Archive for the ‘Movie/show reviews’ Category

I’ve wanted to do this series for a very long time. I first had the idea when I watched Homeland, and realized that the biggest competitor HBO has is Showtime. Granted, HBO holds a level of esteem that practically no other network can hope to match, but I wanted to compare all the “best” TV shows of each network with each other and then decide which is more superior. I was really surprised by some of the choices I ended up making, and I really grew to appreciate both networks greatly when I started this. Without further ado – I’ll save some for later – here’s Round One of HBO vs. Showtime.

ImageEntourage vs. Episodes

They’re both about show business, they both have actors that play a fictionalized version of themselves, and they’re both incredibly funny. So, naturally, I matched them against each other.

Entourage is about a rising superstar of an actor, Vincent Chase, as he brings his best friends along for the ride.

Episodes is about two British writers and their disastrous attempt to remake their beloved TV series in Hollywood.

Entourage has received dozens of award nominations over the course of eight seasons, garnering a Golden Globe for Jeremy Piven. Episodes has also garnered plenty of award nominations, and even got Matt LeBlanc a well deserved Golden Globe. I’m going to start by ‘reviewing’ Entourage since it concluded in late 2011, whereas Episodes is still ongoing.

 Entourage Analysis

Image

I’ve been hearing about Entourage since I was a kid. It was the show I wasn’t allowed to see, the show that I saw mentioned time and time again on the Simpsons or Family Guy, and the show that seemed to be as popular among men as Sex and the City was for women. So, when I first watched the first episode, I was a bit disappointed.

It was a solid Pilot, but considering all the hype I’d heard about since I was a child, it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. The Pilot dealt with Vince releasing his newest movie, and his best friend Eric ( “The Pizza Boy”, as he is mocked constantly by the awesome Jeremy Piven who plays Vince’s agent ) trying to decide if he should stay and ride his best friend’s coattails.

I thought that the show faced the biggest problem head on. Reading a summary of Entourage, it sounds pretty sad for Eric, Turtle, and Vince’s older brother, Johnny “Drama” Chase. They’re just a bunch of guys riding on Vince’s coattails. There seemed to be not much room for development beyond that, and honestly, a less mature show wouldn’t attempt to do any of that.

I’ve read a lot of reviews saying that the show is every bit as immature as its characters, and it knows that. It’s why the storyline of the Pilot is so significant because the show itself was straining against the preconceived notions of people, and at the end of the episode, Eric decides to continue riding on his friend’s coattails, and maybe help Vince out along the way. Eric ends up running a managing firm by the end, Johnny discovers that he has a future in acting outside of live action television, and even Turtle achieves something. Ari Gold, the raging agent, ends up happy with the wife that disapproved of his dedication to his clients after eight seasons.

Image

Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold. Definitely one of my favorite performances in a Tv show.

I think we’ve grown to overlook these types of shows with the rise of the antiheroes. The show is not very philosophical, and I don’t think it tries to be. It simply wants to leave its characters having grown as people, and maybe leave you smiling too. I sure smiled at the finale.

The show also has at least one guest star each episode, and more often than not, the guest star plays himself/herself. My favorite has to be the episode where Bono and Matt Damon pressure Vince into donating more to charity. It was one of the high points of Entourage, showing great self awareness and also showing that these celebrities have sense of humors as well.

Now, it did have its problems. For pretty much every fan of Entourage, the huge blemish on its reputation was the seventh season. When I first watched Entourage, I loved the fact that it didn’t immediately show all actors as these coke addicted divas. Only some of them were. And Vince became one of those coke addicted divas in the seventh season when he struck up a relationship with real life pornographic star, Sasha Grey.

The season was admirable in showing the “dark side” of fame, but regardless of dark side or not, it just wasn’t done well. I respect the idea, but I do not love the execution. (I did enjoy Eminem decking Vince, though). It also highlighted the overall problem with the show.

I remember reading somewhere that people watched Entourage to see the glamorous lifestyle these beautiful, talented people lead. (Most likely true.) But, the seventh season simply pissed people off. Vince wasted all the things that people coveted. I certainly wanted to have a big mansion like him, and he threw it all away. There is a certain point when you realize that these people are shallow, but they have redeeming qualities. But there is also a certain point where the superficialness can just make you grimace in disdain.

The show did get back on track with the eighth season, and at the end of the day, I love this show. I can still recall some famous actor pointedly mocking themselves, or an incredible director making a surprising appearance. (Scorsese, man! Bring in Spielberg and Fincher, and I would have been content.)

 Episodes

Image

Now that I’ve finished talking about Entourage, the discussion about Episodes can begin. I already gave a brief summary of the show, but I want to describe the opening scene of the Pilot first. It features Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig from Black Books) leaving her co-writer and husband Sean Lincoln (the great Stephen Mangan) because she’s convinced he slept with some woman we haven’t seen yet. She pulls out of the driveway while Sean is urgently trying to tell her that she’s driving on the wrong side of the road, and she misinterprets it as his way of telling her she’s wrong. (To be fair, it could have been better clarified.)

It cuts to Matt LeBlanc (literally Matt LeBlanc playing himself. He’s from a little show called Friends. Mayhaps you’ve have heard of it?) driving while talking to someone about his new restaurant, and the scene ends with the impact of Matt and Beverly Lincoln. Then it rewinds to when Sean and Beverly were happy and critically acclaimed in England.

The beginning proudly states the sheer ambition of the show, and the hilarity to come. It featured great acting, great comedy ( Stephen Magnan’s frantic movements are a highlight), and just great writing.

