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John Wick (2014)
Jack Traven. Thomas Anderson. John Wick. Keanu Reeves is awesome again.
This movie stars Keanu Reeves and was directed by 2 stunt men, decades-long collaborators of Keanu who worked his action scenes in "Speed," "Point Break," and the "Matrix Trilogy." This alone, is a good indication of the violence in this movie.
Set almost entirely at night in an otherworldly New York City, an asphalt jungle exclusively inhabited by violent criminals whose coexistence derives from a delicate balance of honor code and savage ruthlessness, John Wick is a sleek homage to Sergio Leone's Old West. In a world of lawlessness and violence, breaking the code, is the only transgression.
With his trademark blank stare and sparse words, Keanu Reeves steps into a persona straight out of a Sergio Leone western- an unstoppable force of nature, roused out of nowhere, whose sole purpose is comeuppance.
John Wick is a retired legendary hit-man in quiet agony over the recent passing of his beloved wife. His only recourse, is Daisy, an adorable puppy left by his wife to give his solitary existence some purpose. A charged encounter with Iosef, a braggart Russian mafioso eyeing Wick's 1969 Mustang (love the nod to McQueen!), results in a home invasion that ends with Wick badly beaten, Mustang gone, and Daisy dead!
Anytime a baddie kills a dog in a movie, you know a world of pain beckons. This is where the fun starts.
Iosef had no idea of John Wick's murderous past, and his disrespectful excursion into John Wick's quiet world in a time of mourning has his father, Viggo, clearly worried. In one scene Viggo scolds Iosef, "he once killed 3 men with a pencil," and "completed the most impossible missions," but gave it all up for the woman he loved; thus effectively mythologizing John Wick's badassery for the viewer even before he threw his first punch.
From here, John Wick checks in at the Continental, an exclusive hotel for assassins and criminals. Peace is preserved only by a strict code that prohibits "doing business" in its premises. Half- friends and half-enemies welcome him back, but he says he's just visiting.
Once the action gets going, only the body count is left unsettled as John Wick dispatches of everyone with his John Woo-ish "gun-fu" leaving a bloodbath in his wake.
Jack Traven. Thomas Anderson. John Wick. Keanu Reeves is awesome again.
True Grit (2010)
True Grit is simple, undemanding and pleasurable
My opinion was that the Coens have lost a little of their luster with their last 2 films. Burn After Reading was just too chaotic (even for a Coens film), and A Serious Man, for all its existential questions, didn't feel relevant. But in True Grit, the Coens decide to play it straight, much of the aspects that made the Coens popular are not present here. The Coens chose to glorify the material over the form. True Grit is simple, undemanding and pleasurable.
Josh Brolin is despicable as Tomo Chaney,the man who killed Mattie Ross's father. Hailee Stanfield was absolutely amazing as the headstrong girl who will stop at nothing to bring Chaney to justice. Jeff Bridges as the unkempt Rooster Cogburn is a different Cogburn from John Wayne's interpretation, but has the same level to screen presence. The minor parts played by the other cast are perfect complements to this keeper.
The Painted Veil (2006)
powerful and deeply affecting
Everybody says it, and everyone likes hearing the word, but what does "love" really mean?
One cynic said: "Love is just a ploy, devised by the gods to continue the species..." Surely, not all of us share the sentiment of this hater. Most of us would rather intoxicate ourselves with the effervescent words of the great sages of love... this is why as high-school students, naive and idealistic, WE ALL loved Shakespeare...
"Let me not the marriage of true minds, admit impediments, Love is not Love. Which alters when it alteration finds..."
To some, Shakespeare was a blind optimist, but to many, he was the man, the real deal.... Preaching a kind of romantic love that does not alter when everything else does. A love that does not falter in the face of chaos and fuss...
Walter (Ed Norton) and Kitty (Naomi Watts) do not have this kind of love.
