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"Crash" does not "Crash" & burn
BEWARE: 1996's "Crash" is not the same 2004 film directed by Paul Haggis that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards for 2005; I still think that "Brokeback Mountain" should have won that year, and that remains one of the biggest disappointments in Oscar history, but I digress.
"Crash" is the infamous 1996 erotic psychological thriller from the controversial Canadian born-&-bred David Cronenberg ("The Fly," "Dead Ringers," "Videodrome," "Scanners"), who both wrote and directed the film, and also served as a producer. "Crash" is by far the most provocative and sexually explicit film Cronenberg has ever done - going so far as to earn the dreaded "NC-17" rating, yet still somehow winning the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and being nominated also for the prestigious Palme d'Or. That says something for a film that borders on being soft-core pornography, or does it?
Despite its graphic depiction of human sexuality (most of it taking place behind the wheel, rather than in the bedroom), Cronenberg is actually striving for something bigger here, which is how people are transformed, physically, psychologically and SEXUALLY, by the car crash (and to a greater extent, how human beings are being transformed by technology itself). "Crash" examines this by peering into a world that examines the cathartic sexual release granted to some by automobile accidents. It's a premise that will certainly make people think twice about getting behind the wheel again, and is a premise that also caused a huge sensation when the late author J.G. Ballard published his controversial novel - from which this film is based - of the same name back in 1973. (Quite frankly, it's very easy to imagine how unnerved some people might have been in 1996 after viewing this movie in the theater, and then thinking about the drive home afterward.)
In the words of one observer, the characters in "Crash" "are their own potential killers, who make themselves vulnerable to death every time they climb into their conveyances." Set in Ontario, Canada, bored film director James Ballard (James Spader, an obvious stand-in for the author of the original novel) seeks greater sexual experiences than the mundane pleasures offered to him by his crumbling open marriage to his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger). One night, Ballard gets into a serious, near-fatal car accident - a head-on collision with another vehicle - and winds up in the hospital, horribly scarred and with his left leg in a rather scary-looking contraption that I'm only guessing is a leg brace of some sort.
While recovering at the hospital, he learns that the accident killed the driver of the other car, but left the passenger, Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), a widow. He also by chance meets Dr. Remington's associate Vaughan (Elias Koteas), a car accident-obsessed, slightly mad rogue doctor who leads an underground sub-culture that re-stages famous car crashes - the September 30, 1955, car crash that killed Hollywood movie star James Dean gets a lot of special attention here.
Vaughan's special little "project" aims to examine how the energy of a car crash is not only a form of sexual catharsis, but is also a trans-formative, or "fertilizing" (rather than destructive), event for the crash victim - something that happens to liberate the victim from the boundaries (of what we consider to be) normal sexual experience, which, of course, is provided they even SURVIVE the crash in the first place. Himself a badly scarred car crash survivor, his re-staging of famous car accidents is a ploy to open up new sexual horizons for others, and he's pulled Ballard, who is by no means an unwilling participant (in fact, his initial car accident was a baptism, of sorts), into his dark world of "auto-erotica" in an effort to gain sexual satisfaction from his marriage to Catherine. Sex happens a lot in this picture, most of it in cars (hence the spin on the term, "auto- erotica"), between men and women, women and women, and men and men; it shows that Cronenberg doesn't like to play favorites and since his movie is about pushing boundaries, there's also some "scar play" in there, as well - look at what Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette) is wearing to the party.
As a long-time fan of David Cronenberg ("The Fly" still remains his masterpiece to me), I've waited a long time to see "Crash," as it shows that he was gradually moving away from the so-called "body horror" that defined much of his early career and also like the characters in this film, he was seeking new horizons to explore. Of course since the beginning of the 21st century, Cronenberg's profile has gone increasingly mainstream and he has been heavily involved in making thrillers of various types - "A History of Violence" (2005) and "Eastern Promises" (2007) come to mind - that have explored new thematic territories but his boundary-pushing auteur style and philosophical fascinations of bodily destruction remain largely unchanged.
