Posted by christopher on May 23, 2011
Runtime: 146 minutes
Plot: The life and times of a mobster.
To be a Goodfella, that’s the life, you’ve got it made. Money, respect, women, drinking, gambling, you’re a part of a family. It’s all that Henry wanted growing up. Forget the middle class, average, monotonous lifestyle, sitting behind a desk writing reviews for your blog. That’s not for Henry, there’s no risk, no adventure, no fun. It’s a grind in the start, being a grunt, a gopher; but if you show respect and don’t fuck up, you’ll get yours, Henry sure did.
I had not had the pleasure of viewing this movie prior to this point. I was aware of it but it had only recently struck me that, as an indisputable classic, I should probably give it a whirl. What struck me right away was how much I had missed not seeing Goodfellas earlier. It’s been parodied and redone but only now can I truly reflect and appreciate what an influence it was on media and our culture. What also struck me was the timeliness of the film. Viewing it on Blu-ray I’m sure it was in some way digitally enhanced, and while not a taxing film visually, it could just as easily been created today as it was in 1990. Also to this point was the surprising applicability in light of the “Jersey” movement, where the film highlighted the women’s lavish but incredibly tacky lifestyle choices from their homes, pets, clothing, and makeup. Same too with the men, all named “Pauly something something.” Same as it ever was.
The topical influence is rather apparent but the directorial influence deserves incredible credit as well. It goes without saying that Scoresese is an incredible filmmaker, and it’s telling in the shots that have been mimicked many times now. I’m thinking specifically of a scene where Henry is first taking Karen out on a date to the club. They skip the line and enter through the backdoor/kitchen. The one shot follows Henry and Karen through the halls and kitchen, eventually leading them to their table, capturing every interaction along the way no matter how subtle. It serves to establish Henry’s character for one as a strong, respected member of the family without cutting for even a moment to switch scenes. Scorsese pulls a similar move in introducing the family in the beginning; a one shot again from a first person perspective.
One piece of the film that initially captivated but eventually drew me out was the narration. I quickly became drawn into the film and into Henry’s character as Ray Liotta led the story. He has a great voice, one that always imparted a bit of youthfulness and innocence in spite of his actions. Unfortunately the film switches with Karen narrating for a short while. This would have been wonderful had the film continued to switch, with new characters taking the lead, discussing their thoughts and the current actions in relation to Henry; it did not, however. Henry, in stead, picks the narration back up which frankly just left me confused in hind sight. In the grand scheme, given Karen’s role, I’m not sure why she led the story for a short while.
The performances, across the board, were quite spectacular. De Niro and Pesci particularly. They not only embodied the mobster personality but both added lightness to the story. As much comic relief as was necessary, often times quickly countered by extreme violence, intensity, and often psychopathy, which in and of itself was fun and entertaining.
Beyond the narration, I found the story dragged. There was a point of transition, after which point it just repeated itself. It all eventually served into the climax but could have been cut into a tighter story.
Still, in my humble opinion, Goodfellas is a made movie.
Posted by christopher on April 13, 2011
Runtime: 94 minutes
Plot: If you don’t know what this movie is about you’ve probably had your arm stuck under a rock.
As the movie goes so shall my commentary. There is really little need for any introduction, back story, or general warming notes to get into the meat of things.
127 Hours is unquestionably a good watch for the story of Aaron Ralston, directing by Danny Boyle, and performance by James Franco. It is entertaining, emotional, and though provoking. It is complicated in and of itself too. As my leading points indicate, pretty much everyone going into the movie knows the overarching story and the ending–in case you don’t, Aaron gets his arm stuck and has to hack it off to escape alive, all of which occurs over 127 hours. So the question and challenge becomes how to make things interesting. I found this was achieved in two ways.
First, the story arc is given the necessary underpinnings of Aaron the person, a somewhat selfish, thrill seeking, engineer-minded individual. These elements are weaved throughout the film, adding context and making sense of how Aaron got himself into being stuck and how he eventually got himself out. These elements also serve as a critical means of breaking up the monotony of you the viewer being stuck looking at Aaron’s face for the majority of the film. The flashbacks also more complexly bring you mentally out of the frame to a new place where Aaron is not stuck. By pulling you out and then pushing back in you keep from becoming completely immunized to what’s going on, fulling appreciating the degradation and desperation of the situation. And fundamentally it just helps keep things moving.
