2003

December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays: Kill Bill

Kill Bill – Feet

After the brilliance of “Jackie Brown” and showing his critics that he wasn’t just an exploiter of violence, our old friend, Quentin Tarantino, stood up, brushed the dirt off of his shoulders, straightened his tie, and said “Guess what motherfu*cker, I’m going to do an old-school kung-fu flick now!  What!”

Of course that’s not what he said, but it would have been bad-ass if he did nonetheless.  After all the accolades of both “Pulp Fiction” and “Brown,” Tarantino decided to work on his first pet project.  A true genre film that centered around one woman and her blood-thirsty quest for revenge against a group of assassins that tried to murder her on her wedding day.  That movie(s) is “Kill Bill” or as I like to call it “Uma’s Got Some Hammertoe.”

*I will be reviewing these films (Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2) as one film.  Sure, I could split it up into two reviews and make you wait for the second one just like QT made us wait in the theaters, but since it’s the holiday season, I’ll do you guys a solid.

As mentioned above, the core of “Bill” is a revenge film, wrapped in a Shaw Bros. movie, encased in a Shakespearean tragedy, tied up with a nice bloody bow.  You can take Tarantino’s three previous films and throw them out the window; “Kill Bill” is a love letter to a by-gone era of 1970s chop-socky karate flicks that members of the Wu-Tang Clan were getting high to back in the early 1990s. (side note:  RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan was the music supervisor for Vol 1.)

Across a four-plus hour epic, if watched back-to-back, Tarantino takes us on a blood-spattered journey with The Bride, our protagonist, as she extracts revenge the best way she knows how; with a samurai sword crated by Hattori Hanzo and the Five-Finger Exploding Heart Technique taught to her by Pai Mei, the mysterious karate master.  If you grew up in the golden age of karate movies, watched “The Green Hornet” or were “Protectin’ Ya Neck” with the Wu back in 1993, Tarantino creates a world that you can still put in the same universe as “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown” but fashions it in a way that makes it seem other-worldly.

The plot is simple, but its the way that Tarantino weaves this revenge yarn that’s the treat.  Told through a series of flashbacks and his trademark non-linear format, we see The Bride training with Pai Mei, learn how to walk again starting with just one wiggle of one toe, her vengeance on the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and finally her face-off with Bill himself.  Oh, I almost forgot;  plenty of Uma Thurman feet through both films.  No need to head over to your local adult video store if you love feet, because Tarantino shares your tastes.

I know I might be selling this movie short, and I’m withholding a ton of information, including plot twists, but my recommendation is to stop reading this review, go out and buy “Kill Bill” and enjoy it for all it’s worth.  Thurman’s turn as the killer bride is good, but its funny how she all but fell off the face of Hollywood after what you might call her magnum opus.  One of David Carradine’s last roles as Bill is almost as iconic as his turn as Caine in “Kung-Fu,” and the fight scenes, as over-stylized as they are, are extremely fun to watch with plenty of arterial spray.  Chill…..have a pill, and watch “Kill Bill.”

Fun Fact:  If you want to get creative you could call “Fox Force Five,” first mentioned by Mia Wallace in “Pulp Fiction,” as a precursor to the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.  There was a Black fox, Asian fox, French fox, and two American foxes.  Coincidence?

December 16, 2012

Happy Holidays: Love Actually

WARM

Full disclosure.  I’m not the biggest fan of the holiday season.  I pretty much peter out after Thanksgiving and pray for New Years to start.  Pretty sure me and the Grinch are cousins.  Full disclosure.  I’m not the biggest fan of romantic films.  They are generally very color by numbers predictable or tragic for tragedy’s sake.  So, imagine my surprise when a film came along that combined both of my dislikes and still managed to knock my socks off.  Love Actually is that film.  For years I’ve held it up as my favorite, most watchable chic flick and my second favorite Christmas movie.  I’ll get to the first later.  No matter how many times I watch it, I’m left with a WARM feeling that actually gets me in the holiday spirit…if only for a little while.

Love Actually comes to us from writer and, then, first time director Richard Curtis of Bridget Jones’s Diary and Four Weddings and a Funeral fame.  The film is a collection of interwoven stories that explores the different aspects of love during the Christmas Season.  The stories range from slapstick comedy to heartfelt drama.  Some are hit and some are miss.  As a whole, however, they all compliment each other perfectly.

Love Actually set the ensamble films bar too high for puke inducing copycats like He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve to come close to reaching.  Ggack!  Just reading the titles of those films almost made me throw up a little.  You might think Love Actually out does those films because the quality of actors in it are amazing.  Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightly, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Rowan Atkinson and many more.  However, I think its because Curtis just knows how to use his talent in the proper way.  Each actor is the right fit for their roles.  They aren’t haphazardly thrown in to parts that we’re forced to accept because they’re Zach Efron or Taylor Swift.  If each side story were a full length film, the actor in place would still be properly cast.  The film, as a result, thrives because of these performances.  Especially those by Neeson, Rickman and Thompson.

