Psst, this film is Mediocre, Snitch (2013)

Snitch (2013)Snitch (2013) is just another entry is a long line of films from this year that have failed to impress when it comes to mainstream releases. I chose to see it mainly to up my quota of films I’ve seen from this year as opposed to any other reason. It’s an american crime drama from Ric Roman Waugh (Felon, In the Shadows). It stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson who’s been all over the place in leading roles recently. However, casting an actor like him as a lead, whilst trying to lure audiences in with the old catch-all ‘based on true events’ is a somewhat contradictory plan. That’s definitely who I’d choose in a cautionary drama about drugs and parenting, The Rock. Yep, nothing wrong with that choice. At all.

The film starts as Jason Collins (Rafi Gavron) is told by his friend he’s sending another shipment of MDMA to his house, as he can’t fly with it, as he’s a drug dealer. In true cautionary fashion, Jason refuses, but Craig sends them anyway. The package arrives, as Jason accepts it, he opens the box to find the pills, with a tracking device underneath. The door is knocked down as agents from the DEA burst in and arrest Jason. Jason could be facing up to 10 years, as his friend Craig sold him out in order to reduce his sentence even though Jason was just a carrier, and had no intention to sell. Jason’s father John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) feels guilty for his son as he was never there for him after he left his mother. He plans to reduce his son’s sentence himself as he arranges a plan with Agent Cooper (Barry Pepper), after getting permission from local U.S attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon). With the help of one of his employees with 2 former convictions Daniel James (Joe Bernthal), John Matthews plans to go undercover headfirst into the seedy underworld of narcotics.

This is not the Wii U I ordered!

This is not the Wii U I ordered!

The concept was fine, but the message it clearly was trying to convey was bizarre. The film tries to bestow blame upon Jason even though he refused to Craig in the first place, though he didn’t listen. John cleaned up his son’s mess almost getting killed several times in the process. Daniel who was just trying to help his boss and protect his family, was forced out of his home and forced to go on the run, regardless of the fresh clean start he originally embarked on. While the film seemingly tries to be an indictment of the system that falsely imprisoned Jason, yet the same system was lenient enough to allow his father to intervene. Thus the film harbors an odd mish-mash of ideologies that don’t really glue. When there’s not much emotional context or ideological, you peel back the layers and you’re left with an okay action film, albeit slightly generic.

Susan. <3

Susan. ❤

Dwayne is vaguely okay as John Matthews, but the actor didn’t really matter, there wasn’t much to work with in terms of script. I see why you would want to attach The Rock to something as an attempt to feign star power, but when trying to make a touching story based on real events, a sensationalist actor like Dwayne from the dramatic land of Pro Wrestling no less seems vastly inappropriate. It just immediately eliminates any realism maintained in the very cliche script, and projects the qualities you expect from Dwayne’s movies. However Joe Bernthal (usually known as Shane from The Walking Dead) added some much needed drama into the film. Overall, I’d probably say give Snitch a miss. There’s nothing immediately bad, or unwatchable about it, it just struggled to maintain my attention and bring anything new or interesting to the table. Adios amigos, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views.

Advertisements

Sex, Sun and Sub-machine guns. Spring Breakers (2012).

SpringBreakersIf Girls Gone Wild ever mean’t gone rogue as part of a deluded white trash rapper’s crime syndicate, then I guess that’s what Spring Breakers (2012) is. Spring Breakers is a…oh. I’m not really sure? Uh. Drama…Crime? Softcore..? Uhh. Teen crime movie! Is that a thing? It’s a film brought to you by relatively unknown director Harmony Korine, starring his wife Rachel Korine, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, James Franco, and quite controversially Selena Gomez. Initially people thought the idea was it’d be a highly sexual and trashy teen movie with a twist. And while that’s kind of true, it’s much more subversive, and deeper in it’s message.

Faith, Candy, Brittany, and Cotty (Selena Gomez, Venessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) are four young girls who can’t wait to get away for Spring Break. However, the problem of the funds needed arises. Faith is a religious girl, and more reserved than the other 3, shown via earlier scenes in a church group. However, Candy, Brittany and Cotty rob a chicken joint for the cash, holding several people at gunpoint before smoothly escaping. They go to Spring Break and party it up like they planned, but are soon arrested following the events of a party. Estranged and demented rapper Alien (James Franco) pays the bail for the girls. Their relationship as friends is strained, as Alien drops them into a seedy underground of guns, coke, and blood feuds.

vlcsnap-2013-06-26-14h15m47s104

The film is incredibly sexualised throughout, but with good purpose. I think in a way Harmony is making a statement that we’ve become so desensitized to images of a sexual nature that the use of it is essentially irrelevant in some ways. That’s not to say you don’t notice the sexuality in Spring Breakers, but you’re kind of smothered by it. Every shot contains the male gaze, and towards the end of the film it’s just kind of, there? It’s hard to express, and that’s why Spring Breakers impressed me, there’s a lot of thought provoking shots and themes, and as a film it’s incredibly intriguing.  Audiences were initially skeptical about the film’s content and topic. However, Candy and Brittany aren’t so much owned or abused by Alien, it’s very much the opposite. He’s seduced by them and under their influence. That’s empowerment if anything.

