I'll never forget being twelve years old and watching this movie. It was a groundbreaking experience. The oracle's breasts were one of the first pairs of boobies I'd ever seen (I was very sheltered). I spent months dreaming of that scene and fantasying about this dreamlike movie. More than a decade later and revisiting this movie is a lot less dreamlike, except Snyder's visual style which manages to maintain that description. Otherwise, I was frustrated. It wasn't as awesome as I remembered. There was a lot more talking this time and boring exposition at that. The scenes that fake politics could have been discarded completely and nothing would be lost. Half of this film has the energy of George Miller's Mad Max. It's intoxicating - fueled by blood and sweat. If only Snyder had the balls to do what Miller has and let the experience be singularly driven by the chaos of battle. There's also an over abundance of voice over. While David Wenham's performance is fantastic, it is a lazy tactic used to explain moments instead of allowing the audience to simply experience the moment. I know that sounds nick picky but it really becomes annoying during the movie. If you're like me and you remember this movie being super duper awesome. Do yourself a favor and stick with the nostalgia.
About 45 minutes into the film dentist and bounty hunter Dr. King Shultz tells a German fairy tale to a recently freed slave Django. This fairy tale is about a brave warrior recusing a princess from a dangerous castle guarded by a dragon. This fairy tale sets up the rest of our story as Django prepares to venture into Candy Land, the 4th biggest cotton plantation in Mississippi, to rescue his wife Broomhilda. Embodying the spirit of that brave warrior from the tale. More than that, Tarantino is tipping his hat at the nature of this odd script. "Django Unchained" is a fairy tale. In the beginning of the movie Dr. Shultz finds Django in a deep dark forest. How does he know where to find Django? Are we to believe it's simply coincidence? If you're like me you never questioned that fateful meet up. Reviewer Roger Ebert challenged my perspective of this film by posing that question. Dr. Shultz is the fairy God mother of this fairy tale. Being exactly where he needs to be at all times and always knowing where his targets are without explanation. Even more importantly, he keeps us entertained until the real plot starts and the fairy tale meets it's bloody climax. Django is a film meant to entertain. It's a dark comedy about a slave rising up and becoming the fastest gun in the south. The violence and brutality towards slaves only makes the revenge sweeter. The acting, soundtrack, and visuals are expertly crafted by talented individuals. Christopher Waltz being a standout as the charismatic Dr. Shultz.
Miyazaki has never presented a boring world on screen. His legendary skills and the work of the amazing team at Studio Ghibli are reason enough to experience all of their animation. Spirited Away and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind are two titles I'll always remember and revisit often. Howl's Moving Castle also has such notoriety and in some ways it's deserved. The work of the English dub cast was incredible. Howl's castle is a memorable sight that I almost felt wasn't explored enough. I was excited for every twist and new character. There's so much to take in and then it ended, without ever really grasping my emotions. I believe this has a lot to do with Sophie's character and how her story plays into this amazing world. Sophie is cursed at the beginning of the film and immediately leaves her home out of shame. She is then swept into Howl's story by chance. Howl is a powerful wizard during a time when powerful wizards are being called to battle. However, Howl doesn't want to fight. We're given snippets of lore but ultimately Sophie is the main character and we only witness what she does. There seemed to be so much more ambition beyond the scope of Sophie's plot line, which was the weakest aspect for me. I'm not saying the film is a disappointment because I did enjoy it and I do recommend it. I just wanted so much more than I was given. Almost like I was cheated out of the real story that we only see develop in the background. It's just that Sophie isn't interested in war.
Don't let the missing half a star bother you at all. If I'd had the pleasure of watching this film as a child I'm sure this delightfully dark tale of wizards would live rent free in my head with a five star rating. Harry Potter wasn't a story I was allowed to watch as kid. I'm 24 and just now watching it with my family over the holidays. Yes, I've seen it before one or twice but it hit home this time around. Even a room of grown adults still had a blast with this classic. It's such a fun world to exist in and it's presentation is flawless. It's like a Lord of the Rings kids meal. It's dark and scary, but only enough to keep all ages curious without scaring the children (to death). Potter is a character you can't help but root for. He's a clever twist on the chosen one trope fantasy loves to abide by. We know he's special, has strong magic, and his parents were famous (and left him tons of money). We just don't know what his place in the story is yet. The mystery is welcome as the plot dips into the story of the Sorcerer's Stone, which keeps the mystery alive while providing more questions than answers. When the film ended it was hard not to put the next disc in and keep the marathon going all night.
