I’m a child of the 80s. I grew up with Michael Mann’s Miami Vice. I watched movies like Scarface and To Live And Die In LA religiously. I lived through the end of the Cocaine Cowboys era. I called it the time of “colorful crime“. Pink and green neon lights shining over crooked drug deals in night club parking lots. Rhythmic synthesizer beats blaring out of passing car speakers. That stuff just screams 80s. Its why I love the film Drive. It speaks to my youth. Director Nicolas Winding Refn shot it like a film that could slide right into that era or universe. Some people didn’t understand or appreciate its minimalistic nature and sudden brutal violence. But it was a depiction and/or nod to the lifestyle of that time more than an intricately plotted crime drama. A loner trying to make better of himself is unwittingly forced into a situation that brings it all down. A simple formula that fits perfectly with 80s sheik. After Drive, Refn produced a remake of his first film with that same formula and style. That film is Pusher.
Pusher comes to us from Spanish director Luis Prieto. Set in England, Pusher tells us the story of Frank. A loner trying to make better of himself but is unwittingly forced into a situation that brings it all down. See? From the opening sequence you can feel the British crime vibe as Guy Ritchie like title cards flash over character’s faces. British crime films like this are a little more frenetically paced than films like…Heat lets say. Pusher, however, still feels very REMINISCENT of the 80s style. The neon is there. The rhythmic synthesizer beats are there. The amazingly photographed night shots are there. And boy, are the crooked drug deals there.
Prieto’s visual style does tend to teeter back and forth between 80s art piece and British gangster film. From Manhunter to Long Good Friday and back again. However, when he sticks to the neon and naked city aspects, the film really sets itself apart. Less so than Refn’s original but still enough for you to take notice.
Whenever Brad Pitt or George Clooney or Tom Cruise play a role, you have the sense that no matter what’s happening, they’ll be okay. You don’t really worry for their characters the way you should. They just present themselves as the inevitable winner in most of their films. That works out well when they aren’t, but it only serves as a benefit for the end of that film. You never experience the growing peril or dread fully. In Pusher, Richard Coyle plays Frank with a rich and realistic feel. He’s not a stereotypical hero. He’s not amazingly smart or an amazing fighter or a nut case. He’s real. This makes you concerned for his safety and feel his desperation more than if they’d gone with a more recognizable star.
Pusher is not groundbreaking or a classic. However, it is a very visually interesting watch and does hold itself up as a worthy remake. Blag some gear….give it a propah butcher’s….then tell me I’m Pete Tong.
The Master – Comeback
I was sitting in the theater Friday morning/afternoon watching “The Master.”
………that’s it. No funny little story, I was just literally watching “The Master.” However, I will say; Welcome back Joaquin Phoenix. My word, you’re good you!
In case you haven’t heard, both Paul Thomas Anderson (or P.T. Anderson for the mod set) and Joaquin Phoenix are back. For Anderson this is his first film since “There Will Be Blood” in 2008, and for Phoenix, well, he started a rap career and “documented” himself in 2010’s “I’m Still Here” with the help of Casey Affleck, but this is his first “film” since 2008, where he appeared in “Two Lovers” (?) But forget about the past, let’s discuss “The Master”, simply.
The basic idea of “The Master” is control and fervent belief. The setting is just right (the film spans approximately from 1942-1950), and it makes complete sense. After World War II, and the pre-Red Scare era, many people were looking for guidance and someone to believe in, and Lancaster Dodd (played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is probably on his way to another Oscar) is that man. He takes in a disturbed Naval vet, played by Joaquin Phoenix (who WILL win the Oscar this year) as his protege, while Dodd’s son has become suspect of his father’s practices and teachings to his followers.
The film also stars Amy Adams as Dodd’s wife, and Rami Malek as Clark, Dodd’s new son-in law, who looks shockingly like Bruno Mars. But this film is all about Phoenix, who gives the performance of his life, and I really didn’t think he had it in him. Sure, he was great in “Gladiator” and “Walk the Line” but to create a character like Freddie Quell from the ground up is something to behold. This is his comeback.
While movies by Anderson (“Boogie Nights” and “Punch Drunk Love”) have always been critically acclaimed they all seem to have a veil of inaccessibility and being a little too art house. But do yourself a favor, if you like film and really enjoy acting, “The Master” is top-notch in all aspects, and hey, making fun of Scientology and cults is fun.
Fact Fact: This is the fifth collaboration between Anderson and Hoffman, starting with “Hard Eight” in 1996.
The ending is one of my top 10 endings in movies. As a viewer it hits you and it just works. That’s all I will say on that, watch it because its a good film! Have a Rodney Dangerfield weekend you won’t be disappointed.
Schindler’s List – Remember
With the Jewish High Holy Days under way, I felt it only appropriate to include a movie that I not only find amazing, but in a way, a birth rite of sorts for the Jewish religion. Move over “Hebrew Hammer,” step aside “Fiddler on the Roof,” that film would be “Schindler’s List.”
