Tag Archives: contemporary classic

Glory – Review

11 Aug

Movies about the American Civil War only seem to crop up every so often. The more popular option to explore is World War II or even more current warfare, which is honestly all well and good when done right. My point is that I don’t think there are nearly enough movies that properly explore the time when America was completely at odds with each other. This is partially why a movie like Glory really stands out. It also stands above many others because it tells a story that’s rarely told, and that’s the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which was made up of the Union’s first only African-American soldiers. This film is not only a testament to what free thinking and ideals can do for an army, but also an incredible dramatization of a plan that helped turn the tide of the Civil War.

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During the early years of the Civil War, there was no certain way of telling wether the Union of the Confederacy would come out on top. There were many dedicated soldiers fighting for both sides, like Captain Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), a Union soldier who longs for peace but will not stray from a battle. After being injured in the Battle of Antietam, Shaw is promoted to the rank of Colonel, and put in charge of the 54th Regiment Volunteer Infantry, which was to be made up solely of African Americans. Many African Americans jump at this chance to fight and stand up for their rights, which inspires Shaw to be the best leader he can possibly be. During this time, Shaw meets John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), Silas Trip (Denzel Washington), and Jupiter Sharts (Jihmi Kennedy), who all become his finest soldiers and stand with him as they face opposition from both the Union and the Confederacy.

Like I said before, I feel like the American Civil War hasn’t been covered as much as it maybe should be in film. There’s so much material to explore, and Glory is a testament to that. This isn’t just a movie about the Civil War nor does it stop at just telling the story of this particular regiment. This is a movie about beliefs and ideals and how far people are willing to go to protect what they believe in. That’s what really gives this movie support. It’s a theme that’s been explored many different times in many different movies, but this era and situation adds an extra layer of gravity to the situation since it was such a historical event. That being said, Glory can be a very emotional movie. What’s really interesting about the feelings I got watching this movie is that it made me feel very proud of the characters and the camaraderie that forms between them, but by the end of the movie things turn very bittersweet and I was left feeling a combination of happiness and devastation.

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This movie is filled with excellent actors, and their performances is a big reason to watch this film. I never really thought of Matthew Broderick as a great actor, and while his performance in this movie is really good, there are a few awkward moments where I didn’t quite believe his portrayal. The real highlights in Glory are Morgan Freeman, Jihmi Kennedy, and Denzel Washington, who won an Academy Award for his performance. Each character symbolizes an area of slavery or of being a freeman during the time of the Civil War, and each actor brings these characters and what they represent to life. While the writing is great, it’s these performances that make the movie so powerful and feel so true. When actors can make the viewer really begin to care about what happens to them, that’s when you know you are witnessing great performances.

Along with Denzel Washington winning Best Supporting Actor, Glory was also awarded Best Cinematography and Best Sound. Watching this movie, you can see exactly why. One of the most important aspects of creating a historical movie is to be able to put the viewer in that time period without any doubt of what is being seen. The battle scenes in this movie, from the opening at the Battle of Antietam to the finale at Fort Wagner, this is an epic film in every sense of the word. The finale is especially an achievement, going from a battle in the daylight to a night time raid that is lit by the flares and explosions from the Confederate fort. None of these visuals would mean as much it wasn’t for the pounding sound design that felt like a cannon was being shot right into my living room.

Glory is an epic story of a group of people that helped turn the tide of the American Civil War. It’s a story about beliefs, brotherhood, and freedom that are told by an accomplished film maker (Edward Zwick) and actors that have a deep understanding of their characters. Over the years, this movie has be lauded as one of the best war films ever made, and possibly the best concerning the Civil War. I whole heartedly support this opinion, and not only because of the battle scenes. Glory hits all the right points in terms of narrative and themes and it’s a movie that should be seen and appreciated.

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The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 – Review

7 Nov

Imagine that Die Hard is just hanging around, minding its own business, when someone sneaks up behind it and injects it with a near lethal dose of adrenaline. The result would be the 2012 film The Raid: Redemption. It’s exciting to see a movie, let alone an action movie, and be able to think that what I’m seeing is going to be considered a classic in the years to come. This film is so wild and damn near unstoppable that when it was over I felt like I needed to take a long shower and take a nap. That, my dear cinephiles, is the highest compliment that I can give to an action movie.

