Thursday, December 21, 2017

Cross of Iron

Cross Of Iron takes an atypical view, particularly for an American film of the time, where he it examines World War II through German soldiers. The film though naturally is an examination of cynical, yet caring, men who continue on through a war they don't believe in, knowing the they will lose sooner or later. This is against the one passionate Captain, well played by Maximilian Schell, who is hell bent on earning a Iron Cross from the higher command, a symbol recognition his fellow soldiers have earned yet have no interest in them. Although I should note this film is somewhat imperfect as the fact that it was not completely finished does seem evident in the rushed finale, however that does not defeat the remarkable efforts from the rest of the film. This is an excellent example of Sam Peckinpah's ways as a director who would never shy from the most brutal violence, in fact one could argue he glories in it with his use of slow motion to emphasize it, however there is this real warmth in his style all the same. There is always a sense that Peckinpah deeply cares for his characters which is pivotal here as it realizes the day to day life of these men attempting to get by in the war despite the odds being against them, as well as their own immediate superior. It's a fascinating film that works in actually often being made up of the little moments between the soldiers, so often of the little joy they still can find in their lives, which results in a powerful film about these men as much as a story about the rot of the Nazi army. It works as the latter as well, but it aims higher than this and succeeds in creating a brutal yet moving portrait of good soldiers on the wrong side.

Paths of Glory

Paths Of Glory is actually a bit of an outlier in Stanley Kubrick's filmography. Although the technical prowess of his direction found in his films is on display the film itself is by far his most humanistic film. Although Kubrick will allow a conduit for the audience to sympathize with or emphasize with to at least some extent he usually plays around with the supporting characters who are purposefully distant and strange. This is not the case in this film which seeks to find the humanity in every one. This includes even the worst characters, such as the cowardly Lieutenant Roget is granted a surprising degree of sympathy, and while this is not granted to glory seeking General Mireau his desperation for that glory is shown within a certain context. He's not made something grotesque, his actions are what grotesque, while we are allowed to see the man who beneath them. This approach realizes Kubrick's most emotionally resonate and powerful film. There is such care given to the soldiers that he allows one to witness the cruelty of the injustice within the system of war, where men are randomly selected for cowardice in order to act as a scape goat for the failures of battle. This isn't a film directly about the horrors of war, rather the horrors of the system that allows it and the insanity and insecurities that allow it thrive. Kubrick allows glints of optimism here, most notably through the powerhouse performance by Kirk Douglas, but just in the general tenderness towards his characters throughout. This is most notable, in Kubrick's greatest scene, which is saying something, where the group of soldiers find a respite in the song The Faithful Hussar, before going off to war once again. It is one of Kubrick's masterpieces, and the success of the film makes me ponder what he might have done with a few more film of this ilk.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


