Saturday, December 7, 2019

#25- One Long Daft Punk Music Video

Tron: Legacy (2010) 

Have you ever felt like a movie has just reached into your soul, scraped out every piece of your identity, and just made it into a beautiful piece of art? For me that movie is Tron: Legacy. It is the movie I most identify with on an artistic level. Every visual and audible decision made in this movie speaks to me. It's my guilty pleasure and in a few ways it is my favorite movie to watch.

Of course the biggest reason why is the dynamic score by the one and only forefathers of the electronic revolution, Daft Punk. It really can't be understated how much this duo means to me. They are my genesis when it comes to music, the tree from which all other roots originate. The Daft Punk soundtrack never stops electrifying throughout the whole film. Daft Punk are experts at creating narratives as their albums progress and this composition is no different. To be able to shape it around an actual feature length film is one of my dreams come true. The soundtrack embellishes every scene that its a part of and makes it feel so grandiose. It's a cliched definition at this point but it really is just so epic.

The dialogue is clunky at times and the acting from background players isn't always stellar, but the true genius of the film is the aesthetic. The look and the feel of the film is the thing that keeps me coming back. It's so appealing in its future-punk, neon dipped stylishness, that I can't help but be unapologetic in love with it. It's like this movie's look was cultivated just for me.

My dream vacation destination.

Once Garrett Hedlund's "Sam" is transported to the picturesque techno landscape that is, The Grid, the inventive virtual scenery really starts to shine. Everyone is draped in ornamental gleaming LED synthetics that really pop against the dark stormy backdrop that looms in the distance of The Grid. 

Let's just get it out of the way now. Jeff Bridges De-aged doppelganger named "CLU" looks pretty bad, but remember this film is from 2010 and was one of the first few movies that utilized the De-aging tech. While Bridges looks slightly off putting, venturing into Uncanny Valley from time to time, you have to respect the effort. Remember when CGI was coming into popularity? A lot of it was dreadful. New ideas takes bravery and confidence to pull off, and I respect the willingness to just go for it. Whether you agree with the tech or not, there is no mistaking that it's a valuable tool in future storytelling.

The actual Jeff Bridges has distilled himself into a techno-gatsby version of "The Dude" from Big Lebowski uttering phrases such as "bio-digital jazz, man." and "knocking on the sky." my personal favorite being, "A digital frontier to reshape the human condition." It's tremendous. The Dude is one of my all-time favorite movie characters and to see him resurrected in this format is a fantasy come to fruition. His acting really is quite powerful in the film. A sort of demi-god of The Grid, he plays a religious yogi-esque monk rather admirably. Talking in a soft wisdom of the world he helped create, it doesn't come off as pretentious or smug. Bridges really is one of the best living actors we have.

The Bio-Digital Jazz really ties the room together man.

The action is stimulating and rhythmical, like watching a kung-fu battle break out at a rave. When a program is killed or as its known in this movie "Derezzed" they break into satisfying pixelated bits. It all feels so stylish. Shout out to Michael Sheen as "Zuse" he steps into the film for around 10 minutes and just has such a great heat check performance. His frantic, eccentric energy really give the film more life and I just wanted to highlight it. Also it can't really be argued that Daft Punk has the greatest cameo in movie history. 

The films conclusion really is quite emotional and hits especially hard. Watching the journey between a father and son has always had an effect on me regardless of the movie, but this journey is especially poignant. Whenever the beginning notes of "Son of Flynn" starts playing I can immediately feel the stinging of tears in the corners of my eyes. It might sound surprising about a movie that takes place inside a computer simulation, but this movie does have heart. If that doesn't convince you to see it then perhaps I'll just revert to what I said at the beginning. This film really is a two hour long Daft Punk music video and if that doesn't sway you then maybe it's not for you, which is fine.

It just means we can't be friends.

Quick story: The first time I ever did mushrooms I had decided I was going to watch a movie while on them. I could only think of one movie to watch, you guessed it, Tron: Legacy. It was nothing short of a religious experience, I healthy cried through pretty much all of it. I still think about it every time I watch it. Frankly, that might be the best analysis I can come up with for this movie. Let it be the movie you watch the first time you do mushrooms.

