Tag Archives: drama

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Review

15 Jul

It’s hard to believe that we’ve reached our 16th Marvel movie, and it’s finally one that stars my favorite superhero of all time: Spider-Man. In Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland was introduced as Peter Parker, also known as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. It was really exciting to see a new iteration of the character that wasn’t awful (Yes, I’m looking at you Amazing Spider-Man). Now, Holland’s back and he’s front and center in Spider-Man: Homecoming, which is one of my most anticipated movies of the year. I have to say, I love the Web Head, and this was a really good movie that’s here to kickstart his own series of stand alone films. In that way, it works really well and I can’t wait to see it again, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed in the end result.

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) seems like a mild mannered teenager just struggling to fit in at school. His best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), is socially inept but lovable, but what Parker really can’t get his mind off of is Liz (Laura Harrier), the girl of his dreams who he fears he doesn’t stand a chance with. Seems like pretty normal stuff for a guy his age, but after school he also fights crime in anyway he can as the superhero, Spider-Man. He can’t seem to get too far in his crimefighting endeavors with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) constantly on his case about his safety and how his abilities have progressed. Things get even riskier when Spidey finds out that Chitauri weaponry is being sold on the streets of New York, and the culprit is one Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture (Michael Keaton). Peter is determined to get these weapons off the street and stop Vulture, but despite his good intentions and will power he still doesn’t have the full range of his powers nor his suit, which will make this particular mission very difficult to accomplish.

I had really high hopes going into this movie just because my favorite superhero was finally getting a proper MCU treatment, but also because of all the rave reviews I was hearing about from screenings before the official release date. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me and think I thought the movie was bad. That’s simply not the case, and I’d go so far as to say it was really good. Let’s get the negatives out of the way immediately so we can get into the good stuff later. My biggest complaint is that a lot of the story focused on Peter’s school. I understand that Spider-Man is a younger hero, especially compared to some of the other Avengers (that means you, Cap), and it is a good idea to show his interactions with kids his own age. All of the actors were very good, but it just wasn’t nearly as interesting as what was happening with Vulture and the Chitauri weapons. I’m also not thrilled when superheroes in their films don’t have full control over their powers. I know this is Spidey’s first film in the MCU and he has a lot of growing to do, but it was such a tease to see him webbing all over New York while I was thinking he was capable of so much more. I will say, however, that I’m excited to see the character evolve more in the movies to come.

Now that we got the negatives out of the way, it’s time to have some more fun. Let’s start with the cast. Tom Holland is clearly the best choice to play a young Peter Parker. He’s full of the nervous energy that defines Peter, but once you get him in that Spider-Man suit, he all attitude and brimming with that lovable arrogance that only the Web-Slinger could pull off. There’s also scenes that get pretty heavy on the drama and Holland also manages to pull those scenes off with relative ease. At this point, there really is no one else for this role. He completely owns it. Michael Keaton as Vulture was also unsurprisingly great, but what is surprising is just how well rounded Vulture was. The MCU doesn’t always have the strongest villains, especially since Loki in the first Avengers movie. Keaton gives what could be the best villain performance since Hiddleston. His character has some real depth and understandable motivation, but that motivation could have certainly been explored just a little bit more. Who surprised me the most out of the whole cast was Jacob Batalon as Ned. He had some of the funniest lines in the movie but he wasn’t there solely for comedic relief. He actually got into the adventure with Spider-Man/Peter Parker and it made his character all the better for it.

Let’s get to the action, since that’s something these movies rely so heavily on. Is the action in Homecoming fantastic? Sometimes. It definitely has its moments, but like I said before, Spidey doesn’t have complete control of his powers yet. Vulture’s suit does look awesome in these sequences though, and Jon Watts does have a good eye for directing large action set pieces, which is certainly not an easy thing to do. Adding to the pleasing aesthetics of this movie is Michael Giacchino’s excellent score that fits every piece of action, drama, and comedy perfectly. I’ve always liked Giacchino’s work and this entry into his catalogue is extra impressive. Finally, we have to take a look at how this movie fits in with the others of the MCU. Well, to put it simply, it fits very well. Tony Stark being in the movie works great, but the character that really pulled me into the world building even more was Happy. He provided some excellent comedic relief and also helped push the overall story of the MCU forward. This movie doesn’t just get me excited for more Spider-Man movies, it also gets me pumped for whatever comes next in this universe we’ve all gotten so attached to. Finally, and without spoiling anything, keep an eye out for some of Spider-Man’s most iconic villains that share some screen time with Vulture.

Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t quite the movie I wanted it to be. It focused a lot on Peter’s high school life while I could’ve used a bit more with the villains and their evil schemes, and even some more time with Tony and Happy. This is Spider-Man’s first feature length movie in this universe, so I understand the character building, but it didn’t excite me the way I wanted it to. Luckily, Tom Holland and Michael Keaton’s performances were outstanding and the action sequences along with the music were as thrilling as they could ever be. The Wall-Crawler definitely has a good future in front of him in terms of the big screen and I can’t wait to see the next installment.

Final Grade: B+

Okja – Review

1 Jul

Bong Joon-ho has really made a name for himself as one of the most internationally acclaimed filmmakers to come out of South Korea. His films like Memories of MurderMother, and The Host were hits in South Korea, and Snowpiercer brought his talents to the west and into the English language. He has this excellent ability to create moments of humor out of very serious situation and his style is something all his own. His latest film, Okja, is a Netflix exclusive which also continues Netflix’s trend of creating quality entertainment. This film, while having very cute and funny moments, is a condemnation of the dealings of big business in the animal industry and shines a harsh light on the manufacturing of GMOs.

Okja is a genetically modified super pig who has been being raised in a rural South Korean village by a young girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her grandfather Heebong (Byun Hee-bong) for the past 10 years. Okja was first created by the Mirando corporation, run by the then new CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), to be the next best meat in the entire industry. Now that Okja is fully grown, Mirando sends its spokesperson, Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), to get Okja and bring her back to Seoul and eventually New York City. Mija’s not about to let them take Okja away from her, so she runs off to Seoul to stop Mirando and runs into the ALF, or the Animal Liberation Front, a small group run by animal activist Jay (Paul Dano). With time for Okja running out, Mija has to reluctantly team up with Jay and the ALF to expose the major wrongdoings and cruelty of Mirando and save Okja in the process.

The first thing that needs to be discussed is the whole message this movie is giving. Bong Joon-ho is known for his environmentalism and his environmentally conscious films. Okja continues this tradition with an even louder voice than ever before. The first thing he tackles is GMOs and how it can be an absolutely absurd practice to genetically enhance animals and have people ok with that, even when it’s used for something more shady than health reasons. His other stance that he takes is the two faces of major companies, no matter which industry they are a part of. In this film, Lucy Mirando and Dr. Wilcox make it impossible not to like the Mirando Corporation, but once you see past the surface you know what they are really about. This is a time when companies are backed by armadas of lawyers and P.R. teams who exist just to issue cleverly worded apologies to make everything right again. While I can back these stances and I’m glad to see them presented in a movie, Okja sometimes is a bit to heavy handed with the message to the point of sounding preachy. Other scenes have that subversive wit this film maker is known for and it more than makes up for the more overly explicit moments.

There are a few minor faults with the movie that did get a little distracting as I was watching it. Towards the end of the movie when things were really going down and the climax of the film was fast approaching, I sort of started to lose track of what the villains of the film were really up to. I feel like most of this happens because their motivations get muddled and the writing makes it so they run the gamut of evil to make them seem like the villains they truly are. They do something to Okja that is very serious and quite important, but then they go and try to do something else that completely counteracts what they originally did. It’s something of a plot hole where I feel like I could be missing something, but it just seems like intentions got muddled somewhere in the screenplay. The story is also a little slow on the uptake. A lot of time is spent introducing Mija and Okja, which is important to build the relationship, but there’s something in particular that happens in the very beginning that just seems out of place. It distracted me from where the story was heading and could be cut out of the movie all together. These are relatively minor complaints, but obvious enough that made them worth stating.

