The intrinsic beauty of Greg Mottola's "Superbad" is its flow, a movie paced like a hip-hop track, one whose lines--written in a semi-biopic way by funnymen Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg--are delivered with verbal atrocity and cool rigor making this one of the funniest movies ever.
It's a movie which cheats in sustaining excellence by lining up hectic events after hectic events. It all starts when two co-dependent high school seniors--Seth and Evan, whom the writers named after themselves, played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera respectively--plan to go all out at their final graduation party. How? By providing the booze. But guess what? They're underage. So they convince another buddy of theirs, Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to get a fake ID and be the buyer. You can see where this is going. From here on now, chaos ensues. Chaos which I will not spoil because this movie is worth seeing for oneself.
What I will discuss, though, is the element which ties it all together and keeps the ride bumpy but also interesting--the chemistry between Seth and Evan. Evan got into Dartmouth College, he is more of an introvert, a guy who doesn't pick fights and just wants to have a good time. And then there's Seth. He is an eclectic, energetic mastermind who does most of the brainwork. They both want the same thing but is the difference in their approach that keeps this fresh.
I don't know how much of themselves writers Rogen and Goldberg poured into these two characters, but they are outcasts. And while Evan looks like he's at the acceptance stage of his societal situation, Seth's fervor is unquenchable. So much so, in fact, that he is willing to steal to get his way. It's peer pressure put on himself, by himself. The way Rogen and Goldberg succumb their characters into troubles brought on by adolescent woes only makes their comeback more triumphant.
But is this a coming of age movie? I don't think so. It's too brief and too funny for that. Besides the many existential questions brought on with maturity, the movie is also more bothered to make fun of itself in an attempt at peer recognition. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that because it works--I laughed and now I think Seth and Evan are cool.
"Kill Bill: Vol. 1" finds its director Quentin Tarantino weaving his stylized action with such a mastery that anyone whose eyebrows aren't too high up couldn't help but be in awe. This is blood, gore, violence and sex uplifted to an artform. More than separate stylization, style its embedded in this picture to the point where it becomes inseparable from its plot. This is a director who is not afraid of using his power and making his spot. Tarantino movies are obvious on who is directing them, this more than any of them.
The movie is filled with characters virtuously crafted with a freedom which dares to challenge the standard norms of storytelling and progression. Describing its locations and people would make one succumb to poetry not necessarily because of their beauty but rather because of their details. Consider the final confrontation which takes place in a Japanese garden. There is a traditional Japanese fountain from which water constantly flows and during the tense pause, our attention is drawn to it and its rhythmic sound materializes the pace.
Consider the plot: after awakening from a four-year coma, a former assassin known only as The Bride (Uma Thurman) wreaks vengeance on the team of assassins who betrayed her. Despite being left for dead in a pool of blood, she survives. The first scene, pictured in black and white, has her laying on her back covered in an all too picturesque blood. The gruesomeness in some of these scenes is so beautifully crafted and written in such a sexy manner that I almost felt guilty for admiring it too much.
The plot then doesn't bother too much about making too much sense. The Bride gets revenge. That's about it. On that purpose, she easily travels from a comatose American hospital to Japan for her first target: mob boss O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu). The story of her upbringing is a tragic one. This is one reason why Tarantino decided to film it in anime. Witnessing the death of her parents at the mob to only then get her revenge and her first kill at 11. While you still feel the tragedy, the style prevents you from weeping and, instead, crafts an admiration in the viewer's mind towards her.
This sneaky feminism--despite unraveling in front of our very eyes--goes almost unnoticed under the sprites of blood. But before accusing Tarantino of being all style no substance, he made sure to drag these ladies through hellish ordeals, and gave them a look and aura which emanates his trademark dangerous stance they pose. The most obvious is O-Ren's protégé, the 17-year old Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama) who doesn't flinch for a second when she spilled the guts of a rich snob who wanted to have sex with her. "It is me who is penetrating you" she says as he dies. Her schoolgirl uniform combined with the array of wacky melee weapons she uses makes her an in-and-out anime character brought to life--with all the coolness that entails.
No doubt, the 4th film by Quentin Tarantino is made by a director/writer who sees miles ahead in front of him. He is in full control of his universe yet this never feels compulsive because of what a wacky, emotionless and ridiculous universe it is. If he were to play the violin, this is not an operatic part, but rather an avant-garde piece of solo bravado from a rock-n-roll song.
In a very strange and especially worrying way, Mike Judge's "Idiocracy" sends its point across. Please, read books, learn, don't let us become this. You can start with this review.
Another in the what-if category, "Idiocracy" points out that five Centuries from now on, the world will be dominated by subpar intelligent people for the simple reason they reproduce faster. The first shot is of a couple who are way into the 3-digit IQ's and are overthinking whether they should have a child in this "economic climate" and not soon after we are told the husband died to add to the pile. Antithetically, 2-digit IQ's are spreading in more ways than one.
Of course, it annoys me that "Idiocracy" limits intelligence to how high your IQ is, but the point is clear and blunt. The post-apocalyptic world it creates is as scary as it is impressive in its design. This garbage-addled realm of infinite pollution and urban decay all-covered in cheap commercial-inspired graffiti and cyberpunk machines is where Private Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) wakes up to after being subdued to a top-secret government hibernation program and being forgotten.
It's quite the shock to comprehend a reality in which everyone you ever known it's long gone but that's where "Idiocracy's" insight stops. What follows is a run-of-the-mill adventure whose details--really--are irrelevant. The movie quickly gets its point out of the way and for most of its runtime is confusing comedy with frustration. The potential that was wasted there even adds to it.
In the end, "Idiocracy" is more annoying than noble. It presents its case in a very blunt albeit simplistic manner which is made worse by Wilson's boring nice-guy persona.
Robert Zemeckis' "Contact" can be a very flawed movie if you want it to be. Yet it avoids accruing any critics from my side because of how daring it is. It finds itself at the universal crossroads between science, religion and politics. Other movies have been there as well but no other has put the question so bluntly: "Do you believe in God?"--if yes, why and if not why not?
It is ambitious, pretentious, it engages existential questions without worrying too much about how logically absurd it is. This is why most people would hate it, but it is exactly why I love it so much. It contains many panoramic frames, but unlike other movies is not trying to show just how small we are, but rather it wants to contain everything--from a field of radars, to a sci-fi machine and space itself.
Movies like "Contact" rarely succeed, but when they do their due is usually great. Zemeckis knew that Carl Sagan's novel takes place in almost a parallel universe so he has no issues with adapting logic to its own benefit. If the message is insightful and powerful enough, the result is a masterpiece, if not, is a laughable dud. Luckily, "Contact" insists on many taboo themes and does them well enough to come out on top.
Each character is well-defined and have very flushed out principles. From Doctor Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) the secular scientist who makes finding life on other planets an obsession more than a job to religious author Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey) carrying the flag of belief and able to appear almost everywhere for some reason and to opportunist David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt) who is a good guy, but doesn't flinch when the moment arises. In a way, he wants the same thing that Ellie does, yet he lacks Ellie's emotional wisdom. Her love for the stars is perhaps a result of her mother's early death; deep down is her she is really searching for.