#26- You Know My Name

Skyfall (2012) 

During the opening 15 minutes of Skyfall a question will start to tickle your mind, "Is this going to be  the best Bond film ever made?" The remaining 128 minutes makes that question so evident that you'll wonder how you could have ever asked it at all. This has the best of all things. The best Bond, the best villain, best cast, the best director, and of course the best damn Bond Theme ever produced. (It still hits so hard all these years later.) 

The film, as Bond films usually do, begins by dropping us right in the middle of James Bond's current mission, Daniel Craig looks as dapper as he ever has playing Bond, his quick British humor and supreme self-confidence fit him as well as one of his suits. By this point Daniel Craig is so comfortable in Bond's shoes that you find yourself dreading the day he steps out of them. I mean this goes without saying, so fuck it, I'll shout it instead, "HE IS JUST SO FUCKING COOL!" The opening sequence really does set the tone of this movie from the start. The stakes are incredibly high, the action is intense, and when bond takes one in the sternum you realize that nothing is off the table. It also has one of the most sensational Bond stunts I've ever seen.

Craig never stops operating with that much swagger throughout the entirety of the film. It just drips off him in every scene. Whether he is firing off quick retorts and one liners, or subtle acts like kicking up automatic weapons off the ground, he's always doing things in the absolute flashiest way possible. Craig never once ventures into the tacky.      (Pierce Brosnan)👀

Clown Shoes

Dude, The Dame Judi Dench is batting .1000 in this movie too. With like 3 homers and a double in a game seven of the world series. Every word that comes out of her mouth is dipped in acid. She treats conversations as her battlefield and her words often cut like a blow from a deftly wielded  saber. Everyone in the film calls her "Mom" and it's not just a code-name, she is the motherly figure in this movie and its very much on purpose. She's seen as almost a direct mother to both Bond, who we find out is an orphan, and Bardem's character (We're getting there) and she plays it with a calculated coldness as if to say "You want my love?" "Then earn it." She is not tender, not compassionate and her only love is to her country. She is so sharp and it speaks to her incredible gift that she would bring it this hard to the 23rd Bond movie. 

Is it time?
I think its time...

Fuck yeah its time to talk about the greatest Bond villain performance of all time! Let's just start with his introduction in the film, and well, since there is nothing I can say that will sound better than Raoul Silva’s opening monologue. I’m going to let him speak for himself...

The rat story is so perfect that the first time I heard it I went into cardiac arrest and the homo-eroticism that peppers the scene between Silva and Bond immediately after is sizzling. The brotherly dynamic makes it even weirder. I need more Bond flirting with super-villains like I need blood. Javier Bardem’s portrayal of techno super villain Raoul Silva is breathtaking. His bleach blonde hair, jokeresque toothy grin, and rejected child resentfulness is as terrifying as any monster I can think of. When he takes his teeth out and shows M his “real” face. That shit gave me legit night terrors. He's overacting but in the best possible way, a lot of his roles in the past have been more quiet and reserved, but Mendes takes him off the leash and lets him go wild. He is a man that has been betrayed by the woman he loved, he is going to have his revenge and it's going to be slow and drawn out. He delights in seeing his prey fall into his expertly woven traps. He's brilliant, I love him and it's the closest I've ever come to rooting for a villain in a Bond movie. 

Bardem, Marry Me.

The last 25 minutes, when they get to the titular Skyfall Manor plays out like a dark, rated R version of Home Alone. It's the trap from the Bardem's rat story, only one can survive. It's just so perfect the way Mendes weaves all the metaphors and subtext from the film into the third act. The homecoming of the orphaned Bond, the sibling rivalry, the aforementioned trap, and even the destruction of the beloved Aston Martin DB5. It all means something and not a single shot is wasted. There is no fat to be trimmed. 

