Warrior

Warrior is a film that holds nothing back as you witness the colliding lives of three estranged members of a family as issues, both new and old, arise. The story follows three main characters. These characters are brothers Tommy and Brendan Conlon and their father Paddy. This film follows the brothers separate struggles, both of which lead to the Sparta MMA competition in Atlantic City. Tommy is a bit of a drifter who reunites with his father after a number of years and seeks him out to be his trainer so he can win this competition. He isn’t really given any motivation to win and really he doesn’t speak that much, but when he does you can sense everything you need to know about him. The other brother, Brendan, a high school teacher, has a wife, two little girls, and a home that’s about to be foreclosed on. He attempts to bring in some money to stop this by participating in small fighting tournaments which end up getting him suspended from the school that he works at. This leaves him only one option: to participate in this mass fighting tournament that could get him five million dollars quickly. It isn’t a very complex plot-line but it’s executed very well.

The thing that really keeps this film afloat is the relationships between the three leads and the performances that make them feel so real. The oldest brother, Brendan, is played by Joel Edgerton who really surprised me with his stellar performance. His greatest scene in this film comes in the ring against his brother and he conveys such great emotion through his face in that moment and it really left me astonished. The anguish and hesitance in that moment pains his character so much and it shows. The younger brother, Tommy, is played by the always excellent Tom Hardy in one of his best performances. Tommy is the more complex of the two characters and his extra backstory makes for a multi-layered performance. Tommy is a man full of shame, regret, and, more than anything, sheer anger. Tommy is not proud of what he has done in his past and he takes this shame and turns it into this animosity towards the world. It’s clear that the events through his childhood shaped this quiet figure that you are watching on screen, and this is all able to be inferred through Hardy’s incredible portrayal that adds something more to the character.

Then third major character is Paddy Conlon, the father of the two brothers played by Nick Nolte. This is the real standout performance in a film full of standout performances. What Nolte achieves here is nothing short of spectacular as the formerly alcoholic father who has managed to reform his life by getting sober and finding Jesus. This character in itself sounds like a bit of a cliche but in the context of this film it is anything but that. Nolte inhabits the character with a blend desperation, power and humility that results in one of the best performances of last year. Paddy regrets what he put his children through and even with his changed nature he knows that they won’t accept him. The most heartbreaking scenes in the film occur between him and either of his sons as he begs to be an important part of their lives, and they just deny him anything. There is one scene in particular where he shows up in from of Brendan’s house to tell him about how he just reached his 1000th day sober in attempt to prove that he’s changed. Rather than doing anything resembling some type of acceptance he just denies his father any access to his life. Nolte’s frailty in this is scene is truly marvelous, as is his entire performance.

At this point I think I’ve established that the acting is strong enough to carry this film but there is more to it than just the performances. The director Gavin O’Conner really did a great job capturing the atmosphere of the films surroundings. Take, for example, the fights at Sparta. Everything from the energy in the crowd to the commentators, cameramen, and every other aspect of the experience is accounted for. When this all comes together it manages creates a series of very well-shot scenes with a great atmosphere. There’s also one other scene that I have to praise the director and the several editors for. It is a law in sports movie that they have to have a training montage that gets the viewer excited for what’s to come, and this film has one of the best training montages that I have ever seen. Due to the split story-line (One for each brother) there are two entirely different training regiments being done. In this one several minute segment you get to see each of them train and during these training clips you also get to see essentially ESPN clips regarding MMA and the upcoming Sparta event. It is extraordinarily well done and one of my favorite scenes in the film.

All in all Warrior is a one of the best sports films to be released in the last several years. It is an engaging story filled with remarkable acting and great writing. Well worth the watch.