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Rama (Iko Uwais) has a pretty good life. He’s in a loving relationship with his wife and they’re soon expecting a son, but who knows if Rama is going to be there to see it. His next assignment is a raid on a tenement building run by crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who provides his employees, customers, and other criminals with rooms as long as they pay the price. After a small mishap, Tama is soon made aware of the SWAT team’s presence, and he soon makes all of the other criminals aware and offers a fine reward to anyone who is responsible in aiding in the deaths of every officer present. Thus begins the mayhem.

That was one of the easiest summaries I’ve ever written because there really isn’t that much story to speak of. Police go into a building full of bad guys. The bad guys find out they’re there. Then the rest is just non-stop action, whether it be with guns, knives, batons, explosives, or fists. This movie is loud, violent, and fast but never is it boring. It’s almost like I couldn’t even believe what I was seeing. Is it legal to have so much action and martial arts packed into one movie? It’s like I died and went to heaven. Never have I seen a movie move so fast and behave so relentlessly. It’s an action junkies dream come true.

So since the action and martial arts is literally all this movie is about, it better be really damn good. Well it’s better than that. It’s absolutely excellent. People are literally thrown all over the place, and Evans seems to know of all of the most uncomfortable ways someone could get killed during hand to hand combat. Meanwhile, the camera zooms all over the place, covering every inch of the action and never getting so close or shaky that we have no idea what’s happening. Finally, and what may be the most satisfying, every bone breaking and fist making contact is heard in gleefully graphic detail. Not only is this an excellent action movie, it’s also just a really well made more in general.

I can see that a lot of people may not be too interested in The Raid, since there really isn’t too much of a story, only something more of a goal. Anyone who loves a good action movie owes it to themselves to see the adrenaline shot to the heart that is this movie. It’s wild.

And with such a successful action film, of course there’s going to be a sequel, but oddly enough I’m completely fine with that in this case. In fact, this is a rare example of a sequel actually surpassing the original. Just this year Evans released The Raid 2, a film that keeps the same kinetic action, but also adds a pretty lengthy story.

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Picking up right after the first movie left off, Rama goes to meet Bunawar (Cok Simabara), the chief of an anti-corruption task force in the police department. He explains to Rama that the corruption that was revealed in the tenement building is just the beginning and enlists him to go undercover to root out the dirty police commissioner, Reza (Roy Marten). Rama then spends two years in a prison to get close to Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) who is one of the crime bosses running Jakarta along with the Japanese boss, Goto (Kenichi Endo). What Rama soon learns is that Uco is planning to betray his father and start a war with the Japanese, so that he and his new partner, small time gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad) can run the city for themselves.

This is a pretty odd combination for a movie. It’s like martial arts meets Scorsese. As you can very well see there is much more of a plot in this one than in the first one, and a surprising amount of development on the revelations of the first film that were minor to say the least. Originally, Evans wanted to make a movie with the same idea as this called Berandal, but he didn’t have the money for it. With what he had, he made The Raid, sold the rights for an American remake, and then used that money to make The Raid 2 which is pretty much just the updated version of Berandal to go along with the continuity of the first film. It was actually released with Berandal as the subtitle, but was just changed to The Raid 2 when it reached America.

So take everything great I said about the first one and just multiply it by 5 and that’s The Raid 2. Thanks to a bigger budget, the action is even more impressive than it was in the first film. Two characters by the name of Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) are very welcome additions to the brutal combat. There’s also the same kinetic camera work and sound, but we also get the pleasure of an excellent car chase that would never have been possible on a much smaller budget. This movie does feel a bit too big sometimes, with the complex storyline, but it’s still actually a really good story that kept me engaged the whole way through.

The Raid 2 somehow surpasses the original and kicked me in the face with high octane action and a storyline that is reminiscent of classic gangster films by Scorsese and Coppola. I can recommend this one more than the first because there is more backing it up than just really cool action, there’s also a really cool story. This is a really fantastic film that has earned its spot in history.