The question about Drive is why is it a masterpiece? The story isn't anything new in fact you can find both Driver and Thief to see similar plots. Drive is a testament though that execution can matter sometimes more than originality of the plot, especially when the originality can be found in that execution. Drive has a well worn plot yet never feels tired. This is in part due to the downright brilliant direction by Nicolas Winding-Refn which realizes scenes that have certainly existed before in ways one has never seen before. This can be a more overt way such as in the opening where he places you within the getaway car in the opening heist/car chase. A potential gimmick beautifully realized to create a visceral unique sequence unlike any other in the genre. Now as much as the direction excels within these breathless actions sequences this extends to any given moment in the film far beyond where you'd even expect. There is a mastery within this style that Winding-Refn makes even just a scene of day in the wilderness is something so captivating. As with so many of the all time great films it effortlessly melds this style, with character, and its simple yet compelling plot. No facet is lost in this and this is one of the films I'd describe as realizing the magic of film in a way. Every aspect of film so effortlessly is melded together from the cinematography, to the writing, to the great acting, the sound, and of course the incredible music. Winding-Refn is the star of this film though in how well he utilizes all of this together to make a masterpiece that could have been a fairly rote action thriller in the wrong hands. Take the elevator scene which I'd put with among the greatest scenes of all time, where the full power the visual medium can be seen. Not a word is said yet in its gorgeous lighting, precise action of the scene, the specific acting particularly from Ryan Gosling that conveys such an incredible emotional weight that makes the moment one of the most romantic in cinematic history, and one of the most violent. That scene is one of the reasons I love the film, but also why I love film.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game has a rich history in the man of Alan Turing. Turing being a brilliant computer scientist essential in the creation of a decoder computer that helped to break the Nazi code during World War II. He was also a homosexual at a time where it was illegal in England which lead to his tragic downfall shortly after the war. An atypical life lead to an atypical film, not in actual execution but through its process of attempting to tell the story of Turing as a mainstream crowd pleaser. The film attempts to tell both stories however these stories are so different it is hard to wholly capture both. The film does not succeed in naturally streamlining this due to mostly its ending which is too much of challenge to cohere to the overarching approach. Now I will say that overarching approach is effective in granting an old fashioned biopic to Turing. It doesn't ignore his homosexual life however it downplays it towards focusing instead on his introverted eccentricity. This does work, largely due to Benedict Cumberbatch's dedicated performance, and the story of the code breaking is potent enough to carry much of the film. It however even in this aspect loses its grip somewhat with its choice to introduce as espionage subplot that adds essentially enough style of film into the overarching one. When it is the streamlined biopic it works, when it falls into the tragic story of Turing it suffers since it doesn't devote enough time to it. The scenes of the past do work but again these naturally fit into the biopic structure. The tragedy is undercut because of the rush to include which sadly feels forced within the rest of the film especially when the film leaves on uplifting note despite the fact our central lead commits suicide.

The Godfather Part III

The Godfather Part III went in really with quite the colossal task. It needed to somehow live up to its predecessors, which already had garnered its reputation as an undisputed masterpiece. That was not alone. There was even a bit of hazards, common to sequels, where for example the key cast member of Robert Duvall had to be written out, and it would seem so many of the character arcs were at an end in the first film. Where was there to go? Well only down this time, as with film trilogies third time is very often not the charm. I should say the Godfather Part III isn't a horrible film, it's just not a very good which is a problem when you come after two films deemed masterpieces by almost all. There are parts of it that are pretty horrible though. A few of the action moments, particularly a helicopter attack don't belong anywhere near a Godfather film and seem far more fitting to a generic crime thriller. Sophia Coppola as Michael's daughter is as a bad as the reputation suggests. Her wooden turn not only burdens every scene she is in, she ruins what is suppose to be a moment of sheer emotional devastation through her all time horrid line delivery of only a single line. Her "dad" is truly a marvel of bad acting. Her father really needed to find an actor for role as his daughter lacked the talent in that area. Also the film has one of the all time worst makeup jobs for a mainstream big budget film in whatever they slapped on Pacino for the last scene of the film ensuring the last shot of The Godfather as a whole was a laughable one. Those are the parts of the film that are horrible, the middle parts are more of just not anything special. The film retreads material from the first two films while rarely really expanding or continuing on it in interesting ways. We get just new Michael with touches of Sonny to come in, we just get a new evil don to take down, we get a new potential intrigue with a relationship with the church that doesn't really go anywhere, and we get a final sequence of death that try yet fail to come close to either of the finales of the first two films. Having said that there is just a touch of the old Godfather greatness to be found amidst a great deal of mediocrity. This mostly is in the exploration of Michael's regrets of his past mistakes. These scenes do capitalize on what came before in natural way and the scene where he confesses to the cardinal over the murder of Fredo is genuinely moving. These scenes though are few and far between. This is not an awful film however it is worthy for the distinction of one of the biggest disappointments of all time.

