Tag Archives: philosophy

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai – Review

9 Mar

Jim Jarmusch is quite possibly one of the most critically acclaimed film makers working in the industry today. Even with all of this critical feedback, his films rarely see the light of day in terms of the mainstream market, but Jarmusch never compromises his vision for something more accessible, and I respect that. While most of his films are very interesting an defy genre conventions, one that really stands out to me is Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, which was released in 1999. It’s a story that combines a mafia crime story with an urban drama that has elements of an Eastern samurai tale. It’s a very unique movie that has a lot of elements working together, but sometimes at the expense of other aspects that could have been explored more.

Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a mysterious hit man that lives by the code of the samurai, which was written in the Hagakure. Part of the code is to honor his boss, a mobster named Louie (John Tormey) who saved his life some years before this story takes place. Part of his honoring Louie is to perform contract hits without question. One of the hits is Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow), a made man who is in a relationship with mafia don Vargo’s (Henry Silva) daughter (Tricia Vessey). After successfully performing the hit with the daughter being unexpectedly present for it, Vargo puts a hit on Ghost Dog, much to the chagrin of Louie, who is forced to go along with it to some degree. Now, Ghost Dog is going to have to come out of seclusion, and in the traditional ways of the samurai, get his revenge on the mafia family that wants him dead.

So while this does have a pretty classic revenge story going on, the core of this movie is Ghost Dog. It’s more of a character study than anything else. There’s bursts of violence that happen, but it’s the downtime that sticks with me more. There’s a great scene in a park where Ghost Dog is talking to this little girl he just met about different kinds of books. This scene added a lot of humanity to Ghost Dog, a man who is essentially a murderer for hire. This kind of humanity makes him a very conflicted and complicated character whereas he can be gentle to most anyone he meets, but also kill you without batting an eye. This study of Ghost Dog makes for slow paced storytelling, but it works for this movie. What doesn’t really work is when the slow pace slows down to a halt. There’s a lot of scenes where Ghost Dog is just driving and listening to music, which is brilliantly composed by RZA. As great as the music is, these scenes go on way to long, and unless you’re 100% invested in everything in this movie, you’ll probably find yourself drifting from time to time.

What really makes Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai unique is the seamless genre blending. Like I said before, this film works as an urban drama and a crime thriller with sprinklings of Eastern philosophies and styles. I really love when movies defy all genre conventions, which is a major strength of Jim Jarmusch. The combination of RZA’s hip hop score with the imagery of Ghost Dog practicing with his katana on a rooftop in the middle of the city is just super cool, and when he’s comparing the philosophy of the samurai with the violent revenge he’s getting on the mafia also makes for a really cool blend. Now, the problem with having all this stuffed into one movie that isn’t even 2 hours means that some stuff is lost or pushed aside. Not a lot of Ghost Dog’s past is explored and a lot of side characters are just pushed away for long periods of time when a little bit of development would have went a long way. I know this story is more about Ghost Dog, but having certain characters stand out more would have made his actions have more consequence. It’s a small price to pay for fitting in all of the cool stuff that is prominent.

Ghost Dog is a really good example of the kind of writing that Jarmusch does and why it’s really a style all his own. There’s a lot of really cool bits in this movie that shouldn’t be under appreciated. There’s a Haitian character that doesn’t speak or understand a word of English, but he’s also Ghost Dog’s best friend even though they don’t understand each other. There’s also a gangster on Ghost Dog’s hit list that has a passion for Public Enemy, especially Flavor Flav. This whole movie is filled with these strange moments that make it feel surreal, but also down to earth since everyday life can be surreal. Jarmusch is as much a writer as he is a director, and it really shows in this movie.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is definitely a cool and well made movie, and it’s one that should be remembered for being something so unique. It’s a blending of so many different genres and themes and styles while also being an in depth character study. I just wish it was a little bit longer. There’s a lot of different characters and elements to the story that could have been explored a little bit more. Still, what does remain is a very cool story about a one of a kind character. It’s definitely worth a watch or three.

Final Grade: B

Point Break (1991 & 2015) – Review

17 Nov

I’ve talked about cult classics on here many times, because those are some of my favorite kinds of movies. I don’t know how I could’ve been writing these for so long and leave out one of the kings of the cult classics: Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 film Point Break. It’s an over the top thrill ride that still has people talking and laughing about. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that it would eventually be remade in 2015 to overwhelmingly negative critical responses. Today I’m gonna take a look at both movies and see where they both went right and where they might have went wrong.

Let’s start it off with the original 1991 classic.