The time for Craig to hang up the Bond moniker is approaching, the new Bond 25 is supposedly his last. While that is a shame I understand the need to move on. So for now, let's thank the great cinema faeries in the sky that they (along with the most remarkable cast and crew) were able to provide us with this, In my opinion the greatest Bond film ever made. ` 

Special Shout out to Bond Trailers man. They always do such an amazing job of getting me properly pumped for the upcoming film. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

#27- Ethical Violence Rules!

Dredd (2012) 

"America is an irradiated wasteland" those are the first words spoken by Karl Urban's Dredd,  in his Rorschach like voice. He's the titular character in Pete Travis' CRIMINALLY UNDERRATED  2012 remake. (side note: it was written and produced by Alex Garland who I can guarantee you is making another appearance on this list.) It is a re-telling which makes the 1995 version (titled Judge Dredd) look so lifeless in comparison, that you'd swear they cast Stephen Hawking in every part.

Image result for stephen hawking
Fuck, I feel bad about the joke. ok?

The aesthetic feels every bit of irradiated too, an orange glow creeps into exterior shots, smog smothers a bombed out megalopolis, skyscrapers scratch a grey sky. In post nuclear apocalypse America crime has overrun every aspect of civilization. 800 Million live among the barricaded ruins that was once Boston to D.C. in whats known as Mega City One. Due to the high volume of crimes, cops have been charged with the responsibility of being judge, jury, and executioner. Often dolling out justice on the spot. Which is why all the cops in the film are just known as Judge. Awesome.

Listen, I'm not going to try and hide it. I'm in a deep kind of love with this movie. Just a down-for-whatever-late-night-calls-go-to-jail-get-bailed-out-and-go-again kind of love. It's one part Training Day and two parts The Raid, with just a dash of Dark Knight (all AMAZING films) this movie bakes it into a warm delectable dessert that I can't stop eating. In fact bonus points if you can guess the over/under on how many times I forget myself and just unabashedly scream how much I love this goddamn movie.

Truly the shittest meme ever created

In the first five minutes we see a car chase, multiple slow motion scenes and a dude getting a flare shot into his mouth. Complete with witty one liner. (Whatever you say, Hotshot.) Karl Urban talks in one liners and it’s so fucking great. His gravelly voice just sounds so good delivering punny kill lines. With a blistering pace of 95 minutes it's high octane baby, and it doesn't slow down for ANYTHING.

The plot centers around rookie Judge Anderson, played by newcomer Olivia Thirlby, and her first day assessment test that Dredd is tasked with grading. On their first assignment of the day, they are called out to investigate three murders at a mega structure (Read: Giant Apartment Complex) known as Peach Trees. While taking in a perp, gang lord Ma-Ma manages to lock down the apartment complex (with nuclear blast door protocol! Fuck yeah!) Which means the only way out is up 200 floors of angry gang members.

"Hey Rookie"
"Wanna brutally punish 100s of gangsters?"

Lets talk about the extraordinary Madeline Madrigal aka Ma-Ma, a goth siren. A quiet and deadly drug kingpin played by the diabolical Lena Heady. I mean anyone that watched Game of Thrones already knows this, but she plays a villain so goddamn well. With an air of quiet confidence and swagger that most actors playing villains just get wrong. To often they can't resist the temptation to ham it up and interject maniacal laughing or hacky monologues. Headey needs none of this, the second she walks into a scene she just instantly commands it. Stone faced and psychopathic she's a woman that doesn't say things twice and frankly you wouldn't want her too. She would kick my ass, stab me in the gut, spit on me, and leave me to die in an abandoned warehouse. I'm obviously in love with her and I want her to ruin my life in the worst possible way. The narcotic she's pushing is called Slo-Mo, a that drug causes the mind to operate at 1% speed ( hokey I know. Shut up) what it really is, is an excuse to make several awesome slow motion shots. 

As Dredd and Anderson work their way up and the cacophony of shooting starts, Travis finds a way to make it feel new and inventive. Through the aforementioned slo-mo or any number of gadgets in The Judge's arsenal, the shooting, ballistic and cinematic, manages to never feel stale. In less imaginative hands (See: original Judge Dredd) the movie's outrageousness would feel comical and absurd, but here it’s just refined into pure awesomeness.

