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The Film Nest 2014 AFI Fest Awards

The Film Nest 2014 AFI Fest Awards

Over the past two-plus weeks, we’ve had a new review for each movie we saw at the 2014 AFI Film Festival, which took place earlier this month in Hollywood. Over a span of six days, ten films were seen, a full 13.3% of the features screened at the festival. AFI produced their own awards, but only two of their winners crossed our path. With three titles almost guaranteed to make my personal Top Ten for the year, I figured I’d hand out some awards for the films I’d seen. They’re far less prestigious and won’t ever be placed on a trailer or poster advertising the film in question, but they’re “real to me, dammit.”

As a quick reminder, these are the films eligible: Leviathan, Red Army, The Tribe, Wild Tales, Happy Valley, Faults, The Wonders, A Hard Day, Fish & Cat and Haemoo.

Piece of Wardrobe I Most Covet

WINNER: The leather jacket worn by Lee Sun-kyun in “A Hard Day.”

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It was lust at first sight. If I thought director Kim Seong-hoon knew the answer, I would have asked him what the label was during his Q&A afterward. I hunted down an iPhone app called ASAP54 which uses facial recognition software for clothes, in attempt to procure one for myself. No dice. I scoured eBay to find an equivalent and ended up with something that certainly isn’t the same and I know I’ll be disappointed with. While everyone is still clamoring about Ryan Gosling’s white satin scorpion bomber from “Drive,” I’ll be lamenting the loss of Lee’s outerwear.

Best Sports-Related Documentary

WINNER: “The Red Army”/”Happy Valley” (tie)

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Like the eternal Most Valuable Player award debate, I wondered about the true definition of this category. Unfortunately, I created it and I still had difficultly coming up with what it is I wanted to award. The AFI Fest showed very few documentary features during the festival and I happened to see two of them, both related to sports in some way. Therefore, they needed to be pitted against each other. I gave both the same Nest-rating. It just comes down to what you want from a sports documentary, as they excel in different aspects. “Red Army” is the better movie about sports. “Happy Valley” is the better made documentary about its subject. Both are quality films.

Best Screenplay

WINNER: Kim Seong-hoon, “A Hard Day

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The way Kim’s action-thriller weaves together the combination of comedy and tension is masterful. It provided the biggest laughs of both relief and anxiety of the festival, all while it roars back to make sure you start scooting up toward the edge of your seat again in the next scene. The infusion of humor was a welcome addition to the familiar Korean flawed cop drama, making it stand out against its brethren. Kim’s script manipulates the audience like a marionette, but unlike Pinocchio, you’re happy to be bound by strings.

Best Director

WINNER: Shahram Mokri, “Fish & Cat

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After reading the review, you’d probably think this was a Cobainer – I mean, a no-brainer – and you’d be right. The preparation and risk of the one-shot technique Mokri uses to dazzle viewers in his mind-bending take on a subdued slasher film is jaw-dropping. I mean that in the literal sense. My jaw tends to fall down in times of awe and this reflexive action occurred multiple times throughout the screening. Aplomb is not as significant a word for how Mokri succeeds in his experiment, but yet it seems as perfectly fitting as his work behind the camera on “Fish & Cat.”

Best Experiment

WINNER: The dialogue-free, subtitle-less, all sign-language “The Tribe

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While I wanted to avoid the “everyone gets a trophy disease” of these awards, I created this as a special shout-out to “The Tribe.” Mokri would rightfully win if he didn’t even more deservedly win my “Best Director” category. It’s why I put “Best Experiment” below it, so you’d have no doubt which was more significant and impactful. These are essentially my first words on “The Tribe” since my review was in pictures in honor of the film’s concept and it should be stated outright that writer-director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky has crafted an excellent film around a beautiful idea. You are never bored and never lost while never knowing exactly what is being said between the characters on-screen. It proves that the context of the conversation is paramount to the details. It’s the first film of the emoji age.

Best Male Performance

WINNER: Leland Orser, “Faults

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Out of ten films, I believe the only time I mentioned being truly taken with a performance was in the one movie from the festival I truly hated. Perhaps it was in search of trying to find something to praise, but Orser’s turn as a washed-up and broken down cult deprogrammer is certainly meritorious. His voice is reminiscent of Edward Norton’s and he uses it to elevate the material to the degree of almost making it watchable. After just bit parts in bigger movies, Orser’s time as a star should prove beneficial for his future. Casting directors just need to make it through “Faults” in order to hire him.

