Author Archives: The Cinephiliac
If you took Stand By Me and set it in the hood you’d probably get some type of resemblance to 1992′s urban drama Juice. Instead of coming of age while on the hunt for a dead body, Juice follows four best friends coming of age during the aftermath of a robbery. Q (Omar Epps), Bishop (Tupac Shakur), Raheem (Khalil Kain), and Steel (Jermaine Hopkins), all Harlem natives, endure the daily struggles of making it alive in the hood. Life is difficult when you can’t predict what problems you’ll face walking out of your door or visiting your favorite hangout spot, but the quartet find time to unwind, joke, and enjoy hobbies to keep their minds clear of their harsh reality.
Yet, after witnessing a robbery take place, Bishop desperately wants to scratch the itch of a life of crime. Tired of being marginalized by cops and other gang members, Bishop becomes vexed with getting “juice”, or respect. The only way to gain power and respect in his eyes is through robbing. Bishop sets the pieces in motion, pressuring his friends to join him in robbing a local convenience store. However, a murder takes place during the robbery and the boys began to buckle under the weight of their participation, while Bishop grows more arrogant and thirsty for blood. With heat from the law, the boys not only fear judicial punishment, but also the megalomania of Bishop.
“You guys wanna see a dead body? Ok cool, because I just shot someone up the street.”
Juice is an exceptionally well-made film that exposes viewers to the hardships of growing up in the ghetto. Juice explores how environment doesn’t just effect one’s upbringing, but also their moral justifications. Q initially wants no part in the robbery, mostly because he doesn’t want it affecting his beloved chances of entering a local DJ competition. Raheem and Steel on the other hand want respect, but have no intention of hurting anyone. The boys aren’t bad, but they do bad things because it’s common in their environment and often times they are left with few other options.
Tupac plays Bishop with such phenomenal menace that it sticks with you. As a kid, Shakur was on par with Freddy Kruger due to his public persona matched with his chilling portrayals in Juice and as Birdie in the 1994 melodrama Above the Rim. Despite playing a more accessible Everyman in Poetic Justice a year later, Shakur’s haunting speech as Bishop explaining to Q why he is so willing and nonchalant to kill is simply frightening. Writer/director Ernest Dickerson and fellow screenplay writer Gerard Brown give Bishop just enough substance to garner sympathy for his mental health, yet, enough venom to fear a human being able to exude such callousness.
He was a poet hell bent on social change and once a back up dancer for Digital Underground. Can’t you see his big heart?
Dickerson’s quick paced and thoughtful direction allows Juice to stand the test of time despite how 90′s it appears. The interaction of the cast and their individual performance’s are equally impressive as well. Juice shines an important light on the plight of not only marginalized African Americans, but all citizens living in urban low class areas. There’s no excuse for a life of crime, but as Juice shows there is always a reason it happens.
Take a Drink: every time a gun is fired
Take a Drink: every time someone mentions Steel’s weight
Take a Drink: every time a major 90s celebrity makes a cameo
Do a Shot: every time Bishop makes you curl in fear.
America is one of the leading countries in pharmaceutical distribution. Garnering billions of dollars a year, patient after patient is seen by doctors for problems as minuscule as acne to more severe cases like psychosis. The answer to the problem of an unhealthy balance in the body or brain is pills that seem able to correct it. Pills have the ability to deplete or restore serotonin and dopamine levels and can also inhibit the brain’s transmission of messages that control unwanted thoughts and memories. Studies in the area of certain drugs benefits and their full affects are shoddy at best and actions committed while on designated drugs attest to the questionable nature of pharmaceuticals.
Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects follows two separate families whose lives are destroyed by a prescription of pills, inviting a well-needed dialogue on the increasing use and effectiveness of pills. Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison on charges of insider trading. His wife Emily (Rooney Mara) is attempting to adjust to his return as well as her recurring bouts with depression. After a suicide attempt, she finds herself in the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist who wholeheartedly believes in the healing power of modern medicine. Jonathan prescribes Emily a number of drugs before ultimately settling on Ablixa, a new highly advertised drug. However, while on Ablixa, Emily commits a crime, one that brings her life and the life of Jonathan crashing down around them. Jonathan becomes vexed in the attempt to prove he’s not to blame for the career damaging event.
Now I don’t have to worry about quitting smoking cold turkey… life though, that’s another story.