As the movie crescendos and comes to its bloody climax, you'll wonder where the last 90 minutes has gone as Dredd seems to have speedily gobbled them up. If you can enjoy the delightfully off-putting violence then I can't more highly recommend this gorgeous brutal film.

Side note: Every once in awhile a campaign for a Dredd sequel will pop up on social media. Next time it happens do me a favor and make your voice heard. The world will always need more justice. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

#28- Haunting Reenactments

The Act of Killing (2013)

Image result for the act of killing

There are so many surreal moments in The Act Of Killing. From just about the first minute that it starts my mouth was agape and over the course of the next two hours it stayed that way. Every unbelievable moment just followed by another, more unbelievable, moment.

For those that don’t know The Act of Killing is a documentary about the Indonesian Genocide and the people that who participated and carried out the mass executions from 1965 to 1966. During that time there was a military coup in Indonesia which overthrew the government. Paramilitary groups (Gangs) then began carrying out mass killings of their political enemies, who they labeled as "Communists". The problem being that anyone who disagreed with the rising military power were labeled as such and summarily executed. Although the death toll will never be truly known, it is estimated that 500,000 to 3,000,000 people were killed as a result of the coup. The government it instilled is still in power. The film takes place during present day, and is centered around a group of ageing gangsters who carried out the militarily's violent executions. The gangsters boast about their involvement in the murders and seize the opportunity to re-create their violent pasts in all their graphic and sadistic detail.

The film focuses on Anwar Congo who is boastful about his role in the genocide, often times telling his horrific story with a laugh and a smile. A man so enamored by the prospect of fame this film could provide him, that he literally holds nothing back. He delights at the chance to go into graphic detail and recreate his atrocities, looking at it as a means to show the world the national hero he believes himself to be. He matter-of-factly talks about horrible things, like how its more efficient to kill someone with a wire rather than beat them to death.

But, Congo is haunted by his past, as any sane man would be. He repeatedly brings up the fact that he sees his victims in his dreams, admitting that he suffers from nightmares regularly. However, he spends not one minute apologizing or repenting for his acts. He struggles internally with whether or not what he did was evil or inhumane, constantly wondering if he will receive a punishment from God.

The films director Joseph Oppenheimer points the camera at these men and allows them to indict themselves. There are no leading questions, no gotcha moments, or bias introduced. The sheer bravado that multiple people show in admitting to killing thousands is just astonishing. It's not just murder either, several men in the movie admit to rampant rape, corruption, extortion, bribery, and smuggling. Its like these people have been waiting 50 years to divulge all the heinous shit they've done and once they start they can't help themselves.

We've not even touched on the paramilitary groups that still have a stranglehold on the nation and are more than happy to do this corrupt governments dirty work. In several scenes, that could easily be taken out of old WWII Hitler Youth propaganda videos, we see thousands of kids cheering on dictator like gang leaders as they shout into microphones about how their group is responsible for keeping the communist threat out of Indonesia. They constantly make thinly-veiled threats that they could become violent at any moment.

Look, I'll be honest with you, way smarter people than I have deconstructed this movie and written thousands of words on its subject matter, and if you are looking for that then there are some great pieces written about it. I recommend you check them out. However, I'm not those people so I'll just surmise it the best way I know how, with a list.

What follows is the top five craziest moments in The Act of Killing, and I swear the list could be fifteen items longer:

5. Anwar gleefully salsa dances on the site where he preformed dozens of executions by strangulation.

4. Anwar's extremely overweight sidekick, Herman Koto violently fellates a toothbrush (While only wearing a towel)

3. Anwar admits on Indonesian TV, to raucous applause, that he was inspired by films and most massacres had a theme like mob-movie or westerns. (He says this while wearing a cowboy hat with a sheriffs badge on it) 

2. Political hopeful Koto, who is running for office says openly and enthusiastically that if elected he will shamelessly extort and threaten his constituents.

