Tag Archives: true story

Machine Gun Preacher – Review

25 Aug

There are some stories that are just begging to be adapted into movies, and some of these examples come from real life events. One of these stories is the life and work of a man named Sam Childers, who gave up his life of crime after finding religion and begin working and defending children in the Sudan whose lives have been uprooted by civil war. That sounds like a movie just begging to be made. Well, it was made, titled Machine Gun Preacher, and released back in 2011. With source material like that, nothing could have went wrong. Unfortunately, a lot did go wrong, and while this is a competent movie in some regards, there’s so much tedious and annoying aspects that bring it way down.

machiengun-v2final

After being released from prison, Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) quickly falls back into a life of drug use and crime. It isn’t until he almost kills a man that he asks his wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), to help him. This prompts her to expose Sam to religion and the redemption that is has to offer. After being accepted by the faith, Sam learns of the tragedies happening in Sudan and quickly makes the trip to Africa to help in any way he can. After seeing the horrors first hand, Sam, with the help of his newfound friend Deng (Souléymane Sy Savané), opens up an orphanage to help all of the children affected by the violence in the region. This is an almost impossible task with the LRA constantly attacking from all ends, which forces Sam to take up arms and fight the LRA with his own brand of justice.

With real life source material, where could this movie possibly go wrong. This sounded like an amazing story of heroism that was being done by a seemingly normal guy with a seedy past. There are some positive things in this movie that are memorable. For one thing, it shines a glaring light on events happening in Africa that, at the time the movie was getting made, was not getting nearly enough attention. It also has some very well done scenes. One scene in particular shows Sam Childers arriving in a village that has been completely destroyed with all the people murdered. This is a chilling scene that works very well, and it shows some really impressive acting chops from Gerard Butler. Unfortunately, these scenes are really few and far between, with everything else being pretty derivative and, towards the end, angering.

machine_gun_preacher632

While the story of this movie is incredible, and the real life Childers is certainly one of a kind, I have to look at the movie as a movie and not as a document of real life. That being said, there have been movies like this made before, but made better. The idea of people from a more well to do area being dropped in another area that is a complete war zone only to have them change by the experience has been explored in multiple movies. One of my favorite examples of this is the highly underrated film, The Bang Bang Club. This is the same kind of story arc with Machine Gun Preacher, and while it does have its own unique elements, a lot of the drama felt like it was ripped from a text book, and devoid of any actual emotion. By the end of the movie, and throughout all the ups and downs, I never really felt like I connected at all with Childers, the people who worked with him, or his family and friends. The only character I felt any kind of emotion towards was Michael Shannon’s character. That may be because I’m a huge fan of Shannon, but I also think his character was used just right and written very well.

Finally, I have to talk about the character of Sam Childers himself. Now, I’m not going to claim I know anything about the guy, other than what I saw in the movie. I didn’t do any research on him, so I can only speak about how he’s portrayed in the film. At first, I was into his character and behind his mission 100%. As the movie went on however, he just got more and more annoying and aggravating. The decisions he was making in Africa mixed with the way he was treating his family just got to be way too much. It’s pretty typical in a movie like this for a character to reach low points, but these low points happened at a really weird time and made the rest of the movie almost unwatchable, just because I hated how over the top they made Childers’ personality change. It’s hard to enjoy a movie when the main character becomes so unlikable.

Machine Gun Preacher had the potential to be a lot better than it actually was. The story of Sam Childers giving up his life of crime to go to Africa and save orphans from the LRA sounds ripe to the taking. Unfortunately, the movie became too clichéd too fast, the drama failed to hit as hard as it should have, and the character of Childers became very unlikable towards the end of the movie. I really wanted to like this movie, but it just really didn’t do it for me.