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FBI rookie Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) might have been at the top of his class at the academy, but he soon learns that he’s going to have to prove his skills when he’s assigned to the robbery squad in Los Angeles. Partnered with burnt out veteran Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), the two begin their investigation on a group of professional bank robbers known only as the “Ex-Presidents” thanks to their interesting choice of disguises. They soon deduce that the Ex-Presidents are more than likely a group of surfers, so Utah goes undercover to infiltrate the surfing community and find their guys. After being trained by surfer Tyler (Lori Petty), Utah meets one of the most respected people on the beach who goes by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). As Utah’s respect becomes more apparent for Bodhi’s philosophies, he starts to stray further from his connection to the FBI, but a shocking discovery about Bodhi’s involvements in the robberies changes everything.

Point Break is one of the purest definitions of the term “action movie.” It has everything from skydiving and surfing to fist fights and car chases. Not only that, but it has a whole lot of attitude to back it all up. While there’s a lot of adrenaline coursing through this movie, it isn’t anything perfect. First of all, Keanu Reeves’ acting can only be described as sub-par. Some of his lines are absolutely cringe worthy, which is something he can’t be completely blamed for. It’s also pretty uneven in terms of its action and excitement. The build up of the story can often feel disjointed and slightly distracted, but there’s a point that is highlighted by an exceptional foot chase that really brings the action up to 11. From then on, the action and the excitement doesn’t let up, and as silly as a lot of it is, Kathryn Bigelow films it with such style that Point Break has earned a spot as a cult classic.

Bigelow’s style is what really sets Point Break above the rest. First of all, the look of the Ex-Presidents is fantastic and original and I really can’t get enough of it. Other than the beautiful way the action is filmed along with the stunts that really get the adrenaline pumping, this movie has the nostalgic joy of the true MTV generation. The extreme sports along with the music and fast paced editing succeeds at putting the viewer in a certain mindset. While there are some major storytelling flaws and the writing often gets far too cheesy, this is a cult classic for a reason and required viewing for any action junkie.

Final Grade: B-

In 2015 came the remake that no one could have conceived of nor had any desire to have it be made. While this may be true about the remake of Point Break, it doesn’t change the fact that it made a good amount of money. Why does this happen?

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After seeing his friend die during one of their extreme sports performances, Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) decides to give it all up and join the FBI. After years of training, he’s temporarily made into an agent to investigate a string of heists that include motorcycles, parachuting, and skydiving. Utah is sent to France to meet up with his new partner, Angelo Pappas (Ray Winstone), and the two soon stumble upon a polyathlete named Bodhi (Édgar Ramirez) and his crew. As Utah earns the group’s trust and follows them around the world to engage in their extreme challenges that they believe will bring them close to nirvana, Utah starts to find their way of life refreshing. After things unexpectedly turn violent, Utah must re-asses the situation and start to once again think like an agent of the FBI.

While the characters and overall idea of this version of Point Break has similarities to the original, this does feel like a very different movie, and I can really respect that. This is a remake that’s trying to take chances and be different from the original. With the globe traveling, there’s more awesome stunts and death defying action to satisfy anyone. That’s where the positives for this movie end, so it was fun while it lasted. Somehow, Luke Bracey is even blander than Reeves was and I was dying just to see Reeves, Swayze, and Busey for their respective roles. I like Ray Winstone as an actor but he was completely underutilized here. As For Édgar Ramirez’s Bodhi: He was a jerk and I couldn’t stand him. All of Bodhi’s crew are such pompous asses with very little going for them to make them likable and make Utah’s job harder.

You know what else really bothers me about this and any movie guilty of this? I hate when movies try to preach to me and make me believe some certain agenda even if I happen to agree with it. This film is loaded with the sappiest “save the Earth” dialogue and faux mysticism. All of this talk happens in between the really cool action sequences which made the movie somehow even more boring than it would have been. When they aren’t talking this drivel, the screenplay tries to build the characters up with backstories and the like, but none of these scenes work well either. The only reason I can think of to see this movie are the parts when the characters are sky diving or snow boarding or whatever it is they do. This is one of the sillier movies I’ve seen fail so hard by taking itself so seriously.

Final Grade: D+

So there you have it. What I hope people take away from this is that it’s perfectly cool to go into the original Point Break and expect just to have fun. It’s not great, but it’s better than the sorry excuse for a remake. Stick with the original and you’ll be fine.