The show is primarily written by David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik. David Crane is known for being one of the creators of the incredibly funny and successful sitcom, Friends. (Starring Matt LeBlanc as a clueless actor.) It would’ve been enough if this show were hilarious (which it is), but it knows drama. There’s a scene in season 3 where Sean and Bev are laughing wholeheartedly about something (don’t want to spoil it too much, so I’ll make it ambiguous), and watch as their laughter becomes strained and awkward, the way they – and the viewer – slowly realize the ramifications of the episode’s events.

Image

Episodes knows how to do proper drama, and that’s not something you’d expect from a comedy. I’m not saying they can’t be dramatic, but the difference between Episodes and the other black comedies is that it still puts a smile on my face. I watched an episode of Girls, and while I can appreciate the satire and the drama, it’s neither funny enough nor dramatic enough for me to watch avidly.

Whenever there’s a new episode of Episodes, I can’t wait to watch it. It doesn’t tout famous guest stars like Entourage, but what it lacks in star power, it more than makes up for in witty writing, great dramatic moments, and amazing acting. The fictionalized Matt LeBlanc is selfish, destructive, mysoginistic, and yet charming, generous, and kind.

Like Tony Soprano, it makes the viewer question why they like Matt LeBlanc, and it’s because he’s a lot more human than he first seems.

While Entourage certainly had moments like that, I never felt engrossed in it as much as I am when watching Episodes. (Episodes is my favorite comedy.)

Both shows have flaws, and both shows have high moments. Entourage has proven that it can end a show satisfactorily, but with only three seasons, Episodes has as many comedic moments and as much (if not more) dramatic weight than Entourage. The first round goes to Showtime.

photo

Image

The Lego Movie is one of the most ambitious films I’ve seen in awhile, and it delivers on the promise of a lot of laughs. It’s a dystopian sci-fi movie, a Western extravaganza, a good old fashioned romance, and just plain funny. The ‘funny’ part cannot be understated.

The beginning starts off a bit awkward. It was focused on showing how completely all the citizens were being manipulated, and that even among all these blank slates, the main character is even blanker. 

Chris Pratt voices the main character, Emmet Brickowoski. He’s a regular construction worker whose favorite song is Everything Is Awesome, just like everybody else. 

Image

Chris Pratt manages a fine performance in the portrayal of the blank hero. He does a believable job of an Everyman, but manages to avoid sounding dull or fake throughout the entire film.

The beginning may not be funny, but it’s the setup for a lot of great lines. After five hours of singing his favorite song, Emmet hears a strange noise, and he goes in search for said noise. He finds a hooded individual, and consults a manual telling him that he should report any mysterious people. He’s about to sate his intentions when the hooded individual removes the hood, and exaggerated slow motion ensues as Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) shakes her hand to straighten her head. 

Image

Elizabeth Banks delivers a great performance in the “insecure” Master Builder with the name of a DJ.

She leaves, and when he tries to follow her, he falls into a ditch. He sees a strange object, and slowly moves to touch it. Below him, we can see the page in the manual specifically advising against such a thing, but completely entranced, he grabs unto it. 

Different images intercut together follow, and he’s woken up by a gruff Liam Neeson playing the Bad Cop who is in the middle of interrogating him, apparently.

Emmet points out that he is a real expert from watching cop shows, and notes the absence of a Good Cop. Bad Cop then swivels his head, and the “Aww-shucks” Good Cop appears. This is an example of the directors (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – the makers of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) using their subject matter to its utmost advantage. Sure, it’s not the most innovative thing in the movie, but it was a nice touch. It showed self awareness that these characters were all legos, and that unlike with a lot of toys, you can do plenty of different things with them.

The interrogation is interrupted when Wyldstyle rescues Emmet, and tells him about a prophesy naming him as the Greatest, Most Talented, Most Specialest Person Ever. Yeah. At least they aren’t simply using the Chosen One, I guess… There’s a really cool chase with Emmet and Wildstyle on a makeshift motorcycle while cars and helicopters tail them.

The action sequences in this film are really good. There are a few issues here and there, such as the fact that certain characters move too fast. You get used to it, but it’s initially difficult to track them across the wide screen. (Especially if their attire blends into the background.)

They escape through a tunnel, and enter The Wild West. Apparently, there are other realms in the Lego World, and it was a real treat to see images of the actual box sets of the different “realms”. Ah, childhood. They track down Vitruvius, the blind Master Builder as portrayed by Morgan Freeman. 

Image

Vitruvius feels like Morgan Freeman’s way of poking fun at his “wise, practically omnipotent” characters in the past. Shows that even someone with the perfect voice for narration can have a sense of humor.

They perform something similar to a Vulcan Mind Meld, and enter Emmet’s mind. Which is… completely blank. When asked to envision something he always thought was good, he conjures up an image of a Bunkbed Couch. Wyldstyle promptly tells him that it’s a bad idea, but Vitruvius interrupts her. 

Instead of saying that it’s just an abstract idea, he actually says much harsher words than her, calling it the worst idea ever. I’ll stop describing everything in detail here. I just felt it was necessary to describe the beginning because the potential for so much more is apparent from just these scenes. Don’t even get me started on the rest of the movie. (Unless you REALLY want to, because I’ll be happy to oblige.)

The villain is portrayed by Will Ferrel. I don’t how he does it, but he can mispronounce the most simple words, and make it seem completely unintentional and natural. He does it in such a convincing way that when he calls a Nail Polish a “Na-eel”, it seems completely normal. You begin to start asking yourself the question, “Why would I think he’d pronounce it that way?”

Image

As he’s shown in Megamind, Will Ferrel can play a really funny, great sympathetic villain.