Set in the 1920's, Walter is a bacteriologist more enamored with books and diseases than anything else in his uncomplicated life, but when he encounters the beautiful Kitty, he falls in love and proposes marriage.
Kitty, despite her obvious lack of feelings for Walter accepts the proposal for selfish reasons. She wanted to get married ahead of her younger sister and longed for freedom from her pushy parents.
The couple relocated to the British Colony of Hong Kong. Here, Walter continues his research as Kitty becomes more and more restless. Kitty then meets a dashing diplomat named Charlie Townsend and starts an affair with the married man. Walter found out about this and threatened to divorce the unregretful kitty and make a scandal out of it. Fearing the scandal would ruin Charlie, she begs Walter for a quiet proceeding.
Walter agrees, on one condition. - That Kitty asks Charlie to divorce his wife and marry her. If Charlie refuses, Kitty will accompany Walter and (obviously as punishment) must live deep in a cholera-ravished province in mainland China.
Of course Charlie refused, and Kitty, left without a choice, must live with a husband she doesn't even care about, in the middle of an epidemic, and without the comforts of the life she used to live.
***** A painted veil, based on the classic novel by Somerset Maugham, is a one of a kind romance movie. A story where two flawed, hardly likable characters learn the true meaning of love. Love that is not borne of passion, but of forgiveness and 2nd chances.
Part of what makes this movie so good is how it makes the viewer an accomplice, we care for the characters genuinely and almost will them to be together. We become catalysts with our intentions and our hopes.
Loveless though as they may seem, they do not fight, something worse has happened to them-- they have settled into a kind of cold but respectful indifference towards one another. Never knowing what the other is thinking, never saying the things that should be heard, not because they can't or would rather not, but because it plainly doesn't matter anymore. This void, to me, is the abyss of any relationship.
Yet we have this eerie notion that somehow, for some cosmic reason, they are destined to be together. You see, Kitty and Walter do not necessarily subscribe to the Shakepearian platitudes. They are humans, and they're proud of it. Proud in the that they do not find fault in making mistakes, because there's no fault in being imperfect, fault lies in the inability to forgive AND the inability to learn.
Knocked Up (2007)
Vulgar and Offensive but by no means dull.
I finally had the chance to see Judd Apatow's follow-up movie to his monster hit the 40-yr old Virgin. I've read reviews about this one and after watching the movie, I can understand why so many women think this movie is sexist (and too vulgar). Even its ridiculously pretty star Katherine Heigl is on record calling this movie "a little sexist," and elaborates:
"It paints women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as goofy, fun-loving guys. It was hard for me to love the movie."
I don't think that's the case however. Heigl's comment seemed to me that she was looking at the glass half-empty instead of half-full. Yes, one female character, Debbie (Leslie Mann) was shown to be a bit of a nagger, and one of those clingy type but she was that way only because she puts premium on having a close relationship with her husband. She says she likes to have him "around" and wouldn't mind watching Spiderman 3 with him. I know a lot of guys who would kill for a girl like that.
There was a scene also wherein Debbie showed her husband a "sexual-offenders" map of their neighborhood, Debbie takes offense when her husband, seemingly uninterested, jests, "So we'll skip those houses when we go trick-or-treat." Some say this particular scene paints Debbie as "uptight" while the husband is cool and "goofy". But the flip-side is, any guy could blow off and say: "Hey! this scene shows men as "insensitive" and portray women as "concerned,"that's a little unfair" See? easier to see it half-empty than half-full.
Then there's Heigl's character Alison, well on her way to a successful promotion in her job as an Entertainment News correspondent until a night of celebration with a little too much booze ends up in her getting pregnant from a one-nighter with a jobless, pot-smoking overweight dimwit named Ben. Alison here is portrayed as a career woman (rarely bad) while Ben is shown as your stereotypical man-baby, slacking and getting high in the daytime while turning into lecherous bar prowlers at night. Now if there's anyone who should be offended by this, I don't think it should be the ladies. I mean C'mon!? men are not ENTIRELY like that! (You can stop snickering now lady hehe)
I guess what I'm saying is that Knocked-Up showed weaknesses in BOTH sexes and is a very funny movie because there is honesty in it-- Men, being "men" and women being "women."
