Saturday, December 28, 2019

A Chaotic Universe

Uncut Gems (2019)    

***Spoiler Review***

Uncut Gems came out three days ago, I've seen it twice. It really did live up to the hype. Everything you've heard about the movie in the run-up to its release is true. The Safdie Brothers have delivered a hyper realistic monument to gambling degenerates, and  it's a classic we'll be discussing for years to come.

Even though it's in the first sentence of just about every piece you've read on the movie, the manic and tense nature of this film cannot be understated, It roars open in an Ethiopian opal mine, hundreds of miners are yelling over themselves due to an accident on site. It's chaotic and riotous and it really sets the tone for the entire movie, it closes in a similar chaotic fashion. Moment after moment will have you pulled as tight as you've been in some time. The scene in specific where KG gets locked in the jewelry store is the most stressed I've been in a movie theater all year. I mean seriously bring a fucking seat belt and buckle up, cause this movie is a ride.

After a 2001-esque journey through a stone (more on that momentarily) we are transported to New York City's Diamond District. The setting is just as cacophonous as the Ethiopian opal mine, the noise is something that will either make or break this movie for you. There are constantly conversations layered on conversations, non-stop sound on top of sound, and a pulse pounding score that really drives it all home. I loved the attention to noisy background detail. People that dig sound design are guaranteed to be thoroughly impressed with the way Uncut Gems really uses it as one of the main characters in the film. Speaking of main characters it's time we got to the real gem of this movie, Howard Ratner, played in the performance of his life by Adam Sandler.

Howard Ratner isn't someone you are supposed to love. The Jewish diamond merchant with a penchant for making absolutely terrible life choices isn't a role model and has very few redeeming qualities.  He's an adrenaline junkie and degenerate gambler. Almost every word out of his mouth is a lie, his marriage is falling apart and he's thousands of dollars in debt. He is no one you should admire. However, in spite of all this, I couldn't help but be completely enraptured by him, intastanly falling in love with his charisma and sheer magnetism. Even though Howard is making bad decision after bad decision because of Sandler's tenderness and kind nature we are still drawn to him. Wanting so bad to reach into the screen and save him from himself. It's a testament to Sandler's masterwork that we still empathize and care about his plights. I feel like Howard Ratner might be in the top 10 of most compelling characters this decade and most definitely has cemented himself as a gambling degenerate icon.

Pictured: Nominee for Best Performance in a Drama 2019

One of my favorite scenes in the whole movie is when Howie is "Selling" the opal to KG. It's one of the few times in the movie that he is really in his element, no fucking up, no bad decisions, just a diamond merchant selling the fuck out of a stone to a basketball player. Julia Fox looks at him with subtle smile as he's weaving a story about the universe and time itself, this is a man doing business, and for a moment Howie is perfect, like his opal. It's beautiful.

The other players are just as fantastic. Idina Menzel, in a role where she doesn't sing a word, is dynamic. Her disdain and hate for Howard oozes through the screen, you can feel her gaze even off screen. Kevin Garnett, in his first, and hopefully not his last, role on screen is powerful. I know he's not taking a lot of risk playing himself here, but he fits the big screen so comfortably and I really hope to see him again. Lakeith Stanfield just continues his meteoric rise to superstardom, I haven't seen him in a bad thing yet. (Shout out to my Atlanta Stans.) and my god, Julia Fox, she is a Greek Goddess and apart from that probably the actress I'd bet the most on to be in more content in the coming years. The Safdie's really have a flair for the authentic when it comes to the background players too, it's well documented that any actors we meet in a casino or pawn shop are all real people. In particular I loved the Jewish pawnbroker in the scene where Howard pawns the rings.