In the end, "Contact" doesn't answer any questions about life on another planets, but that is because Sagan's reliance on science and its lack of facts regarding spacefaring--any answers who could've been given are hypothetical at best. Instead, "Contact" focuses on emotional reactions, reactionary beliefs and both rational and spiritual experiences. The love Sagan shows to both secularism and faith is what made this movie earn my respect.
Chloé Zhao's "Nomadland" is a movie built on subtlety. It is a sneaky report of institutional injustice towards the lower-to-middle class, labor unions and a person's very soul. The link between its fragility and brutal realism relies in its lead character, Fern, portrayed by the everblooming Frances McDormand whose personality only seems to grow with age.
A woman in her sixties, Fern, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. They are like modern explorers, except there is nothing left to explore on the outside, this exhibition being more about a person's inside. Fern is a strong woman--the type of characters fitting McDormand perfectly--but she suffered great loss and she feels like she doesn't belong anywhere. It is why she refuses any opportunity to sleep under a roof with friends and family who will gladly have her. She lives in a van.
In that aspect she is joined by actual real-life nomads led by the charismatic Bob Wells. Each of them feel like they are home on screen, this is because Zhao simply filmed them in their environment. Fern's interaction with each one of them feels like a documentary while not getting to factual as to negate emotional wisdom. As we watch we see that each of them were hard-working women and men--there is even a Vietnam war veteran. Therefore you cannot help but ask--how did they come to this? The answer is stuck somewhere around trickle-down economics and political abuse.
Some of the most powerful moments in this movie come from the life experiences of these people especially Bob Wells. His voice is as charismatic as he is, a homemade life philosopher who never passes as a cult leader, but as an actual wise consultant. His optimism is from experience. "One of the things I love most about this life is that there's no final goodbye" he says in a warm tone. It's the hope in the desert and the meaning of the constant scenes of desolate roads which also denote a natural beauty well known but not well experienced.
Not only her power, but Fern also earns respect through her dedication to her husband. After he passed away, she had a chance at love again, but she reluctantly and elegantly refused. Subtle in its power, meaning and message yet not to a subliminal level, "Nomadland" finds director Chloé Zhao at her most focused.
No, I don't mean the lead character, genius screenwriter Herman Jacob "Mank" Mankiewicz--although it fits him the same--but Fincher's very movie. This film throws its English degree in your face and if you can't handle its rainfall then you shall be doomed to frustration.
In any case, though, frustration arises. Depicting the arduous and chaotic process that is the writing of the script for "Citizen Kane" made Fincher rub off the movie's attitude by slicing "Mank" into various pieces not necessarily in chronological order. It feels pretentious and exaggerated. Herman J. Mankiewicz is no Charles Foster Kane and, respectfully, Gary Oldman is no Orson Welles (although his performance arises to the man's depiction of Kane). This ambitious undertaking is still the movie throwing its smarts around, the only problem is that here it fails.
But everything is not chaos, not even close. The movie's main plot line involves Mank isolated at North Verde Ranch in Victorville, California recovering from a broken leg sustained in a car crash. There, Welles has removed any distractions including Mank's favorite poison, alcohol so that he may create arguably the greatest scrip ever written. Over arguments with his secretary, Rita Alexander to which he dictates the script, we also see clips of his past life, slowly, methodically and surely understanding how he became to be in that position.
Between alcohol and his platonic relationships, Mank rubs shoulders with Hollywood made men of the golden age like Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg and William Randolph Hearst. Fincher is well aware of the moment in Hollywood he is capturing. The movie has a Hitchcockian feel to it, its jazz-inspired style, cabaret-paced bebop speed encapsulates the business model of Hollywood and the importance of literary men to make it work. A particular scene in which the likes of David O. Selznick and Ben Hecht all introduce themselves to the screen a-la Scorsese carries quite the gravitas.
"Mank" contains multitudes, so many in fact that they disrupt the main story of the ramshackle genius that is its title character. Yet by the end, it all comes together. Especially Mank's heartbreaking yet beautiful confession on his obsession with alcohol which also brought him his end: "I seem to become more and more of a rat in a trap of my own construction, a trap that I regularly repair whenever there seems to be danger of some opening that will enable me to escape. I haven't decided yet about making it bomb proof. It would seem to involve a lot of unnecessary labor and expense".
While executive-produced by the Obamas, to think that the tragedy this documentary unravels--which is the everyday struggle of disabled people--is dramatized out of proportion would be a careless prejudice. This is focused strictly on the facts and the decades that these facts spawn across.
That doesn't mean that Netflix straight up ignores the details of these disabilities. The people depicted are all very candid about their various situations, but instead of finding a shoulder to cry on, they are viewed for what they actually are--heroes, paragons of success. A lot of them go into vivid stories about their sexuality--yes, of course they are sexually active!
The documentary starts with the spark which ignited a landmark movement which forever changed the US Constitution--and the entire world's for that matter--when it comes to Civil Rights for disabled people. Jened was homemade--it had people with no background into caring for the disabled, yet it contained something more powerful. It allowed them to be themselves. They were everywhere. Their own world, their own normality encapsulated by the bigger unsuspecting world. This was the key which gave birth to an idea--that this bubble should pop all over the world, that when given the opportunity to express themselves, disabled people have at least as much to offer to the world as the rest of us, that they are more human than the world ever knows.
From the existential theme at Jened, the documentary then fasts-forward over decades ensuing a historical fight. It boldly depicts leader Judith Heumann as a well-deserving comparison to Martin Luther King Jr. Yet the most iconic moments are contained in the Herculean efforts these people pulled when they spent days partaking in a hunger strike for their rights--a determination that few people--not to mention disabled--have.
The amount of time and list of US presidents this documentary burns through showed mercilessly how slow, inapt and opaque politics can get. Yet the fact that these people saw it through goes to show that not all heroes wear capes... some can't even stand up on their own two feet.
When taking an overview of Netflix's original documentary "My Octopus Teacher" it was difficult not to think of it as nothing more than a glorified daytime TV documentary--albeit one that is filmed in glorious 4K as the streaming service has a habit of cutting no corners when it comes to presentation. I mean, how could I not think of it? It is literally about a marine biologist doing his job.
This marine biologist, though is Craig Foster--founder of The Sea Change Project and discoverer of no less than eight new species of shrimp--one of those named after him. Despite being a documentary, "My Octopus Teacher" is also very focused on its singular subject of marine exploration. All we know is that Foster had gone through a period of crisis in his life without going into details what was it about. It is respectful from Netflix to focus strictly on his healing process. This is where his love for marine exploration is rekindled.
The fascinating thing about Foster and arguably what makes him such an efficient marine biologist is that his main purpose is not scientific but personal. He swims without a scuba tank or a swimsuit so that he is more like an amphibious animal. As corny as he can be alongside the soundtrack, when it's accompanied by some of the most alien-looking underwater photographs anyone has ever captured and the amount of physical effort he succumbs himself to you cannot help but admire.
It is also carried forward by his vivid and candid descriptions: "What's so amazing about this environment is you're in a three-dimensional forest; you could jump off the top, go anywhere you want--you're flying, basically". These are only the first 10 minutes. The pace picks up once Foster meets the ominous octopus. The relationship that develops between himself and this animal unravels in unimaginable ways. It is almost scripted, with him being there for "about 80%" of the female octopus' life. He witnesses her as she goes about her day--sometimes even visiting her during night as octopuses are nocturnal--and even as she was giving birth.