The plot may be a bit tired (slackers finally owning up to responsibilities) but the humorous banter between the characters and the subtle commentary breathes life into an otherwise mediocre shot at comedy.
Tasogare Seibei (2002)
Subdued but jolting...
Nope, this is not a slash-em up, artery-spraying gorefest with lots of glorified violence as the title might suggest, instead, this is a film in the same humanist vein as Kurosawa's "Ikiru" or any Ozu. It is a movie about man's plight and the rigmarole of life. The story of a low-ranked samurai named Iguchi, played by Hiroyuki Sanada (The Ring, The Last Samurai) who, against his will, must follow his clan's order kill a higher-ranked samurai to preserve his honor and to avoid being disowned by his clan.
It is mid 19th-century in feudal Japan, Iguchi works as a book keeper keeping track of the amount of dried fish and wine in storage for His Lordship. Everyday at twilight, as his colleagues prepare to cap the day's work with booze, he refuses their invitation and scurries home to attend to his 2 young daughters and his senile mom. Since the death of his wife, he's been up to his neck in debt and has been the sole provider for his family. He badly needs a bath and a new kimono but couldn't find the time because he's busy coughing-up extra income making bird cages in his spare time. Iguchi is a one-man show, but he likes it just the way it is, he adores his daughters and likes watching them grow up. He can survive not having friends, he even refused to re-marry. He lives off the joy of being a father. ----That is, until a childhood love resurfaced in his life.
Her name is Tomoe. Simply speaking, she's Iguchi's OGL-- one great love. But apparently, even courageous samurai warriors wither under the gaze of a beautiful girl. Tomoe came back to her clan's household in the countryside after divorcing her drunk and violent samurai husband. One night, Tomoe's ex-husband, all boozed up and fuming mad, barged in Tomoe's house to claim her, Iguchi was there to protect her and ended up being challenged by the ex-husband to a duel.
Iguchi, of course easily won. Tomoe in return took care of the chores and his daughters whenever he's away, getting closer to the daughters even more. It is obvious that Iguchi and Tomoe are in love but when Tomoe's brother asked Iguchi if he'd consider marrying Tomoe, he refused, citing the oldest reason in the book--- that he's not RIGHT for her. A low-ranked samurai, with a huge debt, 2 young kids and a senile mother, will never be right for a pretty, smart and a well-to-do Tomoe.
But when Iguchi receives an order from the clan head to claim the life of a very skilled high-ranking samurai-- he has no choice but to obey. Fearing an impending death, he finally confesses to Tomoe, but it might be too late...
Nominated at the Oscars for best foreign film in 2004, this Japanese film is lyrical, poetic and glorious in its subdued style. It is a story set in feudal japan but the the theme of honor becoming impractical amid the changing socio-economic landscape is as contemporary as it is relevant today.
How far would you go for honor? Iguchi is a samurai, he is bound by the code of the bushido, but when asked to risk his life to kill a samurai he could not say yes right away. He could not say yes because he had his daughters to live for, he had Tomoe to live for. Will honor console a person who has lost the chance to kiss a loved one? Will it supply the warmth of father's hug. Will it wipe the tears off a widow's face?
Heroes, soldiers... some people do live for Honor. But most people live for life -- and there can be Honor in that too...
High Plains Drifter (1973)
"Drifter" has a unique place in the Greatest Westerns ever.
Fade in. We see a sprawling vista of a desert against a mountainous backdrop. Everything lit into hazy gold by the scorching sun. The dust, unsettling and disturbed. In the distance,a blurred horseman is riding towards the screen, slowly taking form. He is The Stranger, a man with no name, a drifter with no past and no apparent purpose but to seek retribution for the sins of the people in the town of Lago.
