Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Boogie Nights

Hard Eight apparently taught everything Paul Thomas Anderson everything he needed to know since with Boogie Nights there seems to be a true master at work. Now there still is a subtle growth with Anderson found in his creation of his own personal style, since with the next few films he approaches new subject matter by utilizing aspects of other filmmakers's methods, though always with his own flair. In Boogie Nights this is his Altmanesque examination of the Porn industry of the 70's and his "degradation" through the change of a decade. The film most closely Dirk Diggler(Mark Wahlberg)'s career path in the industry, but around that covers fascinating variety of the various people in the life. This is most interesting in that Anderson allows different tones depending on the character depending on the scene, and it never feels as though it seem ill-fitting despite the fact that in one given scene you can have Dirk hilariously belting out "the Touch", then another that entails a brutal murder suicide. Anderson weaves it all together just about flawlessly, and the entire film has the mark of a great director.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hard Eight

Hard Eight is the feature film debut of Paul Thomas Anderson, and it's a rather strong showing first time at bat. This is most obvious in the opening set of scenes that open the film where the older man Sydney seems to randomly help out a young man John by showing him a neat trick to get setup as a high roller in Vegas. The entire sequence is spellbinding in its own unassuming way. Now once that ends it does not maintain that height, but that's not really saying too much. It still remains a compelling character study through Philip Baker Hall's great performance. Even though the plot develops are not exactly amazing the film succeeds on Anderson's ability as a director, his ability as a writer in terms of dialogue, and the performances of the entire cast. It ends up being more of a set of scenes than a cohesive whole the way his later films would become, but that's alright since the various scenes are still quite strong, one involving a one scene wonder by Philip Seymour Hoffman is very memorable. There is obvious room for growth to be found in this film, yet it still stands as an indication of a potential master filmmaker.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Battle Of The Five Armies stands as the grand finale but it is in fact the imploding of the trilogy. Now the unfortunate part is it starts strong with what should have been the finale of the previous film in a thrilling yet emotionally captivating scene of Bard versus the Dragon Smaug. This is a successful pay off of the wise decision to expand on the character of Bard, who is nothing in the novel. Unfortunately the film gets painted into a corner by the novel itself, which is really doesn't end well. It's messy and the only way to have pulled it off would have to swollen the medicine and just have the battle skipped over like in the book. It's a let down to be sure, but the battle is flawed to begin with since our main hero is barely involved and the battle itself is too poorly realized. The third act of the novel is a mess, in that it only works if it stayed as lighthearted as the book is. That's not the case though so the film forces to realize the whole battle which takes up the whole film. It's odd how thin it all is as it stretches out about a page of writing to more than an hour of screen time. All of the expansions come crashing down for the most part, as there is no vision to unite them properly within the battle. It becomes just a mess as the characters are too frequently lost amidst it all. It still has the occasionally strong moments, Thorin in the last act of the film, but even that is diminished by the consistently poor choices made throughout. The most egregious being the focus on an unfunny comic relief whose payoff was eliminated through editing. All the flaws of the trilogy are most easily seen here, which makes for a truly unsatisfying conclusion.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Desolation Of Smaug is the second entry into the Hobbit series and it is the best, though not flawless either. It most often gets things right though, more so than its predecessor and sequel. It importantly captures the right tone of fun in the dwarves quest which is essential to The Hobbit which is suppose to be a more lighthearted adventure story opposed to the Lord of the Rings. It also has the very best expansion in the form of Bard, whose made a great character rather than being absolutely nothing which was the case of the novel. Now there is still some unneeded additions, the love triangle is pointless, the constant orc attacks become quite tiresome, the addition of the opening flashback is mindboggling to say the least, it still focuses on Gandalf's side quest(though thankfully in its most limited quantity here). More often than not though the film does work particularly when it focuses on the main party, and Bilbo. Bilbo's initial scene with Smaug is great though even the film does make this go on for too long when the rest of the party gets involved in a pointless action scene. This one more often than not captures a real sense of fun, and it works for what it is. What's wrong with the trilogy is still quite present, but what it could have been can also be seen.