Archive | March, 2016

Inside Llewyn Davis – Review

31 Mar

I recently reviewed the Coen Brothers’ newest film, Hail Caesar! last month, and now I’m right back at it, but this time with their 2013 film Inside Llewyn Davis. I really wanted to see this movie when it first came out, but a combination of laziness and more laziness prevented me from actually making it to the theaters. It’s been quite some time since its release, and I have just now gotten around to seeing it. Let me just say, that it was worth the wait and I feel it is one of the Coen Brothers’ best. Inside Llewyn Davis was one of the movies that really hit me, and not only made me want to evaluate the movie and its different themes and artistic stylings, but also made me want evaluate some parts of myself. That’s a sign of a great movie right there.

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The year is 1961 and the folk scene of New York is a melting pot of different ideals, lyrical storytelling, and melodies that were made to hum to. For Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), music has become something of a burden, despite his overwhelming passion to express himself through song and not be forced to sell out to some giant music industry monstrosity. As Davis navigates his way through the different basket houses and venues of New York trying to find a gig and make some sort of income, he is also confronted by demons from the past that are only making it more difficult for his life to fully come together. On a whim, Llewyn Davis decides to make the trip to Chicago to hopefully gig at one of the most important venues of the city, and also get the appreciation and income he feels he deserves. What Davis doesn’t understand, is that all of his misfortune can be followed back to his own poor life choices and decisions made out of haste.

The first thing I think anyone has to talk about after seeing Inside Llewyn Davis is the outstanding usage and performance of music. The Coen Brothers have always seemed to use music in the best ways possible to enhance their movie, and before this one the primary example would have to be O Brother, Where Art Thou?. A lot of the success of the music in both of those movies is probably due to the fact that songwriting and producing titan T. Bone Burnett was the main creative force behind the song production, composition, and performance. What makes it all even more impressive is all the music in the movie is performed live and not added in in post production. That really says a lot for the musical talent of the actors. Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake all sound excellent in the movie.davis12e_zps7d455a27Another thing the Coen Brothers are known for are the memorable, and sometimes even iconic, characters they create. Wether it’s Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, Barton Fink, or Marge Gunderson, the people that inhabit the strange world of these movies never fail to leave an impression. Now I can add Llewyn Davis to the list of Coen characters that really hit me hard. In fact, he might be one of the best characters they’ve ever created. Llewyn Davis is quite an unlikable guy who uses his friends, condescends to people with what he thinks is his unmatchable passion for music, and treats all the people who help in like garbage. At the same time, however, there are reasons as to why he has ended up like this, which makes him something of a tragic character and one that, despite all of his faults, can be understood. I wanted to see Llewyn Davis succeed, but I more so really wanted him to realize it was time to change. He’s such a great character, and certainly one that I won’t stop talking about for a long time.

I’ve seen some people compare Inside Llewyn Davis to the Coen Brothers’ 2009 film A Serious Man. Both movies share a similar theme of a life slowly being destroyed as if it’s part of some rotten cosmic joke. A Serious Man presents this in a darkly funny way where it’s hard not to laugh the entire way through. Inside Llewyn Davis has a lot of funny moments in it, but I can’t consider this a comedy. This movie is far from being a straight up comedy. The humor that is in this movie is the same kind of dark, absurd comedy you see in many Coen Brothers films, but all the laughs really can’t outweigh the overwhelming sadness I felt at the end. This is definitely the Coen Brothers’ saddest film, and maybe part of it is because there’s nothing too hyperbolic about any of the scenarios in the movie. John Goodman certainly has the most outlandish part, but it’s really not hard to imagine that character being a real person. Just don’t expect to feel in a joking mood once the credits begin rolling.

