellent chemistry with Italian actress, Claudia Cardinale who light up the screen whenever she’s onscreen. Also, Charles Bronson. Need I say more? Seeing Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson square up in duel is just fantastic.

I guess what I’m really trying to say about Once Upon a Time in the West is that it’s just so immersive. The colors that Leone uses combined with Ennio Morricone’s sweeping (as usual) score is just fantastic, and there were times where I really just wanted to listen to the music. The editing is also absolutely extraordinary. For example, there’s a great scene where Henry Fonda fires his gun, but the scene jump cuts to the underside of a train. It’s the kind of jarring juxtaposition that reminds me of the jump cut in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The music, the cinematography, and the editing are some of the finest examples of immersive film making which makes what I’m about to say hopefully seem justified.

I’ve heard it from professors, critics, and movie buffs alike so I’m going to add myself to the long list of people who have said this. Despite being super cool and highly stylistic, Once Upon a Time in the West is honestly, and almost objectively, one of the greatest films ever made. Like Peckinpah did with The Wild Bunch, Sergio Leone breathed some fresh air into a dying genre with this film. He made a name for himself with the Dollars Trilogy, and this film started a thematic trilogy all its own, but as a stand alone film, it succeeds as a revisionist western, an artistic achievement, and just a really cool movie.

Midnight Express – Review

20 Jan

One thing that I can add to the list of things that I never hope I have to deal with is spending hard time in a Turkish prison. That just looks like the opposite of a good time. It looks like a terrible time. Midnight Express is a movie that when it was first released in 1978 caused a big stir both in America and in Turkey, it being based off of a true story about a young man who was made an example of but eventually escaped the Turkish prison system. This is obviously a movie that loves to show off (also being Oliver Stone’s first screen writing credit), but even though it’s a braggart and unfair in some ways, it still entertained me fully for the entire time it was on, and has stuck with me since.

midnight_express

In 1970, Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) and his girlfriend are about to get on a flight back to America from Istanbul, but Billy has a secret. He is hiding about 2 kilos of hashish under his shirt. Unfortunately for Hayes, he gets caught and sentenced to spend four years in a Turkish prison. There he is beaten and tortured by sadistic prison guards, but also finds friendship in fellow prisoners like the irrational Jimmy (Randy Quaid) and the doped up Englishman, Max (John Hurt). After his original four year sentence gets extended to thirty years to make an example out of him, Billy and his friends decide it’s time to catch the Midnight Express out there, which means finding an escape route and taking it.

First, let’s talk about some awkward things in the movie. Midnight Express got a lot of backlash from Turkish viewers for how they were portrayed in the movie. It even got banned in Turkey up until just recently. I heard about all that before seeing the movie, and I have to say they have a point. The guards and a certain character named Rifki are almost cartoon villains in the way they treat other people. Save for maybe a few, all of the Turks in this movie are hammed up. Stone has later apologized for their portrayal. Also, this movie isn’t very accurate in its depictions. The story of Hayes is actually a lot longer, but due to budget and time it couldn’t be fully explored. That’s excusable in this case though, since the movie actually flows very well.

1584_5

 

Prison movies can sort of wear thin on me after a while. It’s even difficult for me to watch a classic like The Shawshank Redemption is just one sitting, but I had no problem getting through Midnight Express. The characters and the mood and the entire predicament of the movie was really interesting and fun for me to see it play out. The suspense in this movie was very suspenseful and the feeling of dread permeated the screen and found its way into my living room. It being a true story and all, the film had even more of an effect. Even though it’s pretty inaccurate, the core story is true and that alone was enough to push the movie forward. I will say it got a little weird towards the end, and it all comes to a conclusion rather abruptly which felt weird since the slow and steady pace was working really well for it.

You can really tell that Oliver Stone wrote this movie, even though it was so early on his career. It has those show stopping scenes that really grab your attention with their outlandishness, but in some ways it works with the foreign and scary feeling of the entire movie. With a script written by Stone, the actors certainly have their hands full. Brad Davis, who’s kind of a tragedy himself, handles the role very well and is easy to believe that he’s just a young man in a prison. I still feel like the real stars of the movie are Randy Quaid and John Hurt, who give two of the best supporting performances I’ve seen in a while. I really got to love those characters, and seeing them all in their situation had a powerful effect.