vlcsnap-2013-06-26-14h16m14s116

Admittedly the film’s story is pretty basic, and not the most gripping of narratives. However, it is very aesthetically beautiful, and interesting in it’s use of shot effects particularly in scenes of drug use, and it’s use of voice overlay. The score is also suiting, but contrasting. It uses Dubstep and modern dance music in scenes of euphoria and happyness, juxtaposed with Rap in scenes of danger and tension. Performances were mostly mixed, with Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson easily stealing the show among the girls. James Franco was also pretty fantastic. He’s just so underrated, the man is a master of disguise and still gets little respect in regards to parts. I just don’t understand.

Anyhow, that’s Spring Breakers. Not the most brilliant film ever, but it’s certainly thought-provoking, thematic, and glossy. Selina Gomez should never act again however. Tune in next time, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views

Casino (1995) and Scorsese’s ‘Epic’ structure.

casino_1995_5Casino is one of Martin Scorsese’s generally underrated films. Thing is, when you have such a vast and praised filmography like Scorsese’s even a long, gritty, and gripping epic like Casino can be dismissed as ‘minor’ in comparison to the likes of Goodfellas, or Raging Bull. However, I really like Casino. There’s something about the allure of gambling films that’s entirely unique. The risk, the seedy underground nature of it all, and the heavily ironic opulent atmosphere. We rationalize casinos as classy places, an excuse to wear a suit or look smart. The irony lies in the hookers, the shady business deals, fraud, the presence of hired muscle and drug-filled pockets. Casino captures that to a tee. It’s textured and glitzy, and you know from the very beginning it’ll all fall down, just not how or why. 

Casino is a fairly long film at 2:52:00 or so, so I won’t bore you with my traditional narrative synopsis, i’ll just briefly summarize it for you folks. Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (Robert Deniro) is a sports handicapper and a mob associate who is put in charge of a Casino known as the Tangiers. He doesn’t have a gaming license, nor does he care as he simply changes his job title and simply runs the casino from afar. Things become seedy as his childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) moves to Vegas and begins to hustle the very casino Sam works at. Nicky receives a gaming ban, and as a result begins to cement himself as an underworld power in Las Vegas. In addition, Sam’s wife Ginger (Sharon Stone) soon begins to change from the glamorous siren she once was, into a lying and cheating coke addict, as she threatens to drive a wedge between Sam and Nicky’s already strained relationship. Things end messily.

vlcsnap-2013-06-22-15h49m55s185

Casino is a strange formula for a film. It acts and for all intensive purposes is an epic, a long narrative told by multiple points of view that spans a relatively large time period. But in many ways it isn’t. In epics, specifically in Scorcese’s you start with a rise to power before the struggle to maintain it. But in the opening minutes of the film Sam Rothstein gains control of the Casino, and his power is made evident pretty much then throughout the entire film. Also of note is Sam’s car exploding at the beginning, and the flashback to current events. I didn’t really see the point in this choice retrospectively? I’m not quite sure what it adds to the film, it seems mostly unneeded. However, it is very much epic in it’s ‘fall’. Much like Greek tragedies and very traditional storytelling Casino details the fall of our three protagonists in great agonizing detail. Nick Santoro is buried in the desert, still breathing along with his brother. Ginger dies of an overdose. Sam’s empire is mostly collapsed with the Tangiers casino being knocked down. 

'So, you're a righty then?'

‘So, you’re a righty then?’

Although, while I did say it was fundamentally different a series of remarkable similarities can be drawn between Casino, and Scorsese’s other films. In particular, in it’s story-line structure it bares a likeness to Gangs of New York, and Raging Bull. All three of these films take place within a particular turbulent time, and inevitably build up to the end of that period. Raging Bull depicts a boxers career wind down to crushing defeat, Gangs of New York documents the military ending a time of revelry and gang warfare. While Casino depicts the end of mob dealings and influence in the casinos, as Ace’s long uninterrupted prologue at the end tells us:

The town will never be the same. After the Tangiers, the big corporations took it all over. Today it looks like Disneyland. And while the kids play cardboard pirates, Mommy and Daddy drop the house payments and Junior’s college money on the poker slots. In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it’s like checkin’ into an airport – Sam Rothstein

Scorcese depicts the turbulence, the violence, the warfare, ending on a period of calm as order is restored. Quite honestly it’s because audiences like chaos, we don’t wanna see the order. We’re glued to insane and dominant figures like Nick Santoro, Jake Lamotta, Bill the Butcher. The reason why these situations and characters seem so real and vibrant is primarily because they are, ripped from the pages of history.