That’s just the thing about these movies. I’ve seen them compared to Die Hard and Hard Boiled, and much like those movies, The Raid films have secured a spot in action cinema, and film history in general. Not only are they both exceptional examples of how to make an awesome action movie, they’re also really good examples of how films should be made. It was awesome to see history in the making with Gareth Evans’ masterpieces of action.

Total Recall (1990) – Review

31 Jul

Wether you know the name or not, Phillip K. Dick is responsible for many of the science fiction stories that you all know and love, especially the ones that have been turned into blockbuster movies. Do titles like A Scanner DarklyMinority Report, and Blade Runner ring a bell? Those are just a few examples. One of Dick’s most popular stories was published in 1966 and was titled We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, which was later adapted to the 1990 sci-fi/action classic Total Recall. Now, Phillip K. Dick’s stories have a penchant for being smart and highly conspiratorial, so it would be nice if the movies adapted from his stories had that same style. Luckily, Total Recall is one of those movies.

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Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) lives an average life with his average job as a construction worker and shares a home with his above average wife, Lori (Sharon Stone). As life on Earth continues as normal, life on Mars is filled with violence and revolution as a so called terrorist named Kuato fights for the rights of the lower class colonists. All of the reports about Mars makes Quaid want to take a vacation there and escape his everyday life but his wife is not into that idea at all. This prompts Quaid to take a ride down to “Rekall,” a company where memories can be implanted into your brain and make you think you had the vacation of your life. Unfortunately for Quaid, the entire procedure goes terribly wrong and a massive manhunt for him, led by the ruthless Richter (Michael Ironside), begins and leads him to the very surface of Mars where he learns of his real identity and begins fighting for the survival of every colonist living on the planet’s surface…or is he?

This movie had the chance to just be a regular, run of the mill Schwarzenegger movie filled with lots of action, but no real ideas and no intelligence to speak of. What made matters worse was the idea for this movie was being tossed around Hollywood for years before it actually got picked up. To give a point of reference, the writers for this movie got Alien made in 1979 before the got Total Recall made in 1990, even though they began working on the latter first. In a way though, this actually worked out better because the right director and actors all became attached during the process, and an excellent movie was eventually created.

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One thing that not only struck me but also struck audiences at its release 24 years ago was the amount of insane violence in this movie, although I’d like to just call it action since it’s so abundantly ridiculous. Believe it or not, Total Recall was actually slapped with an X rating for Verhoeven’s first cut of the movie, but he negotiated it down to an R rating and edited some of the scenes in the movie and changed some shots around. There’s still plenty of gunplay, bone crunching, and gore to be had here so it isn’t a total loss. Then again, people who saw Verhoeven’s 1987 film Robocop will know all about that. Also like RobocopTotal Recall takes place in the distant future so some work had to be done to make it look appropriate. Close to 70 different stages were built which to a really long time, and a lot of this movie was actually shot in more modern parts of Mexico. This worked very well since Total Recall does have a good sense of space and design.

Probably one of the main draws for anyone to see Total Recall is the amazing special effects, which I could say ranks in the top 5 best of film history. Sure, today they look dated, but at the time the effects were really a marvel. I still do find them incredible because this was one of the last movies to do everything with practical effects and no digital composites. There are some exceptional scenes on the Martian surface that was all built by hand over periods of time. Another great use of practical effects are the animatronics that are used for people exposed the the vacuum of Mars, and also the prosthetic make up used for the mutants. This is a really great looking movie that won an Academy Award for visual effects while all of the other movies in the category were runner ups and not nominees. Pretty much, Total Recall was in a category all its own.

To put it simply, Total Recall is one of those movies that perfectly blends all of its various pieces together to make one hell of a fun movie. The action is outrageous, the humor made me laugh, and the psychology was well worthy of a Phillip K. Dick science fiction story. Sure there are many differences between this and the original short story, but I gotta hand it to Paul Verhoeven. He definitely knows how to makes top notch action films.