I really need to take a moment to mention how excellent Ahn Seo-hyun is in this film. Her performance of Mija is really excellent and it’s rare to see an actor this young give such an honest performance. This goes along with the fact that her best friend in the movie is a CGI super pig. She does very well at acting around something that isn’t even there and I was really impressed. Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal are both hilarious in this movie and Paul Dano gives the exact kind of performance you would expect Dano to give. I do want to touch on Okja herself. At times the CGI got a little bit cartoonish, but there were other times, especially in close up, when the CGI looked great. As a whole I was definitely a fan of the design of Okja. When I saw the first promotional picture released, I thought the design looked kind of stupid, but seeing it in action completely changed my mind. Speaking of visuals, it’s hard for me to remember just how well shot Bong Joon-ho’s films are since I always relate him to writing and character. The camerawork in Okja is sweeping and exciting and adds a whole new layer of entertainment to the film.

Okja is certainly a welcome addition to Bong Joon-ho’s filmography and is a reminder that Netflix is really killing it with their original content. I can’t say that this film ranks up there with Bong’s earlier films like The Host but it does have a strong message, some excellent characters and actors, and a CGI super pig that is surprisingly lovable. Okja is both a strong drama and a light hearted comedy that blends to create a very entertaining film despite some minor issues with motivation and pacing. I say, if you have Netflix, this is a new addition that should definitely be seen and works well to also introduce any newcomer to Bong Joon-ho’s unique style.

Final Grade: B+

Midnight Special – Review

1 Jul

Science fiction is probably my favorite genre of film and literature because it can form such a huge spectrum of stories to be told. Recently, there’s been a huge influx of space films like the resurgences of Star Trek and Star Wars, but also completely original ideas like Christopher Nolan’s excellent work with Interstellar. If not space, the market seems flooded with science fiction via superhero films. What I don’t see a lot of are smaller films that still have a grand story to tell without all the bells and whistles of major Hollywood productions. This is partially why I was so interested with Jeff Nichols’ film Midnight Special, along with the fact that it stars my favorite actor, Michael Shannon. With my expectations raised pretty high, I’m thrilled to say that Midnight Special did not disappoint.

On a seemingly quiet night, and AMBER alert is issued for an 8 year old boy named Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher). It’s revealed that he’s safe and sound in a motel with his father Roy (Michael Shannon) and Roy’s close friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton). As the trio hit the road during the darkest hours of the night, the FBI raid a religious cult’s farmland to interrogate its founder, Pastor Calvin (Sam Shepard), who raised Alton since Roy and his wife, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), left the compound. The main interrogator is NSA communication analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) who is more interested with how Calvin was able to get highly classified satellite communications through Alton. It’s soon revealed through Roy’s travels with Alton with the FBI and members of the cult hot on their tails that Alton may not be of this world, and while his origins are unknown to all parties involved, it’s evident that he’s about to reveal something that will change the world forever.

Let me just say, the way this story is told is fantastic. The structure that this narrative falls into is really the only way this story can be told. The film begins in medias res with Roy, Lucas, and Alton on the run and we as the audience don’t know why. This first part of the movie is so riveting because I really hadn’t the slightest idea of what everything meant. Was Alton an alien or some sort of experiment gone wrong? What was the deal with the religious cult? How powerful is Alton and what are his weaknesses. Nichols knows that with a story like this, there’s going to be some major questions and he uses that to the film’s advantage and creates this mysterious thread that totally morphs into a web. The atmosphere of science fiction blends well with the rural roads our travelers call home during the night, and the mystery of what is actually going on had me hooked from beginning to end.

My last review was of J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call, and I really liked that movie except for a problem with certain characters and their relevancy to the story. As much as I really liked Midnight Special, I feel like this film is a bigger offender of the same problem. Early in the movie we get introduced to the religious cult Alton comes from and its charismatic leader, Pastor Calvin. I really liked this element of the story in the way that it seemed to be blending science fiction and religion. It’s a theme that’s seen pretty frequently in the genre, but it felt really down to earth in this film. Unfortunately, this cult doesn’t really amount to much and the only impact they have on the story lasts a few scenes, one of them being quite intense. Still, I would have liked to see a lot more from the cult and especially from Sam Shepard’s character, Calvin, because he was really selling that role well.

Like I said, Midnight Special is science fiction brought down to earth. It’s something I felt like could be happening at this very moment, and I even thought about if I’ve ever driven past someone on a dark highway going through some extraordinary even like this, and I would never know. With these huge science fiction films taking us to different worlds and galaxies, it was refreshing to see a movie that just spans a couple of states with a story that deals with real people. While this movie isn’t action packed, it still has plenty of really unique special effects that I will forever associate with this film and some larger than life ideas that I feel pay off very well.

