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.

#30- I Am Inevitable

Avengers Infinity War (2018) & Endgame (2019)

Yes I'm counting them as one movie. No I won't make a habit of this. Yes I know it's kinda cheating.

Anyways, quick story. I was at the first Avengers premiere in 2012 and it was wired. It was like the first time nerds got to go wild at a team up movie, and we took FULL advantage. It was when premieres still dropped at 12 am on Thursday nights and multiple screens were packed. In mine alone there was like 8 Hulks, 2 Iron men, Half dozen Caps, and a few Thors. Didn't see any Hawkeyes....

You'll always be in my heart Renner.

Anyways. It was, up until that point, the loudest and most wild screening I'd ever attended. It was amazing. People were cheering and screaming and laughing, together. Up until that point the height of excitement I'd seen at a movie was some over-enthusiastic clapping at the end of The Prestige.


That screening was only matched in 2019 at the premiere of Endgame. Same energy, same hype, same packed IMAX. I still get chills when I think of the crowds reaction to the "portals" moment. Also, there were these two teenagers crying behind me at that scene, and in that moment I realized how glad I was that these movies were in our lives.

Real American Heroes

This century has been nothing if not the rise of Marvel Studios and while financial success doesn't always equate to quality. (Looking at you Jurassic World and your 1.17 Billion) In this case it does. Whether or not you enjoyed the 21 movies that lead up to this epic (perhaps the most fitting use of this word since its inception in 2006) conclusion, you have to respect the "meteor hitting the earth" sized impact it's had on the pop culture landscape. With good measure too, these movies were spectacular. The shear size of these two movies is awe inspiring. Pound for pound it might be the liveliest movie I've ever experienced. I'm trying to come up with movies that I had more fun at and frankly, the list isn't that long.

Watching all these stories merge and come together, while simultaneously discussing every detail and hidden homage, with such a large group of people is something I'm seriously going to miss. Special shout out to Marvel introducing and making popular the end credits stinger. I've always been a fan of staying for the credits. Gives you time to digest the film in the moments right after it ending, and shows respect to everyone that worked on it. Any reason to make people stay, gimmick or not, is cool in my book. I'm not sure when something with this much backstory and build-up will ever be around again, but until that time arrives, we will always have 22 movies to keep us busy.

Still one of the all time great movie trailers. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

#31: How do I start this list?

Boom! Fucking Gladiator! (2000) That's how.

So I needed a movie that was an I'm Not a Pretentious Movie Guy, but I Also Have Spent the Entirety of My Life Obsessing About Movies kinda movie. So yeah, Gladiator. Where do I even start with this one? Shall it be the absolute spectacular year for movies that was The Year 2000. (Spoiler there will be more movies on the list from this amazing year.) Shall it be Joaquin Phoenix's stellar performance as the fucking terrifying Commodus? A small look into the jaw dropping talent of the century's best actor (Lukewarm Takes!) Or shall it be until I was like 29 I cried at the end of this movie every time I watched it? Which is dozens. Seriously when Dijmon Hounsou buries The Spaniards' toy and says "I will see you again."

This shit is like my Steel Magnolias 
Lets talk about Russell Crowe. Crowe is so damn good in this. To borrow a phrase from Bill Simmons I think it might be his Apex Mountain. He's never been higher than this. Yes I see you in the back A Beautiful Mind  truthers. Shut up. The raw anger he holds throughout the entirety of the film is just perfect for him. It suits him better than this Commodus fit from the movies dramatic climax.

Fucking Baller
You remember that whole "Am I Not Merciful?" scene that Phoenix has? If aliens ever make first contact and I am charged with putting together a sizzle reel of earths greatest acting achievements to show them, It's just gonna be that scene on repeat for 25 minutes. Cue Lights, Lower Curtain. Welcome to Earth bitches.

The real testament to this movie isn't that it won 5 Oscars, (Nominated for 7 more) Or the 4 BAFTAs, or  even the 2 Globes. It didn't win any Saturn Awards, (Fuck You Saturn Awards) Its that for the last 20 years its been on TNT twice a day, every day, forever. Like go to TNT right now, I bet its either Law and Order SVU, Or its Gladiator. And I watch it, or part of it, every time. 

Quick story. My mom actually went with me to the theater to watch this when it came out. As I was only 13 and couldn't see it alone. If you knew my Mom, holy shit, this was like a big deal. My mom was Fire and Brimstone. She is still convinced I'm going to hell and reminds me often, So the fact that she was taking me to a Rated R Movie was about the coolest shit I could have asked her to do. She definitely took it in stride, even if she prayed for me after it was over, but I'll always remember this as the first time my mom endorsed me watching a kick ass, violent, beautiful movie. An adult movie. I hope she knows I appreciated it. 
Fucking great movie and number 31 on the list.