He is President Business, and he wants to use the Kragle (a tube of Krazy Glue with the Z, Y, and U scratched off) to permanently keep everything in place. He wants to bring order into chaos. Honestly, it’s a rather good evil plot. To demonstrate this to Bad Cop, he uses the Kragle to glue the feet of Bad Cop’s parents. When prompted to glue them completely, the Good Cop refuses to do so, and that’s when his face is brutally erased. 

The Lego Movie, on the story and characters alone, would be considered imaginative and creative. However, it took it to a different level with their use of stop motion animation (probably thanks to their recruitment of Robot Chicken veteran, Chris McKay), and other cool stuff that I won’t spoil. 

Image

Considering the reception Ben Affleck received, Warner Bros. might want to consider Will Arnett as a replacement.

At the end of the day, this movie is funny, charming, and something that the whole family will enjoy. Sure, the parents will have to deal with being pestered to buy more legos, but that’s a risk they’ll have to take for some really good entertainment. Frozen deservedly received a lot of fans and critical acclaim, and the Lego Movie feels like a fitting followup to that great animated movie. 

I think that children should have more movies like the Lego Movie and Frozen, and that’ll only happen if we make the effort to tell people to watch them. (Although, at this point, Lego Movie and Frozen are huge successes. And Lego Movie isn’t even out of the theatres yet…)

Watch this for the quirky characters (Unikitty. All I’m saying), the hilarious superheroes (the love/hate relationship between Superman and Green Lantern, the brooding artist that is Batman), and legos. Watch it for those reasons, and you won’t regret it.

4.5 out of 6

Image

jack-ryan-shadow-recruit-2013_82761381896636

 

I had high hopes for this movie. I’ve always liked Chris Pine’s movies (even his role in Princess Diaries 2), and Keira Knightley was brilliant in Pride and Prejudice. Not to mention I have read a few pages from a Jack Ryan book, and the story and action seemed competent enough. Even the trailer for the movie was good. But, every expectation I had was dashed, and I regret watching it instead of any other movie. 

Okay, let me start by pasting the summary of the movie.

Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

 

 I don’t recall the plot well enough, but I can tell you about the beginning. 

 Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit starts off with Chris Pine at the London School of Economics. He notices a lot of his classmates are rushing off somewhere, and he follows them to see that they’re all transfixed on a television. Scenes of 9/11 play on the screen. I think it was when Homeland was released around 2010-2011 that a signal was released to everyone that it’s okay to talk about 9/11 in movies. I think that’s fine enough, but I don’t particularly like it when movies actually show real footage. Or evoke imagery from the tragic incident. Chris Pine’s previous movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, evoked some of those same images, and another example would be Ender’s Game. (Starting to see a pattern with science fiction movies…)

It cuts to 18 months later, and Jack Ryan is now a lieutenant in the marines. He’s on a helicopter, and it’s at this time that I began to worry. The camera shakes all over, it’s unfocused for several seconds, and it’s put in such close proximity of the characters’ faces that I could actually count the number of pores they had on their face. (If I had a notepad, I would’ve listed the number, but I’ve since forgotten the exact amount.)

However, I cut it some slack. After all, they were on a helicopter. It was realistic, I guess, and I had some experience with that type of style being done well. (Hurt Locker. I don’t love the movie, but even I have to admit that the director used that style perfectly.)

Jack Ryan unbuckles his seatbelt to help a newbie with his, and it’s at that moment that an RPG hits the helicopter. It’s here that my hopes started to dim. The helicopter is crashing, and the camera starts to move all over the place. It was dizzying, but once again, I cut it some slack. I just told myself that the director really wanted this scene to be authentic.

Chris Pine is rushed to a field hospital, and we find out that he’s lost feeling in his legs. He screams in pain, and in the next scene, he’s attempting to walk with crutches. It’s here that we’re introduced to Keira Knightley who plays Cathy Muller. She’s a third year med student tasked with helping him recover. The camera isn’t as jerky in these scenes as it was on the helicopter, but it’s still put within inches of each actor’s face. Keira Knightley and Chris Pine are attractive people, but I don’t think anyone can look good that way. (Especially when you’re watching them on a thirty foot screen. If I didn’t already know the plot, I’d think it was a horror movie.)

That's the farthest you can expect to see their faces. The director probably regrets filming them from so far away.

That’s the farthest you can expect to see their faces. The director probably regrets filming them from so far away.

 

Let’s fast forward, shall we? Jack Ryan is recruited by an enigmatic C.I.A. Operative portrayed by Kevin Costner to become an analyst for them. He goes undercover in Wall Street, and they meet in movie theaters that show old movies. Kind of like how in the Departed, Damon and Nicholson meet at a porn theater. It’s here that the movie shows its cheekiness. The director seems to like the contrast of the old, classical style of movies with his own style. Aside from this scene, Keira Knightley is seen watching an old movie on the television. (A shot which is mimicked later on in the movie.) I thought this was a nice touch, and my hopes began to swell again. They were once again dashed when the writer portrayed Cathy Muller so terribly. In the movie, Cathy Muller confronts Jack Ryan about hiding things from her, and she demands to know if he’s having an affair. She stomps away, and Jack Ryan says: “Let’s go to Paris.”

Then all is well. 

I mean, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t really paint her in the best light. She knows he’s lying, and she forgives him just like that for a trip to Paris? Admittedly, it’s understandable, but she could’ve looked a little conflicted about it, at least. Oh, and let’s talk about Keira Knightley’s performance. Cathy Muller is American, and Keira Knightley is British. So, her accent for this movie was crucial. And… It’s all right. It does waver here and there when she raises her voice, but it’s passable. The accent is believable enough, but it does have an unfortunate side effect of lowering her acting ability. She was great in Pride and Prejudice, and even though I didn’t like her character in the Pirates and the Caribbean movies, she was good there as well. Forced to do a foreign accent, however, it’s obvious that she’s struggling. 