The Godfather Part II

The Godfather Part II went in really with quite the colossal task. It needed to somehow live up to its predecessor, which already had garnered its reputation as an undisputed masterpiece. That was not alone. There was even a bit of hazards, common to sequels, where for example the key cast member of Richard S. Castellano had to be essentially recast, it would seem so many of the character arcs were at an end in the first film. Where was there to go? Well only up in my reckoning though also back. Again just throwing in another facet that could have backfired but did not was the use of the dual storylines the future with Michael and the past with young Vito. Prequels perhaps have a worse track record than sequels, however Godfather Part II proved itself past all challenges or expectations to be the greatest prequel of all time, one of the greatest sequels of all time, and one film that I actually find surpasses the original. Foremost everything that was great about the first film was great again in terms of the acting, cinematography, score, production design, the film is not lacking any single part. Now in the story though Michael's arc might have seemed at the end in the first film, however fact that Coppola successfully continues this is astonishing as he shows what it would mean to become and to continue to try to live as this man as well as a Don in ever changing times. In terms of the story we get a different view this time as Michael deals now outside of the Italian families realms dealing with a different type of evil in Hyman Roth, and a different type set of weapons to be used against him. This while through the examination of his growing isolation as this man as he continues to try to secure his family while becoming more alone in doing so. This is best realized through the most potent aspect of the film with John Cazale as Michael's brother Fredo. Fredo was basically an afterthought in the first film, and it is a testament to the brilliance of Coppola to utilize the minor role for something truly substantial as well as see the talent that Cazale had been able to show even with such limited screen time in the first film. Coppola is able to expand on what come before in every respect using the complexities to naturally continue the story. This is all buttressed by the prequel of the story of Young Vito where Coppola excels in expanding on those underlying themes of the American dream within the story, now finding the immigrant experience in such vibrant detail. He gives a whole another world, another side before the first film that is as interesting and perhaps even more captivating in its depiction of the rise of the young Vito. Again though as much as Coppola succeeds in the grand set pieces, every major character moment, the film is as defined by every minor detail that helps to craft this masterpiece of cinema that is a standard both for any sequel as well as any prequel.

The Godfather

The Godfather is one of the populist choices for the greatest film of all time, well populist with any taste that is, and well that's a fair enough assessment. The Godfather has been always a film I've been slightly hesitant to heap that praise, not because it doesn't really deserve it, but rather because there simply are other great films. The Godfather though in unequivocally a great film anyways, even if I don't quite adhere to the overriding sentiment that above and beyond as these films go. The Godfather still stands in itself, forgetting any other factors, as an amazing achievement. The Godfather realizes the richness of its source material and bests it through Francis Ford Coppola's brilliant adaptation in just about every possible sense. Rather than playing into the tropes of the traditional crime film it reinvented them through a revision to examine it through a far more intimate portrait of this crime family that is more important to the film than the crimes they commit. Coppola has the appreciation for this family dynamic that goes beyond even the immediate family even within the sort warmth in the uncle figures of the Caporegimes. Coppola furthers this in crafting such a vivid sense of the Italian heritage and traditions both in the family, even in the food, but also in the criminal world in which they exist. The sheer vibrancy of the world is remarkable and the popularity of the film could perhaps be partially attached with this as there is even a certain comfort in this despite the violent nature of the story. That vibrancy is beyond atmosphere though coming within every character making actually future archetypes in a way, though with fully realized three dimensional characters. There being the wise don father Vito, the hotheaded Sonny, the very coolheaded Tom, the foolish Fredo, and Michael, the lead who begins as the unassuming reluctant hero to become technically a cold cutthroat villain though with the mindset that everything he's doing he's doing for his family. Where the film takes the characters is as a compelling through that complexity offering the crime world with their own double crosses and motivations, with fascinating figures even if for but a scene in some circumstances. The film seems to be essentially a blue print for a "great film" as it does everything. Brilliant structure, acting, production design, score, costumes, characters, you name it pretty much has it in this respect. This is never an exercise in this either as much as Coppola is efficiency in this his work was daring, whether it is his flawless execution of the non-violent, mostly, wedding sequence, or the very violent baptism scene Coppola strove for a truly cinematic and dynamic storytelling methods. Even as much as it isn't one of my personal favorites as a great film, it is a great film, and anyone who tells you otherwise will only be quoting Family Guy.