"Crash" is a controversial (albeit needlessly so) film, no doubt, from a controversial, yet endlessly masterful and fascinating, filmmaker. It's dark, it's sexually explicit and grotesquely violent in many areas, but like all of Cronenberg's work, you just can't turn away - no matter how repulsed or disgusted you are by everything that you're seeing. "Crash" is by no means for those with a weak stomach - heed the "NC-17" rating, folks - but it is something that can open your eyes and stimulate your senses in ways few filmmakers are willing to do anymore.
Fresh Off the Boat (2015)
"Fresh" for 2015, you suckas!!!
I guess the greatest thing that can be said about "Fresh Off the Boat" is that it reminds one of better times long gone - in this case, the mid-1990s (1995). I turned 10 that year; so while "Fresh Off the Boat" is steeped in nostalgia, it doesn't weep for those days - that's what will most likely happen to the viewer, like this viewer.
"Fresh Off the Boat" also has the benefit of being the first TV sitcom headlined by an entirely Asian-American cast - reportedly the first show of its kind in nearly 20 years. The show itself is an autobiography of TV chef, restaurateur and occasional Eddie Huang (based on his book of the same name), who also serves as the show's narrator.
Huang is the son of Taiwanese-immigrant parents; was born in Washington, D.C., in 1982; and had moved with his family to Orlando, Florida, in the mid-'90s. He also has a real deep affinity for hip-hop culture (as does the writer of this review, even though I'm not Asian). Some have said there really isn't much of a big difference between hip-hop and Asian cultures (as evidenced by the rap super-group, the Wu-Tang Clan), so seeing a young Asian kid recite lyrics from songs by The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, The Pharcyde, and Ice Cube are a real delight. (One episode that will have some music-philes laughing until they cry is an episode when Eddie reunites with the cousin who first introduced him to hip-hop, and said cousin is now depressed and into grunge music.)
The show itself centers mostly on 11-year-old Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang) after his family moves to Orlando, and his struggles to fit in at his new school as the only Asian kid once everyone gets settled. His father Louis Huang (Randall Park) wants to open and run his own restaurant, there's his mother Jessica (beautiful Constance Wu), his younger brothers Emery (Forrest Wheeler) and Evan (Ian Chen), and family matriarch Grandma Huang (Lucille Soong). "Fresh Off the Boat" chronicles Eddie and his family's attempts to integrate into their new, predominantly white suburban Orlando community. Cultural clashes and hilarity ensues.
"Fresh Off the Boat" has gotten a lot of praise from viewers and critics. While the show gets off to a rough start initially, it really starts to find its own footing around the sixth or seventh episode. A lot of shows tend to do that and from that perspective, "Fresh Off the Boat" is no different. Just as the show struggles to find its own footing, so do we, as viewers, have to get used to watching a new program. Most viewers rarely have this sort of patience (or attention span) anymore, but from the first episode I liked what I was watching, but I knew there was a chance that things would improve - which they have.
I can see this show getting better and better once its footing becomes more assured and the actors become more comfortable in their roles. "Fresh Off the Boat" is something new and "Fresh" for 2015. (And the soundtrack, which features mostly music from hip-hop artists prominent at the time, certainly adds to its "freshness.")
Say Anything... (1989)
Say Anything you want about "Say Anything...", but this is a great movie!
Most of us know about that scene, that famous scene where the guy is standing in the front yard outside the house of his girlfriend (or ex-girlfriend, I should say), after she just broke up with him the day before. It's early in the morning when he's decided to pull off this little stunt, and, standing next to his car, he's holding up a huge boom-box over his head blaring Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes."
This is the most iconic and famous scene in Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything...", his 1989 debut which he both wrote and directed. This is a movie I've seen in clips over the years but have never actually sat down and watched the whole thing in its entirety. I've read the critical praise (the most significant coming from the late film critic Roger Ebert), "Entertainment Weekly" naming it the greatest modern romance AND ranking it at #11 on their list of 50 best high school movies, and a Valentine's Day article in "The Washington Post" from 2006 titled "What I Did For Lloyd." Now I've finally sat down and watched the movie and understood where it's all coming from.