 

 

Scream and Scream 2 – Review

15 Dec

It can be debated that Wes Craven is the king of modern horror. I strongly believe that he is, but that’s just my opinion that borders on fact. With films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Last House on the Left, it’s clear that he’s left his mark on the horror genre. In 1996, with the help of writer Kevin Williamson, he left an even more distinct map with the Scream franchise. These much talked about horror/satire/mystery films take horror to a meta level that wasn’t explored in the horror genre before, making these films truly unique.

Scream hit the scene in 1996.

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When Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) is brutally murdered, the small town of Woodsboro is thrown into a frenzy. Local high school student Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is having an especially rough time considering that all this is happening so close to the one year anniversary of her mother’s murder. As the body count begins rising, the different players are all put in danger including local policeman Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette), Sydney’s best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan), and film nut Randy (Jamie Kennedy). Pressure also builds further around Sydney when her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) becomes suspect number 1 and media hound Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) interferes with the investigation and Sydney’s past.

What puts Scream on such a higher level than other slasher films is the writing and characterization that can, in part, be accredited to Craven, but I put most of my praise on writer Kevin Williamson. Every time I watch this movie, I care for the characters just a little bit more. Their witty banter that revolves around horror films is relatable to me, and they’re just much more believable than the cliched victims in films like Friday the 13th and even the original Halloween.

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Along with the writing, it both satirizes and terrifies in perfect unison. After Scream came out in 1996, there was a significant rise in caller ID purchases. That’s a fact, and also hilarious. The opening scene in this film is something straight out of my worst childhood nightmares, and the bloody climax is so god damn cool. In terms of comedy, it works just as well as horror. Horror buffs will appreciate all the little in-jokes, but even newcomers to the genre will still find something to laugh at. Throw in the mystery, and you got yourself a multi-genred masterpiece.

Agree with me or not, I firmly believe Scream is destined to be a horror classic. In my eyes, it already is. Not only did it capture a generation that overwhelmed the mid-90s, but it also succeeds at spoofing and honoring the horror genre. It’s bloody brilliance from the combined minds of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson. Need I say more?

But, as with pretty much every horror film, a sequel seemed to be just predestination. Hitting the theaters just one year later, Scream 2 reunited characters and audiences in 1997.

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Having survived the killing spree that took place in Scream, Sydney is trying to get on with her life. Now in college, she has remained close with Randy, lives with her friend Hallie (Elise Neal), and has found love with Derek (Jerry O’Connell). Things are shaken when a murder happens at the premiere of Stab, a film within a film based off of the events of the original, and the media invades Sydney’s school, putting her face to face again with Gale, and reuniting her with Dewey. More students begin dropping and it’s only a matter of time before Sydney herself is at the other end of the knife, unless she can figure out who is behind the mask and why they crave the bloodshed.

As far as sequels go, Scream 2 is as worthy as they come. Being reunited with the survivors of the first film feels just as good every time I put the movie on. All of the new characters work pretty well too. Derek and Hallie have god chemistry with Sydney and are good counter balances to her paranoia, and Timothy Olyphant’s Mickey is just what Randy needs to create fun and memorable film banter, especially about sequels.

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Wes Craven is back directing and Kevin Williamson still penned the movie, so the characters and dialogue are as rich as ever. The screams and the laughs are just about on par with its predecessor, but the sense of mystery doesn’t quite live up to the expectations presented in the first film. In Scream, it’s hard to really figure out who the killer is because of all of the twists and turns the plot takes. In Scream 2, it isn’t really that difficult because a main character pretty much just disappears right in the middle. Then they show back up again, just in time for the climax. There is another twist that is pretty cool, but the whole unmasking thing just doesn’t feel as exciting.

Scream 2 isn’t as great as Scream, but it holds its own with other sequels that are worthy of their predecessors. The film isn’t perfect, nor will it be considered a classic like the first film, but it’s still one of the better modern horror films, even with its satirical elements.

My next review will be covering Scream 3 and Scream 4. Was a trilogy enough, or maybe a fourth was a necessary addition. Check back for my second part of the series.