Growing up I played enough 007 games featuring Pierce Brosnan's James Bond to consider him the one and only. Even though I was only 10 years old for the release of Casino Royale, I somehow felt like they were ruining something sacred to me. So I avoided the series, as my love for classics grew with my age, and I never got around to watching them until now. I'm now 24 and can admit I was missing out as a teenager. I could have learned a lot from Daniel Craig's Bond, who's cool and suave but more importantly human and emotional. I'm not a fan of blockbluster action flicks or narcissistic assholes. I expected this to be both of those things and to my surprise this embodied neither. The pieces of action are fun and well choreographed and the finer moments are acted with sincerity and beautiful landscapes in the background. I'm very excited to continue watching the anthology, which I'm now glad I purchased!
My favorite scene in this film features high schooler Frank (DiCaprio) who takes advantage of a fellow bully by pretending to be the substitute French teacher at his very own school. It's his first day so no one knows any better. He forces the dumb jock bully, who pushed him in the hallway, to read in front of the class. It's a funny moment. That is until the actual substitute shows up and is also fooled by this gig. She's an older lady who traveled across the city to make a small check and now she's leaving empty handed. Frank and his gig are good, but someone else has to pay the cost. Just like all the other people Frank Abagnale Jr. will fool in his next few years of life as a real fake. Frank Jr is the reason we have tight regulation in banking, air travel, and even in the medical field. He smartly found his way through the loopholes that allowed him to benefit from these professional careers without ever being trained. Unfortunately, this overly long film doesn't make forging checks any more interesting than it sounds. At it's heart it plays out like a PG-13 Wolf of Wall Street. Frank finds his loopholes, he gets tons of cash, has sex with a few beautiful ladies, and then the chase begins. Only this story highlights the life of the honest and hard working FBI agent played by Tom Hanks as a stark contrast with the life of a poser. I just didn't think Hank's character is very interesting. He has one good knock-knock joke and that's it. Otherwise, his character feels like the plot device he really is. He simply helps move Frank to the next part of his sometimes interesting story. My biggest issue with this film however is how it treats women. They have absolutely no strength in this story at all. By the time Amy Adams pathetic character is introduced I was sick of the portrayal of weak women. In this way, this film really shows it's age. I revisited this film because I had fond memories of DiCaprio and Hanks working against each other and they have a few great moments together. After this visit though, I think I may be able to put this one to the side for good. It's not a bad film but it's not an especially good one either.
John Nash lived until 2015 and his life meant a great deal for both the world of higher education and for those struggling with schizophrenia. Outside of this film I didn't know much about him and I'm grateful for this experience which educates audiences about this man. Unfortunately, I don't think this film does a very good job of relaying what makes him so important. He's a genius. We come to understand this fact early in the film but I still couldn't tell you what he did as a mathematician. Even though it's the primary focus of the first act of this film, or so you think it is. Like many big releases of the 2000s, this film tries to be too many things. It strives to be a drama, romance, and even a thriller with a big twist. I think at the heart it's a fine romance film and those are the scenes I appreciated the most. Jennifer Connelly is the best thing on screen for the first half. Her presence is spectacular. Until the second half of the film when the script slows down finally allowing Russell Crowe a moment to act, then he becomes a fine match for Connelly on screen. Overall, it's the second half of this film that really nails it. The first half is bogged down by mathematical babble that isn't explained and a few scenes that serve no greater purpose than setting up the film's twist. By the end, after Nash's great speech, I became a blubbering mess. Though if this film was about a fictional character I don't think it would be as rewarding. Is that cheating? I'm not sure. There are not many 2000's films I'd want a remake of but this would be one of them. Nash's struggle with schizophrenia is important to remember and I think this story could be told in better ways.