 

95/100

The Art of Stand-Up Comedy

When properly executed, stand-up comedy routines can become some of the most entertaining experiences one can have. In order for it to reach that peak level of quality it has to contain of the usual factors that makes comedy great. What you like is subjective but, in my mind, for a comedy routine to be successful it’s humor has to be clever. It has to be something that original and hilarious. No one is going to laugh at something thats already been repeated. What this results in is that all of the true top-tier comedians are just great story-tellers with a twist. Today, rather than watching films, i decided to watch three comedy specials. One entitled Talking Funny which consisted of four of todays greatest comedians (Louis C.K., Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, and Chris Rock) talking about comedy as a whole. The other two were both acts by Louis C.K. One was called Shameless which was my favorite of the two, and the other was called Chewed Up. I’m going to give brief reviews on each of them while touching on what made them funny.

Talking Funny 

Talking Funny manages to be both incredibly entertaining and very interesting. It may just be me but I was truly fascinated by the differences and similarities between how each comedian created and crafted their final acts. This may not seem very interesting but each of these men’s natural comedic gifts allow it to be so much more than just explanations. This is just a conversation. There is no interviewer, no questions, no real topics. All there is are four drastically different personalities bouncing off of each other.

Between discussions of the mechanics of what makes stand-up routines there are plenty of amusing anecdotes and revisited jokes supplied by each of the comedians. Some of the jokes that were talked about I had never heard before which added a new level of entertainment to it. One of my favorites was Louis C.K. delivering one of Chris Rock’s jokes which was “When white people are rich, they’re just rich forever and ever. But when a black guy gets rich it’s just countdown to when he’s poor again.” It’s all just really funny stuff.

This special combines the humor of a stand-up routine, the information of a documentary, and the casual-ness of a regular conversation. All together it is an incredibly entertaining little film.

Shameless by Louis C.K.

I’m tempted to review these next two comedy specials simply by copying down the hilarity of Louis C.K. Word for word. That is how good his bits are. His delivery and his personality clearly add something to the bits but when it comes down to it he just has incredible content. Louis C.K. doesn’t really tell jokes, per se. Instead he just talks about all the (usually shitty) things in his life and dissects parts of them until somehow through his comedy magic they become hilarious.

One of my favorite examples of this is one of  his first bits where he’s talking about his friend who instant messages him. His friend is on a plane and Louis tells him he hopes the plane crashes. The guy tells him to take it back and Louis says “Fuck you, I hope it crashes”, and the friend replies asking him how he would feel if the plane crashes and Louis says “That would be amazing. To know that I can crash planes. I’d happily give your live for knowledge of these powers.” It’s just simple things like that. He starts the bit talking about how stupid instant messages are, transfers to talking about an argument with his friend, and ends with rooting for a plane to crash and for his friend to die. None of these topics are naturally funny but he seems to have a natural ability to make it hilarious.

The entirety of the act is at the highest caliber when it comes to his routines, but that doesn’t mean that everyone will enjoy this. He really doesn’t have any boundaries t all when it comes to his content. He talks about everything and he talks about them with brutal honest. It’s one of the many things I love about his act. I get that there are many people that find him too vulgar but for me it is all perfection.

Chewed Up by Louis C.K.

The first few minutes of this performance wasn’t really something I found entertaining and is probably the only reason why I consider this to be the worst of his that I’ve seen. He opens up talking about the word faggot and its multiple meanings. How he used it as a kid for just someone being annoying or just “being a faggot.” This was one of his few bits that I didn’t really find that entertaining. It certainly had moments where it reached proper C.K. caliber like him watching two guys blow each other and how he would never call them faggots unless one of them took the dick out of their mouth and said something like “People from Phoenix are Phoenisians.” I’ll admit it. That line made me laugh pretty hard, but overall it was hardly comparable to his the rest of the special. Consider it a blemish on an otherwise flawless piece.

I may be considerably biased when it comes to reviewing Louis C.K.’s stand up but I really just love his act. Like I said earlier: comedy is subjective. For me as long as the comedy is like this I will always laugh hysterically.

La Jetée

What Chris Marker’s short film La Jetée manages to achieve in just 28 minutes of Black & White still photographs with voiceover narration is nothing short of miraculous. This film quite literally bends the ordinary method of storytelling used in film. Rather than utilizing the “moving pictures” aspect of cinema it tells its story with beautifully shot still photographs of the scenes and the characters which is accompanied by one of the most beautiful film scores I’ve ever heard and excellent narration provided by Jean Negroni.

