Two really fantastic pictures for different reasons. My memory failed me here as I thought FLIGHT was a contender for Best Picture this last award season. Guess not. So let’s get into it…
1. FLIGHT - Right off the opening hooks you in. With the photography and the documentary-style filming (as Denzel and his fling carry on in different actions with the tracking of the camera) to the very real feeling argument you get with Denzel and who we presume is his baby’s mom.
Jumping ahead five minutes… we’re into it. The crash. Simply this is one of the more adrenaline-infused crashes I’ve seen. It was well drawn out, technical, beautiful. It felt like a free-fall - as an audience member, that is. Seriously, this scene alone was worth the price of admission.
I won’t say the story was completely gripping to me - it had some fat I felt could be cut - but it definitely had some surprising turns that threw me towards the end.
The acting is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! Washington is a virtuoso on the screen, that’s the simplest way to put it. The force, energy, the ease that he can convey is second to none in today’s cinema landscape. Big props to American newcomer Kelly Reilly. She really carried her weight up there, no doubt awestruck having to work with DW in the capacity she did.
I think this movie was dealt a rough hand by word of mouth reviews after weeks one and two in the box office. Much better than most of what you’d see.
4 out of 5 stars
2. MAMMOTH - A total sleeper flick that was streaming on Netflix up until a couple of days ago (the D-Day was actually the reason I gave it a play, actually).
I’m an unabashed Gael fan. In terms of unknown actors, he’s one of the more polished, leading man ready actors of his generation in my book. Capable of taking you places emotionally without speaking a word - the truest measure of on-screen prowess. For that reason I had to queue the thing up.
Michelle Williams has a way of pulling you in and feeling sorry for her. Not sure why, but it’s a certain strength she has that other actresses can’t match. But you can’t pigeon hole her, and this movie shows why. She plays a surgeon with a focus in pediatrics it seems. She commands her operating rooms, moves through the jargon in a believable way, but can really drum up the water works when you least expect it. It was a very strong role for her, a good showcase of her range.
So I made the cardinal mistake of checking out the Rotten Tomatoes review of the thing before diving into it and I was disappointed to see the slew of BABEL comparisons (I’m a big fan of the movie, the sprawling narrative, the sheer scope of the international storytelling) and right at the jump I had a dark feeling we were heading in that direction. But no. For me, not even close! I was incredibly disappointed by the reviewers for even making the comparison.
We live in a world economy. More and more events that occur in one place directly effect the other (see Euro crisis for working example). Babel was pulled off by a directional of superb international understanding (half Japanese, half Mexican I believe) so yes, he’s rather familiar with the different landscapes he showcased, is comfortable showing how the world can breakdown one event against the fever pitched backdrop of “terrorist” activities. He knows Japan, he knows Mexico, he knows the US and then mixed in some Middle East (Morocco I believe). The film was quite the triumph for just that reason (it was also a turning point in Brad Pitt’s career). This is the narrative of today (and growingly, tomorrow), that touches home for so many people. That shows how we think alike as a race, fear the same things, etc.
So understanding that, understanding the importance this type of storytelling I was just flummoxed in reading how critics had a problem with the picture as they felt Mammoth stole a page directly from Babel. I didn’t see any of that at all.
For the Babel fans, check it out and let me know. What I liked: incredible acting (and wow, the kids were spectacular), the scale of the film’s landscape (from shooting in a gorgeous NY apartment to the beaches of Vietnam), the grittiness, no bullshit sugar coating of the harsher realities of life in a 3rd world country (which by and large the US is quarantined off from seeing). This film challenges your senses. It should come across as gritty (one scene in particular was rather hard to get through).
Check it out and give the filmmaker some love.
4.5 out of 5 stars
I’m slacking. I’ve made it a point to hit the Tumblr and post my film reviews here and I’ve been dragging the heels. So to catch up I’m going to just rifle through the list and give the lip service to the one’s that deserve it most - there were a couple of stinkers that found their way on my plasma, sadly.
1. HOUSE OF CARDS - An absolutely amazing series. I’m pretty bummed I didn’t tackle each episode with a little write up. Soaked in authenticity, you really are thrust right into the Wingtips of a day in the life of the House/Senate chambers.
Many praises to sing for this show (a centerpiece to Netflix’s effort to produce/stream their own content). David Fincher will have my undying support. He brings a wonderfully dark palette to the screen every time, and his crews have really hit a stride as of late (starting with Benjamin Button).
Kevin Spacey has found the role of a lifetime. A throwback to a time when there was some pizzazz to the Southern politician (long gone post-Clinton), I love this Jimmy Carter inspired presence he’s put forward. Totally works - and Spacey’s lost me since American Beauty so I’m always ready to knock the dude.
