The Fate of the Furious

Release: Friday, April 14, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Chris Morgan

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

Sometimes I find myself asking how we have managed to get to the point where women and children are being threatened by cyber terrorists in a franchise built around car racing. I find myself wondering if things have gotten a little too out-of-hand. Of course, with each passing installment it has become increasingly clear this isn’t car porn anymore. Sadly, the narrative can no longer concern itself with the thawing of a once bitter rivalry between a street racer and an undercover cop either.

Out of necessity The Fast and the Furious have had to evolve, and though they have definitely become less furious they haven’t become any less fun to watch as each new chapter has placed them in some situation more ridiculously physics-defying than the last. And The Fate of the Furious is absolutely the most far-fetched demonstration of their newfound collective purpose yet. I suppose how we have arrived here isn’t that much of a mystery. They say formulaic writing can only get you so far, but it actually has netted Universal at least eight films and well over $5 billion.

The — let’s call it natural, even though that’s stretching the term — evolution of the family and Dom Toretto in particular finds us wading into legitimately dramatic territory in The Fate of the Furious. F. Gary Gray’s first time behind the wheel steers the story in an altogether more somber direction, pitting the star with a type of gasoline as a last name against his loyal compadres after being manipulated by cunning cyber terrorist Cipher, played with true menace by Charlize Theron.

For better and for worse, Chris Morgan’s screenplay remains as knowingly outrageous (and clunky) as those he has penned before. That this ragtag bunch of car enthusiasts could be the difference between World War III happening or not happening is pushing it, even for this franchise. Though Dom’s relatively unique trajectory is going to generate most of the post-viewing discussion, the specifics of the plot are as reliant as ever upon his crew’s mutually beneficial relationship with Kurt Russell‘s government agent Mr. Nobody. (And on that note, can someone please enlighten me as to why we needed Scott Eastwood’s Little Nobody? Also: how someone born of Eastwood blood can be so bad at acting.)

Fate succeeds in cementing its familial themes by way of finding redemption for characters hitherto on the periphery. In the wake of Dom’s theft of an EMP device at the behest of Cipher, Special Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) finds himself having to set aside past differences with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) as they work to take down a common enemy. After what happened to his brother, Deckard is eager to settle the score, even if that means working alongside a team who had once pooled their resources into eliminating him.

Gray’s film finds plenty of surprises along the way, like Dame Helen Mirren making a brief appearance as matriarch Magdalene Shaw, clad in leather jacket and brass knuckles (well, those are more or less implied). The character may be more plot device than person but Mirren’s quietly simmering intensity doesn’t allow her to be quite as dispensable as the script would like her to be. There’s also something vaguely amusing about seeing an actor of her stature in a film like this. (Ditto that the first time Kurt Russell appeared.)

With the integration of more Shaw’s into the narrative, you can think of Fate as one big, bullet-riddled family reunion. With nuclear submarines and Game of Thrones-sized enemies thrown in for good measure. Given the situation, you would think forgiveness would be a particularly high virtue to which these characters aspire, especially in a movie where the bonds of family are being “tested as never before.” It’s disappointing that that aspect is more convincingly framed through Hobbs’ and Deckard’s banter than it is through the evolution of Dom and Letty’s relationship.

While it’s heartwarming to see former enemies arrive at a place of mutual respect — after all, maturity is one of those tenets this multi-billion-dollar franchise has been built on — the lack of weight attached to the final, obligatorily dinner-table-set scene proves a major step backward for a film that otherwise was able to convince me that this was indeed the most serious situation our exonerated heroes have yet faced.

Recommendation: The Fate of the Furious offers more of the same. A lot more. Two-plus-hours more. In the absence of Paul Walker, it’s a testament to the comfort we have with the others that not much feels “different,” although certainly his absence is noted. Fate succeeds far more in elevating the action stakes than the emotional ones. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 136 mins.

Quoted: “. . .it’s neon orange. The International Space Station will see it coming.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

new tbt logo

If you’ve been following along with this segment, you might be aware I’ve spent the last several installments picking titles at random — and in a slight panic, with several of them being decided upon (or even watched) at the very last possible second — so it’ll be nice to reintroduce some semblance of consistency here again, in the form of Holiday Cheer movies. Granted, the next several posts should be fairly predictable. Let’s just say that I’ve graduated from scrambling for random film titles to scrambling to find an appropriate monthly theme. 😉 With all that said, I know this entry today revolves around Thanksgiving rather than Christmas but you know what, I’m prepared to take the flak. You want to hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. 

Today’s food for thought: Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Planes Trains and Automobiles movie poster

Being victimized by public transportation services since: November 25, 1987

[Netflix]

I can’t believe I’ve only now sat down to watch for the first time Steve Martin interact with the comedic genius that was (is?) John Candy. Now the real question: is that something I should have admitted?

I suppose it doesn’t matter as I can say with Del Griffith-like confidence that John Hughes’ classic fits snugly into the brand of comedy I cherish more than any other. That’s not to say, however, that Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the kind of story you can’t find reproduced elsewhere. It’s a tried-and-true road trip adventure featuring two distinct personalities who, despite all odds, wind up growing on one another having endured several days’ worth of mishaps that border on the (amusingly) catastrophic. Replete with sight gags and punchlines that, by comparison to today’s standards, feel sophisticated and novel, Planes is of course capped off with a happy and wholly satisfying ending that epitomizes the feel-good spirit of the holiday season.