The 1980s were a wasteland of teen comedies. John Hughes (1950-2009) was behind the best of them ("The Breakfast Club," "Sixteen Candles"). At the tail end of the decade, came Cameron Crowe and his "Say Anything...". This film is much like any teen comedy/romance to come out at that time (and ever since) and begins as such, with a "noble underachiever" who falls for an ultra-intelligent, if socially unskilled, beauty who seems way out of his league. The movie also seems to at least partially pre-figure the Seattle "grunge" era of the early '90s (which was spear-headed by the legendary grunge band Nirvana), but the exact details of this implication are part of another discussion entirely.
Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is the noble underachiever who dares to ask out the beautiful high school valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye) the day after their graduation. Lloyd's ambitions are pretty slim, since the only thing he can really see himself doing in the immediate future is Kick-boxing (which at that time was still a relatively new thing). So at least he's honest about his life's aspirations: he knows what he wants to do, and he especially knows what he DOESN'T want to do - which does shock some people and makes him the most truthful character in the entire film. But it's an even bigger shock when he decides that he wants to go out with the lovely Diane Court.
Diane, on the other hand, has her whole life set out before her. She's worked hard her entire life to work her way up to the top of her high school graduating class. And all that hard work pays off when she learns she's been granted a fellowship to further her studies overseas in England. And she'll be leaving at the end of the summer. And then there's Lloyd, who impulsively asks her out on a date and much to his surprise, she accepts his invitation. They do go out, they enjoy one another's company, they connect, and their feelings of just being "friends with potential" do gradually deepen into love. While Diane's over-protective father James Court (John Mahoney) seems to like Lloyd, he mostly sees him as a distraction and someone who's going to steer her away from the future she's worked so hard to achieve.
We like Lloyd and Diane both, and we want them to be together. But like any good love story, there has to be roadblocks, and these roadblocks hurt...
In a major subplot, however, James, owner of an elderly-care facility, is also being investigated by the IRS for tax fraud. This subplot would be a most unnecessary distraction from an otherwise touching teen romance, but the way everything turns out and why it's even happened in the first place is just one of the many unique charms of "Say Anything..." and why it stands out amongst most teen romance films made before and since. A less ambitious movie would JUST be about Lloyd & Diane's relationship and nothing else, but "Say Anything..." has other things on its mind beside those two - even though it still hurts us when outside forces cause them to separate for a time. "Say Anything..." wants to show us how their relationship is affecting everyone around them, and how everyone around them is affecting them, as well.
"Say Anything..." is a wondrously scripted, acted, and directed film; it's definitely an early indication of the skill of a writer and director with huge ideas, huge potential. Crowe knew his characters well and chose his performers even better. John Cusack and Ione Skye are the dynamic young stars playing Lloyd and Diane. Like John Hughes before him and who dominated the early portion of the 1980s teen scene, Cameron Crowe knew how to make a "smart" teen film: one that is not filled with stupid sex jokes and even stupider characters - teens and adults alike.
With that in mind, I can see how an audience so cynical in 1989 after being bombarded with teen comedy after teen comedy throughout the earlier portion of the decade can very easily write off "Say Anything..." as just Another Teen Movie. It's a teen film, yes, and an occasionally very funny one, too, but it's also an extraordinarily moving and compelling one, as well. So I can also see how that cynicism would wear off once the movie really begins to reveal itself to the audience - especially with its emotional honesty and maturity, and the fact that it's actually a very well-written and acted little piece of cinema.
So it's really no wonder why you can Say Anything you want about "Say Anything..." but you cannot deny that it is not a great movie!
I Am Ali (2014)
"I Am Ali" - A moving portrait of "The Greatest"
The name "Muhammad Ali" is a name that I grew up hearing a lot, yet knowing nothing about the man whose name it belonged to. Over time, I grew to know that Muhammad Ali was is arguably the greatest professional boxer the world has ever seen. But again, this is something that I just heard, but never knew for myself. A few years ago for a Christmas present, I got "Ali Rap," a collection of famous sayings and quips by Muhammad Ali, and then I finally got an idea of one of the greatest human beings to ever grace the Earth.
A year ago, I re-watched the 2001 biopic "Ali," which featured Will Smith as Muhammad Ali; I'd first seen the film around the time of its release on home video back in 2002 and was quite dazzled, and inspired, by it. Seeing the film again, after having read extensively of Ali's background, his career (he won 56 out of 61 fights total!!!), Islamic faith, family (especially daughter Laila Ali, who was undefeated in her career lasting 24 fights in total!!!), social activism and legacy as a sports and black-American civil rights icon, I had come to the conclusion that Muhammad Ali's title as "the Greatest" was rightfully earned.