Anomalisa – Review

26 Jan

I’m proud to say that we are once again looking at one of Charlie Kaufman’s pieces of work. With films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindBeing John Malkovich, and Synecdoche, New York under his belt, it’s pretty safe to say that he is one of the most brilliant screenwriters alive, and quite possibly of all time. Now we have Anomalisa, a startlingly quiet film that comes at you like a sucker punch to the cerebellum. The joy of this movie comes from not only watching it and seeing what Kaufman has to say, but also the hours and days after that you will spend thinking about it.

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Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a self-help author who has traveled to Cincinnati to speak about his new book about becoming the best customer service representative you can be. While spending the night in his hotel, Stone becomes completely disassociated with reality and begins to see everyone as just one person (all voice by Tom Noonan). His night takes a hopeful turn when he hears a beautiful voice coming from down the hall. While investigating, he finds the source of the voice to be a young woman name Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is actually in town to see Stone speak. What follows is a night that may end up changing both of their lives, that is if Stone finally opens up about who he is and realizes the truths of other people.

Much like Kaufman’s other movies, part of the genius of Anomalisa is that it forces you to examine yourself and how you see the world and other people. What may turn some people off is that you may not like what you see when you actually look. This is exactly how I felt after I watched Synecdoche, New York, and even though these movies can make you feel a little bit less than spectacular, they do teach a very important lesson. Anomalisa, compared to his other work, isn’t quite as strange or complicated on the surface but once you think about it for a few days, you find many more layers that you never recognized before.

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When I first heard that Anomalisa was going to be a feature length stop motion film, I was thrilled. It seems like a such a perfect way for Kaufman to tell a story, and I honestly don’t think this movie would’ve packed the punch that it did if it wasn’t stop motion. This story was originally done as a sound play with the actors on different sides of the stage just reading the lines, and then it was conceived by both Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson as a 40 minute short film. The final run time ends up being an hour and a half, and my only gripe is that it might have worked better as a 40 minute short film. There’s a lot of scenes of Michael Stone just sort of sitting in his room, and I get that it’s supposed to show how mundane he views his life, but the movie might have progressed a little better as a short film.

Back to the stop motion. The animation in Anomalisa is really something to behold and I’ve quite honestly never seen anything like it. My experience with stop motion films are mostly things like The Nightmare Before ChristmasThe Boxtrolls, and Coraline, which of course aren’t the only stop motion features, but they’re the ones I feel the most familiar with. The animation and puppets in this film are something completely different in that they feel so close to being real people. This kind of goes with the themes of the movie. It reinforces the question the movie is asking about what it means to be human and what separates us from just being these walking machines programmed to mindlessly go about our everyday lives without question.

Charlie Kaufman knocks it out of the park once again with Anomalisa and has shown that the most human stories can be told without humans actually being onscreen. This is a movie that forces you to look at yourself and possibly even learn a thing or two. It’s a sad film, but in some ways it’s also a happy one. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s an exhausting emotional roller coaster that won’t be easy to forget.

The Cremator – Review

4 Jul

Back when I was in college, I took a few film history courses and in one of them we watched scenes from this Czechoslovakian film The Cremator. They were pretty startling scenes, because they combined humor, horror, and mind blowing cinematography almost perfectly. I never thought I’d actually be able to track down a copy, but it was finally released to worldwide audiences just a few years ago, after almost 40 years. Thankfully, I can say that this movie didn’t disappoint me at all, and it didn’t just contain a few good scenes. The entire movie, for the most part, is solid and it is a fantastic example, if not THE example, of Eastern European surrealism.

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Karl Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrušínsky) is a cremator at a local crematorium in Prague. What’s unusual about Mr. Kopfrkingl is that he doesn’t look at his job as just a job, but a duty that goes beyond the physical realm. He believes that cremating those who have died releases their spirit into the ether faster than it would go if they decomposed naturally, and it is his responsibility to end the dead’s suffering as soon as possible. When the Nazis begin to make their way into the Czech government in the late 1930s, Kopfrkingl is introduced to the ideals of the party, taking his ideologies about suffering and the releasing of souls to the next level. It also allows some of his more secret and deep urges to be unleashed.

It’s difficult to put into words just how strange and unsettling this movie is, but I’m certain;y going to try. While this film is an example of surrealism, it is also a prime example of Czech New Wave, which was taking over their cinemas in the 1960s and early 1970s. One of the trademarks of this kind of film making is dark and absurd humor, which The Cremator has a lot of. While it’s a very funny film, it’s also a horrific film that deals with heavy thematic material and an awful view of history. I felt like I was being dragged across a line between laughing and cringing that lasted the entire movie, but that’s exactly the effect that was desired.