Soderbergh’s direction along with his cinematography (under the name Peter Andrews) makes the vision of Side Effects entrancing to watch. The first half of the film is a phenomenal dark psychological thriller with Emily’s depression being the forefront of the film’s aesthetic. There’s a moody filtered tint to the film and only characters being featured in a scene receive focus in tight, extreme close-ups. Other characters who aren’t contributing to action at the time are blurred almost to the point of being indistinct. Everyone initially becomes a victim that viewers can’t help but sympathize with as their brooding looking world just seems out of balance, skewed by camera angles and images are captured in slightly uncommon ways.
Scott Z. Burns’ script makes for an excellent debate on mental health in America. Jonathan at one point is asked why he left studying in England for a career in America, to which he replies that overseas if you need mental help and medicine you are deemed sick while in America it means you are getting better. Jonathan never asks Emily about her diet, activities, spirituality, or stress levels. Instead he gives her pills that will “stop her brain from telling her she’s sad.” Yet, initially there are no bad guys per say in Side Effects, an example of great character development that allows us to empathize with Jonathan’s personal decisions and desire to provide for his jobless wife and private-schooled stepson. Side Effects shows the gray area in pharmaceuticals, allowing viewers to understand not only Emily, but the doctors who have treated her as well.
Are your eyes seeing ugly things? Are you hearing unpleasant sounds? Is your skin itching? Don’t worry, we got pills for that.
Unfortunately the last half hour or so of the film feels like it’s the product of its own side effects; there’s disorientation, mania, and general what-the-effness through the film’s ridiculous twist that throws all the discourse and character development away for a cheap pretty common shock factor. Instead of sticking with the psychoanalytic thrilling aspect, Side Effects quickly becomes a made for television Lifetime Original Movie and ends the way every film about mentally unstable females usually tends to. What a shame, too, because it was right when I was in the edge of my seat trying to figure the whole thing out.
Despite the hazy ending and scrambled plot, Side Effects is thought-provoking and enjoyable. Jude Law stands out particularly for his portrayal, and Soderbergh’s pristine way of capturing images makes the film reminiscent of a Hitchcock film. If more films dare to confront such an important topic as mental health, then maybe society can start having a healthy debate about the topic and start the process for fixing our obviously broken system.
Take a Sip: any time someone takes pills
Take a Sip: whenever Emily slips back into depression
Take a Sip: for every bad thing that happens to Jonathan after the case
Do a Shot: when you’re confused by others’ actions.
Film is an exceptionally special medium that can tell a story through mashed up moving pictures. Ron Fricke’s Samsara is a breathing testament of a quote from French filmmaker and part-time lunatic, Jean-Luc Godard: “it is not a just image, it is just an image.” Samsara shows why cinema is such a poignant tool that can explore places miles apart, presenting viewers with images they would otherwise never witness. From the directors of Baraka, Samsara moves through various countries exploring different areas and cultures in lustrous ways in order to tell the story of birth, death, and the human cycle of life, or whatever interpretation you get from it.
Samsara is astoundingly beautiful. It’s the type of film that needs to be seen on Blu-ray, in the highest definition, on the clearest, largest screen possible. As a non-narrative film, the images are the beating heart of Samsara, and what captivating images they are. Samsara is responsible for taking viewers on a mind-altering trip through time, space, and culture. It introduced me to practices I never knew existed, like the 1,000 Hand Dance of Beijing, traditional Balinese dancing, Philippine prisoners in unbelievable unison, and watching the meticulous, tedious process of creating a sand mandala by Tibetan Monks. Sure, these aforementioned examples can be found on Youtube, but Samsara is filled with images that aren’t as easy to access. They range from the religious and spiritual to the contemporary and urban, reminding viewers of not only the astounding beauty of life but also its ugly, harsh truths.
That being said, naturally Samsara may not be for everyone, even if non-narrative cinema is your cup of tea; it’s still a commitment to digest. Although the images are aesthetically pleasing, it sometimes feels like watching someone’s hour and a half slideshow. “I mean don’t get me wrong, these are great images and I really dig the music you’re playing over it, but dude I got that thing in a bit so we may need to wrap this up.” Ultimately, with Samsara you’re at the behest of the filmmaker’s eye and what he chooses to show you and how. No doubt this is how all films work, but in a movie with no story, timeline, or narrative you become more aware of it. The “story” thus derives from what viewers project onto it, something that can be rewarding or frustrating if you disagree with how the images are edited together and what meaning you draw from them, if any.