 

War Dogs – Review

22 Aug

There’s so many things that happen in the world that I’m am blissfully unaware of. For example, I never really think about the lucrative and shady business of international arms dealing. I’d be surprised if that crossed a lot of people’s minds on a daily basis. When I think of films that cover this topic, my mind automatically goes to the Andrew Niccol film Lord of War, which was actually a very good movie. The last person I would have ever thought to make a movie about the arms trade is Todd Phillips, whose directed such films as The Hangover and its sequels, Due Date, and Old School. It’s been proven that comedy film makers have the know how to make exceptional, satirical films about real life events, like Adam McKay did with The Big Short. I was very excited to see War Dogs and while the movie didn’t 100% live up to my expectations, it was still a really fun time.

wardogsposter

David Packouz (Miles Teller) feels like his life is going absolutely nowhere, especially after ordering an absurd amount of sheets with hopes of selling them to nursing homes. Right as that business fails, he finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant, and he has no money to give in order to raise a child. Enter Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), Packouz’s childhood friend, who has done very well for himself in the business of small time arms dealing. The reason Diveroli has returned to Miami is to go legit and start his own arms dealing business, and he wants Packouz to be there as his partner. Thus is the beginning of AEY, which soon becomes a multi million dollar business. This skyrockets Packouz and Diveroli to the top of the arms dealing chain, but it also puts them in a whole lot of trouble when they believe they can get away with more illegalities than they actually can, while also crossing paths with Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper), a shady businessman that can’t be trusted.

I feel like I can’t put War Dogs into a subgenre of true story/crime/comedies that often deal with white collar “gangsters” who live their lives from one bad choice to the next. This movie had a lot of similarities with Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, but it would also fall in nicely with smaller films like Casino Jack and Middle Men. I really like movies like this that take a comedic look at people who involved themselves in business that is pretty far on the other side of the law. I mean, let’s face it, real life can actually be this funny sometimes, even if you are breaking the law on the federal level. That being said, this film provides all of the tropes you would expect to see in a movie like this, and even though I felt very familiar with this movie, it still had scenes that were wholly unique and strongly separates itself from other movies like this.

ARMS AND THE DUDES

While Todd Phillips definitely has his own brand of humor and style on this movie, which is why I said War Dogs stands well on its own, I couldn’t help but think that at certain moments it felt like a bit much. I’m all about the voice overs and cool music choices, but there were some scenes where it just became a bit too heavy handed. There were also these lines of dialogue that would come up to sort of break the movie into chapters, which might have seemed like a cool idea, but it would have been a lot cooler if they actually thought of chapter titles instead of just using lines that were going to be spoken. On the flip side, there were some really great scenes that featured this kind of over the top film making and editing. One hilarious scene in particular has the U.S. Army show up just in time to save the two dealers from hostiles to the classic rock musings of CCR. What I mean to say is that sometimes Phillips sort of overdid some things, but a lot of the crazy stylistic things that he throws in does add to the hectic nature of the lives these two guys led and it ultimately works to the movies advantage.

War Dogs is a very character driven story, and it rests firmly on the shoulders of both Miles Teller and Jonah Hill. They’re really the only two characters in this movie that matter, which puts a lot of pressure on these two actors. People have been raving about Hill’s performance as Efraim Diveroli, and I completely agree with all the positivity being thrown his way. He really hams up everything about this character making him into a classic cinematic slimeball that thinks he runs the world, but is actually full of a lot of weakness and stupidity where it really matters. It’s a complicated character that Hill seems to have a firm grasp on, and it certainly helps that he’s also one of the funnier guys working in the industry right now. Teller plays a much more subdued character, who may be quiet but provides an excellent everyman for the viewers to relate to. He plays a great straight man in the odd couple that is AEY, and this chemistry is what made me really believe in these characters.

All in all, War Dogs was a really fun movie that was filled with style and very good performances, and also a true story that is almost mind boggling. Unfortunately, I feel like it didn’t quite reach the mark that it was trying to hit, either because it was an exercise in style over substance or possibly because not enough was done with the material. Regardless of its shortcomings, I still laughed quite a bit at a lot of the dialogue and the situations, and was really intrigued by the story. Not only is there plenty of comedy, but there’s a lot of drama and character development which made this more than a hollow shell of a movie. It’s not the best of the year, but it’s a movie I’ll remember and recommend.

I Saw the Light – Review

12 Apr

There are many great artists who die way before they’ve done everything they had the potential to do. This goes for musicians, film makers, actors, painters, and really anything you can think of. Hank Williams is one of those people that falls into this category devastatingly well. Much in the vein of what Walk the Line did with Johnny Cash, Marc Abraham’s I Saw the Light tells about the ups, downs, and inevitable end to Hank William’s career and personal life. It’s a very interesting movie about a very interesting person, but it unfortunately stumbles into pit falls that a lot of biopics do. It’s a bit too long, unfocused, and brushes over points of interest far too much to really make this a movie that comes close to reaching its full potential.