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I can’t say this about most movies, but I can sure say it about this one. You don’t have to even watch this movie with the sound on to enjoy it. This is one of the most technically proficient movies I’ve ever seen, even without it going overboard. The editing and juxtaposition of different images tells a story about the characters without them even needing to say a word. One of the most talked about scenes in the movie is the very first scene where characters’ faces are quickly cut together with the mouths and eyes of animals in the zoo. A lot of the film is also shot through fish eye and wide angle lenses to distort the faces of the characters especially in the most intense of situations. It’s a masterpiece of film making and should be taught in schools all around the world, especially in terms of editing.

Other than just how great the movie looks, it also has a haunting story to tell about someone who is already disturbed pushed to his furthest point because of the Nazi regime. Taking this movie as a character study of Karl is probably how the movie should be watched. Sure it tells a story of history, but it’s how history shapes this particular person is what’s really interesting. The so called “justified” violence going on around him justifies his own violent desires, which helps him believe he’s still doing the proper thing. This makes you feel even stranger when you start laughing at some of the things he says or does.

The Cremator works as a horror movie, a dark comedy comedy, and a brilliant character study. It’s slowly becoming more and more recognized, as it should, since it is such a startling and jarring film, but also one that is significant in Czech film history. It will be my new mission to get as many people as I can to see this movie, even though it’s one that leaves you feeling a little weird way before it’s even close to being over.

The Seventh Seal – Review

30 Mar

To any film lover, the name Ingmar Bergman is one to really perk up the ears. If I hear anyone having conversation about him, I automatically want to jump in, but that would be weird. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen too often. Anyway, he;s known mostly for a large amount of dramatic works and one really fantastic horror film, Hour of the Wolf. One of his most famous and respected works is a film from 1957, The Seventh Seal. In this movie, Bergman tackles some really heavy subject matter and wraps it all up in some of the most beautiful black and white cinematography you’ll ever see. The honor of being a “classic” was invented for movies like this.

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Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is a knight returning home after the Crusades with his squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand). Block is having problems with his faith after fighting tirelessly and then returning home to find the country ravaged by the Black Plague, while Jöns is comfortable with being a nihilistic agnostic. While on a beach, Death (Bengt Ekerot) comes for Block, but to stall Death’s intentions Block challenges death to a game of chess. While the game continues, Block and Jöns keep traveling home when they run into a family of performers. The performers and the two Crusaders move through the countryside contemplating life, death, and religion as the horror that surrounds them begins to engulf everything they believe in.

Sometimes looking at movies like this can be a weird experience. A lot of the times, they aren’t really entertaining movies, but more so movies to just be appreciated for their artistic value. The crazy thing about The Seventh Seal is that through all of it’s artistic qualities and moral preaching, it’s a damn entertaining movie. The whole idea of playing chess with Death is cool enough, but using the Crusades and the Black Plague as a time to set it in makes it all the more cool. But that’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate this film as a piece of art. In fact, when this movie was released it pretty much defined modern arthouse cinema.

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One of the main draws of this movie is how beautiful everything looks. The atmosphere is completely haunting and the black and white cinematography really is a must to make this story work. Bergman got a lot of inspiration for this movie by looking at paintings of Death and other works from this time period, so a lot of this movie does actually look like a moving, black and white painting. To top off the beautiful aesthetics is a score that will chill you right to the bone. Discordant melodies that seem to be seeping through the cracks of hell flood the dying landscape like the plague, itself. It’s memorable and something I’d love to put on my iPod if I could find the music anywhere.

Another problem that normally bogs these art house movies to the ground can be there length. If an artsy fartsy movie goes on too long, then the entire impact of what could’ve been great gets obliterated. Luckily, The Seventh Seal wastes no time with unnecessary scenes, and cuts right to the chase with Death starting his chess match with Block. From there, the story keeps progressing at a steady pace, leaving me no time to get bored with it at all. I was honestly expecting to be just a little bored, but I was too busy enjoying myself the whole way through.

I’m quite surprised with The Seventh Seal. I knew that it was going to be beautiful and aesthetically excellent, but I wasn’t expecting to have as much fun as I did with it. The setting is cool and eerie, the music is chilling, and the religious and moral questioning is interesting to listen to and think about. Many people say that this is one of Ingmar Bergman’s masterpieces, as it has been praised, parodied, and honored since it was first seen in 1957. I’d have to agree with them. This film pleases in every regard and can certainly be regarded as an international classic.

