Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

Night of the Living Dead

Posted by ron On October - 2 - 2010


Duane Jones played the last man with a brain, literally.

After more than 40 years and thousands of movie reviews later, Night of the Living Dead continues to inspire and recycle horror fans from one generation to the next. So much has been written about this 1968 classic, any movie critic would be severely challenged to say anything that hasn’t been said before. However, this isn’t a review to challenge movie critics but rather to compliment its enjoyment for fans and critics alike. 

With the brand of visceral cruelty that modern horror films seem to favor, it’s hard to believe that in 1968 teenagers were disturbed by the violence in Night of the Living Dead. Even by today’s standards of a PG-13 rating, the method by which the violence in this film was shot seemed amateurish except for the fact that any female character slapped by a man would eventually have papers served by the end credits. Yet, this film still has some revolutionary elements today. 

Some 40+ years later horror films still haven’t really warmed up to an African American lead or minority protagonists in general. Duane Jones played such a straight arrow that any man could relate to him. As Ben he finds himself in a situation that he doesn’t understand. Ben knew he had to keep his wits about him in order to survive. Audiences who rooted for him against the overwhelming odds, felt the ending was an agitating cruel twist of fate. Jones commanded the big screen when he described the gruesome sight of body parts torn apart as he drove a truck through a crowd of zombies. At that point, the film transcended racial differences because any audience can relate to the physical and psychological struggle. Never mind Jack Johnson’s coined phrase, “the great white hope.” Ben was the America’s last hope for sanity in an insane world plagued by zombies.

Night of the Living Dead never relied solely on jump scares. The slow drawn out build of suspense was its bread and butter. Any audience was aware of what was coming because a majority of the shots placed the unaware victim in the foreground with the infectious zombie horde slowly advancing into overwhelming numbers. The pacing was so drawn out that today it might require some patience and restraint not to scream out “run goddam it”. Still the film had a design where every encounter with the undead had a subtle, calculated build up that almost caught one slightly off guard. A few zombies might not seem formidable but a claustrophobic climax with a relentless horde presented a different effect. 

Romero’s ground breaking film might never have the same theatre value with ticket prices far from the 1968 prices. However, the orchestra soundtrack will always continue to delight anyone hosting friends in their home with entertainment centres and cozy couches. Night of the Living Dead will always be the perfect conversation starter for all ages of horror fans alike because its the beginning of many good things to come.

In my homage to George Thorogood’s one bourbon, one Scotch, and one beer I rate Night of the Living Dead as a cozy bourbon on a cool autumn October evening with friends. 

Cheers,
Ron                    

Never Let Me Go

Posted by ron On October - 1 - 2010


Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Kiera Knightly caught in a love triangle that none have much time to contemplate the meaning of emotions.

With no parents or idea whom she’s modeled after, Kathy H played by the wonderfully talented Carey Mulligan knew nothing of herself or the world around her besides what she’s taught to act and think at Hailsham, a regimented boarding school for special children. She had roughly 31 years to become self aware and process all the things humans take for granted before she would be harvested like cattle.

Never Let Me Go was a rarity in film. It’s pure science fiction. There were no plot twists to blindside you. No expensive CGI or elaborate action sequences. Instead the film challenged the audience with how much of it was grounded in reality.

If you had a very brief life span without the ability to reproduce, how would you go about it without anyone teaching you? Hailsham students wouldn’t have much time to comprehend or to even experience love. Therefore true love becomes a very rare and sacred for the children of Hailsham. The direction and acting was effective in differentiating sex from love. Sex is something to experience and enjoy in the moment. Love is something you can never forget or let go. The viewer understood the importance of love through Kathy’s memories. The audience understood her first memory of Tommy, the importance of his gift to her, and her stunning awareness beyond her years. Tommy played by Andrew Garfield had a rare gift. His art carried a edge of vulnerable rage that even he couldn’t explain. How could he? He had no parents to explain his gifts but Kathy innately understood him. To complete this love triangle, Kathy had a rival and a best friend in Ruth played by Kiera Knightly. Love can be also painful as Ruth picked up on Kathy’s interest and went out of her way to keep the two apart. They remain apart during much of their young adult life. The naive interplay between the characters didn’t come off as contrived but delicate. Truth is, no matter how much time one has on the planet, you can never forget the one you love. Love is the connection between our soul and our physical existence. It stays with you till your last second of life and that is what is profound about the distance covered in Never Let Me Go.