The second challenge and conquering of the challenge is with the photography. Because of the situation, there is little variety in what is actually being shown on the screen. It forces relatively tight but largely similar views. Boyle and his team took this challenge and dialed it up, getting incredibly tight on Franco and the situation but keeping it true to that form throughout even when not necessary. I found this captivating in that it puts a laser focus on one thing be it an object or action or emotion. This I think brings the viewer close to what is going on or what has happened or what is going to happen; the thoughts and emotions of Aaron himself. The same thoughts we all have after doing something stupid or wrong, processing all the events leading up and opportunities missed that could have prevented where you find yourself, or longing for that one thing that would make everything better or at least bearable.
Franco gave quite a fantastic performance. He is responsible for the emotional impact of the hand-stuck-in-rock problem, and develops the character of Aaron from adventurous to instinctive to resourceful to loving.
While I enjoyed the film and found it successful in the major elements of movies, it still lacks that certain something to turn it from good to great. As I think through why, I’m really only left with the lack of delivering something unexpected. Because it is based on a “story of the week” that I can even remember seeing on the morning news, I’m more or less satisfied from the onset. There’s a bit of curiosity just to see it end-to-end, and as I commented earlier the film delves into character elements of Aaron to add a layer of complexity, however there’s no real need to revisit this ever again. The little curiosity is now gone. The experience was pleasant but not pleasantly surprising the evokes the strong love we all end of developing for other movies.
So, see it, enjoy it, don’t buy it.
The Other Guys
Posted by christopher on March 21, 2011
Runtime: 107 minutes
Plot: Allen and Terry, they’re not the gunslinging, drug-busting, ball-breaking, veterans in the police force. No, they’re the other guys, the paper pushers who stumble onto a big case and they’re big break.
The Other Guys is a buddy cop comedy staring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as NYPD detectives Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz. Allen is a practical man; a healthy breakfast, a witty quip on NPR, saving money and the environment with his hybrid vehicle. Terry is by all accounts bi-polar; he’s also driven to succeed, to be the best, and subsequently he’s a bit of a bully. Allen and Terry are partners; an unlikely couple who are exact opposites. Finally, The Other Guys is directed and written in part by Adam McKay, a long time Ferrell partner who’s written and/or directed many of his prior films. With that, and with a long list of high profile names as supporting case, we’ve got a pretty good recipe for a funny movie.
I was cautiously interested in The Other Guys. I was quite looking forward to seeing Wahlberg in a more prominent comedic role. He’s a solid actor who knows a good movie or tv show when he sees one. Ferrell is, well, Ferrell who is capable of making a funny movie, but his goofiness has in many cases been lost in me and the wider audience. But I decided to pull the trigger and give The Other Guys a go.
The best way to describe the movie is that almost every scene is individually entertaining, either being funny or displaying some quite thrilling action (which often are also funny given the over-the-top nature of the shots), however together there lacks a cohesion of each part and so we have a somewhat jumbled mess. It’s like a big ball of snickers, jelly beans, skittles, m&m’s, almond joy, and sour patch kids stuck inside of a red velvet cake with a cream cheese icing with a side of sherbet ice cream; individually all of those sweets are brilliant but together not so much. I was drawn into the movie from the beginning and I laughed throughout, it is just unfortunate that each piece couldn’t be better glued together.
The underlying story itself was a social commentary on the recent market fallout, bailout of banks, and fat cat executive schemes. I commend the film for attempting to provide some transparency to the issue (the credits are paired with rather interesting facts and infographics) while making light of it (something worthwhile itself to help us all just move on). However, again, there were many tangential scenes which really just didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but may have just been too good to leave on the cutting room floor or only provide in extras that will likely be missed by most people. One scene, a brilliant long shot of singular, still images when Allen and Terry go out to drown their sorrows in alcohol, was, well, brilliant but didn’t really add anything beyond itself to the story or characters.
While I don’t think The Other Guys will make it into the mainstream like an Anchorman did, it does provide some similarly funny one-liners that will undoubtedly make me laugh while reminiscing. And like the candy-cake and sherbet, The Other Guys is worth a try at least once because there’s some tasty morsels embedded within.
Posted by christopher on March 7, 2011
Runtime: 99 minutes
Plot: Chris Pratt meets an unfortunate encounter, derailing his seemingly perfect life. He has an opportunity to gain power, prove he’s capable as he once was, impress his father, and win the girl.