 

Cloud Atlas – Review

14 Dec

It’s a rare thing to see a movie have three directors, but that’s the case with 2012’s hugely epic film, Cloud Atlas. Based off a book by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas is a collaboration between Andy and Lana Wachowski, the famed directors of The Matrix and its sequels, but also German film maker Tom Tykwer, most known for his hyperkinetic action film Run Lola Run. Together, these three film makers have achieved a bold cinematic landmark that is really like no other movie I’ve ever seen, and while it is something close to a masterpiece, there are still many areas that could have been cleaned up.

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The Pacific Islands, 1849: Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) is an American lawyer sent to the Chatham Islands to conclude a business deal for his step-father. On the voyage home, Adam begins writing a journal as his health starts deteriorating. He soon befriends an escaped slave, Autua (David Gyasi) who shows him the error of his ways of thinking.

England, 1936: Robert Frobisher (Ben Whitshaw) begins working with aging composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) in order to earn his own acclaim with his “Cloud Atlas Sextet.” While writing letters to his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy), it becomes apparent that Ayrs is just out to steal his work and profit from it in his old age.

San Francisco, 1973: Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) is a journalist hell bent on exposing the crimes of corrupt businessman Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant). She soon becomes the target of a hitman (Hugo Weaving) hired by Hooks to silence her and preventing his secrets from ever being exposed. Luckily, Hooks’ head of security (Keith David) is working against him, and begins working with Rey to uncover the truth.

London, 2012: Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) is an aging publicist who becomes wealthy overnight after his client (Tom Hanks) kills a critic. He soon has people breathing down his neck demanding money, and through a series of odd events becomes trapped in a nursing home. Along with other residents, Cavendish plans an escape back to the real world.

Neo Seoul, 2144: Sonmi~451 (Doona Bae) is a genetically engineered human working as a server in a chain restaurant that hides its fair amount of secrets. When she’s rescued by revolutionary Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess), she realizes her true destiny and becomes a voice for change and revolution.

Big Isle, 106 winters after The Fall: Zachry (Tom Hanks) is a tribesman living in Hawaii whose life is disrupted when Meronym (Halle Berry) visits the island to find a remote communications device on a mountaintop that is the supposed home of the devilish Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving). Zachry braves his own beliefs in the gods and devils of his time to escort Meronym to the device in order to help save her people.

All of these sound like completely different stories, but there is a link that connects them throughout the centuries and shows how one person’s actions can affect the future of the entire world.

What a summary to write. I have to completely break the format of my posts just to fit a fraction of everything in. This is one of the biggest movies I have ever seen that earns its place as an epic to stand the test of time. Cloud Atlas truly is a marvel and something that has to be seen to entirely be believed. It’s science fiction, fantasy, mystery, espionage, action, romance, and adventure all rolled up into one big film. Something this big has to take chances, however, and these chances do hurt this movie during some parts, but it can’t be denied that there’s way more positives than there are negatives.

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Since the story of Cloud Atlas is so huge, there is so much that the cast and crew had to do in order to make it actually work. First off, the make up in this movie is really impressive, especially considering that every actor plays multiple parts in each of the six time periods. Seeing Hugh Grant go from being a business tycoon to the leader of a cannibalistic tribe is surprising and seamless. Part of the fun is trying to spot the different actors under all of the make up. The effects are also quite good, especially in the Neo-Seoul sequence, but the effects aren’t what is really memorable. What the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer did by combining all of their efforts is almost its own special effect.

Back to how huge this movie is. It’s rare that you’ll find something as bold and large as Cloud Atlas and not have some gripes. Unfortunately, not all of the six time periods are that interesting. I was surprised to see that the New-Seoul sequence is actually the most bland part of the entire movie, even if it is the most action packed. To me, the most interesting parts of the movie was the 1936 period and the post-apocalyptic time. It sometimes got a little difficult sitting through this 3 hour long movie when some of it really started to drag. Fortunately, the editor of this movie cut the sequences together so perfectly that there was something to grab my attention as it was starting to get dull.

While many would probably disagree with me and call me insane, I believe that Cloud Atlas is a minor but strong modern day masterpiece. It’s a movie that I can see being remembered many years from now when people look back to study this time in film history. The Wachowskis and Tykwer are all talented film makers, and this collaboration showed what they are truly capable of. It may not be a perfect film and can often feel like a chore, but in the end it really is a one of a kind cinematic experience.

