Friday, September 22, 2017

The People V O.J. Simpson

The People V O.J. Simpson obviously follows what was dubbed by some to be "trial of the century", that being football star O.J. Simpson being tried for the murder of his wife. This series could almost be described as a train wreck waiting to happen, yet to its credit it never does happen. Now to be sure there are times where the train starts sparking near the tracks, and losing traction, but it never falls off completely. Those moments are mostly found in the depiction of the man himself particularly in his most personal situations where the show veers heavily towards camp, this also is not helped by Cuba Gooding Jr who wildly overacts in the role as well as just is a poor fit for him to begin with. The bits we get of the "juice"'s personal life seemed purposefully skewed towards the melodramatic. The show shines however when we get into the courtroom where the show successfully reveals the circus, but also the intense complications involved that unfortunately are made to go beyond the man's guilt. Inside the courtroom the big personalities work for the defense, except for John Travolta who just goes a bit too far even for his role. The series though successfully though unveils the curtains on those personalities, or at least has some fun with their egos and presence. On the prosecution side though the show is perhaps at its best in revealing the unique struggles of the two attorneys who aren't quite ready for what the circus of the trial, the media, but each have their very personal investment within the case. There is where the most potent material is found, and it successfully bridges sort of the spectacle of the trial, with a real emotional connection realized. When the series is succeeds it is often quite great particularly in recreating those most intense interactions in the courtroom, when it's off it is more than a little odd. In the end the series seems to give you both the tabloids and the real journalism approach to the story. This creates not the most consistent tone, however the series is on point most of the time, which is certainly more than enough to create a compelling story.
4.5/5

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Mini Series

It is in many ways true that television is better than it has ever been, and it now where many of what will be seen as the classics of television may be created. I write this because that sort of "list" doesn't yet exist, in say the way we have a Sight and Sound poll for the greatest films of all time. Although there are series that still are treated with affection from the earlier period they are few and far between. There were earlier indications of change though with a rise in mini-series of note beginning around when this Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy premiered in the late 70's, and adaptation of John Le Carré's novel of the same name. Although it must be noted that some of technical and budgetary elements due date it as a television production of the time. Thankfully the same cannot be said for the storytelling which brilliantly captures the world found within the novel, a world of dark twists and turns, of a specifically glamorized spy world. This actually further reflected in that low key production in many ways, as the offices of the spies could be of any old office, they just are living in a normal world just like anyone else, on the surface anyway. That lack of veneer plays directly into the idea of this spy world though which is entirely without glamour or glitz found in a James Bond. These are just tired older men doing a job, although that job is one of duplicity and mercilessness. The series is brilliant in crafting this world and realizing through the various characters headlined of course by Alec Guinness's outstanding turn by George Smiley, that apparently influenced the way Le Carré wrote the character in future installments. The series is about low key yet powerful moments that capitalize on the incisive nature of the writing and the strength of the performances. It might not have the production value of a film, but it does have excellence in storytelling, perhaps even more so as the series is an early example of making use of what television has to offer that film does not.
5/5

Friday, September 1, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7

Game of Thrones Season 7 brings the series nearer to its conclusion with the showrunners deciding to reduce rather than expand the length of the season. An odd decision if there ever was one, given the complexity of the show, though originally I thought perhaps it was to expand each individual episode, but though there were a few episodes that were a bit longer their total length is only about twenty minutes more than seven hours. This must be said was a mistake. Although there were naysayers saying the early seasons took to long in their pace, I would say that is a nonsensical reaction to the show's story telling and storytelling in general, a recent attitude among some viewers who seem to crave character deaths than a genuinely compelling or entertaining show. Never cater to these viewers who frankly should just read a Wikipedia page entry on any given show since what happens seems to matter more than the actual execution of it. Although I suppose I won't become an overly critical sort, as again when something is popular this can lead to nitpicking rather genuine criticism, such saying "where'd the army of the dead get those chains" is a nonsensical thing to gripe about, however the carelessness involving geography is a worthy claim given it had not been ignored, for the most part, in the previous seasons. Again another point though is that the source material also fell into problems in its last two entries partially due to mind such ideas, which is noble, yet it ended up being perhaps a foolish notion given the expansion of the world lead George R.R. into a corner that might be unable to escape from. That leaves the show to attempt to close out their series in their own way, their own way apart. Now in part this season, though the pacing was particularly swift did accomplish more than expected in creating a compelling conflict between not only Cersei and Daenerys, but also Daenerys and Jon Snow. In the first half of the season, though they perhaps should have slowed down just a tad accomplished much and did seem to find the complexity of the politics in the world in quite the effective fashion. It also delivered on its "promise" of Dragons finally in a truly stunning sequence which was also was not simplified due to the character involved. Its second half are where the problem arose though when it shifted to the threat White Walkers, who were never a problem before. This is where the pace really went into a downright ridiculous overdrive particularly in the contrived mission, by the writers not the characters, to get a Dragon beyond the wall. That is where all the proper build up the series went out the window. It went beyond just the pacing as it also so quickly removed certain complexities particularly within the Snow and Daenerys conflict. Now a slower pace could have allowed the writers to build to a more natural reason for this development but instead we got a rush job. The same goes for our side story of Winterfell, the Stark sister and Little Finger's last scheme. The downfall behind the man quietly behind the entire series was sensible in terms what should have caused it, and again even within that situation in a single season it could have been completely satisfying. The reduced time though forced the false conflict between the Stark sisters, as well as made Little Finger's plan seem just a little too slight, again slowing things down would have only benefited all. Now having said that I again do think the slathering of criticism is ridiculous. The accusations of fan service, aka when the loved characters are successful is mostly unfounded. It it rather the need of a show to eventual fulfill expectations as to constantly subvert them would be impossible, not to mention if you've subverted them long enough that becomes the expectation. Even with the flaws of this season it was still a highly entertaining show even in its weakest episode, and the characters we've become so invested are still compelling, for the most part. Hopefully the showrunners will take a step back slow the pace down for the final season to give the show a proper sendoff worthy for the entire series. This season after all was not a failure as the greatness of the show was still evident, even if the flaws were the most evident since season 5. 
4/5

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Daredevil Season 2

Daredevil season 2 continues with the last season left off. The flaws of the previous season are not all gone, Eldon Henson as Matt Murdock's friend becomes particularly intolerable here, though he's not helped by the whiny material they give his character. Nevertheless Henson's performance still is on the same level as his work in the Mighty Ducks. This season benefits greatly from a first half though that features Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle aka The Punisher, launching his far more deadly crusade for justice in the series. Bernthal is amazing the role, and every scene he is in works in some way. The conflict over killing between him and daredevil, with Cox delivering some of his best work, is incredibly effective. The material thankfully does not get hung up with Punisher as his story moves at a strong pace as we unfold from a villain, to slowly understanding what motivates this man. His story absolutely works, beyond on central problematic coincidence within the plot. That's all great though. The season though is sort of broken off into two halves the second half being the return of Murdock's old girlfriend, and naturally trained assassin, Elektra played by Elodie Yung. Although this version of the character is a major step up from the horrible rendition in the Daredevil film, it fails to capture the full potential of the role. A part of this does come from Yung's performance that is often one note in portraying just a general modern femme fatale. She doesn't find enough nuance there, and additionally her chemistry with Cox is lacking. This side though suffers from excessive repetition of the theme again with scene after scene of Matt saying Elektra brings out the worst of him, him trying to change her, her doing something bad, and repeat until we reach the last episode. The side of the story is not all bad, thanks mostly due to the return of Scott Glenn as Matt's mentor Stick, but it suffers similair problems seen in the first season. The Punisher side on the other hand is quite strong throughout, with even D'Onofrio returning far more effectively as Fisk, and once again the action certainly delivers. This again is not a great season, but it is a good one that is a proper upgrade over the first season.
3.5/5