Best Female Performance

WINNER: Yana Novikova, “The Tribe

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Even if I hadn’t chosen to use pictures for my review of “The Tribe,” I don’t believe Novikova’s performance was really hanging around in my mind immediately after the film. I originally figured this spot would belong to Orser’s “Faults” co-star, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but when contemplating the deaf actress’ performance again, it shined just a little bit more than Winstead’s. All the actors in “The Tribe” have a difficult job to do by conveying wordless emotion, but Novikova has the largest arc and most dramatics to relay, as her character befalls the greatest tragedy. The emotions she’s able to express with her hands, sometimes with a forceful snap and slapping of flesh against flesh, is altogether heartbreaking and enthralling. Though the creative premise will draw eyes to the film, it’s Novikova who keeps them there.

Director Whose Next Movie I’m Most Anticipating

WINNER: Damian Szifron, “Wild Tales

Damian-Szifron

Alongside “A Hard Day” and “Fish & Cat,” “Wild Tales” is the other AFI Fest film which will probably make its way onto my 2014 Top Ten list. What earmarks Szifron as this category’s champion is a little bit of the unknown. Whereas “A Hard Day” is Kim Seong-hun’s first feature, I have a feeling what he provides in the movie is probably the same kind of effort he’ll continue to bring. The film is expertly crafted, but not wholly unique. Mokri’s “Fish & Cat” is downright astounding, but even though I hinted I’m looking forward to his next movie in my review, it’s similar to expecting David Simon to top “The Wire” with “Treme.” It’s just too daunting. Szifron only hints at his potential prowess with “Wild Tales” because it’s not one full feature-length story. However, his gift is on full display with each six of the film’s segments. If he somehow traverses the same path as the debut of other Latin American filmmakers, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu or Fernando Meirelles, to whom I’d compared him, we’ll be in for a treat.

Blu-ray I Can’t Wait to Own

WINNER: “A Hard Day

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This is my de facto “Best Picture” category. There were no two hours in the darkness during AFI Fest that I relished like the time spent with “A Hard Day.” I believe it can serve as the gateway drug for people to watch more Korean films and I hope my disc gets passed around and borrowed as much as a good non-Kindle book. In fact, I already pre-ordered it from YesAsia.com. International shipping can’t be fast enough.

Movie I Most Want People to See

WINNER: “Fish & Cat

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This is the film which proves film festivals can be eminently rewarding. While I probably would have seen my other two favorite films from the Fest at some point, due to a “Wild Tales” recommendation (albeit from a previous festival) and “A Hard Day” being the type of Korean film I actively seek out, I’m guessing there’s no way I would have ever known “Fish & Cat” even exists. It was such a total surprise to me that when I had to leave to go to the bathroom early on, I debated as to whether I should go back into the theater. This is the type of movie that requires word-of-mouth, not the latest Marvel release based on an unsung property. While “A Hard Day” is the movie I can’t wait to own on blu-ray, “Fish & Cat” is the one I hope even gets a release. It’ll take a boutique label with the heft of Criterion to make sure the movie receives the number of eyeballs it deserves. Until then, I’ll pound the podium like Dennis Green to ensure its ass is properly crowned.

Can’t wait for 2015.

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AFI Fest Film Review Preview: The American Film Institute Movie Screenings

AFI Fest Film Review Preview: The American Film Institute Movie Screenings

AFI Fest Film Review Preview: The American Film Institute Movie Screenings

I’ve discovered I have no use for free things. After recently standing in line for hours for a free music show with a friend and not getting in, I realized my time is far more valuable than my money. I’d much rather plunk down some hard-earned cash to ensure I get to do something I want to do, versus chance it purely because it wouldn’t cost anything. When IHOP offers free pancake day, you won’t see me with the fiends desperate to get something they’d normally have to pay for. If I need a pancake fix, I’ll happily go during a less trafficked time and pay my way. Money, I can earn back. Time, I can’t. Someone should write a movie about that (*occurs to me Andrew Niccol already made “In Time”*). Never mind, no they shouldn’t.

The American Film Institute holds an annual film festival in Hollywood featuring independent films, foreign cinema and premieres some upcoming Hollywood releases. It’s a pretty promising mix of movies that have made their rounds through the festival circuit, so it’s a little easier to determine which films may meet your tastes. However, the aspect which makes the festival stand out among its brethren is that it’s completely free. You still need to be ticketed, which of course makes the online system crazy upon availability, but it’s a headache worth enduring.