Midnight Special is truly just a wonderful story and I have to give Jeff Nichols credit for once again leading me down a road where I couldn’t have guessed the destination. This film works as science fiction, family drama, and as a mystery that’s wrapped in a very well shot and paced film. The only gripes I have come from some characters that feel underused or just completely forgotten. Still, this is some excellent science fiction that deserves more praise than it gets.

Final Grade: A

Margin Call – Review

30 Jun

Many economists believe that the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 is the worst of its kind since the Great Depression. I don’t find that too hard to believe, but I’m just as much an economist as I am Elvis Presley. In 2015, an adaptation of Michael Lewis’ best selling book, The Big Short, was released, and it told the story of how this all happened using a comedic edge to help unravel the proceedings. Before this movie, however, was J.C. Chandor’s debut film from 2011 called Margin Call. Unlike The Big ShortMargin Call tells a fictionalized account surrounding one corporation while also using very little to no humor to tell its story. I’m not faulting The Big Short at all, in fact, I loved that movie. Margin Call is, however, a much sterner look at the inner workings and failures that made this crisis happen while also being an intriguing and intelligent film.

On Wall Street, a company is facing a day of massive layoffs, much to the chagrin of its employees. Amongst these employees looking down the barrel of a loaded corporate gun is Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), a junior risk analyst who has the potential to be something even greater. After seeing his boss, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), get fired, he is given a USB drive by Dale to investigate with the ominous warning to “be careful.” What Peter finds is something that will destroy the company if it is ignored. The calvary is called in which includes the Head of Trading Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), his boss Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), and all the other higher ups until CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) arrives. What’s discovered is that the historical volatility of the company, which measures the risk of investments, is stretched incredibly thin and that if assets decrease by a certain amount, the company will go bankrupt. Thus begins the war of morals that takes places in the boardrooms on Wall Street about wether or not to sell these worthless shares or take the hit and lose a fortune.

One of my biggest fears with movies like this is if I’m going to be able to fully understand what’s going on. I haven’t the slightest idea about the ins and outs of Wall Street and trading and the stock market. Luckily for me, Margin Call had an excellent screenplay that deserves a lot of praise. The way the dialogue is set up and the way the actors are delivering their lines helps make a lot of the more technical stuff clear, but it never feels like I’m being talked down to. There’s scenes where stuff is explained, but it never stops sounding like Wall Street traders are having a discussion. When this movie isn’t in financial mode, it dives deeper into its drama and the characters. This isn’t a robotic film that shows these employees just as money hungry thieves that just so happen to be operating in the gray areas of the law. These characters are written as human beings, for better or for worse, and they’re all very memorable with all their faults and achievements.

One of the first things I noticed about this film is its all star cast of really fantastic actors. Zachary Quinto is one of the main driving forces of the entire plot and he sells his role with ease. Alongside him is the always excellent Kevin Spacey in yet another performance where he just commands the screen. He gives two speeches in this movie and while they are cinematic, they also feel natural. Another standout performance is Jeremy Irons in a role that’s the closest thing this movie has to a villain. There’s something about Irons that makes him the perfect choice to play the most reprehensible people. The way he carries himself in this movie is something I’ve seen before in real life. It’s this uncompromising and in your face smug confidence that contrasts his actual lack of important knowledge and human empathy. Probably my favorite performance in Margin Call goes to Paul Bettany, who like Irons, has a lot of confidence but it wavers ever so slightly as the story progresses until we see the real weakness behind people as rich and powerful as these characters.

While the characters in this movie are all top notch and the performers play them very well, this is also where the movie runs into a fault. In the beginning of the film, Stanley Tucci’s character is introduced, and he’s great. Unfortunately, after this beginning scene he’s not in it again until the end, and when he does finally return he doesn’t get a whole bunch to do except deliver a great monologue. After the monologue, he just falls into place with the rest of the cast. Other than underutilizing Tucci’s character, the balance of the cast and how much they are used is done very well. There’s a lot of people in this movie all with unique characterizations, so seeing them all balanced so well was a relief. It’s not rare to walk out of a movie thinking how unevenly represented all of the characters were. I’m looking at you Free Fire.