ISawTheLight_Poster

The film begins in 1944 with Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) and Audrey Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen) getting married in a gas station in a small town in Alabama. What follows is the story of how Hank rose to fame and the toll it had on his life and on his family. He started out humble enough, playing small shows around town and hosting his own radio show where his band and his wife sang songs early in the morning. Eventually, Hank goes on to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and that’s where his career really took off. With a string of hit songs and a winning stage personality, it seemed America found itself a new voice. What people didn’t know was Hank’s troubling addiction to drugs and alcohol and the strained relationship with Audrey and his children that was caused by these addictions and his sharp rise to stardom.

People who make biopics are undoubtedly taking on a huge responsibility. First of all, their subject has to be done properly for their fans or followers or even the subjects themselves to fully respect what was created in their name. There have been some huge successes like Walk the LineSelma, and even Love and Mercy. Unfortunately for I Saw the Light, this Hank Williams biopic doesn’t stand nearly as tall as the movies I’ve mentioned. First off, I’m a little concerned on how balanced the movie is in terms of his successes and his failures. I’m no expert on Williams, but I felt the film focused mostly on his addiction to drugs and alcohol, and not so much on his time at the Grand Ole Opry or really exploring his music further. All in all, I Saw the Light was a pretty depressing movie for the most part of it.

mag

This isn’t to say that there isn’t some great drama and music in this movie, because there are scenes that work really well. One particular scene shows Hank Williams showing up to a concert completely out of his mind and making a complete fool of himself before he even plays a note of music. That was a really good scene that’s unfortunately cut a little too short. A lot of things are cut short in the movie, even when it comes to character development. There are a few friends of Hank that show up throughout the movie that we are supposed to care about, but nothing is ever done to make the characters appear real or change. Even though the movie is about Hank Williams doesn’t mean that they couldn’t explore the lives of the people in his band a little as well. On the flip side, the music that is in the movie all sounds very authentic and really puts you in the time period. Hiddleston and the rest all perform the songs very well and I found myself tapping my toes on more than one occasion.

Speaking of Tom Hiddleston, I’m not even sure he was in this movie. For all I know, I was watching the real Hank Williams, who rose from the grave just so he could star in his own biopic. Hiddleston can now be ranked with those few actors who have completely transformed themselves into a character to the point where you don’t even feel like you’re watching them and you can lose yourself in the story. His movements, voice, posture, and expressions all seem so meticulously planned to create the most authentic representation of Hank Williams that he could possibly conjure up. If anything, people should just see the movie for Hiddleston’s performance.

I Saw the Light has a lot of problems with how the story is told and what the story focuses on, but there are also plenty of good things in the movie. Tom Hiddleston is fantastic, the music is so much fun to listen to, and I really had no problem immersing myself in the time period. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I got the full story on the life and death of Hank Williams. This is a movie that could have been great, but instead it’s just pretty good. Is it worth seeing? Yeah, I think so, but don’t expect to be completely fulfilled by the end of it.

The Revenant – Review

19 Jan

Last year, Alejandro González Iñárritu took film making to a whole new level with his Academy Award winning film Birdman. That film really blew me away, and continues to do so every time I watch it. Could it be possible that Iñárritu has topped himself just a year later? Well, yeah. He did with The Revenant. Now nominated for 12 Academy Awards and already winning Best Drama at the Golden Globes, I was more than a little excited to see it. Now that I have, it may be my new favorite movie of all time.

2929_the-revenant_E2F5

In 1823, an American hunting party is traveling through the wilderness of the unexplored north western territories of the United States. After being attacked by a hostile Native American tribe, the party’s numbers is drastically reduced. While scouting ahead to make sure the coast is clear and possibly find food, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is mauled by a mother grizzly bear trying to protect her cubs. Glass survives the bear’s attacks but is left severely injured and close to death. Three volunteers, including Glass’ half Native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) decide to stay behind and give Glass a proper burial. Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), one of the volunteers, is desperate to get home and get paid betrays Glass and leaves him for dead. What Fitzgerald wasn’t counting on was Glass’ will to live and desire to get his revenge.