It just so happened that my first two films at the festival were heavily Russian-oriented. As every American is surely aware, our country, and hell, even most countries around the world, has had, and continues to have, wary feelings toward the vodka-fueled frozen hell-scape. Nevertheless, the political proclivities had little to do with the first film I saw, but weighed heavily in the second. Yet, that’s the one I preferred. In the coming days, you will read about these and many other films from the AFI Fest. Enjoy the journey with me. Take a look at the first film here.

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The Religious Experience of ‘Interstellar’

The Religious Experience of ‘Interstellar’

A Deeper Look At “The Religious Experience” of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’

After being raised under the tenets of Catholicism and completing all the required sacraments leading one to becoming a “good Catholic,” I proclaimed myself an atheist a few years ago. Religious doubts had plagued my young mind for decades, with the institution never once truly interesting me. I went through the motions out of habit for the approval of my parents. I never asked them the big questions cycling through my head for fear of repercussion. They’re not zealots, but I knew they would feel personally attacked. One’s religion becomes a part of their personality, as do politics. It’s why those topics are taboo for dinner discussion and why they’re categories on every online dating site (save for the religion-specific ones, I assume, as you should know what you’re getting into). Movies were influential in pushing me toward this dark side (none of them being named “Star Wars,” though), as Ricky Gervais and “The Invention of Lying,” as well as Bill Maher’s “Religulous” showed me that I wasn’t alone in the doubts I’d had. Due to all of this, I figured I’d never have another thought about God or faith in a positive light for the rest of my life. And then I saw “Interstellar” and it was indeed a religious experience.

Admittedly, using the word “religious” to describe “Interstellar” is an odd choice, as not once in the film are the words “faith” or “God” muttered. This is a rare feat for an apocalyptic film whose narrative can ostensibly be summed up by an R.E.M. song. Movies asking big questions, such as the films of Terrance Malick or even “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” are usually seeking answers as to what God’s role is in our human existence. During the making of “Interstellar,” director Christopher Nolan apparently ruled in favor of the separation of church and slate.

The film is set sometime in the future. Not as recognizable and as near as being able to have a relationship with an operating system, nor as far-fetched and distant as being able to predict crimes before they occur. Unfortunately, it’s bleaker than the futuristic worlds of either “Her” or “Minority Report.” Earth is on the verge of inhabitability due to changes in the climate leading to drought, famine and frequent, swirling dust storms poisoning the lungs of each new generation. If John Steinbeck had been a futurist, this is a story he would’ve written. Farming has become the ultimate scientific job, as even mankind’s greatest space shuttle pilots have been reduced to the occupation.

On one of these farms is where we find Coop (Matthew McConaughey). He’s haunted by nightmares of piloting a crash of one of those space shuttles, but is still enamored with aeronautics. He lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and his son, Tom (Timothée Chalamet), and daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy).

Though expected as the baby of the family and the only girl, Coop shares a strong bond with Murph. However, their love is interconnected in ways neither of them truly know. It’s what devastates them both when they semi-haphazardly discover that NASA still exists in secret operation. The space agency is in search of hospitable planets outside of our solar system. They’ve sent numerous teams to relay signals of their findings back to Earth and plan to send one more. Coop is tapped to be that mission’s pilot. He is afforded two plans: “A” – find a sufficient world and come back to Earth to help transport the human race; or “B” – repopulate the human race on that acceptable planet. “A” would allow him to see his children again, but “B” is more likely.

The one faith-based decision Nolan asks the viewer to make with him is Coop stumbling upon NASA (that part has an explanation) and being immediately handed over the job as pilot because he’s the best they have (without ever being involved to this point; that’s the one you just have to go with). It seems like something out of “Armageddon” and is the type of thing Ben Affleck ridicules in the Criterion DVD commentary of that film (“How do these movies know he’s ‘the best?’ He’s the best oil driller in the world. What about the best espresso maker?” (this is a paraphrase from a decade-old memory)). But taking this leap with Nolan is the first step leading to the righteous path for which the viewer is eminently rewarded. And you’re not doing it blindly. Through the likes of “Memento,” “The Dark Knight” and “Inception.” Nolan has earned your trust.

McConaughey contemplates the wonders of space flight.