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey marks the beginning of the Hobbit trilogy which has been compared to the Star Wars prequels, which is not a good thing. It's rather interesting to examine the series of films to see where it is they fall short against the strength of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. One major aspect is found in the tone, which might be a natural problem for any prequel, since how does it distinguish itself from the original("sequel") while still being part of the same universe. Well that's problem one as the book itself is more lighthearted than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The film suffers in that it partially embraces this at times, particularly in the hijinks of the dwarves and Radagast, while attempting to replicate the harsher tones of Lord of the Rings in its focus on the Orc's chasing the Dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo throughout their journey. Now past the less refined tone, which does coincide with the Star Wars prequels problem though in far less extreme of a manner I feel, one obvious similarity is in the film's use of CGI. Now this seems stranger though in that the original LOTR trilogy used it heavily as well. The differences can be found though as LOTR utilized it with an effective mix of practicals where there is a far greater over reliance particularly in the villains, which takes a great deal of weight from their presence particularly in the chief Orc, who stands a lame villain throughout the three films. One element where it clearly is not the Star Wars prequels are the performances, which for the most part are quite strong, Martin Freeman in particular, and they in no way show a going through the motions the same way Peter Jackson's direction sometimes feels like. Now all films should be adaptations of the material, but the odd thing here is if they had gone to the letter of the page it would have been shorter. The choice to lengthen as long as possible was not a wise one on a whole, but the idea for a two film Hobbit made sense, three just was more than stretching. There are moments we a bit extra was more than appreciated, the misty mountain song is nice atmosphere building moment, a few instances with the individual dwarves to build character are needed, but there is plenty that is not needed. The flashbacks with Thorin could have been left implied, the story of the Necromancer should have been left off screen as it was in the novel since there's no reason to set up a film we've already seen. The film is messy in that there are scenes that find the right tone, and story elements to focus on but then there are complete wastes of time. For almost every riddles in the dark sequence there's the laborious council of Elrond scene. There are plenty of good scenes, but the film is fundamentally flawed.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall tells the story of Henry VII's tumultuous decision to divorce his first wife, and break off from the Catholic church in order to marry the ambitious Anne Boleyn. This story has been told several times before, but this offers a new approach by placing in the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, who was often portrayed as an amoral schemer in the past iterations. An interesting approach to be sure as it breaks the events down to the nearest extremes in terms of political maneuvers given that our lead, played to absolute perfection by Mark Rylance, is a pragmatic political soldier for the King. Now the weakest elements of the show probably is in the somewhat reactionary writing basically as a Man For All Seasons. Where that made Thomas More to be the saint and Cromwell to be the villain, this series reverses the order in basically the same way. That being it plays up the heroes better historical qualities while hiding his shortcomings, while focusing squarely on the villains less savory qualities. I'd say this is the series' greatest weakness, in that More almost comes off as a straw man at times, not the mention it does force one scene not to make a great deal of sense in order to keep Cromwell as a non-torturer, Anne Boleyn's musician's confession comes from being locked in a room for a night, eh that's a bit of a stretch. However past that it's a terrific show in that it makes the story compelling through its focus on the power plays, all through the guide of a quiet yet extremely assured individual. The production is great to look at naturally as well, and very well acted almost across the board. It ends up being a rather fascinating view into the period through its unique perspective, and I certainly hope the story continues through into the rest of Cromwell's story.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

White Heat

White Heat is a downright brilliant gangster film which stood as a triumphant return for James Cagney's return to the genre. Cagney has perhaps his hardest gangster in Cody Jarrett who is a full blown psychopath to the point that he actually seems to rather enjoy the idea of killing, even when it is his own men. Raoul Walsh gives the film a visceral sting with his deft approach to the material, that never seems to shy away from the grimmer elements of the story. The film's main plot technically centers around an undercover cop Fallon, played by perpetual second fiddle lead Edmond O'Brien, infiltrating Cody's gang. Now this element is actually well handled in that it creates some very tense sequences, but the best element of the film is the character of Cody and Cagney's portrayal of him. What I love about most of Cagney's works as gangster is that no matter how harsh they are, and Cody is particularly brutal, Cagney manages to humanizes them so beautifully all the same without making the character seem soft at all. Though the ending of the film is a marvel, my favorite scene of the film is just before that where Cody sadly confides to Fallon just how alone he is in the world.