Thus opens Clint Eastwood's first directorial effort in the genre that made his legend.. A stranger rides into the town of Lago, his pale horse and his bestubbled face attracting the curious and worried glances of the townspeople. The stranger's horse moving at a slow sinister gait. He stops and dismounts to enter a saloon.. he asks for a drink, only to be taunted by a bored gunman:
" Flea-bitten range-bums don't usually stop in Lago. Life here is a little too quick for them. Maybe you think you're fast enough to keep up with us..."
the stranger, laconic and cool..replies:
"I'm faster than you'll ever live to be...."
A little later, the stranger kills the pompous gunman and his two cohorts. Just minutes after, he meets the town beauty with a sharp tongue and punishes her by raping her inside a barn in broad daylight.
He is now the most feared man in Lago.
He then checks in at the town hotel, the man at the desk asks him to register and give his name, but the stranger won't, leaving us in utter bewilderment even more as to the identity of this man. The townspeople too, are perplexed. As the stranger lies down on the bed, a flashback dissolves onto the screen, showing a man, who turns out to be their former Marshal Jim Duncan, down on all fours, being whipped to death by three men. The townsfolk looking on, indifferent to the fate and the pathetic cries of help from their OWN marshal. Moments before the marshal's death, he cursed: "Damn You ALL People To HELL"...
With this flashback, we know that The Stranger is connected in some way to the marshal, whose death was caused or at least permitted by the townspeople, but the key question is How? With Clint Eastwood purposely depriving us (Genius!) of a clear connection between the Stranger and the Marshal (i.e. He refused to give his name in the Hotel, they could be brothers) interpretations of character of The Stranger spring to mind. The Stranger could be the personification of the town's collective shame and guilt that had long been consuming their souls. He is the manifestation of a life that is beset with fear,.. and of SINS.
When three outlaws are released from prison and plan to make the town of Lago pay for their lost time, the townspeople, consumed by fear, turn to The Stranger for protection, in exchange for ANYTHING the Stranger wants.
Just as Fear corrupts a person's dignity, so does The Stranger as he moves around town getting his hoggish share of "freebies" from the town's merchants. Leather and goods, food and shelter (having the whole Hotel emptied for him to shack in).
These atrocities, strangely enough, seemed ineffective in soliciting sympathy for the townspeople because they are portrayed as cowards, selfish and undignified.
The Stranger prepares the town for battle but will he stay to help them? or will he leave these deplorable people to fend for themselves? DO COWARDS DESERVE PROTECTION? These questions, reminiscent in a way of Snyder's essay "A Nation of Cowards" are put forth by the movie, but in the ending,. The Stranger did protect the town, but only after the town had suffered a great deal did he step in.
High Plains Drifter is a metaphysical western, it is intelligent, rich thematically but very entertaining and even funny. It might not be the best Eastwood western but it certainly has the distinction of being the most unique.
Role Models (2008)
formulaic but VERY EFFECTIVE
A comedy that is smart and ACTUALLY funny without trying too much is hard to come by these days,.. after a string of disappointments this year with movies like Zohan, Semi-Pro and Step-Brothers,..."Role Models" is a welcome diversion.... This movie deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as other 2008 notables like Tropic Thunder, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Pineapple Express. With enough zany one-liners since "The Anchorman", and countless movie-references for the discerning ear, "Role Models" is frolicking fun..
Salesmen Danny(Paul Rudd) and Wheeler(Sean Scott) hop from school to school promoting their company's energy drink called "Minotaur", their pitch? Stay Off drugs, INSTEAD drink minotaur".. danny's been in this gig for 10 years and the dread of being an underachiever is starting to weigh heavy on him, he ends up irritating his longtime gf with his newly acquired misanthropic self so his gf dumps him seconds after he proposes marriage to her... and like everyone who suffers from a brokenheart, danny gets into trouble... they will either go to jail or along with friend Wheeler, they will spend 150 hours worth of community service in a "mentoring facility" where each of them will look after a kid... the choice is a cinch, but the thing is, the 2 kids assigned to them will be a little more difficult than they expected...