What makes The Revenant a perfect movie in my honest opinion is that it sets out to do everything a movie should, and succeeds in doing so. For two and a half hours, this movie kept me 100% captivated. I felt like I was right there in the middle of the wilderness with Hugh Glass, which made it more than just watching a movie. It made it feel more like an experience. The reason for all of this excitement is because The Revenant is both an artistic masterpiece, but also tells a grueling story of betrayal, vengeance, life, and death that is filled with the rawest performances of humanity that I may have ever seen onscreen.

A scene from 'The Revenant'

Like with Birdman, one of the main reasons to check this movie out is the mind blowing cinematography. The Revenant is photographed by a name everyone should know, and that’s Emmanuel Lubezki, who won consecutive Academy Awards for his work on Gravity and Birdman. It would be pretty wild if he won three years in a row, but he honestly deserves it. Like in the previous films he’s worked on, The Revenant has a lot of really long takes where so much is put into one shot, which makes it feel even more like I was watching something straight out of reality. To add more complications, Iñárritu wanted the entire film to be shot using all natural lighting, which is a truly remarkable feat. I really can’t praise the cinematography enough.

Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Yes Leonardo DiCaprio is just as fantastic in this movie as you’ve been led to believe. It’s one of those times where I wasn’t watching DiCaprio act anymore. He looked and acted like he completely became Hugh Glass, and that’s not the first time he’s done that with a character. While it isn’t the first time, it is the fullest transformation he’s ever made. Another actor that really makes the movie work is Tom Hardy. Hardy had quite a year in 2015 and has shown himself to be one of the prominent blockbuster actors. Now in The Revenant he plays a villain that is so easy and fun to hate, which makes Glass’ story of revenge that much better.

It may just be the excitement talking, but The Revenant is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and may have taken the top spot for my favorite movie I’ve ever seen. It has everything I look for in a movie from the story, to the art design, and the acting. This is a very intense, gritty, and real movie that at times feel hard to sit through, but that’s sort of the whole point. Alejandro González Iñárritu has really outdone himself this time and ended 2015’s film year with a resounding bang.

The Big Short – Review

5 Jan

If I had some choices about who would be responsible for making a movie about the financial crisis of 2007, my first thoughts would go to Martin Scorsese since he tackled Wall Street in his film The Wolf of Wall Street or Aaron Sorkin because of his countless works on politics, journalism, and business. One of the last people I’d think of is Adam McKay, who is known for some very funny movies like The Other Guys and the Anchorman films. Here we are, however, in the weird alternate universe where McKay is apparently just the right man for the job and the end result is The Big Short. This is one of those rare movies that takes very serious subject matter and makes something of a joke out of it, but this is also a very intelligent and upsetting film that has become one of the highlights of film in the past year.

The_Big_Short_teaser_poster

Over the course of a few years in the mid-2000s, there was a group of people who saw the inevitable collapse of the housing market, and decided to use that to their own advantages. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is a hedge fund manager who first notices this and creates a credit default swap market to bet against the housing market. Because of this audacious movie, Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling), a big shot trader, and Mark Baum (Steve Carell), another hedge fund manager, also start betting against the housing market. Baum, however, has a much more personal vendetta against the banks and makes it quite clear in his ventures. Finally, two young investors, Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) are hoping to get rich quick off this and enlists the help of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help with the major financial decisions, much to his chagrin. This is the group that got rich off of this, but also fought to show the real problems with the system.

A movie about this recent financial crisis has all the potential to be way over my head and not entertaining in the least, but McKay handles this material in such a way that everyone should be able to feel involved in the story. The characters, while all based on real people, are very vivid to the point of sometimes being a little over the top, but that sort of works in really illustrating who these people were. Another problem I thought I was going to have with The Big Short is that everything just wasn’t going to make sense to me. I know next to nothing about how all this stuff works, but the makers of this movie realized a lot people don’t. In a way that’s completely in character and funny, the characters of this movie often break the fourth wall to explain things in the most basic of ways. It’s an interesting stylistic choice and one that really helped the movie a lot.

big-short-700x300

My only complaint with The Big Short is that sometimes it felt a little bit too over-stylized. The condescending voice overs were funny and the kinetic time lapses worked well, but there were a lot of unexpected jump cuts that I wasn’t really feeling. It was just weird to have a really good, dramatic scene happening and then it’s all of a sudden cut short for the sake of style. The emotions were working just fine in the scene, and a jump cut wasn’t needed as some strange exclamation point. Still, the editing was one of the stand out aspects of the movie. It helped to convey the confusing, nonstop, and almost ADHD kind of living that these people did before the big crash.