One of the most visceral moments are those in which she is hunted by predators as Foster was trying his best not to intervene with the natural course of nature. As fascinating it is to watch their connection, its greatest achievement is the realization of the physical and emotional depth that is possible when the means is driven by instinct. The philosophy of the octopus is like a parable for Foster's own life and his relationship with his son which is apparently getting better due to his underwater interactions with this creature. Lo and behold.
David Zucker's closing film in his wacky-races-inspired Naked Gun Trilogy based on his TV show lacks the freshness of the first movie and the elegance of the second, but it still offers the same laughs, gigs and gags.
The movie's attitude is seen in the title. This is "the final insult" as in the final joke of a movie in this trilogy. He doesn't see his movies as art, I bet he doesn't even feel like the series deserve to step in the glamourous, pretentious and potentially artsy world of the cinema. But The Naked Gun did that anyway and it propels its insult to Hollywood's HQ--The Academy Awards. The movie sees Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) coming out of retirement to help Police Squad infiltrate a gang of terrorists planning to detonate a bomb at the aforementioned Awards.
The parody of the Oscars is subtle, safe but really efficient and tries not to miss any opportunity from describing each best actress nominee as "a women's struggles against" something to hyping up a Mother Teresa musical. It's all effective and all in good fun.
Whatever the Zuckers thought "The Naked Gun" should or should not achieve in cinema--if they even had any expectations--I will tell you the series is overall a success. Why? Again, because I laughed. A lot.
The accidental noir theme of the sequel to a movie which you didn't expect to have one is what gives it a smooth edge. That being said, while David Zucker and his crew of mischievous machinists are again tackling socio-political issues--here being about environmentalism--make no mistake, this movie still doesn't give a squat about social commentary and, like before, spews looney-tunes inspired gags at every chance it's got.
In order to not repeat and plagiarize myself, I will mention the plot, which is the only thing different in this movie--while still being as unimportant as ever--Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) discovers that his ex-girlfriend's new beau is involved in a plot to kidnap a scientist who advocates solar energy. The edge here comes from the presentation. Robert Goulet's own Quentin Hapsburg is an egomaniacal shell, a man who spawns the charm of Alain Delon and the perfect moustache to look the part of a Bond villain--but the looking is where it stops. But in a movie like this, insight feels like it would get in the way of its glorious stupidity.
This is stupidity done with smarts, as it is elevated to an art form here. The dialogue is dumb, characters would often completely forget their chain of thought and get lost in phonetic confusion and just as they got back on track surreal moments based on what could only be pure instinct would unravel sometimes in front of our very eyes, but also in the background--it's worth paying attention otherwise you would miss some great laughs.
If you did, though, don't fret as laughs are a-plenty. Despite spewing a noir theme and spawning more formal attire than usual, really the only thing to say about such raw comedy is whether you laughed or not. Well, yes, I did. A lot.
Ian Curtis had suffered more than any man should. Like most depressives, he was difficult to be understood by those around him. A teenager living in a Manchester suburbia turned post-punk rocker--lead singer/songwriter for the now infamous Joy Division--married at a young age, father to a child and dead by hanging at 23.
Despite "Control" being made by the stunning music video director and photographer Anton Corbijn, and inspired by the memoir "Touching From a Distance" who was written by his widow Debbie--who also found the body--there is a feeling of distance and isolation to the character. Perhaps his way of keeping people aside was his greatest legacy. Alienation and mystery elevated to an art form without him even trying.
Pretty-boy newcomer Sam Riley also portrays him in a very passive way. His performance might seem effortless, but there is a subdued discipline involved. He is economic with words, the entire movie seemingly happening around him almost independently of whatever he was doing--and let's not forget he is the main character. I am tempted to praise Corbijn for this touch but I feel it came natural given Curtis' absentee nature.
But let's just make this clear--his character is not underdeveloped--on the contrary, Corbijn and Riley fully embrace the enigma of a man who, as this movie efficiently showed us--was not that complicated. He married young, like any teenager swooped by adolescent love. So, it was not surprising when he fell for a Belgian journalist who came to interview the band. Annik Honore (Alexandra Maria Lara) is only there to be his mistress. But she doesn't need to be anything more. Curtis had one of those rare qualities you find in people that they can impress simply by being in your presence--an aura of fascination personified again brilliantly in Riley's subdued discipline.
Love tore him apart. He loved both Debbie and Annik. His inability to choose might've been due to his young age yet due to his depressive nature he gave away an illusion of wisdom beyond his years. Don't get me wrong--the man was a genius. Too smart for his own good, yet he pushed life too far and too fast and soon enough life pushed back. In one particular scene, Annik asked him what everyone was wondering: "I don't feel like I know you". She then proceeded to ask him what his favorite movie was to which he responded with "The Sound of Music" to her surprise--not to mine, though. It was so apparent that Curtis did not care for the rock'n'roll life. He was a simple man who loved music so of course that movie would seem appropriate. He hated playing for the people, debauchery bored him and his "epilepsy dance" wasn't as much of a rock statement as it was him embracing the aforementioned condition of which he suffered heavily from in confusion.
In the end, I must confess that Joy Division was a band I respected more than I actually loved. Their first album was good and a great introduction to rock's potential of catharsis and introspection, yet I loved their second one more. In both, though, Curtis manifested pieces of himself through minimalistic lyrics and his tragic suicide only serves to accelerate their and the band's legendary status.
In order to properly criticize David Zucker's "The Naked Gun" you must first understand that picking on the hastily written superficial plot would be missing the point. The plot can be whatever it wants to be. This movie is about sticking as many slapstick set-pieces as humanly possible in every single frame and every single moment. It's live-action Looney Tunes.
But still, what is it about? Well, it's about the incompetent and delusional police Detective Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) who must foil an attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II. Take a time to absorb the last half of that sentence and get used to it. Sudden escalations are this movie's bread and butter. They also add up to making this one of the funniest movies ever made. And it should be, considering how much it defies any notion of continuity or just plain sense! The humor is everywhere--both up front and center represented by Debrin's cartoon-level ridiculous misadventures and in the background hidden as easy to miss Easter eggs. I am sure that on my only viewing of this I've missed some things.
Timing is everything when it comes to comedy, but director David Zucker--who also contributed to the writing--takes his fellow writers Jim Abrams and Jerry Zucker and refurbish their "Police Squad" television series into sustained humor. Every bit of it is as ridiculous as it is funny. Take the scene in which Drebin forgets to apply the hand-brake to his car which then starts running off on its own and literally blows up. Such incompetence would have him kicked off from the force, but here, it's treated like it's not out of the ordinary and the show goes on. The pace is relentless, its supposedly serious noir, only being present because stuff happens to go on at night sometimes and its dialogue punchy, unforgiving with a generous quantity of dry but smart PG-13 humor.
Yet with comedy putting itself on the pedestal of political responsibility, there is a genuine question of social innuendos and commentary. I am delighted to say there is none. While at first I found the way the movie it's bullying the Queen a supposed joke brought on by the opposing political views of the US and its UK buddy with which it has well-known history, the ending took place at a baseball game--a religion in the US, and it was as cruel to it as it was to the Queen itself. This is Zucker making it clear that the movie will harass anything for fun, including numerous terrorist leaders/organizations--pure comedy.
