Mystic River (2003) – Film Review

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Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River props up three childhood friends and puts them into adult, full-grown shoes. It’s one of the few films that pulls off this sort of generational time-lapse premise, mostly as a result of the childhood memories having been constructed in a swift, concise manner. The characters pasts aren’t dragged down by long, overdrawn back stories.

A car pulls up next to three kids on the sidewalk. They are writing their names on a wet concrete filling. A confident man climbs out of the car, declaring himself as an officer of the law to the three kids.

He demands one of the boys to come with him. They don’t realize that the man isn’t wearing a uniform or driving a patrol car, warning signs ignored amidst the oddness of the moment.

The film shifts suddenly to adulthood. One of the boys, Dave, played by Tim Robbins, has a sort of quiet, troubled look in his eyes. It’s clear from the beginning that Dave is an embodiment of suspicion: who knows what had happened after he got in the fake officer’s car?

The other two boys appear to be doing fairly well: Sean, a hothead of a boy, played by Kevin Bacon, now works as a police investigator. The third boy, Jimmy, played by Sean Penn, runs a store, employing his nineteen-year old daughter, the light of his life.

When Jimmy’s daughter doesn’t show up for work, her disappearance meshed with his own past turns into a toxic mix. He doesn’t make a big deal out of it at first and assumes she’s simply slacking off work. But when he spots a crowd surrounding a crime scene, he catches a glimpse of his daughters car. She has been murdered.

Jimmy’s daughters murder begins a long, emotional investigation. Throughout the film we discover more about Jimmy’s past, heightening our expectations of the manner in which he’ll confront his daughters killer, if he does. An extra twist thrown into the mix: the investigator of the homicide is Sean, Jimmy’s childhood friend.

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The Invisible War (2012) – Film Review

The Invisible War, directed by Kirby Dick, is a movie brimming with incest and systematic injustice, probing into the issue of sexual abuse in the military in an open, graceful manner.

The film doesn’t back down from the truth. Like many great visual essays before it, it contrasts shocking statistics with real people, warts and all, on screen. The film states that twenty percent of women are raped during their military service.

It then goes on to pound the nail in even deeper with interview subjects explaining the hesitancy women have towards telling anyone, thereby likely doubling or at least highly doubting the statistics released by the military.

It’s a cautionary tale to women on what to expect when going into the service. It makes a strong argument for necessary change in the biased process of enforcement in the military. Hopefully, the culture will turn around for the better and women will be able to enter and serve in the military without fear of being harmed by their own fellow soldiers.

On The Waterfront (1954) – Film Review

“On The Waterfront” has become an American classic through the years, and the most credit, unsurprisingly, has gone to Marlon Brando, the supreme acting force anchoring the film.

Brando plays a washed up boxer, Terry Malloy, whose main source of income stems from mob deals; he works on the waterfront, where whiskey, packed and boarded, are loaded up by the tons in large fishing nets. He works hard, a common everyday laborer, but we soon discover that Malloy is very much entangled within the puppet-like strings of the mob.

Characters are often seen asking questions or talking to bystanders, as if they are talking to a blank wall; the cold hesitancy and isolating fear that the citizens feel about the mobs presence. If they slip up just once they’ve lost the opportunity for a second, or first, chance.

At one point, a box of crates fall upon a man standing directly below it; this seems to be done accidentally, a simple labor accident. Then, however, we see the mobsters smoking and gazing down into the deep cellar. They don’t care how much whiskey they’ve shattered and wasted to stage the killing. Murder is their profession and they are indeed very skilled at knocking off the rotten apples easily and economically.

Foxcatcher (2014) – Film Review

Review by Logan P. Miller

Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” is a deliberately paced mood piece, a feeling of melancholy flowing through every frame of the film. For some viewers, taking the time to watch these characters unfold in slow, drawn out scenes filled with gaps and uncomfortable stares, is a burden and a letdown.

The story the movie’s based on, the toxic relationship between Olympic wrestlers and their benefactor, is deliciously tabloid, a true-crime tale that’s truly intriguing and complex. But “Foxcatcher” doesn’t use the story as a leaping-off point for an over-the-top Hollywood drama, as that was far from what Dupont’s life really was; long stretches of his life really were just spent alone.