Neeson’s story about a suddenly widowed husband and his stepson is the most dramatic driving force in the film.  It is an almost frightening coincidence that this scenario would actually happen to Neeson later in life.  The story is extremely well done and has a rare great child actor performance in Thomas Sangster.  Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson’s tale about a waning marriage and infidelity always evokes a different feeling in me every time I watch it.  You should really hate Rickman for straying from his wife.   However, Curtis presents the circumstances in such understandable way that you’ll find yourself sympathizing.  Though, the tale that is sure to put a smile on your face has to be the one about Bill Nighy’s aging rock star Billy Mack.  Of all the stories that I wished had a full length film or sequel, it would be Mack’s.  Nighy’s obvious nods to Mick Jagger and his brazen attitude toward those around him are easily the comedy high points of the film.

Love Actually is a great film to see if you want to feel good about Christmas but avoid the overly cliched shlock we’re usually bombarded with.  I’ve made a habit of watching it every year.  I, then, immediately plop on Die Hard right after in order to keep my man card.  What?  Its my favorite Christmas film.  Don’t judge me.  Watch it…watch your heart grow three sizes that day…plop on Die Hard after just to be safe…then tell me I’m wrong.

September 10, 2012

The Wire, Wrap-Up

*Spoilers Ahead*

The case is closed on “The Wire.”  Some of the good guys won, some of the bad guys won, and there were plenty of people caught in the cross-fire, but it was a ride that everyone should be willing to take if you enjoy story and character-driven dramas.

While this is not so much a review, as a wrap-up, I will be detailing characters, plot lines, and a few top ten lists, including; Top 10 Characters, Top 10 Tragic/Offing Moments. (Just to clarify, an offing is a death or murder of a character)  Now allow me to drop you back into”The Wire.”
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Cheese: “This is some shameless shit!”
Omar Little: “Oh, ain’t no shame in my game, doe.  I’m here about my business, ain’t dat right Joe!”
– Season Four
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It’s a little difficult to pick just ten characters that I would classify as the best from the entire series.  In such a character-driven show all your characters should be great, and trust me they’re all great.  So here goes nothing as I unveil MY Top 10 characters on “The Wire.”

10.  Det. Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski:  The funny thing about Prez is that he went from an asshole detective who was messing up left and right to someone who I truly respected come the end of the show.  Once he started his new career as a middle school teacher, the character became a tragic reminder of someone who continues to have hope in a hopeless situation.

9.  Dennis “Cutty” Wise:  Cutty, a former Barksdale enforcer, has been recently paroled when we first meet him.  He tries to get back into the drug game when he leaves prison but realizes that the life isn’t meant for him anymore and decides to open a boxing gym for the troubled youth of West Baltimore.  He is one of the lone bright spots in the show as he not only saves his own life, but indirectly saves the life of Namon Brice, the son of incarcerated Barksdale enforcer, Roland “Wee-Bey” Brice.

8.  Brother Mouzone:  While he only appeared in a few episodes, the suit, glasses and bow-tie of Brother Mouzone left a lasting impression.  Essentially Mouzone was a mirror image of Omar Little, only Brother wore a smart suit and sported a pistol while Omar preferred a brown duster and a shotgun.  The duo also supplied one of the more surprising deaths in the series when they gunned down Stringer Bell at the end of Season Three.
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Omar Little: “I knew you’d come back.”
Brother Mouzone:  “I trust you didn’t lose much sleep over it?”
Omar Little:  “Worryin’ about you would be like worryin’ if the sun gonna come up.”
-Season Three
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7.  Michael Lee:  During Season Four we were introduced to the youth of West Baltimore and the one character that really stood out from the rest of the pack was Michael.  From a broken home, Michael tried his best to walk the line between right and wrong while trying to protect his friends and his younger brother, Bug.  In the most poignant moment of Season Five, Michael, now on the run from Marlow, Chris, and Snoop, has to say goodbye to both his friend Duquan and Bug and disappear from Baltimore.

6.  Chris and Snoop:  I consider both Chris Partlow and Snoop pretty much the same character, just one male and one female.  They are both extremely loyal, and similar to Omar and Brother Mouzone, they both have a “code.”  Chris is the more calculating of the two, and while it’s not said directly, seems to be a victim of childhood abuse.  Snoop is the colder of the two and would do anything to protect the reputation of Marlo Stanfield.