The thing that really drew me into this film was the images used to illustrate the story. Not only are the images in this film beautiful but they are also astoundingly efficient in conveying the story and triggering a reaction in the viewer. The best example of this in my mind was when the main character referred to only as “The Man” is first being experimented on by “The Experimenter” and you see a series of still shots showing his head reeling back in anguish which is accompanied by the constant sound of his heartbeat rising. This scene was just as haunting as any regular scene would be, if not even more haunting due to the score and the Black & White photography.

The story of this film explores the concept of time travel in a post-apocalyptic world. It follows the story of “The Man” as he grows from a boy in the time leading up to World War lll to a man being held in a post-apocalyptic prison led by scientists. In this post-apocalyptic world the only human survivors are referred to as “The Victors” and they live underground in order to avoid the radioactivity above. The scientists in this underground prison are attempting to travel into either into the past or the future in order to find a way to same the human race which they claim is doomed. All of the prisoners they test on either die or go mad. That is, until they test on the main character.

The Man has greater mental images of his past which makes him the more able applicant for such tests. Eventually after great suffering he is sent back with the memory of a woman’s face he saw at the airport just before witnessing a man’s death. He becomes close with “The Woman” who he only sees when he is sent back which ranges many years in time. Their relationship grows even with this oddity in his visits and they explore together. They experience life and they create memories for The Man. Eventually events transpire that am I not going to ruin but it results in an excellent conclusion that ends a beautiful, haunting, heartbreaking, and sometimes terrifying film.

I can not write much about this film considering the fact that I don’t think I truly understood what it meant. This is a perfect film that in my eyes demands repeat viewings. This was my first foray into the world of Chris Marker after hearing about his death about two weeks ago, and it was an astounding journey.

100/100

Boy Wonder

Boy Wonder applies a darker formula to the modern day vigilante superhero trend that has become popular in movies today (Kick-Ass, Super). The thing about those two films is that they were clever, entertaining, and all around quality films. Boy Wonder doesn’t attempt to be like those films. It’s more like Christopher Nolan’s Batman series with its dark and dramatic undertones. The problem with that is that the writing and the performances in this film simply cannot support any type of heavy drama, and end up resulting in a lackluster film.

At a young age Sean Donovan watched his mother get murdered about a foot in front of him, and he has spent all of his life since then in a state of shock which has culminated in psychopathic behaviors. Sean wants justice and, more importantly, vengeance. Vengeance against the scum who have managed to hurt people and get away with it which is, oddly enough, exactly what Sean does throughout the entire film. My first problem.

My second problem comes from the character of Sean and his progression and interactions. Sean kills with no remorse and never feels any grief over his actions thereby solidifying the fact that he must be a psychopath. Right? Well if this is the case then why didn’t the writers embrace the fact that they were creating a highly deranged mentally ill character? Rather than continuing with him being a cold killer they decide to put him in a variety of situations where he “experiences” emotion. There are two that stick out to me the most. The first is when he’s sitting on a bench talking to his new friend Detective Ames (A hotshot new homicide detective) and he’s explaining why he can’t move on about his mother. I don’t know if they wrote it this way or Caleb Steinmeyer was unable to convey this properly but it seemed like he was trying to cry or express sadness in some way. I got that he was trying, but he wasn’t very successful. That is how I would sum up his performance. He never successfully conveyed anything but anger in any part of the film except the ending. This comes to my next problem: the acting.

The acting in this film is terrible, excluding the last twenty minutes of the film. In fact for everything regarding this film you should exclude the last twenty minutes of them film as they are infinitely better than the rest of it. All of the lines are delivered without the smallest bit of conviction. This can be applied to all of the actors excluding Bill Sage as Seans father and Chuck Cooper with a very small part as the leader of the homicide department and Sean’s first real helper, Billy. Allow me to talk about Billy for a moment. Billy was the only one helping Sean, he was his friend, and yet they chose to give him the smallest of parts and make his character an asshole. I still have no idea why they chose to do this as they could have made him the one who attempts to save Sean which would’ve worked much better.