Going into this particular screening, my relationship with Hollywood was waning. Both Hollywood – The Movie Factory and Hollywood – The Location. My friend and I had tickets for the 70mm screening at the Arclight Cinerama dome in Hollywood. We had picked up some food prior to arrival and were hoping to consume it on one of the myriad tables just outside the theater. The tables happen to be patio seating for a restaurant inside. No one was using them, yet we sought approval from the staff. It was granted as long as we stayed outside, separate from everyone else. No sooner did we unpack our meal than were we accosted by the manager of the establishment stating we had to leave, approval be damned. We were unwanted.

During digestion, we strolled past a long line of people, evidently waiting for a test screening to let them in. Out of curiosity, my friend asked some of the people what they were there to see. He was met with stares, indignation and a feint “I don’t know,” as if the screening company’s non-disclosure agreement included the name of the film they hadn’t even seen. Again, who cares about us?

We were about to ostracize ourselves from Hollywood before we could be excommunicated, but “Interstellar” changed everything. As we sat in our seats, directly in front of us was The Jew Hunter. Christoph Waltz – sat next to a date – prepared to bask in Nolan’s latest vision along with the rest of the congregation. It’s the type of experience that is quintessentially Hollywood and though I wanted to give the man his deserved props, as an L.A. resident, you agree to be above such things the second you sign your lease. Either way, it assured an exceptional evening and by the end of the film, my love with Hollywood – The Location and most especially Hollywood – The Movie Factory, was back on.

It became cliché to compare “Interstellar” to Stanley Kubrick’s seminal “2001: A Space Odyssey” from the moment it was announced. However, it does have similar themes on its mind and doesn’t shy away from the comparisons, almost inviting them at times. Jarring cuts to the silence of space, reflections of space travel bouncing off our heroes’ helmets and even a shot that looks like the resurrection of the star-child. They all serve to remind the viewer of the 1968 masterpiece, but introduce a new generation perhaps baffled by Kubrick’s cold vision to the same grand questions asked through a slightly more straight-forward narrative.

A key component to the religious experience of “Interstellar” beyond the narrative is the score by Hans Zimmer. It’s reminiscent of 1980s John Carpenter music, but re-mastered for 2014. Instead of synthesizers, though, Zimmer employs a pipe organ as the main instrument of sound. The organ drives the epic nature of the film and provides a sensation of being in church, worshipping at the altar. It’s like being bathed in sonic holy water.

The film could not have come at a better time for me, as my adoration for the medium will be meeting its biggest test since I was in college, over the next week.  Mainly thanks to the AFI Film Festival, I’ll have seen 14 new films in an eight-day span. While I welcome the opportunity, it’s become increasingly difficult to find rewarding experiences on screen. Religious people have faith that in due time, they will be rewarded. I made the choice to abandon religion because I no longer believed in that concept. I believe whatever reward that awaits me will be in this life, on this planet, merited by the type of person I am. Not whom I choose to follow.

In addition to my spiritual faith, my faith in film had taken a hit. I no longer had faith a new film would reward me spurred by countless (although there are constant articles attempting to put a number on them) remakes, sequels and based-on-a-property movies being cranked out of the system. Instead it was a wish and a hope. Originality and uniqueness of vision are difficult to find.

“Interstellar” feels like a rebirth. As the characters go in search of another planet to rebuild civilization, the film provides a new direction as to where cinema can go. It’s not structurally unique, but it’s a visual, emotional and mental spectacle. If you doubt the path movies are on, “Interstellar” will steer you in the right direction. It’s a film that demands repeat viewings. Not because it’s incomprehensible otherwise, but because it instills moviegoers with a sense of purpose. I no longer believe in a higher power, but I do believe in Christopher Nolan. I can’t wait to revisit “Interstellar.” After all, you don’t go to church once and say, “All right. I got it.” You go for the promise of salvation.

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Jake Gylenhaal’s ‘Nightcrawler’ Examined as a Superhero Origin Film

Jake Gylenhaal’s ‘Nightcrawler’ Examined as a Superhero Origin Film

Jake Gylenhaal’s ‘Nightcrawler’ Examined as a Superhero Origin Film

To the chagrin of many but the celebration of more, comic book films are not going away any time soon, as the recent DC and Marvel announcements of their superhero slates over the next half-decade-plus would suggest. Any fan of these announcements hearing the name “Nightcrawler,” immediately conjures up images in their mind of the blue-skinned, tri-fingered, betailed mutant also known as Kurt Wagner, from Marvel’s “X-Men” series. Writer-director Dan Gilroy’s recently released film has nothing to do with that character, but distributor Open Road Films certainly wishes it had after a meager $10.4 million opening weekend. The film deserves a much bigger audience than it’s received so far, so let’s pretend it’s just an elaborate origin film for the devilish teleporter and how that would even work.

