Tag Archives: controversy

Foxy Brown – Review

1 Dec

The 1970s was a really interesting time for film. This was the era of auteur film makers like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg making major names for themselves and redefining how movies should be made. This was also a great time for B-movies that would be played as double features in drive ins or grindhouse theaters. The exploitation genre was thriving and this spawned another genre called blaxploitation, which is said to have started in 1971 with Shaft. In 1974, on a double feature bill with Truck Turner, came Foxy Brown starring the one and only Pam Grier. This movie has become known as one of the most influential blaxploitation films ever made, and despite the controversies surrounding it, has become a true cult classic.

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Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) has her hands full taking care of herself while also looking after her small time drug dealer brother, Link (Antonio Fargas), while also helping her government agent boyfriend, Michael (Terry Carter) recuperate after time spent in a hospital. Acting on his own misguided motivations, Link tips off gangster Steve Elias (Peter Brown) that Michael is alive and well despite what they originally thought. Soon enough, Michael is murdered in front of Foxy which ignites a fire that sends her on a mission of revenge. Disguising herself as a call girl, Foxy infiltrates the gang that uses a modeling agency as a front, and it doesn’t take long for Foxy to start working her way up the food chain to Steve and his partner, Miss Kathryn (Kathryn Loder).

There was a lot of very important names that went along with the blaxploitation genre like Richard Roundtree and Isaac Hayes, but one can not forget Pam Grier who made a living playing some of the most kickass female heros to grace the silver screen. This is the strongest element of Foxy Brown and the main reason why I could watch it over and over again. The way Grier delivers her smooth one liners while also not hesitating to shoot any villain that gets in her way makes Foxy Brown a really cool character. Another stand out performance is Antonio Fargas as Foxy’s overconfident younger brother that pretty much gets the plot of the film going. My favorite part of the movie has Foxy storming into her brother’s apartment and trashing after she holds him at gunpoint and lectures him on the mistakes he’s made. That’s going to be the scene I think of whenever anyone mentions this movie.

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Foxy Brown is an interesting movie to look at historically because it received a lot of praise and also a lot of controversy. Like many of Pam Grier’s roles, Foxy Brown was a very strong female character that spoke directly to African American women in 1974. She took good care of other people while also being more than capable of taking care of herself in all sorts of situations. On the flip side, the movie was criticized for the violence and drug use depicted in the lives of the black characters in this movie. There was also some critics who spoke out against the sexualization of Foxy Brown, even though many still were impressed by her ferocity and intelligence in dangerous situations. This opens up a lot of discussion and many people will have many different opinions. This kind of controversy helped turn Foxy Brown into the blaxploitation cult classic that it is.

Other than the controversy, another reason Foxy Brown has earned the title of “cult classic” is the fact that it’s just so damn entertaining. Having been originally released as a double feature, the run time is short which means the story moves at a very brisk and determined pace. Once the action gets started, it rarely slows down and Grier has a lot of great lines to say and asses to kick. While it is action packed, there’s a lot of surprisingly funny scenes as well. One great scene has Foxy and a call girl putting the heat on a judge which ends in a laugh out loud piece of slapstick. The grand finale is also one for the books with Foxy hijacking a plane from none other than Sid Haig, who starred in many Jack Hill films and became even more notorious as Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.

Foxy Brown may not be the most high quality film you’ll ever see and a great deal of its priorities and intentions can be seen as misguided and out of order, but you can’t deny that it’s one entertaining little movie. Pam Grier knocks it out of the park as the title character and the supporting cast really back her up. There’s something great seeing Foxy take down the gangsters that killed her boyfriend, even though the plot flies by at break neck speeds. Any fan of cult movie or the blaxploitation genre should consider this movie a must see, and anyone who’s just curious about the era might find some enjoyment as well.

Final Grade: B+

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Caligula – Review

31 Oct

Throughout the years, there have been films that redefine what’s possible when it comes to film making and how to tell a story. In the past, there were classics like Citizen Kane and Lawrence of Arabia, which can both be seen as sweeping epics in their own ways. More recently we’ve had films like Inception or The Revenant. Both of these movies are unconventional in their means of telling a story and also offer visual spectacle that will be remembered for decades to come. Movies are a window into worlds that may otherwise never exist, and there are so many that so fully succeed into taking us away from our everyday lives and somewhere all together magical… and then there’s Caligula.