Daredevil Season 1

Daredevil is the first of Marvel's Netflix series, that are a grittier take on supposedly the same universe as their movies. Far grittier in terms of content anyways, but this is also compared to superheroes series in general which have been pretty light in the past. This also stands in contrast to the downright terrible Daredevil solo film, that did no justice to the material. This is considerably better than that film, and is far more faithful to the source material. I think though that has given the series far too much credit overall though. Not that this is a terrible series but it is deeply flawed one at times. Watching so many shows these days, unlike many in the past, you just assume there will be at the very good performances to watch. Well that's not quite the case. There are many amateurish performances throughout and not just in side roles. Both Deborah Ann Woll and especially Eldon Henson leave much to be desired in their pivotal roles as Daredevil aka Matt Murdock's closest confidants. Now Murdock himself is reasonably well played by Cox, though I will say his performance works best depending on who he shares with. The series most lauded performance was Vincent D'Onofrio aka Wilson Fisk, though I found his mannerism got tired quickly and felt his work lacked the needed menace. There are good performances though, again Cox as well as Vondie Curtis-Hall and Scott Glenn, but it really isn't norm. Now an element that is impressive is the action, particularly within budget, and those scenes work well. What strings them together though stumbles often in its plotting that involves characters repetitious going over their individual conflicts again and again, sometimes through clunky dialogue, with the occasional terrible comedic moment thrown in now again. That isn't every scene or episode though, there is decent writing to be found but never great. It does at least deliver Frank Miller's Daredevil more or less from the comics, the action is very good, it is considerably better than some of its predecessors, but that does not make it a great series. 
3/5

11.22.63

11.22.63 although a mini-series is structured a very long film. It is not about episodes, but a single multi-faceted story though at its core it is that essential fascinating question of going back in time to change history. This series taking on the idea of saving Kennedy from assassination. Now with television you can almost take things for granted now but it is outstanding how impressive this series is in a mere technical sense. It has a film level production, even though it is a television series, which is really essentially as it so effectively creates both the needed cinematic enhancement to the story, along with the creation of the 1950's/1960's setting. Now the series as it begins with that central idea which brings you right in through a particularly strong performance by Chris Cooper who sets up the time travel idea. The fun of the idea is realized and the series hooks you with that right away. Although that aspects remains fascinating and entertaining throughout it is not the only facet nor is that facet simplified. The idea of time is nothing slight whether it is the series way of showing it lashes back when one tries to change it, but the series goes further in pondering what that idea really means when acted upon. Again but a facet as it also takes the idea of being a person in this different life through the story of hero Jake as portrayed by James Franco in a career best performance. Franco, who I am not usually a fan of as an actor, brings an old-school charisma though with enough of a modern bent to essentially still be from the future. The series leads to is greatest surprise when it introduces the school teacher Sadie, played to perfection by Sarah Gadon, after Franco's Jake takes on a teaching job. A romance can so easily feel tacked on, especially in a story like this, but rather than being tacked on this is actually strongest aspect of a great series. Franco and Gadon share some of the best chemistry in recent memory and make their romance truly something special, and in the end truly something heartbreaking. The series manages to create such an investment in the story past the plot, which while never becomes secondary, everything else with it adds such a powerful weight to the quest. This leads to such a series of devastating and poignant moments in really every episode, from the opening story of a murder, to Jake's attempt to stop that murder, the revelation with the yellow card man and of course the final scene which is one of the most moving scenes in the history of television.
5/5

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Better Call Saul Season 2

Better Call Saul Season 2 picks up right where the previous season left off, but that's part of the problem. The repetition found in the previous season is found again. We see Saul turn down the new job, take the job, want to leave the job, decides to keep it, decides to leave it, told he can't without losing money, decides a new way. In that we get several scenes of various cons that take a long time yet aren't all that entertaining. Then we have his relationship with his brother where Saul undermines Chuck, Chuck undermines Saul, they come back together, and repeat for the rest of the season, thankfully that does get somewhere in season 3, this season though is just a whole lot of wheel turning. Mike's side, where Jonathan Banks is more co-lead, is effective though technically be directly evoking Breaking Bad right down to the return of several characters. It's good though, and that's the important thing. Of course the other half isn't truly bad, there is some bad supporting acting again, yet the main players including Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Banks and especially Michael McKean, the visual directing also is on point. I will say it successfully set up a great third season. Its progression though would've probably been handled in less than half a season on Breaking Bad, and it is not as though it is so much richer in character or entertainment value, quite the opposite.
3.5/5

Better Call Saul Season 1

Better Call Saul comes out the seasons swinging from its bleak black and white epilogue after Breaking Bad, to its opening that evokes that original seasons so effectively. Yes there is a bit of style change even the first few episodes yet it is fairly light made out from the far less intense protagonist at the center. Saul's just trying to find his way to success, there is nothing hanging over his head as there was for Walter White. Using this though it leads to a somewhat more humorous, though Breaking Bad often was rather amusing itself, series. Again the first two episode are great amplified by the return of an old foe from that earlier series, yet it does successfully set up this alternate plight of Saul, or Jimmy,  here amplified so well by Bob Odenkirk's performance. The series though loses that earlier steam. Now it has strong elements throughout including Odenkirk but also some of the new additions particularly Michael McKean and the return of Jonathan Banks as the fixer Mike. The series though suffers though from some of the bit players, never really a problem with the original series, who are outright bad playing living cartoons. The story though also suffers from an excessive amount of repetition in its storytelling through false leads in Saul's career and con after con. Certain revelations are often obvious and underwhelming particularly the revelation of Mike's background. The strengths of the series are evident and consistent, in the performances, and the visual direction, yet it struggles to find its own path away from its properly lauded predecessor.
3.5/5

Narcos Season 1

Narcos Season 1 focuses upon the life of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and his various wildly outrageous, but true, exploits during 1970's and 1980's. It frames the story though through the exploits of two DEA agents working with the U.S. government with the Columbian government. In one way the series is often, well, a series of fascinating anecdotes about the war drugs and Escobar's personal ridiculousness. Whether it is a particular method of trafficking, Escobar's insane acolytes, or the terrorist acts by Escobar trying to keep the government off his back. It attempts more personal stories with the DEA agents but these at best are only mildly interesting. Their arc of becoming more morally compromised is also fairly thin. The more interesting character lawful character is the ground level Colonel Carillo, as his personal battle with Escobar is often the series at its most intense and compelling. The most engaging aspect overall is Escobar played Wagner Moura. He is a consistently fascinating character but the show also manages to create an emotional investment in his story despite in no way hiding his ill-deeds. His performance is captivating as are the almost unbelievable, if they weren't true, details regarding his exploits whether it is trying to become the president of Columbia or his assassination of any one who stands up to him. Escobar's story carries the season, and though the overall series is not quite great the character study around him is.
4/5