vlcsnap-2013-06-22-15h58m31s239

Casino is also very notable for his use of minor or supporting characters. It stars James Woods as the lurid and despicable Lester Diamond, the man who constantly uses Sam’s wife Ginger. He’s important because he really helps clarify the character of Sam. Sam deals with Lester by sending men, having him beaten to a bloody pulp outside in front of his wife. He is of power, thinks of himself as a man of standing and wouldn’t get his hands dirty with Lester. If it was Nick Santoro in this situation, he might have stabbed Lester several times in the jugular with a fountain pen, which happened in earlier scenes. Lester functions as a narrative trigger, to cause the tension between Sam and Ginger, which in turn leads to the tragic downfall of all three of our characters. In addition it stars long-term collaborator Frank Vincent as Frankie Marino. Frankie is primarily Nick’s second banana, his right-hand man, his extra muscle. He betrays Nick, and beats him and his brother to a bloody pulp with a baseball bat. This could have been anyone, but to see this character who was always by Nick’s side do it, added surprise and shock to an otherwise inevitable end. I also liked the irony that Nicky always talked about burying people in the desert during his monologues, and the only person we see buried is him.

Casino is incredibly textured, authentic, and well-written. The only real flaw I could say for it is that the monologues and narration ultimately makes the whole thing predictable. But I guess anyone who’d really seen anything from the gangster/casino genre could have guessed. Not to mention Pesci’s performance is priceless, no one plays the threatening and terrifying small man so well as Pesci. Deniro is fantastic as usual, as per all of his collaborations with Scorsese. Casino is a fantastic film, it deserves more respect than it gets I think. 

Gangs of New York (2002) and the Importance of Catharsis.

4288a961d4ca0bd983f929918337dd8dGangs of New York (2002) is a fundamentally solid film, that truly teeters on the brink of excellence. It offers an incredibly immersive look into a very divulgent time in the history New York, that of the 1840’s. Based around the ‘Five Points’ district, the film loosely follows the anarchy that ensues, and the ever on-going struggle for power. Critical opinion often claimed Gangs of New York didn’t stand up to the hype it generated and sits as one of Scorcese’s more minor films in comparison to Goodfellas, or Raging Bull, or Taxi Driver. Join me as I ponder why Gangs of New York perhaps didn’t pack as mean a punch as Scorcese’s other films, and how it could have possibly been better.

Gangs of New York first shows us an epic battle occurring between the Irish Catholics and immigrants against the American Natives. At the heads of this armies are Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) a true defender of the faith, an inspiration to all. Facing him, Mr.William Cutting, or as he’s often referred ‘Bill The Butcher’. A crude, harsh, and racist man who only seeks supremacy. They go to far as Bill slays his foe, for all to see. His young child runs off as Bill declares his victory, but also the honour of the fight that Vallon put up. The son of priest returns 20 years later to Paradise Square as he is soon taken under the butcher’s wing as he takes quite a liking to him. Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo Dicaprio) always sought to kill Bill (no pun intended), however a friend rats him out turning Bill against his former protege as he learns of his connection to Priest. Things escalate, leading to a final war between the Dead Rabbits and the Native Conversation Society. However the draft riots begin to occur, and both armies are pretty much instantly dispatched by confederate forces as Bill is hit by shrapnel, Amsterdam finishes him off with a knife. Him, and his lover Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz) run off to California in pursuit of a more prosperous land.

vlcsnap-2013-06-09-11h42m07s117

A lot of the criticisms were about the story’s course and overall structure, so we’ll begin there. The whole focus of the main plot is on Amsterdam, with the growing tension between him and Bill which leads to the final confrontation. However, with the intervention of the 3rd party draft forces the set piece falls rather flat and feels rather lacking. It was about settling feuds, rivalries, and beliefs but regardless of who killed who it felt as no one really won. Amsterdam strikes Bill down after Bill is wounded by shrapnel as he utters the words ‘Thank God. I’ll die a true American’.  For me I felt that wasn’t really cathartic, it’s probably more accurate in it’s depiction of historical nature. After the battle we see Vallon’s and Bill’s graves as they overlook New York as we begin to see it evolve, as the skyline and skyscrapers develop and turn into the New York of today. Their graves gradually deteriorate as Scorcese suggest that the two didn’t really matter?

vlcsnap-2013-06-09-11h37m54s143

I’m not quite sure what this means. I guess it meant it signified an end to the wars and the death of both of them is the only way the feud could finally climax between native and Irishman. As for the historical content, the sets design and costume Gangs of New York was very acclaimed for it’s historical preservation. As you’d expect things were misconstrued and bent into a narrative structure as you’d expect. An interesting fact is the Irish primarily feuded with those of black origin as opposed to anyone else, primarily because they would work at a lower rate than that of the Irish, thus stealing their jobs from beneath them. 

vlcsnap-2013-06-09-11h38m22s174

The performances in Gangs of New York are fantastic. It offers an ensemble cast, headed by Leonardo Dicaprio and Daniel-Day Lewis, with cameos by Jim Broadbent, Liam Neeson, Eddie Marsan, among others. For me the character of Bill truly supersedes the film. Bill is a foul, violent intolerant villain, but he’s very logically written. He feels he must die for his country purely because his father did, because he sees some misguided pride in that hence his end remark. His vocabulary and voice are oddly eloquent, but very ribald. He is a violent kingmaker who deals in flesh and blood, both figuratively and literally through his love of the butcher’s cleaver.  