Finally, this movie is getting a lot of buzz for the acting. This Sunday coming up is the Golden Globes, and this movie has two nominations for acting. These are for Steve Carell and Christian Bale. Really, the acting in this movie is what makes it really great. The writing and humor is all spot on and the message really hits home, but seeing all of these actors transform themselves into different people yet again is really a treat. Steve Carell gives the most dramatic performance in the movie and really walks a fine line between being hilarious and tragic. Christian Bale does exceptional work as Michael Burry by using a lot of nervous energy to really make the character whole. Ryan Gosling also steals practically every scene he’s in with all of his character’s sickening machismo. The only person that is underutilized is Brad Pitt, which is upsetting since he could’ve done a lot more.

The Big Short succeeds in everything it set out to do. It’s both funny and upsetting, chaotic and quiet, large and personal.  The performances are all top notch and deserve major recognition while the writing really breaks the story down in ways that everyone can understand it. I’m really very impressed by Adam McKay and expect to see a lot more work like this from him in the future. While there are some minor flaws that can be nitpicked, The Big Short is a big success.

Bernie – Review

29 Dec

In 1996, the small town of Carthage, Texas experienced the most bizarre act of violence it has ever seen perpetrated by the least likely of suspects. This strange, almost surreal tale, caught the attention of a journalist named Skip Hollandsworth, and his article on the event caught the attention of film making auteur Richard Linklater. After the two put their minds together, the end result of their collaboration was the 2011 dark comedy Bernie. Murder may seem like a really heavy subject to make a joke out of, but in the hands of Linklater it has the ability to be both funny and upsetting, which makes Bernie an odd, but lovable dark comedy.

MV5BMTk2NDEwODU5M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDMwNzc0Nw@@._V1_SX640_SY720_

It would be a strange thing if the most popular and loved man in town was the assistant mortician, but that is the case of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black). In the small town of Carthage, Texas, Bernie serves the community in the ways he knows best: making the deceased look their best for their funeral and comforting the the grieving family in the days and weeks that follow. Normally it all works out fine, but Bernie gets in a little over his head when he gets involved with Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), the meanest woman in Carthage who recently lost her wealthy husband. While Bernie does become good friends with her, their relationship deteriorates over the course of a few years which pushes Bernie to do something unthinkable and completely out of character. As questions start rising about Nugent’s sudden disappearance, District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) starts building a solid case for murder.

Bernie works really well on a few different levels. For one thing, you have some surprisingly fantastic performances, but then you also have a really unique true crime story that works because of how funny the screenplay is and how interesting the questions is raises are. It’s quite clear that Bernie Tiede did something egregiously wrong and deserves to be punished, but I found myself siding with the people of the town when they were lobbying to make his sentence a lot less harsh than it should have been. It made me wonder about the adage that the punishment should fit the crime. Can there be circumstances where that shouldn’t be as strongly applied? I don’t want to analyze this movie too much because it doesn’t really need to be, but it was nice to see that there was more to it than just a dark comedy. It had a point of view that could rouse up debate, which is a good thing when working in this genre.

hr_bernie_13

Going into Bernie, I was expecting it to be pretty straightforward when it comes to structure, but this is actually a very strange example of how to make a movie. Leave it to a film maker like Richard Linklater to take what could’ve been a pretty average movie and work it into something different. What makes this movie really unique is that there are interviews throughout the length of the film with some of the real residents of Carthage who personally knew Bernie Tiede. There are some interviews that are scripted, but a majority of them are spoken by people that experienced the events first hand. This makes the movie feel very authentic, but also something like a legend to come out of this small Texas town, where word of mouth sometimes distorts the truth but gives you a taste of the town’s lifestyle. It’s also really funny to see scenes play out that are exactly what one of the interviewees were just talking about. At first, I was a little put off by this, but I’ve grown to really love the originality behind it.