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In 37 AD, a young Caligula (Malcolm McDowell) is the next heir to the throne in the Roman Empire. His uncle and adoptive parent, Tiberius (Peter O’Toole), still is in control however, despite his growing physical and psychological sicknesses. After Caligula visits his uncle and sees the power he wields and is also almost assassinated by the sick man, Caligula decides to take fate into his own hands, along with the head of the Praetorian Guard, Macro (Guido Mannari), kills Tiberius. Now at the head of the empire, Caligula proposes many changes to the Senate and all seems to be going pretty well. The decline begins once a love triangle starts with himself, his sister Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy), and his new wife Caesonia (Helen Mirran). As if that isn’t enough, Caligula starts to grow paranoid of the people around him, which results in multiple arrests and executions, which forces certain members of the Senate and the Guard to plot to remove Caligula as Emperor.

Just look at that cast. You have Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, and Helen Mirran amongst some others. Don’t let that fool you like the producers fooled some of these actors. O’Toole had no idea that this movie would turn out the way it did. What could I possibly mean by this? Well, Caligula is the one and only film produced by Penthouse Films. You know…like the magazine. If you go into this movie expecting a historical epic that accurately portrays the reign of Caligula and the effects it had on the Roman Empire, than you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I like to think of this movie as the most expensive midnight movie you’ll ever see. There are hardly any redeeming qualities to this movie, but I’ll certainly give it a try. The performances by O’Toole and Mirran are both really good, while McDowell gives a fantastic performance as Caligula. You also can’t say that this movie shirks on showing the depravity that happened in the Empire. This kind of exploitation can go too far, however, and it goes way too far in this movie. I also have to give credit to some really amazing sets for the actors to perform in. It takes a lot to make this movie believable, and the sets can occasionally help.

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Let me just say that most of the critiques that I give Caligula, I do with a smile on my face just for the sheer absurdity of what I saw. Like I said before, this film was produced by Penthouse Films and the magazine’s creator, Bob Guccione, so be prepared for lots of sex and nudity. You can hardly get through a scene without some sort of nudity or sexual activity going on. It really starts to wear on you after awhile, especially when there are completely out of place sex scenes that can go on for about 10 minutes. When I  heard how controversial and graphic this movie is, I thought maybe a few scenes were the cause for such upset. I was wrong. It’s pretty much the whole movie. The way the story is told is also completely off the wall. The story’s filled with ridiculous and often clichéd symbolism that won’t add to the drama, but more so add to the unintentional hilarity. Don’t even try to follow the plot using any logic because the movie’s messy and troubled editing phase shines in a timeline filled with continuity errors and a failure to show the passage of time. You can’t even get a good historical retelling since this movie takes the term “dramatic license” and really runs with it.

Reading about the making of Caligula has really become part of the whole experience for me, because I can’t think of a bigger cinematic disaster story. From pre-production through post-production, this films was plagued with one catastrophe and betrayal after another. The original screenplay by Gore Vidal was bought and changed to the point of destruction that Vidal completely disowns it. The same can be said for Tinto Brass, the director, who was banned from the editing room so that Guccione had the control he needed. Even some of the actors had no idea what this movie was supposed to be and regret being seen in the final piece. McDowell even asked people in interviews not to see the movie. How could a movie that was this much of a problem amount to anything? Well, Caligula did amount to something. It became one of the most infamous cult classics ever made.

Caligula has completely earned that title of infamy. It’s a two and a half hour long disaster that could have been so much more if it wasn’t for a producer who had his own agenda, while the film makers and actors had a completely different one. For people who are interested in the goods and bads of cinema or people who have a fascination with movies as awkwardly weird as this one, it’s worth seeing for the history and legacy. For everyone else, keep far away from Caligula and save your sanity.

Final Grade: D-

Irréversible – Review

2 Oct

Well, ladies and gentlemen, here we are again back with that crazy guy Gaspar Noé. It hasn’t been too long since I’ve last reviewed something by this director, but I’ll do a little refresher. His first feature I Stand Alone  and the short film that preceded it, Carne, were pieces of visceral art that are definitely not for the feint of heart. The same can be said of his 2009 trip down a nightmarish rabbit hole, Enter the Void. Now, however, it’s time to look at his notorious film that was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and made him more known internationally, Irréversible. Like his other films, this is difficult to watch, but unlike his other films, it’s so difficult that at times I found it almost unwatchable. While it is graphic, disturbing, and all too brutal it certainly isn’t trash. Just insanely difficult.