Cosmopolis – Review

30 Aug

Anyone with a real interest in film has seen a David Cronenberg film at one point in their lives. From what I’ve seen of his filmography (ScannersA History of ViolenceThe FlyVideodromeEastern Promises), my own opinion of him is a real mixed bag. I love some of his movies and I hate just as many, so I went into Cosmopolis with a blank slate. I wasn’t expecting to love it nor was I expecting to hate it. I was merely going to see what happened without any pre-judgement. Well, unfortunately for me… very unfortunately for me, Cosmopolis is Cronenberg’s worst movie yet and shows almost no sign of how talented he really is. This movie is just abysmal.

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Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is a 28 year old billionaire who’s interests for the day lie in an investment in the yuan that may crumble his entire fortune, but more importantly, he needs to get across town so he can get a haircut by his favorite barber. Packer’s trip to the barber soon becomes an odyssey into himself and his beliefs that is complicated by the funeral procession of his favorite rapper and also high security due to the president being in town. As Packer travels through the streets in his high tech stretch limo, he comes in contact with advisors, friends, and lovers that he shares deep existential philosophies with in order to better understand his feelings as a human being. After these conversations don’t help him better understand his own existence, he resorts to violence in order to truly feel something real.

What really pisses me off about this movie is that it had real potential to be something really awesome. It’s like Bret Easton Ellis, William S. Burroughs, and Stanley Kubrick had a baby, but something went really wrong during the pregnancy resulting in this mess of a movie. I hardly even want to call it a movie because at times it really didn’t feel like one. Have you ever been reading a book and thought that a particular passage was boring so you kind of just half read it, but mostly skimmed over it? That’s what I wanted to do with a handful of scenes from Cosmopolis, but couldn’t. Instead I had to sit through these scenes and listen to these people talk and not give a shit about what they had to say. This movie was based off a book, so it makes sense that it feels like one and I’m not sure how good the book actually is, but the translation from page to screen just didn’t work at all.

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It’s so disappointing to see this movie fail since the cast and the other talent involved are more talented than this movie would begin to let on. I’ve already said that Cronenberg is much better than this, even though I really don’t like all of his movies. I still respect him as a film maker, but this movie is a bad example of his work. I also don’t have a problem with Robert Pattinson, although I know a lot of people do. He tries his best in this movie, but he just can’t do anything good with what he’s given. I actually enjoyed watching him though. That’s one thing I will say good about this movie. The only persons who actually function well in this movie are Paul Giamatti, who doesn’t even show up until the end, and Kevin Durand who plays Packer’s bodyguard. Everyone else besides the three I just mentioned are terrible. Every performance is stale and annoying, but I don’t think that it’s all of the actors’ faults.

What is really troublesome about this godforsaken movie is the writing. It’s shot nicely and I firmly believe that the actors try and do their best with what they were given, but the writing is just so horrendous that it’s almost unbearable to listen to. It’s like  encyclopedias on finances and basic existential philosophy were giving me half assed lectures for the entire two hours of my life that this movie made up. Listen, I’m happy to sit through a movie that’s loaded with philosophy. Hell, I loved watching Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, but Cosmopolis has no soul or heart. It was so dead pan and detached, that I couldn’t connect with any of the philosophy that Cronenberg was shoving down my throat. If you want to make a movie that’s heavy on philosophy, it’s kind of important that people can connect with it.

Cosmopolis is ultimately a failure on David Cronenberg’s part, which is upsetting since he had a lot of cool ideas to work with. Instead, what I got was a lecture by characters who had no personalities. And you know what? I get it. It may seem cool and edgy to make a film with a rich character who is completely detached from society. Just look at American Psycho and The Social Network. What made those movies great? There was still humanity in them that allowed the audience to connect. Cosmopolis is completely devoid of any humanity making it one of the most boring and pretentious movies that I have seen in a while. I don’t think I could hate this movie anymore than I already do.

Lucy – Review

14 Aug

Luc Besson is one of those film makers that you either love or hate, or don’t even realize who he is and how many movies you’ve actually seen that he’s been involved with. Personally, I think he’s great. Many of his action films that he either wrote, produced, directed or any combination of the three are normally very enjoyable in that switch your brain off kind of way. It is true, however, that he hasn’t really made an “excellent” film since the days of The Professional and La Femme Nikita, and Lucy certainly isn’t breaking that pattern. I will say that, like The Family and The Transporter and Taken, this is a fun movie that you definitely need to turn off for and just buckle in for the ride.