I don’t know how many people agree with me on this, but I believe that Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the Coen Brothers’ strongest films. Not only do they create a believable version of the New York folk scene in the 1960s, which seems to live and breath all on its own, but they also have created a tragic, yet sometimes funny tale about a deadbeat with more potential than he may realize. Everyone in this movie is great, and the music that is performed for the movie sounds amazing. It’s a certainty that you will be thinking about this movie long after it ends, and even though it left me with a rain cloud over my head, it also offers some great lessons and works as an expressive work of cinematic art.

 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Review

27 Mar

Well, here we are. I’ve been waiting a very long time for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to be released, as I’m sure many other people have been as well. Before this film we got Man of Steel which I thought was a pretty cool movie despite the pacing to be way off, which made the whole movie feel overly long and slightly disjointed. Going into this movie, I had these problems in mind while I was gauging my expectations. It is a Zack Snyder movie, after all. You really have to approach his films with caution. Now that I’ve seen Batman v Superman I can say that all of my worries and suspicions about the pacing have come true, but in much worse ways than I ever imagined. That being said, there are still some rewarding elements to this movie that made it worth seeing.

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While Superman (Henry Cavill) can easily be called a hero in many regards, it may be hard to say that while watching him destroy a city in order to defeat fellow Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon). This is the conflict suffered by Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), a billionaire playboy who just so happens to be the masked vigilante of Gotham City, Batman. Bruce is very uncomfortable with seeing the power Superman can wield go on without any repercussions, so he makes it his mission to find a way to put that power in check and ultimately get rid of the Man of Steel. Meanwhile, criminal mastermind Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg) begins working on a way to use kryptonite as a deterrent against Superman and other super powerful beings in case the need should arise that the human rase needs protection from the so called protectors. What happens next is a clash of super heroic titans that will pave the way for heroes and villains of the future (at least in terms of the DC cinematic universe).

Where do I even begin? Throughout Snyder’s filmography, it has become quite clear that the pacing of his movies slows them down so much, it literally feels like the plot is stuck in the mud. I knew this was going to be the case in Batman v Superman, so I went into the movie ready for that. Little did I know that it was going to be this horrendously overstuffed, paced out, and edited. Like, honestly, how did this movie get a pass? It has such a sloppy structure that at times makes the story incoherent, which is a huge problem considering that this movie is the start of a much bigger DC universe. Not to mention that there are so many scenes and story arcs that only seemed to be in there so the movie can be over two and a half hours long. There’s one story arc about Lois Lane investigating a prototype bullet being sold to radicals that was SO INSANELY STUPID I couldn’t even handle it.

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While this movie is absolutely infuriating at times, when Batman v Superman gets good, it gets great. The entire political game that Luthor and Senator Finch are involved in along with Superman facing up to the damage he’s caused is very interesting. Bruce Wayne also has some really dark scenes where you can almost see his past excursions as the Dark Knight and how they’ve so negatively affected him. These are the scenes that really stand out, but the action sequences in this movie are also very memorable and exciting. Wether it’s Batman careening through the streets of Gotham in his Batmobile, the duel between Batman and Superman, or the overwhelmingly destructive showdown with Doomsday, this movie has some seriously great looking action that almost makes all the scenes that shouldn’t have existed worth it.

When it was first released that Ben Affleck was cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne, many people seemed to be outraged. I, personally, was more curious to see how he’d play it. Turns out, he gives one of the best performances of the character, and certainly is the darkest Bruce Wayne has ever been on the silver screen. Henry Cavill continues to be fine as Superman/Clark Kent, and pretty much gives the same performance he did in Man of Steel. Jeremy Irons, unsurprisingly, is great as Alfred, who appears just as world weary as his troubled bat companion. Gal Gadot, while not in the movie all that much, was totally badass as Wonder Woman, and I can’t wait to see more of her in future installments. Now we come to Jessie Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, a casting choice that shows that a bunch of lunatics were working on this movie. Oddly enough, I didn’t hate Eisenberg as much as I thought I was going to. He played an obsessive compulsive psychopath very well, but really it wasn’t Lex Luthor I was watching. I more so hate what they did to the character, while Eisenberg seemed to play it as best he could.