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Much like Christopher Nolan’s film Memento, the action in Irréversible happen in reverse chronological order. Alex (Monica Belluci) and Marcus (Vincent Cassel) are a couple who are going to a party with Alex’s old friend, Pierre (Albert Dupontel). The three are having a fine time until Alex, annoyed with Marcus’ intoxication leaves the party. On her way home, she is brutally attacked and raped by a man known as Le Tenia (Jo Prestia), and is soon found by Pierre and Marcus. Marcus then drags Pierre through the underworld of Paris to find where Le Tenia is and get revenge for what he did to Alex and potentially ruining her life and the lives of the three friends.

To get an idea of the intensity of this movie for all those who haven’t seen it, Newsweek called Irréversible the most walked out of movie of the year. People were even leaving during the Cannes Film Festival. Imagine that, people walking out of a movie that was nominated for the festival’s most prestigious prize. It is quite clear that Noé did this on purpose with a lot of fancy film making and editing. The first thing that I noticed was how the camera flew all over the place, following all the action seamlessly, and edited all together to create the illusion of really long takes. He used this same style again in Enter the Void. The camera flies in and out of cars, flips, spins, etc. As if that’s not disorienting enough, the first 30 minutes or so of the movie as a continuous 28Hz droning that actually has a physical effect on humans that make us feel uncomfortable or even sick.

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A lot of credit has to go to the people that were involved in helping Noé’s vision, disturbing as it is, to the screen. Rodolphe Chabrier had what seemed like a really tedious job as this film’s visual effects supervisor. It was his job to fix up all of the crazy, illusory long takes and make the camera look like it’s doing all of the acrobatics almost naturally. There’s a lot more visual effects in this movie than it may seem on the surface, but there were many scenes that had to be cleaned and other actions tweaked. Much props also go to Belluci, Cassel, and Dupontel. Cassel has this intense approach to his acting when appropriate and is menacing for part of this movie, while Dupontel works well as the more hesitant of the two. They work very well off each other and give commendable performances even during the quieter scenes. Belluci deserves more praise than most actresses for stepping up to the challenge of this role and also performing it in such a realistic way. The brutal attack scene is made all the more difficult by how outstanding her ability to act really is.

I may have talked about this before, but it’s something that gets me heated. Many people have condemned Irréversible as trash taken to the most extreme. They seem to be implying that there is no room for films that are disturbing or graphic or show something that makes people uncomfortable and angry. Movies are supposed to stir emotions, be they good or bad, and the worst movies are the one that leave the viewer feeling nothing in particular. Yes, this movie made me feel very uncomfortable and close to physically ill, but that’s good. The movie did what it was supposed to do. There are many films that are graphic and disturbing and are most certainly just trashy entertainment. There is nothing trashy in this film, just brutally realistic and gritty.

I’m not going to recommend Irréversible, because I feel like there are many people out there who may read this review and not be able to sit through this movie. Normally, I think people should try movies like this out and do their best to push through it, but even I had trouble with the intensity and unflinching vision of this movie. It is extremely well made and acted, once again showing that Gaspar Noé is one of the most under appreciated director working today, while definitely remaining one of the most controversial. Irréversible is gritty, brutal art that should be considered as such, but should never be referred to as trashy.

The Best Movie to Ever be Made, and Almost not Exist: My Thoughts on “Citizen Kane”

7 Mar

I can’t call this a review. With each viewing of Orson Welles’ incomparable masterpiece, I find something new to find, enjoy, think over, and then talk about. Citizen Kane has been called the greatest movie ever made by many, many people. To me, there is no argument. It is absolutely the best film ever to be made. This doesn’t mean it is my favorite. I’m talking about objective vs subjective. There may be a song that I dislike, even though I know that it is objectively well made and performed. So, even though there are many people who would argue my claims to this being the best, I will present my reasoning.

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I’m sort of surprised that I’m not completely sick of this movie. There isn’t a class that goes by where Citizen Kane isn’t mentioned, referenced, shown, or compared to at least once. Every frame offers something new and exciting, especially at the time when it was produced. Orson Welles, who was only known for theatre and radio performances, never dabbled in the cinematic world at this point in time. He was still a very well known individual, especially after the whole War of the Worlds scare. RKO gave Welles complete control over this project, which he took full advantage of. He is the producer, director, co-writer, and star. That’s a lot to juggle, but somehow he pulled it off.