In fact anytime we are in a pawn shop or casino and the dialog falls into degenerate specific jargon, I was just on cloud 9 and watching Sandler watch a basketball game he's bet on is seriously something I would pay a monthly subscription for. He lives and dies on every play and it's something I truly connected with while watching the film. His orgasmic reactions to hitting a bet were so fucking hilarious. I won't lie, the fact that outside of this movie I am completely in love with sports gambling has definitely given me a positive bias towards the film.  However, you don't need to know anything about parleys or moneylines to enjoy it, just adds a little extra juice if you do.

Quick aside for the gambling adept out there though, the low-key most stressful part of this movie is the fact that Howard puts "opening tip" on his parleys. It's by far the most degenerate gambling behavior I've ever seen in film. I've never seen that bet before but I'm sure I will now, and from here on out I'm calling 3 way player points, rebounds, and opening tip parleys "The Howard"

The movie isn't all yelling and stress, Sandler and specifically Menzel really have a chance to shine in the films quieter moments. I found myself feeling the most melancholy in these scenes because you are reminded of a time that Howard's wife really loved him. Perhaps, once upon a time, when he wasn't an addict or a total fuck up. He was once a successful diamond merchant, maybe even a good father and husband. In these scenes you know the anxiety and tension is coming back, it's always on the fringes, and that in itself adds yet another veneer of stress.

The Safdie's are experts at this point and it really has been a delight to go back and watch their entire filmography. They are just getting better with each film. They have a flair for the visually dramatic and really know how to ground their films in reality, a trait that is a welcome change from the overproduced CGI overload that is rampant in Hollywood at the moment. (Seriously see Good Time as soon as you can, as of this writing it's on Amazon Prime.) 

The crown jewel of this movie is Sandler's "This is how I win" speech and man if I don't see it on multiple award montages this year then I'm boycotting all future shows. It's fucking electric. One of the few times in the movie where Howard gets to really shine. I was ready to run through a brick wall as soon as it was over. It's so important that his character gets this moment. It tells you all you need to know about Howard. He has the money in his hands to solve all his problems, but it's the classic gamblers dilemma. When you've won an amount of money that you know should be more, it's not viewed as winning. In Howard's brain it's losing. He didn't gain $175,000 he lost $825,000. He knows the gem was worth over a million. So he does the only thing he knows how to do, chase the thrill and risk everything. When you've lived with stress the way Howard has, you develop a tolerance for it. He not only wants the stress, he lives for it. He knows his life is on the line and it's the most content we see him in the entire movie. At one point during the climatic game he joyously shouts "This is the beauty of betting!" a moment earlier he was being held outside a 4 story window. This is Howard's existence and you know the reckless lifestyle he lives can only end one way.

This Is How I Win Speech Forever.

When Howard catches the bullet my entire theatre gasped, I gasped. The cathartic relief you feel when the bet hits, followed by his quick death was a shocking contrast, and it's a shocking death to be sure. But, upon reflection you really know there was only one way out for him. Yeah he had just won the bet of his life, and with it over a million dollars, but would that have really solved Howard's problems? You've just spent 135 minutes with the man, you don't need any persuading to know the answer. Watching the thugs tear apart Howard's store was the perfect touch to drive home the capitalistic message of the movie as well. Greed and money are the only motivations in this story and world the Safdie's have fabricated, and it's our world, make no mistake about it. They know the truth, that very rarely are we ever allowed a Hollywood ending.

The last shot of this film takes us on another 2001-esque dreamscape through the universe, and quite literally, through Howard and I've spent a lot of time thinking about why. It's because the universe is all of us, on one end of it an Ethiopian miner is extracting a 600 carat stone from the earth and on the other end there is a Jewish gambler sweating out the opening tip of a Celtics game. Two wholly different worlds but one in the same universe. Although the two are unknown to one another the choices they make can reverberate throughout eternity and change their lifetimes. That's the message I took away from Uncut Gems. It's all life and death, it's everything and nothing.