It’s perfectly reasonable why she can’t act to the full extent of her ability. It’s a lot of hard work! I couldn’t help but think that her average acting in this movie is the fault of the movie. I feel like she noticed, halfway into the movie, that it wasn’t good. And she just didn’t feel like working that hard for a below average movie. I can understand Tom Hanks and Colin Farrell, I guess, working on their accents for months for Saving Mr. Banks, but I probably wouldn’t have tried so hard for a movie like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Let’s talk about the fight scenes. I hate shaky cam. Yes, it’s realistic. Real life fights are shaky, unfocused, and messy. But movies aren’t about being realistic. Sure, I like the plots and characters to be realistic. But movies are about elevating reality. Here’s a good example. In Oldboy, there’s a scene where the main character goes down a corridor, and fights over a dozen assailants. The camera only shows it from one angle, and it moves slowly down the corridor while he disposes of the nuisances. It’s calm and precise and rather elegant. It made the fight all the more brutal because you could see everything clearly. It was horrific and brilliant. 

In the fight scenes in this movie, the camera actually isn’t pointed at the characters for certain seconds! I’m not kidding. In the last fight scene of the movie, the camera is focused on the background, leaving the characters in the foreground unfocused. And when they moved, it took a few seconds for the camera to follow them.

It’s ridiculous. It’s hard to take a movie seriously that looks like a home movie I made when I was thirteen and was too lazy to stop recording when walking. (At least with that, the ground and footage of my feet walking was in focus.) 

The villain… Oh, I need to talk about the villain. Kenneth Branagh portrays Viktor Cherevin. I could tell you his occupation, but to be honest, his occupation is to be a villain. That’s what the movie shows you, and don’t expect anything more from him than that.

Ooh, he's looking very villainous here.

Ooh, he’s looking very villainous here.

 

In the first scene we see him, the camera is looking at him from behind. We see an elegant European room while classical music plays loudly in the background. A large bodyguard stands at the other end of the room, and a man is poking a syringe into the arm of the villain. He obviously misses the vein or something like that, and the villain beats him for it. The sounds they used for his punches and kicks sound like something you’d expect if you kicked a pillowcase with a basketball in it. It’s completely fake, and boring. 

In another scene, he’s at a Church lighting a candle while a choir sings, and it is so cheesy that I actually laughed. At the end of the day, the plot isn’t important. In my previous reviews, I told you a little bit about the plot, but to be honest, I can’t even remember the plot of this movie. It’s about Russia being the bad guys. Again. It’s about Chris Pine saving the day, and about the director trying to give you a headache. (He succeeded!)

The one thing I thought was interesting is that they managed to sneak in an F-word. It’s PG-13, I believe, and I think it’s because when the guys in charge of censorship looked at the movie, they realized that you can’t see any of the violence. “Okay, since you can’t see any of the fight scenes, you can have one F-word. Use it well.”

I wish so badly that I just watched Wolf of Wall Street. But unfortunately the showing wasn’t till the day after, and like I said, I did think that this was going to be a good movie. If this movie gets a sequel, which I hope it doesn’t, I will not watch it.

On the bright side, I was on a Lazy Boy at the theater where I watched the movie. That’s the high note of the entire film for me.

 

2 out of 6.

MV5BMTY2MDkxNzYwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM2MjE5MDE@._V1_SX214_

 

~Jian

Image

 

American Hustle is David O. Russell’s newest movie, and stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner. It is a movie about two con artists (Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld and Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser) who are forced by Detective Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to help him catch other criminals in the act of bribery. The plot is actually a lot more complicated than that, made all the more complicated by the eccentric characters which populate the movie. 

Let’s talk about the characters, then. Christian Bale has always dedicated himself to his movies… to the point that it’s rather unhealthy. In the Machinist, he lost sixty pounds for the role, and then gained it all back within a year for Batman Begins. 

Image

Yeah, looks pretty drastic to me. In American Hustle, he’s taken to gaining a lot of weight. And unlike in Batman Begins, he did not use that weight to build muscle. That isn’t the only thing he does in this movie, of course, and his acting here is just amazing. Sure, it can feel a bit fake at certain points in the movie (mostly during the beginning), but you’ll forget all about that when you watch a scene of his with Jennifer Lawrence, who plays his crazy wife. 

Image

I know, people overuse that word nowadays. But she is crazy, and Jennifer Lawrence pulls it off magnificently. It’s so believable, which is why Christian Bale’s performance is enhanced whenever they’re in a scene together. It’s hard not to believe that this woman isn’t nuts, so his own reactions seem authentic and… rather comical with a dramatic overtone. 

You’ll know what I mean when you watch it. Let me talk about the plot again for a moment. The movie begins with Christian Bale making an elaborate combover, and immediately throws you into the middle of a sting operation. Oh, and Bradley Cooper messes up Christian Bale’s combover.

Image

 

David O. Russell is nothing, if not brave. It takes a lot of guts to just do that, and trust that whatever you’re watching is interesting enough that you don’t shrug and walk away. 

It’s here that you truly see Martin Scorsese’s influence on David O. Russell. The beginning reminds me of Goodfellas, although a lot funnier, and pop songs from the 70’s undercut a lot of emotional scenes. This can get a bit annoying, if I’m being honest. At times, it’s really awesome. Especially if you like the song, and think, “Exactly! That’s what I would’ve chosen!”