Monday, November 20, 2017

L.A. Confidential

James Ellroy said that when he sold the movie rights to L.A. Confidential he sold his soul however upon seeing the film he got his soul back. A bit of grandiose statement to be sure, however a statement worthy of this film. L.A. Confidential is potentially the greatest neo-noir, or noir for that matter, film ever made. This film written in fate almost as the one film director Curtis Hanson had to make as he was not an overly notable director before or after this film. With this film he managed to craft a masterpiece. The question though is how? Well by simply having everything that makes a great film great I suppose. There is the atmosphere so beautifully realized in the lush atmosphere created around the Hollywood scene of L.A., but also making the murky details in the underbelly just as vibrant. It's a film that simply puts you there, but that's just the beginning. As also needed for a noir there needs to be a plot which this film has in all of its rich complexity. Along with Chinatown this film is the gold standard in terms of making a complex plot. The only moments of confusion are intentionally there to leave you in the dark, as it manages to make every single detail clear that you need, while most importantly keeping this all compelling all the same. You want as a viewer to get to the next point of the twisting plot, it excites rather than dulls at every point, including one the greatest "gotcha" moments in film. It even manages to be a hilarious film despite its dark subject matter, with the "She is Lana Turner" moment being a particular highlight. Now all that would make a pretty great film anyways, but perhaps just an exercise, well the film tops it off again with such absorbing characters. The three central character of Bud White, Ed Exley and Jack Vincennes are all brilliantly played and written. You get to learn and understand each man. Not just in a cursory way but in a deeper way in how each approach their lives as cops, and as men. All three are utterly fascinating and made all the more so when these conflicting values comes into conflict, or into compromise. This takes a film far beyond a engrossing noir plot, and towards a truly emotional experience as you come to understand and invest in all three of the men.

The King's Speech

The King's Speech is perhaps an example that should be used to help one differentiate between writing and directing. The King's Speech as written is a delightful, witty, while still emotional realization of the story of George VI through his relationship with Lionel Logue who helps him find his voice and his confidence through the tumultuous time of the abdication of his brother, and World War II. The script shows one who to fashion a classical inspirational historical tale, and do it right. It finds the emotional truth in the matter while finding both the grand and personal scale within the story. I also have to give it special accommodation for having the intelligence to have the sort of the potential "liar revealed" scene dealt in an honest satisfying way. Sadly Tom Hooper's direction does everything in its power to interfere with the terrific tale that has been granted to him. Are porno sets okay? Of course, says Hooper. Bizarre angles for the sake of it? Of course Hooper says. Outdoor scenes so foggy as to be a gothic horror film? Of course, Hooper says. Overdone lingering shots of Colin Firth's face to make his performance a bit awkward at times? Of course, Hooper says. The choices are there for the sake of it never making a lick of sense for the film's story. The biggest obstacle the film has is its own director who detracts rather amplifies his film, the exact opposite of what David Fincher did in The Social Network, the film's main competition at the Oscars. Hooper's ill informed decisions make the film far less than it should have been, however they can't quite ruin the film. It's still a good film however with a better director it could have been a great one.

Macbeth (2015)

Macbeth as one of Shakespeare's most popular plays has been adapted many times therefore it is responsibility of the filmmaker to bring something new with their own vision when bringing to the screen. On one hand technically this film is impressive from its production design, and especially a costume which are dynamic in creating this version of the film. The real alternative take though comes from Justin Kurzel at the helm attempting to do offering Macbeth less a story of a man being consumed by ambition but rather being consumed by his own dormant madness from the wounds of war and the losses in his life. This is interesting in its approach and effective in terms of the performances granted through this take from Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the Macbeths. There are brilliant individual sequences realized this approach such the addition of having Macbeth directly confronting the king's son after the murder, and the massacre of Macduff's family to which the Lady Macbeth participates in as this almost witch burning ceremony. As many outstanding choices the overall aesthetic decisions, and forceful hand by Kurzel do wear thin at times. In his Zach Snyder slow motion in the opening battle, or his purposeful choice to seemingly aggravate with his pacing, not every decision is effective nor do they even all meld together towards creating what seems to be the central purpose of this version. This adaptation in parts is incredible, however in others is tiresome. Kurzel only aims for the highest peaks as adaptation goes, and occasionally finds them, while at other moments falls off into a deep pit of lingering shots, mood music, and lifelessness.