Friday, May 6, 2016

In a Lonely Place

In a Lonely Place follows the relationship between a struggling screenwriter Dix played by Humphrey Bogart and woman Laurel played by Gloria Grahame. This all takes place around a murder mystery, where Dix's seems a chief suspect, and set in a the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. Nicholas Ray directs this all with a sledgehammer, leaving any subtly out the door, and place the most absurd elements for all they are worth. This is not helped by Bogart who does not tread the fine line needed for the man you may or may not trust. He instead plays him like a normal guy who seems to act like a psychopath for no reason other than to give the film its central conflict apparently. Now the film's style does not make it a boring affair, but at the same time it does not effectively serve the story particularly the central relationship. It makes everything seem forced in a way it did not need to be, and leaves a potentially interesting story to underwhelm.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is a potentially interesting story about a man in the fifties who struggles with his existence. The look of the film is interesting capturing the right refinement of the era, while conveying a certain claustrophobia towards it as well. The film also importantly never attempts to make its theme about the hollowness of the central's character feel too overt that it becomes problematic. The real problem with the film is Gregory Peck, unfortunately. The worse thing about this does not feel like a bad performance from him, he's just completely miscast. The simple problem is Peck just fits in too well, and wears that Flannel Suit perfectly. The apparent original choice for the role was Montgomery Clift, which would have been the right fit for the role. Peck just seems right at home, which is completely wrong for the character, and makes the whole film not really work as it should.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

The Snows of Kilimanjaro is a film about a man reflecting on the various events of his life while seemingly ready to die from a bad infection. This film is one that I would describe as perfectly fine in almost every regard, though not especially great or memorable either. It's is one of those films I did not mind watching, the performances are fine though far from exceptional, the story is interesting enough though not excessively compelling, it's never anything all that notable but it's never anything really bad either.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Duel in the Sun

Duel in the Sun is a film that attempts many stories. The story of a half Mexican/half Anglo woman trying to fit in a family, general racism of the period, a forbidden romance, a brotherly rivalry, the conflict of power in a town, there's even a gun toting preacher thrown into the mix. Now a film can try to cover a variety of themes and ideas, but the problem with a Duel in the Sun is it really does not do any of them well. We get parts of the stories, parts of the whole, but they never cohere into anything satisfying. This a particularly odd one in that it does not even feel like one aspect works, they all seem haphazard and all fail as one. It does not help in that the majority of the cast is either bland or hideously over the top.

The Virginian

The Virginian is an early western and it shows in that it is a bit rough around the edges, though not too rough. Victor Fleming proves he does have a visual eye, in terms of stills in particular, and it does feel less claustrophobic than many of the other westerns of the period. However the story is excessively standard, Gary Cooper is his usual standard bland self, and the most interesting element is Walter Huston who's a bit of fun as the villain. It's nothing special though it does stand above some of its contemporaries.

The Westerner

Ahh The Westerner, a great film about a hanging judge Roy Bean, played brilliantly by Walter Brennan, who has a particularly strong obsession with Lily Langtry a star of the stage. Well that's what one would say if that's what the film was about, only. There  is a fairly substantial amount of Judge Roy Bean to be found in the film, but there is also far too much filler involving Gary Cooper's bland cowboy who finds romance in the west. Everything involving the judge works, everything that does not is just very tired, and extremely forgettable. Unfortunately the film proceeds by going back and forth making for a problematic viewing experience. Luckily there is enough of Bean for one to consider the film good, but it sure would have been nice if the film had been interesting even when he was off screen.