The writing is 95% brilliant. It moves quickly, it moves with purpose, there’s a good book-ended sense to each episode, but it never loses hold of the larger narrative for the season.
So queue this thing up if you haven’t already. I know I’ll be binging out once Season Two is live.
4.5 stars out of 5.
2. IMMORTALS - Simply, I’ve been on the Man of Steel kick, counting down the minutes to the summer release. So how does this lame-duck tie in? Our lead. Henry Cavill. Had to see where this dude came from, what he’s contributed, how he scored such a behemoth of a role.
I won’t try lie, he’s very watchable, definitely has a screen-spark. The movie, however, was radically impossible to follow. It never lured me in. It had a look, it brought a supporting lineup of Mickey Rourke (childhood hero) and Freida Pinto (seriously looking like a terrible actress in a couple of scenes, WTF?!)… but it fell flat after that.
The trailer is always a dead giveaway. Right off this thing looked like a stinker with it’s 300 inspired visual (everything glazed in gold?) and mysterious narrative. Do yourself a favor and PASS here.
2 out of 5 stars.
Paying mind to the process.
Every morning, the immediate and same routine. The start of every A.M. begins with a cup of coffee. Has for years now without fail - literally I don’t think I’ve gone a morning without.
It’s a bit of a labor as I’m not one to pop some mysterious little plastic creamer-looking container thing into a Keurig, or set a timer to some bloated Mr. Coffee for some watered down, under-heated drip, but I opt for the French Press. Basic and entirely rewarding.
It started with pre-ground beans. Nuke up some water first thing, pour it into the press, wait 15 minutes droppy-eyed, and viola. Then we moved to grinding the beans just before serving - and oh, the beans should be locally roasted for optimal taste, and roasted under 2 weeks, ensuring the proper moisture’s still contained.
Now we have a special boiler JUST for water - water that’s Brita filtered for sure - seeing as water really is the key component and the best way to ensure the best cup.
He’s seriously killing me. I understand what he stood for with respects to the game. Guy was a pioneer in a lot of ways. What he did for UCLA basketball, what he stood for as a student-athelete, for the PAC-10 (er, PAC-12), I get it.
But if he serves as the point-man for ESPN’s coverage of my University of Arizona Wildcats… shits about to get real saucy. I mean it. They’re a short jog up Olympic away from a ranting, poop-flinging tirade. They don’t want that in their lives.
So what’s the beef? Simple. He talks out of his ass. He sounds like Barney on opiates. I don’t understand his references (they sound a lot like the fried-brain weee-heewww of someone who spent a little too much time spinning Grateful Dead and eating special brownies for me to wrap my head around), he mangles the fact sheet that no doubt some bright statistician put right in front of his massive face, and he speaks with an end-all, be-all conviction. I’ve been tweeting about this guy now for the last three broadcasts. (To my chagrin he was finally trending in tonight’s game against Washington - I think my gripes are well-founded now.) He’s like Gary Busey with a headset and courtside seats.
All I’m asking: ESPN, do the right thing, get this guy off the air. How did he even get stuck with U of A?! What’s the connection?!! Luke Walton? He’s still playing ball. What doesn’t Bill do Cavs games? Why isn’t he at the least sticking with the Gold and Blue of Westwood, calling his alma mater?
I just don’t get it. Tonight he went on an off-shoot of the Tucson desert - in stupid, who gives a what detail. The other week he was talking about Brandon Ashley growing up in the Bay Area and spouting off stoner tidbits about Jerry Garcia, walking us through the lyrics of what I guess had to mean that Ashley came up from the projects and therefore has a better game than everyone else on the floor (?!). I love you Brandon, but you don’t. You’re a work in progress.
Let’s get someone that knows the game helping along our viewers. He’s an ear sore, a know it all, a stoner-hippy-yahoo, and a dunce on the subject of sports.
Five for five, the stars are shimmering brightly.
I really did fall in love with this movie. I didn’t catch it in the theaters, but Netflix delivered, Tania and I made it a night in, and we relished in the patient hand of Chbosky, the pitch perfect pacing of the script, and the mature delivery of this adolescent cast. All around kudos.
I tried reading the screenplay (available widely online) first before my viewing, but only got about 50 pages into it before giving in and popping the DVD into the player and snuggling up to a bottle of the red. Right off I was dumbfounded in the grace and ease of Chbosky’s Final Draft prowess.