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Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is not having a good day what with being pressured by her boyfriend to be the middle man during a transaction with the sadistic Korean drug lord, Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik). The deal goes down well, but now Lucy is left in the custody of Mr. Jang to serve as a mule in order to get Jang’s new drug into the hands of people all over the world. What Jang wasn’t counting one was the surgically implanted drug packet breaking inside Lucy’s stomach and barraging her with the effects. Soon, Lucy begins evolving into something more than the human capacity could possibly handle and teams up with the world renowned psychologist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) and French police captain Pierre (Amr Waked) to figure out how to stop her brain from overloading her body’s nervous system, but also to get her revenge on Mr. Jang for causing all of this in the first place.

Before anyone even needs to say anything, of course this movie’s premise is total bullshit. It’s been proven that humans use more than 10% of our brain capacity leaving that idea to be nothing more than an outdated theory. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a really cool idea for a movie. In fact, Lucy is pretty similar in idea to the 2011 film Limitless starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. Think of Lucy as Limitless on steroids. There’s plenty of really cool action in this movie and some pretty neat special effects. Plus, Scarlett Johansson, who has already shown this in the multiple Marvel films she’s been in, can be a complete badass if the occasion calls for it. It’s everything you’d expect from a Luc Besson movie, with a bit of a philosophical twist.

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One thing I do have to complain briefly about is the time spent in between all of the cool things. The gripe I have with Besson’s films, save for one or two, is that he knows how to craft really cool ideas and scenes that make for a memorable movie, but the down time in these movies really leave something to be desired. This is true also with Lucy even though there isn’t a whole lot of down time to be had. When there is, however, it is anything but interesting and I found my mind drifting when I should have been paying attention. Also, it’s kind of odd to have philosophical discussions in movies like this, especially when the premise is already complete ludicrous. I found the attempts at philosophy a little heavy handed and unnecessary. All you need to do for this movie is check your brain at the door and don’t listen to anything deep Besson wants you to hear. This is an action movie to the core and that’s it.

After saying all that, I really do have to say that this is a totally kick ass movie. I’ve liked it a little more since I’ve seen it, even though I don’t think I’m ever going to really love the movie. There’s one scene in particular where Lucy, without aiming at all, shoots through a door a few times, almost with precision. I knew what was going to happen, but it was so cool to see the accurate effects of her shooting even through the hard wood door. The movie is filled with awesome scenes like that, and it’s so much fun to watch Lucy evolve more and more, making her enemies nothing compared to her. Besson really outdid himself on the cool factor for this film.

Lucy isn’t particularly a great film, but in terms of summer popcorn fun, you can’t really go wrong here. I’ve heard a lot of talk about how the movie doesn’t really have a point and the science doesn’t even make sense. It makes me wonder when people forgot that going to the movies was supposed to offer a couple hours of FUN. Notice the emphasis on fun. To those of you who know how to have a good time at the movies and check your brain at the door, Lucy will provide you with some quick and memorable entertainment, despite its major scientific and narrative flaws. For those of you who can’t get the sticks out of your asses, may I offer you some Godard and tea?

 

Dark City – Review

4 May

Getting lost in a really good science fiction story may be on my top 10 list of the best ways to spend my time. I recently had the pleasure to see one of the most surprisingly excellent science fiction films that I have ever seen. That move is Alex Proyas’ 1998 film Dark City. Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post had this to say about the movie, “If you don’t fall in love with it, you’ve probably never fallen in love with a movie, and never will.” I think that’s the best way to summarize how great this movie actually is, and it’s going to be hard to pick out all of the great things while keeping this review a reasonable length.

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When John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a bath tub with no memory of who he is or what he’s doing there, he becomes worried. When he soon sees that there is a prostitute who’s been brutally murdered in the same hotel room as he is, he becomes terrified. As he wanders the city he finds himself in, which is suffering from a case of perpetual darkness, Murdoch soon learns that he is being chased by a mysterious group of pale men with psychokinetic powers. As the mystery thickens, Murdoch learns he also has a less than faithful wife (Jennifer Connelly) and a psychologist (Kiefer Sutherland) who seems to want to help him, but who is also involved with the group of pale men called the Strangers. Meanwhile, Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) is in charge of a team that is investigating the mystery surrounding the murdered prostitute, but soon finds himself wrapped up in Murdoch’s own mystery that will completely change the lives of every citizen in the city.

A lot of stuff happens in this movie, and it isn’t easy getting in the important plot information to give a skeletal version of the story without ruining the plethora of surprises that this movie has up its sleeve. That being said, if you’re interested in seeing this movie at all, make sure you pick up or find a copy of the director’s cut, because the studio that was producing this movie demanded Proyas put a voice over in the beginning that was meant to give some background information, but ended up spoiling a lot of the mystery behind what is actually going on. That was, in my opinion, the best part of this movie. In the very beginning when Sewell’s character wakes up, we know just as much as he does which is absolutely nothing. As the film rolls on, I found myself trying harder and harder to figure out what was going on before any of it was revealed.