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Show Me A Hero


Show Me A Hero is a six part miniseries focusing on the tensions revolving around the opposition against mandated public housing within the city of Yonkers. The series itself focuses mostly around one of the mayors of the city during this conflict Nick Wasicsko played by Oscar Isaac. The series carefully focuses upon that man's personal story even as the main story continues even past his part of the story. The series also shows random personal stories of the various eventual residents of the housing. I will say that though the intention is obvious in the stories, to give life to those changed by the housing, this are the weakest aspects. They are just very standard stories with nothing particularly interesting or notable about any one of them. Although they can be normal, the problem is they are indeed boring in their normality. Every time it cut away, despite the purpose being there, it felt like we were cutting away from the actual main story. That is the case as the main story focusing on Wasicsko's personal story, which has the needed drama, and the story of the housing is compelling throughout. The drama is there particularly in Wasicko's story due to Isaac's heartbreaking performance. The problem is if you probably got rid of all the side stories except Wasicko's you could probably reduce to a feature length film which would have been engaging throughout which this mini-series is not.
4/5

Fargo Season 2


Fargo 2 dares again not only to somehow continue being the greatest show ever inspired by a film, but also somehow making a prequel not feel tired or inspired. In fact the sequel is only greater in scope and ambition, and leads to one of the greatest television seasons ever made. Season 2 switching back to the 70's and this is not just an aesthetic choice. It is intelligent narrative and thematic choice as explores the ideas of the paranoia after Watergate and as well as a changing in America itself. This is represented, with proper subtly, through the central conflict between the family business of the criminal Gerhardt family against the corporate crime group wishing to move in on their territory. The series again feel no constraint in its title instead cleverly moving on to include elements from other Coen brothers films particularly Miller's Crossing and No Country For Old Men. Again though this is never as simple as having it, they blend in all into its always effortlessly compelling narrative and style. This season is also worth noting for its incredible cast where every single member is on their A-game giving a three dimensionality to even the most minor role. No one feels a throwaway and in doing so makes the season all the more complex and emotional even when we have technically one group of bad people killing another group of bad people. It is so much fun, yet always investing again in that it uses tropes we know always as strength by either using good ways, using them in new ways, or subverting them in a most clever fashion. The season is a masterpiece which proves just what is capable within the medium of television.
5/5

Fargo Season 1


Fargo Season 1 attempts to create a good television show out of adapting a great movie, the idea behind this is commonly attempted yet most often leads to failure, in fact there was even already an unsuccessful Fargo television series pilot before this one. Of course that earlier series and most commonly go oh here's the movie character, played by someone else, going on a different adventure every week. Well this Fargo series tosses all that out instead taking the tropes of the show and playing with them. This season takes the idea of a hapless salesman, a dogged atypical police officer, and a vicious killer then does what it pleases. Their paths being highly divergent from the original film with but a final scene. The series continues to mess with the ideas by throwing a few other killers, worthy of their own story into the mix, along with bumbling FBI agents, dark crime syndicates, and black mail scheme on top of the overarching criminal investigation. The series goes as it pleases never confined by the series instead it offers it more material and the overarching style found in the series' direction worthy of a feature film.
5/5

True Detective Season 1 and Season 2

It is best to look at both season of True Detective together as that is the easiest way to see how season 2 could go so wrong after season 1 went so right. Both seasons are written with thick philosophical dialogue within in its long convoluted plot. Season 1 thrives in this regard as it importantly grants the dialogue to characters marked around death that being Matthew McConaughey's Rust and the killers they find deep in the swamps of Louisiana. The dialogue seems fitting to the minds of those men and also all the performers, particularly McConaughey make it natural in spoken form. Season 2 is less careful giving often to random characters such as Vince Vaughn's gangster who is only strangely poetic and it does not help that Vaughn struggles with the lines. They never seem natural to those who speak it and little sense is given to how odd they all sound. Now in neither season does the plot flow as smoothly as say a L.A. Confidential or a Chinatown. Season 1 though you can follow it fairly well, maybe only lost a point here or there. Season 2 the whole plot is thick yet wholly unengaging so even though the information is said it is hard to care. Both focus on the character's personal lives yet the first season has two characters of contrasting values, and though Woody Harrelson's Marty is also troubled he outwardly seems happy. In season 2 the series bluntly hits you with four main characters all desperate in one way or another that comes off as almost a parody of a gritty cop show. One of the most damning elements of season 2, and one of the strongest elements of season 1 is the directorial vision. In season one there was the singular vision of Cary Joy Fukunaga which created such a vivid and captivating horror atmosphere out of its setting. The direction amplified the writing and even helped to overcome some of it weak points. There is no cohesive direction in season 2 leaving it often a lifeless affair and making nothing out of its urban world, after making such a rich one during season 1. Another unfortunate loss was in that otherworldly horror hinted at in season 1 that helped make the series unique, while this is almost wholly dropped in season 2 for an often rote story about corrupt cops trying to cover their tracks. Season 1 was not a flawless series but it was series that was able to even wear its flaws well. Season 2 is a deeply flawed series that has the occasional inspired moments muted by those flaws.
5/5 - Season 1
2/5 - Season 2

Mad Max: Fury Road


Mad Max: Fury Road is probably the greatest action film ever made, but the question there is of course why. Well in terms of a film it is fascinating example of a when a director gets to go back to their own property, with real enthusiasm, and finally perhaps to get the film they always wanted to make in terms of budget and the allowances of current technology. Although one can wax nostalgic for Road Warrior, Fury Road is the superior film, but then again it is superior than perhaps all films in its genre. Fury Road in a way is pure cinema and is such an accomplishment in that sense. Now I mean pure cinema in the way so many silent films are but also in terms of being a story told in a way only possible in film. Fury Road is even a film that would not be possible in say television as its pacing is part of its splendor. The film runs like a Swiss watch, in utter perfect timing as it is one of the best edited film well ever. Every sequence flows so naturally and fluidly, and they even flow naturally and fluidly from one to the next. There are no pitfalls or bumps. The set pieces are all daring in their own ways, thrilling in their grandeur, yet intense as they need to be. There are no missteps. Fury Road though has actually led some to claim there is no story, the same people who probably complain about films with too much exposition as well, but there is the exact story the film needs. The plot is technically simple but the world is expansive and vivid that it works within it. The development of this apocalypse takes predecessors of the originals yet is wholly original in itself in its development of the various factions and cultures present. Nothing is left just to be, everything has a story within that the film makes vivid through the important though minor details and its minimalistic yet meaningful dialogue. The film does not forgo character at any point. This includes the central leads who all have their own arcs crafted so beautifully and with such emotion even though they only ever flow along with the film. The side characters though are never dismissed as the film provides ample understanding to each, even side henchman are surprisingly vivid in their realization. The film shows what film itself is capable of, and is masterpiece of cinema.
5/5