The film explores the dichotomy of the psychological effects the hectic holiday season has on people. Ignoring the isolated incidents that seem to occur on Black Friday, the day where everyone seems to take pleasure in being their worst selves, the days and weeks leading up to Christmas have potential to be some of the most stressful all year. It’s that reality that Hughes taps into using Martin, who plays an uptight and rather uncharitable marketing executive named Neal Page, and his polar opposite in Candy’s happy-go-lucky, perpetually cheerful shower curtain ring salesman Del. While it might be more comforting — beneficial, even — to assign personalities and dispositions to a spectrum ranging from very negative to positive, there’s no denying the stereotype is alive and well during the holiday shopping season.

In Planes, Neal faces one setback after another in his attempts to get back to his family for Thanksgiving dinner, starting with missing a taxi to the airport that almost causes him to miss his flight home to Chicago from New York. This is where he first bumps into Del, who would later laugh about how amusing it was that Neal tried to steal *his* cab. Wouldn’t you know it, the two end up sitting next to each other on the flight, one that ultimately ends up having to land in Wichita due to a terrible snowstorm in Chicago. Del is quick to remind Neal once on the ground that given the circumstances it will be next-to-impossible to book a hotel room anywhere, and the two end up taking a room at some seedy motel miles away, which sets up the iconic “I don’t judge you, so why do you judge me” speech.

Things only get worse from there, as Neal is faced with the prospect of continuing to travel with Del as he seems to be the only way he’s going to get out of this crummy town. They board a train that later breaks down and end up having to cram into a city bus that threatens to fall apart at any moment. Much to our amusement the quality of transit vehicles only adds to Neal’s mounting frustrations. It all culminates in a literally explosive car ride that sees the pair brought to their knees at yet another cheap-o hotel, where the question finally must be asked: “is it me, or is it just everyone else around me that’s crazy?”

Existential rumination aside, Hughes’ judgment of character development couldn’t have been more satisfying. There are so many instances throughout the course of this escapade where we think there’s no way Del can screw things up any more than they already are; there’s no way Neal can possibly be any more unpleasant than he was trying to rent a car. And yet developments belie expectations, but only to a point. There’s a wonderful scene at another rundown motel in which the pair are confronted by their own consciences. It’s not like the humbling process isn’t unexpected. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Hughes’ filmography, it should come as no surprise the slide into relative despair can’t be sustained; this is a road trip comedy after all. Yet it’s the aesthetics of the scene that really impact. There’s something about the faux-wooden interior of this particular room that resonates warmly.

In the end, Planes‘ episodic nature epitomizes the oft-exaggerated emotions and experiences of the holiday season. Whether it’s finding the ideal gift for a loved one, putting together a master shopping list for the big dinner or simply attempting to shoulder the responsibilities of throwing a seasonal party, this time of year presents stress in many forms. Hughes is keenly aware of that reality, and he has a field day with it thanks to the interplay between these comedic greats.

Planes Trains Automobiles Martin Candy Fire

Recommendation: Planes, Trains and Automobiles satisfies on many levels with its diverse and highly effective collection of comedic situations and running jokes. It’s another one of those entries that makes one sorely nostalgic for the days of quality comedy. Thanks to great turns from Steve Martin and John Candy this is a film that fans can re-watch over and again.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

TBTrivia: Perspectives are a funny thing. John Candy and Steve Martin have both named this film as their favorite films of their own. Ask other crew members who worked on the film and they’ll describe the shoot as “hellish,” as they were obligated to drive back and forth between locations on the East Coast and the Midwest since each time they arrived at one place the snow they were hoping to find melted too quickly. According to some crew members, John Hughes was in a terrible mood for much of the process as he was enduring difficult times in his personal life.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.filmschoolrejects.com; http://www.haphazard-stuff.blogspot.com 

TBT: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

As we start setting our sights on the fall season, kids also have to start setting their sights on their homework and class schedules. I don’t. (Ha!) But that just means I’m of a certain age. So, in my ‘old age’ that’s not really old age but is fun to say old age because that’s just the excuse going around right now, I want to do some reflecting back on movies about school or that are about the education process. Some people might find this topic a little lame, and to those folks I say: go stick on a dunce cap and sit in the corner. 😉 My overly-confident-sounding tone is brought to you by

Today’s food for thought: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (wink) 

Ferris Buellers Day Off

Rudely interrupting parades in a completely unconvincing fashion since: June 11, 1986

[Netflix]

Some movies might just be better left in the past. After all, memories can last a lifetime. Sadly, there’s a caveat to that, as over time memories tend to start romanticizing rather than simply recalling events and experiences. Just because they may last forever doesn’t mean they necessarily remain accurate. While I wouldn’t say my memory has failed me when it comes to John Hughes’ too-cool-for-school comedy, I kind of regret going back to this movie. What was so wrong with keeping my memory of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off the way it was?

I don’t remember this kid being such a jerk and so entitled. I don’t remember the writing being so atrocious. Of course, I recall pretty much all the mischief he and his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) got into over the course of a single day but Bueller’s allergy to altruistic behavior seems to be something that escaped Younger Me. Ah, Younger Me. Damn you for having things so easy. That me could just sit there and take a movie in and enjoy it. That me could appreciate a movie being just about playing hooky and nothing else. The plot’s still just as digestible and unobtrusive, built out of simple pleasures, like getting to flip the middle finger to those in authority. Now, simplicity actually draws attention to other things.