The little details matter in this film, the subtle hints at the characters doomed fates. The slightest facial tick, gesture, or grunt from any of the three main characters signals a possible spell, a foreshadowing of the tragedy that we know is coming. And in that sense, “Foxcatcher” is an actor’s movie all the way.

The film stars Steve Carrell in an unusually dark role as John DuPont, the wealthy heir to the DuPont chemical fortune. He inhabits the man, and yet doesn’t turn him into some mutated hunchback or movie caricature, either. Channing Tatum plays Mark, the ape-like surviving younger brother, whose trying to escape the shadow of his brother’s glory. He sees an opportunity to do this following DuPont’s unusually generous offer, and he rides on it, all the way to the Foxcatcher ranch.

Does every acclaimed, intense film these days have to include an on-set story about an actor inhabiting their role so completely that they actually physically hurt themselves? Is it now officially a requirement for a great performance? Bleed like DeNiro did or don’t even bother. 

Le Cercle Rouge (1970) – Film Review

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Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

Melville, I think, is just about equal, or at least comparable, in tact with Hitchcock, even if he has half the worldwide exposure. “Le Cercle Rouge” is a detective story about a man who escapes from the clutches of the law and goes on the run. It features a corrupt ex-cop who always keeps us on our toes, keeps us guessing.

The story begins with Vogel, the con, escaping from the clutches of the inspector and jumping out of a slow-moving train they’re currently traveling, running off as a ‘free’ man into the wild. A good way to start off any movie: with a bang.

He then runs into Corey, played by Alain Delon, who offers his help by hiding him in the trunk of his car, as there are now barriers set-up in order to catch Vogel before he leaves the city. The captain of Internal Affairs tells the Inspector, the man who lost the prisoner, Vogel, in the first place, very coldly, that all men are evil; to not doubt that Vogel deserves punishment, even if he didn’t commit whatever crime he is accused of.

Corey and Vogel create a silent bond, both not very communicative, and decide to pull off a Jewel heist. Vogel knows an ex-cop, Jansen, who can help with the heist.

Jansen walks into the Jewel facility, on the highly guarded second-floor, and acts as if he wants to buy jewels, but mainly is just looking at the locations of the security cameras with the corner of his eye. One of the slickest moments I’ve seen in a movie happens here, when, after the long struggle of climbing inside of the Jewelry building after-hours, without triggering alarms, the three criminals stand before the master alarm.

All around them are alarms that they’ve managed to avoid by stepping over or under. But the master button is on the far wall, past all the glass-encapsulated jewels and Jansen, with his sniper rifle, has to deactivate it with a single shot; (he made special low-density alloy bullets so as to not destroy the button, just activate it).

He puts it on a tripod he’d brought and we see the cross-hairs from his perspective but then, suddenly, he jerks the gun off of the tripod, Corey and Vogel silently gulping and gasping, and shoots the button with only the simple trust of his steady hand and chest: straight in the center. They run off and take all the jewels, alarms disabled.

What essentially makes Melville’s movies so entertaining and fresh is his characters: the plots aren’t particularly complex, but the little quirks of his characters are unforgettable. The gritty cop whose chasing after Vogel is a lover of cats. The alcoholic ex-cop, who joins in on the Jewel heist as the sniper, dresses up for the heist in a suit and tie for no particular reason at all.

It’s these touches, matched with the brilliant direction and cinematography, that makes it an experience not only worthy for the dense, well thought-out plotting, but for the unique, engaging characters as well.

Looper (2012) – Film Review

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Rian Johnson’s “Looper”, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young Bruce Willis, is a fresh science-fiction film that focuses on the feelings and emotions of its central characters, avoiding the typically contrived structures of action films.

The movie isn’t yet home free, though, considering the surplus of logistical flaws surrounding the proposed time-travel absolutes and the paradoxes they represent. The sheer impact of its ideas, however, are enough to warrant at least one viewing, if not multiple.

The story begins with an introduction to the world itself: a society where time-travel is outlawed to the general public and used only by the most sneaky and highly-skilled criminals. It’s challenging to write a sci-fi script in a way that explains the world-building details of the new society or time period while not hovering over these ideas for too long.

Director Rian Johnson hands over the expository duties to the main character, Joe, who explains the various types of lingo throughout various voice-overs. The balance between voice-over and visual context within the action is a tricky tightrope to tinker with.

The narration could have been broken down and explained organically throughout the course of the film, even though other visual storytellers prefer to pull the heady sci-fi information out of the box as soon as possible. Bring it up to the surface, let the ideas and concepts simmer and cook thinly across a film’s lengthy running-time.

