Archive of ‘Reviews’ category

The Girls of Summer

 

 

 

A couple of months ago, I (Chris) mentioned my hopefulness of what can come out of the success of Furious 7, with its potential impact on the increase of multicultural characters in films. These past few months, a more consistent trend has appeared in the blockbuster engulfed Summer: the dominant appearance of interesting female characters in what is usually considered a testosterone-run season.

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In the first act of the overly optimistic Tommorowland,  we are introduced to a young girl by the name of Athena (her name pretty much explains her character). When asked by a male counterpart who she was, she simply says, “I’m the future”; her answer is working on two levels for us, the audience. We later find out that this young, charismatic, and strong-willed girl is actually artificial intelligence. Along with that, Brad Bird (director of Tomorrowland) sees her as the future because she is female. With a look at the run of summer movies in 2015, you could easily see several female characters repeating this same line of dialogue in a metaphorical sense.

In past Summers, women were given a week or two of movies specifically designed for them (The Devil Wears Prada and Eat Pray Love). Even a few times, they were thrown a bone with a masculine driven action movie with a female sidekick (Edge of Tomorrow and The Bourne Legacy). Yet occasionally, one if these “chick flicks” makes a major breakthrough, not just with female audiences but with male as well (Bridesmaids). Even the success of Bridesmaids can surprise studio heads, and have them debate whether it’s worth the effort to make more female-driven films that aren’t easily defined as chick flicks in the middle of summer.

This year, we’ve seen an expanse of leading female roles, in the variety of summer films. Most notably in the action/adventure genre, which despite the fact of the summer starting out rough with the problematic depiction of Black Widow in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, we’ve had our share of complex action heroines. Such is the case of the aforementioned Tomorrowland, which relied on two very different female leads. George Clooney is the name that brought people into the theater (very few people actually, the film has only grossed 84 million after being theaters for over a month). Yet the female leads played by Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy are the driving force of the story, while Clooney is there to be a helping hand along the way. Despite not being a fan of the film, Britt Robertson’s performance, as Casey, is something to appreciate from a studio (Disney) that often depicts its female leads as delicate princesses. Casey is a self reliant, tech-geek with no bearings of the clichés of femininity.

While Mad Max: Fury Road takes a darker look into our future than Tomorrowland, it also shares a notable appreciation for a strong female characters.The strong female presence has been well documented when talking about the best movie of the summer, Mad Max: Fury Road. The complaint, by certain groups of men(click here for ridiculous article), and how the movie focuses too much attention on Charlize Theron, who plays Imperator Furiosa, is uninformed. This series has shown, in each installment, how Max is the vessel for the action to continue. He’s the launching pad but the world around him has always been the character that keeps us interested; Furiosa is that world and the story. A timely story, as an allegory for the destruction, that men take such pride in our world today. George Miller displays the many ways we have wronged and used women, not as our equals but our “property” in the most extreme terrifying ways.

Both MM: Fury Road and Tomorrowland put the hopes and power of the future in the hands of its female protagonists; giving them the chance to fix what MEN have ruined. This perspective is not only revolutionary but also perhaps evolutionary. We’ve had our chance to fix the future, maybe it’s time for the women to save us (or destroy us).

This Summer, we’ve seen even greater success for females in the comedy world. Pitch Perfect 2, which features an almost all-female cast and was also directed by a woman (Elizabeth Banks, who also has a small part in PP2), became a must-see not with just ladies but with also guys who find this group of misfits endearing. With success of Spy, Melissa McCarthy has show she is capable to sell tickets in a manner similar to that of her male counterparts, such as Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen.

And the summer still has plenty to offer for leading ladies. This weekend, we will see the release of Pixar’s Inside Out, which takes us inside the head of a pre-teen girl, who is going through a difficult time. Rarely do we see “coming of age” films from the perspective of a young girl. With Pixar, you know you’ll always get something interesting and thought-provoking, even in animated films. Amy Schumer’s acting and writing vehicle, Trainwreck gives Schumer the chance to do what all her male counterparts have been doing. To be the crude, vulgar, and “in a state of arrested development” that they’ve been for a long time now.

Hopefully, this is not merely “one good Summer” for this enrichment of vast female characters, a passing trend until we are overloaded with 20 superheroes next summer. This shouldn’t be considered a trend but the embodiment of our culture that women are more than just helpless bystanders, waiting for to be rescued or romanced.