After so much time you start to realize how many scenes have been parodied past the point of recognition. You are more familiar with the parodies than the original scene(s), although this is by no means the fault of Hughes or his cast. Over time the tone of said parody has also changed. What were once reverential spoofs have become innumerable opportunities to cash in on trendiness. When Cameron’s scream echoed throughout all of Chicago, having realized how many miles they had just put on his father’s Ferrari by driving it around all day, I had to remind myself that what I was watching was the actual scene; this wasn’t a parody.

In some ways Ferris Bueller is a parody of life at the teenage level. Wanting to skip a day of school remains a timeless, fairly universal experience — I’m pretty sure I faked being sick once or twice — and the character continues to represent that part of us that wishes we had more control over the things we don’t want to deal with. In the annals of cinema history he’s a hero for his principled stand. And for pulling one over mom and dad — though this is much less impressive when he’s raised by parents only slightly more capable than Bam Margera’s. This time Hughes is nauseatingly optimistic, far more concentrated on getting as far away from the doldrums of high school where poor Ferris heretofore has had to suffer years of being generally well-liked. Woe as him.

Unlike much of Hughes’ work, Ferris Bueller is far more screwball comedy than coming-of-age. In fact it’s actually more akin to fantasy than comedy. Everything comes together so perfectly (for Ferris, not so much for poor Cameron or Jeffrey Jones’ Principal Rooney) and despite developments that threaten to derail the perfect day — losing the Ferrari temporarily to someone posing as a valet driver who takes it for a joy ride; almost getting caught on TV while at a baseball game; an extremely determined Principal Rooney hot on Ferris’ heels — there’s never any doubt that things will work out. There is very little conflict and even less consequence: we never get to hear the conversation Cameron has with his dad; never see what becomes of Ferris’ classmates rallying behind him, hoping that he makes a speedy recovery from ‘being sick;’ never get to find out why these parents are just so . . . bad at parenting.

Gee golly willickers, I find myself sharing Jeanie’s point of view now more than Ferris’. (And also my dear friend Zoe’s. Feel alone no longer, Zoe, for I too share some of your pain in watching this movie. 😉 ) Like his sister I’ve always been amazed at the things Ferris manages to get away with without being remotely apologetic. I’m not sure how I feel about comparing myself to this person because, as I’ve found, I regard Jeanie as a bit of a bitch. Of course, it’s nothing that a quick make-out session with a visibly stoned Charlie Sheen at the police station can’t cure. Maybe I, too, should have made out with him, thus allowing myself to enjoy some time off from movie watching with an embittered, overly judgmental mindset. Maybe then I would be able to still look at this creation as art instead of artifice.

Recommendation: I have confirmed this is one of those movies I enjoyed far more as a wee lad, and not so much as a jaded adult. Kind of sad, right? It’s not that I find Ferris a rather unlikable fella (I think many can agree on that point), but I remembered this movie being just a little bit more believable. John Hughes constructs such a ridiculous series of events, suggesting if you plan to skip out on school (or work) you better have other, far more elaborate plans to enact lest you completely waste that day. A movie that’s far easier (and fun) to buy into as a kid than an adult.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 103 mins.

TBTrivia: After working together on Weird Science (1985), John Hughes offered Bill Paxton the role of the garage attendant. Paxton turned it down because he felt the role was too small. He admits that he regrets turning it down because Hughes never offered him a role again. 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.allposters.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Mad Max: Fury Road

fury-road-alt-poster

Release: Friday, May 15, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: George Miller; Brendan McCarthy; Nico Lathouris

Directed by: George Miller

For a lesser population, what a lovely day it is indeed, a day in which a franchise is reborn. To anyone else not attuned to what was once a legitimate excuse for Mel Gibson going crazy, Mad Max: Fury Road feels like what a Michael Bay action sequence wants to be when it grows up.

Before dealing with the flack I’m going to inevitably receive for that comparison, may I remind you that Bay, despite himself now, has a knack for building enthusiastic, explosive entertainment. Whereas the aforementioned splurges on expense, George Miller ingeniously . . . well, he splurges too actually. Except here a $150 million budget is appropriated toward some mind-blowingly technical stunt work that is liable to leave most breathless, begging for more.

Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is seen at the film’s deceptively quiet open recounting his days of hardship via a gruff narrative, briefly reflecting upon a troubled past before being snapped up by a passing horde of baddies, undoubtedly the inspiration for some of this year’s most popular Halloween costumes. Behold, the War Boys. He is taken to a strange and desperate civilization known as the Citadel, a relative oasis presided over by the tyrannical King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who keeps most of the communal water and greenery to himself and his minions.

Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, a shaven-headed, fearless amputee with a face covered in soot, finally has had enough of living in such conditions. She goes rogue, fleeing the Citadel in Joe’s ‘War Rig’ and down an indistinct but narratively significant path of sorts, bound for a better way of life. On board the Rig are Joe’s Five Wives — a collection of beauty that recalls Bay’s casting sensibilities. But Bay doesn’t go for talent, really. He just stops at ‘good-looking.’

Perhaps that’s the only thing Joe cares for as well. Enraged by the knowledge of their escape, he sicks the War Boys on the Rig, igniting a thunderous and violent chase across remote desert landscapes and into a sand storm that makes The Perfect Storm look like a gust of wind. Valleys become death gauntlets, their outer limits patrolled by bikers who are expecting a shipment of gasoline be delivered by Furiosa in exchange for her safe passage through. As sure as a Michael Bay car chase, more disaster awaits there.