‘I took the father. Now I’ll take the son. You tell young Vallon I’m gonna paint Paradise Square with his blood. Two coats. I’ll festoon my bedchamber with his guts.’ – Bill the Butcher

Daniel-Day Lewis is must-see as usual (when is he not?), while the Dicaprio we see in Gangs, isn’t the one we see now. He’s always been a great actor, but in recent years he’s really excelled, become an A-list talent from the likes of Inception, Django Unchained. I don’t suppose I have too much else to say about Gangs of New York. A solid piece of historical entertainment, with some excellent characters and superb performances. The ending for me wasn’t as climatic, it didn’t drive home the vengence of Amsterdam’s father which I felt in many ways was the entire point. Regardless it’s a great film for style, and design, and entertainment if not substance. That’s all for now I suppose. Join me next time! Or I’ll festoon my bedchamber with your guts. >.>

Follow me on Twitter @Sams_Reel_Views.

                                                                                       Sam. 

Cape Fear (1991), Modern Law, and Police Procedure.

cape_fearCape Fear (1991) is a fairly nontraditional thriller in a sense. Mainly in that, at points it’s very subversive with it’s ideas of morality and justification. Obviously ideas of ideological punishment are always evident in this genre, often people’s pasts come back to haunt them. As a lawyer, what is Sam Bowden’s ‘job’? Any definition isn’t very clear, more than ‘one who practices the law’. However, is it his sworn duty to due whatever he can to protect and alleviate his client? Or ultimately is it to fulfill that whilst maintaining a certain degree of justice by his own accord? There have been a multitude of reasons for revenge in films. Rape, the murder of a family member, assault, or them being framed for examples. The motive in this case is that Sam Bowden didn’t get his client off on a technicality, when he could have. The same moral code is very grey instead of black and white. 

Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) was working as a defense attorney, as it became his duty to take on the case of Mr.Max Cady convicted of rape, and battery. There was a report detailing that the victim was incredibly promiscuous which Sam withheld from court and ‘buried’ as Max put it. Max couldn’t read at this point, and had no idea of what it detailed. Max learns to read and write, and gains a thorough understanding of the law once in prison, even assuming his own defense when appealing his conviction. Max finally serves his 14 years, as he begins to stalk the family of his former lawyer, seeking to execute the crimes that sent him to jail on the first place on the women of the Bowden household.

vlcsnap-2013-06-07-20h25m03s155

The film is very involved with themes of law and religion. Often it contrasts ideas of lawful justice, in juxtaposition to religious justice, in particular the vengeful ways of the old testament that Max loves to recite. At points I almost felt a drop of sympathy for Max, before realizing that’s completely illogical. He harps and rants like a preacher about justice, but what justice would there have been if he walked away after battering and raping an innocent 15 year old girl, no matter how promiscuous? The film could be seen as an indictment of the American police system with nothing really being done about the issue from Sam’s perspective. Max gets a lot farther with his vigilantism, and the irony is in the fact that by the end of the film Sam is the fugitive, not Max. 

The film in a nutshell.

The film in a nutshell.

The film’s score is incredibly atonal, brooding, and looming very much in the style of Alfred Hitchcock. Ultimate that’s where the thriller began, and it’s unsurprising to see those same elements called upon. The same could be said for the film’s conventions, particular in the death of Sam’s P.I, typically a sacrificial lamb in the classic thriller, a good example of this is Detective Aubergast in Psycho (1960).  It could be said it’s casting feels a bit off. I would have said Nolte would have made a much better villain than Deniro, simply from the compositions of the two men’s faces and their overall looks. However you could say this is to make it more subversive, with the characters moderately balanced. For the film Deniro beefed up, while Nolte lost weight to make Deniro look like more of a physical better to Nolte. Overall Cape Fear is a good, solid thriller with some interesting unorthodox themes, apparently heavily inspired by Night of the Hunter (1955) starring Robert Mitchum, who also appears in both renditions of Cape Fear. A solid directorial piece, but nothing truly spectacular. Follow me @Sams_Reel_Views on Twitter. 

An incredibly biblical way to end.

An incredibly biblical way to end.

Broken City (2013) Or more accurately, Broken Dialogue.

broken_city

Broken City is a crime/thriller film from director Allen Hughes, known for such work as From Hell, Menace 2 Society, and The Book of Eli. Broken City is a mess of a film, with an uncountable amount of failed logic, character inconsistencies, and quite frankly quite a dull plot. It does that typical Hollywood thing of kind of justifying the plot as a lot larger than it is, and it completely ignores human logic to quite a large degree. It stars Mark Wahlberg (YES MARKY MARRRRKKK), Russell Crowe, Barry Pepper, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Jeffrey Wright. The most of which are completely unremarkable except for Wahlberg (Could he ever be?) and the fairly unknown Jeffrey Wright. Written in 2008, the script floated in ‘Development Hell’ until Hughes became attached to the project, however I can certainly see why.