 

 

 

The Multicultural Action Hero: The Social Relevance of the Fast & Furious Franchise

 

In the past year we’ve seen major changes in the diversity of actors in television. This is not simply in the minor roles but often the lead protagonist of many shows. Yes, there have been minor waves of this in recent years with the beloved but barely watched The Wire. Yes, Lost was known for having a large cast of people of color but lets not forget that Jake, Locke, Kate and Sawyer were the leads of the show. Yet in this past year, television as had a rise of big and small parts for minorities.  Columnist of the website DeadlineNellie Andreeva speaks about the sea change, in her controversial piece that examines the “backlash” of too much diversity (or as she incorrectly says ethnicity) in Hollywood. This supposed backlash is coming from executives and agents having a hard time getting work for their white actors. In this supposed overtaking by minorities, we’ve seen shows that were specially designed for non-white actors (Empire and Fresh Off The Boat) and others that were initially designed for a white lead (as is the case of Viola Davis in How To Get Away With Murder). With the growth of minorities in dramas and comedies, television is not only surpassing films in this “Golden Age” of quality programming but with the realization of the many cultures that inhabit many different worlds. (more…)

The Fast & Furious series seems to be the only major film franchise that recognizes the logic of diversity amongst its cast of characters. This multicultural element has been a part of the franchise since it’s inception in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious. Paul Walker, as the FBI agent Brian O’Conner, gets sucked into the subculture of street racing by not only falling for Jordana Brewster but also finding a bond with Vin Diesel’s character Dom, who is the leader of this diverse crew. Yes, there are a few white guys in the crew but Dom as its leader is far from the look of the average leading man. As the series as gone on, we’ve seen an increase of the diversity in the cast. This increase in diversity was especially true once Justin Lin took over the helm, directing F&F 3-6; we saw a range of faces joining the crew. Leaving us to this most recent picture, Furious 7, which showcases our “heroes” as united again for another high-octane adventure. Other than Paul Walker (in sadly his last film do to his death) and Kurt Russell, who has nothing to do here other than to look at monitors while giving us exposition, the cast of good guys is a melting pot of various races. To see such diversity in a popular film, let alone a series of films so popular, is truly unprecedented.

Other than the powerhouse star ability of Denzel Washington and Will Smith, action films are rarely staring non-white men. With an exception of those two juggernauts, no major film is led by anything else than white males or a slew of white males. In various films franchises (The Avengers for example), we’ve come accustomed to seeing our heroes saving the lives of people of various corners of the world but only the F&F series allows those faces, who usually play the victims, to become the leading cast of protectors. Furious 7 earned $392 million worldwide on its opening weekend, showing its continuous growth in popularity. The amount of money isn’t only showing the popularity but also who is going out to see the movie: 75% of ticket sales of Furious 7 were contributed to non-white audiences. This is nothing new with this particular series, yet why hasn’t Hollywood seen the value of diverse cast in other films?

There are a few factors to contribute to the lack of diversity in blockbuster films. Risk being the clearest advocate against this change. Despite what you may think, film studios much rather stick to formulas that have worked for thirty years now. Yes, the danger in the films may change year by year, depending on social relevance (killer shark, killer asteroid, killer Loki), but leading men stay the same. The hidden little secret of the studio system is they don’t want to be the first to do something different (for fear of failure) but instead to be the second to do something different; it’s a copycat industry for lack of a better term. Secondly, many of the characters we see in blockbusters are based on prior material that has already established them as beloved characters. It’s hard to convince producers and fan boys that Donald Glover would be a great choice for Spider-Man when he looks nothing like the Spider-Man we’ve seen the past 40 years (and yes I know recently Marvel Comics made a black/Hispanic Spidey but that doesn’t mean people will forget white Spidey). What little we have seen of established white comic book characters, changing their race for the big screen, has only been of supporting characters, like Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. No one has the guts (yet) to have one of the leading superheroes be black, instead you’ll have to wait for the Black Panther film starring Chadwick Boseman, who has a pinching for playing black historical figures (James Brown and Jackie Robinson). These two points lead us to the final reason the sea change hasn’t happened yet, perhaps Hollywood sees that blacks and other minority actors have their own genre of characters to themselves. Whether it’s slaves, gangsters, or historical figures, certain roles have to be designated to minority actors. We’ve past the point in which white actors play historically non-white characters (oh wait I forgot, Christian Bale played Moses and Joel Edgerton played the EGYPTIAN King Ramses. Never mind). These non-white actors have roles reserved for them, such as being slaves, maids, gangsters, Cesar Chavez, MLK Jr. but nearly impossible to be the leading man of the killer asteroid film. Hopefully, the continued success of F&F will eventually open the floodgates for Idris Elba to play James Bond (wishful thinking on that one).

Written by: Chris Jones

 

Believing is Art: Whiplash

Chris and I saw this movie a couple weeks back and loved it! Here is Chris’s review of the fantastic film!