Tony Wilson was so full of nonsense that he had no idea what a spirituality-mongering blabbermouth he came off as despite the fact that nearly every single person in his circle of friends called him the C-word multiple times. These sort of highbrow college-educated heavyweights casually throwing their weight around are the type of characters Steve Coogan is made to play. He melts into the flow of the fast-talking Manchester legend.
What makes Michael Winterbottom's sorta biopic great is the fact that he's not bothered with the financial how-to and technical tinkering of how the man founded the underground Factory Records label and the infamous Haçienda nightclub. Why should he? The only piece of paper tying the bands to the label is a contract written in Wilson's own blood which says that the bands can do whatever they want anyway! In the business world, this is insanity as Factory Records are now completely swallowed and forgotten by their parent London Records. Winterbottom was aware he was capturing a moment worthy of psychological analysis.
Among the bands who became made at Factory, Joy Division stands out the most. To think both of their only two albums were made in such a volatile environment speaks multitudes about the visions of these people. Some of whom were powered by drugs, but for a few, it was all that mattered. Yet the real fun part here comes from the illuminist ambitions of working class people. But what other class of people would need the luxury of a well-rested spirit rather than the aforementioned? Wilson and his peers know they deserve better and his casual approach to anything really is almost irritating. Take the scene in which he is caught by his wife receiving oral sex from a prostitute only to then having him catching her performing sexual intercourse in his club's bathroom. No biggie. An eye for an eye, I guess.
Wilson might've talked a lot of smack, twisted his tongues referencing and comparing his work to the likes of philosophers and scientists. His BA in English also helped him to skillfully charm prophecies to a generational youth ready to attach themselves to whatever meaning they can find but he was never a crook. His nightclub barely broke even, his bands were under no contracts, even when he was broke he spent tens of thousands of dollars on a new-age-looking office table. You quickly get that these people did not care much for money.
Joy Division, despite being name after a Nazi group, were not fascists, not even close! They just liked the name. "Haven't you heard of postmodernism" Wilson would tell reporters. Still, that did not stop skinheads from attending their concerts much to the band's dislike. This lack of understanding from the outside overly-political world is the sole reason why this type of art remains underground. To explain that everything is pure expression, admittedly, sounds far-fetcher and a cowardly excuse but it really is as simple as that! It is probably the reason why Ian Curtis also gave up on life by tragically hanging himself. For him, the fight was pointless, but for Wilson--he is unbreakable and whoever doesn't get it can just bugger off.
On the Haçienda's closing night, he gracefully invited the attendees to burn it to the ground and take everything they want. Despite his highbrow attitude, he was a man of the people who also mourned Manchester's industrial past. How could he not be? He was the one person in the music industry who infamously didn't make any money.
Aah, how times have changed. Nearly 15 years ago, Sacha Baron Cohen's Khazakh mysogynistic journalist Borat Sagdiyev was raving across the United States roasting every single person and ethnic group he could find. Perhaps he thought a movie like that would not spin in today's world--but if he really wanted it, he definitely could've done it.
The reason is different.
With 2020's significant historical events both natural and political, a character like Borat--who taunts politics and political correctness alike at every turn--hits close to home. So, there is a responsibility for Cohen to shift his character towards more just causes--from "wear mask save live" to realizing that women should actually not live in cages but be equal--shocking!--Borat is a changed man and only for the better even if that mean tossing aside that crude but effective humor that made him a household name.
Borat starts hid misadventure in his home country of Khazakstan--where they speak Bulgarian, Romanian and Hebrew, go figure--and is on a mission to make amends with the US by delivering to those rich, white men the thing they desire the most--a young girl, possibly underage. This is where his daughter, Tutar, comes in. She is simply put feminine Borat--except she lives in a cage which she considers normality. Bulgarian Maria Bakalova, though, is a revelation. Her upstart performance rivals that of Cohen in both bluntness and brutishness. She was, in fact, so self-degrading that at times I felt bad for such a talented actress but that only goes to show what a fine job she was doing.
But, of course, generational issues are not first-world countries specific, so soon enough both her and Borat learn valuable lessons about basic human rights. This is where the movie changes and does something that we would've never expected from a raunchy-comedy artist like Cohen--it tosses the humor aside. The fact that such basic civilized behavior and principles needed to be reminded makes this a sad year. Still, the fact that they come from someone like Borat Sagdiyev makes it even more ironic but also hopeful. It had to be done by him, the opportunity was obvious and the impact has huge potential.
Director/writer Brian Helgeland's "Legend" is one of the most elegant ways to waste your time, a dashing sprint on the surface of the mob underworld of the 1960s. Not a British "Goodfellas" by any means--if that's what you're asking--although Helgeland has the Scorsesian passion, too bad he lacks the chops to pull it off.
The movie paces itself with default narration starting with words like "It was time for the Krays to enter the secret history of the 1960s" hyping excitement for what, in fact, the movie did not deliver. And by that, I don't mean presentation; having charming Tom Hardy into a double role, playing both Reggie Kray--the calculated, insightful and knowledgeable leader, and Ronnie Kray--his paranoid schizophrenic not so similar twin. But Hardy is not able to deliver more than aesthetic impressionability no matter how many times he raises one eye-brow as Reggie or stares into the abyss like Ronnie mostly due to the script which is not worried with details.
Throughout the movie, we are constantly amazed with The Krays' power. But never once do we see them at work. Reggie's diplomatic skills are wasted on soap operas, and Ronnie's fearful persona, on childish escapades. One scene in a bar, has the twins cornered by a rival mob, but Ronnie's insanity is wasted on comic relief as he is angry that his brawlers brought knives instead of guns. It is a funny scene, nonetheless, and it goes to show just how foolhardily brave Ronnie is--not to mention insane.
One other thing that Scorsese has up his sleeve that many underrate, is not his ability to create strong men--that's easy, but his ability to create even stronger women. Nothing as such is seen in Reggie's first-date-then-wife Frances, who has as bland of a personality as they come--I feel like Helgeland didn't even try here. She was so basic, in fact, that when the shocking surprise came close to the ending, I didn't even care. Stereotypes have a way of generating a catatonic response from the audience and as I looked around the room at the people I was watching the movie with, I got the feeling it worked here.
While "Legend" might not work for more pretentious viewers like me, it is one of those movies that captures an impressionable audience. Despite taking place in a nightmarish world, it is dressed like a dream. Caveat emptor!
It was November of 2015 when I've heard the news. I was recovering from my failure to commit to university that year. I told my parents I will try again next autumn. That I will return stronger. We were all clinging on hope--until that day when we realized we had more hope than we knew what to do with. We were not burned, or worse, in a Romanian hospital.
Alexander Nanau's documentary must be preserved. Not entirely because of its insight, but as an example of systemic penetration and the unraveling of information, thoughts and methods in dealing with the aftermath of one of my country's most embarrassing and horrific tragedy. Unlike most documentaries, "Collective" does not feature the usual insider talking in front of a fixed camera, guiding us through the timeline. This is because anyone who was involved with that disaster was a possible culprit. Corruption runs deep in Romania, and even though I grew up with an awareness of the evil of the powers that be, the discoveries here still surprised me.