No Country For Old Men


No Country For Old Men was the film that won best picture in the year of the masterpieces, though only competing with fellow "masterpiece" There Will Be Blood in terms of the actual Oscar nominations. The film is notable as it finally brought Coen brothers their Oscar wins for picture and director, although this came with only their second adaptation of a source material, and really the first since O Brother Where Art Thou was heavily altered from the Odyssey. Despite being an adaptation of it is in no way truly a departure for them with the filming of opening monologue directly alluding to the opening of their first film Blood Simple. It technically is bit more serious even in terms of their dramas though they still find ways to bring forth their trademark humor, though often through very subtle, very dark methods. These are most often small pauses or slight actions such as when Javier Bardem's serial killer Anton Chigurh almost chokes on what he's eating, when hearing the gas station attendant he's playing a life and death game with married into his gas station. Those moments, which are through out, provide the Coens touch in perhaps the most overt fashion but that is not all there is in terms of their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's bleak novel. The efficiency and effectiveness of their work is remarkable, while outside of one curious factor. That curious factor being the set decoration which in no way alludes to the story's 1980's setting, which is a bit strange for a Coen brothers film. However every other technical element is immaculate, but never at a distant. Whether that is Roger Deakins's, again, incredible cinematography creating such a beautiful yet desolate and foreboding Texas, or the incredible, almost scoreless, sound design the Coens take these elements to craft such a such a tension filled thriller. The film though comes into question though in its end result which is of nihilism rather than the technical optimism of a different type of thriller. The Coens's work does not lose their style but rather amplify the theme through the dread filled reality they create within the film. Although it is not my favorite Coens brother film or film from 2007 it is a remarkable film in its right as well as a fascinating stretching and alteration of the directors' usual style.
5/5

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford


The Assassination Of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is Andrew Dominick's follow up to the crazy character study Chopper, and though that is a good film Dominick makes a great leap as a filmmaker here. This is one of the greatest sophomoric efforts by a director as he crafts a masterpiece, in sort of the year of masterpieces. The film is in part character studies of the two men the legendary outlaw and the hanger on who eventually killed him in his own attempt for fame and fortune. The film dissects both men brilliantly but it goes further than this in its ambitious intention. As it also captures the idea of the creation of a legend and the falseness of such a thing. This is part by the complex performances by Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck as the titular pair, aided by the just about spotless supporting cast. It goes further though in the way it in front of your eyes creates the legend while also subverting it. The technical elements are all consistent in creating the legend whether it is Roger Deakins's awe inspiring cinematography or Nick Cave and Warren Ellis's elegant score. The writing though subverts it so cleverly yet also emotionally. What is so remarkable about the film is it does not set any villains or heroes within the picture rather offering complicated men that it so effectively dissects. It shows both Jesse as the charismatic outlaw and the vicious psychopath, it sympathizes with Robert's choice but also his regrets. The film never simplifies only offering a complex and effortlessly compelling portrait of the west.
5/5

Zodiac

Zodiac was David Fincher's return to the serial killer film more than ten years after his stellar breakout debut with Seven. Although I do love Seven wholeheartedly there was a slight immaturity in that film in regards to its presentation of part of its thesis that cities are the pit of despair. Zodiac is a very different film, and Fincher's most mature film as a director. There are scares in Zodiac, but there intention is not for the cheap jump scare. They instead seek to truly get under your skin with the idea of the unknown, in that any stranger could be murderer. The film has one of the scariest scenes in all of cinema and it involves no bloodshed just a dark, dank basement, a creeping house and a the brilliant casting of the man who played Roger Rabbit. The terrifying scenes of the film are terrifying in their reality as you could feel yourself in the situation with such ease. These moments are not all there is to the film though, and it is truly a procedural, the greatest procedural ever made. That element is fascinating through the vivid personalities we meet as well as it creates that obsession in the viewer to the find the truth the obsession that claws away at our main investigators. Around that though is the sense of dread of that unknown, that every day one does not find the killer, the killer is still free to do as he pleases. What is perhaps most fascinating is how emotional this film is as it never becomes as distant examination despite never forcing its hand in this regard. It though creates the weight of years of not knowing as well as the years of suffering inflicted by a single disturbing man. It's Fincher's masterpiece.
5/5

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The World's End

The World's End took five years to come out after Hot Fuzz to end the Cornetto trilogy. It unfortunately is not the strongest of the three. In the most direct terms it just isn't nearly as funny as Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead. Part of this is perhaps the parodies are bit too vague in comparison. It barely is even a parody of say an Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it is instead more of just a funny version of one of those films. That is to say it is funny but it does not result in nearly as entertaining of an experience as the previous films. The film is more overtly serious at times, and it is there technically where it is the strongest. This particularly in Simon Pegg's excellent lead portrayal of a man essentially stuck in the past, and in an effective subversion of the previous films where he played the saner one. Here that goes to Nick Frost who's good as his teetotaler friend with a troubled past, but very subdued again showing the difference from the other films. Now the film actually does work in its more serious intentions involving the central character study, for the most part. The problems though aren't because of that focus though. The alien story isn't as compelling, the action sequences as engaging, and worst of all it doesn't quite stay true to itself. The reason being it has a wholly silly ending, far more silly than anything in Hot Fuzz or Shaun, that is ill-fitting to the more subdued tone of the rest of the film. It's still a good film but a major step down from the greatness of the previous two films.
4/5

Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz is the second film in Edgar Wright's thematic trilogy dubbed the cornetto trilogy. This film creating a parody of cop/action movies through the story of a city cop being sent to a small town where all is not as it seems. As with Shaun of the Dead in that surface look the film is a smashing success being consistently hilarious as it plays around with just about every trope and cliché it can fit a single film. Wright's signature style only grows and feels all the more fitting to the usual kinetic style of action films to begin with. Wright replicates that and seems to even master it and some of the humor is even found within a quick edit. Again though Hot Fuzz goes even further than expected. This is in part its horror elements where it alludes to the original Wicker man in the best of ways, but also again in the personal story. This one in regards to Nicholas Angel, whose personal story is a little lighter than Shaun, essentially Nick just needs to lighten up a bit, but still offers the film the right emotional connection through the central friendship between Nick and the hapless PC Danny. The cast is particularly strong here, as with Shaun Nick Frost and especially Simon Pegg excel in their roles. Pegg somehow making a surprisingly believable action hero. The film goes further with its all-star character actor cast including Jim Broadbent as seemingly such a nice police chief, fittingly Edward Woodward as determined city watchmen, and Timothy Dalton as the most obvious villain who ever lived. The film is brilliant from beginning to end as it both employs and subverts its clichés and references by the end to create one of the greatest comedies ever made.
5/5

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun Of The Dead is Edgar Wright first theatrically released film and it is one of the best debuts of a director. The film at a cursory view seems simple enough a horror comedy and parody of zombie movies. Well in that limited basis it is a smashing success, a fairly rare thing in itself, as it is hilarious in it of itself but also is filled with enjoyable references that are just adding toppings of an already delicious sundae. The film though is more even than that cursory view. It is also quite the calling card for Wright's visual directions. Although the warm up could be seen in the series Spaced, Wright takes a major step forward as he utilizes so much film itself has to offer through the striking visual style with the kinetic editing style that always flows naturally within the narrative. Wright only ever amplifies with his style never diminishes or over saturates the film with it. If that was not enough he goes one step further with his writing that takes the film beyond merely an exceedingly entertaining parody through a surprisingly emotional personal story at its core. Throughout the zombie story it manages to tell a coming of maturity of the lead in a surprisingly heartfelt way that never feels forced but rather flows so naturally within all the blood and skin eating.
5/5