Special shoutout to A24 they are just so consistent, and far and away the best distribution company in Hollywood. There isn't even a competition for 2nd place. The freedom they give to artists is inspiring and should be commended. I've never been as happy with a company as I am with them. Just kudos all around to those guys.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Throwback Review - Come and See

Come and See (1985) 

Come and See is the most hyper-realistic and visceral WWII movie I've ever seen. It's brutal and unflinching. It assaults your senses in an unrelenting fashion and when it's done, you'll be exhausted, mentally and physically. It might also be the most important anti-war film ever produced.

Roger Ebert famously called movies "Empathy Machines" he meant a way to experience lives and perspectives we otherwise could not, or in the case of Come and See, those we pray not to. The film is set in Nazi occupied Belarus in 1943 and focuses on the horrific events witnessed by a teenage Belarusian Partisan (Resistance fighter) named, Flyora, played by Aleksei Kravchenko.

Kravchenko's performance is haunting and surreal. The amount of acting he does with just his eyes is more brilliant than most people achieve with pages of dialogue. Ever since I've seen it I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. The sheer emotion he channels into the role is overwhelming. He goes through a psychological gauntlet and comes out the other side completely transformed. Whether intentional or not at the end it appears as if he's aged 50 years. At the films start he's an eager and courageous kid. With dreams of heroism and a desire to defend his homeland from an occupying force. When older Partisans conscript him to be a part of the resisting force, we get the sense that he couldn't be more elated. Those feelings are quickly washed away by the realities of a brutal war. Flyora is quickly tempered by the experiences, one after another in an unrelenting beatdown of his psyche. Each one aging him more than the last. By the end he's a hardened veteran with a thousand yard stare. Filled with enough visions of horror to occupy his nightmares for the rest of his life. I truly think that his performance is among the best I've ever seen, no hyperbole here, its transcendent. Watch it and I dare you to disagree.

The music that accompanies the affecting visuals is just as punishing as anything else in this film. It erupts and roars pounding itself into you like a salvo of explosives from German dive bombers. It complete envelops you and in parts I felt as if I was being assaulted. One scene in particular takes place in a bog, the fear and claustrophobia I felt were real, the movie had invaded my senses and I was completely distressed, the relief I felt when it let up was palpable. Very rarely have I experienced that in a movie, and although it might not sound like it, I was grateful for the feeling it gave me. I definitely subscribe to Ebert's "Empathy Machine" theory.

This really is one of the most devastating and sobering looks at war I've ever seen. It is ruthless in it's mission to depict the abhorrent atrocities humans are capable of. In fact, I learned in the research for this piece that Come and See had to fight eight years of censorship from the Soviet authorities before the film was finally allowed to be produced in its entirety. Russian cinema holds absolutely nothing back. War is seen in all of it's unattractive and savage nature. There is no heroics or redemption arcs here. It must be stated however that the film rarely, if ever, uses abundant gore or excessive bloodletting as a crutch to convey the violence. It instead relies on historical accurate events to speak for themselves. There have been no scarier monsters in this world than human beings and the film reminds us of that constantly. I truly think cinema of this honesty and realism needs to be shown to as many as possible. I believe film can be used for a much greater purpose than just entertainment. I'm hard pressed to think of a better way to convey the horrors and terror that the past possess, and the past is something we need reminded of continually.

The last 45 minutes of Come and See are infamous and I won't spoil anything here, but I realized as I was watching it that my entire body was tense. I was literally sore after watching this to its conclusion. I will say that if you are the kind of person that requires a cathartic or uplifting ending you've come to the wrong place. The best we get is a respite from the assaulting soundtrack the film has provided up until this point, replaced instead with a beautiful piece of Mozart. It's the only part of the film that resembles hope. Please do not let the brutal and realistic nature of this movie dissuade you from experiencing this masterpiece of Russian filmmaking. I'm warning you it won't be easy, but just as Flyora does, you'll come out the otherside transformed.

 There are movies, there are films, and then there is Come and See.