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With all of that talk of mystery, I have to point out just how well written this movie is. As someone who studies screenwriting with big hopes of doing just that for a living, I found myself thinking that this movie should be shown and studied in classes that have to do with writing. In terms of story, this is one of the best written movies I have ever seen. Alex Proyas along with Lem Dobbs (The LimeyHaywire) and David S. Goyer (Blade IIThe Dark Knight) have crafted an incredible screenplay filled with twists, suspense, and philosophy. Almost every good science fiction story has some sort of lesson or warning, and the one in Dark City asks a very good question: What makes us human? Is it our intelligence, moral code, or something else?

I can’t say a whole hell of a lot about the acting. It’s serviceable, but nothing special save for Richard O’Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Mr. Hand. Fun fact about this movie, the Strangers are actually based off his character of Riff Raff in Rocky Horror. Anyway, while the acting is fine, I should talk more about the set design. Anyone who has seen Proyas’ earlier film The Crow knows how good he is when it comes to creating environments covered in darkness. Dark City just drives that point home. The city is a dark version of cities from many different eras of time. We never know what time period it is since the scenery is such an eclectic mix of old and new. Buildings seem like they could fall apart at any second and the lights and darks set a whole new bar for the subgenre of tech-noir.

It’s nice in these reviews to end by saying that I have a new movie to add to my list of favorites. Dark City is a mesmerizing and heady trip into the depths of science fiction and philosophy. There are a lot of stylistic similarities to Blade Runner, but (in a most unpopular opinion) I would much rather spend my time watching Dark City. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see what Roger Ebert called “the best movie of 1998,” then get working on finding a copy. It’s pretty mind blowing stuff.

Waking Life – Review

22 Nov

Richard Linklater has an interesting way of story telling. From movies like Dazed and Confused and A Scanner Darkly, it is evident that he has a knack for setting up a film’s narrative using supposed randomness shown in a very true to life kind of way. Waking Life is much like that, except broken up in such a way as to mimic a dream. Also like A Scanner DarklyWaking Life uses real actors but is completely animated afterwards via rotoscope. The result is a very wordy philosophical journey through a man’s dream as he begins to dig deeper into themes such as existentialism, follies of society, and philosophies of art.

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An  unnamed man (Wiley Wiggins) is asleep, but what’s going on inside his head seems all too unreal for it to be his actual life. He begins wandering the dreamscape, meeting different people and hearing their thoughts on life and philosophy. This man’s dream takes a strange turn when he realizes that he is dreaming and is having a hard time waking up. As he begins dealing with his lucid dreaming, he also starts interacting more with these dream characters and learning more about what it means to dream, how it relates to life, and how to get out.

This is a very bizarre film, which is a very high compliment. There is almost no narrative at all, with the exception of the later conflict of the main character trying to get out of his dream. All up until that point, all we get is a series of random meetings between the main character and other people, or between two completely unknown characters without having Wiggins present at all. This makes it a very difficult movie to watch if you aren’t interested in the subject matter, but luckily if you aren’t quite into philosophy, you can at least look at the beautiful rotoscope animation that, at the time (in terms of live action films), was very new and still equally as remarkable.

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Bob Sabiston, a computer scientist and animator at the MIT media lab, came up with a computer assisted rotoscoping process that was used for this film. In fact, Waking Life, is the first feature film to use this rotoscoping technique, and the result is mind blowing. The scene of this movie is a dreamscape, which is perfect for this psychedelic rotoscoping. While the different philosophers and other characters are talking, there are occasional triply animated effects that happen that match their words or ideas. Also their distorting facial features and bodies look really weird and cool. I absolutely love it and worship the grounds these animators walk on after spending three years alone rotoscoping this film.

Everything else about this movie is pretty debatable. The ideas and topics brought up are of a wide variety and some are really interesting, while others are of no interest to me whatsoever. Scenes about existentialism and film theory are all really cool, but then there are topics about social change and how the government is an evil tyranny that we need to rise against comes off as sophomoric and reminds me of discussion I had in high school.

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Waking Life is an odd film that is not for people who are expecting mindless entertainment. It’s a lot of talking and sitting and thinking, not a lot of action. The whole movie was made for us to tap into a deeper part of our brains and accept different ideas from many different people who are very passionate for what they believe in. Their passion helps drive this movie. The rotoscoping is beautiful and the discussions are thought provoking, but it’s certainly not an easy ride.