The Revenant

The Revenant before it even came out became known for the insanity of its production that has shades of the productions of Apocalypse Now and Fitzcarraldo. Where the filmmakers seemed to be living through their own madness in the nature and among the giant personalities as their characters are. Unfortunately there is no companion documentary for The Revenant, and perhaps it lead to certainly distaste where Alejandro González Iñárritu seemed to embrace the attention that received. After all that though there is only the film that remains, following the highly fictionalized account of Hugh Glass's unbelievable survival through the wilderness while seeking revenge. That alone is potent enough, though the anti-climax of real life I suppose leaves the desire for something a bit more potent. Iñárritu goes further than that in embracing a strong degree of spiritualism within the journey of Glass, evoking Herzog themes in a Malick manner. It's perhaps a bit stronger than that though I will say that is probably the weakest point for me. DiCaprio and visions of his dead wife being an actor's trademark is odd enough, and I think the film could have lived without it. I will say though had Iñárritu restrained himself slightly this moments of spirituality could have been very poignant, as isolated to itself Glass's dream of a reunion with his son has a definite power. Beyond that though the film is a survivalist revenge thriller and its there where it excels, whether that is in the highly entertaining yet somehow somewhat sympathetic villain in Tom Hardy's Fitzgerald, the complex and dynamic set pieces, or the incredible cinematography. The film is at its best at its simplest point in bringing to these isolated places, and within the intensity of the two central men with their own methods and understanding of what it means to survive.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

At World's End brings the original trilogy of pirates film through sort of sad closing. It first begins by eliminating any goodwill from the previous film by eliminating the Kraken off screen as though the writers couldn't come up with a decent way to defeat the monster, making Davy Jones henpecked lapdog for our "standard evil British guy" from the first even if I do like Tom Hollander in general. The problems of Dead Man's Chest are only further compounded with Depp now going full caricature as Captain Jack, with ridiculously indulgent scenes of multiples of the man seemingly just to show how deep end the character had gone by that point. The pointless complexity only continues with multiple unneeded double crosses, and a random assortment of pointless character particularly Chow Yun Fat's pirate lord. Again though the lack of a sense of fun is what really diminished probably rather well illustrated through the tone deaf opening that consists of the slow hanging of child. It is poorly conceived effort that seems to almost revel in its aimless messiness. All that the original film had to offer is just about all lost here in the film whimpering conclusion to a concept that held such potential originally.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Dead Man's Chest is the immediate follow up, and although the best of the sequels its problems are readily apparent. Now there is some good to be had in the expansion of the lore with the introduction of an effective villain in Billy Nighy's Davy Jones, and his giant kraken. That's about it though as the film struggles with its overly expansive yet never particularly compelling plot where it sets so many characters with so motivations, yet they are never earned in creating a real connection to any of their stories. This is secondary to spectacle, yet the spectacle is oddly underwhelming, or comedy which is never particularly funny this time around. Depp's whose Jack Sparrow seemed such an original and unique character here begins to become a tired parody version of his character from the first one. There is still a bit of substance here yet for the most part his mannerisms feel just like an act, and his performance feels like on autopilot of just a general weirdness most of the time. This in turn makes everything else that he made work in the first film fall flat here. There are some fun moments here though, a giant wheel, the kraken attack, yet they are not as successful in naturally serving the story as similar moments in the first film. Of course all of this is only exacerbated through excessive runtime and horrendous pacing. The film attempts complexity merely for the sake of it, and in doing so diminishes any sense of fun needed for any pirate romp.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl

Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl aka the film that started the most successful franchise based on an amusement park ride. Although technically speaking it is very much based on the swashbuckler films of old though here with a supernatural bent. Throughout filmmaking there have been films that were the noble beginning to an unpleasant end which is the case here. This is two fold one for the franchise itself and one for Johnny Depp as an actor. Depp had been known mostly for his off-beat performances in largely independent films but this thrust that off-beat style into the mainstream in a major way. In this case Depp a highly original take that energized the film that perhaps without him could have been another Cutthroat Island. His influence goes beyond just being an entertaining performance as he informs so much of the film with his presence, as so many scenes that could be standard are given a real flair whether it is making comic banter with the uptight British work, or give more of a life to his more straight forward co-stars. The film also benefits from some spirited action, an entertaining villain in Geoffrey Rush, and a particularly invigorating score from Hans Zimmer. The film isn't without flaws, its pacing is a bit off, though this is only a warm up for the sequels, and not all the effects hold up tot his day. It stands alone though as an enjoyable adventure film, though with perhaps those flaws to indicate things to come.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Stranger Things 2

Stranger Things 2 takes a year later approach in offering a sequel to the series and succeeds in its endeavor in the continuing tales of the story of these characters. This season I'll grant has a certain advantage in that I already care about the characters, love the sense of place, and just need them to continue with this. Well they do. The series also quite carefully expands the right arcs while perhaps keeping some characters at a constant yet not making them seem stale in that sense either. It also helps from a couple of nice additions in Sean Astin and Paul Reiser, a pair of iconic eighties alumni themselves. This season is less exact in its plotting yet still works in its altering currents, and perhaps less complex story line as well. This isn't a problem though as every story still works, well the teenagers and the journalist wasn't great however minimal screentime was devoted to that. This season though also benefited from the enormous success of the previous season and that is seen on screen in its more impressive set pieces throughout. This is only a good thing making for more dynamic climax in some ways. What keeps me there though are the characters and I loved what they did with almost everyone particularly Joe Keery's Steve, Gaten Matarazzo's Dustin, and of course Eleven. That even includes in her "Terence and Philip" episode, that was essential her arc despite the rabid hate it received. Again found the plot compelling but more than anything once again just loved spending time with these characters.  