I went into Midnight Express expecting to enjoy it for a while and then feel overwhelmingly bored, but that never happened. I was actually gripped for the entire two hours that it was onscreen. The real story of Billy Hayes is a terrifying trip through hell on earth, and it’s shown well here in this film, even if it isn’t exactly what happened. There are some weird scenes that feel out of place at the end and the treatment of the Turks in this movie would never fly today, but all in all there are a good deal of films that owe a lot to Midnight Express and the film as a whole is well executed and memorable. Check it out.

The Theory of Everything – Review

17 Jan

Stephen Hawking is a man with more accomplishments than I can even list. His theories on the time, the beginning of the universe, and what we will become may be enough to make you head spin, but at the same time, it has always been easily accessible to people who want to learn. Surprisingly, there aren’t more biopics chronicling moments in Hawking’s life, with the only other I can think of being from the BBC. This one is The Theory of Everything, a movie that features some really stand out performances and a figure that is well worth the attention, but it falls a little flat in the storytelling department and just doesn’t feel as full as it could have been.

The-Theory-of-Everything-Poster-2

In 1963, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is studying at Cambridge, working on getting his PhD in astrophysics. At a party one night, he meets a girl named Jane (Felicity Jones), and the two strike up an automatic friendship which turns into so much more. As Hawking is struggling with getting his thesis in order, he also begins struggling with smaller motions to get through the day. Soon after getting an idea, he discovers he has a type of ALS which will slowly render him unable to move, speak, or even swallow. Stephen and Jane soon get married, and despite the news of his disorder Stephen creates revolutionary theories that scientists have been working on for years. Soon, the name Stephen Hawking is known around the world, but to him, the battle for his health and relationships rage on.

When trailers for this movie were first released I was like, “Oh, shit. That guy playing Stephen Hawking looks insane.” I had no idea who Eddie Redmayne was at the time, but I just knew that this performance was going to be one to be remembered. That combined with the fact that the movie’s about Stephen Hawking was more than enough to make me want to see the movie. Here’s the thing, I’m gonna compare this to The Imitation Game since it’s another movie about a genius that I just saw and is being nominated all the same. The Theory of Everything has a performance in it that makes the movie worth seeing, it’s just so damn good. The Imitation Game has great performances, but the overall story is stronger and more hard hitting. Way more. That’s where The Theory of Everything loses its footing.

video-undefined-22A791FB00000578-459_638x375

 

To be fair, this movie covers many years, more than I initially thought that it would. It’s also only a two hour movie, so it isn’t some grand, epic biopic that has all of this time to kill with character development and padding for the plot. I will say that Hawking’s disease is shown well over time, with it getting progressively worse and worse, up until Stephen has to use a speech program to talk. One really annoying part in this movie is a part in the middle section where another, albeit important, character is introduced. All of a sudden, it seems like this new character becomes the plot, and not the life of Stephen Hawking. When Hawking does come back on screen for an extended amount of time, I almost forgot the movie was actually about him.

What makes the movie more impressive than it would have been is the performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. These two have great chemistry together onscreen and it is a fascinating relationship to watch. Just think, this movie was filmed out of order, so Redmayne had to keep track of how to use his body for certain scenes, depending on how far along the disease has gotten. He definitely deserves the Best Actor award for his performance in this movie. Jones is an even match for him, with her strengths showing at times of hardships when she literally seems to be staring problems right in the eye and not backing off. It’s a strong, but quiet performance.

Simply put, The Theory of Everything is a vessel for the best performance of the year. Redmayne simply kills it as Stephen Hawking and it is literally impossible to keep yourself from admiring his talent. Other than him and Felicity Jones, this is a pretty average biopic that follows a pretty rote formula. It’s certainly isn’t a bad movie, in fact it’s a pretty darn good movie, but it really wouldn’t be anything special if it wasn’t for it’s two main actors. That’s a pretty rough thing to say about a movie that’s getting so much buzz, but that’s simply how it is. See it solely for the performances because everything else is simply just ok.

Boyhood – Review

15 Jan

Richard Linklater has been the forerunner of independent film making ever since he jumped on the scene with his cult classic, Slacker. Since then the writer/director has been involved with many other projects like his history making rotoscoped films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, his stoner comedy classic Dazed and Confused, and his trilogy Before SunriseBefore Sunset, and Before Midnight. Little did we know that throughout all of these films, he’d be slowly constructing a twelve year masterpiece that changes the way stories are told in films. This movie is Boyhood.

boyhood_xlg

Mason (Ellar Colatrane) is an average, but special, kid growing up in Texas. The film chronicles different chapters of his life starting when he is six years old and he’s beginning to understand the relationship problems between his mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and his father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). As time goes on for Mason, Olivia, and Mason’s sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), we see them age, grow a little more understanding or ignorant, and learn what it means to make mistakes and be part of a family.