To put it simply, Margin Call was an excellent movie. After it was over, I had to really push myself to think of a couple negatives. That being said, it isn’t a perfect movie, but it is one of the most intriguing films about Wall Street and financial crises that can be found out there in the zeitgeist. There’s a great cast performing a really interesting story about a company that’s failing, but it’s also a strong tale of morality and the humanity of the people making these decisions. I say definitely give this movie a watch.

Final Grade: A-

Epidemic – Review

21 Jun

Here we are once again revisiting the work of the Mad Genius of Denmark. Of course, I’m talking about the one and the only Lars von Trier. I probably say this every time I review one of his movies, but I can’t stress enough that there’s something about his movies that keeps drawing me back in. Today, I’ll be talking about one of his earlier works from 1987 called Epidemic. This is the second part of his Europa Trilogy which also contains The Element of Crime and Europa, both films I’ve talked about already. Out of the three movies, Europa is by far my favorite, and Epidemic takes the unfortunate spot as my least favorite of the trilogy, and quite possibly my least favorite of the von Trier films that I’ve seen.

Lars von Trier and screenwriter Niels Vørsel star as themselves in this film. They are two struggling artists who, on the break of a deadline for a screenplay which bears a striking resemblance to The Element of Crime, lose everything they’ve worked on and have to start from scratch. Soon they think of an idea that features a doctor named Mesmer, who in the midst of a plague, heads to the infected area to help the sick that are there. As the duo become deeply involved in creating the story, they fail to notice warning signs of a viral epidemic breaking out all around them. The two writers travel to find inspiration and spend time discussing different points of view, which they incorporate into their story, and when the time comes to present their work to the producer, an unexpected tragedy strikes.

This is a hard film to review because it doesn’t really have that much of a story. Like some other films that I’ve reviewed, this one is almost just a collection of scenes involving von Trier and Vørsel getting inspiration for their story and becoming so obsessed that they lose themselves in their fiction. This is something that I do like about this story. As a fan of film and writing, I know that it is easy to get lost in something that you’re working on or watching, and it also can be seen as things that happen in a story, wether on paper or on screen, can have an effect on real life. The banter between the two stars is often very relaxed and believable, and their chemistry is definitely there, but the whole experience seems very long winded. There are plenty of conversations that go nowhere, and only a few times do I really see the parallels in real life and the story they are writing. It’s such a missed opportunity, and in this case the degree of minimalism they were going for just didn’t fit what the movie might have been trying to be. I’m really not sure. I honestly don’t get this movie.

So, while I’m really grasping at trying to find the meaning of this film, which I’m failing to do I might add, I can say that this is a really excellent looking movie. Say what you want about Lars von Trier, because in many instances you’re probably right, but he really has an eye for cinematography and that shows once again in Epidemic. It doesn’t quite have the visual flair as the other two movies in this trilogy, but it definitely separates itself as it’s own style. The scenes that show von Trier and Vørsel planning and writing their film are shot using 16mm film, while the scenes of the movie they’re writing is shot using 35mm film. The stuff shot in 35mm looks very crisp with very smooth lighting while the stuff shot in 16mm is the really cool stuff. All of this is harsh and grainy and highlighted by some really cool contrasts of light and shadow. This is what kept me involved with the film the most. One really annoying thing is that throughout the film, and in bright red lettering, the title of the movie is kept at the upper left hand portion of the screen. I thought it would get less distracting as the film went on, but I was sadly mistaken.

Like I said, Epidemic is broken up into two parts. There’s the segments that show the screenwriters hard at work developing their story and ignoring the warning signs of a plague and the actual movie they’re writing. Whenever the movie cuts away to the film within a film, I kinda got lost. It just wasn’t very interesting and I couldn’t help but think that if they didn’t do that, more time could have been spent developing the plague that is surrounding the writers. That’s what really interested me about the movie, but it totally fails to live up to that expectation and instead tries to be a super meta art house film that doesn’t even live up to that potential. That sounds harsh, but I expected a lot more from this movie.