Interstellar unfortunately continues the trend of The Dark Knight Rises in Nolan's filmography, which is allowing for a sizable bloat. Once again he does not allow for simplicity when it would be more suitable for the story. The thing is here he does have a very strong center through Matthew McConaughey's portrayal of the father just trying to save the Earth for his daughter which forces him to leave her. That story works and gives the film the emotional core it needs, and I even think it makes the film's twist work. To back that up there once again are incredible visuals, and Nolan even manages to find a bit of humor again through an unusual robot. The writing again though seems to be from the same writers as Dark Knight Rises, which is not a good thing. There once again are downright bizarre lines, particularly those about love's ability to transcend all, and extra plot for the sake of it such as Matt Damon's whole character's connection to Michael Caine's along with the extra bit of sibling conflict thrown into the climax which feels unneeded. The film is uneven luckily though the high points include some of Nolan's best as a director, even if the low points include some of his worst as writer.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is a curiosity in that it appears what you get when it seems like the creative team had no one on oversight and they were just brimming with so much self confidence from their last foray to the point that it feels like they did one screenplay draft and called it day. The writing is very sloppy all over the place not only in terms of plot holes, which are the kind you do notice while watching for the first time, and just some particularly strange dialogue. The opening sequence alone is kind of how marvelous in how really ridiculous the whole thing is set up and written, to the point I must admit I get enjoyment out of just watching the absurdity of some of it. A film can have a few of these things, but this one is just brimming from ear to ear with them. John Blake figuring out Batman's identity, Gordon instantly losing his confession, the line " would somebody get this hothead out of here", the central idea behind Catwoman's motivation (so she just took Dagget's word for it?), Bruce Wayne's instant arrival back in Gotham, the list goes on. Nolan's direction though still is on point as there are still some outstanding visual sequences. The film even works emotionally much of the time even if it is overwrought in more than a few ways. The film's bloated in its attempt to top the Dark Knight's stakes, really an impossible task so they just went for an extreme. There are too many plot lines for its own good, to the point that there is a character in John Blake who could have been removed and nothing would have been lost, the same really goes for the film's last minute villain since it seems everyone felt Bane was good enough for a solo act. It takes someone as talented as Nolan to make a film like this because as an underwhelming sequel it's like none other. It does not falter in the ways you'd expect but in entirely different ways that often seem bizarre. The film I'm forced to describe not as bad because there are genuinely good elements, but even in the less successful elements still manage to be interesting in their own way.


Inception curiously is the one film by Christopher Nolan that I haven't really re-watched. Not that I dislike the film, I just have never been quite compelled to do it, so I must base this only on the initial viewing. On that this is one of Nolan's most visually arresting films. The utilization of the dream idea with the action is usually very memorable, particularly in a hall way fight sequence. Again as with all of Nolan's film it is never concepts alone and there is something personal beneath it all. Here we have Leonardo DiCaprio's Cobb as he deals with his wife's death, which is constantly reminded of by her showing up in his dreams, which is well handled though I would not say as well in say The Prestige or Memento. I also have to admit the more affecting intimate story comes from Cillian Murphy's subplot. The film works best as spectacle, though one can ask why there is not more fantasy in these dreams, they still are pretty arresting nonetheless. The film also does work as a heist, though it would not have hurt to have a little bit more comedy, with most the characters being defined by their duty in the heist leaving it mostly to the actors to make their characters stand out, with Tom Hardy succeeding the most in that regard. It's an engaging film, not perfect, but certainly never dull.