5.  Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins:  With a show so grim, it was great to see how one character in particular went from a hopeless drug addict to a reformed member of society.  That character was Bubbles, a police informant, heroin addict, and just maybe, the lone bright spot on “The Wire.”  In the series finale, Bubbles finally opens up at an NA Meeting about losing a friend, and it always brings a tear to my eye.  It’s truly a beautiful moment in the series.
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Bubbles: “Ain’t no shame in holdin’ on to grief.  As long as you make room for other things too.”
-Season Five
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 4.  Russell “Stringer” Bell:  If anyone knows anything about “The Wire” you know Stringer Bell, portrayed by Idris Elba.  Stringer was the brains, while Avon was the brawn of the Barksdale Crew, and when Avon went away to prison he took over the crew and tried to steer them in a different direction.  Unfortunately, Stringer thought that drug dealers could be rationalized with and “trained” but the one thing he forgot about was the fact that he was still a drug dealer trying to move past his station in life, and that is pretty much what finished him off in the game.

3.  Marlo Stanfield:  Marlo was a different breed of drug dealer then what we had seen from Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell, or Proposition Joe.  He was ruthless, had enforcers that would do all of his bidding, and he got to the kids early, looking for the next generation of hopper even in middle school.  But not even money mattered in the grand scheme for him, it was knowing that people feared him.

2.  Preston “Bodie” Broadus:  Bodie was one of those characters that I didn’t think much of when I first started watching “The Wire.”  I personally just thought he was some low-level drug dealing prick that would get killed early in the series, but as time went on, Bodie really fleshed out and became my 2nd favorite character on the show.  After Avon’s arrest, and Stringer’s death in Season Three, Bodie pretty much became all the Barksdale Crew had left and was the only dealer on the street that wasn’t scared of Marlo, and eventually, it cost him.
 ————————————————————————————————————–
Omar: “You got the briefcase……I got the shotgun…..It’s all in the game tho’.”
-Season Two
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1.  Omar Little:  I can pretty much sum Omar up in a few words.  “Omar don’t scare.” 

It is difficult to pick just ten characters as the best of the bunch on “The Wire” because they are all so damn good.  Moving on to the tragic/offing moments.

*Warning, there will be spoilers ahead*

10.Chris and Snoop torturing and killing Butchie for information on Omar.
9.  Seeing Duquan succumb to drugs.
8.  Bodie being gunned down by the Stanfield Crew while defending his corner.
7.  The death of Wallace by Bodie and Poot.
6.  Cheese being shot and killed by “Slim” Charles.  Probably the most “satisfying” death in the entire series.
5.  Frank Sobotka murdered by “The Greek”
4.  Stringer Bell gunned down by Brother Mouzone and Omar in his own building.
3.  Michael saying goodbye to Duquan and Bug
2.  Seeing Bubbles’ revenge plan backfire and kill Sherrod.
1.  Omar being gunned down by Kenard.

August 26, 2012

Simplistic TV: The Wire, Season Two

The Wire, Season Two – Setup

*Spoilers Ahead*

This is a disclaimer that I should have written in the review of “The Wire,” Season One, but I’ll write it here to preface my Season Two review.  I did not watch “The Wire” on a season to season basis, essentially because I didn’t have HBO at the time and I wasn’t about to shell out $60 bucks for each season on DVD, so I waited for the magic that is HBO GO and I got my kicks that way, (you might say to yourself, “Matt, you dummy, why didn’t you just torrent it or find a pirate site.”  Sorry guys, I actually like paying for my entertainment and have respect for the art so I pay for what I want, HA!).  I digress, this isn’t an ethics course, this is “The Wire” Season Two

Every series needs to have a setup season, or a filler season if you will.  Season Two is just that for “The Wire”.  The seaport of West Baltimore is the primary setting for this season after we see several members of the Barksdale Crew put behind bars at the end of Season One.  While Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell, and Omar Little are still major players in the grand scheme of things, they take a backseat of sorts to Frank Sobotka,  a stevedore union president trying to walk the line, and Proposition Joe, an East Baltimore drug kingpin with a connection to the mysterious “Greek” trying to sort out a truce with his West Baltimore rivals.

While I wouldn’t call this the strongest season in the series, it’s still vital as it sets up several characters for future seasons, and sets the tone for the remainder of the series.  You get a little deeper into the psyche of McNulty and his “thrist” for justice, the paranoia of Avon Barksdale, the aspirations of Stringer Bell, and how the government works in West Baltimore.

What you’ll notice in this season, and as the series continues, is the “offing” of several characters out of the blue.  It really becomes apparent that the creators of the show really wanted to show to audience that no one is safe in West Baltimore.  While I really don’t appreciate characters that I like coming to grisly ends, the fact that the showrunners have the balls to kill off anyone at any time in a small twisted way, pleases me.

Fun Fact:  After his run as Frank Sobotka, Chris Bauer took a starring role in another HBO show “True Blood” as Detective Andy Bellefleur.