Other than his part in his band, Tenacious D, I feel like Jack Black’s film career really took off when he starred in another of Linklater’s movies, School of Rock from 2003. Black gives a funny and pretty standard performance in that film, but he really gets to show off his acting chops in Bernie with a performance that may be the only reason you need to see this movie. Sure, I highly recommend the film anyway, but I find that it’s almost necessary for people to see it because of Black. Bernie is a character that is far from what the actor is used to playing, but he seems to pull it off with ease and it’s easy to forget that you’re watching an actor and not the actual Bernie Tiede.

Bernie had a lot of potential to be a run of the mill dark comedy, but under the direction Richard Linklater, it became something a little more. With films like Dazed and Confused and Boyhood under his belt, it’s quite obvious that Bernie doesn’t rank up at the top of Linklater’s filmography but it does rank the highest for Jack Black. This is an interesting movie in terms of content and structure, but it will also make you laugh and want to stick around for the end. I’d say check this one out.

Rescue Dawn – Review

2 Dec

When war movies follow a very specific formula, there’s a good chance that the whole movie watching experience will by tainted by over dramatic dialogue and an ending that can be seen a mile away. This can be said about any genre of film, but it bothers me the most in war movies, for some reason or another. In 1997, uber-director Werner Herzog made a documentary about the harrowing experience of Navy pilot Dieter Dengler in a Vietnamese POW camp. He then returned to the subject in 2006 with Rescue Dawn. While Rescue Dawn is a memorable war movie with some amazing performances, it does sort of get bogged down in war movie cliches, but somehow it seems to pull through.

rescue_dawn_xlg

Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) is a Navy pilot about to go on his first mission. Since he was a boy, Dengler has always wanted to fly so this is his chance to show what he’s made of. Unfortunately for him, he gets shot down almost right as the mission begins. He is soon captured by Laotian soldiers, tortured, and thrown into a miserably sadistic POW camp. There he meets fellow pilots Duane Martin (Steve Zahn) and Gene DeBruin (Jeremy Davies), along with some Vietnamese citizens. Instead of giving up and trying to survive in the camp, Dengler plans an escape to only face another dangerous foe: the dense jungles of Vietnam that stand between him and his freedom in Thailand.

I’ve seen this movie compared to the classic war/escape film, The Great Escape, but I would compare it more to the much less acclaimed film Hart’s War. Both are about an American soldier forced to brave a violent prison camp. Still, while they sort of have the same vibe, Rescue Dawn is a far superior movie to Hart’s War. Anyone who knows about film history and the many characters that inhabit it will know of Werner Herzog and his legendary filmography. If this movie was in anyone else’s hands, the result would be something very bland and predictable, but Herzog isn’t afraid to take chances with his film making and take us places where we see things that we really don’t want to see. That is where the success of this movie lies.

hrs_rescuedawn2

 

Herzog and his actors literally put their lives at risk making Rescue Dawn by braving the dangers in the jungle. Everything you see the actors do, no matter how gross, is being actually done in real life. Bale, Zahn, and Davies all lost a lot of weight to get into their roles, and it really helped bring me into the world of the movie, which is not a very comfortable place to be. Zahn and Davies give incredible performance, but Bale can sometimes feel a little awkward. Still, one of the main draws of this movie is the incredible story of Dengler’s escape as it happened, which is actually pretty damn accurate. This is not a comfortable movie to sit through, but Herzog and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger shoot the film so well that it’s hard to become disinterested.

I said before that Bale’s acting feels a little awkward at times, but I can’t put all of the blame just on Bale. While Herzog is really a wonder behind the camera and coming up with innovative ways of shooting a movie, his writing is really bland at times, and it shows in Rescue Dawn. Some of the lines that Dengler says is almost laughably cliched and can be found in most war movies. Scenes like that really shaked me out of the entire experience and made me look at it as a conventional war movie and not one that separates itself from the others. Luckily, Herzog’s storytelling works very well, and the acts all seem to blend into each other very well. Not to mention the suspense and terror in this movie is written and executed very well. Breath was held, ladies and gentlemen. Breath was held.