Miller and Bay are both adrenaline junkies — the former addicted to cartoonish madness; the latter to closing the gap between CGI spectacle and cinema-related migraine. One of these addictions is healthier (at the very least, artsier) than the other. But the constant raucous atmosphere can be overwhelming for newcomers to this depraved world of half-dead humans clinging to life however they can. For a good portion of this ride Max is used as a blood bag to nurse Nux (Nicholas Hoult) back to . . . uh, health. And one of the Five Wives is very pregnant. This isn’t a thinking man’s movie, but if there’s one thing Fury Road is adept at other than delivering non-stop thrills, it’s showing humanity’s will to endure some crazy shit.

With Hardy replacing Gibson in the titular role, one that strangely bears less significance when put beside an iconic Charlize Theron, Fury Road threatens to abandon its cult classic status, exploding into potential box-office behemoth territory. Despite an outrageous, gothic dress code this costume design will likely remain one of the hottest topics of the summer. Maybe all year.

Apparently The Avengers: Age of Ultron is still playing in some theaters. Well, now there’s a new kid on the block and his name is Mad Max Absolutely Ridiculous. Decorated in war paint, yelling at the top of his lungs he demands you know his name. After spending two hours with him you aren’t likely to forget it. Perhaps that’s the most significant distinction between these auteurs of the action spectacular.

When you realize you left the GPS at home . . .

When you realize you left the GPS at home . . .

4-0Recommendation: Decidedly one-note when it comes to plot, Mad Max: Fury Road is still a unique experience — brutal and relentless action combined with beautiful visuals and a gung-ho spirit that fails to dwindle. Having seen the originals isn’t a necessity but I’d imagine it would help round out Max’s character more. Action junkies and fans of George Miller’s brand of filmmaking must see this movie. It’s a curious thing, too: there are two films coming out later this year (one this summer) with as much potential to deliver the goods and both indisputably appealing to larger audiences, but I wonder if these films will be as successful in recruiting new fans as Miller’s latest has been.

Rated: R

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “Hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.southfloridafilmmaker.com; http://www.imdb.com 

It Follows

it-follows-poster

Release: Friday, March 13, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: David Robert Mitchell

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell

Subtly unsettling and certainly spooky the unseen, inexplicable threat at the heart of It Follows is not likely to strike you right away, but if you let it that paranoid feeling will eventually find you.

David Robert Mitchell has come up with a new way to move unsuspecting audiences. By allowing us to conjure in our own minds the worst things possible before exposing us to that which we haven’t quite thought of yet, his sophomore — not sophomoric — effort becomes one of the more inventive horror films in recent years. It may not top the list of films that purport to “scare” — a goal that seems to be becoming increasingly unrealistic — this heady mixture of atmosphere and suspense is far more concerned with making filmgoers uncomfortable. Perhaps the scariest thing about this film is how effective it is in doing just that.

The term ‘safe sex’ may never be thought of the same way again. Maika Monroe makes a more aggressive effort to be recognized by a wider (eyed) audience as 19-year-old Jay Height, a role that follows on the heels of her eminently watchable Anna Peterson from last year’s The Guest. After she and her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) share an intimate moment in the back of her car what has heretofore been a pleasant date night spirals into a harrowing and surreal nightmare that defies explanation. She is drugged by Hugh and later wakes up bound to a chair in a decrepit facility where he proceeds to try and offer some clarification as to what is going on.

Something is after Hugh and he tells her that now she’s had intercourse with him, whatever that something is — I’m not being intentionally vague, the film never allows us to know precisely what this terror actually is — will now be after her. She must sleep with someone else in order to rid herself of this apparent plague, a passing of a most disturbing baton.

It Follows manages to plumb anxiety and fear from deep within over the course of a slow burning, eerie 100 minutes. It helps that the source of this . . . yeah, we’ll just go with ‘plague’ for now, stems from a very personal yet universal experience. Coupled with the fact that every character featured is likable on some level, the indescribable nature of the events — the victim can see the pursuer but no one else can — starts to manifest as something truly horrific. We want Jay et al to overcome this, to escape her slow slide into psychosis and yet the way Mitchell constructs his story we have little choice but to accept that perhaps things just aren’t that simple.

Similarly to Adam Wingard’s adrenaline-spiking throwback to the 80’s, It Follows builds tension and carries momentum on the back of a mesmerizing soundtrack. If it’s not some of the more striking visual imagery that pops out arguably too infrequently throughout, then it’ll be the haunting presence of Disasterpeace’s slinking, sauntering electronica. There are a number of destined-to-be-classic tracks featured here. Fortunately the performances from a relatively unknown cast don’t let the music to do all the talking. And the carefully chosen settings, while nothing that screams big budget, set the tone early for creating a sense of inescapability and hopelessness. We get quaint suburbs, grotesque beach scenes, and an unforgettable stake-out in an aquatic center to name a few.