Coming from a technical stand point, this is really an amazing movie. It it weren’t for all of the work and innovation injected into the film by Welles, the cinematic world would be different than it currently is. Before this point, classic Hollywood movies had a very strict structure on how to make a film. Wide angle lenses were used for establishing shots and large scenes and telephoto lenses for the more intimate moments. Welles takes these rules and completely rewrites them. Citizen Kane is almost entirely shot with small, but very wide angle lenses. This makes the depth of field in these scenes very great. One excellent shot towards the beginning of the film shows a young Charles Foster Kane playing outside in the snow. The camera moves further away from the window to show his parents talking to Thatcher. Charles is still seen clearly through the window even though the attention is place on the dialogue. The scene moves even further into the house when Mrs. Kane goes into the dining room. The camera moves with her, and even though Charles is so far in the background outside of the house, he can still be seen clearly. Instead of making this an intimate story about Kane’s rise and fall, the audience is kept at a distance, acting only as observers in his life. This also makes the settings feel very spacious and grand, leaving a lot of room for emptiness, much like Kane’s own life.

Even if you haven’t had the stunning pleasure of seeing Citizen Kane, you probably still know about the famous line that actually only consists of one word: “Rosebud.” The mystery of who or what Rosebud is is the driving force behind the movie, but isn’t what the movie is about. Citizen Kane tells the story of Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper magnate who at one point seemed to rule the world. His downfall happens just as his rise, gradually but defined. On his deathbed, Kane utters the word “Rosebud,” which leads a reporter on a hunt to find its true meaning. The mystery of Rosebud allows the viewer to get a look into the history of Charles during the most important times of his life. Another huge innovation that is getting more common in films today is its disjointed narrative. The film pretty much begins at the end, but pieces together all of what happened before in flashbacks that are started by different associates of Kane talking about his life. This is a much more effective way of telling a story like this.

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By the end of the movie, my experience is that of loneliness. Combining the technique of using wide angle lenses with the entire drama of Kane’s life creates an air of longing and hopelessness. To top it all off, the answer to the Rosebud mystery is one of the greatest revelations in the history of cinema. Without spoiling it, although I’m sure most people who haven’t seen it know what it is, the revelation is shocking and sad. Why Kane was thinking of this at the time of his death poses many questions. The main one is: Why? Was it because it represents a time in his life when he was truly happy, or is it just the random last thought of a dying man? The whole thing seems pretty pointless. The final shot of the movie that shows the fate of Rosebud only adds to the idea that what we are on earth, and how we spend out time here is meaningless. Kane’s belongings are being packed up and sold and his only remnant of happiness is lost forever, which means nothing that describes the best of Kane is left.

In a way, however, the audience shouldn’t feel bad for Kane. Everything that happens to him in the movie is a result of his own actions. The morality that is presented in the movie is clear along with Orson Welles’ view on particular individuals. Although this theory is still debated, and Welles himself has come out and denied it, it seems apparent that Charles Foster Kane was based off of real life newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was very displeased with the way that he felt he was being portrayed and campaigned heavily against the film. He prohibited any advertisements for Citizen Kane to be printed in his newspaper, and even refused to endorse any other RKO film. Welles defended the film saying that he meant for Kane to be a conglomeration of many different leaders and businessmen into one character. The questions is: Did he mean this or was he just covering his tracks?

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Although it was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, all of the controversy that the film and Orson Welles stirred up set Citizen Kane up for some major losses. The only Academy Award that the film received was for Best Original Screenplay, which is great but it deserved so much more. Whenever Orson Welles or Citizen Kane were mentioned at the ceremony, everybody booed. That couldn’t have made Welles feel too great, especially it being his first film using actors who were known for the theatre and not the screen. Everything seemed to be against him and his film, from a terrible box office turn out to only being released in limited theaters. In a way, Hearst won, but only for the time being.