The “struggling artist” genre is perhaps what I fall most prey to loving more than any other genre, for a lack of a better term: it’s my chick flick. Perhaps, this is because my own desires and inability to be a great artist (just being honest). Some of the best films made are about the ups and downs of the artistic life. The beloved Fellini picture 8 ½ best shows the weight that is carried on an artist (or a filmmaker as it is in 8 ½) whose public expectations have surpassed his own artistic desires. The Coen Brother’s, Inside Llweyn Davis, deals with trappings of the narcissistic and stubborn artist who is unwilling to play for the adoring crowds. While The Red Shoes showed the sacrifice that is sometimes demanding to accomplish acclaim and heights that few are willing or capable to reach. Each of theses films are at times brutally honest of the unglamorous parts of such sought after avenues, while speaking to the need to create. (more…)

Whiplash is the story of Andrew (played by Miles Teller), a young jazz drummer, who attends one of the most respected music schools in America. In only his first semester, he grabs the attention of the most renowned (and feared) teacher in the school, Professor Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons), who pulls Andrew out of a class to have him join Fletcher’s own class band to be the alternate drummer. Although in they’re initial interactions Fletcher comes off as Mr. Chips, his true colors as a hard nose psychopath comes out in the band sessions. Both Andrew and Fletcher are trying to gain something from this “relationship”. For the student, it’s the pursuit of becoming the next Buddy Rich, a great jazz drummer, while also ultimately earning the respect of Fletcher. For the teacher, he has someone he can form into a true talent with extreme measures to do so for the sake of art.

Damien Chazzele (writer/director of Whiplash) comes from the school of Scorsese with a very energetic style of direction with much of the feel and pacing due to the fine editing that matches perfectly with Andrew’s jazz drumming. Many think what makes a Scorsese film a “Scorsese film” is the violence but that’s just a lazy observation. The strength of Scorsese is knowing when to turn the pacing, energy and cuts up to a ten or to turn it down to a five. Chazzele has this similar eye for pace that can be seen in Scorsese films, in particular Mean Streets and Goodfellas. What Chazzele perhaps does best, is what he accomplishes through his collaboration with the superb performance of J.K. Simmons. This truly is an eye opening performance for Simmons, who has always been a trustworthy character actor in a number of films (Juno and the original Spider-Man movies). In the early parts of the film, Fletcher lurks around the spaces of the music school like the shark from Jaws; you know at some point your going to see him in full attack mode but Chazzele wants to save that for when you feel relaxed and unprepared. Simmons plays Fletcher masterfully without sentiment and is someone who knows his own strengths as a teacher and how to pull the talent out of the best musicians with a drill sergeant attitude. Some of the best moments of the film are seeing Fletcher terrifying his class musicians, you’ll find yourself laughing in horror at the evil, manipulative things coming out this man’s mouth. Miles Teller is emerging as a talent with his charm and the “every young man” appeal in other roles (The Spectacular Now and Divergent) but his very reserved as Andrew, that is until he gets behind his drum set, where he shines and explodes. His spark comes alive whenever he has to display or fight for his talent whether in discussion or in showing his abilities.

Without giving much away, in the last fifteen minutes, Andrew is given the opportunity to really show what he has. Fletcher puts in front of him a challenge, in which he either has to step up to or fold under. What proceeds to happen is without a doubt the most exciting 10-15 minutes captured on film this year (this includes any big budget explosion action movie). It’s mesmerizing and will suck you in, like as if you where a longtime jazz fan. I know nothing about jazz music except for the occasional times my mother would play Kind of Blue or Bitches Brew while cleaning the house when I was a kid but this movie gave me a strong desire to play the greats (Louis Armstrong, Buddy Rich and Miles Davis) when I got home.

Cinema Paradiso: Gone Girl

David Fincher

Although he is well respected as a filmmaker, David Fincher is rarely spoken as one of our modern visionary auteur in the same vain as his peers, P.T. Anderson, Tarantino or Soderbergh. Why is that? For one, he has never solely written any of the films he has directed, which would give the impression of being a director for hire. Secondly, from the start of his career, he has worked in mostly commercial films under the studio system, therefore he never had to “struggle for his art”. Lastly, he doesn’t have much of a mythology in which he is an outspoken “rock star”, such as Tarantino nor is he a hermit, who comes out of his cave of ideas every four years to give us a film like P.T. Anderson. Instead, he manages to be reserved, while giving honest interviews about his work and continues making some of the best television commercials you’ll see, simply out of the pleasure to work in the medium. The underrated uniqueness to Fincher is his ability to take a subject matter that seems uninteresting, like the creation of Facebook (The Social Network) or something that seems mediocre on paper involving a house invasion thriller (Panic Room) to a level of vast appeal but yet with one of a kind artistic view. This time around, Fincher was fortunate to get a screenplay: Gone Girl, which was written by Gillian Flynn (who wrote the novel also) that was highly interesting on paper. (more…)

Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, who on the morning of his 5th year anniversary, comes home after bar tending only to realize his wife has disappeared with what appeared to be a violent struggle in their home. Nick becomes the focal point of the investigation of the disappearance of his wife as his peculiar behavior and evidence mounts up against him. Once the investigation hits the national stage, every step Nick makes is dissected, while personal demons are discovered, giving all the more reason for him to be guilty of the crimes.
Obviously, with a “who dunit” it’s hard to get into much details of the film without giving much away. So bear with me on this one. What can be said is this may be Fincher’s most interesting film when discussing tonal change of acts within a picture. He inhabits his lead character’s point of view in way we haven’t seen him do before. Films, especially films in this thriller nature, change tones quite often towards the end of film as things are revealed but not at all like Gone Girl does. What starts as a Hitchcockian “the wrong man” film, turns into an Albert Brooks comedy mid way through, which somehow gracefully evolves into a sexual thriller towards the end. This is all do to Fincher’s maturity of pacing in his films, something that was cultivated most excellently in his masterpiece, Zodiac. Something that is often overly mentioned in discussing Fincher’s work is style over substance, which may have been fair in speaking about Seven or even Fight Club but with Gone Girl the tonal styles in which he takes makes Gillian Glynn (writer of the novel and screenplay) story all the more better to avoid any thoughts of ridiculousness. This is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ third score for a Fincher film, helps contribute to the tonal changes through out the picture in perhaps their best musical score to date.
The performances are truly terrific in this film. So well acted it should put to rest the notion of Fincher not being concerned with performances in his films (most famously that of Jake Gyllenhaal, an okay actor complains of Fincher’s direction style in Zodiac). Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne quite well, in what may be a meta performance for him, in that it closely reflects the ups (Good Will Hunting), downs (Gigli), and triumph ups again (Argo) of his Hollywood career. It’s really a joy to watch a movie star do a non movie star performance such as Affleck does here. Carrie Coon (who plays Nick’s twin sister Margo) was already having a breakout year with her performance in the television show, The Leftovers. She shines bright in this film stealing every scene she is in without appearing to try to steal every scene. I look forward to seeing what she does with a chance to be the lead in a film. Never having seen a Tyler Perry film or performance, I didn’t know what to expect from the already established actor. Perry brings humor and bravado as Nick Dunne’s charming, yet expensive lawyer, Tanner Bolt (the name says it all). The performance that truly deserves praise in this film is that of Rosamund Pike (The World’s End, Jack Reacher), who plays the missing wife, Amy Dunne. Prior to this you may only have recognized Pike has the eye candy in action movies or the older sister in Pride and Prejudice. SOME SERIOUS SPOILER STUFF FOR THE NEXT THREE SENTENCES. Pike in Gone Girl gives an eye opening performance as the supposed victim turned master manipulator to her husband and the many people who believe she is missing or dead. I really don’t want to give much away on what her character does but just imagined Catherine Tramell and Keyser Soze had a kid, it would probably turn out be just like Amy Dunne. Pike’s performance as Amy is a sprawling one, that asks her to be convincible victim terrified, darkly funny and a horrifying psychopath, at any given time. Not sure it’s the kind of performance that would get her an Oscar nomination but one that she should be getting praise for executing such a joggling act.
The fun of this movie for me is it’s an homage to the sexual thrillers of the late 80’s and early 90’s that I wasn’t allowed to see as a kid. You can’t help but think of Fatal Attraction or Sleeping With The Enemy when watching this picture. With that said, Gone Girl’s insight on marital frustrations are all its own a modern view of the class system that can arise in a marriage of two completely different people with two completely different needs for to accomplish happiness.

Cinema Paradiso: Catching Up on The Little Films of 2014

Ash here! I realized I have had Chris as a special guest on my blog and have never really introduced him. Among our group of friends, Chris is known as the human IMDB (Internet Movie Date Base). He loves watching films and discussing their impact on our personal lives and their impact on society. He will watch any movie, even if he knows it will be bad, just to have a perspective and earn the ability to review that movie. Warning: Wife Bragging Moment: Chris is actually in school, as he works full time, to be able to teach History and Film Critique. It’s so empowering to watch him chase after what he loves the most. Wife Bragging Moment over. Thank you. Ok, here’s Chris!

When you see Guardians of the Galaxy four or five times, you tend to forget about those smaller independent films that can fall between the cracks in the high-octane summer blockbusters.  Such is the case with me these past three months, mostly due to budgetary reasons. I didn’t get the chance to venture out to see much of the smaller films that I was excited to see.  With very little class work due this week (yes, I’m in college for what has seemed like an eternity), I decided to catch up on some recent releases on Netflix and VOD.  Here’s my short takes on some recent little-known films you should maybe check out. (more…)

Blue Ruin

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray and Amy Hargreaves

Blue Ruin is the “revenge flick” that settles the revenge within the first 20 minutes of the film, only to see how this complicates things for the protagonist’s personal life.  Dwight, played by a fairly unknown actor, Macon Blair, exacts revenge on the man who killed his parents, only to have it backfire. As the film plays out, we find out how this blood feud may or may not have begun.  There isn’t anything especially unique or new about this film, but it’s well made and at times, a suspenseful film.  The director never tries to romanticize or agree with Dwight’s revenge nor condemn it either but instead, lets it play out as naturally as possible.  Dwight is trying to survive not by criminal skill but by improvising through his lively hood. Macon Blair gives a terrific performance, as someone who is grief stricken without laying on the emotions too heavy, something in which a top- billed actor would feel necessary to do.  The pain and anger is already placed on his face without him speaking one word at the beginning of the film. It’ll remind you of No Country For Old Men without the grandiose Americana characters and perhaps, with a more conventional satisfying ending too. The film is streaming on Netflix.