Braveheart

Braveheart has granted itself a certain division over time, common to most best picture winners, though I've often noticed that it is basically a given with so many of the general public that it is a great film, while the tendency among so many cinematic snobs is to heavily deride the film. This comes in a few qualities. The most recent derision comes in the form of judgment against Mel Gibson as a man. Although one is free to judge the man as much as they wish in general, one of the main common criticisms in regards to this film is a little unfounded that this was a vanity project, since Gibson actually only starred in the film in order to be able direct it. Another major criticism outside of the man though comes in its historical accuracy, which seems a strange thing especially given the film states it's story does not match historical fact from the beginning. The film is far more of a historical legend about William Wallace, rather than William Wallace the man. This then comes down to are such films allowed to exist that wish to tell a grander vision than the historical record, yet that is entirely the point and wholly apparent within the film's overarching style. The film is an epic poem about freedom, in a rather general sense, than the true story of the Scottish war for independence, not unlike a film like Spartacus. The film denotes this approach from the beginning and in doing so creates a grand epic. It is technically an outstanding from the outset with its unforgettable score, and cinematography. The battle sequences are a step above most that come before offering a strong visceral intensity in every skirmish. It is not a mere technical exercise though as the emotions are as sweeping as its vistas. The film is a great success not by being a historical document by being a legend.
5/5

Apocalypse Now

A quick note on the redux. The redux is a poorer cut of the film. It botches the pacing severely through mostly useless scenes, that don't quite work, or in the case of the ghostly French plantation seems the realization of how the original film could have gone wrong. As that sequence gets lost in symbolism and loses too much of a grasp on reality. The only scene that works really is an additional moment with Brando's Colonel Kurtz, but it is still hardly a major loss. They work as interesting deleted scenes but do not belong in the film. The original cut of the film however is one of the greatest films of all time. The production itself was madness and someone that managed to capture the madness of war. The film though is effectively apolitical, it's so much about the Vietnam war as it is the condition of being in such war and such a place. This approach leads to a one of kind film experience that is about falling into that insanity created in both men and nature itself. The film, again the original cut, never gets lost in the ideas. It is very much about the men and the way they are or become in such circumstances, though not quite a simply as they become savages. It is instead so much more in its examination of the clash of personality and the element such as the false god Kurtz becoming lost in his own delusions of grandeur, or the warrior of old in Robert Duvall's Killgore thriving in an environment which allows him to play at war like a game. The themes, and story are grandiose and Francis Ford Coppola matches that with his own vision. The sequences of the film have become iconic to cinema for a reason, as the imagery here is unlike anything you'll ever see even with its influence on so many films that came later. It is a masterful work of art as the scale never overwhelms itself creating such fascinating examination of the human condition in war while  What Coppola captures likely could have only been found in that single moment of insanity in time.
5/5

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Breaking Bad Season 5

Breaking Bad Season 5 is split between two segements essentially being the reign and fall of King, though drug kingpin would be more accurate. The show, even after finding quite the climax in the faceoff between Walt and Gus finds new ground through Walt and Jesse seeming to finally become the drug lords of Albequreque while dealing with the fallout of their previous actions. Again the show fires the proverbial cylinders in terms of the acting, the directing, and the writing. It is remarkable as it continues to avoid a rut, and not only that brings some much needed energy somehow avoiding becoming overly dour while not being tone deaf either. There is fun to be had still particularly with the train heist set piece in the first half of the season. The major of theme that crime does pay, just not in the way you want it to, though is still prevalent as effectively tests all the major characters, even those who seemed almost blissfully unaware of the world until this point. Now this season does have the one bad episode of the series, the aptly titled "Rabid Dog", which halts the narrative with frankly a ponderous series of scenes. The episode though shows the strength of the series because it stands out since it shows just how well paced and compelling every other episode is. When Hank finds out some pivotal information he doesn't wait a season to confront Walt, he does it the very next episode. The show doesn't waste time yet it never feels rushed. It always find the right balance with plot progression, character growth, and those moments you describe as "cool" or "badass". The series in its climatic season continues the progression to leave on an incredible high note that is funny, entertaining, harrowing yet so satisfying in the end.
5/5

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Breaking Bad Season 4

Breaking Bad Season 4 takes the show to its darkest season overall as it depicts Jesse and Walt entertaining truly into the underworld of drugs where death is a daily event. The season seems defined by pain, paranoia and a certain despair as the pair deal with the fact that they've only survived certain death through the blood sacrifice of another. There are no reprieves for anyone in this season as Walt is constantly reminded by his potential death at the hands of his former ally, and still employer Gus Fring, while Jesse is haunted by the murder he had to commit to save his own life. This season is also notable in that it allows Walt's wife Skyler to come into her own as she begins to be changed by Walt's own corruption. There can be few comparison made to the tension of this season which perpetuates through every story, as everyone is on the line. I think the most fascinating element is that they manage to make you even invested in Fring as almost a side protagonist as you sympathize with him in his own revenge story. Then it somehow still easily transitions to being a true main villain for Walt to attempt to overcome. It's downright brilliant season as it is any but a simple cat and mouse game. It somehow takes the stakes further than they had ever been before, and always with the series it advances everything, the characters and the story, so effectively and so naturally.
5/5

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Breaking Bad Season 3

Breaking Bad simply continues to enthrall as it turns its next chapter, which somehow always find a new place for our characters to open numerous possibilities. In this case we are given the reassessment period as Walter White, again Cranston still amazing, almost seems to settle to become an employee in the drug trade through a new connection, briefly introduced in season 2, of Gus Fring, brilliantly played by Giancarlo Esposito. It's not all so simple though since as Walt finds a comfortable place to make drugs, he loses such comforts as home as his wife finally confirms that he is hiding something. Despite the fallout of their actions this season again has perhaps a lighter tone in certain respects, and once again effectively so as though this is the reprieve before they go too deep. Again what I can say but the show continues to be entertaining, thrilling and engaging in just about every respect. It continues on though as it leads to violent turning points for the character whether it is with Hank suffering the fallout of Walt's actions, or Walter and Jesse taking desperate measures to save themselves. Again the progression of the series is sheer brilliance as it so naturally moves our characters forward in their arc while doing it in always such a compelling and enthralling fashion. Great scenes is merely the norm whether it is a tense confrontation in a junkyard, a faithful minute of waiting death, or a speech on "half-measures". Also I suppose I should note the episode of "Fly" the only filler episode in the whole series, is not the bad episode, the bad episode I referred to in season 1 is still yet to come. "Fly", though it doesn't accomplish anything, is just a fun breather with some great interactions between Jesse and Walt. The series once again does not miss in bringing you exactly what you want while carefully reinventing itself at the same time.
5/5

