Title: The Avengers (USA, 2013) ★★★★½ (out of 5)
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Colbie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson
Date Viewed: April 14, 2011
Summary: Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki and his army.
It’s April 20, which means 2 things - one of which is a national holiday that burned out liberal arts majors are celebrating, but the other more relevant association with this date is the fact that the press is finally allowed to post reviews and write about the movie. So, even though I’m not as cool (or intelligent) as a legitimate film critic, I thought I’d throw in my two cents too - I’ve been dying to talk about since I saw it almost a week ago. And besides, I originally created this blog over a year ago as a place for myself to record my thoughts on movies I watch, and I don’t think I’ve actually done that since September, with my “review” for Drive. So here it goes.
SPOILERS UNDER THE CUT. Nothing major, but please do not click “Read More” if you don’t want anything given away!
Title: Drive (USA, 2011) ★★★★★ (out of 5)
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
Date Viewed: September 16, 2011
Summary: A Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong.
Two weeks ago, I had no idea what “Drive” was about, and the only things I knew about it were (1) Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan are in it, (2) I hated that neon pink font, (Mistral, to be exact), (3) it was produced by an alumnus of my school, and (4) it was directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. Point #4 was what ultimately convinced me that yes, it must be nothing short of amazing. It was also what landed me in the midst of a rowdy crowd of movie-goers at the midnight premiere of the film. As a huge fan of Refn’s previous directorial effort, “Bronson”, I went in with high expectations, knowing that I’d be blown away.
Turns out that ‘blown away’ is too gentle of a term for what “Drive” ended up doing to me. Everything about it was amazing. The trailers do it no justice whatsoever. I was taken completely by surprise at how incredible it is. Every shot is so beautifully crafted – lighting, camera angles, timing, everything. Sound design was absolutely mind-blowing (if the Oscars were based solely on sound, “Drive” would sweep the floor with the sad asses of every other movie that has come out this year so far). The soundtrack was also beyond perfect – I’m not even into that techno house stuff, but it was brilliant and really established the 80’s reminiscence that pervades throughout the film. Even the locations were noticeably awesome – I can’t get into too much detail without giving things away, but once you watch the movie, you’ll see what I mean. I could go on for days and days about how perfectly Refn executed his vision, and it’s especially impressive considering the fact that the film was shot on a relatively low budget.
I’ve never been a huge Ryan Gosling fan, but there is no denying that he’s incredibly talented. He plays the role of a nameless driver with an air of composure and otherworldly dignity, even in the most brutally violent scenes of the film. Carey Mulligan is also mesmerizing to watch, perfectly balancing the naiveté of a wife caught up in things she doesn’t understand and the quiet elegance of a loving mother.
Yes, what you’ve been hearing is true – it’s extremely violent, arguable excessively so. Refn’s stylistic violence has drawn comparisons to Quentin Tarantino’s bloody signature, but these comparisons actually bother me, because they’re so different. I am not a fan of blood and gore, but the scenes of violent nature in “Drive” were simply hypnotic.
Honestly, I have to say that “Drive” is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I even ended up loving how that Mistral font fit in with everything. It’s a slick, beautifully-crafted piece that had me completely seduced from the very first frame to the last. Go see it. Seriously.
Title: Warrior (USA, 2011) ★★★★ (out of 5)
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte
Date Viewed: September 9, 2011
Summary: The youngest son (Hardy) of an alcoholic former boxer (Nolte) returns home, where he’s trained by his father for competition in a mixed martial arts tournament - a path that puts the fighter on a collision corner with his older brother (Edgerton).
I am not a big fan of sports movies, and I generally do not actively seek them out. That’s not to say that I don’t occasionally enjoy them, though - take last year’s “The Fighter”, for example. So all the critical praise for “Warrior”, (along with the fact that it features one of my favorite actors, Tom Hardy) made me decide that I was indeed excited to see it. Off I went to the theater on opening day, entering with a preconceived set of expectations based off of the trailer – a couple of hulk-headed dudes, a classic underdog formula with some sprinklings of family drama and a nice, happy, predictable ending.
