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.