Calling Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a disappointment is a completely valid and accurate statement. That being said, it isn’t an awful movie. I can’t really say it’s all that good of a movie, either. All I can say is that it’s ok, and I really wish it was more than that. The worst part of it is that I can see a great movie somewhere, but it’s covered by so much garbage and stupid plot arcs and unnecessary scenes. It’s devastating to see a movie with so many great scenes get dragged into mediocrity because of poor directorial choices and a screenplay that doesn’t make much sense. DC certainly has some work to do.

10 Cloverfield Lane – Review

26 Mar

What kind of black magic did J.J. Abrams have to perform to bring Alfred Hitchcock back from the dead to make a sequel to the beloved monster movie, Cloverfield? Of course that’s not the case, but 10 Cloverfield Lane has all of the suspense and tension found in Hitchcock’s best films. This movie, however, is directed by Dan Trachtenberg, who has made a few short films but this is his feature film debut. While 10 Cloverfield Lane can be considered a sequel to Cloverfield in some ways, it more so builds upon a universe shrouded in mystery. I really wasn’t expecting much when this was first announced, but this was a great movie.

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After being in a major accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a bare room that she’s never seen before. It turns out that she was pulled from the wreckage by a farmer named Howard (John Goodman), who brought her into his doomsday bunker after he claims that the United States has been the victim of a mysterious and catastrophic attack. Michelle isn’t the only one down there with Howard, however. Soon she meets Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), a local guy who helped Howard build the bunker and claims to have seen the attack first hand. As time in the bunker passes and the trio get to know each other a little better, more distrust of Howard begins to build as strange evidence starts piling up that begs the question of wether he’s completely sane or not and wether it’s worth risking contamination to escape the bunker.

Take everything you know about the style and mood of the first Cloverfield and just toss it out the window. You don’t need it for 10 Cloverfield Lane. This is a completely different movie than its predecessor. In fact, this movie can be viewed as a stand alone film because the connections are so hidden, it’s easy to miss what they are. More on that later, though. What I learned about Trachtenberg from this movie is that he works really well with space. Most of this movie just takes place in Howard’s bunker, which really isn’t all that big, but there’s so much tension and suspense present that you could fill 5 bunkers. What’s also great about the suspense is that it isn’t drawn out too long or too slowly. This movie is actually very quick paced, so I felt like I was really being thrown into an intense situation before I was even prepared for it. Not only that but I had this overwhelming desire to figure out everything and know what happens. That kind of viewer engagement is a sign of a really great m10 Cloverfield Lane

One of the most entertaining things about this movie is the interaction between the three characters in the bunker. It’s really the driving force behind the entire movie, because without the interactions written exactly right (like they were) and performed with the utmost believability (which the were) this movie wouldn’t be nearly as effective. The screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle (who also wrote and directed Whiplash) is fantastic and full of memorable dialogue and suspense sequences. I also have to give the acting a lot of praise. John Goodman, in particular, steals the show and is one of the most memorable antagonists I’ve seen in recent movies. Mary Elizabeth Winstead also gives a strong performance as a protagonist determined not to give in. The only person who is a little underwhelming is John Gallagher, Jr., which has more to do with the attention given to his character in the screenplay rather than his performance in the movie.

What was great about the first Cloverfield was the mystery behind it. Sure, it’s essentially a monster movie, but the entire time it’s on you feel like you aren’t getting the whole story. This is because it doesn’t treat the audience like a child. There are clues all over Cloverfield as to what’s really going on, and there’s the same kind of clues in 10 Cloverfield Lane that are sometimes hidden in plain sight for you to find. These both give the story some more mystery and answers, but also serves to tie this movie in to the original. It’s just really nice when a movie doesn’t condescend to an audience and treat us like we can’t figure anything out for ourselves.