Under The Skin

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams and Adam Pearson

Last year was the McConaissance (Matthew McConaughey had a big year, from his scene-stealing performance in Wolf of Wall Street, to his Best Actor Oscar win and the run as Rust Cohle in True Detective), maybe we are now entering into the Scar Johanaissance?  Despite my stupid usage of the word “renaissance” hear me out on this.  She starts out her terrific year in maybe her best performance to date by only using perhaps her strongest acting asset: her voice, in the film Her. A few months later, she makes do with what she is given, in a thankless part in one of the biggest hits of the year Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Then she holds her own as the lead character in the action movie Lucy, which became one of the successes of the testosterone heavy summer movies.  Have I made my case yet?  If not, I offer you Under The Skin.

I’ll try to give as little away as possible while trying to describe and explain this film. Scarlett Johansson plays a mysterious woman who roams the streets of Scotland to seduce men into her sexual web (“sexual web” maybe the dumbest term I’ll ever write but it’s the best I could do), who are at no way aware of what they’ve gotten themselves into. What little I can tell you about Under The Skin, is that it is surely one of the more unique films of the year. An eerie, sometimes haunting film that deals with the familiar themes of sexuality and humanity, with a fresh perspective by director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast). In her performance,   Johansson is asked to be more of an observer of the world instead being an active part of it.  The film is asking her to react to things around her and to see how she deals with a world she doesn’t quite understand completely.  I won’t say this film is for everyone but if you’re looking for a cerebral, puzzling, dig deeper for answers film, then this may do it for you as it did for me. It’s available for rent on Netflix.

The Only Lovers Left Alive

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt

No character has been put on film more than Dracula. In a few weeks, we’ll be given a Dracula origin story: Dracula Untold (pretty self explanatory title).  With that, the subject of vampires has become a staple among the horror genre.  Every ten years we think we’ve seen every vampire story there is to tell and Hollywood gives us what we enjoy from our vampires all over again.  The sex appeal from True Blood, scariness from The Strain (I use scariness not because it is, but because that’s what the makers want it to be) and the silliness of The Twilight Series has kept vampires in cultural consciousness recently.

Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise and Coffee & Cigarettes) doesn’t take interest in the familiar aspects of vampires.  Instead, Jarmusch’s interest is in the toll of living for a thousand years and what it would do to you spiritually and mentally.  Tom Hiddleston plays Adam, a reclusive musician who has become tired and burnt out on the world after “living” for a very long time.  He as become annoyed with the human race, which he calls zombies, that have wasted what they have been given while still fascinated with what they are capable of doing.  Jarmusch explains through Adam and Eve (played by Tilda Swinton) how we’ve lost appreciation for what came before us.  Our lack of love for the art, music, and literature that as shaped society has left us with an empty love for what is now considered art and popular.  The best moments of the film came from watching the relationship of Adam and Eve, to see what it would be like to be married to someone for several centuries, gives new meaning to everlasting love.  The lovers and the film are unfortunately interrupted by Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who pays an unexpected visit to the home of our two lovers.  The visit takes away from the pleasure of watching Hiddleston and Swinton conversing, as people would do that have seen Rome built and burned. It may be the most romantic film of the year, but I haven’t seen About Last Night yet so maybe I should hold off on that statement.
Available to rent on VOD.

Boyhood: A Review

boyhood

Chris and I saw this film over the weekend (the 10pm showing I’m still recovering from). We both loved it. Chris loves movies and even more, loves reviewing them. He is known as the human IMDB, knowing almost everything and everyone from every movie ever made. I thought it would be nice for him to review this movie for me. So here he is. Enjoy!

Films about the childhood experience aren’t made as often as you think.  Yes Hollywood makes a ton of children films a year, which usually consist of its characters having misadventures or learning valuable lessons when they do something against there stubborn parents’ wishes.  Rarely have films involving children actually given us insight to what it’s like to be a growing and developing human being.  The rare occasions that we have been given this window have produced terrific results such as The 400 Blows and Where The Wild Things Are.  The reason for the few films about the childhood experience is that it may just be difficult to encapsulate such a thing that we as adults are so far removed from in our experience.