Now hear I am at the 2014 documentary "I Am Ali." Clare Lewins, the writer and director, had quite a task before her to make this film, having to cover seven decades in the life of the former Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in just a 112-minue feature-length running time. To this end, she achieved her goal. You can read about Muhammad Ali's life story online, in books or magazines or watch the film "Ali," but at some point you want to hear the truth from the man himself, or those who know him most intimately.
This latter part is where "I Am Ali" comes in.
While one could be disappointed in the fact that the Champ himself never makes an appearance on-screen, we do hear his voice (in taped conversations dating all the way back to the '60s and '70s) and see him in archival footage in his younger days and prime as a heavyweight boxing champion. Instead, his life story is told through these audio recordings and archival footage, and new interviews with his friends (musicians Sir Tom Jones and Kris Kristofferson, and NFL great Jim Brown), associates (trainer Angelo Dundee, manager Gene Kilroy and graphic designer George Lois, the latter of whom designed a world-famous 1968 "Esquire" magazine cover of Ali), family (daughters Maryum and Hana, chiefly, but also his older brother and son), and even former rivals (such as George Foreman, whom Ali defeated in 1974 to become the world heavyweight champion for the second time in the famed "Rumble in the Jungle").
Muhammad Ali has lived an extraordinary life for many to follow. Like any documentary, it not only covers his beautiful life and achievements, it of course also doesn't hide the darker aspects of his journey, including his fierce opposition to the Vietnam War (which cost him his title, and four years of his life his prime time as a fighter, many have said), and his marital infidelity (which saw him sire nine children from at least three different women), and in his failure to patch up his relationship with close friend and fellow civil rights icon Malcolm X (who was murdered in 1965). All participants including his ex-wife Veronica Porsche are quite honest and blunt with their statements and don't hold anything back.
I wish I could describe more about this amazing documentary, but really, it must be seen in order to get the full picture.
The Power Within (1995)
"The Power Within"
Art Camacho's 1995 martial arts fantasy flick "The Power Within" is good at what it wants to be - a martial arts fantasy flick with a good message about believing in yourself and your own abilities, and fulfilling your own potential.
Stan Dryer (Ted Jan Roberts) is an average teenager who's having trouble making the grade in school, gets beaten up by the bullies on the school's football team (despite the fact that Stan is taking lessons in Karate and is not very good at it), and is being urged by his best friend Eric Graves (Keith Coogan) to ask pretty popular girl Sandy Applegate (Tracy Melchoir) out to prom - but he's too scared to do so. In other words, he lacks any sense of self-confidence.
To top it off, one day, Stan manages to save the elderly martial arts master, Master Yung (Gerald Okamura), from thugs. Master Yung dies not long after the struggle, but not before having passed the mysterious and mystical Ring of Power onto Stan, who now finds himself in possession of incredible strength and martial arts skills. It turns out that the Ring of Power is actually the SECOND of two Rings of Power, the other belonging to Raymond Vonn (William Zabka, of "The Karate Kid"), an art thief and master criminal, who now wants both rings for himself.
"The Power Within" is very much a "B" movie for teenagers with some after-school special trappings, though it's not one without a good message about believing in yourself and your abilities. The acting is a mixed bag; Ted Jan Roberts, a kiddie actor known for his martial arts skills in Tae Kwon Do, is easily identifiable as the Everyman that the audience can latch onto, even if his performance is a little bit hammy at times. William Zabka is by far the film's strongest performer, even if he comes off as nothing more than just a standard movie bad guy (which is not too far removed from the violent teenage black belt he played in "The Karate Kid").
P.S.: International Kickboxing legend Don "The Dragon" Wilson makes an inspiring walk-on cameo as himself...
Long zai jiang hu (1986)
He had an important "Legacy" to live up to...
The 1986 martial arts action flick "Legacy of Rage" has the benefit of being the first starring role of the late Brandon Lee (the ill-fated son of deceased martial arts legend Bruce Lee). It was also the only film that Brandon Lee made in Hong Kong, and likewise the film is spoken in Cantonese (though the voices are dubbed - as the practice at that time was to film movies without sound, and then dub in the actors' voices later).