It Follows doesn’t need in-depth analysis. What it really needs is a wide audience, which it does seem to be receiving now. It needs to be seen, it needs to be felt. Is it too early to call this a future cult classic? Perhaps, but it won’t be a stretch to imagine that happening. Creativity runs amok in this highly effective slice of modern horror, a film where the term ‘thriller’ might be too liberally applied. I’d much prefer to label this one a chiller.

it-follows-opening

4-0Recommendation: David Robert Mitchell cranks up the tension from the opening shot. Patience might be tested for some as there isn’t a great deal of fast, frenetic action, and there’s certainly an absence of those “classic” jump scare tactics. That’s chiefly why It Follows has this ability to follow you out of the theater. It’s disturbing in a realistic way. For anyone wanting a refreshing change-up within the genre, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Nightcrawler

nightcrawler-1

Release: Friday, October 31, 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Dan Gilroy

Directed by: Dan Gilroy

For anyone reeling in nostalgia for the days of Donnie Darko, boy do I have some good news for you.

Jake Gyllenhaal is back and at least for the moment seems untouchable once more, playing the consummate weirdo very few of us are likely to be jealous of being incapable of mimicking. We are, however, gobsmacked by his talents again; in awe of a star’s willingness to go so far in the opposite direction of who they likely really are for the sake of seeking the truth in performance art.

Or, perhaps it’s not that big of a stretch. Maybe the male Gyllenhaal is naturally drawn to the darkness, as a fly to a light. This time he’s called upon by first-time director Dan Gilroy to don a façade whose ability to identify with humanity is often overridden by a need to separate from it. Self-sufficiency is the name of the game.

Meet Louis Bloom. He calls himself Lou, along with a number of other more professional and less personal adjectives. He’s first seen scouting a deserted construction site for some materials he will later try to sell back to the construction company for a small profit. The act functions as both microcosm — first he’ll try to take over a scrap yard and soon it will be the city — as well as a crucial first step towards chasing after much loftier ambitions. Audaciously he would go on to ask the man behind the desk about any available positions within the company, but the guy won’t hire a thief and so it is back to the drawing board for Lou.

It was probably for the better, anyway, as he soon encounters a television crew on the highway covering what appears to be a fatal car accident. It’s still early on in the film’s impossibly fluid two-hour runtime and we are getting to a place where we understand already subtlety is not a word in Lou’s vocabulary. He quickly makes his presence known at the scene and brushes up against Bill Paxton’s accomplished camera man to see if there’s any work for him with them. No, there’s not. But there is money in this racket, he’s told.

Lou quickly gets his hands on a cheap camera and he even hires a staff. . . .of one. He comes into contact with a slightly scruffy-looking man from the streets, a young fellow named Rick (Riz Ahmed) whose wide-eyed naivety and desperation for work makes Lou’s goal-setting seem an impossible quest for wealth and popularity rather than an act manifested out of necessity. Make no mistake, one certainly seems more desperate than the other.

They may seem an odd-couple like any other you’ve seen before, though the tandem quickly come to epitomize the term ‘nightcrawlers’ — workers looking for the good money by filming the stuff that makes early morning news — bloody and if possible, fatal vehicular accidents, home invasions, shootings, things like that — using any means necessary. Stalking the night. Gyllenhaal’s mesmerizing work as a man who blurs the line between bystander and active participant in a crime scene is the butter to Gilroy’s toast. And his toast, of course, is a truly original and compelling screenplay that conjures up characters who live and breathe death and destruction for another paycheck.

Paired with focused and intense direction that often thrusts us into the middle of the street without any hope of knowing what’s to come next — this is a brilliantly unpredictable adventure even if the opening shots are more than foreboding — the story allows us to never entirely hate this character even if we know we are morally bankrupting ourselves by doing so. We are actually capable of something even sicker: understanding his motives. Even if we can’t rectify what gets sacrificed. Come the film’s bullet-riddled conclusion, we’ll see the genius in Gilroy’s creation in a new light.

Speaking of which, Nightcrawler is bathed in all kinds of beautiful lighting, despite its ostensibly exclusive nighttime setting. It has the feel of a noir but on a much grander, almost blockbuster scale. It’s a rare kind of film performance-wise as this is a role that may supersede the psychological perturbation of Donnie Darko. If I’m gushing over him, I should probably apologize, for there are others who turn in strong work as well. One of those is Rene Russo, playing the morning news director Nina, who strongly encourages Lou to pursue freelance journalism.

Nina’s a force to be reckoned with and operates within a very difficult realm, a gray area in which station ratings are directly related to how good the material is. (But be careful to not show viewers anything too graphic, they’ll be watching this stuff with their breakfast.) Never before has the media mantra “if it bleeds, it leads” been twisted to fulfill such a haunting cinematic vision. Also compelling is Riz Ahmed, Lou’s assistant, who is eager to get to work and earn some kind of wage for himself. He deftly conveys a nervous apprehension to the job being asked of him, while avoiding falling into the ‘sidekick’ trope. Paxton isn’t in it for very long but exists in the frame long enough to leave an impression.

Nightcrawler is, thanks to its performances and solid narrative pulse, one of the best movies of the year and another solid reminder that Oscars season is upon us. After experiencing one of the year’s most unforgettable characters, and if I am speaking honestly I am glad I made the money to buy this ticket.

nightcrawler-2

4-5Recommendation: It is hard to imagine anyone not getting sucked in by the curious trailers heralding a return to weirdness for Jake Gyllenhaal. How can anyone resist that soul-burning stare of his, sitting perched before a backdrop of the L.A. area bathed in sunset (or rise)? He is positively chilling in the role and 100% the reason you should see this film. And if the trailer isn’t quite enough to sell you, maybe the fact he was Donnie Darko will. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “My motto is, if you wanna win the lottery, you’ve gotta make the money to buy a ticket.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Prince Avalanche

pa-1

Release: Friday, August 9, 2013 (limited)

[Netflix]

Mumblecore may not be a lost artform, but it’s pretty clear it’s on the fringes, particularly when the recent entries are as minor as this.