So a little postscript here, this movie is not easy to find. I had to pay for a subscription to the Criterion Channel to watch. However, there are so many more movies to enjoy and experience on the service that I fully endorse paying the price to see them. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

#20- The Celebration of Imagination

The Fall (2008)

Tarsem Singh's 2008 little known masterpiece The Fall is the most visually stunning film I've ever seen.

The best type of movie is the one you can tell that someone has been waiting their whole life to make. Writer/Director Tarsem Singh waited 17 years to make his. Intense love and devotion was put into this film and it absolutely radiates from every scene. It opens with grandeur to the beautiful sounds of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 and stunning slow moving stills in black and white. You can literally pause the movie at any point and it could be a painting.

The movie takes place in a hospital circa 1915 and focuses around Roy, a bedridden stuntman, played by the unbelievable Lee Pace, and his relationship with young and wildly imaginative Alexandria, a once in a lifetime performance by Catinca Untaru. He spins the young girl an epic fantasy filled with love, adventure, and revenge. As Alexandria's imagination takes over, the tale becomes more consequential than both of them could have ever imagined.

This film is unique in so many ways, but the one you'll notice immediately is the performance of six year old star Catinca Untaru who plays Alexandria in the film. Everything about this little girl endears you to her immediately. Her lines in broken english, her innocent naivete, and adorable mannerisms. She is the engine that drives this film. Tarsem discovered the young girl by accident and immediately knew he must make the movie he'd been planning for 17 years. She's that special and it shows. Alexandria is a beautiful soul and is so authentic that she blurs the line between acting and being. It's authentic because she's not acting, this was her first and last role. As a way to maximize the realism of Catinca Untaru's performance the decision was made that her lines and reactions as the character Alexandria were going to be largely unscripted. It injects the film a sense of realism that you honestly you can't really replicate.

The way that Tarsem interweaves her reality and the tale that Roy is spinning her is genius and really allows Tarsem to be virtually unchained when it comes to his visual masterwork, I mean how can you put a restriction on the imagination of a 6 year old girl? The verbal story is Roy's. The visual story is very much Alexandria's.

The tale centers around five heroes who all have a score to settle with a treacherous Governor named Odious. What it really is, is a vehicle for Tarsem to flex his creative muscles, and my god does he flex. He's like a Schwarzenegger in his Mr. Universe prime.

Let's talk about the visual masterpiece that is this movie. It's extravagant and audacious. The film was shot on location in more than 20 countries, and absolutely no computer-generated imagery was used. Tarsem holds nothing back. As I said at the start he waited 17 years to make this and it shows. The attention to detail is obsessive compulsive and every element in his design is scrupulously laid out. The set design is magnificent, using real landmarks throughout the world as backdrops. He drops his players in famous locations and adds his flourishes. Frankly, I'm not certain how he was able to shoot at some of the locations, as I imagine they are tourist havens. The costume design really shines here though, Eiko Ishioka who is responsible belongs in a Hall of Fame, I don't care which one, fuck put her in all of them. She deserves it. Every costume in this movie would fit in any museum around the world, comfortably. Tarsem paid for the film largely by himself and the respect I have in his ability to sacrifice, to make a piece of art you love, is immeasurable. It's a literal piece of himself that he has to show to the world. He accomplishes it admirably.

Lee Pace, whose performance mostly takes place in a bed, is touching, heartfelt, and utterly devastating. The story of a man with a broken heart. Filled with a deep melancholy and exhausted, he's willing to do or say anything in order to accomplish what he believes he must do. If you are familiar with Pace's work on the criminally short lived Pushing Daisies then you are aware what he is capable of. I always thought that Pace was going to be a mega-star, he certainly has the talent and the look. If I ran Hollywood I'd enforce a Lee Pace quota, he must be in at least all the things, that's not such a big ask. Is it? However, if these are the projects he is most remembered for than that will be just fine, for he is marvelous.