Brandon Lee is in fine form here (despite never hearing his natural speaking voice), though the film itself - written and directed by Hong Kong action veteran Ronny Yu (who would later gain fame in the West with the American horror films "Bride of Chucky" and "Freddy vs. Jason," and the martial arts epic "Fearless" with Jet Li) - is somewhat of a mixed bag; it's more or less a standard action film, with lots of stuff about gangsters, drugs, and John Woo-style gun-play. Also, disappointingly, there isn't much of Brandon Lee using his father's patented Jeet Kune Do skills against the bad guys being sent his way.
Lee plays Brandon Ma, a hard-working average Joe with a beautiful girlfriend named May (Regina King, in her film debut) and dreams of buying a motorcycle. Brandon's best friend is Michael (Michael Wong), who is also the son of a local Hong Kong gangster and is looking to take over his father's business and thus make a name for himself. He also has unrequited feelings for May, and he soon cooks up a scheme to get rid of Brandon so that he can have her for himself. This scheme would involve the murder of the undercover narcotics detective that has been hassling his father's organization, and then setting up Brandon as the scapegoat. The plan goes off without a hitch, and Brandon is sent to prison for eight years for the crime. But when he learns the truth about what's happened to him and why, that's when he sets out to get revenge and save May.
While we all know Brandon Lee's tragic story (he was killed while filming a scene of his last film, 1994's "The Crow"), "Legacy of Rage" definitely shows the talent the younger Lee inherited from his more-famous father. Brandon Lee may not have been as skilled a martial artist as his father (this is really debatable and a pointless argument, if you ask me), but he certainly may have been a stronger and more charismatic and charming actor. He certainly did not want to be remembered as a martial arts star like his father, but he did want to be remembered as an ACTOR. "Legacy of Rage" may not have much in the way of kung-fu action, but it does show that Lee was a strong and capable action hero, much like he would show in his later English-speaking features "Showdown in Little Tokyo" (1991), "Rapid Fire" (1992) and of course, "The Crow" - his last and most famous film.
So "Legacy of Rage" is worth viewing maybe once or twice, as a worthy introduction to the skills of the extraordinarily talented Brandon Lee.
P.S.: Bolo Yeung (who appeared as a villain in Bruce Lee's last completed film "Enter the Dragon") also has a brief appearance here, as well.
The Theory of Everything (2014)
Simply brilliant, just like its principal subject matter
Great Britain's Professor Stephen Hawking - What hasn't been said about the greatest living thinker on the planet right now?
I've known about Professor Hawking for a long time now and have long admired him, but just two years ago I finally read his 1988 best-seller "A Brief History of Time" and loved it - even if much of Hawking's theories (involving the search for the true beginnings of the universe and so-called "Hawking radiation") went way over my head, despite his attempts to actually simplify his work for the lay person.
James Marsh's new 2014 biopic "The Theory of Everything" is about 25 years in Hawking's early life, from 1963 to 1988, much of it based off his ex-wife Jane Hawking's book "Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen." The film itself is more about their relationship than it is Hawking's ground-breaking work in theoretical physics. He's played here to perfection by Eddie Redmayne (who I'm convinced spent a lot of time with the real-life Professor Hawking and copied his mannerisms almost exactly), while Jane is played by Felicity Jones, and it is just as much her story as it is his; her attempts to understand and love him are almost vicarious for the experience of the audience. "The Theory of Everything" of course also includes his crippling diagnosis of motor neuron disease (ALS), which left him with a life expectancy of just two years - but he's obviously still here more than half a century after receiving that life-changing diagnosis.
"The Theory of Everything" is a beautiful, marvelous film - so much better than the usual Hollywood stuff, even though this film is very much so-called "Oscar bait." But damn it, I loved it. I've always wondered what a screen adaptation of Professor Hawking's life would look like, and now we have it. I guess a more straight-forward look at his career would have to wait, or we can just continue reading his books (of which there are several). But if we want to get an idea of who he is as a person, look no further than "The Theory of Everything."