As a side note: I’ve been on a tear as of late, in the month of February alone reading scripts for a major studio pic in development, Drive, Amour, The Town, and The American. The writers, in large part, are Hollywood mainstays, talents with a pure knack for their craft. Chbosky is in these ranks. Hell, he might even have a few style points to offer them. Not too verbose yet teased the reader in between the margins. Literally everything you saw on the screen was translated from the vision he put to pen during the script process.
I only just now looked up his credit in IMDB to discover he’s written for television consistently since 2000. Regardless! A virtuoso work, sir!
So, having read even the first 10 pages of the screenplay I was hooked, very literally mumbling this was to be a great film.
The second element of surprise: the cast. Simply superb. Generally the go-to High School cast is CLEARLY too old, missing all of those vital qualities the pubescent, unknowing, angsty glisten to a teen something’s eyes. But these guys were all superb. Emma is a force that will be around for quite some while. Proven. We’ve watched her grow. We get it. Newcomer Ezra Miller was just outstanding. I can’t think of a moment where I didn’t buy him. He sold his character over and over again. Challenging, considering the places he had to go with it. He was comedic, he was heart-wrenching. I can really see him growing into a sort of Keanu Reeves type of actor - albeit, with more range. Logan, simply put, is going to be a star. He’s been carrying films since Percy Jackson - a bloated piece of ass trash, but not because of his faltering performance. He was watchable and likable.
The soundtrack: great. The cinematography: dynamite. The twist in the end (having NOT read the book): stellar. The choices in how he executed all of this, above all, making Stephen Chbosky the Gold Star winner of this review.
So, yeah, check it if you haven’t already.
I went about this franchise backwards; saw The Enemy Within before realizing I was streaming the follow up to the above captioned. It was one of those occasions where I feel the sequel was more powerful than the original. And not just the technicalities, the location and “strength” of the shoot. But just the storytelling.
We were all over the place in this one. And not just in an unconventional, Let’s buck the norms of storytelling sorta way. I had trouble trying to understand the plot lines I should be invested in. The club sequence mashed up against the love story of rookie cop tossed against the training program that dominates the 3rd act. We were just all over the place. Not to say this was a bad thing, it was just a bit too messy. A simpler approach, a linear approach, would have been more than satisfying.
For me, when I see these jumbled up approaches to story I think the crux of the story must be weak. It needs parlor trick or flair in order to spice the whole thing up. Not necessary. Just about everything in Rio is completely fascinating: the political corruptness, the Favela, the role of gangs as protectors of the people, the struggles within the police force on a human level. This is all amazing fodder for cinematic exploration. Let’s distill it down, keep it simple.
There is a fantastic grit in Latin storytelling. Such audaciousness, honesty in where they find story. Auteurs like Fernando Meirelles and Alejando Gonzales Inarritu are terrific trailblazers and they’ve got me hooked. Let’s hope they can keep in mind the dumb-dumb’s watching their work here in the U.S., living in a collective la-la-land that will tune in just for the foreign-ness of the experience. Or maybe they’re making these films just in spite of us?
On a five star scale I put Elite Squad at a 3.5
The classic, boasting a star-studded cast, Steve McQueen and uber hair actor James Garner with a solid supporting Charles Bronson (a knot of a muscle, that one).
I fell into the movie for the love of motorcycles and to watch the famed moto chase through a verdant countryside in what I believe is Germany (from the documentary at the end, I want to say that they did indeed construct the set in Germany). But this movie has a ton, ton more to offer.
The first - and obvious one: it’s a great, reality based pic. These guys really did forge together and upset the German system in hopes of pulling resources away from the ongoing battlefield. The depiction is legit in that respect.
Two: the set design was outstanding! My how far $4 million stretched back in those days! I simply loved what they did with the tunnel sequences - from what I’ve seen, they staged it, the length in its entirety, inside of the studio space. It worked brilliantly. It tapped that uncomfortable vein of claustrophobia & unease, watching them pull this trolly along and the few times the earth collapsed on them.
Lastly, it kept me surprised and had me shaking my head. It upset me. The score to the thing is straight holly, jolly, ho-hum. Couple that with the shit eatin’ grin McQueen had when he was being a shit of a little devil (and sent to the “cooler”) and I had no idea it would make a 3rd act turn into the bleak reality of how it all went down. As we’re following each of our leads and watching them get close, but ultimately gunned down… it shocked. But that’s good filmmaking, right?
All in all I have to throw 4 stars at the thing. I definitely have trouble with “context” whilst watching the classics, but I’m striving to get better at it. The bike chase was simply extraordinary, and you can really see McQeen in his element - as McQueen fleeing from McQueen - on the bike of that beast, tearing up turf. If you get the DVD be sure to check the documentary on the movie’s making. Had some twists and insights that made the movie (in hindsight) all the more enjoyable!