The cinematography captured the sense of time in the film. When the trio are children, every scene took place in the Spring and Summer. As adults, the Fall and the Winter harvest foreshadowed that their life spans were growing shorter and shorter.

Mortality is a simple concept in life but what made this film so hard to digest was how hard it was to hold onto so many of the good things in life in such a short period of time. By the end, the viewer found him or herself bargaining for more time to get to know these characters. Was there an out? Why not Escape?

The answer simply put, these characters couldn’t escape what they were born to be from the start. They were never given any choice but love was the only thing they could aspire to have in their lives. They were encouraged or raised to be anything else. Its their naivety that made the audience uncomfortable to sit through the screening.

Heartbreaking, profound, and wonderfully executed, I rated Never Let Me Go as a well aged Scotch single malt in my never ending homage to George Thorogood’s One Bourbon, One scotch, and one beer.

Cheers,
Ron

The Social Network

Posted by ron On September - 29 - 2010


Within a Harvard dorm, two college friends will embark on a journey that will ultimately define their relationship and lead to a discovery worth billions.

How much equity is in popularity contests? Apparently, the answer is in the neighborhood of 15 billion. The Social Network was a snarky dialogue driven film allegedly based on the two principle co-founders of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin. When Zuckerberg’s jealous rage and obsession with college fraternities got out of control, academic probation led to the creation of Facebook, a networking website that later established Zuckerberg as the world’s youngest billionaire. Unfortunately, his ascension wasn’t without a few casualties in friendship. Zuckerberg may have redefined networking but in the process alienated every one around him including his best friend, Eduardo Saverin.

Directed by David Fincher, the characters in the Social Network were reduced to personalities within one long internalized dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin. The seamless dialogue was delivered so that words flowed from one person to the next as if one character finished the other person’s thought. Jesse Eisenberg epitomized Zuckerberg’s one track mind and his propensity to act without fear of consequence. He was every bit as convincing as a hopelessly jaded Jewish kid whose explosive insecurities needlessly damaged his relationships. It was hard to empathize with Zuckerberg. He wanted to be sociable. He just wasn’t any good at it. Eisenberg was more than effective at making that point. Perhaps not every thing in life such as popularity can or should be rationalized. Andrew Garfield played the film’s protagonist, suave ambitious business oriented co-founder Eduardo Saverin. It’s extremely difficult to believe what really happened to Saverin and Zuckerberg’s friendship. Garfield depicted Saverin with naive loving nature for his friend, so much that it ultimately was his downfall. Can the viewer buy that he was this naive the entire time? Difficult to say. It was Saverin’s equation that served as Facebook’s search engine. Unlike Zuckerberg, Saverin believed in the idea of beating the odds in life with the terms placed upon them. He jumped into the monotonous games of sororities. Saverin also had something Zuckerberg desired, money. Enter the flamboyant and opportunistic Sean Parker played by Justin Timberlake. No stretch of the imagination, Timberlake played a rock star. He tipped the scales in the favor of leaving the East Coast with the powerful seductive financial strategy: get rich now. Only problem, hedge funds required Zuckerberg to do something very underhanded. The movie needed no visual aids for the ensuing blood bath of scathing insults. By the end of the settlement, neither Zuckerberg nor Saverin could look at each other after all the emotional damage they inflicted upon each other.

Director David Fincher’s direction, camerawork, and Trent Reznor’s incredible soundtrack encapsulated this fantastical story from the cold Harvard dorms to the warmth of the California sunshine that ultimately ended in the cold unfeeling glass room for the settlement. It was a seductive, powerful fairytale and yet, by the end the audience almost felt betrayed by an unfulfilled promise that left one wanting more. What was the real motivation behind Facebook? It’s up to you to decide.

In my never ending tribute to George Thorogood’s One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One beer I am giving the Social Network a very satisfying bourbon because the intelligent aggressive dialogue, the precision and execution by the actors, and the flawless direction to captivate this bizarre tale of one young man’s ride to billions.