The story loosely involves Mark Wahlberg (can’t remember the character name) as a shamed former cop who is now a private detective. He is hired by the mayor of New York to investigate his wife who he suspects his cheating. The plot thickens to reveal that the detective was actually investigating his wife, in fear of her giving evidence to the other party, in order to make him lose the mayoral election. Eventually Mark and the mayor go down as a result of an elaborate I have evidence on you doing this, oh I have evidence of you doing this anti-climatic showdown. Not neatly put, but I don’t think it’s very easy to describe such a confused empty shell of a film.

I could delve more deeply into the crux of the story but quite frankly it’s Hollywood inspired waffle pretty much proved by it’s tagline ‘Proof can be a powerful weapon’. Proof of what?! that’s so ambiguous! Literally, that could mean ANYTHING. I mean I know taglines aren’t supposed to be specific, but that’s just absurd. ‘Proof’? Why not Evidence!? Or something like ‘Every man must answer to his convictions’ or something at least trying to emulate high drama. So why is Broken City bad? It boils down to these three points:

Mark Wahlberg in The Departed (2006). A far better film.

Mark Wahlberg in The Departed (2006). A far better film.

1) Dialogue. The dialogue is really bad. An odd mix of jokes, and small talk with characters trying to sound human, along side typical action genre dialogue written incredibly badly. In addition it doesn’t quite know how to convey emotion in any real way. For example when Mark Wahlberg (I’m not even going to look up the character name, that’s how little I care) had a drink and his girlfriend completely overreacted, broke up with him, then didn’t appear in the film again? Seriously, how is that catharsis? Or in anyway trying to convey real emotion?

Russell Crowe in Gladiator (2000). Also a better film.

Russell Crowe in Gladiator (2000). Also a better film.

2) Plot holes and logic knots. I won’t delve too deeply into this, because everything’s fairly objective and debatable. Character’s seem to have omniscience or something, as they already know what’s happened from a seemingly unknown source. In addition, why wasn’t Mark (Still sticking to call him by that) killed in the car when he passed out in the crash, when the guy stole the papers? You could argue this is because Russell Crowe (Evil Mayor) didn’t want to kill him, but if this is the case, why did he send an armed gunman into the house after him only 10 minutes later?  Why was Jeffrey Wright sleeping with Catherine Zeta-Jones in any way relevant? and here’s the clincher why is Jack Valliant in anyway a better mayoral candidate when he was perfectly willing to stoop to the same mud-fighting and sabotage as the mayor? He was just worse at it and was clearly unstable and they then compound that into a happy conclusion. 

3) The characters. The moods and emotions change and arc so quickly within the characters along with the constantly shifting plot completely prevents us from relating to our protagonist, or caring about the story in which he’s entangled at all. This is the biggest pitfall of modern cinema, making sure we can relate to the character, and that we emphasize with him, if not the villain alternatively. 

Broken City in three words is sloppy, unremarkable, and ambitious. The premise is far too complex for the very honest compliance of the three act structure, and fails to bring it to life. The dialogue needs to really decide what kind of writing it’s going for and stick to it as opposed to being really erratic. Other than that, write a more convincing villain. Oh he’s a politician you say? society must be full of villains? oh he hates women? oh he must really be something! that’s certainly an original conceit! Broken City was not worth my time, nor is it worth yours. Til next time folks, follow me @Sams_Reel_Views. 

A condemnation of Al Capone, Scarface (1932)

220px-Scar2Scarface (1932) is a crime film detailing the life and times of  Tony Camonte and his rise to criminal power and reputation. The film’s time frame and general depiction of the character, and the events that happen in the film such as the Valentine’s day massacre lead many to believe the film is loosely based on the exploits of Al Capone.  The first shots of the film explain the films agenda quite literally with an overlay explaining that gang crime is bad, and the government needs to do something about it. In addition it clarifies numerous times that Scarface is based on real events. I found this in rather poor taste, particularly because the film industry is only ever to gain from public violence, news stories and national scandals such as the Valentine’s Day massacre. The film stands as a precursor for Brian DePalma’s 1983 film of the same name.

Paul Muni is fantastic, as he depicts a very confident cocky young gangster, who doesn’t quite understand the ramifications of his actions as he delves deeper into crime. Big Louis Costillo is a gangster who holds a grip on the city’s crime syndicates until he dies, leading to an open season, gang warfare as the city’s is anyone’s to take. The script is incredibly similar to the 1983 version, with the gradual degradation of Tony’s insanity as he begins to kill off those who are close to him in fear that he can trust no-one. Karen Morley puts on an incredible performance as the seductive poppy, girlfriend of Tony’s boss until he gradually replaces him. She is seductive and beautiful, and talks in very sadistic tones as a woman who is only truly interested in men of immense power.