Danny gets Augie- a dorky bespectacled fan of everything Tolkien-ish, from dungeons to dragons, from fairies to fawns. He dresses like the lovechild of Harry Potter and Queen Guinevere and is even a member of "LAIR"-- a role-playing game done in public parks where people of all ages dress up as Knights, Kings and magical Creatures and perform a "Battle Royale" with their fake swords, styrofoam shields and magical spells... what's funny is that these people are dead serious about this game. The KING gets utmost respect, infallible and pampered, he even stays IN COSTUME and IN CHARACTER while dining at a local fastfood... complete with guards wiping his mouth with a tissue.. it looks incredibly fun really... Augie also treats the game seriously, much to the disappointment of his parents who think this game is too girlish or something.
On the other hand, Wheeler gets Ronnie. This kid is a catholic teacher's worst nightmare, with an encyclopedic collection of profanities and obscenities in his mind, this cuss-spouting black boy is too young to be obsessing over a particular wonder of the female form.. and calls himself "the booby watcher".
They are off to a rocky start, will Danny and Wheeler, two nitwits, be able to forge some sense of normalcy from the two kids? well, it depends on what "normalcy" means.. =)
The Station Agent (2003)
great little film
After his only friend drops dead (literally), train enthusiast and dwarfism-afflicted Finbar is bequeathed a small neglected train station in an isolated town in rural New Jersey. A recluse by choice (this guy doesn't even have a cellphone!) he surprisingly finds his "walls" in danger of being breached by his 2 new quirky neighbors.
One is Joe, manning his sick father's hotdog stand near Finbar's station. Why Joe would place a hotdog stand in a place where people rarely go... i don't know...(a contrivance im willing to tolerate) nevertheless this Joe is chatty and chummy to a fault, the kind of guy who won't recognize a hint even if bit him in the ass, this guy has absolutely no idea about personal boundaries. This type is fairly common i think, people who get a kick out of hearing the words "get lost" or "get a life" and other derivatives... .. so this Joe is dismissed by Finbar in not-so-subtle ways yet he persists, i wish i had the will of this guy...
Then there's Olivia, separated and stricken by the loss of his son. She's a painter, and by stereotype, also a recluse, not on equal footing with Finbar though, in fact Olivia is drawn to Finbar, not in a sexual kind of way.. more in a celestial kind of way if you like romanticizing things.. they're kindred spirits, both lost and needing direction..
Finbar parries all this attention directed at him, perhaps it's all too familiar, perhaps it's all too routine, perhaps it's too good to be true. When a guy has been subjected to knowing looks and satiric remarks borne of his short stature, it's easy to understand Finbar's attitude, we feel the risk for him, the risk of opening up, the danger of letting yourself be vulnerable... the film has a certain ebb and flow to it, one moment we finally see Finbar enjoying an unlikely friendship with them, the next one we see him relapse into his silent but deeply-suffering former self... but what is great about this movie is that it is not morose, it has an air of hope and a positive outlook that indeed.. even loneliness is better, when shared with someone..
The Wrestler (2008)
This was AMAZING..
"The Wrestler" centers on Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a wildly popular professional wrestler from 2 decades ago who now barely makes ends meet as an aging wrestler in the independent circuit. With his health beginning to fail from his physically demanding job, he tries to amend his life by quitting wrestling, reconciling with his daughter he abandoned long ago and pursuing Cassidy, a prostitute he's been infatuated with for quite sometime. But his efforts failed him, and then he receives an offer to do a high-profile rematch with his nemesis "The Ayatollah", the match could be his ticket to fame once again. Failing health and all, he must decide whether life is better lived inside the ring, or outside of it.
Love. Pain. Glory.