I had pretty high hopes for Epidemic simply because I really love the work of Lars von Trier. This may actually be my least favorite of his films with the only competition being the absolutely idiotic Manderlay. The concept of this film is very intriguing and the look of it had me interested enough to keep watching, but it’s really the bottom of the barrel compared to his other works. It’s a pretentious, self indulgent mess that doesn’t go anywhere interesting, and the shock ending feels so tacked on that it really didn’t affect me in the least. Only hardcore von Trier fans should try this one out, just to say that you’ve seen it. Other than that, it’s not worth your time.

Final Grade: D+

War Machine – Review

21 Jun

In 2012, a book titled The Operators by Rolling Stone editor Michael Hastings was released. It details the times that Hastings spent with General Stanley McChrystal, who was the commander of the International Security Assistance Force. Soon after Hastings published an article featuring McChrystal and his team, which featured a lot of trash talking certain high level government officials, McChrystal was pretty much forced to resign his position. Now we have another look at the story in a fictionalized, satirical account of what happened by writer/director David Michôd and his latest film War Machine. I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about this movie, so I was a little hesitant going into it, but I have to say I really had a blast with this movie, despite some of its minor storytelling set backs.

General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) is a man of principles, conviction, confidence, and opinions. While all of those words do perfectly describe the officer, he’s also loud mouthed, arrogant, and a buffoon. He’s also the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan at the tail end of the war. Along with his team of sycophants and cronies, McMahon has a plan to bring peace to the Middle East with the payoff being a huge boost of his ego. Of course, along the way he has to deal with bureaucrats and politicians cutting into his plans while also trying to manage relations with Afghanistan’s new president (Ben Kingsley). While formulating a plan to head into enemy territory in a major assault that will be the high point of his career, McMahon agrees to have Rolling Stone reporter Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy) join the ranks to see the inner workings of his squad. This, along with every other bad decision of his career, will ultimately be his downfall.

The first thing that I really came to appreciate after watching War Machine is the film’s tone. It’s silly and often times over the top, but it never falls into the realm of stupidity. The dialogue has some corny jokes, but it also has some pretty whip smart moments of really good satire. While all of the humor is well and good, I was also surprised to find some depth and drama to the storytelling. I was really just looking to have some laughs with this movie but I felt a little more than that. By the end of the film, I started to analyze the character of McMahon and his intentions and the consequences of his action. There are even a few quieter moments that were actually kind of sad, and that’s an area I really wasn’t expecting the film to go based on the trailer. This isn’t just a surface level movie that exists to provide some cheap laughs. War Machine has a message and actual depth to it to support the laughs and the sillier moments in the movie.

So, War Machine is a movie with a message and it’s one that I can agree with. Unfortunately, the film’s biggest problem lies with how this message is conveyed at certain times. Throughout the movie we hear Scoot McNairy’s character doing a voice over and explaining certain things that are happening in the film or describing a character we are meeting for the first time. This helps since there are a lot of minor characters in this movie and everyone is constantly traveling around. While this helps with certain things, it also comes across as annoying more often than it should. The character of Sean Cullen is fine when he’s actually with McMahon and the other soldiers, but his voice over is so cynical and snide, while also beating the viewer on the head with the opinions being expressed in the movie. It was kind of annoying being told how I should be thinking. If the writing of the voice over was toned down just a little bit, that would have been great. I can figure out the messages and themes of movies, so I really don’t need them explained to me in this way.

One of my main draws to this movie was to see Brad Pitt in yet another role where he’s playing someone completely out of the ordinary. Pitt takes this part of McMahon and completely embodies it. From his odd posture, to his facial ticks, and even the goofy way he walks and runs, he’s perfectly believable as this character and it’s easy to forget you’re watching an actor, even if his face is so recognizable. Sir Ben Kingsley is also hilarious as the off the wall president of Afghanistan that McMahon is trying to cooperate with, even if they’re both not on the same page with each other at all. Kingsley is really hardly in this film, but most every scene has Pitt in it. Unfortunately, while everyone else around them do their jobs fine, they aren’t given a whole lot to do other than the bidding of McMahon, and while there are funny moments surrounding their characters they don’t really have too much that stands out.

At the end of it, War Machine is a pretty funny film with a memorable lead character and a sharp satirical look at America’s goings on in the Middle East. It isn’t really a heavy film, so if you’re looking for serious war and drama, look elsewhere. War Machine is packed with great satire and a tad too much cynicism for my taste. Still, as far as comedies go, it’s definitely one that’s worth a look.