The concept of “closing the loop”, where the Looper is forced to turn their blunderbuss weapon over towards their much older, future self. The character of Seth, played by the eternally-scrawny screwup, Paul Dano, introduces the audience to the “closing the loop” concept fittingly: by having to close the loop on himself.

Everything that happens to Seth seems to be foreshadowing what will happen to the younger Joe. It feels like an excess of exposition: why introduce Seth and his hasty demise when it’s the same violent end that Joe will be forced to face, sooner than later?

Despite a few questionable narrative decisions, the action is stylish and enthralling. Seeing Bruce Willis play an old man bent on revenge never gets tiresome, especially given that Willis reaches a near manic state, blood flowing down his face and neck as he shoots down a series of henchmen with a sturdy set of automatic-rifles hoisted up on his shoulders.

The performances are very effective, even Gordon-Levitt’s, whose lip and facial transformations flew past the gimmick stage and started to just feel right. For all it’s worth, Bruce Willis plays across from Gordon-Levitt with rugged but tangible chemistry. Willis pulls off a fatherly, concerned tone.

Jeff Daniels adds some spice to the ensemble cast as a rugged mob leader from the future. He’s the orchestrater for the Loopers and their time-traveling assignments.

When young Joe meets with old Joe, the screen is filled with dualism and constant provocation: we are only shown a single scene featuring the two men sitting down, having a nice, regular conversation, disappointingly so, though.

Gordon-Levitt and Willis are the two most enigmatic and engaging people in the film. Every other scene involving the two consist either of violent gun spraying or yelling/arguing about their self interests, given that they’re separated by such a massive age gap.

Emily Blunt stars as Sara, a farm-owner, whose son has mysterious and powerful abilities. The son can alter the timeline, a unique and rare gift. There are some inventive futuristic technology shown on the way, such as a pesticide droid that flies down the long rows of crops, spreading an equal amount of water across the crops.

Sara turns out to have a will and a temper of her own. Her character is brought to the forefront in the third act. There are plenty of philosophical debates that bother the characters and hold them back from moving forward. Nature vs. nurture, sacrifice yourself or save your future loved ones.

The films final ending is memorable and visually electric. It’s filled with earned, real poignancy, even if it renders everything that had came before it almost totally meaningless.

“Looper” is one of the best sci-fi noir films of the 2000s, and introduces Rian Johnson to the mainstream public as an unrestrained, creative, and inventive young filmmaker.

Deleted Scenes from P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights

Take a look at a few deleted scenes from Boogie Nights, starring Mark Wahlberg and John C. Riley. These short clips are filled with the intensity of the actors, showing them in an almost improv-like manner. It’s easy to look at the scenes and point out flaws or make reasons why they deserved to be cut after the fact, but they’re still pretty great gems to check out atleast once.

Notice director P.T. Anderson rarely does more than two different setups in a scene: In fact, most of his shots are continuous throughout. With that breezy, lofty effect, one can barely even notice the presence of the camera.

I can see how this scene didn’t make the cut: It slashes subtlety and straight out dictates to us how much Dirk obsesses over himself, while also not adding anything to the narrative. By the time the movie ends, this theme is clear enough.

Some great, babbling actors.

Battle Royale: Hunger Games Unrated

    Battle Royale is the BR act in Japan, which consists of a mandatory lottery that selects a class of students to fight it out on an island, to the death. In this film, we see a class of rebellious ninth-grade students taken onto a bus, gassed, and then woken up, confused and bewildered like the viewer. Their past teacher, one who was cut and abused during his time teaching, shown in the first scenes, is now their commander in the BR act. They are all very shocked and the sense of rebellion still acute. They shout and demand answers. This is it. Their to be silenced, with a bag of random weapons and a chance in the course of three-days to kill all their classmates and remain alive and able to return home. But to what? Is what’s being asked by several characters.

The film blends pulpy, bloody action with high-school drama in a sardonically funny, yet poignant way. Behind each person pointing a gun comes with conviction: You locked me in the bathroom, you stole my boyfriend, etc. High-school students are too misty with their priorities for violence, and the ‘teachers’ know this. The scenes are shown in an evocative manner alongside long-spanning landscapes and frightening noises. Shuya and Noriko band together as romances, like so many other devoted young lovers, or young fighters. The movie has stark similarities to America’s Hunger Games film and books raving, but this is an entirely different beast and genre. It is dark, atmospheric, and grotesque, while Hunger Games is fluffy, flush-faced and Hollywood-designed. Don’t make exceptions with your children on this one.