August 20, 2012

Elephant

Elephant – Earnest

I normally write reviews on this site based on what I like and I normally don’t like including any types of politics, social commentary, or the such in my reviews (it’s just not my style to push that type of agenda down anyone’s throat).  I also realize that this review might be about four weeks overdue, but you know what they say (really, you should know the old saying).

Since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO back in 1999, gun control, along with media and parental responsibility, has always been a hot topic issue, yet little, to nothing, has been done.  I’m in no way against taking away people’s guns, or telling the media how to cover sensational stories, or even how parents should take care of their kids. Maybe one day I’ll look at it from a different perspective once I’m a parent or, heaven forbid, a victim of a similar tragedy, but in the meantime I will continue to watch violent movies and play violent video games, but I refuse to watch shows like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”or “Jerseylious”that is just cruel and unusual.

It wasn’t until July 20th 2012 that all the talk started again about gun control and media responsibilty with the Aurora, CO tragedy during the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” where 12 people were killed and numerous others were wounded.  Yes, between Columbine and Aurora there have been other mass shootings (Red Lake, Virginia Tech, Ft. Hood) but to open fire in a crowded theater during a movie that many peoplpe might have been waiting their whole lives to see, it’s really hard to comprehend what would drive someone to such an insidious act. What really went on in his mind before, during, and especially after, all the bullets had been fired, and lives destroyed?  What drives us to our actions? What shapes us into the people we become?  How can be avoid these tragedies in the future?  While it might not answer all the questions we have, Gus van Sant’s “Elephant“allows us a glimpse into the anatomy of a crime and what we might be missing when it comes to the modern teenager.

Yes, many of you might be saying “Elephant, what a boring piece of crap!” or “Jesus, that movie had nothing to say about anything, it was just a bunch of kids walking around a school.”  Yes, I will admit there was a lot of walking, a lot of tracking shots, a lot of high school kids being high school kids, well, that is the point!  If you know anything about “Elephant”you know what happens at some point during the movie, there is a school shooting, reminiscent of the Columbine High shooting.  But its the lead up to the eventual shooting that makes this film all the more complex.

Van Sant does a great job of turning the mundane into something captivating, and there is always a payoff after each vignette involving the student(s), and the earnest way of dealing with the mundane fills you with dread if you know what is eventually going to happen to the students, and the school.  While the film does focus on the shooters, and details their motivations and frustrations, what you see with the non-shooters is almost as horrifying.  From homophobia, bulimia, apathetic teachers, and drunk parents, these are all the “elephants” in the room that no one wants to talk about and could be contributions to student behavior, but apathy breeds apathy until tragedy occurs.

“Elephant,” while not the most interesting character study, gives an earnest portrayal of teens in a post-9/11, post Columbine environment, and the scary part is that much hasn’t changed.

“Fun” Fact:  Many of the actors used in the film had their real name used as their character name.

August 5, 2012

American Splendor

SPLENDID

Even with the recent commercial successes of this and this, people still look down on comic books, their readers, and especially their movies.   To malign the worth of comic books is extremely short sided.  Comic books are just another medium of entertainment.  No different than a novel, or song, or television show.  There are even certain comic books and comic book creators recognized for their work.  Some that receive awards.   Most look to the works of the strange and grumpy Alan Moore.  But forgotten is the even more strange and grumpier Harvey Pekar. (Pronounced PEE-KAR)  American Splendor circles the life of Harvey, the award winning comic book he made and the life that influenced it.

What makes American Splendor different than other comic books you’ve probably read or heard of is that its not about a superhero.  Its about a normal guy facing normal problems.  Cancer.  Loneliness.  Love.  Loss.  Mortality.  Stark reality up front in center.  To see these issues addressed through comics separates this film and Harvey Pekar’s story from the other cookie cutter movies that do the same.

American Splendor has a format that leads me to believe producers were uncertain as to how they wanted to make the film.  Its a documentary that turns into a movie that turns into a documentary about a movie.  There are times directly after scenes where an actor gets to interview the person they are portraying.  But it works seamlessly and becomes an interesting mechanism in telling the story.  No film I’ve seen has ever done this.

Though he can be overbearing at times, Paul Giamatti is someone I’ve always liked as an actor.  He’s perfect in this role and, in my opinion, gives his finest performance as Harvey Pekar.  You’ll love Hope Davis as very reserved Joyce Brabner.  You’ll be mesmerized by the unrecognizable Judah Friedlander as Toby.  However, its the real Harvey that stands out to me in this.  Giamatti handles the thematic aspect of the role but you will be drawn more to the scenes where Harvey talks to him.

American Splendor is a very SPLENDID film about a real person with real problems who managed to use those problems to make an impact on the literary world.  A man that should get a little more attention than he does now.  Watch it….then tell me I’m wrong.

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