The biggest injustice of my childhood was missing out on Studio Ghibli films. Surely, my media intake would have went a different direction if I'd witnessed at a young age such imaginative and thought-provoking stories like Spirited Away. This is the very definition of a film for all ages. I'm now twenty-four writing this review after experiencing it for the first time. I've seen many Ghibli films but this one managed to evade me until recently. My expectations have never been so generously met. This must be the most beautiful animation with a hand-drawn foundation that I've ever seen. I was impressed in almost every frame and I fell prey to an overwhelming amount of visual content that I couldn't possibly indulge all in one viewing. This is a masterpiece that will require an annual re-watch. I want to witness every inch of every frame and see what other stories I can find outside of the main one. Though the story of 10 year old Chihiro working in a bathhouse for strange spirits, while trying to rescue her mother & father, is a story I'll cherish each time. What impresses me most though is the amount of love put into this film. All the extra details that artists spent hours upon hours creating and sowing into even the smallest corner of a frame... What magnificent dedication to this artform. I love it.
Looking back on The Hangover after a decade of comedies failing to achieve what this film did, was honestly a really fun time. 2007-2009 were the golden years for comedies; Superbad, Pineapple Express, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. As a pastors kid unable to watch R rated films, I missed out on more talked about movies those few years than I did my whole childhood. Comedies played by different rules during those times and if we're being honest a lot of these films would be canceled if releasing today. Though I believe appreciation is still due. All the films I named including The Hangover make me laugh a lot. There's a lot of jokes I just didn't get as a teenager that I can now appreciate. Though in this case there's more jokes targeted at 13 year old's than their is intelligent viewers, but that's okay. It keeps me laughing and paying attention for most of it's screen time and that's just about all I'm asking for here. The Hangover may not be my favorite from the golden years but it's awesome to see these 3 guys back together.
I won't waste time describing this films famous narrative device or even discussing the plot of the film. Chances are you've see it already. There's no great mystery to unravel or intelligent screenplay to analyze here. This film for a lot of people, especially Americans, was an introduction to India. The best thing this film does is bridge the old India and the new India together through Jamal (Dev Patel). Jamal has seen a lot. His life experience helps him become a millionaire. Though the title itself spoils that ending. He lives through the transitioning period in which India developed from a slum into a global business hub. Just as Jamal goes from rags to rajah so does India itself. The performances are great all around, the cinematography captures India through many different lenses, and the pacing is mostly spectacular. There is a few times in the second half of the film where the films energy felt rather insensitive. Displaying tragic violence and splashy entertainment side-by-side is an editing issue and it rubbed me the wrong way. Otherwise, I really enjoyed my revisit to this best picture winner.
So much for the glory of Rome. So little for the glory of this overrated masterpiece. I once thought this film was one of the greats. Goddamn, it was in my top 10 favorites! I revisited it after a decade of developing as a film journalist and my expectations were met with a swift blow. Gladiator is one of the ugliest movies I've seen. It's color palate is 50 shades of brown. There's a blue sky depicted 3 times and that's the most color diversity we get in it's three hour runtime. Also, one of those times is CGI. God awful 2000's CGI on the same level as the Star Wars prequels. I'm not kidding. The next problem is even worse. Are you ready? Shaky cam. Oh, yes! Remember the scene where Maximus kills a tiger? I used to be in awe of that moment. The whole thing is spliced into a ridiculous number of shaky cam cuts. Every action scene in fact is spoiled by an excessive amount of cuts, close ups, and shaky tracking. I don't think there's even one long take in combat. Okay, but you're thinking the story is just so redeemably good. It's not. If you've seen this film once, you've seen it all. It's hard to forget the big twists, which serve as the highlight of the story. Otherwise, it's a rather underdeveloped revenge story turned romance that serves to please both sexes but fails. The only people I see really enjoying this film are those who want to get in bed with Russell Crowe, which is understandable.
We wonder the first time Jesse sees Celine, how long has it been?