Now, 72 years after Citizen Kane was released, it has become a film that is worshipped in its own way. The spectacle of it may seem a bit dated by today’s standards, but what you have to remember is that when this movie was released in 1941, it was groundbreaking. The technical proficiency, Gregg Toland’s cinematography, the way that narrative is organized, and I would go so far as to say Welles’ performance of Kane. One scene that has really stood the test of time, in my opinion, is a scene where Kane destroys a room. It was shot in only one take, leaving Welles’ hands bleeding. He claimed to be really into the scene and it was perfect on the first try. Many other scenes make this an incredible movie that is cherished by many and studied by those who want to make this their life.

To describe how I truly feel about Citizen Kane, let me just say that it is the perfect example of a movie. It is Hollywood in its purest form, with a studio putting faith in an artist who has a specific vision which is accomplished. It wraps up a very human, American story in a way that is satisfying, but will leave you feeling emotionally empty. If someone never saw a movie before, this is where you would want to start them off. I can’t imagine that Orson, his cast, and his crew knew they were making a film upon which all others that came after would be built on. This isn’t my favorite movie, but it is the best one to ever be made. It’s hard to imagine one that will top it. The only one that has ever come close is The Godfather: Part II. I hope that I’ve done this film and Mr. Welles justice with this, and I feel it’s my duty to say that if you haven’t seen Citizen Kane yet, than you don’t really know just what it is to watch a movie.

The Last Temptation of Christ – Review

8 Jan

Religion seems to be a topic that many people have close minded views on. What someone believe is in is right, and will not accept anything other than what they have been taught their entire lives. Some people, however, find that it is healthy and good to question aspects of your faith. When Martin Scorsese released The Last Temptation of Christ is 1988, it was met with immediate controversy. In fact, many people will rank it as one of the most controversial films ever made.

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Jesus (Willem Dafoe) is a carpenter who uses his skill to make crosses for the Romans to crucify Jews. He is not happy with what he does, being a Jewish man, and also struggle with the fact that he is on Earth for something bigger. After much meditation and sorrow, he begins to recruit others to the cause of love, starting with Judas Iscariot (Harvey Keitel). Jesus’ message spreads far and wide with news of his teachings and miracles. Even with the proof of his divinity, Jesus is still a human being and suffers with temptation and doubt many times, the most difficult time being on the cross.

I can see how some people would be cautious going into this movie seeing that religion is always a controversial subject. With this movie, Scorsese looked controversy square in the eye and welcomed it. Religious zealots who never even saw the movie began to condemn it and call it blasphemous. After seeing the movie, I can’t really see any true blasphemy. Sure, the film takes a look at a side of Jesus that is rarely discussed, but I can hardly call that an assault on his existence or demeaning him in any way. In fact, the message of this movie is quite positive.

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What this movie does, and what I love, is that Jesus is made more human than we have ever seen him. Christianity teaches that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. In that regard, Willem Dafoe does an outstanding job. Everything he does in this movie feels different than the other performances of Jesus that I’ve seen. A runner up in humanity would be Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ. Even in that movie, there was always confidence that he would succeed in his torturous mission, because it was pretty understood throughout that movie that he was a divine figure. Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ always looks like there is a small amount of doubt in what he’s doing, but he still sticks with it. Like I said, it’s the most human portrayal of a biblical figure I have yet to see.

Mostly, though, this film is a complete work of fiction, and Scorsese states that it is not an accurate account of the Gospels. It was a little hard getting used to the story in this movie in contrast to the story I already know. It’s a very drastic change, but one that is really interesting once you get used to it. These changes made a lot of people angry. Even something that may be considered objectively offensive turns out to be reinforcing Jesus’ character or just creating dramatic tension. Never is the Gospels or God put down in any way.

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This movie does get a detraction, however. Some of the dialogue is downright terrible. At times, it’s so bad that I can’t believe Scorsese was actually comfortable with filming it. These scenes are acted pretty bad because there is no way to really make this dialogue sound authentic. Harvey Keitel is also usually a really good actor, but his Bronx-like portrayal of Judas feels lazy. He didn’t seem to really try to change his personality at all to get into the role of Judas, who most certainly wasn’t from New York even in this work of fiction.

The Last Temptation of Christ is a moving look at something that people remain very close-minded about. It dares to ask “what if?” and also shows Jesus in a way that I can imagine isn’t normal thought about. I was a little concerned going into this movie thinking it was going to be preachy, but it was anything but. It’s a fantastic exploration on a person whose existence has been debated for centuries, but believe in him or not, this is not a movie that you should overlook.