Anyway, the delivery of all of the lines is wooden which can either be attributed to the lack of talent in the actors or the generally stale dialogue. All of these characters are in these huge emotional situations whether they be divorce that the writer just seemed to throw in to add more drama, and then left them all unexplored. This left the film entirely overcomplicated with unnecessary story-lines. There is no better example than that of Detective Ames with her divorce and loss of custody. You see her child once and yet it’s brought up at least five times or more. I feel like it was supposed to add importance and to highlight her sacrifice, but I think I was too distracted attempting to use my decoder ring to figure what emotions the characters were feeling. This shouldn’t be a 90 minute film, it should be a two and a half hour film with ample time to explore the group of supporting characters and their personal stories. Either that or they shouldn’t have mentioned them at all.

At this point I think i have touched on all of the problems I had with the film (Writing, acting) so now let me touch on the positives. The setting and the cinematography is great. It has the very dark gritty feel down correctly it just has nothing to support the aesthetics. Finally comes the one thing that made this film somewhat worth watching: The finale. Without spoiling anything the finale of this film is excellent. The last fifteen minutes are when Sean really snaps and just goes on a type of vengeance-induced psychotic rampage that wraps itself up with a true ending. It doesn’t attempt to fix anything or make it any less depressing. It just happens, and I congratulate the writer for doing that.

Overall it was a mess of a film that I strongly disliked. The worst I’ve seen in a while.

60/100

Raging Bull

In posting this review I admit to one of my greatest mistakes when it comes to film. I put off watching Raging Bull despite having it for almost a year. Well, now I have rectified that mistake and the result was glorious.

Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese’s collaborations together produced what I consider to be the finest film of the seventies, one of the finest films of the 90’s, and now quite possibly the finest film of the eighties as well. Raging Bull, put quite simply, is one hell of a film. It takes you into the mind of the destructive man that was Jake La Motta who is ferociously brought to life by what might be Robert De Niro’s finest performance, and shows you how his struggles both personally and professionally ended up shaping his life.

La Motta was more than just a boxer, he was a force of nature that battered and abused anything he came into contact with. Whether it be his wife at home or his opponent in the ring, either way his anger led him to violent bouts of horrifying violence that simultaneously progressed and destroyed different aspects of his life. This is the definition of the anti-hero. Jake La Motta is a despicable man, a man who makes no attempt to hide his true nature, and yet you almost feel compelled to sympathize with him despite the fact that you’ve witnessed him do terrible things. That’s what makes him so interesting. For me liking a character doesn’t even come into the equation when I look at my favorite characters of all time. Alex DeLarge: murderous psychopath. Henry Hill: drug dealer and woman beater. And now Jake La Motta: animal.

De Niro’s dedication to the craft really shows in this role. Not just because he trained to the point where he won two professional boxing tournaments and then proceeded to gain 60 pounds, a record breaking amount, to play an older La Motta. Even if you disregard all of that, you are left with one of the finest performances of all time. One might dismiss his performance as one of sheer anger, but what they fail to recognize is the great deal of restraint that is applied. At no point in Raging Bull does it feel as if he’s overracting which would be an easy thing to do. The difficult part is making it entirely believable and creating a layered performance that allows the viewer to see La Motta as more than just a monster, but as a man as well. It was a difficult task that was pulled off immaculately.

De Niro’s La Motta is complemented by a variety of perfect supporting performances coming from Joe Pesci as La Motta’s brother Joey, Cathy Moriarty as La Motta’s second wife Vickey, and Frank Vincent as an associate of Joey, Salvy. Nothing more needs to be said about the excellence of these performances as they speak for themselves.