But, the soundtrack feels… impatient. There are plenty of scenes in the movie where you felt like an emotional punch was delivered to your gut, but the scene was disturbed by some obnoxious song. Why not let Amy Adams just act? The actors are too great to be dubbed over with music, and it brings me to my next point. American Hustle is entertaining, fast-paced, dramatic, and funny. 

And a little empty. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try to do my best. Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell’s previous directorial feature, was an amazing movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. It was simple, really. It was about a guy that beat up his boss, who was having an affair with his wife. He gets out of a mental institution, and ends up training for a dance competition with a nymphomaniac. (In retrospect, it doesn’t sound that simple.) It also cost very little to make (especially in comparison to American Hustle’s budget), and garnered some awards. (Jennifer Lawrence got an Oscar for it.)

And it’s better than American Hustle. Yes, I normally like movies with some violence, some intrigue, and some con men. The Sting is one of my favorite movies of all time, but American Hustle just feels hollow in comparison to Silver Linings Playbook. I feel like David O. Russell was pressured to up the stakes, rightfully so. But the music, the unreliable narration, the elaborate outfits… They’re all supposed to be icing. They’re not supposed to make up the cake entirely. 

That isn’t to say that this isn’t incredibly entertaining. Like I said, the acting here is incredible. Bradley Cooper essentially plays the villain, and I’m not going to say: “But he makes you feel sorry for him.”

Image

Not at all. He wasn’t written to be sympathetic, or even realistic. Almost none of these characters are realistic, but he plays his role with such relish and unpredictability that I can’t help but hope that he was the protagonist. Louie C.K. plays his superior in the movie, and you’ll see in their scenes together why I think that.

When Bradley Cooper asks for 2 million dollars, his boss tries to tell him an ice fishing story from his youth. He interrupts him halfway through, and guesses what the ending is. Flustered, his boss tells him that he’s wrong, and he doesn’t deserve to hear the story. Later on in the movie, Cooper asks Louie about the ice fishing story, and again, interrupts him to make up his own ending for the story. It tells you everything you need to know about this character. He’s a control freak, and with his fast-talking personality, he gets away with it most of the time. He can’t stand it when someone else is talking, and he tries to show that he’s smarter than everyone. 

If you’re looking for a sympathetic character, you could look to Jeremy Renner. His character is one of the more realistic portraits of the movie. He plays Mayor Carmine Polito, and Christian Bale is tasked with the difficult job of piling evidence against him to put him and his colleagues behind bars. He’s a corrupt politician, but he does what he does for the city of New Jersey. It made me think of something Christian Bale’s character said to Bradley Cooper. 

I’ll paraphrase, since my memory isn’t good enough that I can remember it perfectly. But, it went something along the lines of:

“The world isn’t black and white. It’s extremely grey.”

Pretty much every antihero in movie and television shares the same view (I do, as well), but I think what makes this morality speech stand out from most is that it doesn’t really refer to Bale. Or Adams. Or Lawrence and all the others. It refers to Carmine Polito. He’s a good guy that does illegal things for good. He’s a big slap to the face of Bale, and I thought it’s one of the smarter things in the movie. All these characters are grey, but Polito’s character is the only one that seems realistically so. 

That’s probably the downfall of this movie, but don’t let this movie’s little faults scare you away. It’s ridiculously entertaining, and I was laughing throughout the movie. If Cooper, Bale, Adams, and Lawrence win awards for it – I won’t be surprised in the least. They acted their asses off, and they deserve them.

But I just don’t think the movie really deserves any more awards than Silver Linings Playbook received.

~Jian

 Image

Let me explain the new series I just started, Classic Thursdays. I write a review of a classic movie every other week of the month. I review movies given the status of classics by more than a few individuals, and write whether or not I think they deserve their classic status. There will be some spoilers, but I’ll be sure to write a warning before a massive one. So, for the first post in the new series, I decided to take on a relatively new classic called No Country for Old Men.

Roger Ebert

That was taken from the late Roger Ebert’s ten best films of 2007. And if he called it a perfect movie, I think No Country for Old Men counts as a classic in the sense that it received almost universal critical acclaim. In fact, there’s an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to what it all means. There’s also a notable film critic that chose No Country for Old Men as the #1 movie of the decade, and MSN chose it as best film of the decade as well.

So, hopefully, that explains why I’ve chosen it as the first movie for Classic Thursdays. I remember a good friend of mine recommended it to me a year ago, and told me that it was his favorite movie. So, I watched the first eighteen minutes, and wasn’t impressed.

At the time, I really wasn’t in the mood for something so serious, so I decided to watch it another time. Then I watched it maybe a few months ago, and I gained perspective on the movie. It is a good movie, but I don’t consider it a classic. Let me explain.

In the first thirty minutes, you’d think that the main character is Llewelyn Moss (portrayed by Josh Brolin). But, the real main character is Anton Chigurh (portrayed by Javier Bardem). He is also the antagonist. Josh Brolin plays a hunter that stumbles upon the aftermath of a bloody shootout between two different drug cartels, and finds a suitcase of money. He takes it and hides it at his home. It isn’t long, of course, before the cartel finds out that it was him who took the money because he visits the scene of the crime again just as they arrive.

It’s at this point that you realize that his character isn’t very bright. I mean. Let’s face it. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. But, he does know how to fight back and run. I can give him that. Eventually, the drug cartel sends Anton Chigurh (don’t worry if you can’t pronounce his name. No one else in the movie can, either) and a game of cat and mouse ensues.

I’m reminded of an exchange between two characters on the sitcom, That 70’s Show.

Michael Kelso: “Let the game of cat and mouse begin!” 