David Gordon Green, after directing more mainstream, sillier things like Pineapple Express, The Sitter and Your Highness, switches gears by creating a story dependent on actual, fine-tuned performances and not upon ridiculous set pieces and poop/fart jokes. He manages to avoid being pretentious with his shoestring budget, though it’s not much of a surprise to see such a divided audience opinion of Prince Avalanche

One of the main reasons the film carries great potential to be off-putting is the extremely slow pace. Seriously. Snails probably would learn a thing or two about slowing down if they could watch this movie. (That’s not to write snails off as being snobbish, by the way; I just think A) their weird little eyes are too small and B) even if they could comprehend this, they would get bored.)

But for us humans, because the film also zeros in on an obscure, isolated job like highway maintenance — Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are responsible for applying all the road markings to a recently repaved section of road in the wake of a destructive wildfire that wiped out a good portion of forest land — there is not a lot to grab a hold of in terms of dramatic material. Plus the fact that extended moments of dialogue-free, panoramic shots of the nondescript environs dominate the narrative early on doesn’t help those who are seeking something to identify with.

When you factor in how Rudd’s character is first presented, this film seems to be making every effort to avoid becoming a crowd-pleaser. (Whoops, did I mention earlier that this film wasn’t pretentious? That might have been a bit of a lie.) Green, though, is able to find a modicum of success in his experimentation. There is a quirkiness to this weird little romp, a very natural humor that makes this story absolutely believable, even if inaccessible (or pointless) to some.

Relying on some nuanced performances, his small-time Avalanche attempts to differentiate between the concepts of ‘being alone’ versus ‘being lonely.’ He goes about this by presenting two starkly different personalities in Alvin and Lance, who show that while both concepts don’t sound favorable, one is definitely worse than the other.

A mustached Paul Rudd truly enjoys the solitude; he claims to be able to focus his downtime into gaining what he considers valuable skills, like learning foreign languages, and that being away from people — like his girlfriend, Madison who is also, by way of holy-shit-it’s-a-small-world, Lance’s sister — actually helps him better himself. Compare that to Hirsch’s whiny, materialistic Lance, who has slightly less ambitious stupider . . .we’ll just go with different goals and desires, like going into town on his days off and looking for some girls to take home with him. He’s clearly less satisfied with his employment and, hence, the lonely one.

Yet, there’s a monotonous amount of road-paintin’, and silence-havin’ — I think at some point, a bee gets to chew some scenery — all of this to get through as this simple albeit earnest story slowly gains traction. This is a movie filmed through cameras virtually ingrained into the trees and the mud and thickets through which we see this movie unfold. You have to give credit to Green and his right-hand man, D.O.P. Tim Orr for literally absorbing the environment in which they are in. At the same time, I cannot blame those who end up feeling a little insulted by watching a movie that literally takes place on the shoulder of a road.

Ultimately, Prince Avalanche is a decent film that perhaps treads the line between immateriality and art-house a bit too closely at times. The performances are too good to ignore though, and there is a warm conviction with which these two loners eventually come to embrace their statuses in life. The low-key affair is also dressed in a gorgeous soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo, which, it can also be legitimately argued, the film relies on a bit too much at times.

pa-3

3-5Recommendation: Experimental at best and inconsequential at worst, Prince Avalanche is not a film for everyone yet those who do crack its hard outer shell shall reap the rewards of its heartfelt message and will appreciate the quality of the two oddball performances. It’s also a good one to check out for yet another different Paul Rudd experience.

Rated: R

Running Time: 94 mins.

Quoted: “So when you say something negative and insult the other person… You’re really just showing that other person what an unsure-of-yourself-type person that you really feel like you are.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Rush

Rush-poster-Vogue-16Aug13-PR_b_1

Release: Thursday, September 26, 2013

[Theater]

2013 finds Ron Howard operating well within his comfort zone again, returning to construct the definitive racing film.

A gripping, polished and thoughtfully-crafted drama piece, Rush delves into one remarkable season of racing which would ultimately define the careers of two top performers in Formula 1.

Howard and comedy, it would seem, mix about as well as bald race tires on wet pavement (in case that’s not clear, not well). The unnecessary detour we took in 2011 with The Dilemma serves as a painful reminder that sometimes straying from the course carries more risk than reward. But perhaps it’s the fact that the man is coming out of the shadows of that terribly confusing, un-funny film that makes this particular movie such a euphoric experience.

Rush compares the passions of two fierce competitors in 1970s Formula 1 racing. The film is equally an action/drama as much as it is a cleverly constructed biopic;  red-headed Richie Cunningham devotes as much time and material to the British playboy James Hunt (here portrayed by a thoroughly entertaining Chris Hemsworth) and the starkly more disciplined and straight-edged Austrian, Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), as he does to the critical developments on the racetracks.

I suppose seeing the film on an RPX screen helped bring the story to larger-than-life proportions. But that’s more of the icing on the cake, really. Peter Morgan, who also wrote Frost/Nixon and The Queen, is responsible for us feeling as though we have injected ourselves with extra adrenaline; that we’re trapped inside the claustrophobic cockpits of these exquisite automobiles. The only thing missing is the smell of burning motor oil, the cigars and the expensive perfumes and colognes. Morgan’s brilliant writing provides the sexy cast fully-realized characters that Hemsworth and Brühl simply run away with. (Or drive away with, if that metaphor suits you better.)