Cheers,
Ron

Animal Kingdom

Posted by ron On September - 26 - 2010


Mother knows best in Australian crime film, Animal Kingdom

When an orphaned boy was fed to a dysfunctional family of criminals trapped by their own devices, it’s live to survive in the Australian crime film Animal Kingdom. Meet the Cody family, a narcissistic group of thuggish thieves who pulled off a bank heist so heinous that the corrupt Australian police department has made them out to be more dangerous than the Gotti family. When a random cop crossed the line and drew first blood, the stakes are raised as these criminals caged like animals within their homes plotted retribution that resulted in an all out war between hoods and cops.

Stuck in the middle of this escalating war was Joshua Cody played by James Frecheville, a precocious teenage boy whose mother died from a heroin overdose. Orphaned by his mother, he was taken in by his grandmother played by Jaki Weaver who delivered a surreal performance as a manipulative mother figure. A mixture between past TV characters Mrs. Garret and Livia Soprano, she was both nurturing and ruthless in the face of self-preservation. Guy Pierce lent his star power in a supporting role of a good cop in a bad town. He delivered his best impersonation of Commissioner Gordon. Within this family full of alpha males, Ben Mendelsohn was the Pope, Andrew Cody who was not only the architect of the bank heist but also the revenge plot gone bad main. His paranoia over his actions led to irrational antagonist behavior for most of the tension in the film.

Animal Kingdom didn’t offer any surprises. It’s literally the crime film that followed “An Offer you cannot refuse” to the letter. You can easily draw your own conclusions from the moment a Cody member was killed in cold blood. The acting wasn’t especially memorable and the movie struggled to find to end on some meaningful note. However, it is the one crime film where you never the money or hear the amount taken that every cop in Australia was after. This also might be the first crime film where the criminals did absolutely nothing but sit in their living room watching television and playing Playstation video games for almost a good 2/3rds of the film. In one scene, the young man Joshua left the living room of the Cody family to meet with his girlfriend and her younger brother was playing Playstation as well. If you’re a voracious Tea Party supporter, this film could come in handy to denounce socialist programs because from this film every one seemed to be sitting at home doing nothing.

Animal Kingdom delivered nothing but a predictable plot, uneventful performances, and a contrived ending. In my never ending tribute to George Thorogood’s One Bourbon, One Scotch, and one beer I rated Animal Kingdom a flat warm unsatisfying beer.

Cheers,
Ron

The Exploding Girl

Posted by ron On September - 17 - 2010


All eyes are on Zoe Kazan who played Ivy, a young college girl who is about to learn a tough lesson in being young with a fragile heart.

The Exploding Girl chronicled the events of a epileptic naive college girl headed towards her first major heartbreak during Spring Break in Ithaca, NY. Writer/director Bradley Rust Gray captured the sensitivity of emotionally confused youth without laying a thick coating of cream cheese dysfunctional family syndrome, an exhausted trope ever since American Beauty commanded Oscar gold.

At the center of this character study, Zoe Kazan played Ivy with cute curious complexity. There’s nothing to divulge her thoughts when she was alone but her obsessive cell phone checks. At the same time, her soulmate Al played by Mark Randall doing his best impression of Seth Green needed a place to stay after getting kicked out of his parents’ home in NYC. Young men don’t come as uncomplicated as Al. His role was served as just to advance the character and be there for her till the end. As one might have guessed by now, the man who can’t appreciate Ivy by cheating on her will ultimately nudge her to see her best friend in s new light as a committed lover who will be there for her when she’s in sickness or health.

Romantic films similar to the plot in Exploding never seem to progress beyond the cliche’ difficulty communicating feelings between young people. Even through the marvels of modern technology, the ability to reach someone always leads to yet another cliche’ way to ignore someone and yet, they can’t seem to notice what a jerk one person was over another until the 90 minute mark. In the film’s most therapeutic scene on a secluded NYC rooftop at Dawn, the Ivy finally unleashed a meltdown of tears as pigeons in formation fly around them. Its a sweet release to a tender story about two aimless young hearts finally acknowledging that the best person for them was right in front of them all this time.