Final Grade: B+

Branded to Kill – Review

11 Jun

There are many film makers that create movies that leave me baffled. David Lynch and his fever dreams like Eraserhead and Inland Empire stand out, but who can forget the psychedelic nightmares of Alejandro Jodorowsky and his films like The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre? A name that never really stood out to me was Seijun Suzuki, a Japanese film makers that was actually blacklisted from directing because of the odd and unmarketable nature of his movies. One of, if not his most infamous creations is the 1967 gangster film Branded to Kill. This is a movie that takes genre conventions and blows them out of the water. Is this film just one giant narrative mess or is it a satirical, yet experimental, look at the gangster subgenre? That’s for the viewer to decide.

Goro Hanada (Joe Shishido) has the honor of being the third ranked hit man in the Japanese underworld. He also has found a strange, and often unsettling, kind of love in his newly wedded wife, Mami (Mariko Ogawa). Hanada is assigned many important missions by the yakuza, including the killing of three seemingly unrelated civilians. He is also approached by a mysterious woman with a death wish named Misako (Annu Mari), who hires Hanada to kill a foreigner that she will be seen with the following day. When this new mission goes wrong, Hanada is soon on the run and betrayed by almost everyone he knows, with the only possible exception of Misako. Things only get worse for Hanada when he finds out the mythic hitman, known only as Number One (Koji Nanbara) is gunning for him and will stop at nothing until he is dead.

Take that summary with a grain of salt since Branded to Kill was not the easiest movie to follow, and it took me a little while after finishing it to fully process what I saw. At it’s core, this movie tells a classic gangster noir tale about murder, love, femme fatales, and betrayal. What makes Suzuki’s film so odd is the way this simple story is told. There are jumps in time and location that is incredibly jarring and takes a while to get used to. This movie is only an hour and a half long, but it felt so much longer than that because time and space was played with so much. The story could take place over the span of a week or a couple of months. Telling a totally linear story was clearly not Suzuki’s intention. While I do very much appreciate the strangeness, the odd continuity, and all of the confusion that goes along with it, I’m not sure how this really fits with telling the story. What I mean is that I can’t really thematically see any reasoning for telling the story like this. The third act gets really out of whack, which is appropriate for the action, but I’m not sure about the other two acts.

Despite Branded to Kill being totally strange, it still has a classic noir vibe which I really like. The lighting is harsh and the violence is sudden, but definitely leaves an impression. Another great example of noir that pushes the boundaries is another Japanese film called Pale Flower, which I reviewed quite some time ago. Branded to Kill takes it to another level, however, and some of it genuinely shocked me. This film came out in 1967, which is still some years before exploitation cinema hit audiences internationally. This film almost pushes things to that exploitive level. Like it comes real close. There are things in this movie that would have made mainstream audiences in America at this time lose their minds. Hell, there’s some things that would make modern American audiences gasp. I have to give Suzuki credit for daring to go the extra mile.

This brashness and willingness to go places traditional films of the time went didn’t come without a price. This is one of those movies where the history kind of provides a good context as to how to look at an appreciate the film itself. Seijun Suzuki made 40 B-movies for the Nikkatsu Company. That’s a lot of time dedicated to working for a company, but it didn’t last forever. Nikkatsu was not pleased with the original script for Branded to Kill, so they had Suzuki rework it. Instead of keeping it the traditional gangster tale, he made it something completely different, which is the movie I’ve done my best to illustrate as a crazy, untraditional ride. Nikkatsu was even more upset with the end result, and this got Suzuki fired. Jokes on Nikkatsu. Over time, Branded to Kill has become something of a cult classic.

Branded to Kill is certainly not for everyone, and it even took me a little bit of time to fully wrap my head around what I just saw. It takes a gangster story with hints of noir and turns it into a dreamscape where time and logic are unimportant. Sometimes I felt like this worked against the film, but most of the time I was really into the weirdness. I have to give Seijun Suzuki credit for making a movie that no one else at the time seemed interested in making, even if it end with him getting fired from Nikkatsu. For any fan of off the wall kind of movies, I’d recommend Branded to Kill. Anyone looking for something easier to comprehend, you can find plenty of other great gangster stories out there.

Final Grade: B