One of this films greatest features lies behind the camera: the genius of Martin Scorsese. Allow me to be the thousandth person to say that it was genius to shoot this film in black & white. It really adds to the feel of the film as it seems grittier and fits the feel of the 40’s and 50’s well, along with resulting in some breathtaking shots. My favorite of which is the opening credits where you see a faceless boxer (Who you can tell is De Niro just by his movements) getting pumped up for a fight in the ring. The camera is unmoving through this entire segment, making De Niro the only moving part in the shot. This is where the black & white comes into play. The contrast of his darker clothes against the foggy white backdrop of the scene results in a beautiful display.

Besides just his use of black & white cinematography, Scorsese also pulled off creating some of the finest boxing sequences of all time. What it is that makes them so special? Scorsese stays close. At no point do the cameras stray away from the action. Instead they are always right up in the action moving with the punches. One of my favorite instances of this comes when (Semi-Spoilers) La Motta is fighting Sugar Ray Robinson and Robinson is just destroying La Motta’s face and the camera switches between Ray swinging and blood shooting out of La Motta’s face and flowing down his legs. It’s a brutal shot and one that I haven’t been able to shake since seeing it.

It took me far too long to finally watch this film and it was a mistake. This is a perfect of example of a master filmmaker at the peak of his craft. Not only is this the finest sports film I’ve ever seen (If you consider it a sports film), but it’s also one of the finest films I’ve ever seen.

This film makes me reevaluate every other film that I have called a masterpiece. This is the definition of a masterpiece.

A well-deserved:

 100/100

Earrings

About eight months ago I read a review by Roger Ebert about a film entitled Shame. He gave it a four star rating and praised every facet of it. His review intrigued me so I went and looked up some more reviews of the film. One of the first links I clicked on lead to a website called And So It Begins…” and that was my first introduction to the work of Alex Withrow. Since then I have always visited his website at least once a day, looking forward to his always brilliant content. A few months ago when I looked to see what was new on there, I saw a post about his new short film that he was working on: Earrings. Since then it has become one of my most anticipated films of the year. Today it was released and let me tell you. It did not disappoint.

Earrings takes place in the midst of a woman named Chlo’s downfall after a terrible catalyst occurs and leads her into multiple negative behaviors. Chlo is played to perfection by Catherine Warner, an actress that I hadn’t heard about prior to this film but I am sure that we’ll all be hearing about her in the future. Most of the film is free of dialogue and that results in her having to really express her character through subtle movements, looks, and mannerisms. That is where the excellence of her performance stems from. She manages to portray great emotion though subtle facial expressions. The first and really the only time her character has dialogue is during a brilliant extended conversation between her and a man who we soon find out is a friend of her ex-fiancee. In that five minute span we really learn all of the back story that had been hinted at prior to the explanation. Even in the explanation the dialogue doesn’t attempt to insult your intelligence but rather give you the parts to piece together the story yourself. In this scene it really showcases another aspect of the actresses talent in her delivery of the dialogue. It is a marvelous performance.

As I said before, most of the film does not have dialogue which results in a greater emphasis on things like cinematography and editing. All of the minor problems that I had with the film come from this area. There were a jump cuts that were a little off and didn’t exactly look natural. Other than that all of the editing was very well done. Then there was the cinematography. I absolutely loved the cinematography. There were two instances in particular where the camera would remain still on Chloe where she was in front of a window in an otherwise dark room and all you could see was her silhouette and I thought those scenes were extraordinarily well done. While the cinematography was good throughout the entire film there was one sequence that kind of stands above everything else for me. Following the centerpiece conversation that I talked about earlier there is a three minute sequence where  Withrow really hit his stride. It is reminiscent of Brandon’s downfall in Shame as we watch Chlo in her most desperate moments. All of the camerawork and coloring in that sequence were absolutely flawless and resulted in one of the most memorable pieces of the film.

That same sequence shows one of my favorite aspects of the film and that is the use of music. There are two songs used in this film and both of them fit perfectly into what is occurring on screen and really complements the scenes well. I have to say that I am a bit biased when it comes to the music as the film’s final few minutes contain a song by one of my favorite bands: M83. Regardless of that, the use of music was excellent.