In an era where romantic films accentuate career and distractions, this film kept it simple and in some ways it was easier to get through. However, the acting performances were extremely limited by the lack of content to work with. Hence, a beautifully shot and contemplative climax never goes beyond the superficiality of a story that was nonetheless predictable.

In my ode to George Thorogood’s One bourbon, one scotch, one beer I am rating the Exploding Girl a modest beer that is easy and smooth but not anything complex or full of richness.

Cheers,
Ron

Machete

Posted by ron On September - 8 - 2010

Betrayed and left for dead Danny Trejo is Machete, a man without a country hell bent on retribution against the men who had wronged him. If this trope sounds familiar, it’s because this film contains all of the basic food groups in delicous exploitation films: Mindless bloody violence, gratuitous nudity, campy performances, and an overly simplified sociopolitical message. There were no surprises in Machete but it was enjoyable for that very reason. As a Grind house trailer, it was billed as a ridiculous tale of bloody revenge built around an emotionless unstoppable Mexican killing machine that was one part Hammurabi and two parts Jason Vorhees. It delivered on that promise.

At age 66, Trejo was a marvel to watch. His scarred leathery face and imposing frame were perfect for a moody silent type haunted by his past. However it was his flat affect and minimal responses that provided so much of the film’s comedic timing. Whether it’s playing off of Jessica Alba or any of his co-stars, Trejo’s less is more approach was the perfect foil.

On one level, Machete was a revenge film but it was also part of a larger amusingly convoluted arc that ultimately ignited a revolution led by illegal immigrants living in Texas. At no point did the audience learn much about the network run by Michelle Rodriguez to which she cryptically replied to an immigration officer, “They pay their part.” Are they encouraging more illegal immigration or possibly working towards their citizenship? No more information was yielded. How was paying the network more advantageous than applying for a work visa? At no point did the audience ever learn about Machete’s political views on illegal immigration. In fact, we did not get any indication on what the illegal immigrants hoped to gain out of risking their lives to enter in a stand off between Machete and a rogue Border Patrol death squad. Fortunately the film didn’t spend too time on the socio-political commentary. The story never made it personal, mean spirited, or over serious. It provided just enough anti-Mexican juice for the audience to get behind the main protagonist, his allies, and to cheer the end of the overly theatrical villains played by DeNiro, Seagal, Fahey, and Don Johnson.

Director Robert Rodriguez hasn’t deviated too much from his body of work that included El Mariachi, Desperado, and Once upon a Time in Mexico. He’s still stuck on revenge but I think he’s learned how to get more out of his actors. He hasn’t lost his sense of culture. Little details in this film really added some reverence for pride and the importance of cultural identity. Rodriguez continued to suffer from choppy editing that absolutely killed the climax of Machete. When all the plotlines converged to the Border Patrol Death Squad camp, the chaos was edited down to posing, firing munitions, and next person. Shockingly Rodriguez didn’t recruit more Mexican Americans to work as extras. What was supposed to be a living tsunami of illegal immigrants resembled more of a minor league baseball team in number. It was unclear on whether or not this mega battle scene was chopped up badly on purpose but I thought Trejo deserved more of a coupe de grace and so did the audience.

Still, this film brought laughs, the action, and hot women. In my never ending tribute to George Thorogood’s One Bourbon, One Shot, One Beer I am rating Machete a nice cold beer that warrants another one because it’s a tasty guilty pleasure.

Cheers
Ron

Piranha 3-D

Posted by ron On August - 22 - 2010


Ving Rhames might have to go medieval on some fish in the campy gore film, Piranha 3-D

Dressed as the exact same character where he fought an iconic cannibalistic sea creature, Richard Dreyfus’ career has come full circle in Piranha 3-D, a shamelessly entertaining and gory film with a lot of fun performances from the stars to the extras. French horror director Alexandre Aja didn’t exert too much of his signature fatalist film making to the Joe Dante’s 1978 recipe about the nature channel gone bad. Aja merely enriched the camp flavor of the Piranha franchise. This was refreshingly uncharacteristic of today’s directors who often tried too hard to rewrite/reboot the rules of any film less than 5 years old.

