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I love 1970's cinema, intense drama, classic action, foreign cinema and I hate Tarantino for the bloated, lazy, thieving, egotistical sociopath that he is. He cannot make his own movies anymore. They're just half-arsed amalgams of all the *beep* he collects from the bargain bins!
Out of the Furnace (2013)
A modern day Deer Hunter-esque powerhouse
Having just finished watching the DVD, I wish I'd kept a tally. To mark how many times this movie gave me goosebumps! Out of the Furnace is a movie I've waited a year to see for many reasons. One, Christian Bale is known for applying his powerful performances and acting methods to big budget movies, but it's the likes of The Machinist and The Fighter that really tested his mettle. Settling down after The Dark Knight Rises, I knew he'd want a role that could connect with audiences without going all out and transforming himself into something almost otherworldly.
Two, I'm almost dying of thirst for dramatic and well-produced films that stand alone against big budget action movies, without trying to appeal to the same narrow minded audiences. Three, LA and NYC are not the only places that exist in the American Cinematic Universe. There is much adventure to be had in the places you don't want them to see. And four, check out this amazing cast! Bale plays Russell Baze, a man living in a blue collar rust burg with girlfriend Lena. He works at the local steel mill, the same place that is currently killing his terminally ill father and his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) is an edgy kid who resorts to making problems in the attempt to solve problems.
When a cruel twist of fate puts Russell in prison, his brother does two tours with the US Army and comes back psychologically and physically damaged. When Russell gets out of prison, he begins to see just how much damage when he learns that Rodney has taken to the illegal fighting circuits to maintain himself.
With one more fight on the cards, he promises Russell that he's going to quit and change for the better, but upon meeting Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) a psychotic backwoods New Jersey hillbilly, Rodney doesn't come back home, leaving Russell with little hope and even littler choice; risk his freedom and go back to prison in the pursuit of natural justice, or sit back and do nothing! Since I refuse to spoil anything at this point, I could tell you about all of the characters and what they're about, but I'd rather you be pleasantly surprised and blown away just like I was.
Zoe Saldana is such a superb actress and proves it ever more as Lena, Casey Affleck blew me away. I did not expect such an intense and brooding performance and there are times all Bale can do is stand back in awe. Sam Sheperd makes a welcome return as the Baze brothers' uncle Red and anybody else you're familiar with here (Willem Dafoe, forest Whitaker) are solid. Harrelson as Harlan would be effortlessly evil if he weren't so intensely despicable at times. He literally screams psycho hillbilly white trash.
There are so many moments in this movie that are so conventionally sound in their portrayal, delivering stark moments of drama that really hit home, and that's this movie's biggest strength. It's rooted so deep in reality that it can seem laborious at times but it's all very much worth the sitting. The setting of broke and broken Rust Belt America is perfect not only for its subtext, but also for its sense of adventure.
Even though this isn't a clear-cut Deer Hunter type film, it has many of the same elements and its sprawling backdrops are a huge part of that. The only thing that I thought could have been better was its minimalist and often droning soundtrack, as the credited Dickon Hinchliffe seemed to want to go the documentarian route. This movie needed a theme and thankfully Pearl Jam's Release with Eddie Vedder's hauntingly apt vocals provided that theme.
That is as much as I can tell you without spoiling Into The Furnace, but I hope it's enough to make you go see this film and realise that it's much much more than even I make it out to be!
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Hey, where the white women at?
Quentin Tarantino wishes this movie didn't exist so that Django Unchained would look original. If that isn't true, he could have just asked hadn't they ever seen Blazing Saddles when journalists kept probing him on the use of the word N****r!
There are many classics that I love from this era (late sixties and early to mid-seventies) and comedies especially. Today, if you want to be cutting edge, you have to attack what makes people uncomfortable. Back then if you wanted to be cutting edge, you made fun of the worst, most despicable and ignorant that people could be. But you did it with immense observational humour to lampoon the worst of human nature.
I love M*A*S*H, Catch-22 and especially Blazing Saddles. These are three films that really get under your skin as comedies, all for different reasons, but they share the same quick wit and jaw dropping slapstick comedy that have more a theatrical charm that cinema doesn't often have the privilege of witnessing.