At first, I had very low expectations for 10 Cloverfield Lane and when I saw the praise that it was getting I was relieved. I really can’t stress it enough that this movie is nothing like the original in terms of its style, but the mood and feeling of mystery and paranoia still hold strong. J.J. Abrams really knows how to market a movie, but this wasn’t just clever marketing that makes this movie a success. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a success because it is smart, suspenseful, and superbly crafted.

Maps to the Stars – Review

24 Mar

Over the years, the glamor of Tinsel Town has kind of lost its luster. Starting with Sunset Blvd., critiques of Hollywood have kept on coming throughout the years, and each one has a unique approach to the nightmare that is celebrity. For this particular review, I’m going to be looking at David Cronenberg’s 2014 film, Maps to the Stars. Cronenberg has made a name for himself over the years as one of the most intense and challenging directors, be it in the horror genre or otherwise. Maps to the Stars fits in perfectly with his filmography as it is a horror movie, but also a darkly hilarious and penetrating satire.

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Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is an aging actress who is determined to play her deceased mother in a remake of a movie that she starred in many years ago. To do that she hires Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a famous new age psychologist, to help her face the demons her mother made her endure during childhood. While he’s not with Havana, Stafford works to keep his son Benjie’s (Evan Bird) acting career together. Benjie has suffered from drug addiction and has been to rehab at the age of 12. Now it’s a struggle to stay clean and keep his acting career from dying. As all of these people deal with their lives in their own strange ways, a mysterious girl named Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in town, and her past threatens the stability of all these people have worked to build.

While this does definitely feel like a David Cronenberg movie, it also has elements of Bret Easton Ellis’ writings and a sort of David Lynch vibe that was felt in movies like Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. I really love movies like this because it implements something similar to nightmare logic, if that’s even a thing. What I mean by that is Maps to the Stars feels like a very bad dream. There were many times throughout the movie where I felt like I was watching reality, but it was something different and more sinister. Kind of like in a dream when you’re in your house, but it isn’t actually your house. That’s probably a weird way of putting it, but what I’m really trying to say is that this movie had a really creepy and off putting atmosphere that really hooked me.

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Screenwriter Bruce Wagner has written a very strange movie, but the way people interact with each other in Maps to the Stars might be the strangest thing of all. Some of the things they say and do is so outlandish that you really wish it was a joke just written for the movie. Unfortunately, the media has given us plenty examples of celebrities, like the ones in this movie, saying and doing some ridiculous things that would fit right into this film. Kudos to all the actors in this movie for delivering these lines with complete seriousness. If it wasn’t for their belief in their characters, much of what they say would not have been nearly as funny or hard hitting.

While I do really like this movie, there was one big problem with it that I can’t shake. For the entire movie I was sucked in and really could not wait to see how it ended. When the ending finally came, I didn’t really buy it. First of all, the ending just wasn’t particularly a good one, but that’s not really my main complaint. My main complaint is that they didn’t take enough time to really build up to the ending. It pretty much just sprang up out of nowhere without any real tension happening. There’s tension in the movie, but nothing with any real finality to show that this is the climax of the movie.

Maps to the Stars is a movie that I knew would be right up my alley and I was exactly right. It’s a darkly hilarious look at celebrity life and what it can do to you if you aren’t careful. There’s a lot of disturbing content in the movie that’s meant to make you feel uncomfortable, and the whole atmosphere of the movie is relatively unsettling. While it seems Cronenberg might have been kind of a weird choice for this kind of movie, he was actually a perfect choice. I definitely liked this one a lot.

The Samaritan – Review

22 Mar

It’s totally cool to take certain plot devices, concepts, and styles from other movies of the past. Part of the fun of watching movies is seeing styles evolve over the years. I’ve noticed that I’ve been reviewing a lot of neo noir movies recently, and I’m continuing this streak with David Weaver’s 2012 film, The Samaritan. Now, when I say that it’s fine for film makers to borrow from other movies in order to tell their stories, I mean it. The Samaritan, on the other handis pretty much just a walking cliche. Still, for being a B-movie of no consequence, it was still pretty entertaining to watch.