Set in Arizona along the Colorado River, unsupervised college kids have invaded a small town to party on boats and other floating devices for a Spring Break of debauchery. Unfortunately, this unlucky town was about to face something more excruciatingly painful than miles of trash and puke on the boardwalk. Unknownst to the hundreds of hard young bodies baking in the Sun, a tremor has opened up a deep underwater canyon that released thousands of hungry mouths. Between the hard drinking college kids and the impending doom that awaits them, there was a young man whose coming of age story could involve a lovely young lady if he could escape sleazy pornographer, underwater lesbian nymphs, and a serious grounding if his sheriff mom, played by Elizabeth Shue doesn’t find out he abandoned his younger siblings.

It’s impossible not to become jealous of the extras and actors who brought their best ham for the occasion along with tiny bathing suits. Jerry O’Connell delivered a riotous performance as a small time pornographer who fed off filming the activities of curious college girls who lost their inhibitions along with their virginity. Christopher Lloyd reprised his role as a crazed scientist. Eli Roth got into the fun as an MTV-esque host, while Ving Rhames might be more lethal to aquatic life than British Petroleum.

The 3-D wasn’t necessary and outside of a floating half eaten penis, it didn’t serve the film.

Piranha 3-D was one of the few films this summer that actually delivered on its promise of sex, drugs, and sushi. For that, I am giving Piranha 3-D a delicious bourbon.

Cheers
Ron

Scott Pilgrim Vs the World

Posted by ron On August - 16 - 2010


More than just an exercise in T-shirt culture, Scott Pilgrim might be in over his head if he can’t find a way to defeat all of Ramona’s evil Ex-lovers.

Whether or not you are a gamer, every one can relate to love as a game. Scott Pilgrim vs the world was the 7th level of a no holds barred fight to the finish for the girl you love. Director Edgar Wright took the best elements of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s 6 book series by emphasizing the video game spoofs and clever visual language. For all intents and purposes, the adaptation worked on the cinematic stage.

In a similar set up to Shaun of the Dead, the main protagonist was a slacker, content to simply exist in his small fish bowl world until a crisis threatened to take away the one thing he desperately loved more than garlic bread. Not much of a stretch for Michael Cera to play a self absorbed amoral puppy who often took the path of least resistance when it came to his prior relationships. Cera’s comedic limitations were identified in the scene where his character was so desperate to get dumped, he resorted to racial insults. Without the right comedic timing, the delivery felt awkward. Pilgrim’s love interest played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead captured Ramona Flowers’ reserved, mysterious beauty with poker faced emotionally withdrawn expressions. Is she concealing her emotions for Scott or is she emotionally immune to his charms? The ambiguous nature of her character was necessary to convince us that a reckless young man’s pursuit to capture what was deemed unattainable seemed logical and convincing between two young people.

The more enjoyable super hero movies are attributed to great acting performances by the villains. Have no fear, the performances delivered by each evil ex exhibited their best characteristics and most fun in the film. Balancing the theatrical dialogue with the physical demands, each fight scene was brilliantly choreographed and executed. Even if the viewers didn’t catch all the homages to specific old school video games, they certainly enjoyed the vibrant colors, stunts, and camerawork.

In my never ending homage to George Thorogood’s One bourbon, one scotch, one beer I am giving Scott Pilgrim vs. the World a rating of a great tasting bourbon that provided good times, action, adventure, and a righteous score for the good guys.

Cheers,
Ron

The Expendables

Posted by ron On August - 11 - 2010


Sly hangs onto dear life in the Expendables, a throwback to beefcake 80s gun porn the perfect film for D-Box theatres.

The Expendables attempted to revive 80s Republican cinema with the very man who helped institute the Reagan era of musclebound gun porn and American invincibility. From a lost era Sylvester Stallone returned as the last American action hero to deliver one big box office bang for Hollywood. Unfortunately he didn’t bring Governor Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers along for the ride. Instead, he brought in the tweener action heroes like Terry Crews, Jet Li, and Jason Statham with Bruce Willis in the background. Like tax breaks to the American middle class, the Expendables squandered its opportunities to deliver its nostalgic brand of pornography. It was a makeshift film with pieces of an action film that didn’t satisfy the blood lust of many prior one liner money shots. In having failed to do so, there was no sense of nostalgia but more of a reminder of why Sylvester Stallone’s legacy was one that deserved to stay in the past.