Breaking Bad Season 2

Breaking Bad season 2 has been called the slow season, although that seems almost like a joke given how the season opens. This is because we are technically given a season climax in the first few episodes, due to the writer's strike. Well that opening is quite the thrilling one to be sure where our "heroes" take down our first main villain in the effectively outrageous Tuco. The show though then phases into what I'd honestly call the fun season, though don't let that fool you. I call it the fun season though because here we get Walt and Jesse plunging head first into becoming drug kingpins, except this time they have no idea what they are doing besides making great crystal meth. The show is very entertaining this regard, particularly in the episode where we are introduced to Bob Odenkirk's scene stealing sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman. It isn't all fun and games though as the show still instill the fears of what drug dealing truly means in an effective fashion. Again though I love the way the show eases you into these moments showing the appeal before giving you the truth. The two major examples, which are connected directly, are found with Jesse's drug fueled relationship with an addict Jane which eventually goes too far, then later in a epic catastrophe that bluntly reveals the collateral damage of Jesse and Walt's actions. It is basically given that the leads are great once again, as is Dean Norris as Walt's law enforcement involved brother in law, and are so many of the players with such minor roles such as Mark Margolis's seemingly catatonic old man or Jonathan Banks's fixer. The show visually is always engaging yet never feels overblown. Although most importantly the series continues to captivate through its depiction of one man's decay, almost all the sides stories have something to offer whether it be a bit of humor or a bit heartbreak.
5/5

Breaking Bad Season 1

With Breaking Bad Season 1 began what has come to be known as the greatest television drama ever made. Although it is interesting to see that this perhaps stemmed from the growth in the use of telling a continuous story, rather just a slight, if any, continuity with an eventual sometimes arbitrary end. Breaking Bad makes wholesale use of the concept starting with the concept of turning Mr. Chips into Scarface, which effectively grants a different sort of flavor for every season. The first season is the initial turning point where we see our main character Walter White, played brilliantly by Bryan Cranston, meekly enter into the drug trade through his knowledge of chemistry and the aid of a junkie former student of his Jesse Pinkman, played brilliantly by Aaron Paul. The first season is almost a series of unfortunate events from White's diagnosis of lung cancer to his rather hapless foray into the dark world of drugs as he attempts to change himself to become more like the men he ends up having to kill to save his own life. There is no reason to go episode by episode as there actually is only a single bad episode of the entire series, and it's not in this season. That isn't to say there are not a few weak points, the show seems to have no idea what to do with its female characters in this season other than have them complain, but one can almost forget that given the strength of the rest of the season. The series effortlessly balances comedy with drama, as even as dark as it eventually becomes there are still laughs in the series that feel natural to the story. The funny thing is this season is even incomplete, accidentally so do to the writer's strike, but that hardly matters. The thing is everything that happens in the pilot might be what another show might cover in 8 episodes. Breaking Bad doesn't take a break, yet never seems rushed. Here we are given the proper introduction to our main protagonist, his sidekick, and the underworld of old sunny Albuquerque.
5/5

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Detective Story

Detective Story is an adaptation of play, and potentially that can be seen as most of the action takes place in a single room. William Wyler though manages to never make the material seem stagy infusing the right sort of life within that single setting. Now it is there where the film really thrives. Seeing the detectives work the smaller cases, such as dealing with a shoplifter, are oddly enough the most engaging elements. The actors and Wyler makes this moments feel so honest which range from being rather amusing to rather moving. The least engaging aspect of the film actually concerns our main detective played by Kirk Douglas. Douglas's gives a good performance but the film gets bogged down in the character's backstory as well as the backstory of his wife. All of that material feels extremely melodramatic and frankly ill-fitting to the rest of the film. With Douglas's character's reason for "hating crime" seeming out of a rote detective novel and the secret of his wife being more than a little convenient and implausible. That indeed is the main story but the supporting material is the better material. Luckily the film does have a balance between that main story and all the little side stories which do make up for the weaknesses of that mains story.
4/5

The Big Heat

The Big Heat is rather rough crime drama and pushes some boundaries for its time given its director Fritz Lang, who always seemed like he trying to find someway to bring the harder edge you'd find in his earlier crime film M. That film isn't quite as extreme as that film, yet Lang does find ways to kind of undermine the more ideal elements requested by the Hays code. Here we do have a good hero at the center, Glenn Ford in one of his better performances, but he is only into the entry point into the truly seedy underworld presented by the film. In this the film does not hold back with a vicious performance by Lee Marvin as an amoral gangster, and Gloria Grahame a gun moll who only finds a conscience after being permanently scared. The film is an effective film noir thrilling by allowing itself to fall into the darker elements needed for the genre, where Lang seems to thrive particularly in his depiction of the casual amorality of the life. Marvin's lead villain isn't this grand villain, but rather a jerk who likes to take things the easy way. Although I do think the film shirks greatness through its hero, who perhaps stays a little too clean throughout the film, but it is a memorable entry within the genre.
4.5/5

Gilda

Gilda is a film noted for the breakout of Rita Hayworth, and it is notable for the rather provocative moments of her first appearance well being asked if she is "decent". The legacy is in Hayworth, and even more so more in terms of iconic imagery than truly a great performance. The rest of the film is a noir troubled by a lack of an engaging cast. Not that they are wholly bad, but their is no one there to really energize the proceedings past a rote noir. The characters, outside of Gilda, are incredibly forgettable and really again Gilda isn't in herself a great character as they avoid a true femme fatale unlike in Ava Gardner's breakout role in The Killers from the same year. There are certainly memorable moments in the film, the aforementioned one in particular, but overall it is not all the memorable as a film.
3.5/5

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Trial (1955)

Trial from 1955 is directed by Mark Robson who earlier told a dark tale of a boxer in Champion, once again subverts potentially inspirational tale to something much more vicious in nature. He it seems a socially conscience film about a lawyer defending a Mexican teenager being accused of murder. Although that would seem like enough a film it does not take as simple of an avenue as that. We even have the good lawyer, played by the perhaps too straight forward Glenn Ford, working with a hot shot lawyer Arthur Kennedy who is more than meets the eye. It stops being about passion, and instead reveals to be as much as some sort of cautionary tale of Communist infiltration into social causes. That technically is a very interesting topic, that I honestly I would think we be something to explore, but given the time it is used instead as a hurdle against our hero. As the film frames it as good vs evil, not surprising given the time of the film's release, with the communists wishing to purposefully lose the case in order to create a martyr. The film perhaps should have delved deeper yet still stands as an engaging film of its type.
3.5/5

Champion

Champion presents the rags to riches story of a boxing, very well played by Kirk Douglas. Douglas excels in creating this endearing protagonist which is actually one of his early starring roles. Boxing pictures were a dime a dozen during the period but this one does standout through the vivid world it creates, granting a sense of desperation before the period of success. The success though is not an inspirational story instead depicting the central character becoming a vicious egomaniac, which Douglas also happens to excel at. The film delves deeper into the psyche of a man who fights for his life, but rather than finding the solace he only finds pain in his strive to be on top.
4.5/5

Monday, February 13, 2017

All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front is perhaps the first sound masterpiece to be made. The film seems to be another place of existence than most other films of the time, compare it to say Disraeli, one of its best picture competition, and this film seems of later era then. Now it does have a few tendencies, the performances are just tad broad early on yet they become much more comfortable soon afterwards, helped perhaps by the greatest character actor of the period, Louis Wolheim. The film though sets out to present war and its horrors, and it does that. The sounds, the images, the eagerness to present such brutality give an unforgiving portrait of the madness and terror of no man's land. The film presses further though in retaining a small scope of just few school boys from their path of "glory" which ends in a graveyard. Within that though it also conveys the power of propaganda as each is convinced by a speech that propels war as something you should hope to be part. One of the most effective elements of the film is it puts you in their shoes. You don't see the war until they do. You experience the strange shift as they enter war with their old friendly mail man turning into a vicious drill Sergeant, or when they find merely finding a meal to be one of the greatest challenges on the front line. Director Lewis Milestone grants the film the needed muck and grime in every moment. It does not shy away as we witness one man killing another. As grim as it is though Milestone grants respites that make the film all the more powerful. The infamous bayoneting moment is handled with an initial intensity that shifts to a haunting silence, as the man is forced to ponder what it is that he has done. The film captures a real sense of desolation, and what is pivotal is what is lost through it.
5/5