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Foley (Samuel L. Jackson) is an expert grifter who’s just got finished serving a 25 year prison sentence for murdering his old partner. Upon his release, Foley is determined to give up his life of crime and find a more decent way of making a living; a decision that is both made up of overwhelming guilt and logic. While trying to create a better life for himself, he continues to be harassed by Ethan (Luke Kirby), his ex-partner’s son who wants him to be part of a grift on a crime lord Xavier (Tom Wilkinson), and a prostitute desperate for Foley’s affection, Iris (Ruth Negga). While Foley begins forming a relationship with Iris, Evan starts coming at him much harder with his million dollar plan, but it isn’t until Evan drops an earth shattering secret that Foley decides to drop his plan for a new life and dive head first into his last and most dangerous grift.

So, a criminal who has been to prison is trying to reform his life but once again, and unwillingly, gets sucked back into a life of crime. This is a story that’s been told over and over again. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a classic tale that can be used time and again with different circumstances and events to make it still interesting. In this regard, The Samaritan sort of succeeds and sort of fails. It succeeds because there are a lot of twists, turns, and finely acted characters that kept my attention throughout most of the film. It fails because while there are a lot of different things layered on top of the classic crime tale, they are all pulled straight from other movies so that there’s nearly nothing new or original in the entire movie.

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The casting and performances of the actors is one of those things that really got me into the movie. Samuel L. Jackson gives an outstanding performance as Foley. The role seems to have been written just for him and he fits it like a glove. It was also cool to see Ruth Negga in a more dramatic role outside of her part in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I thought she did a fine job as Iris. Luke Kirby and Tom Wilkinson ham up their villainous roles, as well, which makes them very easy to hate and it so much easier to root for Foley. This isn’t exactly a well written movie so it was good to see all of these fine actors really pull together and professionally handle some of the ridiculous dialogue and make the best out of what was given to them.

One of the main problems I have with The Samaritan is how long it takes to really get going. The real action and bulk of the story doesn’t start until after the half hour point, which means that there’s a lot of story crammed into a span of less then an hour. This made the first half of the movie feel really slow and the second half disjointed. Luckily, there are some pretty cool scenes throughout the movie and the climax was very satisfying to watch. It would have just been a much smoother ride had the movie been longer or if there wasn’t so many twists and turns mushed together in such a short time period.

The Samaritan isn’t a movie that I’m going to be talking about for the rest of my life, nor is it one that I’d put on again to watch anytime soon. There’s a lot of flaws with the movie but there are also some positive elements going for it that make it pretty entertaining. It’s a very simple movie that’s borrowed from films that have come before it to the point where it’s noticeable. Still, I can’t really say that this is a bad movie at all. It’s certainly an acceptable way to kill some time, but you really don’t need to go out searching for it.

Dead Man Down – Review

19 Mar

There’s a lot of unique ways to take a story that’s been told a dozen times before and tweak it to make it something resembling an original idea. Danish film director Niels Arden Oplev is no stranger to tackling stories that are painfully unusual since his biggest claim to fame is helming the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This brings us to his first primarily American release, Dead Man Down from 2013. This is a pretty interesting movie since you can see a lot of European techniques being used to tell a story set in the gritty streets of New York, but there’s also a lot dragging the movie down like poor pacing and a handful of unnecessary scenes.

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Victor (Colin Farrell) is a small time criminal working for a mob boss named Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard). Through his time working with Hoyt, he has earned a strong reputation for trust and respect and has also befriended an associate, Darcy (Dominic Cooper). Victor soon comes into contact with his disfigured neighbor, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who takes him out to dinner one night only to show that she has evidence that Victor murdered a man in his apartment. She won’t go to the police with this if he agrees to kill the man who drunkenly hit her car and disfigured her. As Victor works with and forms a relationship with Beatrice, his true obsessive intentions with Alphonse become all too clear, which puts Beatrice and himself in the line of fire from all directions.