The Prestige

The Prestige stands along with Memento as one of Christopher Nolan's strongest films, for once again a fairly similar reason. Both films work brilliantly in their mind bending tricks, and the twists both contain are incredibly effective. The Prestige, as with, Memento is more than just trick despite being about magicians. The film stands well on its portrayal of a the rivalry between the two magicians, Borden, the one fueled by a professional motivation to strive for something new, the other, Angier, having a personal motivation to get some sort of revenge. Both are so well cast with Christian Bale as the brooding yet daring magician, and Hugh Jackman as the charismatic showman but safer individual. Their relationship is always maintained as paramount and the film explores both men's lives even in elements outside the rivalry. The film, as one would expect, is visually striking in capturing the visual detail, but also the magic of well magic. One of my favorite elements though is when it goes beyond a bit in the use of Nicholas Tesla that adds an extra bit of subtext given his own rivalry with Thomas Edison. The film succeeds in pulling the strings together to find a captivating conclusion but what I love most about it is that is not all there is to it. The twists only makes subsequent viewings all the more engaging as it earns it, and fitting for a film about magicians is it's  there in plain sight, you just don't notice it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Batman Begins

Batman Begins really only had to be okay to improve on its predecessor Batman & Robin. It was more than okay in its setup for the beginning of a new life for the character, cinematically speaking, by treating the material seriously. The film sought to make Batman a real person and in that cause it succeeded. It stands as the first Batman film, of the live action variety, that actually cared about the central character and not just the villains. The villains are actually the side show in this case, though a very memorable side show in Cillian Murphy Scarecrow. The villains though are only there to facilitate the story of the Batman which is incredibly well told by providing real motivation to the character, and even given real power to the very idea of what something like Batman means. Now does this film have Katie Holmes? Yes. Is it as thrilling as its sequel? No. Is it thrilling though? Yes. It sets up a believable world for the character giving him life, giving life to those around him, particularly in the case of Jim Gordon who was so wasted in all previous cinematic efforts. The film succeeds in making Batman begin again, no longer as a rubber joke, but instead as someone you can actually understand and even relate to.


Insomnia is almost the forgotten Nolan film it seems, though that may in part be due to it being a remake, however it seems fitting in his filmography given its focus on the supernatural in the natural this one being the midnight sun due to its setting in Alaska. Now I don't think the film is perfect basically in that I don't think it's especially compelling outside the central two characters. The mystery itself is wrapped up easily, with the minor characters being pretty one dimensional, what's interesting is the examination of two men dealing with their own actions. On the side of the detective Dormer I do believe Nolan slightly overplays his own hand in visualizing the guilt, given he has a devoted Al Pacino to do it. The high point though easily is Robin Williams who creates such a disturbing portrait of a man who is so off putting because he seems so sympathetic in his ability to seemingly explain his unforgivable actions. His performance and the character of Walter Finch are both fascinating. The film as a whole, less so.