I’ve been waiting for this film for the last few months and now that it’s here it was even better than I thought. At 32 minutes it flies in front of your eyes and leaves you thinking about the brilliance that you just observed. Alex is a clearly gifted filmmaker and I hope to see similarly great things from him in the future.

94/100

You can check out the film here: http://vimeo.com/46372044

My Week With Marilyn

Allow me to start off this review by apologizing for not updating any part of this site for almost three months at this point. Several weeks after I first formed this website I started to lose inspiration to write anything at all, and that drought lasted a considerable amount of time. Hopefully starting now I can begin to update this site more frequently. I am planning on about three to four posts a week, and possibly more if I have that much to write about. If there are any of you that are still sticking around then I greatly appreciate it and once again I apologize for not doing anything on here these last two and a half months. Now on to the review:

Marilyn Monroe was an interesting character. There is no debating that. She died at the age of 36 and during the years in which she was alive she was married and divorced three times and managed to star in 33 titles alongside some of the greatest performers of all time such as Jack Lemmon and Laurence Olivier. Her single work with the later of the two is the basis of this film: My Week With Marilyn.

Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) came from a wealthy family and wanted nothing more than to “run away to to the circus” and become a part of the film industry. At some point in his life Colin met Laurence Olivier who made some promise to get him a job working on one of his productions. The origin of their relationship isn’t explored at all so we’re left to piece it together ourselves. The film begins some time after that where Colin is ready to get a job. So naturally he shows up at Olivier Productions looking for a position. He’s turned down so he stays there all day, every day, for several days and ultimately ends up showing his worth when he takes over for the secretary for the day. One day while he is there he runs into Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh who helps to get him a job on his next film “The Prince and The Showgirl” which is planning on starring Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. Olivier is played by the always excellent Kenneth Branagh and he truly shines in his role. Not only does he actually look a bit like Olivier did at the time but he also manages to display his inner frustration perfectly. It is a subtle performance but a marvelous one none the less. Colin gets a position as the third assistant director and does all of the menial work that that position entails leading up to the arrival of Miss Monroe. It is once she arrives that things finally get interesting.

Michelle Williams is, in my mind, the most talented actress of her generation and she proves that here by delivering a perfect performance. She embodies Monroe to the point where I felt like I was actually watching Monroe rather than watching someone play her. It is an excellent performance that manages to encapsulate Monroe in exactly the same way that we remember her. She was intelligent, ditzy, and funny, but most of all she was scared. She was looking for someone to protect her from he world. For someone who loved the true Marilyn. Not the one that had been formed through the media. It was that search that led her to three different husbands by the time she was thirty. This film highlights her brief relationship with her husband Arthur Miller. It doesn’t take too long for him to get fed up with her and make his way back to New York for a break. It is during this time of abandonment that Marilyn discovers Colin.

Colin was just supposed to be an assistant whose only job was to do whatever Olivier instructed him to do, and yet somehow he formed a close, albeit brief, relationship with the starlet. He was her escape from the stress of the set and her insecurities, and he was her true source of support and encouragement during the filming. The immediate attachment to Colin is hinted at by Marilyn as she believes that he is one of the few people who will love her, rather than the Marilyn that the public has come to know. This leads to an interesting aspect of the film that explores identity and how it is effected by celebrity.

One of my favorite scenes holds an example of this. Colin takes Marilyn to the Windsor Castle and walks her around it, and on their way out they run into a frenzied crowd. The crowd is shouting and clapping at the sight of Marilyn and she turns to Colin and whispers “Shall I be her?”. In that moment you realize that Marilyn is an entirely separate from her actual personality. This aspect of the story adds another layer to the character of Marilyn.

Naturally Colin fell in love with Marilyn during their time together and they spent a great deal of time together. Some good and some bad. This all lead up to Marilyn having much greater success on the film and with Olivier until the project was finished. From the beginning you know that Colin and Marilyn aren’t going to end up together, and that poses a type of problem for the third act. How are they going to make something interesting happen when you know the inevitable.

Well somehow they did it and the final product ended up being a solid film with an interesting story that is brought to life by brilliant performances. Not bad at all.

82/100