This is one of those hard review to write, because I really don’t have too much to say about Dead Man Down. Niels Anders Oplev and screenwriter J.H. Wyman have created a gangster/crime drama that sails the seas of mediocrity. Alright, that may be a little harsh because there are some really fantastic parts of this movie. Some of the scenes are executed in such an intense and sometimes over the top way that it sucked me right into the action. I guess that’s one really good thing I can say about this movie. The action was phenomenal. There’s one great scene where a guy is thrown out a window and is hanged by a rope around his neck while dangling in front of a gym window. There’s another great scene that’s pretty much a siege on a well fortified mansion. Those are the real stand out scenes. Everything else is kinda filler.

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While the action scenes are wonderfully constructed and memorable in their own rights, they don’t quite sync up with the rest of the movie all that well. Other than a couple of the larger action set pieces, the rest of the film is set up as a very realistic and down to earth crime drama. Then, when violence suddenly erupts, all of a sudden the world turns into a comic book where one man can take on an entire army of men. Look, I love over the top movies as much as the next guy and I can appreciate that I am only watching a movie, but Dead Man Down doesn’t really play by its own set of rules which makes it seem like it was made by a couple different people.

There’s not really much else to talk about in terms of story so it’s over to the performances we go. Everyone in this movie is pretty serviceable. Colin Farrell and Terrence Howard do their jobs just fine but it’s nothing really worth talking too much about. The only people who seem to be completely involved with their roles are Noomi Rapace and Dominic Cooper. While Rapace’s character has some major flaws in terms of how she’s written, her performance almost makes up for all of that. Cooper also just seems like he’s having the time of his life playing his part, which in turn gives his character more life than it could’ve had.

Dead Man Down was a pretty fun movie to watch, but once it’s over t left me feeling like I didn’t really watch anything of consequence. It certainly isn’t an awful movie, but it’s not one that I’m going to remember either, despite some really excellent action scenes sprinkled throughout it. This was kind of a hard review to write because I don’t have a whole lot to say on Dead Man Down other than it’s a mediocre gangster flick that sailed under the radar when it was released and will continue to do so.

Triple 9 – Review

15 Mar

In my opinion, John Hillcoat is a film maker who’s movies will get me excited no matter what. I haven’t seen all of his movies, like The Road, but his other films like The Proposition and Lawless are genre bending punches to the throat full of great acting, direction, and performances. He’s very well known for his collaborations with Nick Cave as screenwriter and composer, but with his newest film, Triple 9, Nick Cave is nowhere to be seen. That didn’t change the fact that I was excited for this movie and while the reviews have been very mixed, I thought this was a pretty badass flick.

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Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his band of thieves, including two Atlanta police officers Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins, Jr.), are under the strict employ of a Russian mob boss’ wife, Irina (Kate Winslet). After pulling off a major heist for Irina, she still demands that Atwood and his gang pull off a much more complicated one: robbing a highly secured government building of all the files on her husband. In order to do this, it is suggested that the crew initiate a triple 9, which is a code for an officer down, across town so the building will be a free for all. Opportunity knocks when Marcus gets a new partner, Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), a clean cop only out to do the right thing. As the police’s investigation of this gang gets them closer to the truth, Atwood feels rushed to get the job done, which could spell doom for the whole crew.

First off, I have to say that one of the first things that piqued my interest in this movie was the cast. Other than the actors I already named in the summary, this film also boasts the talents of Woody Harrelson, Norman Reedus, Gal Gadot, and Aaron Paul. It’s really an insane cast that all do their jobs really well. Casey Affleck continues to be one of my favorite actors working in movies while Anthony Mackie and Clifton Collins, Jr. showed a level of skill I haven’t seen in them before. Ensemble films like this don’t always work because there isn’t enough personality between the characters to differentiate them from the rest. Luckily, that was not the case with the cast in Triple 9. They were all great to watch.