Let me start with this; I’m in no way a religious person, you might even call be a very poor example of what a Jew should be. I eat cheeseburgers, I enjoy baby back ribs, and I do not actively attend temple on either Friday, Saturday, or any day for that matter. However, I respect a religion that doesn’t push it’s ideology all the way down your throat, maybe just the tip (as long as it’s circumcised).
Just in case you haven’t seen, or heard of “Schindler’s List” I’ll give you the rundown; Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson, or the bad-ass in “Taken 1 and 2”) is a factory owner, and Nazi Party member, who hobnobs with the Reich in the evening to keep up good relations in the lead up to Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.” As the German war effort ramps up, and the Krakow ghetto is liquidated, Schindler begins to see his Jewish workers as more then just workers, but victims in a senseless crime committed by the party he is affiliated with, and he tries to save as many of his “workers” as he can with his “list.”
Along with Neeson, the cast is aces, with Ralph Fiennes starring as SS guard Amon Goeth and Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern, but it would be nothing without the direction of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg captures Poland in the late 1930’s and 40’s perfectly, and shooting the film in black and white adds to the stark backdrop of the era. The film only features two scenes with color as Schindler sees a young girl in a red coat being lead away from the ghetto, and later that same girl, in her red coat, seen by Schindler again as just another dead body. The color usage is supposed to be the point where Schindler starts to see the Jewish people as not only his workers, and/or property, but as human beings, and we begin to see his transformation from factory owner to savior.
Some people might see “Schindler’s List” as exploitative, or narrow-minded in its view of World War II, but it’s a film that shows people the horrors of the Holocaust (sure, it’s a movie made in America, by the man behind “Indiana Jones” and “Jaws”) and you have to merit a film that just about anyone can relate to. There are themes of redemption, perseverance, faith, sacrifice, and love, and seeing where Oskar Schindler started, a well-to-do Nazi Party member, to where he ends up, on his knees wondering why he couldn’t save more people, is as beautiful as it is tragic.
Fun Fact: “Schindler’s List” was based on “Schindler’s Ark” the 1982 novel by Thomas Keneally.
Mulholland Falls: Falls
Well the two are smilier in many ways. Mulholland Falls came first, L.A. a year later. You will notice there are many times that certain films that come out close together, are the same, story and look wise. The reason this happens a lot in the movie business is during the script selling stage. When you try and sell a script to a studio you sign a piece of paper stating, you will not sue them if they come out with a film like the one you are trying to sell. If the studio passes on the script, they can still make “their own version”. You will notice this happening a lot i.e. (2012’s) Snow White and the Huntsman/Mirror Mirror or (2006’s) The Prestige/The Illusionist.
So maybe L.A. Confidential and Mulholland Falls took part in this stage of Hollywood, not sure maybe they didn’t, thou I find it hard to believe…I pick L.A. Confidential.
and it looks and feel’s that of the 1950’s.
I’m a big fan of submarine movies. Das Boot. The Hunt For Red October. Crimson Tide. Hell, even U-571 has it’s moments. There is something about the claustrophobia of a sub. Something about the danger you can only hear and not see. Something about the strange terminology. Down Bubble. Up Periscope. Level the planes. Prepare the firing solution. It just appeals to me. So when I heard that ABC had a television show based on a submarine premiering this month, I was interested. When I heard later it came from the mind of The Shield creator Shawn Ryan, I was psyched. And when I heard it had the great Andre Braugher as the captain, I was in. But after watching Last Resort, I felt the show falls just a bit SHORT.
I’m only basing this review on the pilot, directed by Martin “Yes, I did Green Lantern. But Also GoldenEye & Casino Royale, So Back Off” Campbell. Shows sometimes use criticism they receive from a pilot and make changes for the better. My hope is that Last Resort is one of these shows. As the pilot starts, it seems that all the pieces are in the right place. We open on the sub and briefly meet the crew through the rounds of XO Sam Kendal, played by Scott Speedman. Yes, I thought he went missing too. We meet the crew chief played by an old T-1000. And finally, we meet Braugher. And boy, is he quintessential Braugher. No nonsense. Fiery. Super serious as though he was performing Macbeth for he Queen of England. He’s great. I’m in the groove of the show and I’m enjoying it. But, when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, the show makes it’s biggest mistake in my eyes. It takes us off the ship back to Washington D.C. and then over to some Dharma Initiative looking island. Why? To introduce the other players of the show. I understand that. However, submarine stories, in my opinion, benefit greatly when they stick to the perspective of the crew at all times. When they follow their perspective. When they let the audience discover things when the crew discovers them. In doing so, you heighten the tension and the mystery. You really start to feel the danger and begin questioning everything and everyone. When you leave the people you actually have been led to care about and essentially restart the narrative just to see Autumn Reeser jump the bones of some congressman, you release the all the built up tension of the show faster than cracking open a bottle of champagne. When you come back to the crew, you have to start all over again in building up that tension. Imagine if in Wrath of Khan after the Enterprise’s first exchange with the Reliant we decided to shoot over to Starfleet for a few minutes to meet some hot Starfleet lab tech who designed the Reliant. The entire time her scene was going on, all you’d be screaming is “GO BACK TO THE ENTERPRISE DAMN IT!” and miss any information the scene would be giving you anyway.