In a way, I suppose “Warrior” did meet all of those expectations, as well as many other sports movie clichés. Yes, there was a very clear underdog story. Yes, there was lots of family drama. And yes, there was a predictable and (sort of) happy ending. But the difference between “Warrior” and some cheesy sports flick was the way these clichés were executed on top of incredible performances by the whole cast (Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte, especially). The family dynamics were far beyond what I was expecting - so painful and beautifully brought out by the actors. Tom Hardy’s character, Tommy, was especially amazing - isolated, emotionally damaged, and ruined by war. I was extremely emotionally invested in the characters, and the ending just killed me.
Maybe it’s because I’m a sappy person (a bunch of bros in the theater were whooping and cheering while I sobbed miserably in my seat), but I think the most incredible thing about “Warrior” is the fact that you can’t root for just one of the brothers; you root for both of them, so the inevitable fact that one of them must lose the winner-take-all final was just devastating to me. The film was very difficult to watch (lots of brutal beatings and emotional distress), the first half of the movie dragged, there were serious pacing issues, and it felt a little long overall - but the ending made everything worth it. I loved the ending so much that I ended up seeing it twice in one day – first in a standard theater, and again at a theater with a larger screen and enhanced sound (so, so intense, and I ended up crying twice as hard). I’m not saying that “Warrior” is a perfect movie, because it’s not, but by my standards for a sports movie, it comes pretty darn close.
Spoilers after the cut!
Title: Hesher (USA, 2010) ★★★½ (out of 5)
Director: Spencer Susser
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Devin Brochu, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie
Date Viewed: May 13, 2011
Summary: Loud music. Pornography. Burning shit to the ground. These are a few of Hesher’s favorite things. And they are what Hesher brings into the lives of TJ and his father, Paul when he takes up residence in their garage uninvited. Grief-stricken by the loss of TJ’s mother in a car accident, Paul can’t muster the strength to evict the strange squatter, and soon the long-haired, tattooed Hesher becomes a fixture in the household. Like a force of nature, Hesher’s anarchy shakes the family out of their grief and helps them embrace life once more. (Summary found here)
“Hesher” is a strange movie. It’s not light-hearted enough to be a comedy, but there are too many laughs for it be seen purely as a drama. I admit that I do get overly emotionally invested in movies all the time, and I’m already a huge sucker for antiheroes, but “Hesher” was a different experience than any other movie I’ve ever seen. It was a package of humor, disgust, heartbreak, and frustration all rolled into one. I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I squirmed. The script stumbled a bit, and a bit of tweaking with the color-correction and sound editing was clearly needed, but overall, the directing and cinematography was just as chaotic as the eponymous character - and I mean that in the best possible way. Ass-kicking performances throughout, and mad props to Devin Brochu, who was only 12 years old when the movie was filmed. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s typical smugness that made me want to punch his character in the face in “500 Days of Summer” actually worked miracles in “Hesher”, and Rainn Wilson gave a surprisingly strong performance as a grieving father.
I met the director, Spencer Susser, a few weeks ago, and I still can’t believe that such a loud, offensive movie came out of the mind of such a soft-spoken guy, but I’m so, so happy it did. Obviously, Hesher isn’t for everyone - if you can’t stomach graphic metaphors from the mouth of a bong-ripping, farting, child-endangering anarchist guru about exploded testicles and overwhelming five-somes, or if you’re a self-proclaimed cinephile who has ‘sophisticated’ (or extremely pretentious) tastes in films with otherworldly, ‘deep’ meaning, it’s likely that you won’t be able to sit through most of this movie. But for those who enjoy the uncouth and can repress their nausea long enough for Hesher to redeem himself, this movie is well-worth a trip to the theater.