1. In one of the films more surreal scenes, a dream-like musical number set to Born Free, one of Anwar's victims admiringly places a medal around his killer’s neck, saying “For executing me and sending me to heaven, I thank you a thousand times.”

It cannot be understated how unbelievable and brutal the reenactments are, and the brazenness of their actors there-in, truly is astonishing. It brings an awe to the movie that I've very rarely experienced while watching a documentary. It is important to remember these atrocities and the men responsible. If you can't get though it I highly suggest watching it, but I'll be honest, it's not easy.

Note: This review is based on the Directors Cut of the film which is significantly longer than the original. If watching the original some scenes may not appear. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

#29- America's a Business, Now Fucking Pay Me.

Killing Them Softly (2012) 

What's a Life Worth in America? That is what I believe to be the central question in Andrew Dominiks' brilliant, ultra modern crime drama, Killing Them Softly. Look, I'm a sucker for lower budget indie dramas that don't assume you're stupid and decide to walk you by the hand through the movie. I love to live in the world that so many people have taken the time to construct for me. Killing Them Softly has a world so lived in, that if I watch it again, I'm afraid I might have to start paying rent.

Fuck! where do I even start with the things I love about this movie? I think I'll start with Scoot McNairy's performance as Frankie, the low life small time crook. His performance is so good that during the re-watch I almost said fuck it and turned this into a Scoot McNairy appreciation blog. His portrayal of a struggling lower class ex-con is just a revelation. He's a man so deep in a hole of his own creation that he'll never realize its his grave. I want nothing more than to reach down and pull him out, but alas his fate is forever sealed. Cause you know its like, a movie...

Our Lord and Savior

Also dude we have take a minute and talk about Ben Mendelsohn. If McNairy is a low life, Mendelsohn is a ground-level dirt-bag. Lower than that even, septic tank low. He's absolutely disgusting...and I love it. Great actors make you believe that they've lost themselves in their performance, blurred the line between reality and fiction so completely that it disappears almost entirely. Every time I watch Mendelsohn in this film I question if his line even exists or not. I wonder what kind of prep he did for this movie, cause if I didn't know better I'd say he spent it in a row of flophouses mainlining shitty heroin and stealing peoples dogs for the reward money. Every time he's on screen I feel like I have to wash the veneer of sweat and filth off my TV.

Its ridiculous that I've gone this long and not mentioned Brad Pitt. The fact that I truly believe he is the third best actor in this film should speak volumes. That is not an indictment of his performance. He is obviously stellar, as he is in everything. If every one else is a rat wriggling around in the dumpster that is this films America, then Pitt is the rat that found the ham I threw away because I dropped it on the ground and my dog ate some of it. He's the embodiment of the American dream gone awry. His Character "Coogan" gives us some of the details that flush out this particular mob universe we're visiting, but honestly we don't get much, and that is a good thing. It leaves us to fill in the cracks ourselves. We've all seen this world before because it's our world. I mean the stakes at the heart of this movie's conflict is a mere 40 thousand dollars.

This is a movie that is simultaneous hilarious and utterly depressing. The preparation for the big robbery scene in the movie might be the funniest thing I've seen in a non-comedic movie in years and the way James Gandofini is an absolute shithead to anyone that has the displeasure of coming into contact with him is absurdly funny. Oh yeah, Gandolfini plays an ill-mannered mob hit man, whose clearly depressed. He's in this for like 10 minutes, but he packs so much emotion and cold reality into this role that I feel like I could write a novel about him, at least a short story. He just chews up absolutely every scene he is in, and is obviously magnificent.

The social commentary can be a little heavy handed at times. Obama and Bush essentially have starring roles as the movie constantly sets them in the background talking about the economy on either a TV or a radio. I like it though, even if its a bit on the nose, the message really hits home to people like myself that have grown up in low income housing and have had periods of doing whatever it takes to make it in America.

I really fucking love this movie and I've, no shit, seen it like 9 or 10 times. I'm just asking you to watch it once. I've conducted my business here, now fucking pay me.