The inarguable Greatest Superhero Origin Film of All-Time™ is “Unbreakable.” This is inarguable because it’s been typed out and can’t/won’t be deleted even if such a statement receives a written backlash. If Movie Moses handed out ten film commandments, “Thou shalt comprehend the brilliance of ‘Unbreakable’” would be one of the first three etched in stone. M. Night Shyamalan’s 2000 masterpiece towers over the other comic book movies introducing their heroes’ backstories because it dares to devote its entire runtime to developing the evolution of David Dunn (Bruce Willis) into the inverse persona of Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price. What most films spend their first act getting out of the way, Shyamalan relishes in for all three of his. This is the model for which “’Nightcrawler’ as Superhero Origin Film” should be viewed.

Jake Gyllenhaal is Louis Bloom and is a creep from frame one. He has a bit of a hunch only the mother of a Notre Dame bell-ringer could love. His hair hovers between being too short for a ponytail and too long to be groomed neatly, so he just gives himself a Graham Zusi. When we first meet him, he’s using bolt cutters to trim a wire fence so he can steal the metal and pawn it off on a construction site. He bashes the face of the security guard attempting to stop him and claims his victim’s watch for good measure.

Louis hasn’t found his calling yet, outside of not really wanting to work for anyone except himself. Of course, you quickly question how one can afford any type of shelter on the salary received by selling stolen metal. However, he has a gift for gab and an incredible bout of self-confidence/narcissism. This provides him with the fortitude/lack-of-self-awareness required when he decides to become the scum of the earth. Your first thought might be “paparazzi?” Worse. He captures tragedy of the innocent on camera and sells fear to local news stations.

 

After rubbernecking a freeway accident to the point of pulling over purely to observe the wreck, Louis is joined by a panel van carrying Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), a freelance cameraman who records footage of the accident and hawks it to local news media for profit. Louis is instantly intrigued and finagles his way into some equipment to go into business for himself. Though less legal, stealing scrap metal was far more moral.

Nightcrawler pic

Jake Gylenhaal’s Nightcrawler teleports his way onto a TV set. Or does he?

Now, what do we know about Nightcrawler, the mutated Marvel character (or, what does Wikipedia state that can be regurgitated to support this thesis)? He has the ability to teleport, his vision at night is supreme, he blends into shadows and is a skilled hand-to-hand combatant.

All of these traits can easily be attributed to Louis. Hell, his hand-to-hand skills were already covered when he delivered a swift One-Punch Mickey-esque knockout to the security guard. His ability to blend into shadows and his night-vision are practically requirements of his chosen profession. Louis essentially goes to work when the sky and the city of Los Angeles are at their blackest. He hides behind his camera in order to capture the awfulness of whatever tragedy-of-the-night he picks up on his police scanner. He is obsessed with framing, at one point moving an injured and unconscious body for a better-looking shot. However, he is limited by the laws of physics. He can only be in one place at one time. He hires an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed), to help him navigate the streets. Then, he buys a better and quicker car. He treats red lights as suggestions, as if he’s in downtown Detroit. But, he’ll never be a match for Joe’s multiple-van service unless he evolves into having that most remarkable of Nightcrawler’s traits: teleportation.

Nightcrawler made his comic debut in 1975, around the time Joe Carnahan would have set his take on another Marvel superhero, “Daredevil” as seen in his pitch-reel from a couple of years ago (http://youtu.be/92cVd9HalHs). That film appears it would have been both gritty and grimy, which is exactly how “Nightcrawler” is presented. However, Gilroy’s film and the character of Louis appear to be more of an 80s throwback. The film is set in the modern day, similar to “Drive,” but doesn’t retain the synthesizer-fused score to back it up. As it would happen, Nightcrawler was granted his own book in 1985.

Although none of Louis’ personality traits make him very superheroic at all – and he’s not – let’s recall Nightcrawler’s demonic physical features. He has the yellowed eyes of a drug addict and an elongated tail similar to all depictions of the devil. What stands out, however, are Nightcrawler’s fangs. He doesn’t use them to suck the blood from anyone’s neck, Edward Cullen-style. They’re ornamental. Louis is prone to bouts of rage, exposing his chompers and making him appear to be the deranged individual he certainly embodies. He’s just a lot more bark than (literal) bite.