Fez: “What happens to the cat if the mouse is retarded?”

And at times, you can get frustrated with Josh Brolin’s character. I discovered a good way to stop being frustrated with him, though. I came to terms with the fact that Javier Bardem’s character is the main character. So, I simply started rooting for Anton Chigurh. I know, horrible of me. But, I enjoyed the movie immensely once I started to think of Anton as the protagonist.

Warning. There will be spoilers from this point on. Look away now.

Looked away? All right. Now I’m going to do my best to “analyze” this movie. Though I’m horrible at proper analysis..

no-country-for-old-men-6542

A lot of people have complained about the last thirty minutes of this movie. Why? Well, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) gets killed by the OTHER cartel offscreen. Yup. Anton Chigurh kills Llewelyn’s wife, and lives to kill another day. It ends with Tommy Lee Jones’ delivering a staggeringly awesome performance as he tells his wife about his dream. Now, in an attempt to give you a fresh analysis, I didn’t read the entire Wikipedia page on it. I’m going to give you my take on it, and if it lines up with the take of all the other people.. well, good for me. If not, well, good for them, I guess?

Anyways. Llewelyn Moss reminds me a lot of sheep. And I’m reminded of the idea that humans are really smarter sheep. I think the reason why a lot of people have complained about Josh Brolin’s character is because it feels so familiar. He’s a normal guy, right? And it makes people wonder how they would act if they were in his situation.

And what truly makes people dislike his character is simply because there is a chance that they would panic just like him. Anton Chigurh, in that sense, is more like a wolf. This feels really cliche, I know, but this is what I felt when I watched this movie. Anton Chigurh is an unstoppable force, and everyone knows it. Josh Brolin, however, is not the immovable object.

I think the Old Men are the immovable object. (Going off the wayside a bit there, Jian.)

Well, I was thinking about the paradox about the unstoppable force and immovable object, right. And while I’m not the best informed on this theory (hardly), I do think that the character of Anton Chigurh fits as the unstoppable force. And I think that the pedestal that the Old Men (basically, our ancestors) reflects a lot of what people think nowadays. They will always look back to the past, and romanticize it. For the majority, it’s part of our nature. Every generation thinks that the world is going to end with them.

Anton Chigurh’s job is to mock them for hero worshipping the past so much. Don’t get me wrong. I sometimes look to the past, and think, “Well, everything was good back then. No psychos like we have today.”

And I’d be completely wrong! One of todays biggest misconceptions among the populous is that crime has gone up. In reality, crime has gone down by 25% since the 1950’s. Crimes went largely unreported back then because we didn’t have the technology to really do anything about a lot of crime.

Now, if someone sneezes and wipes the snot on a handbag at a store, the police know about it. The media, in part, helps feed this idea. The media wasn’t as well-informed in the 1950’s, and crime reporters didn’t hear that much about crime. (In fact, L.A. Confidential represents the end of the era where the police didn’t tell the media about practically every crime.)

I’m part of a good generation. Sure, we have our own little problems (don’t get me started about our celebrities), but it’s not as bad as the Middle Ages, is it?

BELL
Okay. Two of ’em. Both had my father. It’s peculiar. I’m older now’n he ever was by twenty years. So in a sense he’s the younger man.

I think it was that particular line which gave away the fact that this was a satire of modern culture. Or, at least, that’s how I view it.

Now, I could be wrong and I could be misinterpreting the movie. But that’s the point, I think, of this movie. To make up your own opinions on it. I remember a scene from Life of Pi where Pi’s father tells him that animals have no souls. What you see in their eyes is your own thoughts and emotions reflected back at you.

I think that’s what movies are, really. And this is what was reflected back at me when I watched it.

So, is this a classic? I don’t think it’s earned that, yet. Is this a great movie? It is. I enjoyed this movie immensely, and I like the fact that I had to think about a lot of its themes. I hope you’ve enjoyed the first post of my new series. Comment if you have any thoughts to add, or if you completely disagree with me on every level. I would love to hear what you guys think.

~Jian

Image

I recently started reading Under the Dome, and I’m maybe four hundred pages into it. Out of all the Stephen King books I’ve read, Under the Dome has to be the best so far. It is grand in scale, and I love the characters. So, the moment I found out there was a Tv show, I was giddy with excitement.

I’m going to spend the rest of this review telling you all whether or not it lives up to Under the Dome, or if it’s a good show in general. Like I said before, I have not finished the book. I’m still in the process of reading it, but I just really wanted to review this Tv show. So, please excuse me if I don’t know all the characters, or I can’t tell you all the differences. I’m not a very attentive reader, so there’s your warning.

I will mention this right now. This isn’t an ultra-faithful adaptation of Under the Dome. This is obvious within the first six minutes. (I took notes while watching it.) But you can skip the next nine paragraphs if you don’t want to hear about the comparisons I made with the book and the show. Afterwards, all I’ll discuss is whether or not the show is good. So, feel free to skip to 10 paragraphs from now.

They changed the characters a lot, and I think that they took an interesting change with the characters. For one, Dale Barbara’s/Barbie’s character (portrayed by Mike Vogel) is rather different from the book. In fact, most of the characters are different from the book. Rusty Everett, the physician and husband of one of Chester’s Mill deputies, is a fireman in here. And Chief Duke Perkins actually called him a meathead.

Considering the fact that he was my second favorite character in the book – next to Barbie – I was really surprised by this choice. But knowing Brian K. Vaughan (who’s written for Lost, one of my favorite shows, and also wrote a TON of amazing comic books that I love) was handling this, I had faith it was for a good reason.

