Category Archives: Epic

“The Godfather Part II” Movie Review

Ladies and gentlemen, I now present to you the first great franchise of Hollywood. Well, at least it was for a little while, but that’s besides the point. This epic crime drama was released during Christmas time of 1974, a full two years after the original. Although it ultimately made less than its predecessor, with a box office intake of around $55 million against a budget of $13 million, it received virtually the same praise as last time. In fact, many critics consider it to be superior to the original, although others took a little while to come to their senses. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it won 6 and became the first sequel to win Best Picture, a feat only matched in 2003 by Return of the King. Once again written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the story stemmed from his interest in the dichotomy in the two central arcs. A number of actors from the first film, such as Marlon Brando and Richard Castellano, chose not to return despite their parts being written. It took over half a year for filming to complete, and only 6 months after that to prepare in time for a holiday release for Paramount. This time around, it’s both a prequel AND a sequel. The first story takes place in 1958, and follows Michael Corleone who has assumed the role of family Don. As he attempts to expand his family business into major venues, an attempt on his life leaves him weary of even his closest associates. In the other one, we see his father Vito in his young years emigrate to the U.S. during the early 20th century. And we watch as his empire gradually grows in New York City as Michael’s begins to fall apart. As anyone who’s read my blog before should know, I absolutely adore the first Godfather movie. In spite of all the difficulties Coppola had making that film, I genuinely don’t have any problems with it in terms of either narrative, technicality, or acting. For the longest time, I had been somewhat scared to watch the sequel, as I felt there wasn’t any possible way it could live up to the original. In fact, I only finally watched The Godfather Part II for the first time very early this year. And while I’m not quite sure if it surpasses the original, it is absolutely a worthy follow-up deserving of the exact same gushing. It’s very curious to watch the dual yet somewhat opposite storylines play out. As young Vito’s list of allies and associates grows, Michael’s gradually wanes in the face of paranoia. How both of these men come about it is shown in a very slow, deliberate, but engaging manner. Despite the epic runtime of 3 hours and 22 minutes, including a brief intermission, not a single moment felt wasted developing their stories. In fact, I’d argue that a minute shorter would diminish its power and significance. The movie is less a continuous crime saga and more a melancholy parable on the consequences American Dream, as Vito emigrated to the United States and built everything he had from the ground up. It’s at turns inspiring, heartbreaking, and shocking. Returning to his most iconic role, Al Pacino is even better than last time as Michael. Through subtle gestures and some occasional outbursts, this man becomes increasingly less sympathetic as the film goes on, but you still can’t help but watch. This time around Fred Cazale and Diane Keaton are given more room and time to shine as his brother Fredo and wife Kay, respectively. Each one has a tragic element that they expertly add to their character, partly due to their mutual fear of who Michael has become. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro shines in his Oscar-winning breakout role as a young Vito Corleone. A role spoken almost entirely in the Italian language, he shows why he is a man not to mess with as he kills people from rival gangs to solidify his power as the mafia Don. But he still is able to show genuine care, looking after his wife and infant sons and giving back to less fortunate members of his community. Once again, The Godfather Part II is also a brilliant piece of technicality that was revolutionary for the time and still impressive today. Gordon Willis returns as cinematographer and gives a more muted look to the film. It was the last Hollywood picture to be made using the dye imbibition process with Technicolor until the 1990’s, and makes the most out of its set pieces. From the Dominican Republic to Sicily to a Senate committee, the production designers Angelo Graham, John Dapper, and Dean Tavoularis crafted many memorable locations across the epic story. Each one is edited by Peter Zinner, Barry Malkin, and Richard Marks with ease, moving between each timeline with cross dissolves or some hard cuts. And yet, it still works effortlessly. Nino Rota writes the original film score for the second go-around, this time with a little help from the director’s late father Carmine Coppola. While the primary theme is kept mostly intact, there is some new music worth listening to as well. There are a handful of more lighthearted tunes for Little Italy scenes, consisting of bouncy percussion and accordions. What’s particularly memorable is the song that plays when Vito first sees the Statue of Liberty, a haunting and beautiful piece that illustrates his newfound freedom. Starting with a solemn trumpet solo before blowing out with strings and woodwind trills, it works as well as any piece of film score I’ve ever listened to. It’s truly a soundtrack for New York City. Even after this rewatch, I do need a bit of time to decide if I like this film more than the original, like many cinephiles proclaim. It definitely feels more free of the usual constraints faced by sequels, as the story is never beholden to the events of the original film. In that, it’s just as strong a standalone feature as it is a continuation of the story Mario Puzo had originally envisioned. The Godfather Part II is a brilliant Shakespearean family tragedy clothed as an operatic gangster saga. Just as with last time, there is virtually nothing wrong with this movie in any department and only gets better with age. Epic but not overlong, dark but not cold. The real question: What the hell happened to Frances Ford Coppola? That man was on a roll. But hey, at least we have this duology, (Yes, you read that correctly) The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now, and frankly that’s all I need from him.