Whereas David Dunn puts on his hooded rainjacket to fully embrace his superheroic persona and Kurt Wagner possesses his gifts whether he dons his Nightcrawler gear or not, Louis comes in costume. He perpetually sports a pair of Clubmaster Ray-Bans and the aforementioned ill-gotten and ill-fitting watch dangles off his wrist like what Borat would call “sleeve of wizard.” This may seem a little Lincoln-and-Kennedy, but it’s supposed to be.

Nightcrawler’s only appearance on film to date was in 2003’s “X2: X-Men United.” Three years after the franchise turned stale in 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand,” Fox attempted to reboot the franchise with an origin story of the series’ most popular character with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” It was supposed to be followed up with an already in-development Magneto origin film, but due to the first film’s critical failings, the magnetic man with the helmet never got his turn in the spotlight.

The Marvel movie studio was not at the helm for any of these X-Men installments and perhaps never will be, as long as Fox continues to crank out the celluloid rights-retainers. Open Road is giving the chance to experience what neither Fox will nor Marvel can. Channing Tatum has recently been talking up a Gambit solo movie for Fox sometime in the future, but “Nightcrawler” is here right now.

Louis says toward the end of the film, “if you’re seeing me, you’re having the worst day of your life.” But, X-Men/Marvel/superhero fans, you should see him. Get your superhero fix before Marvel’s Phase Four announcement. If you view the film through your Marvel-ized ruby-quartz Cyclops goggles, Louis Bloom is just a sequel away from becoming Kurt Wagner. If you throw superhero-sized money at, you might be treated with two additional films, the likes of which Shyamalan was never able to deliver. It may just be a mind-game in order to get more butts in seats; a ruse to market the film in a way the distributor didn’t (and legally couldn’t), but no matter the spin, if “Nightcrawler” receives the attention it deserves, a job has been done. And no tragedies were preyed on in doing so (box-office performance aside).

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Watching More Movies: Leo DiCaprio’s Early Film ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’

Watching More Movies: Leo DiCaprio’s Early Film ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’

Watching More Movies: Leo DiCaprio’s Early Film ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’

Since the release of “The Lone Ranger,” I’ve read a number of articles lamenting the choice of roles Johnny Depp has taken as of late. So many of them have been caked in make-up, from four “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies to “Alice in Wonderland” and of course “The Long Ranger.”  A large portion of those movies in that last decade span were directed by Tim Burton and their first collaboration in 1990’s “Edward Scissorhands” appears to be where all the capital-A “acting” appears to stem from. However, he did many “regular” roles between that and the first “Pirates” movie. Although that wasn’t my reason for seeing it, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” is one of them.

Depp plays the titular character, who is the de facto patriarch of his rural family ever since his dad hung himself in the family’s basement. He has an older brother that escaped their dusty town of Endora, Illinois, but remains at home with two sisters (one the de facto matriarch; the other a teenager), a younger was-supposed-to-be-dead-already impaired brother, Arnie, and his mother who has ballooned so much she only leaves the couch in front of the TV to go to the bathroom (she sleeps in that spot and for meals, the kids drag the kitchen table over to her). Due to all this, Gilbert isn’t particularly pleased with his lot in life.

gil grape pic

It is not clear what is indeed eating Gil Grape here.

He’s tasked with looking out for Arnie, which is a job unto itself, as Arnie is prone to wondering off and climbing the town’s water tower. But, he also works at a Mom & Pop grocery store, which steadily loses business to a nearby chain, in order to bring in enough income to care for the family. The only real excitement in his life is delivering groceries to a lonely housewife, so she can cheat on her husband. This is all until Becky comes to town with her grandma and shows Gilbert how different a life can be were he not constrained by his responsibilities.

Though Depp and Gilbert are the eyes through which the story is told, Leonardo DiCaprio as Arnie, in his second major film role, is the main attraction. He’s fantastic in this pre-pretty-boy turn, it’s almost a shame his acting career took a detour into superstardom before he reigned in the plum acting showcases again. Director Lasse Hallstrom has been known for these smaller semi-quirky stories and in this there’s nothing showy other than creating a small world closed off from a large portion of civilization. He’d continue to do the same in “Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat” (also starring Depp) and this is a worthy inclusion in his filmography. Though Depp again would continue to play “regular” characters for a while, perhaps the show-stealing performance DiCaprio shows here is where Depp first got the idea to go bigger. At long last, perhaps it’s time he takes a cue from this film’s director instead of his co-star, and shrink down again.