I think the changes they’ve done with the antagonists, however, was really for the best. Okay, we all know Big Jim and Junior Rennie were the bad guys. So, I’m not spoiling anything. But, in the book, practically everyone knew they were the antagonists. And they were made out to be amazing fakers and that’s what made them dangerous. I didn’t get the impression of that in the book. Maybe this is because I got to see what they were actually thinking, but this wasn’t aided by the fact that 90% of all of the characters saw Big Jim and Junior for what they were.

In the Tv series, on the other hand, I was very impressed with the way they’ve handled their characters. I could see why people thought they weren’t a threat, and why Big Jim would be a successful car dealer. Big Jim is portrayed by the talented Dean Morris, and I think they casted him perfectly. Dean Morris ( from Breaking Bad ) is one of those actors that can be charming and deadly all at once. I think he should get a lot more lead roles, since he’s one of the few actors I think can hold his own next to Bryan Cranston. (Which is saying something.)

Perhaps the two biggest changes in character, though, is the change in Barbie’s and Angie’s character. Let me explain. Barbie, in the book, is a drifter who became a short order cook at a local diner in Chester’s Mill. He’s former military, highly trained, but when the girlfriend of one of the town’s infamous jerks tries to make a move on him… things start to go by the wayside of things. The friends of said jerk (including Junior Rennie) ambush Barbie as he’s closing the diner, and he manages to kick their ass despite the unfair advantage.

Junior cries to his Dad about it, and his Dad makes life miserable for Barbie. So, the book starts with Dale about to leave Chester’s Mill. His plan goes awry when the Dome drops into place, and a plane crashes into it. And he was so close to leaving the miserable town!

In the Tv series, Dale is… well, he’s not so innocent. The Pilot episode begins with Dale burying a dead body, and we see him yelling into a phone, worried about Chief Perkins catching him. That’s as different as it could possibly be, if you ask me.

The other change is the fact that Angie McAlister is not killed in the first few minutes. In the book, Angie’s killed by Junior Rennie pretty quickly. It appears like she’ll be a main character here, and I thought it was an interesting change. It’s not a bad one, but at the same time, I’m wondering if this is the show’s way of showing the viewers from the get go that it’s definitely not the same as the book.

And I think it’s a good way of doing that. Her character certainly seems more interesting than in the book, and I guess now people have an attractive young woman to look forward to seeing.

Okay. Now I’ll write about the actual show. I’ll try to keep the comparisons to the book out, but no promises. I like it when people adapt books into movies or Tv shows. I know they fail often, but the thing is, they make it a lot faster paced.

And Under the Dome is no exception. Within the first eight minutes, the Dome drops, and most of the main cast knows about it by the twenty-four minute mark. I thought this was a smart decision, and the tension feels truly real here. Since this isn’t an ultra-faithful adaption, I had no idea what could happen.

Another nice touch made by the show is making everyone completely silent from the other side of the Dome. I thought this really ramped up tension, and made everything feel surreal. I mean, you can see people on the other side mouthing words, but you don’t actually hear it. It’s a very creepy feeling, and it only enhances the claustrophobic feeling of being a bug in a jar. (Which is essentially what they are.)

The characterization in this show is honestly quite something. In the first episode, I know these characters. I’ve read the first 400 pages of the book, but you should believe me when I say that most of these characters have been put through the ringer and changed almost completely. And I think they improved some of them. I especially liked the fact that they combined the role of First Selectman Andy Sanders and Chief Duke Perkins. Only readers of the book will understand this. But, it feels a lot more… tight?

I think the director of the first episode, Niels Arden Oplev, knows what he is doing. Everything is perfectly timed, and everything is clear. Precise. And unlike a lot of the modern directors, he doesn’t rely on expository dialogue too much. Tv shows and movies are a visual medium, and it honestly makes me cringe when the director and writers feel that they need to dumb it down for the audience.

I thought that this is a fine example of that, and it was definitely something to smile about. The final ten minutes, to be exact, was absolutely perfect. You’ll see if you watch it. I loved the ending.

Let me talk about the acting now. The two standout actors has to be Dean Morris, Jeff Fahey, and Alexander Koch. I already talked a little bit about Dean Morris, so let me talk about the other two. You may recognize Jeff Fahey as Frank Lapidus from Lost. I have to say, his portrayal of Duke Perkins is pitch perfect. Duke Perkins in the book was very interesting, but there’s subtlety and layers to Jeff Fahey’s acting that I thought was really great. Alexander Koch plays Junior Rennie, one of the two aforementioned antagonists from the book. (Mind you, Brian K. Vaughan could still throw us a curveball and make one of the teenagers the villain. He could pull it off, too.)

I think that Alexander Koch’s portrayal of Junior Rennie is awesome. As with the character of Big Jim, I think they changed his character for the better here. He’s a really bad guy. Disgusting, even. However, the thing that makes most people disgusting… is the fact that they could put on a facade and fool you. It’s what makes serial killers terrifying. They could be the guy/gal organizing the charity, he could be the guy/gal that serves you your food. You just never know.

And that’s what I like about this character now. I hated this character in the book. Absolutely hated him. But here.. Well, I still don’t like him. But the fact that it made me think twice is really something. The episode starts out with him confessing his life to a girl he’s held a torch for since he was in the 3rd Grade. And he’s dismissed immediately.

I’m not condoning his violent nature or anything like that. But I thought that this made his character a little more… realistic. I don’t think people are inherently evil. I just believe that there are “triggers” for every person, and for certain people, that trigger can be exactly the same as Junior Rennie’s trigger. And let me tell you. It gets pulled all right.