There is a good show inside Last Resort. The potential it has is high. It just has to brush away some of the fluff and stick to it’s great premise of physical and psychological pressure put on sailors who are now without a country. It may take time. Time Shawn Ryan’s previously well done but low rated show Chicago Code didn’t have on Fox. Let’s hope ABC is willing to give it. Watch it…And after you come up for air….tell me I’m wrong.
I tip my hat to Mike Mills. His writing and directing is simply beautiful. I look forward to his future projects.
Cosmopolis is TOUGH to get through. Cosmopolis is TOUGH to understand. Cosmopolis is TOUGH to review. But ultimately, Cosmopolis is TOUGH to dismiss. The story of a twenty something billionaire asset manager journeying into the city in search of a haircut presents itself as anything but that. This is something that did not bother me initially. At first glance, I thought Cosmopolis would be this generation’s American Psycho. A controversial film that seems to be about one thing, but actually touches on deeper and unexpected subject matter. However, where American Psycho veils its messages to allow them to spring naturally into the viewer’s minds, Cosmopolis beats you over the head with it. This does not necessarily make Cosmopolis a bad film. It is just doing it’s own thing and doesn’t give a damn if people have a TOUGH time getting it.
Here is a drinking game you can play. Take a shot whenever someone in this film answers a question or makes a statement in a drawn out pseudo intellectual/overly metaphorical response. You’ll be passed out drunk before your popcorn is done popping. No one talks to each other the way people do in this film. That criticism should fall mostly on the novel Cosmopolis is based on. A 224 page maniphesto-like tale by Dan DeLillo that must have been an extremely TOUGH enterprise to translate to film.
At the center of this world is Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson. If I haven’t stated it before, my opinion on all things Twilight has been…ahem…less than kind. However, for some reason I always thought that Pattinson was the only one of the three leads that could rise up as a true actor if given the right vehicle. Now, the right vehicle to prove one’s acting ability, more often than not, is the risky vehicle. So, kudos should go to Pattinson for taking on a role that all but eliminates his huge built in fan base. Lets be honest. The concepts of a piggy bank would probably be lost on the Teen Beat crowd. Let alone, a film that rambles on incessantly about leveraging exchange rates of the yuan, funny ideas for new monetary units and stock depreciation for two hours. Suffice to say, Pattinson is actually pretty good here. So good that director David Cronenberg has cast him again in his next film. The role of Eric Packer could have easily gone to Leo. However, we would still see some warmth behind those eyes no matter how cold he’d play it. Pattinson, on the other hand, can do cold. His New York accented stoic delivery is perfect for Eric Packer, just as Bale’s almost infomercial style manner of speaking was perfect for Patrick Bateman. In both cases, you don’t know what either character will say or do next.
I’ve grown to appreciate David Cronenberg. His always peculiar framing. His “don’t look away” tension building long takes. But more famously, his knack for inserting into rather normal scenes amazingly visceral moments of sex and/or violence, then moving on as though nothing has happened. It worked well in The Fly and History of Violence and Eastern Promises. However, it feels somewhat out of place here. But everything feels out of place in Cosmopolis. There is this feeling throughout that something is off. If the argument is that this is on purpose, then mission accomplished. But it still lends to the point that the film isn’t an easy sit.
Some critics have labeled Cosmopolis as pretentious. And it may very well be. Though, I get the feeling that five or six years from now, it will become a cult success just like American Psycho did. Put on a suit…get a haircut…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.
The Raid: Redemption – Overkill
The days are pretty much over where you get old-school action movies that say “Screw the story, we don’t need a plot, let’s just kick people in the face, shoot them in the head, and break necks!” Sure, we have “The Expendables” but there hasn’t been a good foreign action flick in quite a while…..OW!!!…..geez…..sorry, I just got kicked in the face by “The Raid: Redemption.”
The premise is simple; an elite group of Indonesian cops are sent to a building in the slums of Jakarta where a vicious drug dealer resides and shit hits the fan, and by shit hitting the fan I mean, in honor of Joe Bob Briggs, Glock-fu, Baton-fu, Army Knife-fu, sniper rifle-fu, fluorescent light-fu, machete-fu, and hammer-fu. The action is non-stop, except when the director decides to slow things down and try and incorporate an extremely thin plot. Just throwing it out there but the director, Gareth Evans, is also Welsh (take that for what its worth).
The fight choreography is great (the film uses Pencak Silat as the main fighting technique). Yayan Ruhian, who portrays “Mad Dog,” acts as the choreographer of all the fights in the film and there are plenty of “Oh Shit!” moments. The one issue I do have is the liberal use of CG blood. It’s not as bad as some movies (The Devil’s Rejects comes to mind) and its hidden pretty well, but it does show up from time to time.
All in all, “The Raid: Redemption” is a fine “film” and an excellent exercise in the resurrection of the modern kung-fu movie…….owwwww……stop kicking my face!!!
Fun Fact: The roots of the martial art Pencak Silat can be traced back to Java and Sumatra in the 7th Century.