Instead, the movie follows a team of investigative journalists from Romania's Sports Gazette--Razvan Lutac, Mirela Neag and the spearhead, Catalin Tolontan--as they work to unravel the whodunits surrounding this disaster. Nanau's raw filmmaking portrays a reality devout of any uncalled for artistic artifice or a cry for mercy. But paradoxically, reality conveys the most powerful emotions. I am glad that Nanau took a step back and let these people tell their stories and do their work--and a dangerous one at that. To get an idea of how powerful the mob in this country is, know that the director agreed to leave all the footage he recorded at the Gazette newsroom during the filming period in order to protect the journalists and whistleblowers. This movie was a monument to journalism, even before knowing this. But the Sports Gazette?
Of course that was the magazine that took the story in. Who else but sports writers are the men of the people? Sports journalists lack pretentions and have a knack for directness--not to even mention: formality be damned! Everywhere else: television, the authorities--were not to be trusted. Yet what surprisingly was to be trusted, was the government.
After heavy protests, the government was replaced with technocracy. Of course, Nanau did not miss the opportunity to follow the newly elected minister of health right in his back yard as he was consulting on what to do next. This was not your average corrupt politician. He was prepared to fight the good fight, but the amount of cleaning up to be done was simply too much. Nevertheless, it gave me and the entire country much needed hope. Nanau understands that the people and the government must not fight against each other, but must work together. But also that change takes time and patience.
For me, the patience paid its due--I am almost done with university now. As for my country, I am still waiting...
There is really no true evil in Hayao Miyazaki's "My Neighbor Totoro". This is a movie made out of pure love for the art form. Miyazaki is a parent to these ideas, painting each frame by hand. His is a love understood only by him, deep personal thoughts and appreciations exteriorized in everything we see, hear and feel in this movie.
When two girls, Satsuki and Mei move to the countryside with their father, Tatsuo to be close to their ailing mother, Yasuko which is in the hospital, they pass by a river. The two girls look down on how the water flows and there was a bottle--so detailed--just sitting there. This is just one of many less obvious details that Miyazaki carefully planted in his visual landscape. But he never draws attention upon any of them. Often times, the beauty of Eastern Cinema is in its ability to slow down, to take its time focusing on one frame, and really, asking the viewer to stay awhile and think what he just saw up to a certain point. It is also a moment of respect, reflection, and inner peace.
A particular scene for which I thanked Miyazaki out loud while I was watching this alone, was when the two girls were waiting at a remote bus station for their father to arrive from work in Tokyo. It was already dark, and it was starting to rain. The mystical Totoro and his minions came and waited at the bus station alongside the two girls as well. But not for a moment was it scary. The amount of warmth these characters evoke through their design instead created a moment of serenity and peace. So many times, Western movies tend to excite, shock, instigate in order to function--and often they do it well, don't get me wrong--here, through its modesty, this static scene, in which only the rain was moving evoked an almost guilty feeling of coziness, comfort, peace and safety.
Only when I felt like I owed Miyazaki for the complacent state in which that scene brought me I realized why I love this movie so much. Because it's focus is almost therapeutic--it brought back an inner peace and stability that we didn't even realized we need, no, we deserve in a world whose pace is getting more and more hectic. But "My Neighbor Totoro" takes place in an idealistic world we all aspire to reach. The father is very responsible, present, patient, understanding, an exemplary paragon, and a model which is annoyingly ignored in artistic representations around the world. Only when I saw this movie did I realize how much I miss art whose path to greatness is defined not by complexity, bluntness or moral dilemmas, but by targeting our deepest, most fervent wishes.
Take the ending, for instance, in which an expected tragedy does, actually, not occur and it's quickly disarmed. How often do we long for moments in which we were children and we imagined banal issues as life-altering problems, worrying in our lack of knowledge about the world around us just what on Earth will we do only for our father--a hero--to appear and seamlessly ease our burden. For those of you who've seen the movie, you know what that potential tragedy is.
Remember when our biggest problems in life came and went in half a day? When our imagination crafted an uncounted number of "totoros" for us to sleep on their bellies and not worry about betrayal or distrust? When no matter how big your fear was, yelling and turning the lights on would destroy all the darkness in the world? And when the world was full of opportunity? I hope you do, because Hayao Miyazaki wants to convince you it still is and that your best days are not necessarily behind you.
To be blunt, Antonio Campos is intense. Not only did he direct, but he also adapted to the screen a book so rich in content, that this was just begging to be a mini-series. Then again, what he attempted here is not impossible. Just look at masterpieces like "Crash" or "Babel". Needless to say, it's hard to pull it off. Those movies are what they are because they are wrapped in a greater idea, this is not.
The movie takes place in a timeline spanning decades after the Second World War. It is cruel not only to its characters, but to their children too. It is a movie of fathers and sons, and how ignorance and aesthetic beliefs can destroy men, women and children alike. But this is not a greater idea. There is no discussion in this. Instead, it's just actual physical actions directing natural selection. The movie is labeled as a drama--and it definitely is--but it also has countless moments of humor. They are all topped off by Donald Ray Pollock as a narrator. At first, this felt like a cliche, but the way he delivers the ridiculous actions done by some of these characters which an unbridled seriosity, feels like something straight out of a Coen Brothers movie. And I swear I could mistake him for number 1 mustache man Sam Elliott.
I will not go into the details because I don't want to spoil anything. The point is that while the first generation, fresh out of the Second World War is hellbent on religion, the second one is on its own survival. It makes sense. Campos takes a trip through the American badlands, both in terrain and spirit. Yet by stretching out this trip across not only space, but also time, he is missing out on a lot. Then again, he does get his concept across. Death surrounds everyone. But everyone had it coming. While the post-WWII Americans were killed by their own obsession with religion and ignorance, their sons and daughters were also killed by their own evil.
This death-cause-evolution is a welcoming addition in a movie which began by seeming like a parody to Christians--it isn't. The pandemic of evangelism that swept rural America in the 1950s was not surprising for a world who just a few years earlier had a brush with mortality. Campos respects their beliefs and respects its characters, but they are made in such a way that they cannot help but getting into trouble. This seems more of a test of what actual faith implies. No extremism and no stupidity--it is a well-known idea among millenials and gen-X-ers yet one which hasn't been presented in movies until now.
Well, there you have it, as much as it brushed past nearly everything, this movie at least slows down from time to time to make sure we get its point. But it's abundance of events sadly does not allow it to sit down and ponder over it just enough to achieve greatness. It's being chased by itself. The best part of it, though--Tom Holland in his least Spider-man-esque role humanly possible.
I often wonder when I think of Christopher Nolan and his high-concept ideas why is he doing this to himself? The plots of movies like "Memento" and "Inception" were hard to follow for the viewer--albeit, after wrapping your head around them, they were genius--but just imagine how difficult it must've been to write them. And this one is the most complex of them all.
If this is enough to convince you to watch Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" then you might as well stop reading at this point. From a Nolan-esque point-of-view, you will be satisfied--as will be all the internet film theorists who are just scrambling to untangle everything there is. For them, this is the most satisfying work perhaps since "Mulholland Dr." but for me, I can't be bothered. For all its complexity, the most amazing thing that Nolan did here was making his concept comprehensible enough for people to follow the plot--that is fine enough for me even if I often find myself retracing each character's steps, trying to tie everything together. But when I happen to grasp the realization of his ideas, is like my mind can't handle it--trying to fully unwrap this movie is tiring, hard work, and it's not even the point anyway.