An advert Tony likens to a sign of his ascendancy to the head of the gangster world.

An advert Tony likens to a sign of his ascendancy to the head of the gangster world.

It’s a pre-code film so the amount of violence is portrays is fairly open. There isn’t any blood, or implied dismemberment as you’d expect, but there are several scenes in which drive-bys occur, with pieces of set being riddled by machine gun fire. It represents the looming fear of the prohibition and depression eras, and cinematicly can be seen as a precursor for Film Noir, which didn’t happen overtly as a film making movement until roughly 8 years later. 

gangster-movies-scarface-1932-2The film was accepted in to the national film registry as of being ‘historically, aesthetically or culturally significant’ and received very high acclaim. Particularly from French director and critic Jean-Luc Godard from the pages of Cahier Du Cinema. It’s one of many pre-code gangster/crime films but I do think it’s very refined. I think it represents a growing interest in the bad guy, from his point of view do we see the action which juxtaposes the sheer popularity of hardboiled detective films coming out around this era. It’s influence and still be seen in modern gangster dramas, with it arguably establishing many of the codes and conventions for the gangster genre as a whole. Scarface is an incredibly well-crafted piece of contextual history, as well as cinematic history. It stands today as one of acclaimed director Howard Hawk’s best films and is certainly to be respected in a genre of rich historical genealogy. Until next time, please Comment/Follow/Like, and follow me on Twitter @Sams_Reel_Views

Robocop (1987) Man or Machine?

robocop-1987-movie-poster-01

Robocop (1987) is widely considered one of the best films of that year by far, however who knows if the contemporary remake can stand up to this significant piece of 80’s culture. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven originally wanted nothing to do with Robocop as he discarded the script, calling it shallow and hollow as a premise. However, persuaded otherwise by his wife he began to realize Robocop actually has some interesting depictions and ideals within it. Why I mention that it because at an audience level Robocop could be seen as a fairly generic text, when it could be argued it has quite a lot to say about society, law, and the film culture of the 80’s.

Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is a cop, transferred to a rough district in Detroit as he begins to patrol with partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen). On their first patrol they encounter a bunch of wanted criminals but have no back-up. These streets are owned by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). They trap the pair of police officers in an abandoned warehouse as they brutally slaughter Alex Murphy. The blood, and the sheer amount of violence was definitely quite unprecedented. Throughout there is frequent blood and gore throughout Robocop, because it characterizes the world they exist in as one that can only be tamed by excessive violence. It’s quite a powerful statement. In the end, is there really that much difference between Robocop and ED-209? They’re both machines just programmed to kill. Although while violent, I guess in the end the ideology is liberal in his reduction of this powerful corporate figure, and the ends do justify the means.

In ways it could be said Robocop takes a lot of inspiration from Terminator, and the Million Dollar Man from it's premise.

In ways it could be said Robocop takes a lot of inspiration from Terminator, and the Million Dollar Man from it’s premise.

Robocop’s story feels quite unique at its crux. I think it can be dissected down to a few basic elements. 1) The Revenge film. A protagonist is beaten almost to death, as the story builds up to him delivering justice, or alternatively his family has been killed and he tries to avenge them. Robocop  has elements of this cliche’d story in a fairly mild three act structure along with elements of metamorphosis. That basic premise of when a character changes for the worst and is afraid to face his friends an family as a result ala The Fly (1958) for example. What’s particularly odd is that we never see Robocop’s son or wife as a viewer I expected that to be an integral part of his revenge, realizing that he can never function as part of his family ever again.

The evil corporate executive, and the ED-209.

The evil corporate executive, and the ED-209.

Critically, when watching Robocop it can be said that the whole ‘robo’ part of it as actually highly irrelevant. It’s cool in some ways but ultimately it’s the story, the harsh gripping-plot, and truly detestable characters that drive Robocop forward. Robocop’s three laws can be seen as a basic reconfiguration of science fiction mastermind Isaac Azimov’s three laws of robotics.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

The idea of the three laws is a basic concept that robots would have a clear set of guidelines in order to prevent human casualty or endangerment. However, we must ponder how Robocop actually has the free will to actively decide to alter his logic systems in the first place? Are we just to assume it’s a hideous design fault by those trusty folks at OCP? Last thing I’d like to talk about is evil corporations. It’s a cliche scattered all over commercial cinema, but one that only really became popular to use in the last three decades or so. I find it bizarre how in western films consumerism is often the villain, yet it’s something we live by so actively in day to day life. In Robocop, the head of OCP, Richard Jones is technically more a villain than Boddicker, because he actually funds their whole operation while keeping them immune from any consequences. I’d assume it’s a part of 70’s revisionist culture alongside Watergate and Vietnam, in which society lost trust in basically anyone with any kind of executive power. That’s why Robocop is so interesting, strong liberalism themes in a police drama, corrupt consumerism and crime stopped by presumably millions of dollars of state of the art technology? Very oxymoronic.