Edit this next to a child crying in fear and you got yourself a horror film.
I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated Sasmara, but I still couldn’t help but doze off a few times throughout it– well, in the film’s defense I had more than two beers and was lying snuggled up on a couch. But I digress; although it’s visually stunning, parts of it drag to the point that you stop focusing on the film and fall into your own thoughts until the next exciting or mystifying image pops up. Regardless, Samsara is eye candy at its best. It’s one of those movies to just have on when you’re entertaining friends or when you just want to drop out and watch something stimulating. Fricke took great technological strides, combining negative film with a digital output and filmed in 70mm just to capture life in the most visually pleasing way he could and his efforts certainly shouldn’t go unrecognized.
Take a Sip: for every time lapse
Take a Sip: for every slow motion shot
Take a Sip: for every scene that you kind of stare at and think, “what the hell?”
Take a Sip: every time you zone out and come to.
If you watch Andres Muschietti’s 3 minute short film Mama, good luck not releasing your bowels in fear. If you watch Muschietti’s hour and 40 minute feature film Mama, good luck not dozing off in boredom. Produced by Guillermo del Toro, Mucshietti’s Mama plays out like a watered down horror film made by someone who read the “Horror Movie Filmmaker’s Handbook.” Mama had the guts, just not the glory. It’s a film that seems to have been made by a very talented artist who just hasn’t reached his full potential.
Jeffery has just killed two of his Wall Street co-workers. In his psychotic break, he rushes home to kill his wife and kidnaps his two toddler daughters, Lily and Victoria. Distraught by the events, he recklessly speeds around the curves of a cliff in icy, snowy weather, skidding off the road and sending his car crashing in the process… you know, because why wouldn’t that happen?
The crash leads the trio to an abandoned house where Jeffery decides to set up camp and debate a murder-suicide scenario. Just when he makes his decision a strange floating figure emerges, saving the girls from death. The figure soon gives the children food, thus beginning an unhealthy relationship with the girls that spans five years. In time, a search party funded by Jeffery’s brother Lucas finds the now feral, malnourished girls. After a custody battle with a devoted family member, Lucas and his apprehensive bass-playing girlfriend Annabelle take the girls in with the help of Dr. Dreyfuss, who wants to use the girls in his case study. Strange happenings begin to take place with the girls in their care, including witnessing them communicate to an unseen presence they call “Mama.”
Muschietti’s visual rendering of Mama is so creepily fantastic that the image alone made me want to cross my chest and pray to the gods I don’t see her in my dreams… but I probably will. The rail-thin figure with stringy floating hair and a pair of askew, wild eyes, looks as terrifying as she moves. Mama transforms frequently, sometimes walking in backward crablike formation, other times sweeping across floors like a puddle of murky water, but mostly moving with the finesse of someone whose limbs are made of K’Nex and twigs. Anytime the figure is on screen I couldn’t help but gasp and feel my mind immediately try not to invite it into my subconscious. Mucshietti also displays phenomenal moments of poised direction. A dream sequence involving Annabel is simply incredible as her tangible reality melts away in front of her and audiences and the apparition takes place in hyper-realistic color and movements. Long takes that often pan back and forth between objects or circle around characters while slowly walking through a scene without a single cut are further exceptional moments in the film.
And you thought this was the scariest “Mama.”
However, the aforementioned accolades are short-lived, and much of the film doesn’t receive the same ingenious style of filmmaking. In fact much of Mama is done in your average, “we’ve seen these tropes a million and one times” style. If you’ve watched at least five horror films in your life then you know the familiar elements used to score one. The standard high pitched strings, loud bang of a drum when a scene is in close up, and also blaring low horns. All the familiar sound effects that happen in horror films are present in almost every scene of Mama, you know to keep the tension up and distract you from the fact that it’s pretty boring overall.
Did I mention this film gets pretty boring? I spent most of the film squirming in my seat from restlessness. Mama spends so much of its time trying to uncover who, what, and why Mama is, that it neglects all the other main characters, making it difficult to understand who, what, and why they are. Why did Jeffery go on his killing spree? Why was it so easy for Victoria to adapt to living with Lucas and Annabelle? Annabelle constantly complains that she didn’t sign up to raise two kids with Lucas, but responds to a friend’s suggestion of leaving by saying that she can’t leave him. Why, I mean it’s not like they appear to have a great relationship or anything. What was Lucas’ relationship with his brother and the girls that made him so hell bent on finding them? Even more so, what convinced him that they were still in the area and not with Jeffery in Mexico with new identities? What was really up with Dr. Dreyfuss? The whole film constantly reminds us that these girls’ condition is exceptional and different yet it barely acknowledges the mental and physical discrepancies that would result from living in the wild and eating nothing but cherries.