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Probably the only fault I can give this movie is how complicated it gets, even though this is a movie that doesn’t really need to be complicated. There is such a huge cast of characters and each of them seem to be doing ten different things. It’s ok for some of them to just remain side characters, but each one has a different arc that they’re trying to get through. This still doesn’t really hurt the movie for me, though. While I was trying to figure out what everyone was doing, I was marveling at the urban war zone that Hillcoat and screenwriter Matt Cook have created. It’s a landscape where everyone is your enemy and your friends have something to hide. This made for a very paranoid fueled heist thriller.

When I say that Triple 9 had some of the best action set pieces I’ve seen in a while, I mean that sincerely. Right from the get go there’s a robbery and a car chase on the freeway that should be remembered way down the line. Another great scene is a police raid on an apartment building shot mostly in tracking shots like we are part of the squad. There is a lot of down time in this film, but it never got boring for me, especially since right around the corner there was another action packed scene that was really well shot and paced. That’s an art all unto itself.

Based on all the reviews I’ve been seeing, people either love Triple 9 or they hate it. I don’t know if I can say I loved it, but it was definitely a really cool movie. It does get overly complicated at times, but the strong cast and the intense action sequences and urban environment really pulls it all together very well. After seeing Triple 9, I’m reminded once again why John Hillcoat is one of those film makers that gets me excited about movies. This one is worth a watch.

The Good German – Review

10 Mar

Steven Soderbergh is one of my absolute favorite directors of all time. I’ve already talked about a few of his movies on here, with the most recent being for his debut film sex, lies, and videotape. Of course, not all of Soderbergh’s movies get much attention, and some of them seem to just fade away into the deepest recesses of his filmography. That’s exactly what happened to his 2006 box office flop, The Good German. After having watched it, I can definitely appreciate it for what it is. Much like the Coen Brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t ThereThe Good German is a faithful recreation of how movies were made during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Unfortunately, that’s where the success of this movie pretty much ends.

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The year is 1945 and World War II has been ended on the European Front. American war correspondant Jacob Geismar (George Clooney) is sent to Berlin to cover the peace talks at the Potsdam negotiations. Geismar is assigned a young American soldier named Tully (Tobey Maguire) to be his driver, but there are a lot of things about Tully that Jacob has no idea about. For one thing, he’s highly involved in black marketeering and has a strange relationship with Jacob’s ex-lover, a German named Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett). After a brutal murder and robbery happens in Potsdam, supposedly right outside where the peace talks are meant to take place, Jacob begins investigating what actually got this person killed, even if it means going against his American superiors and also creating more tension than there already is with the Soviets occupying Berlin.

So right off the bat, The Good German not only looks convincing in terms of how movies were made in the 1940s, it also just looks beautiful in general. I love the look of noir films with the pitch black shadows and the high contrast light. It really just makes for great dramatic scenes, and this movie had that kind of look to it. It’s clear that Soderbergh was way more concerned with making this movie feel like a classic film in almost obsessive ways. This entire movie was shot on back lots in Los Angeles, only lenses of the time were used on the cameras, and the lighting was all incandescent. There wasn’t even any ADR during the sound editing. Soderbergh really succeeded at making this feel very authentic, and for film lovers that reason alone is enough to check this movie out, but there’s still more I have to say.

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The setting of this movie also really grabbed my attention. It was cool seeing all of these different countries who really don’t trust each other in one city under the weak promise that the war is officially over. Just because the war is technically over didn’t mean that there still wasn’t a lot of shady stuff going down, and this movie plays on that perfectly. It adds a layer of paranoia to the proceedings. So we have a cool setting, but the way things happen is super not cool. The entire time I was watching this movie I felt like I was just moving from one scene to the next because we have to in order for the story to be told and the movie to be over. This is actually a pretty common flaw in some movies, and this one is a prime example. It’s no fun watching a narrative move with such little motivation.