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Marvel's Man of Steel, I mean, Iron, returns for part-three
No one will doubt the fact that since 2008, the superhero movie genre has just simply exploded into a big-budget Hollywood money-making machine. I still remember the days when just this time 20 years ago, superhero movies were still a burgeoning - if not seriously overlooked (by the mainstream) - film genre, and Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman," or the first two "Superman" movies starring the late Christopher Reeve, were relegated as the best the genre had to offer.
Superhero movies are a dime a dozen now, it would seem. While this was unheard-of in 1994, 20 years later, they're everywhere. It seems that on average, Hollywood is releasing at least two big-budget superhero films a year. This is good for comic book superhero fans who are finally seeing their (modern-day) versions of the ancient Greek gods get the big-screen treatments they deserve. And therein, for this viewer, lies the biggest problem with the latest crop of superhero movies.
In past reviews, I've made no attempt to hide the deep love and respect I have for comic books and superheroes. 10 years ago, I got the opportunity to see what I still consider to be the greatest superhero film of all time - "Spider-Man 2" (2004) - in the theater. Of course, at that time, the superhero movie genre was still gaining wider prominence and acceptance in Hollywood (and by extension, the rest of the mainstream as a whole), and was not the commercial fad that it is now.
My problem with the latest crop of superhero movies - meaning most of the films made since 2008 - is that the genre has become formulaic and commercialized. The earlier films made in the second wave of superhero films 10 years ago, and even the films made earlier than that, whether good or bad, were clearly driven by passionate filmmakers who understood the medium and at least tried to give their films some deeper meaning or dramatic/thematic complexity; Donner, Burton, Proyas, Raimi, Singer, and others knew what they were doing back then. I don't really see this type of cinematic artistry, and craft, much anymore; most films are just big, empty, glossy-looking blockbuster spectacles with no greater depth to them than any other major Hollywood film.
What I'm saying is that Hollywood has effectively hijacked what was once the most novel and original of film genres and turned it into formula. There have been occasional flashes of brilliance or originality - "Chronicle" (2012) has so far been the biggest "original" (meaning not based on pre-existing material) movie made during this time, and I'm sure we were all over-joyed with James Gunn's smart-alecky "Guardians of the Galaxy" earlier this year.
But I got way off-track here, and I must go back to what we were talking about originally, which is 2013's "Iron Man 3." "Iron Man 3" is perhaps the darkest "Iron Man" to come out yet. One of the biggest regrets I've ever had of this particular Marvel Comics cinematic franchise, is that Marvel's Man of Iron, Tony Stark, has had some of the most harrowing and dramatic personal battles of any superhero since Peter Parker/Spider-Man. While Robert Downey, Jr. is inspired, pitch-perfect casting as Tony Stark/Iron Man, the films have regretfully avoided the deeper dramatic possibilities that made the original comic book character so fascinating: of course, Tony Stark is arguably the most famous superhero to have ever struggled with the perils of drug addiction (alcoholism).
While a great inventor and superhero in his own right, underneath the armor, Stark was still a normal human being, and he was vulnerable to the same personal afflictions that could affect any one of us. That was what drew readers to his adventures, both personal and societal, and it was always this dynamic that made it interesting in seeing how he overcame it all. The "Iron Man" films have largely taken the "safer" (commercial) route.
In this third cinematic outing, set just before the Christmas holidays, Stark is still his big old arrogant self, though for some reason he's suffering the effects of PTSD as a result of the events of "The Avengers" (2012). This time out, he's battling a terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who may or may not also be connected to yet another corporate rival named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). In the meantime, Stark must also try to rebuild his crumbling relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and maintain his friendship with Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who also moonlights as War Machine (who has since been renamed as the more politically-correct "Iron Patriot" by his government sponsors); regretfully, Cheadle's War Machine is pretty much nothing more than a cameo here.
The first two "Iron Man" pictures were directed by Jon Favreau (who also returns as Happy Hogan, though he's also been pretty much reduced to nothing more than a cameo here), while this latest effort is co-written and directed by "Lethal Weapon" scribe Shane Black. Anyone who remembers Black knows that he was pretty much the screen-writing master behind several witty dialogue-driven action blockbusters - think "The Last Boy Scout" (1991) - back in the '80s and early '90s (before the arrival of Quentin Tarantino), so it's no surprise that virtually every bit of dialogue written here is a one-liner with an exclamation point at the end.