This is what happens if you eat too many cherries…
So sometimes I can be a bit of a movie snob and my snobbery was in full effect while watching Mama. With my nose turned up to the heavens and my pinky so high it tickled God, I constantly found myself huffing and puffing at how awful Mama’s cinematography is. It’s such an obnoxiously dark film that it gets weighed down because of how drab and bland everything looks. In certain scenes, lights seem to be missing from the set just for the sake of creating a dim and shadowy aesthetic. Colors seem to be sucked of all their life and everything is just so dark that night scenes lose their punch. A look at the films Sinister or Insidious will show how to properly create a dark aesthetic while keeping things well lit.
Viewers who scare pretty easily in films, but still get a thrill from horror, will likely be terrified during Mama, but for those of us horror purists who knows that a pan out in a dark room will likely reveal a creepy figure unseen to a character, Mama is pretty average. It’s worth the viewing, though, for its horrific antagonist and pretty effed up, confusing, yet intriguing ending.
Take a Drink: every time Annabelle complains about taking care of the girls
Take a Drink: every time Aunt Jean pointlessly appears
Take a Drink: every time you kind of forget about Lucas
Take a Drink: every time someone just misses seeing Mama for themselves
Do a shot: whenever seeing Mama makes your heart race
Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and Michael Pena in a movie director by Ruben Fleischer—this is certain to be stuff of legends. I mean come on, a film by the guy who directed a comedy about surviving a zombie apocalypse featuring the aforementioned talent and then some, including Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi and the list just goes on and on. Surely a movie of this magnitude couldn’t possibly fail right?… Well kind of wrong, and don’t call me “surely”. Gangster Squad instead seems to buckle under its own star power barely skating by as a standard, run of the mill gangster film. What a disappointment too, because my expectations were as high as Nolte during this debacle.
Breasts, Blood, Body count. If you have an abundance of either, then you got yourself the makings of a classic slasher film. Usually, films that have a scarce amount of either of these conditions make up for it with a downright chilling story or a frightening villain that sends shivers up viewers spines and out into their pants. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween are prime examples of such. The 1970s and 1980s saw rise to the slasher film, churning out gory pictures as fast as McDonald’s turns that gooey pink stuff into chicken nuggets. Slumber Party Massacre is among the many that got spit out and although it’s the outline of the slasher genre, you can’t help but appreciate its bare bones.
As its title suggests, which translates into “The Miserable’s,” Les Misérables is the gloomy story of a group of unfortunate people introduced to audiences during a turbulent time, then killed off as if they were characters in a campy soap opera. Beginning in 1815 France, we are introduced to Jean Valjean, a prisoner released on parole after a 19-year-sentence finding it difficult to make a living and seek shelter as an ex-criminal. While given refuge by a Bishop, Jean instinctively bites the hand that feeds stealing from the clergyman, only to be forgiven, blessed, and released with the goods by the priest.
Eight years later Jean has gotten his life together as the beloved Mayor of a small city and owner of a factory with an upstanding reputation. However, when he runs into Javert, a police inspector who served over him while he was a prisoner, Jean realizes that Javert is still holding a bitter grudge against the ex-con and for the next nine years the two continuously cross paths with Javert determined to return Jean to prison. Meanwhile, Jean takes in an orphaned child, Cosette, protecting her from the cruel world they both have come to know while an impending rebellion starts to take place, further introducing audiences to a slew of colorful characters.
Les Misérables’ scope and magnitude of production is far beyond impressive. 19th century France seems to come alive in all its hideous glory. Buildings are beautifully extravagant but all the while haggard with chipped paint and rotting wood and cobblestone streets are a-run with hundreds of peasants with signs of Cholera and sickness. Costumes play a major part as the bright periwinkle blues of French officers’ suits and the bright clothing of upper class citizens is contrasted against the drab faded grays and navy blues of others as a heart-wrenching reminder of the stark differences in social classes.