     With Boyhood, the obvious talking point for the film has been the twelve year process that director Richard Linklater (Dazed and ConfusedBefore Midnight) took to make this film about a young boy’s experiences growing up from 6 to 18 using the same actors for those twelve years of shooting the film. Maybe this will be all you’ll be able to think about in the first twenty five minutes of the film. Linklater is aware of the distraction of such a audacious experiment that he takes his time during the ages of 5-9 with his young lead character Mason (Eller Coltrane), so you can get comfortable with this moving photo album.  Linklater doesn’t give us title cards letting us know what year it is nor how old Mason is either.  Rarely are we told the exact age of Mason unless it’s during an important event in his life.  Eventually you become relaxed with the idea that you’ll be watching Mason and the other characters age for the next two and half hours.

Linklater has never tried to be a flashy filmmaker, which has made him perhaps the most underappreciated director of his generation.  Starting with his first film, Slacker  in 1991, you’ll see a young visionary trying to find his voice, while being influenced by the conversational John Cassavetes’ films of the early 70’s.  Linklater has always been fascinated with existential questions about life we ask each other and ourselves.  Dialogue and the little details have been what make him stand out as a storyteller, which you see in this film especially.  Early in Boyhood Mason’s single mother Olivia (played wonderfully by Patricia Arquette), has to make the decision to move with her two kids Mason and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) to Houston for a new job.  Before they leave their old home they must paint the house white for the new residence.  Mason decides to help his mother but before doing so he examines the doorway that shows the dates and inches he’s grown since living in that home. Soon after he covers this detail with white paint. The continuous process of comprehending these transitions we go through is what Linklater is interested in telling with Mason. How does the world around him affect him, the temporary fathers coming in and out of his life, politics, young love and bullies.  Linklater does a terrific job showing, not telling, these transitions of life with a masterful soundtrack.  The soundtrack is an important necessity in this film, placing us at the time of the film without ever putting it on the nose, giving the perception that this isn’t Linklater’s soundtrack but instead Mason’s.

This film couldn’t stand on its own if the performance by its young lead wasn’t watchable, but Eller Coltrane gives a truly wonderful performance that only grows each year that passes in this film.  You really get a sense that he is absorbing everything without making it so clear that he is.  You care for this kid so deeply that you feel apart of his life and hope the best for him on his graduation day.  Arquette is perhaps the best thing about this film.  She gives a performance of modern motherhood that I can say I’ve never seen before.  Never being the wet blanket, no nonsense mother, or free spirit guardian angel that often these types of films gives us.  Instead, she displays the flaws that come with having to run the parenthood gauntlet on your own sometimes. She makes her fair share of mistakes, with the unfortunate bad luck with men setting her back along the way.  With Arquette’s heart breaking speech at the end of the film, she steals the movie for me (it made me want to call my mother immediately after getting out of theater just to tell her I love her). Ethan Hawke is great as well, playing Mason Sr., the often-aloof father of Mason and Samantha.  Hawke’s presence lightings the mood in the film, as he shows up at times, as the cool but still immature dad who doesn’t quite know what to do or say with the children he sees once a month.  Linklater as done over four films with Hawke and he still manages to get the best out of him every time they collaborate.

 I won’t go as far saying Boyhood is the best Linklater film (Dazed and Confused holds a special place in my heart) but it’s perhaps  the boldest and it should finally get him the mainstream respect he deserves.

Guardians of the Galaxy: A Review by A Non Comic Book Geek

guardians-of-the-galaxy-hed-2014

I can’t stand comic book movies. Whenever they come out, which feels weekly, my husband is begging for me to come. I usually try to pawn them on his guys night out by ending with: “…and you can see, (comic book movie insert here), after dinner.” Guardians of the Galaxy was one of those movies I tried to give any excuse not to see. I never read comic books so I don’t have that nostalgic attachment (like Chris). It just feels like the same sequence of events, just changing out the characters and super powers.

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Directed by James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy is the perfect mix of comic book action, clever innuendos, and plenty of 80’s love. The protagonist, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) isn’t a supernatural hero who is invincible. He is just a human who discovered the world of space and galaxies after a traumatic childhood experience. Quill grows up away from Earth and becomes a ravager for a living. He gets paid to retrieve important items from older planets, not knowing their actual worth. The basis of the story is an orb Quill found and is trying to keep it from the bad guy, Ronan (Lee Pace). This orb can give immense, harmful power if it falls into the hands of the wrong person.

Quill gets teamed up with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who works for Ronan but decides to betray him. A speaking raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his best friend, Groot (Vin Diesel). While in prison, the group meets Drax (David Bautista), who has a vengeful vendetta against Ronan and joins the crew to stop him. Although it may sound like the same cookie cutter mold as the other comic book movies, its delivery has quite a different approach. There is a humor about this film that keeps it entertaining but doesn’t distract from the actual story line. So many times, a protagonist’s character is too serious and his mission is always too heavy. In this movie, Quill shares the heroic spotlight with four other characters and each one has their own special gifts to offer. The focus is on teamwork and friends becoming family. It’s about the grand scheme of relationships: sacrifice, love, betrayal. The point of this film isn’t to get us from point A to point B but rather for us to experience these characters, their mishaps and misfortunes, and to love them regardless. Plus, there are plenty of humorous moments that make you not only want to keep watching but actually see these characters succeed and become the heroes they aren’t.