I cannot remember how I heard about The Lookout. Because of this, I literally had no background on what this movie about, which was captivating and enlightening. Going into a movie blind leaves one open to what the film plans to explore and where it will or should end. With that, I will continue that point of view throughout this review to hopefully keep you, keep others fresh entering the story. I will, however, note that the title is in fact somewhat telling though is merely a means to an end.
The Lookout starts slow and start emotionally, evoking a nearly instant compassion for the main character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (from such fame as “Third Rock from the Sun,” “G.I. Joe,” and most recently “Inception”). He is placed in a position that made me question my own resolve, my daily activities, my direction in life. This, however, can only carry on for so long without disruption; a focused, real antithesis to visualize the challenge that he must overcome.
Enter Matthew Goode (from such fame as “Leap Year”…that was a joke btw). Goode’s character presents both challenge and opportunity. He is the means to the end in this story. And while he and the plot line his character brings along were interesting at times and encompassed at least half of the movie, it really, in hindsight, is a sidebar to the overarching story. Which is the brunt of my issue with the movie–it’s many things without doing anything particularly well or seeing something through to its conclusion. A wonderful example of this is the love interest for Levitt’s character, the uniquely names ‘Luvlee’ played by Isla Fisher. Luvlee has a fairly prominent part however her introduction, background (or lack thereof), and exit are all too brief without being flushed out, which leaves me to question why she was involved in the first place. I have my thoughts as I’m sure others do, but I am left wanting more, wanting affirmation of her existence. This is true of many scenes and sub-stories in the movie which are introduced and fade away as the writer/director moves to the next piece. Truly this movie would have been solid as a 20-25 minute short film. That is to say, there is something good here, just not in need of a full length feature.
As I mentioned before the movie is emotional: I laughed, I was embarrassed, I was saddened, I was filled with ambition. It’s decent but far from outstanding.
Posted by christopher on February 21, 2011
Runtime: 91 minutes
Plot: Boy meets girl. Girl has an adult son. Son hates boy.
Cyrus, flat out, was an incredible movie. A movie that makes you want to buy it, which sadly in this day and age is quite a compliment–for me at least.
Cyrus follows John, played by John C. Reilly coincidentally, his love interest Molly, played by Marisa Tomei or MT as I often call her, and Cyrus, or Jonah Hill / Jo. Hill for the layman. I jest of course, hopefully awkwardly, which is the embodiment of this film: awkward dramatic comedy. John is depressed having been divorced for now seven years; the epitome of a bachelor with an unkempt house, pizza everywhere, masturbating in bed with half an ass hanging out while listening to rave music. I’ve been there if you can’t tell. I digress. John meets Molly. Molly gives John purpose and happiness. Unfortunately, Molly has an adult son who is not too fond of John, lashing out in a rather devious, demented manner. And cue the laughter.
Cyrus was a miserable joy to watch. And by that I mean that it was truly entertaining, genuinely funny, but incredibly awkward, causing me to many times cringe at the situation unfolding. I’m generally reserved and try to avoid uncomfortable, confrontational situations. Cyrus does the exact opposite pursuing those difficult moments fully while maintaining its comedic sense.
The acting and writing were wonderful. Reilly embodies the everyman, the ‘you’ if you’re a male. He has a wonderful ability to deliver scenes and dialogue slightly off, but fitting given the context. Many times in Cyrus, and other films as well, he spaces the words just so that they’re not fluent but they’re fitting; he does so at times where the character is caught off guard and as you’d imagine is scrambling for the appropriate words. Tomei is emotionally true to her character. She clearly begins with a hardened wall of emotion based on some painful past relationship, but ultimately gives in as you would expect, opening to the kindness and sexiness–joke–of J.C.R. I invariably fell in love with her. Jo Hill is demented and dastardly and the true carrier of the comedy in the film. His uber serious, straight faced moments without question keep the film engaging and funny. Even the minor characters add comedic depth to the film. Specifically I’ll note Matt Walsh, who plays the husband-to-be of John’s ex-wife. His character is reminiscent of the character he played in Old School and at the same time the character played by Craig Kilborn: the dick new husband who you hate but always stands out because of it.
The filmography stood out to me as well. It has a slight touch of the live, candid camera fell but it’s subtle enough to not disgust, unlike some tv shows I know of. The zooming and refocusing of the camera within the frame and scene specifically called out to me in this point. I’m fond of this because it embraced me as a viewer, increasing the believability of the scene as if I were witnessing it play out truly.
Without a doubt, Cyrus should not be overlooked. It’s tight, has incredibly comedic range, and maintains a touching degree of emotion.