The Misfits

The Misfits is a notable film by the virtue of the casting alone. It contains the final performances of Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and one of the final performances of Montgomery Clift. The film itself is a curious thing though. It's written by Arthur Miller, a writer who never minded to allow his themes to wag the dog of the story. Miller's work is often easier to describe in terms of what it means than what happens in the story. Here its message is worn on the title of the misfits as we spend time with a group of ill-fitting people, who are ill-fitting to society, who in the end round up mustangs who are ill-fitting horses. John Huston attempts to grant some reality to the theoretical through his direction, yet he never discourages the broader elements of the screenplay. The cast is strong enough to ensure some real humanity to the proceedings, and manages to be more than mere representations for the most part. There are certain moments that are genuinely moving particularly Eli Wallach's Guido discussing his losses, or Clift's cowboy making a distressing call home. They are moments not within the cohesive film which is a mess of attempted thematic gravitas overrides giving a compelling story to begin with. The film particularly falters as it becomes even more outrageous, partially because of how over the top the character of Rosalyn is written, and almost falls of the rails in sheer histrionics. It's a difficult piece that is of interest, but doesn't actually succeed in crafting a compelling narrative.
2.5/5

Bride of Frankenstein

Bride of Frankenstein is one of the earliest sequels ever made, and also one of the best. It seems already in corner after the first, the monster dead, the doctor dead, where to go? Well just bring them back, which seems acceptable through the use of the framing device where Mary Shelley, Elsa Lanchester who also plays the titular bride, tells the next chapter of the story. The film easily finds new ground through granting the monster a voice and introducing a strange new doctor played by Ernest Thesiger who prods Doctor Frankenstein to continue its experiments. As with the original film this is steeped in atmosphere with James Whale directing with a vibrancy you'd find in few "prestige" pictures from the time. A key to the style is the sense to be scared is to have fun, which is underlined with some dark comedy always infused with the monster. This film dives further though, and effectively so into examining what it means to be human and find happiness. The monster literally finds his voice which leads to an even more affecting portrait of something that simply was never meant to be yet still lives. The scene between the blind man and the monster resonates particularly well, as the successfully examines these more complex ideas while still maintaining the tone of an entertaining monster picture. It's a brilliant work of art, and there is something so fascinating how Whale's monster movies where some of the most daring films of the period.
5/5 

Carnal Knowledge

Carnal Knowledge is another foray by Mike Nichols into "romantic" relationship which because it is Nichols it means it's a descent into emotional pain. This film is not nearly intense as say a Closer, or Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but it takes a similar approach that presents almost every human as this irritable soul who act in ways only satisfy their own needs without even a base concern with others. We get three acts of a man (Jack Nicholson) and his friend (Art Garfunkle) as they get into various sexual relationships with women. Their college years based mostly on exploration, their middle years based upon their inability to deal with a woman past sex, and the his final years facing their inability to even perform. The film's message may be that men are pigs, right? Not really all the women are shown to be either hollow in a different way, emotional wrecks, as cruel as the men, or just a detached prostitute. The film has nothing to say beyond the a surface examination that sexual relationships can be paradoxically unpleasant affairs. It's execution is mildly intriguing at times, its vaguely amusing in moments. Jack Nicholson is technically at his prime but this is easily one of his least compelling performances from the 70's. A film of some controversy in its days. That feature is long forgotten now, seeming rather tame by today's standards, leaving only a middling film behind.
2.5/5

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Nicholas and Alexandra

The 1971 nominees for best picture included one old mainstay of the past, Fiddler on the Roof, but also three films that seem to suggest the new wave of film making with The French Connection, The Last Picture Show and A Clockwork Orange. The fifth nominee though might seem to some to fit the old style historical drama, something for the real old timers in the Academy, with Nicholas and Alexandra about the life of the last Russian Tsar. That wouldn't be quite the right view. It is true this is a historical drama, but as a film it feels very modern, well at least for 1971 anyways. The film offers no revisions or romantic view of the royals, it instead decides to give us the blunt story. It is of course grand in scope, with an expected focus on the production design and costume, but those do not cover the drama of the real story. The film covers the various events yet is careful to examine it closely by showing the titular pair as real people, flaws and all. In fact it actually has a rather compelling approach to show almost how the world outside of the family, makes them worse as they attempt to maintain power. It may not focus on every single detail but it does not simplify the politics. Of course this could just be a stagy, more historically accurate film, but that's not the case either. Franklin J. Schaffner grants the film some of what you may expect but also subverts your expectations as well. There are the occasional moments of style that are very effective particularly the former prime minster Witte(Laurence Olivier)'s somber reflection on the state of Russian or the downright brilliant staging of the assassination of Rasputin. It is largely a captivating film which does not shy away, for the most part, of the brutal truths of the story.
4.5/5

The Homesman

The Homesman is Jones's theatrically released followup to Three Burials, and it follows a somewhat similar formula, though now a "legitimate" western. In that it follows two people as they go upon a journey to deliver something, this time three mad women, in which one imagine they'll have some sort of personal discovery along the way. It also features similar vignettes where we come across some strange western sorts as well. The film is major step down from that film. Jones still has eye for the west, and is well suited as an actor for the genre, but that's all that carries over from his first film. The film seems wholly unaware of what tone it should be and when it shifts to heavy drama or comedy it is excessively jarring. It doesn't help that the film takes so long to reveal the roots of the women's madness even if they are basically props once the journey begins. One would imagine it could at least get by on its main characters. It does not. We are given the seemingly tough old maid played by Hillary Swank whose personal journey that ends with a twist I'll admit I did not see coming. A parallel to the mad women at the end apparently, but her arc seems oddly stilted. We get Jones whose entertaining as the gruff Homesman, also the only vignettes worth mentioning are a couple of sleazy turns by James Spader and Tim Blake Nelson. It is not enough to make this film compelling. It is a mess that thematically could be summed up "the west sure was cuhraaazy".
2/5

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

The Three Burials of Melquiades marked Tommy Lee Jones's directorial debut, and quite the debut. It's neo-western but without quite the hard edge like some other films in the genre. It does deal with a central death, but this film isn't about shootouts. The main thrust of the plot is a revenge of sorts but not the type of revenge you'd usually expect from a western, as it follows Tommy Lee Jones's Pete forcing his friends killer, Norton (Barry Pepper), on a trek to bury his friend where he wanted to be buried.  The focus of the story is on the two men as people, as it examines their personalities, Norton being a general lout and Pete being kind of sad deconstruction of the stoic hero. On their emotional journey though they pass by other people in various vignettes which are a bit more low key than in the traditional western. They are often humorous but always emotional as Jones grants us such a vivid portrait into the unique lives around the border town, beyond even the main story. It's a wonderful atypical western.
5/5