So, I think that portraying this character would be difficult for pretty much any character, and Alexander Koch pulls it off swimmingly. It’s fantastic to watch, and I look forward to future episodes to see how he takes the role to the next level.

So, let’s see the list.

1. Story: Interesting.

2. Characterization: Intriguing.

3. Acting: Top notch.

That’s the main check list I use when I watch anything. There are a few laughs in here, but I’m going to flat out tell you right now that this isn’t a comedy. Maybe a very dark, DARK comedy. But it’s important to know that this is a straight up drama. I came in expecting a drama, and that’s exactly what I got back.

Now, it looks like it’s only going to be a miniseries. After seeing this, I was kinda disappointed. It’s difficult to pack a thousand page novel into thirteen episodes, after all, and I’m afraid it might end up being rushed. There’s fast paced and there’s tripping over yourself and falling down the stairs. I really hope this show doesn’t trip over their shoelaces on this one.

So. This is definitely a show worth watching. It’s important that you know it’s rather different from the book, but really. It’s still quite good. That’s the point. Considering the show selection for summer ( I.E. Keeping Up with the Kardashians ), this is the Holy Grail of television shows right now. (Mostly because I’m not up to date with Mad Men. Catching up, though!)

I’m giving this show an 8.5/10. It’s a spectacular show. Not without its flaws, and I was really annoyed at certain changes from the book, but it is still worth watching. It was easy to forget about the annoyances and just enjoy the show. And that’s what shows are for, aren’t they?

So, if you have some spare time, Under the Dome could be the new show to watch during your summer vacation.

~Jian

Image

I remember watching Monsters Inc. when I was maybe five years old, and loving it. Over a decade later, I still remember most of the movie. So, when I heard that they were making a prequel movie… I was ridiculously happy.

So, let’s get to it. I’m going to start with a short summary, in case you’ve yet to hear about it. Monsters University is a prequel to the critically acclaimed, Monsters Inc., and it is the story of how the two main characters survived college to be who they are in the first movie. Mike Wazowski is voiced by Billy Crystal (as in the first movie), and for most of the movie, he’s the “main” character. At a school field trip to Monsters Incorporated, he’s saddened when no one chooses him as a buddy and he’s stuck with his teacher again.

Upon entering the facility, they get to see the Scare Floor. I spent a lot of time looking at each and every character to see if I recognized them from the original movie. (I recognized maybe seven characters from the original movie.) Mike sneaks off from his group and enters a child’s room, unbeknownst to the scarer he’s trailing.

And as he’s being scolded afterwards, the scarer takes note of the fact that he didn’t even notice Mike’s presence and gives him his Monsters University hat. Fast forward to when Mike is accepted to Monsters University.

I’ll take a break here to mention the high quality of Pixar’s animation for Monsters University. I can see why it took five years to make this movie. The attention to detail is enormous, and if you watched Monsters Inc. only recently, you’ll see how sophisticated the art has grown since then. (Mind you, the animation in Monsters Inc. is still top notch. The animation in Monsters University is just that good.)

There is a scene near the end of the movie where we can see every strand of grass, and they look real. I’ll be really mad if Monsters University doesn’t get an oscar for the animation. Let’s get back to the story. Each and every character feels fully realized. Mike wants to be a scarer more than anyone else, despite the fact that he is not at all scary. He is a scaring genius in the sense that he can recite all the textbooks, and he knows how to scare. James P. Sullivan a.k.a. Sully (voiced by John Goodman) comes from a long line of scarers. He’s a natural at scaring, so much so that he didn’t even come to the first day of college with a pencil. In reality, Sully is simply so afraid to fail that he doesn’t want to seem like he’s even trying. It’s better to fail when it appears like you don’t care, than to fail when it looks like you’ve worked your hardest. That’s the way I perceive his character.

A particularly funny scene is when Sully and Mike enter a fraternity called Oozma Kappa. (AKA O.K. ) One of the members, Don,  is older than most of the teachers, and he’s a former salesman. His specialty is being able to stick unto things. I can’t help but think that this is a nod to the fact that the worst salesmen are sometimes called leeches.

Their fraternity is so uncool that they weren’t even given a proper fraternity house. They’re just living in the house of one of its members and his mother. The whole movie is fast paced, hilarious, and if you were a fan of the first one, you’ll love this one. It was fun to notice all the winks toward the original movie.

Unto the things I didn’t like. The main thing I didn’t like – which wasn’t really the movie’s fault – was the 3D. I’m very nearsighted, so I normally have to wear my glasses whenever I watch a movie. So, I had to awkwardly put the 3D glasses over my normal glasses, and it was a real hassle keeping them in place the entire time.

I wouldn’t have minded if the 3D was as heavily used as movies like Avatar or Life of Pi, but the 3D here was barely noticeable. It was only noticeable whenever a flying monster was in front of the camera because its wings would come out of the screen.

The problem with 3D is that it darkens the screen considerably, and it made certain scenes look drab when they really were fine. (I checked by taking off my 3D glasses for a moment.)

All in all, there weren’t any obvious problems with the movie. A more eagle-eyed viewer could probably list them off, but I wager that if one were to mention them, they’d all be minor and hardly affect the grand scheme of things.

This is the animated movie to watch this year, and after looking at the trailers for most of the movies coming out for 2013, it is most likely going to be in the top 10 of best movies of 2013. It’s not a flawless film, but its pros are good enough that it’d make you forget about any of the cons.

I’m giving this an 8.7/10. I cannot say that this movie is better than the first one, because it’s you that should do the deciding. I personally think they compliment each other greatly, and they could be combined into a very long movie. Go watch this movie. It is awesome.

Image

~Jian