If it was the first time since their meeting nine years ago, surely he'd stop and drop everything to hold her, right? Well, it is the first time and no he doesn't. Linklater swiftly reassures us that this romance is grounded in reality, which is something hard to do in this genre. There's a point after they've been walking and talking for a few minutes that Jesse stops and expresses how flabbergasted he is to see her. He barely touches her arms but we know he wants to embrace her and kiss her. She makes a joke because she's probably feeling awkward. We're unsure how she really feels, yet. They continue walking back into normalcy both actors carrying the weight of time so well. Things are so much more complicated now. And Linklater writes his characters well and as the story unfolds we realize we don't know very much about Jesse and Caroline either. Though it didn't stop me from caring. Linklater slowly unravels their stories. Wants and desires are mostly secondary. Jesse made his move and was denied. "This is not our last night alive." Then she asks him about his wife... A detail we didn't really want to know either. Now she has a real reason to stay away. The dreamer and the realist; I've noticed consistently throughout this film that Celine dismisses Jesse stories as fiction. I'm writing this after noticing it when they're on the boat ride together and Jesse is speaking about Notre-Dame and the soldier who couldn't blow it up. Jesse is that soldier. Celine would have blown it up. This ties into the films major plot point, which is that Jesse wrote a book about the night they met. It's a fucking bestseller, barely. Right away she says he embellished on a few details. She says he made her seem erotic but that she wasn't... Maybe the first film is from Jesse's perspective. Because she was definitely gorgeous and attractive and she still is.
Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell have one hellish track record boasting some of the most talked about horror films of the last two decades. These are not filmmakers who you can simply write off as bad, even though some may try. While sticking mostly to a similar formula, they've managed to find new ways to scare their audience. They make entertaining, crowd-pleasing experiences that take full advantage of the theater landscape, or of a late-night viewing at home. The original Saw is one of their better films too. Even with admittedly shallow characters this film never manages to get boring. John Kramer's games have inspired many evil playgrounds which quickly became non-sense. This first game however is all about the mind of it's victims. We're given time to understand the motive of each unlikable character until we find ourselves hoping for a good ending. Kramer knows his toys too well for that.
"Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone."
There's a gross moment in this mind-bending thriller where Oh Dae-su actually eats a living octopus. At first I thought it's significance wasn't worth it's weight. It wasn't till my second viewing that I realize the living part of that was relative to Oh's desire to consume life after being locked up for 15 years. The character we're introduced to in the first moments, a drunk man with a gift for his daughter, is not the same man who is released from that isolated prison. In a sense, Oh has been reborn, emerging into the world like a baby wobbling about unable to see because of the sun's glaring brightness. The film doesn't truly begin until Oh fights his way to a small victory. A blood one shot take where he barely survives a battle with ten enemies. It's a truly classic moment and a textbook example of a one take. Just as Oh finds hope in this mystery the box opens and we discover the tragic truth. A discovery I hope you'll decide to seek yourself. I was overwhelmed my first watch. My second watch only days later I finally grasped it and fell in love as my heart sank. Oldboy has more inspiration from Shakespeare than it does from the thrillers of the 1990's. It's violent and sexual themes too taboo for Hollywood today. But as Roger Ebert says in his review, "content does not make a movie good or bad -- it is merely what it is about. Oldboy is a powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths of the human heart which it strips bare." There are powerful and uncomfortable moments and questions posed throughout this violent and tragic film and it's all worth experiencing, if not once than twice.
"I don't drop character till I do the DVD commentary."
There's a lot to love and laugh about in Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder but most notably is Robert Downey Jr's fantastic performance as Kirk Lazarus. Kirk is a 3 time Oscar winning performer who takes his roles a bit too seriously. For Tropic Thunder, which is the film that's being made in this film (also titled Tropic Thunder), Kirk gets a pigment surgery to turn himself black and subsequently begins to believe he is actually a black man. At one point he says, "I'm a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude." Considering this is the same year that Iron Man released it was a monumental year for the Downey Jr's return to Hollywood. If you ask me, I believe he deserved the Oscar nomination. Downey's performance aside you need to see this movie because; vulgar and bald Tom Cruise is amazing, Booty Sweat and Bust-A-Nut, Jack Black as a flamboyant drug addict. Really though, there's a lot of memorable lines and characters. This is a comedy I've been able to return to year after year and I always find myself laughing. Bust open a can of Booty Sweat and enjoy this hilarious movie.