Their are ironic moments that lift this film far above The Hunger Games. It isn’t first-person, but instead switches to different people and incites convictions from different points of view. The way it seams these together, even with sporadic use of flash-backs, makes it a masterpiece of film structure. When you look at movies in Hollywood consisting of twenty-plus people, you will see two or three people and become close to them, idealize them in fact, and the rest of the bunch won’t be introduced besides the act of being killed. Not here, though I don’t see entirely why we couldn’t spend a few minutes of exposition introducing the characters in their natural, school-desk existence.

Battle Royale is a strong, highly cinematic and entertaining film for those who like Pulp action or High-school drama (think Carrie). This is a movie that deserves and is receiving hype, even with the subtitles that ignorantly turn people away.

WarGames

Matthew Broderick stars as boy hacker David, who finds a computer-game on his computer, but doesn’t realize that hes actually tapped into a live war-game. Part satire, part commentary on the problems of technology, and always an entertaining breeze. It took the hacker generation under its wing, becoming a cult favorite in the 80s and 90s. Where the film lacks in strong storytelling it makes up in charming characterization.

Hacker David can change his school-grades from his computer. He knows exactly where the school stashes the passwords. He is a sly, wisecracking kid who loves more than anything to be at the arcade. He starts teenage flirts with a girl Jennifer, played by Ally Sheedy, and poses the first morality responsibility of the movie: She doesn’t want him to change her grades. She eventually bends, but he changed it anyway; summer school is for losers. The War room is a sort of modern, toned down version of the antics in Dr. Strangelove. The general acts like a misunderstood elephant and the employees speak in squeaky tones.

The parents are notoriously cardboard, as the father wields historical oval shaped glasses and a warmhearted Atticus Finch like posture. The most effective aspect about Wargames, though, is the ending. When the nuclear war that David accidentally incited is about to unravel, and we nor the members of the war-room know whether or not it’s going to actually happen.

I think that War Games has the potential of a solid re-make, unlike most that come up in Hollywood, with a more serious and provocative-centered tone. In the field of philosophy, it asks two major questions. Is what feels wrong to a human, worse than what feels wrong to a computer? And if so, should technology reign? Their are many reasons we as humans are afraid of technology’s submersion into the culture, but in reality, it has quietly slid itself in already, permanently. A majority of our confidential files, passwords, and security numbers are stored online, digitally, and through other non-material means. WarGames, like so many similarly themed movies, is an outlook into the future of our information driven world.

The acting in WarGames, by the charming young actors and the goofball adults, is enough alone to make it entertaining. It inspired a generation of computer-savvy, hacker children, and still reigns today as a classic cult film. If you think it’s outdated, think again, then see it and think some more.

Stanley Kubrick, A Life in Pictures

Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures is not the benchmark documentary on Stanley Kubrick, but it does evoke his own personal wonder and the relationships in his life, from interviews with his wife, to actors he worked with and people he just simply touched. The man was a genius of the cinema, a man who gives off the sense that he’d be sucessful in any field: With such classics as 2001, A Clockwork Orange, and Dr. Strangelove, his name will be found beneath Top 100 titles for many years to come.

Kubrick first was recognized with one of his photograph’s being published in Look magazine. It was at a fairly young age and makes one think that it really sealed the future for Stanley, because when a kid is recognized as good he will work to become better; the touch of praise is very affecting. Stanley could win a game at chess any day, says Tom Cruise, actor in his film Eyes Wide Shut , but I could beat him at ping-pong every time.

Kubrick was a man of reason, indefinitely. His movies have a linear style to them, even in the more dramatic and character-driven films like Lolita. He was filled with curiosity, and Arthur C. Clarke claims he was even a latent mathematician. The artistry of his shots and compositions are noted by film-scholars worldwide.

The film brushes across his filmography, showing some footage of Kubrick around his family, and even some tape where Kubrick yells at his child who is playing around where he is about to shoot; a determined, sometimes cruel, but ingenious director, Stanley Kubrick once said: I don’t know what I want, but I know what I don’t want. And so do his viewers and fans.