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Watching More Movies: A Look At The Korean Film ‘Rough Cut’

Watching More Movies: A Look At The Korean Film ‘Rough Cut’

Watching More Movies: A Look At The Korean Film ‘Rough Cut’ 

I’ve always liked the idea of movies about the making of movies, but there aren’t any that I particularly love. “8 ½,” “The Big Picture,” “Bowfinger.” I’m always interested in the concept, but they never cease to disappointment me and are never as exciting as what I’d like to the prospect of making a film really is. Though all fictional films have led to underwhelming results, the documentary side of things has “Overnight,” one of the few documentaries I own due to its rewatchability and genuine excellence. Alas, I’ll continue to go to the fictional well to see if anything will ever equate. My latest foray into this sub-genre was with the Korean film “Rough Cut.”

Soo-ta is an action star. While filming his latest contribution to the genre, he has a tendency to get rough with his co-stars. Every choreographed kick and punch is supposed come close, but never actually connect with another actor. Soo-ta gets a little out of control with technique and as a result has landed his main villain co-star in the hospital unable (and unwilling) to come back to work. After an earlier run in with a gangster, Gang-pae, at a nightclub, who admits to having a feel for acting when he was younger, Soo-ta enlists him to star as his opposition. Gang-pae agrees, but only if their action scenes are as real as Soo-ta has made it for his past co-workers.

Rough Cut

Gang-pae is not the type to do anything lightly. He carries his rough-and-tumble image wherever he goes and puts it into action. In their scenes, his punches land with serious ferocity on Soo-ta, threatening to put the star of the film out of action multiple times. Soo-ta has no option other than to take boxing lessons for himself so he can complete the film the way he wants to and the way the script calls for: with him being the hero.

Part of the attraction of this film was that it came from a script by Kim Ki-duk, who’s an acclaimed director of films I haven’t had a chance to see yet. However, it’s the script where I think most of the film’s issues lie. The character arcs of both Soo-ta and Gang-pae are a little strange. It didn’t seem like they arced so much as they fluctuated up and down, especially as they relate to each other. Whereas Soo-ta has a relationship with a woman who despises that it must be kept in secret and Gang-pae does some wooing of co-star Mi-na, the central relationship is how Soo-ta and Gang-pae relate to each other. Though Gang-pae seems to turn a corner at times, his relationship with Soo-ta remains violently adversarial and by the end of the film he’s exactly where he started. I enjoyed the film enough, but it didn’t rise to the levels of its country’s other output I’ve recently viewed. To top it off, I’m still awaiting a classic “movie about movies,” as this one isn’t it either.

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Watching More Movies: A Look at the 2012 Sci-Fi Adventure ‘Dredd’

Watching More Movies: A Look at the 2012 Sci-Fi Adventure ‘Dredd’

Watching More Movies: A Look at the 2012 Sci-Fi Adventure ‘Dredd’

I don’t know if I’d seen the 1995 Sylvester Stallone-starring “Judge Dredd,” but I’m aware of it. And I’m aware that it was dismissed enough to almost never be heard from again. When “Dredd” appeared last year, I had almost no knowledge it even existed, let alone why anyone would be excited. It opened to little box office fanfare, closing in at only $13.4 million, including the higher priced 3D tickets. Nevertheless, it was well-received critically with a 78% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating. With comparisons to “The Raid” and a clamoring of a sequel, I had to find out what the fuss was about.

“Dredd” follows the titular Judge Dredd. He lives in a futuristic time where crime is even more abundant and “dystopia” the only word to describe the current living situation. He’s part of a new breed of police enforcement. Gone is the “right to a fair trial” part of the Constitution. These new policemen perform triple duty as judge, jury and executioner. Dredd oversees a rookie woman, Anderson, on her first day of duty. She doesn’t necessarily deserve to be a Judge. She failed to meet the minimum requirements to become part of the team, but a superior officer has pushed her through due to her extraordinary ability. She’s psychic.

dredd head blast

Dredd and Anderson pick up one of only six percent of crimes committed that Judges are able to get to, leading them to the Peach Tree high-rises, a 200-story crime-ridden tower the dealers from “The Wire” would’ve adored. It’s home to The Ma-Ma Clan, led by a ruthless former prostitute whose first and last names both begin with “Ma.” Her gang lords over all stories of the complex, operating a drug ring that manufactures a new narcotic called “Slo-Mo.” She’s dropped three dealers who dared to branch out on their own from the top story and when Dredd and Anderson show up as a result, she literally puts the entire community on lock-down until the Judges are as lifeless as those opposing dealers.