Also each cast member marvelously pulls their weight in both singing and acting. Although Les Misérables is grossly melodramatic, the performances from the cast members are nothing short of fabulous. Anne Hathaway is heartbreaking as Fantine, a worker in Jean’s factory, hitting every note of beautiful song while sobbing and choking back tears during most of her scenes, and Hugh Jackman proves he possess actual talent outside of angry scowling in metal claws. Each actor produces an ample amount of waterworks and brooding depressed faces while still delivering their respective songs with tenacity and projection… except Russell Crowe. Don’t really get why he was chosen to sing.
If they didn’t cast him, he’d punch them all in the face.
At best Les Misérables’ direction is reminiscent of the early silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, with its heavy use of tight close ups and hand held movements. At worst Les Misérables is reminiscent of an amateur with a camera. A major element of the film that has been beaten into anyone who has sat through the opening commercials in movie theaters the past few months is that the cast sang live while filming Les Misérables. Before, musicals consisted of actors lip synced with previously recorded songs, usually shot from afar in medium or long shots.
From a directorial stance, Les Misérables’s use of actors singing while being filmed sometimes makes for empowering scenes in which the emotion of a character is captured naturally with tense close ups that force viewers to feel empathy. But as the film continues, the direction becomes annoyingly inconsistent; canted angles are cartoonishly used and the extreme close-ups lose their punch. Also the film’s most climatic scene, the ending battle scene, is awful to watch because of the poor direction. Shots are fired, but most ofthe time it looks as though victims are dropping due to their own guns backfiring. There’s no target for a shot, there’s just scenes of shooting followed by random people falling, including those who just shot, giving the film the professionalism of a third grade school play as opposed to a multi-million dollar movie.
“You have to be dead, I shot you.” “Nu-uh I shot you first!”
My biggest problem with Les Misérables is its script. As someone who has never seen or read Les Misérables before, the film is responsible for initially teaching me what I know of its story and thanks to the film, it’s hard to buy that Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables was once considered by Upton Sinclair as the best novel ever written. Javert‘s insatiable need to destroy Jean’s life is nonsensical. Fifteen years pass and numerous encounters between the two take place and I still just didn’t understand why this respected inspector is so gung-ho about capturing Jean. If Jean had killed Javert‘s sibling let alone murdered anyone, then I could comprehend why the God-fearing authoritarian wouldn’t believe in Jean’s redemption, but you know what Jean did to land in prison? Spoiler alert: he stole a loaf of bread. He wasn’t even as bad as Aladdin, yet this general just can’t go on knowing that Jean is a free man.
Also Fantine’s story happens so quickly that I found no reason, other than Hathaway’s performance, to care about her fate. One minute she’s working in a factory and literally the next she’s considered a whore, thrown out on the streets, and resorting to selling her hair, teeth, and body. The political issues of France are barely fleshed out as well. If it wasn’t for Wikipedia I wouldn’t have any clue why the students of the film were rebelling and what it achieved.
I like musicals, honestly I do. I can appreciate a moment being explained through the power of song, but a movie in which there’s no spoken word and only sung parts… no. I just can’t do it. Everyone sings, all the time, about everything. It’s just too much.
NO! I thought this was a musical, not an opera!
If musicals tickle your fancy, then Les Misérables won’t disappoint. You’ll probably even cry a few times. However, if you like your musicals with a bit more talking and less depressed singing, then make sure you’ve had a few if you chose to see it. Sure, the performances are great, sure, it’s based off a well-loved book and stage musical, but that doesn’t mean the film is executed well, and it’s really hard to sit through two and half hours of singing and crying without wanting to cut yourself a bit by the end.
Take a Drink: every time Javert and Jean coincidentally run into each other.
Take a Drink:every time Sasha Baron Cohen gets screen time; they’ll be the only light-hearted moments.
Take a Drink: for every character that dies
Take a Drink: every time you spot filth, excrement, or horrendous dental hygiene
Do a Shot: every time you think to yourself, “Just die already”
Do a Shot: Anytime someone talks instead of singing.