Guardians of the Galaxy speaks to the average Joe. It speaks to the people who work day in day out and don’t feel there is anything special about themselves. In this movie, there is a hope that encourages all of us to be the best version of ourselves we can be, even if it’s not perfect. Plus, a little faux Michael Jackson dancing never hurt anyone either. Go see this movie and enjoy the ride. You will laugh, laugh, and maybe cry just a little bit.

Snowpiercer

snowpiercer

Spoiler Alert: Although nothing is fully given away, please be aware of the content that is discussed or insinuated.

There are many movies right now that take place in the future. Some threaten an extreme global warming event, others show how politics and power can be taken advantage of. Within these intense, futuristic themes, there is a fear that drives people to do unimaginable things. In his first English film, Joon-ho Bong takes us for a train ride; but this isn’t a Driving Miss Daisy kind of ride. (more…)

Due to a failed global cooling experiment, only a chosen few make it onto the Snowpiercer; a train that can’t stop moving and if it does, humanity dies. There are social classes within this train: the very rich in the front and the very poor in the tail. Of course, the poor are brutally oppressed by the rich for the sake of the rich being able to enjoy luxury. We follow, Curtis (Chris Evans), who has been on the train for 17 years and has experienced first hand how people can turn into savages when put into desperate circumstances.

Right off the bat, we are shown how the tail end of the train is treated and we are endlessly hoping for a revolution. Without giving too much away, we get to see every car in the train as we move towards the front of the train, where the owner of the train, Willford, lives. Each cart offers its own horrifying or rather comical entry as each door is opened to an unknown. To add to the tension, there is also the outside elements, like snow and ice, that have an effect on the passengers. As one violent fight scene takes place, there is a call for a stand still because it isn’t safe for people to be standing while the train plunges through ice.

Like the train, this film doesn’t stop. From the get go, we are forced into a world where there are no windows and the food is a dark jelly substance that people eat with their hands. Soon after, a revolution begins, offering its own triumphs and terrifying disappointments. Chris Evans offers a different type of superhero than he’s used to playing. He is indeed still charming and fighting for the good of people who can’t fight for themselves but in a much dirtier way (literally). This character isn’t overplayed, he simply gets the job done. There are a few moments where we see into Curtis’ soul and are not sure if we are swooned or horrified. It offers the question if what we think a good guy is really exists here. Curtis reveals to the audience that even the “good guys” still have to spill blood (not their own) to selfishly survive. Although he is repentant of his past cannibalistic acts, is his repentance the only thing that separates him from the filthy rich who abuse the poor for their own comfort and survival? There is no grey line, just steel doors that separate one life from the next.

Tilda Swinton plays Mason, a satirical mannish woman who is in charge of the societal structure of the train. She is obviously meant to expose what the rich are like, since we are stuck in the tail of the train for a bit. She shows us how self indulgent the front of the train is and how reckless they are with their indulgences. We laugh at her but in the same moment we hate her for what she represents. Although we all want to relate and connect to the impoverished protagonists, we might have more in common with Mason than we would hope. Bong is exposing what “rich” really means and how easily we all can have the rich mindset, even if we do not have the same bank account.

One theme that keeps getting repeated by the rich passengers on this train is balance. Without balance, the train can’t run and keep everyone safe from the unlivable environment conditions outside. Balance isn’t natural and must be maintained by some sort of sacrifice. Unfortunately, it’s the poor that have to constantly sacrifice to keep the balance in effect. The question being presented to us is what do we think is more important: equality that risks quality of life or balance. Naturally, we all would choose equality without really thinking of the consequences. If we are living some sort of comfortable life, then we have balance to thank.

This film is quite a ride (pun intended) and it’s rather difficult not to watch it from the edge of your seat. There is violence, there are disappointments, there are manic moments, and there are saddening scenes. If you have 2 hours to kill one night, I highly suggest watching Snowpiercer. That will be the fastest 2 hours of your life.