The 80s action film formula emphasized slightly homoerotic testosterone injected action that was reminiscent of choreography in American professional wrestling entertainment. That is to say, the protagonist and antagonist traded one sided blows in a sea saw battle. The traditionally topless oiled up muscle bound men rolled around in grimy surfaces with other muscle bound men as explosions go off in the distance. The climax of the physical bravado was always highlighted by a catch phrase or one liner and a spectacular death as the coupe de grace. It was an excessive form of entertainment.

American audiences will still enjoy this form of ridiculous contest of manly men trying to one up each other in feats of implausible skill and survival. They will enjoy the one-thall showdowns: Jet Li vs. Dolph Lundgren and Sly vs. Steve Austin. However one wonders if the use of muscle men as real life super heroic stuntmen is still relevant today? Sophisticated digital cameras, the blue screen, and Hong Kong high wire choreographed fights have changed action films in cinema. The audience has already accepted that an anorexic woman can jump from a speeding car, slide down a rooftop, and grab onto the side of a truck without one scratch. What was once an exclusive club to the physically endowed has become available to anyone. While modern times won’t diminish the feat of the Expendables, it has already made it appear dated.

The physical feats and complexity of the Expendables are worth appreciating as a dying repetitive art form of extreme violence. True to form, It also suffered from a lot of same flaws as its predecessors. Bad acting, empty dialogue, and an implausible plot never failed to take the viewer out of the movie. Worse, it may have crippled the overall enjoyment of the film, something that Rambo, Commando, or Action Jackson never did.

In my die hard appreciation of George Thorogood’s one Bourbon, one Scotch, one Beer I rated the Expendables an old stand by beer that didn’t disappoint but never quenched by thirst. 

Cheers,
Ron    

I Am Love

Posted by ron On August - 8 - 2010


Milano and Swinton are captivating onscreen in I Am Love.

Tilda Swinton is precious, beautiful and embodied feminine sensuality lost in the cosmopolitan energy of Italia in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love. She delivered a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination as an Italian speaking Russian mother to a wealthy Milano family of textile producers that must change with the times. Since her performance in 1992′s Orlando, Swinton has always downplayed her commitment to refining her craft. Irregardless, it’s impossible to ignore her command of the big screen. Like a painter always expanding her palette from a campy theatrical depiction of the angel Gabriel in Constantine to her Oscar award winning performance in Michael Clayton, she has continued her trend of hitting the hightest marks in acting excellence.

Director Luca Guadagnino’s visual language captured the best ingredients of all things Italiano: Excessive wealth, rich tasting foods, self indulgent parties, sophisticated fashion, breathless architecture, and timeless landscape. We are seduced by this lush environment as his visual language was so powerful that the sex felt only natural as next logical dish served in a ridiculous multi-course meal.

Food is communication in Italian culture. Guadagnino emphasized this cultural aspect very well. When Italian families congregate, they dress for dinner in order to show appreciation and respect for this art form. Food has vital significance because it dictated the mood of the conversation as well as it’s direction. A chef might not have the most wealth but he wielded the most power in the film. Is it possible to be seduced by one bite from a culinary masterpiece? Guadagnino seemed to think so. One bite served as an afrodisiac to Swinton’s character Emma Recchi. It reminded her of a time when she had choices as a single woman before she abandoned her identity and became Italiano. Her marriage had provided many wonderful things such as security, stability, a good family, and wonderful children. It did not provide anything that she wanted for herself. Food liberated her temporarily and she wanted more.

This was a film about making a difficult choice between family vs self. It’s an exploration into taking back control of one’s life by accepting change and losing yourself in it. It’s about rediscovering passion, love, and freedom. Guadagnino is talking about what it feels like to be alive vs what it feels like to just live. We are race of creatures who were never meant to be kept, so set yourself free to love.

In my homage to Thorogood’s One Bourbon, One Scotch, and one Beer I rated I am Love a delicious tasting bourbon.

Cheers
Ron

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Thoughts on Cinema is dedicated to film reviews. An uncompromising opinion on the intellectual, artistic, and entertainment value to the consumer. With rising ticket prices, we dedicate ourselves to present to you content regarding what you should or should not be viewing. -Ronald H. Pollock Founder and Editor in Chief

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