The title of this review might also seem like a blur to you if you hadn't seen "Tenet" but once you see it, you'll get it. One of the reason Nolan's concepts are so intelligent, creative and interesting is because they are often based on scientific taboos. He knows that, and he is not afraid to show off. This is one of the most opulent, disgustingly luxurious movies I've ever seen. Some of these set-pieces, the stunts, the amount of polished metal that gets blown away feels like it would cost more than most studios would agree on. But this is Christopher Nolan. He doesn't want it any other way. Denying 3D and computers as much as he can, I bet it wasn't hard to convince Warner Bros. to throw him a 200 million dollar check--although I am sure this wouldn't have happened looking at the state of the world now.
So, I am glad this movie managed to get done. And as much as I am appalled by the elitist suits and designer brands, I also kinda like the cheekiness. But Nolan did not do this because he could. What bothers me about all this luxury is the reason why I think is there--is not because of a show of attitude, but because of Nolan's compulsive need to be taken seriously. This is a director whose constant brooding sometimes gets the better of him. It rarely happens, but here it did the most. I was even wondering if a scene containing gold bars falling from a plane had actual gold bars. They weren't real, were they? They were? No, they couldn't have been.
This presentation extends to the characters, which are often charming. I won't get into the plot but just know that it's a big deal: espionage, billionaires, World War III, The Apocalypse--all the good stuff thrown into the blender to create the sweetest orange juice possible, almost to the point where it's childish. But if the lead, known only as The Protagonist, is played fluidly by a flamboyant John David Washington and Kenneth Branagh's Russian oligarch Sator could pass as a bond-villain undetected--Russian accent included--then it's a shame that Elizabeth Debicki's Kat comes out as a loser way too many times--there was even a scene containing domestic violence. It was odd, out-of-place and unnecessary, especially coming from a Christopher Nolan movie, and it left a really bad taste in my mouth.
Overall, the script is efficient. There is barely any chit-chat, every line serving to forward the plot. It has to! Nolan's script is complex enough, and while the dialogue serves its purpose of trying to help us make sense of what's going on in front of our naive eyes, then its lack of human connection, albeit inevitable, only serves to thicken the screen separating us from the characters. Everything is about Nolan's formula. It's amazing how it sustains this movie, but then again it took him over five years to write it into a script.
The best thing about Scott Aukerman's "Between Two Ferns: The Movie" is the fact that if you decide that you don't like it, you come out as a high-brow. Taking Zach Galifianakis' FunnyOrDie web series and turning it into a full-length feature might not seem like an obvious idea, but it's biting humor is smart enough to be offensive only to the ones to stiff to join in its laughter--it is a brilliant exercise in passive-aggressiveness.
The movie expands the stand-alone episodes into a cinematic universe of sorts where Zach is challenged by his FunnyOrDie boss Will Ferrell to bring him ten interviews in two weeks and he will give Zach what he always wanted. An actual late night talk-show--suits, studio band and the New York City background included. A show where people will laugh with him, not at him. Because like Ferrell explains: "this works because the people are laughing AT him". This depreciation is what fuels Zach and is also what makes us feel good watching him stoop so low like when he is picking on the way Benedict Cumberbatch looks.
What follows is Zach taking his crew--who are almost as awkward as he is--on a road trip to get this thing done. The pace is blistering fast. This movie is constructed on small set-pieces and the focus of each one is nothing more or less other than delivering a brash, sudden celebrity insult. The victims include Matthew McConaughey, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brie Larson, Tessa Thompson, John Legend, heck even David Letterman joins in. But the best thing about his interviews is how they are a challenge to the guest to arrive with a comeback. I mean, come on, Zach paints himself as an easy target which he is, but he is also direct in its insults up to the point where it's scary.
The movie is not too concerned with continuity. That might be annoying but it is also its way of being unpretentious--it does not take itself seriously. It is more or less a rotation. Get in the car, get in contact to a celebrity, make fun of said celebrity, rinse and repeat. It's repetition is obvious but it's also brutal and efficient. This is not about the plot as much as it is an excuse to have some fun. The moments I loved the most were the actual interviews which do nothing to advance the plot but are nonetheless the heart and soul of this movie. It's also refreshing that the repetition does break its predictability occasionally, like when Jake Gylenhaal couldn't make it to the interview--something about his last name, I won't spoil the joke here--or when Zach meets Chrissy Teigen in a bar.
While I feel I could spoil some jokes because their poignancy comes from the delivery rather than their construction, it is still better I won't only to maximize their effect. Comedy is all about timing and this movie is an example of that. So many of these jokes are obvious, but if he wouldn't have done them, it would be a waste. In a way, you feel Zach speaks like an average Joe meme-ing celebrities straight to their faces.
This is not a cinematic universe--obviously. But it is quite the fascinating alternate timeline. One where TV shows are still delivered by tapes, there is a TV station called FPATV--which is not pronounced how you might expect by the way--where being friends with Kanye West is a sad joke and John Legend is actually scary.
Let's get this out of the way first. Before they are satisfying, safe entertainment, movies are art and art's job is not to please or to satisfy, but to provoke, incite, dare and contribute to social, cultural and--in case of masterpieces--existential progress. Needless to say, if you scuff at this movie based on its surface level presentation and (admittedly) unwise marketing campaign then you are completely missing the point.
Great, now that we are on the same page, let's actually start the review. Maïmouna Doucouré's "Mignonnes" deals with one of art's oldest themes--religion meets consumerism, or faith meets secularism or, not to over-dramatize, conservatism meets modernism. Like all great movies, its themes are not directly thrown in your face, but are shown at work. Here, on 11-year old Amy (Fathia Youssouf) who lives in Paris with her Senegalese mother Mariam (Maïmouna Gueye) as they await her husband coming home with his second wife--they are practicing a polygamous faith heavy on abstinence--but only for the women--not surprising considering how most of these faiths are paragons of misogyny. But Paris is not a conservative or misogynistic town. It's a melting pot of cultures, liberation, prosperity and--in its extremes--promiscuity. It is only a matter of time until Amy discovers it.
As she inevitably does, when she meets a group of 11-year old girls at her local school. They call themselves "Mignonnes"--"Cuties". At her age, Amy is easily influenced by their tight clothes, multi-colored hair and sheer attitude. At first, the girls gawk at her, but over time, due to her insistence driven by desperation and hunger for freedom, they join her into their entourage. They are break-dancing amateurs, fascinated with the world of overly-sexualized dancing and twerking.
But what Amy discovers is not the real world. She is stuck between extremism on both sides--on one, a heavily restrictive and ancient faith, and on the other, a world driven by the excess of internet consumption and modernity. But, as far as she is concerned, she only considers the former extremism. This is the though life lesson the movie throws at her. As she becomes more engulfed with the outside world, it transforms her. But what she wants is not that life--what she actually wants is an escape from her current overly-zealous life and she fears her destiny of becoming just like her mother. A character which bears many sorrows of which she cannot discuss because it would conflict with her faith. While Amy is a force to be reconned with as the lead, her mother Miriam often steals the show by showcasing true, unfiltered womanhood power--which all to often is defined by women suffering in silence. Her character is worthy of respect. How can a woman--or any human being, really--can be expected to bless the marriage of his/her spouse with another person. This line of narrative sparks a parallel idea to that of Amy--the eons-old mortal burden of faith and just what to make of it, how much can you take it? How much SHOULD you take it? It's philosophy's dream and agnosticism's nightmare and the movie is richer for it.