To think that before the comedy partnership of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor there was Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little. This is a partnership made in comedy heaven and yet Blazing Saddles is made of comedy partnerships all around with an excellent cast.
Getting down to brass tacks, Blazing Saddles is an outlandish western comedy from Mel Brooks (which says it all) and possibly his best. Centered around the introduction of slave Bart (Little) as the new Sheriff of a western town, at the suggestion of the very man trying to destroy it, he teams up with Jim aka Waco Kid (Wilder) to stand up for that very town, which is very big on despicably out and proud racism.
What makes that okay? It's not okay. It's quite dismaying the first few times and those that said the same about Django should have seen this first, came out of their protective shell and realised that it was nothing new.
Blazing Saddles pokes insurmountable fun at the calibre of racist folk and Cleavon Little is both hugely charismatic and hilarious as Sheriff Bart, in comparison. Not surprisingly, he goes on to win the people's hearts and minds, despite the fact it doesn't stop them being big dumb and very possibly inbred racists.
That's the charm of this movie. It doesn't preach that you have to change. It gives up on the possibility of change and settles for knowing that morons will never change. That's the truth and we should accept it, because nothing's worse than a moron pretending to be anything but a moron, right? I recommend this to anyone so far up Quentin Tarantino's a*** that they no longer know how to laugh at anything actually funny!
Snake Eyes (1998)
A curiously enjoyable mess!
What has Hollywood ever learned about adapting film noir styles to modern day thrillers? You can't polish a turd, but you could polish your shoes with a turd if you were willing to ignore the stink! What makes me ever more curious about director Brian De Palma is that he's capable of making a great film, but then he's also so incompetent at times that you'd think he is willing hate upon himself, like he's being forced to make films he really doesn't want to.
Snake Eyes is a curious case because for De Palma, it stinks, but for Nicolas Cage, it's a film where he can break out the absurdly operatic Cage-isms and still look good because he's surrounded by so much unconvincing acting that it's hard to pin the blame on anyone else.
At a high profile boxing match in Atlantic City, New Jersey - where in De Palma's mind, women all talk like Popeye - corrupt Detective Rick Santoro finds himself witness to an even higher profile assassination as a hurricane whips up outside. With his Dept. of Defence buddy Gary Sinise's job on the line, he helps himself to the job of cleaning up and looking for clues, only to uncover an unlikely plot that threatens everything. What the hell is a corrupt cop to do? Snake Eyes plays off as a '90s Jean Claude Van Damme action movie, replacing roundhouse kicks and leg splits with off-kilter cinematography and Ennio Morricone-styled suspense music and it's only actually the performing efforts of Cage and Sinise that really keep you interested.
What's hard to ignore is the confusion over context and subtext, plot and subplot. Is this movie about Santoro solving the crime or coming to terms with the fact that he's a shitty excuse for a potential hero? The movie doesn't really have an ending, but that's not to say it's open to a sequel. The crime is solved and that's just the beginning of Santoro's woes, not that we care anymore.
I liked this more fifteen years ago than I do now, but there's still no denying that Cage was at his best around this time. It's just a shame that De Palma wasn't, otherwise this might have been a much more credible movie. But it is entertaining when it isn't plain stupid!
Dolan's Cadillac (2009)
Above average revenge film with a great plot.
I didn't need to see this movie. I don't think anybody did, but I read the short story many times over the years. It's one of my favourite Nightmares and Dreamscape shorts from Stephen King and I was intrigued to see how they stretched the plot to make it into a feature length film! You don't need a synopsis from me, not on IMDb. Jimmy Dolan is a criminal living and operating out of Las Vegas. When keeping his nose clean means dispatching of Robinson's wife, it destroys his life and leads him to act out on the urge for revenge as the authorities fails to pin the crime on Dolan and his goons.
What I liked about the King story was that there was nothing to like about any of the characters, all but Tinker. He wrote it from Robinson's perspective and it was nothing short of psychopathic, which is refreshing compared to most revenge stories.
In the movie, the likability factor pretty much stays the same, but the makers seem to have made a point of giving Dolan and his crew all the entertainment value and most of the screen time. Personally, I'd have watched an hour and a half of Robinson planning and executing his revenge trip, but we're given snippets of him going through his trauma and falling apart and, sorry to say, it bored me.