Do a Shot: every time you wonder when this will be over, finally
These days we as a generation have become much more cynical during holiday seasons. The very validity of holidays have been put on display to be prodded at and slammed as nothing more than products of consumerism. Christmas seems to no longer be about giving and being with loved ones nor a Christian celebration; instead it’s now seen as a month devoted to receiving the biggest, best present and complaining for about all the little ones. Easter seems to have lost its magic of welcoming spring and instead is about buying the perfect Easter outfit and treats. Even Valentine’s is no longer a celebration of love, but now as testament of how you can prove your love through your wallet. Dreamwork’s Rise of the Guardians does something special for all of us cynical Scrooges— it reestablishes what various holidays and folklores mean and how first and foremost they are about preserving the wonder of our world and the innocence of childhood.
Rise of the Guardians follows the trade of Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), and The Sandman; all designated “guardians,” or protectors of children the world over. The guardians are faced with a challenge when Pitch Black (Jude Law), also known as the Boogeyman, emerges from the shadows with plans to gain notoriety through putting fear in the hearts of children everywhere and covering the world with darkness. Pitch plans on doing so because mythical beings only exist in their full glory if children believe in them, however, if that belief ceases to exist then so do they, and further they will be forced to live a life of exile where they are unseen and unknown by humans.
Thus, the existence of Jack Frost, a mischievous boy whose deeds, like causing snow days and initiating epic snow fights and winter fun, go unnoticed by the youth as his name is nothing more than an expression that parents use to get their kids to bundle up. Nevertheless, Jack is chosen to become a Guardian and help the Avenger’s like team fight against Pitch. Jack must prove to his peers he’s capable, yet also figure out his reasoning for being chosen or even existing.
Existential crisis in a kid’s film. Go on…
I was apprehensive about Rise of the Guardians, shooing it off as another cheap holiday film whose only purpose is to crank out dollars for studio heads. However, Rise of the Guardians is a surprisingly heartfelt and meaningful story for children and adults alike. It’s a simplistic, straightforward story, but with intriguing character development that showcases complex human aspects like reaching one’s potential and figuring out what purpose we have on this Earth. Nearly every character gets a focus emphasizing their abilities and special role in life.
Santa is depicted as a large Russian with tattooed arms and he totes two swords at his side ready to punish those naughty enough to cross his path. He’s passionate about his job, making sure that every toy is perfect enough to bring a smile to the face of children. Tooth on the other hand, a hybrid hummingbird person, is consumed with passion for children’s teeth, being able to identify every tooth and reason for extraction from one’s mouth. The Tooth Fairy is given more depth than just replacing teeth to keep children happy; her pleasure comes from the innocence of children and how their purity is preserved in each baby tooth they lose. Rise of the Guardians does a great job giving a back story and appreciation for characters that for years I’ve cared much less about ever since I was told of their non-existence.
The biggest problem with Rise of the Guardians is that while it’s a great film, it’s too safe. The first half of the film was humdrum and slow; I was even debating if I was going to give it three or four beers. Jokes and humorous moments were sparse and lackluster and the choice for characters’ voices is the film’s weakest spot. Hugh Jackman’s thick Australian accent as the Easter Bunny just doesn’t make sense at all. Also the lack of diversity within the film is pretty disheartening. Rise of the Guardians focuses on how these guardians protect the entire world of children, yet barely only two different races are shown throughout. The world isn’t represented well and the lack of diversity is shocking considering the depth the film takes with exploring the origins of these guardians.
“Look at all these vastly different parts of the world! But ignore the fact that we all share cultural likeness.”
Despite a shaky first half, Rise of the Guardians is an impressive story that brought tears to my eyes numerous times. The ingenuity of the history and space in which these characters inhabit is impressive and for those who see it in 3D, the effects are pretty cool, not mind blowing, but good nonetheless. Rise of the Guardians is a great reminder that holidays have only become cynical because we as a society are.
Holiday folklore is instead meant to make us grateful and relive the wonder and beauty that we once saw of the world as children. The best part about Christmas wasn’t just getting that bike you always wanted, it’s being able to ride joyously on it with the neighborhood kids later that day. Losing a tooth wasn’t about the money, it was celebrating getting older while still believing in childish wonders. If we allow our kids to remember this for as long as possible perhaps they will grow to remember that days like Thanksgiving should be spent enjoying the company of loved ones and not in lines ready to fight over flat screen televisions.
Take a Drink: every time Jack’s deeds go unnoticed.
Take a Drink: every time Pitch sends a horse to terrify others.
Take a Drink: every time North brandishes a sword or Bunny whips out his boomerangs.
Do a Shot: when someone’s says “Pitch,” but you forget it’s a family film and question why they’re calling him such a rude name.