I must warn you the last act of this movie is brutal. Not in a visceral way, but in a profound emotional way. Tarsem comes for the jugular here and his blade is as precise as his film. He cuts, and he cuts deep. You'll find yourself continually devastated as Tarsem delivers blow after blow in the final act. Alexandria's performance is especially moving. If you can come out the other side in one piece then the reward is grand. Tarsem upends your expectations and in the process delivers what every epic tale needs, a satisfying and beautiful end.

Tarsem Singh waited his entire life to make his movie, and brick by splendid brick he built a world to captivate us. At great personal expense he brought us his dream for us to enjoy. He's asking that you allow him to take you on this magnificent journey, take my word for it and oblige him. Celebrate with Tarsem Singh in the wild powers of the imagination.

There is a scene at the very end of the movie that is a highlight reel of famous stunts from silent movies and I'm telling you it's fucking electric. I fell down a rabbit hole researching old stunts from the 20s and damn those cats were wild. 

#21- The Lost Post

Arrival (2016) 

Story time: I just finished a 2500 word write up of Arrival. It was thoughtful and intelligent and truly one of my favorite pieces for one of my favorite movies. However, when I went to publish, the website that I use crashed and now that post is gone, reverted back to its rough draft version meaning I lost about five hours of work. I've never been this mad at a website. (IDK maybe FoxNews or Breitbart) I don't have it in me to go back and rewrite everything. Not sure I could even if I wanted to. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm giving you the roughest flow of consciousness bullet points of said missing post about the genius that is Arrival

  • Amy Adams is a treasure and perfect in this movie.

  • Dennis Villanueva is one of the greatest living directors and has my wallet in his hands for all time.

  • It's hard to make a realistic depiction of a Sci-Fi movie. It's done here brilliantly.

  • While the movie is about Language, the film unto itself is a language. One that once you go through the work of translating can wake you up to the beauty of your past, present, and future. 

  • Happiness is fleeting, recognize and enjoy it when you can. Do not sail through life and look back realizing you never took the time to cherish the moments you were content.

  • Jeremy Renner

Anyways there you have it. That's the last time I don't back something up on Goggle Docs. Sorry websites fucking suck sometimes. I'll bring it extra hard on the next one to make up for it. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

#22- The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Birdman (2014) 

Have you ever wished to reinvent yourself? What would that take? What would you have to risk? These are the central questions of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s cinematic wonder Birdman. Its ultra modern take on showbiz and the desire for redemption is creative and thought provoking. You'll be nibbling on the feast of ideas it executes brilliantly days after you've seen it.

Michael Keaton's plays washed up actor Riggan Thomson, trying to regain his former glory he received for his past performance as superhero Birdman. A part that's so self referential its almost as if the movie was written for him. He has a veritable treasure trove of insight in which to pull inspiration from. Thomson is trying to claw his way back into significance by writing, directing, and acting in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story. He has a deep desire to be respected and validated and a drive that only comes from the knowledge that this is his last shot. However he's overflowing with anxiety and self doubt which manifests into a gravelly voiced alter ego personified by the titular Birdman. This voice is constantly second guessing his creative process and yearns to go back to the days when they could just phone it in and cash checks. There are obvious parallels to Keaton's history as the man who opened the door for the superhero genre, and a bitterness exists in his performance that he wasn't given his fare share of the credit for doing so. It's ultra meta to the point of being autobiographical. The meta aspect of not only his performance, but of the entire movie really gives it a wholly uncommon aura. It feels almost like a documentary in that sense. You don't see many movies like this and that is an genuine compliment.

The aspect of this movie that is most talked about however is the creative way it seemed to be one continuous shot. This incredible feat of filmmaking was gloriously executed by camera genius Emmanuel Lubezki. (won an Oscar) Through inventive camera tricks, masterful technique and intricate planning Lubezki is able to completely pull off one of the greatest cinema tricks I've ever witnessed. The camera is deftly following actors from one scene to the next, almost like a apex predator would stalk prey. It feels like a living organism. It never ventures into the gimmicky or gets boring. You'll be constantly wondering how they managed to actually pull this off. A few films have done this before, most notably Hitchcock's Rope, but this is on a another planet.  lt It's one of the greatest technical achievements of this century, bar none.