Like with “Die Hard: With a Vengeance” retrofitted from an original script, “Dredd” shares so many similarities with “The Raid,” you can’t be faulted for thinking the makers of “Dredd” got a hold of the script for the Indonesian actioner and decided to slap a franchise on it. The crazy thing is, I think I prefer this take on the situation. I believe there’s more characterization here than in the former film, especially with Anderson having a background story and having to grow into her persona, though Dredd himself is certainly not anyone you come to know. While I ordinarily love hand-to-hand martial arts combat, I liked the brutality of bullets searing through cheeks and the science-fictional weapons deployed here even more. It seems dumb to compare two movies to each other, especially ones I both liked, but because the foreign subtitled film has gotten more run, I’d say fans of “The Raid” owe it to themselves to check out “Dredd.”

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Christopher Nolan’s Films Ranked: From Worst to Best as ‘Interstellar’ Nears

Christopher Nolan’s Films Ranked: From Worst to Best as ‘Interstellar’ Nears

 Christopher Nolan’s Films Ranked: From Worst to Best as ‘Interstellar’ Nears

With the release of Interstellar soon to come, which is among the most highly anticipated films of the year, I figured it would be a good time to make a quick list looking into the filmography of Christopher Nolan. We’ll take a look at the rankings of his films to date, from “worst” (relatively speaking, for a guy with so few missteps) to best. Here goes:

8.  The Prestige

When this is your “worst” film, you are doing okay. The magician based tale didn’t quite captivate me the way that I had hoped, but Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson still do nice jobs in their respective roles. I should probably revisit this to see if maybe I am missing something, but considering the competition in the rest of Nolan’s oeuvre, unfortunately, something has to be last.

7. The Dark Knight Rises

The trilogy wrapper that became a global phenomenon is the least of the Caped Crusader’s films in the reboot pantheon, but that is not the end of the world. Perhaps it was the muffled Bane, perhaps the extended story (pushing a nearly 3 hour runtime), perhaps just the fact that it all had to end (or did it, based on the wink-wink finish), there was just something to nitpick about with this tale. No matter, it’s still eminently rewatchable. Nothing wrong with that.

6. Following

Humble beginnings. This was the start for the man that would become perhaps the best director in Hollywood. A little tale of a man who follows others around is creepy, comic and well done. All in black and white to boot. This film has earned its just praise over time, since the director has since blown up to legendary status. Check this if you’ve missed it to this point.

5. Insomnia

A remake of a foreign film of the same name, Nolan hits all the right notes with a strong cast (Robin Williams shout out), a snowy, wintery setting, and a thrilling plot that still maintains its power today. It’s been a while since I have taken this in, but I’ve always held it in high regard. A must see.

4. Batman Begins

The intro to Batman’s world aka “the origin story”, is one of the better of it’s kind around. It actually balances an indy sensibility with proper scope and deftly introduces a character that we have come to know and love over the years, filling in the blanks in a more dark manner. Liam Neeson and Christian Bale taking their talents to comic land? We’re all in.

3. The Dark Knight

Known for Heath Ledger’s sterling, Oscar winning turn, this is the film that made comic book movies a mainstay again for audiences (which in turn, we should all be pissed off for). Still, there is little to gripe about in this genre-flipper that forces its hero into a choice, shockingly killing off a main character near the end of the film. Powerful and haunting for any film, let alone one based on a comic book. Kudos.

2. Memento

The film that was his real breakthrough may be a bit gimmicky in that sense, but still captures the mind of audiences with a man who with a sparse memory and tattoos words on his body to keep his sanity in place. A lower level indy film that seizes the moment, playing with traditional narrative and weaving a tight thriller in the process. Bonus Note: The Special Edition DVD allows a front to back traditional playback option, something that was not ported over to the Blu-ray release sadly.

1. Inception

This sci-fi mind bender is still Nolan’s most complex (and perhaps divisive) work. The time jumping, intricate plot, interlaced with multiple stories and levels of meaning will confound willing audiences for years to come. With strong performances, amazing effects and one of the most inventive plots around, this film almost singlehandedly restored my waning faith in filmmaking at a time when Hollywood continues to lack creativity and originality. A must see (over and over again).

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