I can only assume that the stress of working as a commercial air pilot is unfathomable. Your everyday routine consists of maneuvering a steel death trap filled with dozens of human beings at a time through unspeakably high altitudes for hours on end. You can only hope and pray that each landing goes according to plan and that everyone on board stays buckled in with their seats in an upright position to avoid bodily harm.
It’s no wonder that flight attendants and pilots flip out every now and then, cursing out passengers over the intercom before grabbing two beers from the service tray only to quit by deploying and sliding down the evacuation slide. And remember the hoopla over the two pilots attempting to drunkenly fly a few years back? However, not all people in the air lose their marbles; Pilot Chesley Sullenberger became a national hero when he safely landed a plane in the Hudson River after engine failure caused it to go down.
Robert Zemeckis’ Flight is the dramatic story of what would happen had a Sullenberger type pilot became a hero only for others to discover that not only was he an alcoholic but drunk before his flight. Denzel Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a gregarious pilot with a pretty nasty drinking problem and habitual recreational drug use. On a morning flight from Florida to Atlanta (shouts out to ATL!) a technical mishap causes his plane to malfunction and nose dive downward. With panic and the certainty of death in the air, Whip miraculously and calmly maneuvers the plane to roll on the ground, saving the lives of nearly everyone on board. Whip instantly becomes a hero, however, as an impending mandatory investigation begins, his drinking habits get called into question and punishment for the few deaths on board could fall on him if it’s proven that his drinking interfered with the his flying.
Houston, we may have a drinking problem.
Flight is an exceptional example of a dramatic character study. For nearly two and half hours audiences follow the emotional ups and downs of Whip’s life as the impending case and attention directed his way causes him to spiral downward into more addiction. Whip as a man is explored inside and out and we are exposed to elements of his childhood upbringing along with his desires in life and the problems of his past marriage as well as his vacancy as a father for his nearly adult son. Audiences see Whip in his most foul, off-putting moments, yet also his redeeming nurturing side. These various elements of Whip are successfully showcased thanks to not just Flight’s shapely script, but Washington’s always phenomenal acting skills.
Washington makes Whip a complex character with such depth that I couldn’t count how many times I heard the audience collectively groan at his relapses. When he proves himself to be a capable strong-minded person, audiences were right there with him laughing at his jokes and grinning along when he did. But the moment Whip fell into self-pitying despair murmurs of audience members saying “come on,” and “no, don’t do it!” often followed.
Washington isn’t the only actor firmly pulling his weight throughout Flight. Don Cheadle as Whip’s attorney, Hugh Lang, is subdued but impressive along with Bruce Greenwood as Charlie. Yet the only other character to hold a flame to Washington’s magnetism in the film is John Goodman as Whip’s quirky, hippie-like, drug dealing friend, Harling. Goodman is responsible for most of Flights laughs and light moments, but everyone is just captivating to watch.
Forest Gump director Robert Zemeckis will most likely receive an Oscar nomination for best director considering how delicately he films Flight. Zemeckis heavily utilizes long shots and tracking shots, taking his time to travel with characters or to reveal the next scene or bit of action, yet at times jarring audiences with quick, rapid cuts to make sure we’re still awake. The film’s opening crash scene is a high-anxiety ride that had me holding my breath as if I too were on that plane and my life was in Denzel’s hands. When he lands semi-safely, I was relieved yet confident he would, not because the trailers told me so, but because it’s Denzel; he’s got this.
“Everyone calm down and just trust me. I got this.”
Pushing past two hours, Flight doesn’t seem particularly overdone and melodramatic. Sure, it’s heavy on the tears and sad moments but it mixes a fair amount of good humor and enough depth for audiences to truly care and empathize with Whip on his emotional rollercoaster to self realization. Flight’s got action, tears, drama, breasts, drugs, and a killer soundtrack as well as an impressive use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound. It’s a character study at its finest with pretty stellar performances across the board and a heartfelt conclusion.
Take a Drink: every time Whip does.
Take a Drink: every time Atlanta gets mentioned.
Take a Drink: every time someone does drugs.
Take a Drink: every time you see news coverage of the crash.
I was dreading having to sit through Chasing Mavericks. The trailer left me more than unenthused to watch another melodramatic inspirational story; Dolphin Tale was enough. Yet to my surprise, Chasing Mavericks was not that bad of a film, despite Gerard Butler’s distractingly puffy face and the film’s stereotypical dramatic conventions.