Darren Aronofsky's movie is a deeply affecting meditation of the three, and bears many parallels to life as we AIM to live it. Wrestling serves as a metaphor for Randy's stage, a place that is not offered him by the real world. In many ways, the wrestling ring is the only place for randy that he can be himself, stripped of his humanly imperfections and adulated by his fans. In life, he's never had the appreciation of the important people in his life.
When Cassidy and Randy started to develop a friendship, randy thought they were headed for the start of a beautiful relationship, but Cassidy, though full of warmth and honest in friendship, turns down Randy and explains that she, like randy the wrestler, puts on a show, as far as she's concerned, he's only a customer who pays just like everyone else. Randy is so torn he goes on to binge on sex, drugs and alcohol that same night, TOTALLY forgetting he's supposed to meet his daughter, (whom he has had small progress with) for a pre-planned dinner...
In one night, he lost permanently (in a manner of speaking) the two important people in his life.
In some ways, Cassidy and Randy are both similar and different. Similar because both Randy and Cassidy are in a "world" where the corruption of the body is the trade. Different because Randy does his job out of satisfaction from the glory, while Cassidy treats prostitution as a means to an end, to raise her son. Perhaps Randy saw in Cassidy something that is more important than Glory---- Love.. Randy, at this stage in his life recognizes his need for emotional connection, something real, something that no "perfect stage" can ever supply. But when the world deprives him of this need, it becomes his realization that the pain from inside the ring is no match against the pain present outside of it..
The pain of LOSS and ALIENATION.
Less than 24 hours before the unveiling of the Oscar nominees, I'm surprised there's not much kudos going around for Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler"... but what is even more surprising is the seemingly unanimous opinion that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a "LOCK" at the Oscar best picture nominations while "The Wrestler" isn't even mentioned in many "top 10s" from film sites and film forums. How can a film THIS GOOD be overlooked by the cinephiliacs...
The mad love i have for Slumdog Millionaire stays after my 3rd viewing, the movie's technical virtuoso and the directing are all topnotch and it may very well get the Oscar for best picture... but if THE WRESTLER gets nominated alongside slumdog for BEST PICTURE, i won't be surprised if this dark horse edges slumdog for the statuette.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
visual equivalent of a mouth-watering dessert
Slumdog Millionaire lacks something, depth maybe, so i cannot really call it a masterpiece, but that doesn't take away the glaring fact that this is easily, DEFINITELY, one of the most enjoyable movies (IMO) in recent memory! And whatever it is that it falls short of, it's more than compensated for by its overflowing vitality and panache.
This movie simply was mesmerizing,. slumdog millionaire is the visual equivalent of a mouth-watering dessert. An inundation of flavors, arresting and enslaving like an incipient addiction. The cinematography is so good you forget that what is being shown are images of squalor, poverty, harassment and violence. The kinetic editing, the music, the MTV-style vignettes, (even the bollywood sequence at the end!) It's funny, it's heartbreaking and it has a message that we all could use in desperate times. Everything just fits together nicely and effortlessly in this one.
Jamal Malik is an 18 year old Call Center agent in Mumbai, orphaned by a bloody riot in their destitute neighborhood, --(where the police is more interested in gambling than in peace and order)-- joins the popular game show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." Jamal Malik, minimally educated and a slumdog (from the slums), was able to answer each and every question in the game and by the end of the show managed to get to the very last question for a whopping 20,000,000 rupees. The show's host is outraged and becomes suspicious of Jamal, he calls the police to detain Jamal and interrogate and torture him for his "presumed" methods of cheating.... only, Jamal didn't cheat, and he isn't a genius either,. from the interrogation in the police station Jamal narrates to his captors how he knew of the answers--
Each and every question in the game represents an episode in his life, these were not book-knowledge, or school lectures, but life experiences that had a rather unusual connection to the game's questions...
So by the end of the game, we will have known Jamal's life, family, love and his real motivation for joining the show.