Let’s talk about the acting in this movie because it’s all very surprising. It’s almost like George Clooney and Cate Blanchett only did this as a favor to Steven Soderbergh. It was weird watching these actors just read the lines that were given to them without any sort of emotion backing them up. I get that they’re supposed to be touch talking noir characters, but it really didn’t work. The only thing Blanchett did was an accent, so obviously she’s German but what else. The only person who really put forth any kind of effort was Tobey Maguire. He was great and really seemed to be enjoying himself in the slimy role that was given to him.

The Good German is certainly a minor entry in Soderbergh’s body of work and for good reason. This is film is an exercise of style over substance that would really only appeal to people who are fans of classic cinema and can appreciate everything Soderbergh did to create an authentic feeling movie. The story has potential but ultimately falls flat due to a lack of strong motivation and performances that are very unmemorable. All in all, The Good German works as an experiment but not so much as a strong piece of storytelling.

The Right Stuff – Review

8 Mar

To me, the idea of going into space is like the worst thing ever. I’m quite comfortable staying down here on good old planet Earth for the rest of my life. For some people however, that just isn’t enough. Take for example the Mercury Seven, the American astronauts that were some of the first people to go to space, and the very first people to orbit the Earth. This is the story of The Right Stuff, a movie by Philip Kaufman based off of the book by Tom Wolfe. It’s a very interesting and adventurous movie that tells the stories of these astronauts very well, and for that I applaud it. On the other hand, this movie is goes on for what seems like forever and could have been either trimmed down or made into two separate movies.

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The story begins back in 1947 when there was a belief that it was impossible that it was impossible to reach the speed needed to surpass Mach 1 and break the sound barrier. That is until UNSAF pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) stood up to the challenge and pushed the Bell X-1 jet faster than any before it and broke the sound barrier. This opens up many doors for scientific aeronautic progression for the United States, and pressure begins building as the United States enters the space race with the Soviet Union. The rest of the film follows the Mercury 7 astronauts (Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Lance Henriksen, Scott Paulin, Fred Ward, and Charles Frank) and their different experiences training, finally going into space, and the effect it has on their social status and families.

No one can really deny that the story of The Right Stuff may be one of the greatest stories ever told. In all aspects, it’s a story of bravery, camaraderie, and love all woven together by historical truths and the knowledge that most of what we see really happened. The events shown in this movie are crucial scientific breakthroughs, and that being said, I wish this was a longer movie. Well, sort of. Watching this film in one sitting was pretty daunting, and by the end I was ready for it to be over. What I mean is that this is another one of those movies that would’ve have been a lot better if it was turned into a mini series. There’s so much history in The Right Stuff that sometimes feels glazed right over. Despite it’s run time of three hours and fifteen minutes, I still felt that there was more of a story to tell.

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The Right Stuff got its limited release in October of 1983, while Return of the Jedi got released in May of that same year. I’m saying this because I want everyone to have an idea of what sort of special effects could be accomplished at that time. For 1983, The Right Stuff had some pretty incredible special effects that still hold up today. Using practical effects like models, stock footage, and other unique effects, the effects in this movie gave it a very authentic feel. I also have to mention Caleb Deschanel’s beautiful cinematography that helps bridge the gap between authentic and cinematic.

It’s impossible to talk about The Right Stuff without mentioning its truly all star cast. Not only is it a very large cast, but its a cast that does their jobs very well. My personal favorite performances come from Ed Harris as John Glenn and Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper, although Scott Glenn’s portrayal of Alan Shepard is also memorable. They’re all just so into their characters, and Ed Harris especially could be John Glenn’s doppelgänger. The only person I feel is underused is Lance Henriksen. I’m a big fan of Henriksen, so the more I see of him the better.

The Right Stuff may feel like it goes on forever and it may get kind of cheesy with its over the top patriotism, but it is still one hell of a movie. The special effects, performances, music, and cinematography are all top notch and it tells a really great story, even if some of it isn’t all too accurate. While it wasn’t met with much attention when it was released, The Right Stuff is now regarded as a landmark film of the 1980s, and I can certainly understand why and wholeheartedly agree.