Wes Bentley has never been one to watch, for me at least. It might just be the angry kid scowl permanently etched into his face, but here he does a great job and pulls off some very natural but often overlooked acting.
Christian Slater is just Christian Slater as always. I'm not saying he's incapable of acting because he puts some great energy into his role, but he's one of those actors that isn't cut out for defining different personalities. His face is incapable of change, it seems.
The most important part of the movie, now that my problems are out of the way, is Bentley's Robinson giving up school to join the road crew in the Nevada desert. That's when King's storytelling really transfers well, and the addition of Tink and Danny really add texture to this film's character.
The revenge plot itself and how Robinson goes through with it are superb. I found myself smiling most of the way through it and feeling satisfied by the end credits. Odd that a film can be so generic and run-of-the-mill until the final half hour blows you away, right? If you ever give it a try, read the story first and just skip to the end, that's my advice!
The Thing (2011)
John Carpenter purists, this is pretty damn good... mostly!
It's taken me three years to summon the will to watch this "preboot" of John Carpenter's literal sci-fi chiller, refusing the claims that "it isn't that bad." Lo and behold, I was clearly being a bit pretentious by not giving it a try as it's one of the most effective horrors of recent times, even if it isn't completely original! My fears were few, but it mattered to me that there's a huge difference between prosthetic effects and CGI, especially in movies that aren't considered high budget blockbusters, and it mattered to me that the difference in filmmaking styles were going to have a noticeable effect on the credibility of the classic.
So to the purists that knocked it, and those that haven't tried it at all, I have to say that despite some big risks, this prequel/reboot/preboot mostly works well for me, and I'm hard to please. However I will explain what worked and what bugged me.
It takes place at the Norwegian base featured in the early scenes of the John Carpenter original. Scientists Kate (Winstead) and Adam (Olsen) join Dr Sander Halvorson on an expedition to Antarctica where the UFO has been discovered under the ice. While introducing us to a cast of rather salty characters, events quickly go from foreboding, to creepy, to crazy when the Thing is released from the ice shortly after preliminary scientific tests.
It wastes no time in wreaking havoc, but what I found interesting and very enjoyable, in a freakishly horrible way, was how the creative team put characters and audience within jaw-snapping proximity of the monster(s) so suddenly, and bloody hell, the creature effects in this movie are actually top notch. Every monstrous encounter does Rob Bottin proud.
In Carpenter's version, what you didn't see bore the very effective power of suggestion. Also what you did see scared your pants off. This version stays faithful where it matters, but goes to greater lengths to freak you out while finding a new angle to keep it as original and effective as it can be.
There's still that paranoid suspense when we see how characters act around each other, but sometimes you just know who to trust. It's more a head-on collision of freakish horrors as helpless victims succumb to their own wild terror in the presence of the Thing. There is a lot of acting talent put to great use on your goosebumps and you really feel for some people despite not really knowing them. Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje are safe bets as actors you can count on, but the Norwegian team do a terrific job all round.
Onto the flaws of the movie, there are some dead ends I didn't appreciate as barely noticeable as they may seem. Dr Halvorson was a great character for messing with peoples' minds. I really did see him being the equivalent of Wilford Brimley's Dr Blair, but with more conviction. I felt that the culmination of events for certain characters such as his was a bit of a copout. He and others deserved better/worse.
Also there are scenes throughout the film where the Thing could easily have struck and finished off the survivors with little effort. It didn't, and that corrupted its agenda. There are characters here that are simply forgotten and then just show up later with no explanation. There are also characters I didn't believe were infected, because there was no way they could have been.
The Thing (2011) also goes so far as to incorporate something new into its story, being like Prometheus and coming across as more modern or futuristic than its daddy. In the original, they did tests with blood and heat. In this one, they have different sorts of tests, which doesn't quite work out. Personally, neither am I a fan of fully functioning 10,000 year old spaceships that look more advanced than their pilots. When you bring in new-age technology, you're screwing with the mythology, not building on it. Finally, I wasn't a fan of the pre-credits finale. It simply didn't convey well.