Stranger Things

Stranger Things one can examine many of things even outside of the show itself, but in terms of the nature of a show such as this. I actually watched the show just as it originally came out before hype for the series had taken over granting a suppose a pure view of it as I simply just enjoyed a show I knew nothing about and in turn loved it. Now on that point what is that I love about the show. There is its 80's setting which I think holds more than nostalgic power, after all creating the atmosphere for a period and successfully creating a real sense of place and time is an achievement with any film or tv show. I will say the 80's previously had struggled to be captured often times on film. Stranger Things goes further though in granting a Quentin Tarantinoesque approach. Now this is not in terms of his overall style as a filmmaker but often the basis for his storytelling. In that Stranger Things for the 80's does what Tarantino did for the 60's and 70's in that he utilizes facets and styling of the old films for his own. Is this the most original habit, not necessarily but that really doesn't matter. Execution can often be more important than originality, for example Super 8 attempted a similair thing yet failed, whereas this series succeeds. In part there is originality in that this hasn't been done before in this exact way, and though the characters come from a known starting point they find their own life. Furthermore the combination of Stephen King, John Carpenter, Wes Crave, Steven Spielberg, John Landis, and Joe Dante among others does result in something original through that combination. As much as appreciate all of that styling what makes the show work though are those characters and the performances, which though there hiccups, there is definite greatness. The show though succeeds most in making me care about every character and becoming invested to the point I could honestly have just watched the kids play D&D for a whole episode. It is not a flawless series, the main monster for example is hindered a bit by CGI and the build up is better than the climax. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment and cared in the way you only get with a great show. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader marks the third film in the Narnia series, and seems to have the passion of someone saying "eh lets do this now". The film is directed by Michael Apted who has a most unusual filmography to his name, some of it quite good, however still was not the best man to create a singular vision. In all honesty the film Apted director before this was that feels most apt to compare is his James Bond effort The World Is Not Enough. Apted uses what already came before once again. In Narnia as with Bond, he doesn't remake any wheels, he doesn't break the wheel, but he fails to stop it from rusting more than a bit. This whole film feels like half hearted effort in every respect, as there is no sense of urgency, there's no sense of wonder throughout the film whole. The film above all suggested it needed someone with a real method to bring the viewer to a whole new world, but here we just get a pretty bland sailing adventure. There's nothing of note, the only thing sort of enjoyable is the new addition from Earth Eustace turning into a Dragon to learn a lesson. That comes from the source material of course, but at least one can say that's didn't screw that up. This isn't so much about screwing up but rather by the sheer lack of any even bit of original inspiration to a single facet of this film. It is a dull affair that seems like it was only made because someone needed to make it. There's no sense of passion to any of it, and it is not surprising that it put the series on a temporary hold.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian follows very much the same vein as the first film. This changes a bit more and here and there with the the adaptation, naturally focusing more on the final battle, however still nothing overly dramatic. As with the first film everything is just fine really, though it has one major nice addition in Peter Dinklage's grumpy dwarf its falters with very underwhelming if not downright boring villains. The film trudges along well enough but never with any daring to really give the source material any extra umph to it. The dramatic beats are okay, the battles are decent, everything is okay, but nothing is great. It isn't a film that truly underwhelms yet it only ever seems like it is just enough, no more, no less to be deemed a minor success. The material itself perhaps is not as strong as the original leading quite naturally for this film to be not as strong either.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe probably was greenlit the moment The Fellowship of the Rings proved to be a great success. The series of Narnia is after all the friendly companion to that series as they both come from the minds of scholars J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis with a love for the classical fantastical stories of old. This story is a different beast than LOTR, in that it technically skews closer to the Hobbit, in that it is more overtly a children's fantasy tale, and where Tolkien rejected allegory Lewis embraced it. This film follows up the greatest fantasy trilogy ever put on film so it probably wasn't going to quite match it, perhaps the source material did not even allow for it. This film though suggests this series as attempting a recreation of that success than fully embracing its own. The film lacks a visionary director at the helm. What they do is instead rely on the strength of the source material, and of its various artist on and off screen. There isn't that same cohesion in the work though individual aspects are strong, but not everything has the right type of consistency. Thankfully most of it does work, and the source is strong enough to make for a good film even if this is not an extraordinary adaptation. It's a more than decent one but only just that.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Bram Stoker's Dracula takes its crack as the oft told tale of the blood sucking count through delivering the most faithful adaptation of the source material as written, taking the more complex plot of the book, with the multiple suitors and multiple liaisons to Dracula, and actually making the only a major change an addition. The addition being trying to add some humanity to the villain by having Mina Harker (Winona Ryder) be the reincarnated long lost love of Dracula's whose death spurned him to embrace Satan and become a vampire in the first place. I will actually say that aspect of the film is a weaker of it, well except for Dracula's monster cry of sorrow over her at one point. This is perhaps because such a romance requires a bit of sincerity, and how this film thrives is Francis Ford Coppola's direction of the film. Coppola seems to know the material is absurd in some ways and plays into this brilliantly by playing up the camp by going through a broadly operatic tone. This fits the material actually quite well and enlivens through Coppola's mastery of the technical aspects of the film. The film looks amazing in every regard particularly its special effects and makeup, and he has the right type of fun in the madcap visuals that represent the story. Now the only thing Coppola doesn't take a strict control of in this regard are the performances where you can have fun picking out who understand the tone and who does not. Gary Oldman as Dracula gets it, Sadie Frost gets it, Anthony Hopkins gets it, Tom Waits really gets it, but Keanu Reeves doesn't nor does Winona Ryder. They seem to be in a different film however they really don't get in the way too much. Coppola's tone, which is perhaps his last great hurrah as a visionary, masters the material brilliantly by making the insanity of it wildly entertaining.