It's fitting that the film is set in a Broadway theatre in New York City because the acting is first rate, nobody is taking a scene off here. Everybody is just going for it, and nailing it. Most notably Edward Norton, playing Mike Shiner, a brilliant and volatile pro who is obsessed with the art of it all. (Is this movie meta or what? I fucking love it!!)  If Keaton wasn't giving the absolute performance of his life then Norton would be threatening to steal the show. His portrayal of an overconfident method actor will have you despising him one minute and admiring him in the next. He's just so great in this. Delivering stellar performances as well is Zach Galifianakis going against his typical type-casted roles to deliver as Thomson's friend/lawyer and Emma Stone, who shines as his newly sober daughter.

I also have to take a minute to praise the score in this movie, it comes in the shape of Antonio Sanchez's freeform drum explosion that electrifies the film like a conduit and really hits home the anxious neurosis of some scenes that feature it. It makes the movie feel that much more alive. Just like every aspect of the film, it's dazzling.

Birdman gains untold layers of meaning from the presence of Keaton, to the point that you'll almost need to have multiple rewatches to catch all the nuances of his performance. It's' an ultra modern movie. That is constantly mentioning Facebook, Twitter, and viral moments. It's really makes Thomson feel like an aging relic that's been buried in the desert and forgotten about. In reality, the same could be said for Keaton. It's obvious that the conflicts in the movie are his as well. The desperation of one last chance, a gamble on yourself, and the need for a project of great ingenuity to win said gamble. Gone are the hokey one liners and spandex suits, replacing them is a deep dedication to craft and love of the art. I mean watch this scene and tell me he doesn't deserve all the awards.

My favorite exchange in the movie comes when Norton's character tells a critic about Keaton,

"Tomorrow night he’s going out on that stage and risking everything. What will you be doing?"

To me that's the premise of the movie.

Birdman is the first movie that’s made me proud to write this blog, not because I'm risking everything, nothing that dramatic. I am though taking a shot, a risk, to be a little more validated, and I found a deep connection with this movie while rewatching because of that. I'd bet that's not a typically unique experience either. Which is why I think at first glance this movie may come off as pretentious but, it actually has a wider appeal than one might expect. Or you could just watch it for the technical achievement alone.

your choice. 

I'm so pumped that this movie kickstarted the Michael Keaton renaissance I'll always pay for a ticket to a Keaton picture. Quick shout out to his portrayal of Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming which is, in my opinion, the best villain performance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

#23- D'ya Like Dags?

Snatch (2000) 

Four Rabbis walk into a diamond merchant. No, this isn't the setup to a joke. It's the opening moments of Guy Ritchie's 2000 ensemble gangster masterpiece, Snatch, and this movie is no laughing matter. The film is shot out of a fucking canon and never slows down for a minute. It's loud, it's brutish, it's fast, and it just might be one of the greatest crime movies of all time.

The film follows a rogue's gallery,  brilliantly introduced in an opening credits sequence, and several different story lines that all center around an 86-Karat diamond. The way Richie interweaves multiple narratives into one another is wholly unique and imaginative. It makes the movie such an enjoyable ride. If you've ever seen his first film then you're familiar with the style. It helps that he has put together a band of actors that would rival any big budget comic book movie.

Narrating and carrying most of the weight is Turkish, a boxing promoter, played by Jason Statham in only his second role ever, the first being Ritchie's directorial debut Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and he's just amazing. For someone who had only been in two movies up to that point, he really does shine. It was obvious that this man was going to be a star. Guy Ritchie really takes advantage of his rugged British personality and stiff upper lip attitude. Playing him as an everyman that is just in over his head. His narration is engrossing and you can't wait to be introduced to the next player in the story. As he becomes deeper and deeper embroiled in this world of crime he's stumbled into,  you really hope he'll escape a vicious end.