Rescue Dawn has a lot of potential to be a derivative, cliched, and boring war/drama film, but luckily it saved from the deep, dark depths of mediocrity. Zahn’s, Davie’s, and even Bale’s performances are all way above average. It would have been more enjoyable if Herzog’s dialogue didn’t shake up the flow of the movie. Still, it’s filmed so beautifully and horrifically that it’s both hard to watch but impossible to look away. More than anything, it tells a near accurate true story about a daring escape in the early years of Vietnam. This film will not attract everyone, and it will repel many, but for war and history buffs, it’s a movie that should be seen.

Donnie Brasco – Review

19 Oct

Mob movies have the difficult job of presenting some reprehensible characters to us, and then they have to make us like them. That’s what makes gangster classics like Scarface and the first two Godfather films so good. Coincidentally, both of these films star Al Pacino, and so does Donnie Brasco, a mob film that’s based on a true story that has potential to be a classic, but is unfortunately a film I would characterize as a B-gangster film.

Donnie_brasco_ver2

Special Agent Joe Pistone, aka Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp), is an FBI agent working undercover to infiltrate the Bonanno crime family. His in with the family comes in the form of a low level lieutenant, “Lefty” Ruggiero (Al Pacino), who is getting upset that he’s been with the family for thirty years and was involved in 26 hits, but still hasn’t gotten anywhere. Donnie is quickly introduced to Sonny “Black” (Michael Madsen), the head of the group. Donnie soon becomes well liked by the family, and he begins to lose sight of what his life really is, as he falls deeper and deeper into the character of Brasco, and distances himself from his family.

I honestly can’t say too much about Donnie Brasco because I really just found it to be a completely mediocre movie. Critics have praised this movie for it’s realism and performances, but it really doesn’t achieve anything new that hasn’t been done in better gangster films. What I will actually remember most from this movie, and what is really annoying, is the tough talk. It almost lampoons gangster talk. If I had to hear “forget about it” one more time, I would take the DVD out of the player and use it to cut my own head off.

donniebrasco2

 

The few things that stick out as positive are Pacino’s performance and the period design. Al Pacino is no newcomer when it comes to gangster films, and his performance as a softer , tired kind of gangster is a welcome change after his malicious Michael Corleone and Tony Montana. It’s a very heartfelt performance that really saves the movie from being completely unmemorable. The period design is also really nice. Taking place in 1978 to around 1980, this movie really does a great job of setting the New York and Miami scenes up to make them look as authentic as possible, from the cars to the music to the clothes.

There just isn’t anything in this movie that will put it in the upper echelons of gangster films. Goodfellas and Casino have great characters with excellent dialogue and artistic shot designs. Scarface exists as almost pure entertainment featuring a comic book style gangster story that is just so much fun to watch. Donnie Brasco falls in the area between Carlito’s Way and Kill the Irishman, although if someone asked me to choose from these three, I’d choose Kill the Irishman.

donnie_brasco_1996_portrait_w858

 

Thank goodness for Pacino. If it wasn’t for him, this film would be nothing. It may look nice and have all the elements of a solid gangster movie, but everything just falls flat. Johnny Depp and Michael Madsen do nothing special and the story is not the least bit exciting, which is weird considering all the material the film makers had to work with. From my research, the adaptation of the true story isn’t even that accurate. Well if Donnie Brasco isn’t accurate or entertaining, why would you want to watch it?

Argo – Review

1 Mar

It’s hardly even an opinion to say that truth is stranger than fiction. There are some things that happen in this world that make me stop and say, “How could someone ever think of this?” Now take a film like Argo, which is based on the true story of the Canadian Caper in 1980. Again, how could someone ever think of this? The story is so hard to believe that I almost dismissed the movie, but in light of overwhelmingly positive recognition, it was about time I gave it a watch.

Argo2012Poster

In 1979, the American Embassy in Iran gets over run by protestors who are demanding the return of their exiled leader for his prompt execution. Many workers are held as hostages, but six manage to escape and take refuge in the home of a Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). The CIA brings in an expert in exfil missions, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), who is at first unsure with how to go about a rescue mission. It comes to him one night. Enlisting the help of Hollywood make up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), Mendez heads over to Iran under the guise of a film maker doing location scouting. With the escapees acting the parts as film makers, the group attempts to leave Iran in plain sight.