Title: Lords of Dogtown (USA, 2005) ★★★
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Starring: John Robinson, Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, Heath Ledger, Nikki Reed
Date Viewed: March 12, 2010
Summary: The film follows the surf and skateboarding trends that originated in Venice, California during the 1970’s.
Gritty direction gives the movie authenticity, but most of the acting is sloppy (with the exceptions of Emile Hirsch and Victor Rasuk). Script is somewhat awkward, but the story is engaging and captures the feel of Venice Beach. Bias is obvious, but then again, unlike “Dogtown and Z-Boys”, “Lords of Dogtown” is not a documentary.
Title: The King’s Speech (UK, 2010) ★★★★
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush
Date Viewed: February 26, 2011
Summary: The story of King George VI of Britain, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it.
Perfect casting, well-written dialogue, and beautiful scenery. Delightfully humorous and terribly painful all at the same time. “The King’s Speech” is a consummation of everything I love about movies and is every bit deserving of all the awards and accolades it has recieved. Each scene is wonderfully shot, and although a lot of people complained about Tom Hooper’s excessive use of negative space, I thought the tension created with the space was perfect and fit the movie very well.
Title: Submarine (UK, 2010) ★★★½
Director: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Page, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine
Date Viewed: January 30, 2011
Summary: A comedy which follows a 15-year-old boy with two objectives: To lose his virginity before his next birthday, and to stop his mother from leaving his father for her dance teacher.
Saw ”Submarine” at the Sundance Film Festival last month. A cute, quirky, and very funny coming-of-age movie that takes place in 1970’s Wales. Witty, kinda kitschy, and sometimes incredibly sad, but overall a fun movie with plenty of Wes Anderson-ish charm to go around.
Title: Blue Valentine (USA, 2010) ★★★½
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
Date Viewed: February 21, 2011
Summary: The film centers on a contemporary married couple, charting their evolution over a span of years by cross-cutting between time periods.
The thing that’s most depressing about “Blue Valentine” is the fact that you already know the marriage between the two main characters is doomed, despite the hopeful tone set by their earlier days. The movie was just short of expectations, but ending credits were gorgeous. Would’ve been 3 stars, were it not for the pleasantly surprising bits of humor sprinkled here and there.
Title: Three Kings (USA, 1999) ★★★★
Director: David O. Russell
Starring: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze
Date Viewed: January 17, 2011
Summary: In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, 4 soldiers set out to steal gold that was stolen from Kuwait, but they discover people who desperately need their help.
Stylized, violent, and oftentimes crude, Three Kings isn’t for everyone. Personally, I enjoyed it, but the sensitive nature of the movie’s subject has potential to offend.
Title: Black Swan (USA, 2010) ★★★
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey
Date Viewed: December 17, 2010
Summary: A ballet dancer wins the lead in “Swan Lake” and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan, but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like the evil twin sister of the White Swan, the Black Swan.
The Wrestler meets The Red Shoes. Mind-numbingly frantic and a shivery performance from Natalie Portman. The first time I saw this, I was awed, but the second time around, it seemed kind of ridiculous and laughably dramatic.
Title: The Departed (USA, 2006) ★★★★
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin
Date Viewed: January 15, 2011
Summary: Two men from opposite sides of the law are undercover within the Massachusetts State Police and the Irish mafia, but violence and bloodshed boil when discoveries are made, and the moles are dispatched to find out their enemy’s identities.
All the energy and suspense one would expect from Scorsese, and although the fast pace makes it hard to keep up, the cast does a seamless job holding the twists and turns together.
Title: 127 Hours (USA, 2010) ★★★½
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco
Date Viewed: December 23, 2010
Summary: A mountain climber becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive.
I’ve never been a huge Danny Boyle fan, but 127 Hours was surprisingly organic, despite the contrived exaggeration in Aron Ralston’s character (played by James Franco). I loved the saturation of the Utah wilderness, but felt that the script was a little shallow and could’ve been able to bring about a lot more emotion than it did.