The Dresser

The Dresser is a stage adaptation about an actor and his troupe and crew, particularly his dresser attempting to put on a production of King Lear during World War II in England. The idea of the stage adaptation is always a bit tricky as it is easy enough to lose the power of even a great source material if mishandled or misjudged. Director Peter Yates not only captures the power of the original source material but he finds the needed effort in making it cinematic. There are perhaps a few additional moments there to make the film overtly so, but that's not the focus of what makes this film work. It is still most often in the theater. Yates is careful to add these touches in the right moments but perhaps most importantly realize the strength of the material that is already there. The material itself is filled with such rich difficulties through the strong personalities of the troupe particularly the central actor, but also finds something very special in the central relationship. The two of them are fascinating together, obviously amplified by the performances of Albert Finney and especially Tom Courtenay. The two are terrific in finding the way the two are separated yet find a common ground through the production, the way they speak yet never exactly seem on the same level. It is a brilliantly dynamic fully realized and made actually surprisingly moving by the end of the film. Yates allows the performances to thrive as they should yet he has a careful eye in never abusing his hand, yet giving every scene in the theater the right touches to enliven them. It is never just a scene of actors simply talking. This is memorable adaptation as it captures the strength of its source yet successfully delivers onscreen. I wouldn't say you can completely forget that it came from the stage, like say an Amadeus, but you can say "that's a great stage adaptation".

The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff was a box office failure upon its release, despite finding a fair amount of success with the Academy Awards, but I would not say it is a film that has found its place with a cult status. It is instead specifically beholden to those who see it, which isn't a cult in this case, it's just anyone who happens to see it. The failure of the film seems strange, but perhaps it is because the film itself does not pigeonhole itself in its genre whether it be as a historical epic, a character study, a satire, or specifically a special effects driven picture. It is all of these, but you cannot sell the film on a single one despite excelling in each. On one hand it is a picture that celebrates ambition, and pure Americana in a purest of sense. Granting it this invigorating mysticism particularly in the exploits of Sam Shepard's Chuck Yeager. It captures that achievement purely. It succeeds in being a character study of Yeager, but also so many of the Mercury seven realizing the different big personalities so brilliantly. It is a satire though in that it reveals the ridiculousness of the propaganda and subverts the American dream even after having given credence to it. It does both without failing at either nor losing the sense of its tone. On top of it all it is a visual masterpiece with visual effects which hold up to this day. I love this film because it successfully says that this story doesn't need to be about a single thing. It is about the thrill, and achievement through overall ambition. It is about the big personalities it requires to fulfill the ambition, it is about how all of that is even ridiculous in its own way too. It finds the complexities and revels in it. It's a great film.


Cabaret may be to many the film that nearly beat the Godfather for best picture, after all the film won more Oscars overall including best director for Bob Fosse. This film though is not some simple musical adaptation from the stage as Fosse, who despite coming from the stage himself as a choreographer and director, strives to adapt the stage musical into a truly cinematic work. Well for this non-fan of musicals, I will say this is quite a success. Fosse cuts the flab, often a problem in the adaptation, by limiting songs to only where they make sense. Those scenes tend to have an even greater impact as the songs never feel there for the sake of it, but relate far more directly to themes also realized outside the club. There is only a single song we see outside of the club, where singing comes naturally in performances, and that is the anthem "Tomorrow Belongs to Me". That scene stands as one of the most single brilliant pieces of direction in the 70's as it leads into the song of seeming of just beauty and pride, to reveal it to be this fervent anthem for Nazism. The film excels in keeping that underlying current of dread as related to the Nazis even as it reveals purposefully in the excess of our main characters. What it carefully does though is never becomes caricature giving life to everyone even granting sympathy to Liza Minelli's Sally Bowles, partially because of her striking performance, but also because Fosse never demonizes the character despite her nature. He instead captures this sense of the people on the edge some hopeful, yet tragically so, in the pure relationship of the Jewish couple, then the more lustful examination of the writer, the count, and Sally who seem to shy away when any substance seems to be found in their relationships. It's a great film and it is interesting that a man who came from the stage knew so clearly that a dynamic adaptations needs liberties, and changes to become truly cinematic.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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. 


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.