In the 70s, perhaps no rivalry was as bitter and as intense as the one dividing Hunt and Lauda, and Howard was keen to prioritize this aspect over the many other intricate details that comprise this project. One of the more compelling reasons to see this film is the simple fact that Howard does his damn research. Time and again he’s proven himself a director who pays attention to the details, no matter how technical the subject matter. In this case anyway, the material is as complicated as anything he’s ever dealt with (the adventures of Jim Lovell and company being a close second), yet you feel completely immersed in a world that is a near perfect-reflection of reality. Those who have come to love Howard’s style also trust in his earnestness.

Arguably the most rewarding aspect of Rush is the replication of the drivers’ less-than-pleasant relationship. Howard realizes its critical we know the personalities before we know their abilities; that we know what motivates each for taking the actions that they take. Consequently, when such decisions are made and certain events transpire, we care that much more for the people involved.

James Hunt bumps into the dark-haired, brusque Austrian racer one afternoon during a Formula 3 event — a lower-level form of the top-end race car circuit — and immediately there is tension between them. From the beginning its clear that Lauda is a technical perfectionist while Hunt enjoys bearing the fruits of his labor. . . and his good looks, of course. He’s the party animal; the one to be spraying a huge bottle of champagne after one race and puking minutes before the next. He’s the one to be bedding women like Olivia Wilde’s Suzy Miller. However, it is Lauda who is consistently described as “a genius in the car,” and given that Lauda’s generally unlikable persona made it more difficult (more like next to impossible) for him to get picked up by a team on his own merits, he has to struggle much harder to get in. Fortunately his efforts eventually pay off and in fact Ferrari signs him to their team.

Hunt’s lack of focus on (read: important) matters off the track results in his lack of sponsorship for the upcoming 1976 season, and though he jokes that all he needs on his car is something about cigarettes and condoms, its clear Hunt knows he’s in trouble.

Howard’s films typically are imbued with historically accuracy, and this one’s certainly no different. He accounts for every last detail surrounding racing as not only a sport, but a culture. A way of survival, even. From Lauda’s mechanical crew looking more than irritated having spent an entire night completely rebuilding his car to his exact specifications, to Hunt failing to attract new sponsors; from the quick, tight shots of the driver inside the car pushing down the pedals and switching gears, to slow-motion shots of the tires spinning in heavy downpours, Rush is almost poetic in its visual beauty and technical prowess. It could be Howard’s most immaculate project yet.

No moment in the film might exemplify the reality of driving for a living better than what happens to Niki Lauda one fateful day in Germany. Infamously referred to as ‘The Graveyard,’  the incredibly harrowing Nürburgring track is responsible for many, many serious accidents, a good number of which have been fatal. On the day of the race, the weather was anything but ideal. Heavy rains and low visibility prompted the incredibly intelligent Lauda to call a meeting in an attempt to boycott the race. Citing unreasonably high danger levels, Lauda was virtually alone in his position, as Hunt (at least in the film) points out that this would likely guarantee his (Lauda’s) win for the season, since cutting out the German Grand Prix would provide everyone else one less racing opportunity to catch up to him in the total points standings.

Later that day, Lauda’s car would be converted into a raging fireball after he overcorrects through a turn which inadvertently pierces the car’s fuel cell. The driver sat in a blistering inferno of over 800 degrees for about sixty seconds, causing irreparable damage to his face and lungs. He would spend roughly a month in the hospital recovering from horrific burns. Howard handles this pivotal moment with all the grace one could ever expect from him, and its really quite the gut-check time for both the other racers and us, the audience. It’s not an easy scene to witness.

This is a pivotal moment not only for the real-life champion, but relative to the film as well. Even if it’s a two-hour affair, this film simply flies by in no time at all. The film following the accident becomes twice as compelling, given the turn-around time for Lauda returning to the sport. Within four weeks, he’s back in the car, much to everyone’s amazement — particularly James Hunt’s. The film begs the question, what exactly separates the will to win versus the will to survive? In sports/careers in which the danger levels are directly proportional to the risks those individuals take, often the two overlap. Winning often means outlasting death. Losing means you played it too safe, or simply weren’t good/fast enough. And with Howard’s visionary style of directing, this is only part of the picture.

More than anything, Rush honors the legends that are Niki Lauda and James Hunt by shedding light on both their personal and professional lives (it doesn’t hurt either that the actors portraying them are strikingly similar in appearance) while never forcing the drama that came with the territory. Indeed, this develops as naturally as Howard’s confidence behind the camera has over a protracted career.

Formula 1 racing certainly approaches the top of the ladder in terms of the danger and the intrigue. Having experienced the United States Grand Prix in 2003 in Indianapolis, I can vouch for both, though fortunately me and my friends did not bear witness to anything near as dramatic as what happened to the formidable Austrian. It’s an interesting thought to entertain to consider what this film might have been like in the hands of anyone else other than those of Hollywood’s favorite ginger-haired director.

rush-1

4-0Recommendation: Race fans and Ron Howard devotees unite! Rush delivers upon almost everything promised by its enticing trailers, though it lacks a bit in some areas regarding the women who were behind the great drivers. Neither Wilde nor Alexandra Maria Lara (who plays Lauda’s wife, Marlene) are given much time to develop as characters at all. All the same, this is a wholly engaging experience that will have you whiteknuckled for most of its duration, and if you enjoy learning about the subject matter as much as you do witnessing it, this might just be the perfect movie for you. On that note, I fully expect this film to do far better in Europe than in America since the market for Formula 1 is nowhere near as demanding in the States unfortunately.