But it's Pitt's portrayal of a gypsy bare knuckle boxing champion that really steals the show here, and doesn't' he just always? His half Irish/chav nomadic shyster, known in the film as a "Pikey" is barely intelligible (You'll most likely benefit from having the subtitles turned on) and still manages to absolutely own evert scene he's in. The physical performance he gives is also top-notch, as cut as he's ever been, and operating at what seems like 3% body fat. The boxing in the film is authentic and believable, thanks in large part to Pitt's dedication to the art. He's funny and brutal and he loves his mom dearly. He's truly one of my favorite characters in a any movie, ever.

Alan Ford plays the antagonist in the film, he is absolutely terrifying as a savage and ruthless gangster named "Brick Top". Whether he is describing how to feed someone to pigs or doling out brutal punishment on those that crossed him, your skin will crawl when he's on screen. He's a fantastically evil villian that somehow makes all the other abhorrent criminals and gangsters in the film,  of which there are many, seem tame in comparison. A true nemesis.

True story: Growing up my mom had a boyfriend who looked just like Brick Top. 

The ensemble cast is too big to list but some standouts are Vinnie Jones playing "Bullet Tooth" Tony and the late and so great Dennis Farina playing "Avi".  Jones was literally pulled out of a British Pub while watching a football game. His aesthetic is just so genuine. You believe he could be ensnared in this tale because he honestly looks and feels like he's lived it before. He has a monologue near the end of the film that is just stellar and really showcases what he's capable of. And Farina, well if you've ever seen him in anything before you know what you're getting, but trust me, that's a great thing. He's been established as a loud, aggressive, boss type and boy when the shoe fits so perfectly, you just have to wear it. His presence in this type of movie will be sorely missed.

As the movie unfolds and all of the many stories begin their inevitable collision with one another, you really start to admire the creative and clever script that Ritchie has crafted. It's inventive and really comes together in a coherent manner. It all leads up to an absolutely explosive climax that is every bit as loud and chaotic as the two hours that has preceded it.

Ritchie really has a style to him, he really was, for a moment anyway, the coolest director working. The one-two punch of Snatch and Lock Stock is a all-time combo, and the two would make an amazing double feature on any night of the week. Quick shout out to producer Matthew Vaughn who has gone off to have quite the successful career himself. Crime movies don't really get much better than Snatch and if you haven't seen this gem from 2000, do yourself a favor and get to know some gangsters for a couple hours. Just remember to leave the captions on.

Monday, December 9, 2019

#24- Beauty Without Expression is Boring

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

A little girl peers into a television set. The camera focuses on her giant crystal blue eyes. In the reflection of her big square glasses we see a beauty pageant. The new Miss America has just been named. The little girl mimics Miss Americas shocked reaction as they place a crown on her head. She slowly raises her hands up to her mouth in surprise. She waves to a cheering, adoring audience. She's crying tears of joy. The little girl grabs the remote,  rewinds it to the beginning and watches it again. This is something she's done before, and will do again. This is Olive Hoover,  she's seven years old and her dream is to be Miss America.

Little Miss Sunshine is a movie that in two hours can summarize the family dynamic so poignantly that you'd swear you just went to therapy. I love this movie man,  so much, and you know what? It really loves you back,  it truly does. It's funny and beautiful and so incredibly genuine that it honestly has the power to teach you something,  and will. The film starts with the melancholy synth waves of DeVotchka's "The Winner Is" and is the body of the films score. It is a touching piece and really injects the movie with warm yet mournful sound. The movie was made on the shoestring budget of 8 million dollars and is the very definition of indie gem.   

Olive,  played so authentically, by then newcomer Abigail Breslin is a revelation. Her heartfelt portrayal of an enthusiastic budding beauty queen is so real that you'll fall in love the very minute she's on screen. 