I already stated my ambivalence toward this film series, but I can take pleasure in the fact that this might be the last, and that at least Iron Man seems to fare better when paired up with other superheroes. Robert Downey, Jr. is his usual appealing self, but the movie itself is also a disappointment, if not a completely enjoyable disappointment.
The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
A near-perfect "Fault"
In our current 2014 Hollywood wasteland of an endless barrage of big-budget superhero movies (of which I'm a sucker for), Hollywood's other big obsession seems to be adaptations of popular teen novels. Earlier this year, I was gosh-wowed by "The Spectacular Now" (2013). Now I've just sat down and watched "The Fault in Our Stars."
I just needed a break from the big-budget superhero movie hoopla, you know? "The Fault in Our Stars" was a perfect distraction until "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014) is released on DVD tomorrow. I've been eager to watch "The Fault in Our Stars" for some time now, and let me say that I wasn't disappointed. I knew what the story was about, and wasn't disappointed by the final result. I was thoroughly pleased by this teen love story that like a lot of teen movies of late, invents its own language, lingo, and philosophical outlook on life as it goes along.
Adapted from the book by John Green (which I intend to begin reading later on this afternoon) and admirably directed by Josh Boone, "The Fault in Our Stars" tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus "Gus" Waters (Ansel Elgort), two teenagers who meet in a support group for teen cancer patients. Gus is a survivor fully intent on living a life worth remembering, but Hazel is battling terminal stage IV lung cancer, and knows that her time is finite (after being granted a few extra years via an experimental cancer treatment) - while being cared for by her loving parents Frannie (Laura Dern) and Michael (Sam Trammell). Over time, however, Hazel and Gus develop a close friendship that gradually blossoms into a full-blown romance. And somewhere in there, too, these two also learn to fulfill their greatest dreams and aspirations.
One of the key reasons I was so eager to watch this film is because I have personal experience with the film's subject matter - which is life with cancer: I lost my mother earlier this year to lung cancer, and in the remaining two weeks of her life, which were spent in the hospital, I visited her everyday and in her final moments, I did my best to make it clear to her that she was the greatest mom her only 29-year-old son could ever ask for. This was something I hoped I would not have to deal with until much later on in my life, but you never know what curve-balls the universe is going to throw at you. And I've moved on quite quickly and easily from the grief of having lost her so soon and so suddenly.
Getting back to the film, of all the teen romance novels made into films over the last few years, this is the one that appears to have struck a chord with me the most. I couldn't help but feel that both Hazel and Gus are such strong, positive characters - making the most of whatever time they've got together and having no regrets about anything they do. Shailene Woodley appears to have an amazing future ahead of her in the movies, if only she can get past her persistent casting in adaptations of teen novels. She was quite amazing in this picture, as was her co-star Ansel Elgort, whom I've never heard of before, but he was quite phenomenal in his acting performance here. I admired his upbeat demeanor and humor and the way he was able to keep Hazel on her toes constantly during the course of their romance. But like life, "The Fault in Our Stars" throws us a curve-ball an hour-and-a-half into the picture.
I knew that this movie was going to end the way that it did, but I was not expecting the curve-ball it does end up throwing at us - it's something that truly catches you off-guard and comes straight out of left field, and makes you think about the special kind of cruelty that's dealt by the stars to some people in this life. But what's most admirable here is the way the two teens deal with it, with hope and humor - rather than gloom and despair.
I'm glad that I had the chance to watch "The Fault in Our Stars." I'm sure I'm going to love John Green's book. Right now, I'm listening to the soundtrack, which is also worthy of special mention here. I'm not a fan of any of the artists on it - it's largely, mostly a mix of indie musicians I've never heard of (with the sole exception of Charli XCX and her song "Boom Clap," which I honestly can't stop playing) - but it fits the film perfectly. Many of the songs came from Josh Boone's personal music collection (while others made themselves known over the course of the film's editing process), and I can find no fault with his choices. It's equally as amazing as the film that inspired them.
Keep playing Charli XCX's "Boom Clap" like there's no tomorrow (which is what I'm doing)!!!
"Scanners" - Your mind is about to E-X-P-L-O-D-E!!!