Memento in its initial concept seems like a novelty film, and with an initial viewing it can be enjoyed as such. That being you uncover a mystery by going from each scene in reverse rather than in normal chronological order. It works in that way as each scene remains compelling and the mystery remains fascinating while the approach never becomes repetitive. Christopher Nolan utilizes the concept brilliantly and succeeds in making a one of a kind film. However I don't think the film simply works based on the execution of the concept, which though notable, the film can be re-watched even after you know the secrets it holds. It's a far richer film than that. This is even found just in the almost suprising abudance of humor that so naturally utilized throughout the film, that proves Nolan is more capable of comedy than some give him credit for. There also is a powerful emotional core to the film realized through Guy Pearce's great performance that never loses the human element of what compels Leonard on the path which is not as simple as it might seem. Even in the progression of the mystery this is never lost, especially in Leonard's recounting of the story of a man with the same problem he has, though maybe that story isn't even quite as it seems. It's an amazing film since it never defines itself by the novelty but rather uses it to tell a great story.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Return Of The Jedi is the final entry in the trilogy, and the question is does it go out with a whimper or a bang? Well kind of both. On the whimper side of things there are many things. The cast is not as uniformly as strong with Harrison Ford kind of phoning it in a bit this time, though he's not helped by how much of a wimp that make Solo in this film, and Carrie Fisher also once again having some awkward moments in there like she did in the first. The main target being the Death Star seems very lazy, though that battle is more than decent. Some of the special effects though are far more dated than the previous films particularly the forest chase, and some moments in the Jabba Palace scene. The problems continue with that Jabba scene that goes on for a bit too long that tonally seems off, and gurantees Boba Fett's place as the most curiously loved character of all time given his downright lame departure. Then there are the Ewoks which I've never hated, but they're not very good either. There is good in the film though. That being the entirety of Luke's final showdown with Vadar and the Emperor. That really does create a satisfying conclusion to Luke's own journey and that sequence is maybe my favorite in the whole trilogy. Unfortunately even with that the film jumps around to far less interesting elements. The film has greatness, but also a lot of mediocrity.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back the sequel that perhaps defined the sequel that upped the ante, and took the characters in a new direction with a darker path. Everything that worked about the original worked once again with the special effects, production design, and costumes being equally, if not more impressive than the original. The performances only improve with the regulars becoming only more assured in their roles with a few enjoyable additions in there as well. The story and direction go even further in this film, as the characters are challenged both in terms of the Empire's efforts, but also their own personal struggle particularly in regards to Luke. The direction here is particularly notable though as it goes one step beyond. The previous film already made the environments seem real, but this takes even further in creating a palatable atmosphere. This is especially evident in that final lightsaber duel with that ominous moment of Vadar's red weapon appearing in the darkness. Even though I still probably don't love this film in the series as much as some, I can't deny that it is exceptional film.

Star Wars

Just plain Star Wars, later given the extra title of A New Hope, is the film the created something more than just a film but a phenomenon. Now I must admit I've never been caught into as a much as some, in that I've never loved the film, but I can see why others do. On a technical level it is undeniably impressive in not only creating such ground breaking special effects, which most still hold up today for the most part, but also the production and costume designs which are almost taken for granted yet created such an unique sci-fi world. The story is straight forward, but really in a good way as a young unassuming hero must find a way to take on an evil empire. It simply does work though in the part due to the aid of a few old pros in Peter Cushing, and Alec Guinness adding much needed gravitas, the iconic voice work of James Earl Jones, and Harrison Ford, for the first time, proving himself to be a one of a kind badass action hero. Now there is Carrie Fisher and her strange English accent in a few scenes, but hey she gets better in the sequel. Mark Hamill's work is also sometimes criticized for being whiny, but it works for the maturation of his character throughout the trilogy. It's really a good film, I should not complain about it so I won't. It works, not for me as much as others, but it still works.

The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line is a brilliant film by Terence Malick as it is the perfect melding between his own personal style and material for him. It tells a story that's been told behind in a broader sense, that being a battle in World War II, specifically in this case the battle of Guadalcanal. It takes a most unorthodox, and effective approach by keeping the stream of consciousness of various men throughout the battle, and taking time to linger on these individual faces giving a pivotal life to every casualty. These are never faceless men being mowed down in the crossfire, as Malick paints a powerful depiction of the true brutality of war through the potential beauty in the life of every individual around it. It's a beautiful film too look at and listen to, yet the brutality of the situation is never hidden instead it is so elegantly wrapped into such a fascinating portrait of how war relates to nature and the human condition. As a film it's the true realization of Malick's potential as it takes his more abstract ideas and always grounds them in a reality. It never allows him to escape all the way instead keeping him with just the right boundaries to craft a masterpiece.

Gunga Din

Gunga Din is a foreign adventure film where a group of military types get caught up in some of desert warfare. This type of story would be better handled the very same year in Beau Geste. However when it is specifically that element the movie works rather well with a nice sense of danger, and thrills throughout. The film gets sidetracked somewhat as a romantic comedy of sorts in the middle though which unfortunately feels like too much of detour despite Grant, McLaglen, and Fairbanks having pretty good chemistry as a trio. That always still feel like a distraction though for a large portion and the film does not really get going until they get back into the desert once again.