The Leftovers-Episode 3

What to do when you’ve been left behind? What to do when you think you were worthy of transcendence but instead you are left with a paralyzed wife and a church you can’t afford to keep? “It’s a test” you keep telling yourself in hopes you are somewhat passing. No one was taken from you on Heroes Day but compared to what your life is like now, you kind of wish they were. In a very “Lostonian” way, this week’s episode of The Leftovers changed its pace and focused on one man’s story. For the last two weeks, we have been mainly following a broken police chief and the people he encounters. We have been shown, only on the surface, how the disappearance has affected everyone who wasn’t taken. It’s obvious that the world is a less safe, more cynical place and since there are no answers to the disappearance, there is nothing left to lose . Living recklessly seems to be everyone’s motto and since “our dogs aren’t our dogs, anymore”, maybe that also applies to our kids, teenagers, spouses, etc. Nothing was left unscathed that day and the best anyone can do is survive because making it better isn’t going to happen. (more…)

In this third episode, instead of following the usual characters and story lines, there is a shift in attention. We are shown the life of the sad and controversial pastor, who doesn’t have a congregation tithing and therefore paying his monstrous bills. He is disliked by many due to his crusade of revealing the dirty laundry of those who disappeared. It is assumed that those who disappeared were innocent, morally good people. He takes his precious time to photocopy stories as handouts so people can see the truth. This is his effort to make sense of Heroes Day and perhaps, to console his disappointment that he wasn’t part of the chosen ones.

We begin in front of a church where pastor Matt is putting up a sign that says, “He is always with you”. This is a foreshadowing of how the episode pans out and how absent God feels to Matt. He then goes inside the church and is telling those few who are listening, an anecdote of a young boy. This boy starts to resent his baby sister since his parents are only paying attention to her. He gets diagnosed with leukemia and miraculously survives. This boy is Matt, the minister, and this story explains a lot about his character. In his life, he has been the chosen one, the one who survived something that usually kills its victims. He had visions of being head of an ever crowded church and where people would run to him for answers. As we learned, that isn’t the case and Matt’s role in the town is more of a nuisance than a blessing. Matt’s struggle is incredibly painful to watch as he as to come up with over $100,000 in cash to save his church and we learn his wife is paralyzed. He can’t even seem to pay the lady who takes care of his wife and he is at his end with what to do. There is a picture in his wife’s room that I assume is Job, a Bible character who was constantly being tested by God. Matt religiously stares at this picture for answers. He realizes he has to steal and gamble if he has any chance of saving the church. The irony here is he has passed judgement on those who led a sinful life before they disappeared, not knowing their circumstances or having grace on their hardships. But now he has a desperate circumstance that calls for a desperate act.

His desperate act is the start of unfortunate and honestly, uncomfortable to watch moments where his hope is taken away. He gets brutally attacked 3 times in this episode and the last time costs him his church. He is too late to make the payment, since he was in the hospital for 3 days (not one like he thought). While he was unconscious in the hospital, there is a montage of events that happen. Some are from Matt’s past and others are from his present. Most of the people he interacts with in this montage are absent of any emotion, even though serious things are going on. This is insight into how Matt views his neighbors and that no one wants to help those in need. After Matt wakes up, we learn the people in white bought his church. He has treated these people with kindness, sometimes risking his own safety to help them. This isn’t the world where kindness gets you friends anymore. It’s dog eat dog and he slowly realizes this as he watches them take over the church. What hurts the most for Matt is that it wasn’t about the people in white betraying him but that the God, whom he has so faithfully followed, betrayed him. His sign that was put up in the beginning of the episode was taken down and Matt’s hope went with it. He wasn’t chosen to disappear and he also wasn’t chosen to be the leader among the lost. He wasn’t chosen and it’s that fact that haunts him.

Chef

Reinvention happens daily in the culinary world and in the film, Chef, reinvention is what saves a man’s career. Jon Favreau’s, Chef, is a story about a well-known chef, Carl Casper, who breaks out of the restaurant mold and jumps for something almost out of reach. He is encouraged by his ex-wife to pursue a food truck service, allowing him to choose his own menu and ingredients. He stubbornly denies her encouragement but due to recent social media warfare, he is forced into considering life on the road. Carl takes a trip back to where his career started, Miami, where the music is loud, the people are sweaty, and the food is inspirational. It is in Miami he starts his food truck service and thanks to Twitter, is an instant hit. He travels from Miami back to Los Angeles and takes a few detours along the way to appease his young son. His food truck journey not only allowed him to gain back his confidence, it also mended his relationship with his son. (more…)

Food porn is a term used when describing some scenes from this film. Long, sexy spaghetti noodles naked and barely clothed in a silky olive oil, garlic, and parsley sauce. A crunchy grilled cheese with a warm, soft inside, seducing you as thick cheese strands pull off from a big bite. The food scenes are meant to tempt us towards a midnight snack. But are these pulsating scenes distracting us from the actual story line? I would beg to differ. Cooking food is who Chef Casper is and to fully understand his art, we must experience first hand how he cooks and what he likes to cook. Obviously, baking a molten chocolate cake isn’t what makes him hot in the kitchen.

This film is simple, no extra innuendos, what you see is what you get. We are cheering for our protagonist but secretly hoping this movie would become 5-D so we can actually wrap our mouths around those fat cubans. There is plenty of cheese throughout the film and I’m not talking about the edible kind. Word to the wise, don’t go to this movie hungry.

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