Man? Or Machine?

Man? Or Machine?

Summary: Robocop is an important piece of culture, a venture between science fiction and the cop drama, showing that generic hybridity can enhance a film, not just weaken it. It has strong themes of ideology, but not in basic form, it’s very thought provoking and open to interpretation. It’s action sequences are unique, and the snappy one-liners are quite amusing. I don’t feel the sequel is a good idea, and i’m not entirely sure how the concept can be built upon as it was highly successful in the first place. Also I don’t really think the mix of brutality, and odd and strange ideas will work outside the context of the very transitional 80’s. We’ll have to wait until 2014 for that I suppose. Thanks for tuning in, and please Like/Comment/Follow, and Follow me on twitter @Sams_Reel_Views. Cheers.

The Yakuza (1974)

tumblr_ma1zcacmIn1rrm3yxo1_500

The Yakuza (1974) is an American Neo-noir/Crime film, based in Japan. The film is well known for it’s deep contrast of cultural values between Japan and America, most notably from post-occupation changes from the war. It also highly centers around the concept of obligation and debt, or Giri alternatively. I hadn’t really heard of the Yakuza until it became available on my digital service, but I was quite surprised at the quality of the film. The film is directed by academy award winning director Syndey Pollack (Out of Africa, Tootsie, Havana) while the screen play is written co-written by Robert Towne (Chinatown, Mission Impossible), Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), and Leonard Schrader (Kiss of the Spider Woman).

vlcsnap-2013-05-16-13h13m19s252

Retired detective Jake Gittes Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) is called upon for a debt he owes for a friend, someone he was friends in the service with. George Tanner (Brian Keith) asks him to go back to japan, and rescue his daughter from the head of the Yakuza. He agrees, and goes back, meeting his old flame Eiko (Keiko Kishi) and her daughter. Harry recounts his former love with her, and how Eiko’s brother Ken (Ken Takakura) came back from war, and was disgusted and wouldn’t allow them to marry. Ken then joined the underground Yakuza, Harry forces Eiko into telling him where he can find Ken. He goes to Kyoto, finding Ken, now a kendo instructor who tells him where he can find Tono, the head of the Yakuza, Ken also feels obliged to go with him. Though Ken has a lot of contempt for Harry, ultimately Harry saved and looked after Ken’s family while he was gone.

vlcsnap-2013-05-16-13h14m14s51

Ken and Harry save the girl, angering Tono, who then takes out contracts on their lives. They go to Ken’s brother, a high ranking official (of something or rather) but he cannot help them as he doesn’t want to get involved, however he does warn Ken not to kill his son who now works for the Yakuza, identified by a spider tattoo on his forehead. It’s revealed George the man who asked for a favor in the first place had double-crossed Tono and Harry, and Tono had taken his daughter as payment for weapons he never received. To end this, Harry and Ken go and raid the Yakuza, emerging mostly unscathed as Ken faces Tono in honorable battle by blade. Ken apologises to his brother, as he has slain his son, he asks for forgiveness by committing yubitsume, a yakuza ritual in which a small finger is sliced off, and offered as a token of humility. It’s revealed that Ken isn’t Eiko’s brother, but Eiko’s husband as Harry apologizes to Ken for usurping his family in the past, as he also commits yubitsume. They deeply bow to each other, before Harry departs for the U.S

Eiko (Left) and Harry (Right)

Eiko (Left) and Harry (Right)

Didn’t want to waffle, but Yakuza has a very intense, and quite in-depth narrative. It’s interesting as the whole former lovers thing between Eiko, Ken, and Harry isn’t explained that well, but it actually makes sense because why would it be when it’s so far in the past when Harry revisits? In it’s casting, I think Robert Mitchum is probably slightly too old considering he’s in some actions scenes and it comes across as quite unbelievable. However, Ken Takakura is superb as Ken, a very brooding deep character who carries most of the action sequences of the film. Overall the story feels quite solid, but things tend to unfold on their own, it’d make sense if we saw a little more detective work from Harry considering he used to be one. The scenery, and interiors of Yakuza feel authentically Japanese. The lighting is very low-key and quite harsh, making it feel like a noir story, which certainly relates to the past, present and future of Yakuza with no real happy endings or absurdist equilibrium to be seen, just harsh reality. 

vlcsnap-2013-05-16-13h18m06s61

The motifs of loyalty, respect, and honor are certainly interesting. It focuses quite deeply on Ken’s giri, and how he feels obliged to Harry for saving his daughter while he was away in the war, regardless of the fact Harry essentially ruined his life, and separated Ken from his family. It’s also interesting to note that the villain, Tono, didn’t actually do much wrong. He merely took George’s daughter as he had paid for guns, and George had literally no intention of supplying them as we learn much later. For a villain who ultimately dies quite a harsh death, that’s some odd ideology behind that. Especially considering in this American film, there seems to be a much greater degree of morality, and honor among it’s Japanese characters, where the same cannot be said for it’s American characters, George and Harry. There’s also a lot mentioned about how the Yakuza used to essentially be Samurai, not a crime syndicate likening it to Ken’s involvement in the Yakuza and how it hasn’t corrupted him. 