Maybe I just haven't processed it all yet, but that ending just seemed like one last cheap thrill to put the cherry on top or something that failed to be more than meets the eye. It deserved a darker ending than the John Carpenter version and fell slightly short for me but then the mid-credits scenes tied up the film nicely to the events kickstarting the original Carpenter version and that was a great treat from the filmmakers.
In all, though, this greatly exceeded my expectations and I'm glad I gave it a watch. Dare I say that the soundtrack was ten times more suspenseful and chilling than Ennio Morricone's version?
The Darkest Hour (2011)
Not bad for a quid!
I have a code of purchase when picking up a DVD and it unashamedly involves judging the feature by its cover. No offence, it serves me well.
You know when a film is going to be at least half-decent when it reeks of credibility and you know a film is doomed when it won't even advertise it's own actors and director on the front of the box. Darkest Hour was kind enough to lump itself in with the latter. But I was actually intrigued by the trailer I saw on Youtube, months beforehand.
Director Chris Gorak (director of effective terrorism drama Right at your Door) brings us an alien invasion tale set in Russia. It begins with two baby-faces, Emile Hirsch (who I am slowly learning to give second, third, fourth, fifth chances etc.) and Max Minghella (son of Anthony), heading to Russia to become millionaires with their new phone application business plan, only to discover that they have been back-stabbed by bearded douche Joel Kinnaman (the next Robocop).
After meeting some pretty girls, Olivia Thirlby ('Dredd's rookie Anderson) and Rachel Taylor (nothing wonderful but nomnomnomnom) and aforementioned bearded douche, Russia is threatened by a very different kind of alien invasion. Blah blah blah, no spoilers from me!
Several things caused me conflict in deciding if I liked or hated Darkest Hour, so not to keep you here all day:
Likes- 1.) For a smaller movie, the effects are very good, in fact sometimes great 2.) Russia was a nice change for a movie about kids with American accents 3.) It's well designed and shot, style-wise, at least to begin with 4.) It was promising, it really was...
Dislikes- 1.) What do you mean the budget was $30,000,000??? In that case, this is actually pretty poor 2.) Lack of character and the dialogue is so clichéd 3.) Joel Kinnaman as Robocop? That means he started working on the remake one year after this. His acting is so bad that I'm shocked he was ever allowed to work again. 4.) The director was capable of so much better 5.) After the opening events, the film loses aim and becomes a glossed over version of a very bad 70's end of the world movie 6.) It becomes dumb real quick and its budget was terribly misspent
Yes, there are more reasons to hate it rather than like it if you have high standards but all the same, it's still worth a watch if you're 12 and don't care.
I must say that I think Hirsch and Thirlby especially, were better than this, as was the director. I cannot imagine what went wrong.
Why didn't they see this coming in pre-production and do rewrites? It took three people just to write the damn story and for what the story is, that should have been a warning sign right there.
I cut it near the middle at a 4 out of 10, because I have seen worse attempts, hilariously bad attempts, but that didn't make me accept it!
Grown Ups (2010)
Fantastic family comedy!
I can't imagine that a lot of serious comedy fans anticipated this movie at first, given the cast of great comedy actors that weren't having the best of luck at the time! The great news is that Grown Ups, is old-school awesome, with a story right from several classics that made many a Saturday Night Live legend a comedy movie legend.
Five friends - Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and... holy crap, David Spade??? hear of the news that the man that influenced their childhoods the most, their basketball coach, has passed away.
After the funeral, they drag their families to a lakeside resort to relive old times, only to discover why they're not what they thought they'd turn out like and to do something about it.
For a family comedy, it's pretty damn hilariously rude at times, but what I love so much about it is the chemistry and camaraderie between the leads.
The dialogue is the backbone of about 50% of the movie, consisting of Sandler, James, Rock, Schneider and Spade seriously insulting each other while acting like old has-beens. It was very well written and I couldn't help but laugh out loud throughout, which I'm not used to.
The other 50%? Well that consists of belly-laugh inducing stunts, great cameos from the likes of Steve Buscemi and Tim Meadows and some seriously cringe-worthy laughs from wives Salma Hayek (rawrr), Maria Bello (rawrr), Maya Rudolph (huh???) and Joyce Van Patten (blerrghh).