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Naked Spur

The Naked Spur is the very best of the Mann/Stewart western through its particularly tight knit story about a man trying to take an outlaw with a group of men and one woman. Unfortunately for him they all have their own motivations that could lead them to betray him at any time. Stewart as usual is great, but the man who steals the show is Robert Ryan. Ryan, an ace at playing heavies, is in top form offering a great villain that actually makes you able to clearly see cracks in the performances of his villlainous predessors in the Mann westerns. Ryan is just on another level from them, and inturn makes this easily the most tense of all of them. I love the whole set up of this one, that stays in the wilderness the whole time, giving the sense of isolation even while in the open. The film gives you a real sense of all the character, intelligently keeping the character count low, to craft quite the thriller.
5/5

Winchester 73

Winchester 73 marked the first western by Anthony Mann where he collaborated with James Stewart. The series of films offer a different kind of west than you might find in most films before it. There's no real comic relief, there's certainly no funny Natives hanging around, it's stark world where most men would rather shoot you in the back just to steal a few coins. The film also offers a different Jimmy Stewart, he's no longer the awshucks charmer of his former years, he's an embittered man living a hard life, though still likable but I suppose that just comes naturally with ole Stewart. The main story represents this style with Stewart playing a hard man hellbent on revenge against an outlaw, unfortunately he's only one of the amoral men he will find on his journey. The film is quite effective in this tone, of dog eat dog, and well anchored by Stewart who proves himself more than capable in dealing in the darker side of mankind. The film is well focused around the straight revenge, depicting a thriller within the western setting, which it uses so well in creating this sense of danger everywhere. It's compelling film though not quite the best Stewart/Mann have to offer.
4.5/5

The Third Man

The Third Man is a downright brilliant film that essentially pulls together so many great ideas into a single compelling story. The use of the burnt out Vienna is not only great idea, but gives such real sense of place in terms of city that is still in shambles. We that we get so many shady character, left and right, but with the king of them all being Orson Welles's smiling devil, Harry Lime. The character though offers more than a cackling villain, he offers a temptation to believe his twisted philosophy that emphasizes one's own gain over all others. In the middle of it all we have Joseph Cotten's Holly, who is truly a hapless hero in that it times him quite awhile before he even knows he is the hero. The film has the right sense of humor in this, having the right fun with the material, even though it has its darker turns. Trevor Howard's Major Calloway's a great example of this dichotomy with his acerbic asides, "Calloway not Callahan", but also a more earnest conviction when revealing to Holly what Harry Lime's crimes do. Unlike a few other films of the period the morality never feels forced, unlike say the unfortunate speech at the Asphalt Jungle, it is brilliantly interlaced through the characters. The film though is one of the best directed films of all time with its stunning cinematography, unforgettable music, and so many sequences that just seem to be pure cinema.
5/5

The Roaring Twenties

The Roaring Twenties is yet another compelling James Cagney lead gangster movie. This one seeking a slightly larger scope, in terms of time frame, than a few of his others depicting a former World War I veteran being forced into crime during the depression. This film I will say has a plenty going for it, another strong turn by Cagney which allows us to sympathize with his downfall, even while being a great tough guy as usual, a more interesting supporting turn by Gladys George as his female cohort, and Humphrey Bogart, still in full heel mode, as a untrustworthy and psychotic partner in crime. Raoul Walsh as usual has a real panache for this type of story. He keeps the pace, except for a few I'm sure contractually obligated Priscilla Lane song numbers, but also keeps a real investment in the story. Walsh makes us truly care about this guy, he never judges Cagney's Eddie, even if the code basically required him to treat him rather poorly. The film never forgets the tragedy of adrift veteran though particularly in the final scenes of the film which carry quite the emotional impact.
5/5

Friday, January 20, 2017

Highlander: Endgame

Highlander: Endgame the fourth film in the Highlander franchise that seeks to bridge the film series with the I'm sure incredible television series, after all Marion Cotillard was in it. Seriously though I've never seen the series, but the main carry over of Adrian Paul as Duncan MacLeod is not a good one. His poor acting though is ready to team up with Christopher Lambert's Connor in order to take on the evil immortal Kell, the most poorly acted of all of the Highlander villains. Now Highlander 2 is probably the more aggressively bad sequel, this one keeps out the planet of Zeist for example, but it's also far less enjoyable. This film is more of best described as not good, and kind of boring. The fights are not engaging, besides a bit of stunt work by Donnie Yen, the storyline is mostly random with its time jumps and poorly defined relationships, and sequences that actually just don't make any sense. The film was in fact so unappealing that the trailers merely made things up to sell it.
0/5

Highlander II: The Quickening

Highlander II: The Quickening is one of the biggest downgrades ever for a sequel, which is problematic when the first film wasn't exactly great to begin with. The film though is a hilariously bad sequel in that it seems to do everything in its power to mess with first film. The most notable example being that film rewrite Connor MacLeod's origin story that he and Sean Connery's mentor from the first film where extraterrestrial rebels sent to Earth. By the way that makes no sense and is down right stupid given the first film's story. But hey the film also has its terrible present story about rebels trying to take down a sunblocking shield, run by an evil corporation that for some reason models all their building after a Blade Runner ripoff. But don't forget about MacLeod's old foe General Katana (Michael Ironside), wait you don't remember him, oh yeah that's right the bad guy appears out of nowhere. Don't worry he's an alien who seeks revenge, for something, several hundred years after the fact, and does so by first giving MacLeod's power back. Also did a mention Sean Connery shows up again living for absolutely no reason, but hey we get more HAM Connery here which is kind of glorious when his character develops the power of telekinesis and bagpipes. It's an ugly film, its plot is terrible, its characters more often dumb than not, and has nothing really to offer in terms of being good. This film is technically bad though in the best kind of way in that its incompetence is often laughable, although I don't think that is exactly praiseworthy.
0/5

Friday, January 6, 2017

Highlander

Highlander is the first and best film in the series, which means absolutely nothing. This film certainly has a good enough idea at its center, a group of immortals who battle to death until there is indeed only one that remains. The film has some fun with the idea by jumping through times from the present, which seems very period today, and the past. One highlight of this is a Barry Lyndon esque duel that rather comically doesn't end. There's are mostly there for some fun little side views, the main lines though consist of New York in the 80's and Scotland in the dark ages. To help through all of this is Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod, giving a leading turn only he could possibly give, and Sean Connery, as his immortal mentor, giving an early example of ham Connery, though to be fair ham Connery can relatively entertaining as it is here. The real highlight though is Clancy Brown as the evil immortal the Kurgan whose having a blast in the role, and it's hard not to enjoy watching him. The film story wise isn't anything special at either side, one basically a series of training scenes, the other about a cop trying to uncover a mystery we as viewers are already well aware of. I suppose though there is enough material for a origin story, though just enough, certainly no more. No characters here really are that memorable past the performances around them, and the story, once the concept is known, is very straight forward. What I imagine most are coming for in a Highlander film are the sword fights, and there are several of them. The only problem is they really aren't that great. The choreography isn't anything special, and no sequence really is a standout. They're okay, for the time, but that's it. It's a definite product of the 80's, but as definite product of the 80's there are better films than this one.
3/5