As Olive is acting out her fantasy,  we see a contrasting scene. Frank, her uncle,  played so beautifully by Steve Carell,  is seen in a hospital. His wrists are wrapped in gauze. A down on his luck Proust scholar who has spiraled into depression and self destruction. He's attempted suicide after his gay lover left him for a MacArthur genius grant recipient, also a Proust scholar. The two scenes juxtaposed against each other is brilliant. In Olive's young face we see hope,  joy,  a reason to believe,  against all reason,  that she could indeed be Miss America. In Carell's we see the opposite,  his eyes shrink wrapped in tears,  no reason to hope at all. Carell is a marvel. Gone are the hilarious cringey moments he is known for,  instead he's coming for your heart and isn't stopping until he gets it. 

Coming to pick him up is his sister,  and Olive's mom,  Sheryl. A strong performance by Toni Collette, She is the rock,  the tie that binds this family together,  but she's slipping, about to unravel. Frayed by the constant struggle to keep her family whole. Her only real joy seems to be the 5 minutes she allows herself to sneakily burn down a cigarette. 

When Sheryl receives news that Olive can compete in the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant the family is tasked with a race against time to get her to Redondo Beach, CA from Albuquerque, NM. in two days. A Family that can barely stand being under the same roof,  must now share a Vintage VW T2 Microbus bus for 800 miles.

Can I drive 800 miles with Steve Carell and Toni Collette please?

Driving the bus is Greg Kinnear,  Richard Hoover,  the dad with his shirt tucked into his shorts,  and a clip on phone. You know? that dad. He's an unimpressive motivational speaker,  obsessed with what makes a winner and what defines a loser. His grating Type A overconfidence makes him so easy to despise that you'll do so immediately. However,  it makes his journey and growth all that much sweeter. Along with their Grandfather,  a vulgar yet tender,  Alan Arkin who has turned to drugs to forget the reality of his waning health and their quiet Nietzsche obsessed son,  Dwayne,  who has taken a vow of silence until he can reach flight school,  the Hoovers hit the road. 

The bus really does become the 7th member of the family. As the group has to push start it every time they stop. It becomes this awesome team building exercise,  a real microcosm of the idea of the movie. Together this family is capable of great things,  even if it starts with something as mundane as pushing a small VW bus. In a classic american road movie,  which this very much is,  the vehicle is always a supporting character and just like every part of this movie the vintage VW is something you'll find yourself smiling about days later. 

Team Building

As the family gets closer to Redondo Beach they each suffer their own personal setbacks. Watching the family confront these challenges and grow from them is such a rewarding experience. I mean it when I say that this movie is filled with an intense love. You can't help but want the very best for this family. Specifically a scene with Dwayne, that is especially powerful and completely cathartic. 

Once the Hoovers actually get to the pageant the film has really found it's stride. I'm not lying when I say the scene where Olive finally performs her talent portion of the show will have you jumping off your couch and shouting with joy. It's a satire that asks us the question, what is true beauty? and what are we as a society teaching our youth about quantifying it? All this while making you cry and laugh and love. Have I mentioned how beautiful this film is yet?  

The One and Only Little Miss Sunshine

As the film ends,  the family push starts the old VW van one last time. But this time it's different. As they all look at one another,  their journey complete,  you realize something. They've been transformed,  bonded by the unique trials and tribulations that only a great journey can provide. Maybe they'll make it after all. As they hop in the van one by one you see that they all have smiles on their faces and so do you, it's then you begin to understand, you've been apart of this voyage as well. A silent passenger, learning and growing and allowing yourself to believe that we could all use a little more sunshine in our lives. 

The title of the blog is a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote. He explained this movie in 5 words better than I ever could. Watch it for Ralph....

Saturday, December 7, 2019

#25- My Kind of Disney Movie

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 this will. The 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.