If you don't like it, I'm betting you still can't hate it. As much as this is nowhere near a Sandler comeback vehicle, he does get to shine in his old ways sometimes and director Dennis Dugan (Happy Gilmore, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) injects classic silliness into the movie as much as possible.
Each actor does what he does best here but I felt that - good for him, he really deserves better - Kevin James shone brightest with the verbal and physical comedy.
I seriously look forward to the sequel!
Driven by creative brilliance!!!
Two years after this movie is released, I sit down to watch it, for the first time, in the early evening with the false impression that I'm watching a kind of remake of Walter Hill's late-seventies cult classic 'The Driver'.
Now that I know it's based on a 2005 novel, I can safely say that it's more a most unabashed tribute, bearing similarities in characters and filmmaking style. Nicholas Winding-Refn, you have done a fantastic job, not just in bringing a classic to a new audience, but by also making one of the most quality thrillers I have seen.
This is also the first Ryan Gosling film I have been able to appreciate and good god, does he deliver. It's not just that he had the element of surprise over me, Gosling and Winding-Refn seem to have a legendary working relationship in the making. Film and actor direction are a tight unit in Drive and a testament to conveyance of character psychology.
Drive is the story of a Hollywood stunt driver and garage mechanic by day and a getaway driver for hire by night. The mysterious and somewhat lonely "Driver" finds himself enchanted by the arrival of a mother and young son until their husband/father gets out of jail and brings trouble with him.
Throw in a shaky deal by Driver's manager (Bryan Cranston) and the local mob bosses (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman) and a robbery set up with disastrous consequences, and Driver is thrust into a deadly face-off with the LA mob, in his efforts to protect the young family he has become so attached to.
What's brilliant about Drive is how it's sold to the audience. It's a neat, colourful and musical package that could easily come off as a Grand Theft Auto movie based in the 80's and yet we do not expect the level of thrills, drama, quality action, violent extremity and sheer psychotic shocks.
If you're one for a good psychological thriller cleverly sugar-coated in pretty pink romance, and you're most likely to be delighted by how demented a movie can become, see this! It easily could be Walter Hill, but it could also be Alfred Hitchcock also. The support cast is brilliant, and combined with the retro style and comic book storytelling, all of these things work to create a movie you feel like you've seen before even though you're likely to be shocked and surprised.
We really could do with more of this, and with a budget of $15,000,000, its formula really does threaten to kerb stomp the poor competition of recent blockbusters.
Should be retitled 'Arkin!'
As an equal opportunities film viewer (and one that basically has to watch loads to review them for a magazine) I watched Argo out of intrigue for how far Ben Affleck had come since the last hundred times he was either laughed or screamed out of a theatre or awards ceremony.
The man has lived a varied and colourful life, from his beginnings under Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith, to his creative partnership with Matt Damon and then... Daredevil...
People slag off Arnie for his Austrian accent. People slag off Steven Seagal because... well it's Steven Seagal... people slag off Kirsten Stewart because she can't act and she's additionally miserable.
Me, I've slagged off Ben Affleck because in the two decades he's been making the rounds, he's had a grande total of about three different hairstyles AND the most used one, the one he wears in films where he's a douche trying to be popular - The Bouffant - is usually when he is at his most unlikeable.
So, Argo! He plays a CIA agent in the early 80's that looks like the guy that tries to sell out John McClaine in Die Hard only to have his brains blown out into a glass of Coca-Cola AND the guy put a large dose of his creativity, political knowledge and creative power into a factual docu-drama about how the CIA extracted hidden US citizens from Iran after the invasion of their US Embassy.
One thing I really appreciate other than a drama that catches the emotion and atmosphere of a pretty devastating moment in history is one that looks and feels like the era it was set in and Argo successfully delivers on that level, taking me back to some classic cinema.
Argo, the title of the film, lends itself from the name of the fictional movie production devised by the CIA and cheap and cheerful movie producer Lester Siegel (played by Alan Arkin) in order to legally and safely get into Iran and extract the US citizens with false IDs before they are captured and executed.
I really liked Argo and that came down to Affleck's untypically laid back and sombre performance, along with strong supports from favourites John Goodman and Bryan Cranston. But as I say, not to discredit the good work on behalf of all involved, it is Alan Arkin - the old rogue that brought us Catch 22 - that really steals the show AND carries it for much of the film.