Rated: R

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “Don’t go to men who are willing to kill themselves driving in circles looking for normality.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Fast & Furious 6

fast-1

Release: Friday, May 24, 2013

[Theater]

This is my first time reuniting with the crew of car-crazed criminals since 2003, when 2 Fast 2 Furious riled up critics and seemed even to repel some of the fans of the original. I’ve gotta say, this was a hell of a way to get back in touch with them. With the way Fast and Furious 6 doles out action sequences and adrenaline rushes you’d think these aspects of film were going out of style, and even though this strategy reaches proportions that would have Sir Isaac Newton doubting the legitimacy of his life’s work, there was a surprising ease with which I was able to ignore the implausibility of the action and just enjoy the ride, as well as the views along the way.

The problem with these films is that in any given installment, the magic at any moment can be easily ruined if you were to just take a step back and think about what’s happening. . . particularly in the action sequences. People are able to jump further, survive higher and higher falls, and escape gunfire as if they have just graduated from a class on How To Dodge Bullets, as instructed by Keanu Reeves. Make no mistake, there’s a certain invincibility to these lead characters who have become lovable (or at least a gruff, thuggish approximation to ‘lovable’). Not to mention, their car-handling skills are otherworldly.

Alas, this is what we slap ten bucks onto the box office counter for. By now, those who are going to this film are either die-hard fans or critics just waiting to tear Hollywood a new one for allowing yet another installment to happen. As far as my readings of many reviews have gone, though, there are far fewer detractors of this film than I was initially expecting.

Fast 6 opens furiously, a bird’s eye camera following Dom and Brian as they race along a tightly winding ribbon of road cutting into Spanish cliffside. As it turns out, this brief chase is headed towards a finish line of a different sort. Brian has recently become a father, and Dom cautions him before he goes in to greet his child that this very moment marks a turning point in both their lives.

No kidding.

Of course, the Fast franchise has never been big on subtleties. This one line that Dom says is a huge foreshadowing of things to come; namely, the rest of the film’s mayhem.

One quiet afternoon the Hulk. . . er, rather, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s larger-than-life Luke Hobbs appears on Dom’s dapper doorstep, with a simple mission objective: “I need your help, Dom.” It is precariously cliche, but only in its execution do we truly find ourselves buying back into the fantasy of high-priced cars, the chasing and racing thereof, and of the lavish lifestyles that have only become more so as the series continues to expand. Initially reluctant to gather up the crew again, Dom finds himself with no other option.

Armed with the knowledge that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is indeed still alive, our crew — which has also expanded to include a few more babes and a few more goofy rapper-turned-actors — converts into some sort of quasi-military operations unit in the hunt for a secretive weapon that can power down an entire military operation for 24 hours. But that mission is second to finding and rescuing Letty from her British captors led by the coldhearted Owen Shaw (Luke Evans).

At this point it’s clear in Justin Lin’s direction that he wants the crew to transcend their affinity for stealing and pimping out their vehicles. The car aficionados (this term will forever apply at least to Dom and Brian) dart from one exotic location to the next, falling into occasional grapples with the enemy in random spurts of street racing. Not having seen the previous several, I had the impression that the street racing segments in this film were less a part of the chase than they were obligatory plot elements to keep the title relevant, even though it’s been clearly expressed that the stakes have never been higher for Brian, Dom and company. Taken by themselves, these extensive scenes are still Fast & Furious-worthy, and are bound to keep the attention for anyone who’s ever been a fan.

As the movie progresses the action is perpetually amplified to the point of becoming mind-numbing. The climax is utterly ridiculous. But this IS version number six we are talking about here. And because it is number six, it is far more surprising to me that there remained this much entertainment value in the story when it could have dived into far inferior, and more well-worn territory. Perhaps this had been the case in a few films in its history, but this time around there is plenty of material worth savoring. The fight sequences are impressive; the locations beautiful.

Performance-wise? Well, given that Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson (whom I’ve never been a fan of), “The Rock” and Vin Diesel all are acting on the same screen together — it could be much, much worse. Thankfully, screenwriter Chris Morgan devotes sufficient time to each of these guys to make them all a part of the raucous conversation about street racing evolving to the next level. I suppose if the stakes are going to be raised for every film, so too should the acting quality. Luckily, the two blend fairly well.

There may not be anything to remember other than how long it takes for a plane to lift-off (this part was perhaps the epitome of how the suspension of disbelief has been taken for granted with these films), or how Vin Diesel can survive so many NASCAR-style crashes, but by the time you get to thinking back on the film, maybe you won’t care too much.

(Oh, and by the way, it pays to stay for the credits.)

fast-3

3-5Recommendation: For fans especially, Fast & Furious 6 fires on most, if not all cylinders. It is alternately an adrenaline rush and a sentimental story that does a nice job summarizing the places we’ve been thus far. But it is safe to say we are far from the finish line with it all. Go see it on the big screen; your T.V.’s stereo system won’t really do this thing justice.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 130 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com