But coming back to Amy, the movie climaxes with her and the rest of the "Cuties" doing their dance routine at the competition they've been practicing for all time. Their dancing involves internet videos-inspired pelvic thrusts, fingers-in-the-mouth and twerking. This is stuff which they obviously have no idea what it means. It is a premature coming-of-age, brought in by corrupted expectations of maturity and just childish innocence. I admit, it was difficult to watch, but I persevered and I was soon rewarded with a moment of epiphany.
Without spoiling it, the movie proves it's worthiness by providing Amy with a cathartic release. With an ending as simple and obvious as it is ebullient, the movie wraps itself up unpretentiously and it is simply beautiful. For those of you who got to that point, I congratulate you--you guys get it. For the others, please, do yourselves a favor by setting aside your prejudices and just go watch it already.
This is a bad movie, but not for the reasons you might think
One thing I believe director Ivana Mladenovic understands but failed to implement is that movies like this one need to have a grander purpose than just presenting a leftist agenda. It's all about progress. A change has to happen. Unfortunately, about halfway in, I realized that might not be true in this case, and by the end I got my confirmation.
"Soldatii: Poveste din Ferentari" is about a culture understood only by Eastern Europeans. Our gypsy society who thrives on Bohemia is an oasis of artistic potential, archaic values, mythology, hopelessness and--why not--hope. But here, Mladenovic fails to hit the mark every single time. It all starts with Adi (Adrian Schiop). A PHd student who moves to a place in Ferentari, Bucharest's own Compton, after he was dumped by his girlfriend. Here, he attempts to study the local gypsy population's musical invention: "manele". First, he goes to local manele mogul and producer Dan Bursuc (he is playing himself). Adi is a bit insecure and deft, and Bursuc immediately sees through him. He claims: "why didn't you come in a more fashionable manner so that you will earn my respect". This scene is the deepest Mladenovic ever got to true insight, showcasing Bursuc's cultural philosophy of aesthetic presentation, something that gypsies value not only as status, but also as worthiness, care and discipline.
As the movie continues, Adi befriends and eventually falls in love with a gypsy at a local bar. Alberto (Vasile Pavel) is a scene-stealer everytime he shows up. Pavel is, in fact, not a trained actor but a bodyguard of actual gypsy origins and he perfectly flows in the role of a gypsy underdog with a checkered past. He claimed in an interview: "I did some improvisations... some things would just come out... I did 90% of what the director asked". His performance truly outshines Schiop's which was a bit to stiff and unremarkable. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion.
The central controversy of this move came from its love interests. I don't know if Mladenovic crumbled under pressure or if the actors were simply not apt enough, but the relationship between the two felt stale. And it had potential. Adi was an insecure, inapt man and Alberto spent 14 years in prison where he engaged in various sexual acts of which he confides to his lover. Both are emotionally fragile, yet there is no progress or chemistry between the two. Sometimes I wonder if Mladenovic wanted nothing more than to stir controversy. I hope not, because in that case, this is worse than I initially thought. It would mean this movie's lack of a centralized idea, something to wrap this whole thing up would be intentional.
It didn't took long before I realized just what is the point of all this? Not soon enough, a friend of mine I was watching the movie with, noticed the same thing. A few silent, boring minutes later, he began spewing potential ideas. "Perhaps its about how to appreciate the things you have?" Sure, if you think about the opportunity Adi gave to Alberto and he blew it. "Or perhaps about the inability to change?" Again, sure, if you look how, by the end, Alberto was still unchanged by his experience. These are all true, but they do not encompass the whole movie. At best, they are an exercise in observation, and at worst they are wishful thinking in an all too bleak and stale picture.
At least it was filmed on location and locals were acting to the camera: "Film me!" the children screamed.
It is tricky, to say the least, to make a movie in which the main protagonist is a jerk. But director John Lee Hancock hired "The Wrestler" writer Robert Siegel and told him to write him a script, mythologizing a natural jerk--McDonalds "founder" Ray Kroc (flamboyantly portrayed by Michael Keaton)--a model businessman, combining ambition, smarts and ruthlessness to create the most successful restaurant in history, not to mention one of the most recognizable and biggest brands of all time.
So, on the foundation that Kroc more or less stole the McDonalds' brothers intellectual property, Siegel went to work and I have to applaud his effort not only on making Kroc hateful--this is easy--but also by pointing out the brothers' tunnel vision focus. They are, as the movie itself states, cliches, unrecognized geniuses who loved their job perhaps too much. So much so, that despite wanting to franchise their McDonalds place in San Bernardino, they had no interest in becoming rich--they entered the world of business, a ruthless, destructive, methodical and cruel world, without any business intents. Kroc was nothing more than one of the many wolves to greet them at the entrance.
But while Kroc resists love from the viewer at any point, it is interesting to see that his war on the McDonalds' brothers started from necessity rather than greed. He was barely braking even, so they had it coming to them. I don't want this to seem like I am taking Kroc's side, no way. I am just saying, I am not surprised. He was a career businessman, listening to motivational speeches, always on the road as a struggling travelling salesman. He neglected his first wife, Ethel (Laura Dern) and he was, essentially, desperate.
In a way, Kroc was a tunnel vision man as well. Except whereas the brothers' tunnel vision was unhealthy financially, for Kroc, it was unhealthy in his personal life. He was hellbent on McDonalds. He divorced Ethel simply because she couldn't bother supporting him and later re-married to Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini) who was by his side. His actions towards the McDonalds' brothers were not personal, just business. He truly loved McDonalds and was prepared to fight for it against everyone, even its very creators.
This was obvious from the very first scene in which he gazed upon that restaurant in San Bernardino. He ordered a burger and fries which were, immediately given to him to his surprise. He ate on a bench, near a mother and two children. That new-found freedom left an impression on him--as the scene left an impression on me. That being said, it is also when I started to become concerned. I just asked myself when will the inevitable mythologizing begin. And it was only a matter of time before Siegel inundated the script with artful comparisons of McDonalds as America or, worse, McDonalds as the new church! These can contribute to the artistic, core value of the movie and can stern those with a political pulse. But "The Founder" is not essentially emotionally deep so, here, they came out as cliches.
The movie definitely works in the sense that it pays the brother their well-deserved respect as genius underdogs by portraying them as paragons, heroes of the fast-food industry--which, again, they are. But it also painted a multi-pov facet of business and friendship, business and family and, business and evil. These are all present, if being on a superficial level--like the final scene between Richard McDonald (Nick Offerman) and Kroc in the bathroom after cutting a deal for Kroc to buy their original place. Many movies contain personal encounters between business enemies just after a deal is struck but here, it contains just more mythologizing but also a sneaky thank you from Ray to Richard as he claims he loves the name as he rhetorically asks: "would you eat at a place called Kroc"?
But the truth has a way of showing itself sooner or later and history will eventually be rewritten. In the very final scene of the movie, in which Ray Kroc--now a true business magnate--stands in front of the mirror practicing a speech he is to give at the White House has his arrogant smile wiped out for no apparent reason. Perhaps he was feeling guilt or maybe asking himself: how will history really remember me?