Aside from some breathtaking suspenseful moments, I only have two/three problems with this movie. One and two, it's a bit of a mixed bag that doesn't always stay on track and without some pretty unnecessary scenes, it could have been half an hour shorter.
My only other problem is that I didn't give a flying hoot about the US citizens hidden away in Iran. Clea Duvall, Tate Donovan and Scoot McNairy are three actors I can safely say have never done anything for me, with exception to McNairy's turn in this year's Killing Them Softly (which only worked because you're not supposed to like him).
I feel that this film is praised more for the fact that it deals with a past political situation that is relevant today more than ever after 911 and otherwise it wouldn't have had such critical acclaim.
And as well-made as I can accept this film is, it's worth it for the acting alone, but maybe now Ben Affleck will stop trying to seek critical acclaim and just get on with making movies that won't make him look like a bushy headed yuppie.
Thumbs up, overall, Affleck. But without Arkin, this film wouldn't have been enjoyable at all!
Killer Joe (2011)
Did that just happen???
Welcome back, William Friedkin of The Exorcist, French Connection and To Live and Die in LA... where the hell have you been? It's no secret I suppose that Friedkin, as great as he always was, is one of the laziest directors of all time. Not that he makes bad films. Clearly I'm not saying that at all. I really appreciated his older brutal, gritty crime dramas and such. But he never made anywhere near as many films as he should have and that man could have belted out as many classics as Kubrick, had he cared! Killer Joe marks his return to the director's chair and it's one of the few returns I've anticipated the most in recent times along with the return of Walter Hill.
Killer Joe was a hell of a gamble for Friedkin for a number of reasons, besides the fact that it was a film he knew the mainstream would absolutely not be interested in.
For a start, the movie is white trash Texas AND based on a theatre play. That spells art-house, something Friedkin fans might never associate him with. But even stranger, it spells very offensive art-house that isn't looking to make friends with Texas.
Secondly, the majority of the cast are either taken with a pinch of salt or settled into character roles that their fans would't feel comfortable seeing them in. Let's get that particular ball rolling, shall we? Emile Hirsch (who I don't like), plays Chris Smith, an annoying, horrid trailer trash drug abusing dead end kid who wants to have his own mother murdered so he can inherit her will. He's in trouble and owes money. Not having the money could mean paralysis or death in the near future.
Getting his dad and stepmother involved in a plot to have a hit-man murder his mother (also the mother of Dottie, Chris's brain-damaged younger sister who has been wrong ever since their mother tried to smother her, and played to alarming accuracy by Juno Temple).
In comes cold and somewhat calmly deranged 'Killer' Joe Cooper, a cop that murders people on the side as a second job. He will take the job and wait for Mrs Smith's will to be cashed so long as he can have Dottie as a retainer, meaning that he will do with her whatever he damn well pleases.
As events unfold, everything goes to plan, but Chris becomes increasingly irrational and untrustworthy, as does his stepmother (the awesome Gina Gershon). Sensing everything falling down around him, Killer Joe remains in cop mode and finds himself at the centre of a bigger conspiracy.
It's not so much the plot that's different here, it's McConnaughey as Killer Joe. I've not found him in many enjoyable roles since Dazed and Confused or Reign of Fire, but here, he delivers one of the most extremely charismatic yet psychopathic roles I have ever witnessed and this film is disturbing to its very core.
The odd thing is that as disturbing as it is, you're either going to switch off out of disgust for what happens or the things your eyes will catch - as Friedkin is not one to hold back or be told he's out of order - and if you keep watching, you may very well laugh and find yourself extremely satisfied with the outcome.
Killer Joe is about despicable people and not one of the characters are likable, but saying that, you do often pity Chris's honest but simple and burdened father Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church in possibly his best to date) and Dottie, who can't help but be Dottie, whatever the situation.
This could very well have been a Gary Oldman film, were it British, which is also why I appreciate it so much. It has no shortage of guts and is so willing to offend the narrow minded that it pleases me to no end.
I dare to suggest boyfriend and girlfriend watch this on a cosy night in. If not, it's one for the boys to watch with a beer!