The most talked-about sequence in "Scanners" occurs about 12 minutes in, where a so-called "Scanner" (Louise Del Grande), people born with almost unlimited psychic abilities, attempts to read the mind of a volunteer, as part of a demonstration of his talents. A volunteer in the crowd offers to have his mind read. The two sit down at a table at the front of the auditorium, where the demonstration is taking place. As the demonstration progresses, both men are in clear agony and distress, though one of them is in more pain than the other. Suddenly, the head of Scanner Louise Del Grande explodes.
This shocking, horrifying moment is the key special effects achievement of David Cronenberg's 1981 sci-fi/horror shocker "Scanners," which has the benefit of being the Canadian gore maestro's first international break-out hit. It would allow him to develop up his philosophically-inclined, gore-filled sci-fi/horror template even further with "The Dead Zone" and "Videodrome" (both of which were released in 1983), his only Oscar-winner "The Fly" (1986) (which remains Cronenberg's unrivaled masterpiece, in my opinion), and concluded his run in the '80s with "Dead Ringers" (1988).
"Scanners" was Cronenberg's fifth commercial film. In many ways, it also represents his first effort with Really Big Ideas. "Scanners" promises to be a thriller unlike any other at the time, although psychic-themed horror pictures had prefigured his work here with "Carrie" (1976) and "The Fury" (1978). Elements of corporate espionage, government conspiracies, paranormal research, and unethical medical and pharmaceutical testing - all figure into "Scanners," as well as the usual gun fights, car chases, and explosions.
I first came across "Scanners" about 12 years ago, and was not that impressed; I was on a binge for all things David Cronenberg and I had heard nothing but good responses about "Scanners" - so that was the next essential viewing in my eyes (especially after "The Fly," which I'd kind of/sort of grown up on). Maybe because I was more interested in the gore and special effects than the thematic and philosophical complexities of his work, that I came to overlook "Scanners" the first time around (despite the "head exploding" sequence and the film's grisly psychic showdown at the end). Now that "Scanners" has been given the Criterion Collection DVD treatment, I felt inclined to view the film again and was this time quite surprised and thrilled at what I was seeing.
The film details a war between the forces of Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), an immensely powerful rogue Scanner with dreams of a Scanner supremacy, and those of ConSec, a shadowy corporation involved in Scanner research and development. ConSec recruits an extraordinarily powerful, unaffiliated Scanner named Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) to find Revok and stop him. In the course of his battles, Vale learns to gain a better handle on his abilities - with a little help from his handler Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) and a fellow extremely powerful Scanner named Kim Obrist (Jennifer O'Neill) - leading to a grisly psychic showdown between himself and Revok that no doubt solidified Cronenberg's "gore maestro" reputation and also extensively utilized the grotesque prosthetic make-up effects of Dick Smith (whose work includes, above all else, 1973's "The Exorcist").
Like all of Cronenberg's work at the time, "Scanners" is about the beauty of "bodily destruction" and the disease of the mind or body (though in relation to his earlier work, like "Shivers," "Rabid" and "The Brood," it lacks the perverse sexual content of those films). "Scanners" explores disease of both mind and body, by exploring the effects of pre-natal experimentation (remember, Scanners are born with their abilities), the fact that most Scanners can barely control their abilities (once they realize that that they have them and what they are), and what Scanners are capable of doing to others (the act of "scanning" is described as being able to connect two separate nervous systems through space).
Although the film is still low-budget and features largely unknown Canadian performers, it still does not mean that Cronenberg was working with an inexperienced crew. As I plainly stated earlier, he's a director with Big Ideas, and recruiting Dick Smith to design some of the film's most grotesque (yet ambitious) special effects and gore sequences was a smart decision. Seeing these effects 33 years later, they still hold up and are far better than anything that could possibly be achieved with a computer (I think of Vale's psychic attack on the ConSec computer room as a pristine example).
"Scanners" can be seen as having been quite influential on the science fiction film genre - with two well-known examples that I can think of being Katsuhiro Otomo's epic Anime' "Akira" (1988) and Josh Trank's 2012 found footage superpower flick "Chronicle."
"Scanners" - Your mind is about to E-X-P-L-O-D-E!!!