At first glance, Boyhood looks like a three hour movie about a kid that’s growing up, what you would call a coming of age story I guess. That seems like a lot of time to fill to just show someone growing up, but it didn’t feel like three hours at all. This is a truly remarkable film and not just one of the best films of the year, it may even be one of the best films ever made. The technical achievement and patience that went into making this movie must have been staggering. While being technically shot over 12 years, it really only took a matter of weeks in total, stretched over a 12 year period. But it makes me wonder how the movie was actually written and edited, and how the actors were committed to the project for so long.

boyhood-movie-1

 

Why I’d call this movie the ultimate coming of age movie, is because we literally see it happen before our eyes. A brilliant piece of film making is seen in Boyhood in that Linklater never specifically tells us what year it is or how long its been. Instead we see pieces of technology that weren’t publicly available before or a popular song playing on the radio that may indicate what year we’re in and how much older everyone is. It was also just fun to see certain things and remember my own childhood and growing up. I can’t tell you how excited I got when I saw Mason playing Oregon Trail on an old Mac in his school. Memories…memories.

While the film making is fantastic, a lot of the credit has to go to the actors who put so much into making this movie possible. Patricia Arquette pretty much steals every scene she’s in as a mother who’s trying desperately to keep a family in a healthy environment. Ethan Hawke is probably my favorite part of the movie as the over excited dad who’s just happy to be around his kids. It was also refreshing to see how Ellar Colatrane and Lorelei Linklater kept their performances very together and on point throughout the years. To all of the actors really, who had to keep a sense of their characters over such a long period is very commendable.

Boyhood is the most impressive movie I’ve seen in a very long time, and that’s during a year of very impressive movies. It’s been hailed as one of the best pictures of the year, already picking up Golden Globes for Arquette, directing, and best picture. Now it has 6 Oscar nominations, but that’s still not for a bit. I loved this movie more than I thought I could and it just blows my mind that Linklater and the rest of his cast and crew made it work. This is film history here, people, you don’t want to miss out on it.

Bullitt – Review

11 Jan

Now we’re talkin’. Mac. Bandito. The King of Cool. Of course, I’m talking about Steve McQueen, an action star that even over 30 years after his death, he’s still recognized as one of the coolest, iciest actors in film. The movie that took his career and made it international was the 1968 cop/crime film Bullitt. Now, what’s cool about Bullitt is that it is the main influence for action movies of the 1970s through the 1990s. Think of any huge action movie and it could probably be related to this one somehow. Even though this is one of the most influential and important films in film history, it hasn’t aged well in a lot of ways making it sometimes a bore to sit through.

bullitt-movie-poster-1968-1020144161

Lt. Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) is the kind of cop that will do anything that needs to be done in order to finish a case the way he wants it finished. When a seedy politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) enlists the aid of Bullitt to protect a witness testifying against the Chicago mob, Frank just thinks it’s going to be a by the books protection. When the witness ends up dead and another cop severely injured, Bullitt takes to the streets to hunt down and find those responsible, but the conspiracy is thicker than Bullitt could have imagined.

Let me start by saying this, I dare you to watch the Dirty Harry movies or the Lethal Weapon movies or even play games in the Driver and Grand Theft Auto series and not think of Bullitt. This is widely considered to be the first modern cop/action film with many others trying to copy the formula that is laid out in this film. This is a movie that demands respect because of the influence that it had on films to come. When this movie came out, it must have blown audiences away showing a much more gritty and urban look that wasn’t really used in movies of this kind in America. Still, there are things about this movie that just haven’t aged very well which makes it kind of odd to watch it almost 50 years after it was originally released.

air7

 

The movie starts out really good with McQueen’s Frank Bullitt the definition of a hard boiled cop. He does things his own way and gets them done, which I love seeing. Characters that break the rules to do the right thing is just fun for me, I don’t know. So things are going great and then the second act becomes very wandery. I see this a lot in movies from the 1960s, with musical interludes and various shots of the environment. That was sort of the style of the time, but it really brings Bullitt to a skidding halt after a great first act. The third act kind of picks up again, but I was sort of losing interest in the movie by then. Shave off maybe 20 minutes, and we would’ve been good.