Chasing Mavericks is the real life story of how 16-year-old Jay Moriarity managed to surf one of the Earth’s largest waves during a massive tropical storm, El Niño. Obsessed with tides and surfing, an adolescent Jay finds pleasure in counting the time in between waves; the higher the count, the faster his heart races in excitement. After a near drowning accident, Jay is saved by his neighbor and surfing pro, Frosty (Gerard Butler). Jay begins to seek Frosty’s guidance on becoming a professional surfer capable of surfing the largest waves in his home town of Santa Cruz. Jay soon discovers that the mythical Maverick, the largest wave on the coast, is real and surfable. With Frosty’s help Jay trains hard becoming the youngest surfer to ride the Maverick.
The best thing about any surf film is the beautiful shots of ocean that are required to tell the story. Directed by Chris Hanson, Chasing Mavericks seems to have been directed by a surf advocate with a true affinity to water and the enigma of tides. The film is filled with gorgeous long shots of the ocean showcasing its frothy whites, sea foam greens, and lustrous blues. Most of the shots capture action on and under the water, while the long shots expose viewers to the wide depths of water that surfers find themselves in, allowing viewers to appreciate the life threatening risks that surfers take just to ride a wave.
Also Jonny Weston as Jay is just precious and probably the most adorable thing I’ve seen on screen since that kid in Kindergarten Cop. With his curly blond hair and sincere smile, Weston captures a childlike innocence that makes his struggle and devotion believable. When he strives to win, you can’t help but cheer him on and when he fails I couldn’t help but feel genuine sympathy.
But seriously though, was this kid not the cutest thing in existence in the 90s?
A melodramatic inspirational film can only be so different from the rest. Chasing Mavericks takes the generic route, leaving barley any room for surprises. Sure it’s based on true story, but that doesn’t stop it from using all the safe conventional modes, making it at times corny and trite. If I had the time and ability to, I’d put together a Youtube video consisting of frequently used shots in films throughout the years. Such as when a 9-year-old Jay attempts to surf for the first time; audiences are delivered the proverbial shots of skeptic onlookers scoffing and shaking their heads at such a silly kid for being in over his head. When something threatening takes place, the standard shot reverse shot of others reacting happens. These shots just make for bland moments that make Chasing Mavericks safe and forgettable.
While Jay’s story is well roundedly developed, the film’s subplots aren’t. For starters, to add more conflict to the film we are introduced to Sonny, a bitter angry miserable teen who for some reason has a seven year grudge against the sickeningly sweet Jay. He’s never even given any rhyme or reasoning for disliking Jay; sure he’s jealous, but that’s never discussed, and for seven years!? Also the death of a major character is never delved into. This happens quickly with no forewarning as an attempt to advance the development of another character.
And what is up with the weird anti-drug PSA that sporadically happens? Jay discovers that his best friend Blond is selling pot, but it’s never talked about or gone into detail. Instead there’s about a two minute scene every so often throughout the film of Blond making an exchange to which afterwards he and Jay share awkward glances or quick comments about Jay being “too perfect” to get it.
Come on dude, you live in California, you’re a surfer, and you expect me to believe you don’t smoke weed?
Chasing Mavericks would have probably been much better with the absence of Gerard Butler. His character is your typical mentor with a chip on his shoulder. Perhaps it was the choice of the director or Butler, but either way he makes Frosty an unlikable character. Nearly everything out of his mouth is a condescending comment or command at Jay and he seems pissed through the first half of the movie that Jay even wants to learn to surf, despite the two being identical in their obsession with tides.
In one scene Jay delivers Frosty an essay that was assigned to him to discuss what he observed while on the water. Jay, a 16-year-old boy, instead writes a heartfelt essay about observing his long time crush Kim. Frosty becomes outraged, yelling at the boy in front of his wife and kids until his wife, Brenda, takes him to the bedroom to relax him while he continues to rant about Jay having no respect. The scene is so over the top I literally laughed out loud.
Chasing Mavericks could have worse, but it also could have been better. It’s a safe film that is surprisingly heartwarming and actually made me close to tearing up at the end. However, it’s nothing to write home about. If you catch it it’s interesting, but bring some booze first.
Take a Drink: every time someone rides a wave.
Take a Drink: every time Blond gets awkward stares after selling drugs.
Take a Drink: every time people walk over Jay and he smiles on.