Just writing this small summary, I find it hard to believe that a lot of this actually happened. A portion of it is definitely dramatized and the roles of the Canadians are downplayed while the roles of New Zealand and Britain are left out all together. Affleck said this was to keep the film at a quick, but steady pace and I can agree with him there. This movie does feel very Hollywood in a couple of ways. For one, it is partly a satire of the Hollywood business, but the entire feel of the movie feels like something that would have been made in the classical period in film history.

argo

It’s become quite clear with Gone Baby Gone and The Town that Ben Affleck is a much better director than he is actor. To me, his acting is nothing special, including his performance in this. His “character” is very passive in this movie up until the end, which was when I really got into his performance. His directing is impeccable, however. With Argo, my opinion about Affleck has only gotten better. This is a completely different film than his previous two, which only proves that he is versatile and can cover any number of genres. Speaking of genres, Argo quite clearly blends a few.

It’s actually kind of amazing how well this movie combines a human drama, a political thriller, and a satirical comedy. A lot of movies try to do this, but they unfortunately don’t always measure up to what they’re trying to accomplish. I feel like I reference Hitchcock a lot in this blog, but with good reason. Think of North by Northwest and how it’s a thriller, but also an excellent comedy. Argo works just as well. I laughed as hard as a bit my fingernails. The writing is sharp, witty, and smart.

Argo-Affleck-as-Tony-Mendez

 

Argo has swept the awards this year, and I think with good reason. It was an excellent film about an incredible true story. It’s expertly written, directed, and acted (especially Goodman and Arkin). I’m content with this movie winning Best Picture, amongst other Academy Awards, but I can’t say it would’ve been my choice. I’m still going to stick with The Master as my favorite film of 2012. Still, Argo is an excellent movie that deserves all of the recognition it is receiving.

Kill the Irishman – Review

11 Oct

The Mafia is not a group of people you want to have pissed off at you. We see the Mafia get pissed in the best gangster movies, and subsequently see them kill whomever they need to without error. What I have recently found out is that it’s equally as entertaining to see them fail over and over and over again. This is the backbone of the story seen in Kill the Irishman.

 

In the mid 1970s, Cleveland became a war zone as over 30 bombs went off in a gang war that almost engulfed the city. Who was the target? Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson). Danny Greene is the man who pissed off the Italian mafia more than they have ever been before and is partly responsible for the decline of organized crime in Cleveland, and more importantly, throughout America.

This was a very interesting and entertaining gangster flick, that was made all the better by it being a true story. The film makers made good use of its history by putting in actual news reports about Danny Greene and all of the trouble he was causing throughout the movie. To me, this really helped me concentrate on the history of the story and was a good reminder that this may be fictionalized, but it was true. It’s a pretty incredible story.

 

 

I’ve seen a lot of negativity surrounding this movie because of its low budget and some of the poor effects. Yes, this movie was made on a low budget so they couldn’t afford to actually blow everything up and some of the fire is fake. I agree that it looks pretty bad and might be kind of distracting when you first notice it, but should that get in the way of you enjoying the story and the characters? Everything else about this film is good. The acting is exactly what it should be and the as I’ve already said, I love the story.

I did have a bit of an issue with the lighting in some scenes, so I guess not everything was great. It’s not that it was particularly bad, it just wasn’t very interesting. Some of the scenes looked pretty flat. This doesn’t have to do with the low key lighting, which this film definitely was shot in, but the separation. If you don’t separate the characters from the background then the whole scene looks two dimensional. I got that feeling at certain points during the movie.

 

Despite these problems, I was completely invested in Kill the Irishman. I love the way it was told and I loved the characters. The cast was great with people like Christopher Walken, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Val Kilmer to name a few. All of the actors were completely into their characters which made the story flow a lot nicer.

I do have a bit of a soft spot for rise and fall movies, and this one is no exception. Even though it wasn’t filmed with the best equipment, had the biggest stars, or had the grandest budget, I still loved it all the same. The characters and the story are captivating and make you want to keep watching. A warning to the jaded Hollywood worshipers, some of the effects look pretty bad, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the history lesson that is Kill the Irishman.