The brooding and violent, Tanaka Ken

The brooding and violent, Tanaka Ken

Verdict: Excellent. Yakuza is a film with a fantastic script, decent direction, with good performances. I feel like the script wasn’t exactly Sydney Pollack’s style and like the similar Chinatown written by Robert Towne, might have been better directed by someone like Polanski. However, the themes, scenery, and imagery flesh out Yakuza to be a beautiful, yet brutal and gripping film. With action, heartbreak, and intense plot, I’d highly recommend The Yakuza as being worth anyone’s time. 

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013) or ‘Sins of the Father’

The-Place-Beyond-the-Pines

Hello there friends, today I take an in-depth look at Director Derek Cianfrance’s second film The Place Beyond The Pines (2013) starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, and Ray Liotta. It’s an American drama film, or more accurately one of those ‘life’ films, portraying a kind of narrative strand within life it’s self, just portraying a story of the human existence kind of like Tree of Life (2011) directed by Terence Malick, without the experimental parts. I saw the trailers and a lot of the hype for this, and was quite excited. Watching it today, it is not what I expected but then again, I think it’s quite hard to portray what this film is within the confines of a short trailer. However the promotional material definitely seems to make the film a lot more palpable for mainstream audiences, when it’s definitely more of an alternative film, I feel.

The angel-haired, nihilistic Luke Glanson

The angel-haired, nihilistic Luke Glanson

Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a touring motorcyclist stuntman for a travelling fair, as he returns to a small town to find a girl named Romina (Eva Mendes) he slept with years ago now has his child . He attempts to support her and the child, being befriended by a mechanic called Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) He begins to rob banks, with the aid of robin, until Robin wants out, and Luke is confronted by young ambition copy Avery which leads to a shootout and Luke is killed. The story then switches to Avery’s point of view, as he and his police friends go to Romina’s house, and search it, taking the stolen bank money Luke left and giving it to Avery claiming it’s ‘hazard pay’. Following this, Avery is dragged into dirty dealings, and sells his fellow cops out to get the promotion he thinks he deserves, as he becomes District Attorney. 15 Years later, Luke and Avery’s sons meet as they unravel the truth of their father’s history.

A happy family, for at least a split second.

A happy family, for at least a split second.

I may be going off on a wild tangent here, but I’d like to talk about narrative structure before I dive into the crux of The Place Beyond The Pines. In practicality, if you want to segment your story into different parts, told by different people you need to make sure that one of your story segments isn’t vastly more entertaining than the others, especially not at the beginning of the film. This is what Place Beyond The Pine does, first exploring the deep, confused character of Luke (Ryan Gosling), switching to the not so goody two-shoes Avery (Bradley Cooper), before then descending into this squabble between their children. It just took the plunge from high interesting drama, to teenage angst and for me the film lost steam, I couldn’t maintain interest particularly in it’s catharsis which seemed kind of empty. There was no real penultimate action, it just lead to Luke’s son discovering his identity, and going on the run to be like him.

The ultimate cathartic moment that happened about 50 minute into the film, felt left wanting afterwards.

The ultimate cathartic moment that happened about 50 minutes into the film, felt left wanting afterwards.

So the performances were hit and miss really, Eva Mendes was okay, but she didn’t have a lot of screentime. Gosling was the best performance in the film by a country mile, however as a supporting actor Ben Mendelsohn added a lot of personality into the story. The score was particularly effective, a blend of harsh and mellow sharp tones, accompanied by 80’s nostalgic music when appropriate. The cinematography was pretty much superb, the tracking shots on the motorcycle were expertly done, and I particularly like the long tracking shots following the two characters as we see how people react to them (Luke in the Circus fairground/Avery in the Police Station).

The corrupt cops Avery sells for a promotion.

The corrupt cops Avery sells for a promotion.

While you don’t typically wanna read into a text like the Place Beyond The Pines too deeply, I would define it as one of morality. The cop shot the robber dead, the robber wasn’t even concerned with attacking the cop seemingly, and his son grows up to be a confused, maligned man just wanting a father figure to guide him, while the son of the cop grows up to be the world’s most smarmiest prick anyone’s ever seen.

vlcsnap-2013-05-09-16h29m57s129

A son, longing to be like his father.

Judgement = Good (6-7/10). Elaboration: The Place Beyond The Pines certainly had me hooked at first, but in my opinion went in the wrong direction, and could have been a lot more gripping if it had mirrored the two characters and had them face each other in the end, however the whole dead-pan flop I felt the ending was marred and otherwise a soulful and aesthetic experience. Well that’s it for this time folks, please Follow/Comment/Like, and Follow me @Sam’s_Reel_Views. Cheers!