It is always raining in the city, but people don't seem to mind. At this point, they don't even notice it anymore. It's not ignorance, they are numb. Yet they still deal with it in one way or another. Detective William Somerset puts on his hat and takes his coat while Detective David Mills just faces it with his hair up. He gets in the car, brushes it off and off to work. There is a killer on the loose, his crimes terrible and the clues barely existent.
Interestingly enough, there is no mention of what city it is. It could be any big city. Bleak, inescapable, apathetic, sad, miserable, industrial and hopeless. Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is close to retirement and Mills (Brad Pitt) is only just beginning his career. He moved in recently with his wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow). The two are expecting but David doesn't know. And maybe is for the better. In the city, excitement and agony can often become one another. Besides, the murder victims keep piling up. Mills and Somerset arrive at the first scene: an obese man, fed to death found face-down in a bowl of spaghetti. The word "GLUTTONY" is written on the wall. Next scene, a defense attorney, killed after forced to cut a pound of flesh from his body. The word "GREED" written in blood. Despite the fact that this should be obvious to anyone remotely interested in learning, it is Somerset who first notices these are two of the seven deadly sins. Next up, "SLOTH", "LUST", "PRIDE", "ENVY" and "WRATH".
In aiding his less experienced colleague, Somerset does what most people wouldn't do when faced with such a man--he goes to the library and begins studying anything related with the seven deadly sins. At its center, Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy". He points out how the killer is preaching, his acts of murder being symbolic punishments for the victims' sins. But they are also pretty ironic. One think that David Fincher never focuses on in his movies is the comedy in various situations. He is a bleak, atmospheric, at times claustrophobic director. But this is for the better. Mills points out how the killer is "urinating in their (the police) faces". And I couldn't help but think there is also a sense of superiority, jargon and irony in the killer's work--how on-point and also behind the police is to him. It is, indeed, a "divine comedy".
But as shocking as the crime scenes are, it is the interactions between Somerset and the Mills family who has the bigger insight--at least until the final scenes. Somerset is a loner, and while he is clearly intelligent and has gone through more than he shows, there are still two times when he opens up. Once, in a bar, when he has a discussion with Mills. Fincher and writer Andrew Kevin Walker had made them with such well-defined and opposing personalities that any contradictions and insightful discussions come naturally. Somerset and Mills discuss about apathy, but they also hint at hypocrisy. Mills, who loves the city life, points out Somerset's superior nature, but Somerset doesn't think any better of himself either. But even more powerful was when Tracy asked Somerset to meet her in secret and told him she is pregnant. Somerset is shocked. Tracy is depressed, she hates the city, she hates the apartment which is often rumbled by the noise of the subway passing and she needs someone to talk to. Somerset sees in her nothing more than what most people feel. The hate for the city, except she simply hadn't numbed herself yet. Like him, but not like David--David loves the city.
And while the deep, personal interactions between Somerset and Tracy are setting up the shocking climax, it is when the killer finally reveals himself that the movie really solidifies its place as a masterpiece. "Se7en" had such a high build-up that unless the villain is not perfect, the movie collapses. But the villain--John Doe--was perfect and the movie did not collapse. From the point he shows himself he is in complete control. His physical movements--minimal. his voice--methodical, intelligent, evil! His presence--demonic. Yet his message is blunt enough--sinners, let this be a lesson to you! As he goes on about his motives, you cannot help but look at Somerset listening, silent. He makes the sneaky case of not completely disagreeing with Doe. This would be scary if Somerset hadn't been written and built through the entire movie as a paragon--which he is! Are we really all better than criminals, or do we simply--out of either morality, fear of God, or just fear of the law--suppress our darkest thoughts where no one can reach them?
I care not for the answer. This movie is great simply because it raises the question. The debate is what will make it linger. And let's remember: Somerset doesn't care about the city, he only stretches his job until he will retire somewhere far away. Like Doe, he knows it's hopeless and that there is "a deadly sin on every corner" but it is so common now that there is nothing that can be done about it. It will always rain in the city.
I don't mean to be judgmental here, but I can't help but feel that Tom Dey's "Failure to Launch" could only be watched under certain circumstances. Those circumstances having to do nothing with movies, but rather with a little R&R, with some casual middle-class-that-looks-like-upper-class alcohol and city-breaks/escapades. Trust me, it's true because that's how I watched it.
Even the decision was adequate. Me and two friends were in another town, the evening came, booze on-the-spot, so let's watch "a movie". Start the streaming app and my buddy instantly hovers over Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker and goes "let's watch this one". Presses play and that's about it. I never told him but the way the movie was picked with such little interest in its quality and more in the quality of having a good time and chilling--never mind the hassle of deciding what to watch, which usually takes a lot of time, debates, arguments--was so appropriate. And indeed I had a good time, but not because of the movie, because I was hanging out with my buddies.
But "Failure to Launch" delivered as a perfect "a movie". This is about thirty-something Tripp (Matthew McConaughey). He still lives with his parents and, of course, like all great American parents, they want him out. But Tripp went through a tragedy, so they will not press him and they will not tell him directly. Yet many years passed and Tripp is still there. So, his parents hire an "interventionist"? Enter Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker). Her job is to get him out. Her theory is that Tripp will fall in love with her and then she will act into giving him the necessary confidence to graduate out of the house.
This is where the comedy began for me. Not because of the mischief that ensues afterwards, but because I could not take seriously such a job. In fact, I don't believe such a job even exists. I mean, this is not deceit only from an emotional point of view, but also from a constitutional one. Fraud, anyone? From there, the effort went into trying not to cringe every time Parker put all of her sitcom-ish acting chops into sounding professional talking about her job like she is some kind of twisted, new-age psychiatrist. Of course, she ends up falling in love with him--no spoiler alert, it's obvious, duh!
Despite Parker's notable efforts, it is still McConaughey who is getting the most out of his character. Then again, Tripp is a proper ladies-man man-child with his slick attitude, good looks and his way of justifying his stay-at-home philosophy to his equally minded friends: Demo (Bradley Cooper) which, to be honest, I have no idea what he does. He is some sort of spiritual nomad, travelling around the world to unlock the secrets of the Universe which, I am sure he thinks he knows more of than he does and computer programmer Ace (Justin Bartha)... you know the cliche--lives in his mother's basement and writes code. Their conversation looked like three children talking through the bodies of adults. It was pretty funny and they are quite the pleasant trio--reminds me of myself and my friends. I could not help comparing ourselves to them in the back of my head. It's funny.
As the movie progresses, there's barely any scenes worth watching. Paula's roommate, Kit (Zooey Deschanel) provides proper comic relief on the side as a bored, rebellious and moody single woman living on the edge but even she gets repetitive quite fast. I'd rather go for the interactions with Tripp and his friends, which at one point got philosophical. The three often go on various outdoor activities from surfing to mountain-climbing and on every occasion, Tripp has an accident--usually by being bitten by a wild animal. Demo points to him this is the Universe's way of telling him to change his life. He put it in a very superficial albeit funny way, but I felt screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember could've done more with the idea.
Anyway, after a modest under 100 minutes the movie ended exactly as you're probably imagining it did. So, we turned off the lights, cleaned the snacks and booze off the table and went to bed. And ever since, I forgot about this movie up until a few days ago. This is the core of the problem.