I can’t finish this review without talking about the famous car chase. There were car chases before in movies, with the Keystone Cops coming to mind first for some reason, but many people say that the car chase in Bullitt was the first modern car chase. Who knows, without the chase scene in Bullitt we might not have gotten that awesome car chase in The French Connection just a few years later. Seeming to go all through San Francisco, the car chase lasts 10 minutes with the only soundtrack being the revving of the engines. It’s a blast watching the cars fly over the hilly landscape of the city and is definitely one of the best car chases ever filmed.

Bullitt is one of the most influential modern movies that laid the groundwork for action/crime movies to come in the 1970s through the 1990s. That being said, it hasn’t really aged all that well. I was disappointed to see how slow the movie got in the middle and and giant plot hole in the middle of the movie that we seem to just need to ignore. It’s great to see an important and classic film even if it isn’t really that cool anymore. There were times where I just wanted to watch Dirty Harry, a movie that aged a lot better. Still, if you’re a film enthusiast, Bullitt should be seen for the history.

The Imitation Game – Review

9 Jan

While World War II raged on different battlefields around the world, a much quieter battle was going on behind the scenes. These battles, although quieter and nonviolent, were just as important as the battles going on on the front lines. This is where the story of The Imitation Game comes in, with the brilliant mind of Alan Turing working day and night to create a machine that could break the the Nazi enigma code. Churchill, himself, said Turing contributed the most to the war cause with his invention, which is a pretty huge deal I’d say. Still, The Imitation Game is also about Turing’s own personal war of acceptance which ultimately ended in tragedy.

benedict-cumberbenedict-the-imitation-game-movie-poster

In 1939, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a genius mathematician and professor, finds his way to Bletchley Park to work with a group of England’s most brilliant minds in cracking the enigma code and save the lives of countless Allied troops. It soon becomes very clear that Turing doesn’t play well with others, and that in large part has to do with how he was bullied and tormented during the early years of his life. It also may have to do with the secrets about himself and his sexuality that he constantly hides in order to be able to keep up his work. He soon finds a friend in Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a newly hired codebreaker who has troubles of her own being a woman working in a man’s environment. As the war rages on, Turing and his codebreakers struggle to find the answer, but this is hardly the end of Turing’s troubles.

This is a brilliant movie for a lot of reasons. For one thing, this film works on the level of a really good spy movie with people from MI-6 floating around, Soviet spies, and plenty of other government secrets thrown into the mix. That in and of itself is enough to make a really entertaining and engaging movie, especially since the story and characters are all based on truth. This movie also works really well on the level of a much more personal story of Alan Turing and the discrimination he faced for being a homosexual, even though he was one of the most brilliant minds of the time and was responsible for shortening the war and saving countless lives.

02MCGRATH-videoSixteenByNine600-v2

 

Matthew Goode, who played codebreaker Hugh Alexander in the film said that the film is about “Turing’s life and how as a nation we celebrated him as being a hero by chemically castrating him because he was gay.” I feel like even with all of the espionage and war, this movie is mainly about being different from what’s expected of you. Not only was Turing a homosexual, he was also socially inept and brilliant beyond comparison. His being different was one of the main factors that helped the Allies win World War II, but he was still condemned for his own personal ways of living. This is a theme that can be seen in a lot of different movies, with A Beautiful Mind is the same family as The Imitation Game, but I was surprised to see that this was not a pretentious movie at all.

While this movie really is great, there are a few things in it that could have been executed a little better. For one thing, there were lines that seemed to be pulled from the cheesiest, most inspiring Disney movies you could find. This is a historical movie that doesn’t need to have cheesy inspirational dialogue in there. That’s not how people talk and it was weird. I also wish that this movie was longer because I feel that starting in the middle, the movie just starts skimming through things in order to get everything in. If the movie was a half an hour longer, I feel like I’d have a better grip on the relationship of the codebreakers and Turing but also just a better idea of how he built his enigma breaking machine.

The Imitation Game may not be the best movie of the year, but it’s certainly in the top 10 best. Benedict Cumberbatch gives the best performance of his career so far, and Keira Knightley does great work as Turing’s anchor to reality. The film works as a spy film, but I’d rather look at it as a lesson in how to treat people who may not fit in quite as well as everyone else. It’s a lesson for people of all ages and times, but if that doesn’t float your boat, it’s still a really entertaining movie of spies, Nazis, and codes. It’s one of the best of 2014 and shouldn’t be missed.