 

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“The Godfather” Movie Review

I know I’m pretty far behind on my New Year’s resolution plan, but so help me God I fully intend to fulfill it. And I figured this would be a great place to go next. This epic crime drama from director Frances Ford Coppola was released worldwide on March 24th, 1972, when it earned roughly $280 million broke numerous box office records around the globe. It was also released- in spite of industry skepticism -to universally positive reviews and numerous accolades. It has since been studied and revered as one of the greatest films of all time by cinephiles, academics, and many others. Interestingly, it also received praise from real-life gangsters for its extreme realism. Based on the sprawling novel of the same name by Mario Puzo, Paramount Pictures acquired the rights for the film right before it became popular, although their first several choices for director passed up. Coppola got in constant conflict over casting decisions, specifically his insistence that all of the main characters be played by real Italian or Sicilian-American actors and thespians. The studio’s faith in the project was reportedly so shaky that they had another director, Elia Kazan, on standby just in case things fell through. Beginning in post-war 1945, the story focuses on the Corleones, a tightly-knit but dysfunctional Sicilian-American crime family in New York City. Following the eventful wedding of his daughter, the powerful Don and patriarch of the family, Vito Corleone, is attacked by rival gang members, and both his right-hand man and two eldest sons are seemingly left humiliated. All of a sudden the youngest son Michael, an intelligent war hero who initially wants nothing to do with the family business, is forced to do dirty. While he seems intent on legitimizing his family’s reputation, we witness over 10 years as he plunges head first into the world of crime, corruption, and power. It’s weird having to write a review for a movie that virtually every other cinephile on the planet has already written about in one way or another. Especially when that film is as beloved of a classic as The Godfather, but such seems to be the pattern of my New Year’s Resolution. No, I have definitely seen the film a few times prior to this review, but I’d say on this one I was a little more enlightened. I already knew that Frances Ford Coppola had made a true masterpiece, but I had almost always underestimated its brilliance. This is quite possibly the best film of its decade and one of the all-time greats. What I find most fascinating of all is how incredibly neutral the film is on organized crime culture as a whole. Previously, a lot of films would often portray gangsters as these over-the-top bad guys with no remorse as they’d gun down civilians and cops with Tommy guns. But here, the filmmakers decide to give us an inside look at the mafia; they’re well-knit, highly resourceful, and almost always put family before anything else, including business. We come to really care about the Corleones as human beings, especially when they’re under attack from their rivals. But they also don’t skimp on the unglamorous parts of their position; quite a few people die, either directly by a member’s hand or at their behest. It neither glorifies nor condemns the lives of gangsters, but rather shows it as it is, in a nearly unsentimental fashion. I can’t thank Coppola enough for how hard he fought for there to be real Italian and Sicilian actors in the roles, because it’s so hard to imagine anyone else playing these characters. Where to begin? There’s Marlon Brando’s immortal performance as the Don Vito, which won him an Oscar. (And resulted in one of the weirdest acceptance speeches in history) Al Pacino proved to everyone his worth as a great actor playing Michael, a mostly quiet, internalized role. John Cazale, James Caan, and Talia Shire each revel in their roles as Michael’s siblings, each with their issues to work out. Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen may be somewhat out of place as an Irish man in a Sicilian home, but he’s highly intelligent, dealing out one particularly gruesome job to ensure the future of his Don’s godson. No one in this iconic cast is bad in the slightest, everyone feels so natural in their roles. It’s also easy to see why The Godfather was an important film from the technical aspects alone. With then-new cinematographer Gordon Willis behind the camera, we get to see how patient the director is to reveal more of the world. There are many instances where the camera lingers on a subject as we anxiously await what might happen. The film opens with a still shot on a man begging for the Don’s help and it cleverly pulls out to reveal Vito. Thanks to the clever editing by William Reynolds and Peter Zinner, the contemporary New Hollywood techniques are matched with some of the Golden Ages sensibilities- a feat that is hard to achieve. Many scenes are closed or transitioned with cross-dissolve. Combined with the exquisite production design, we’re given a New York that feels authentic and lived-in. Frequent Federico Fellini collaborator Nino Rota composes the instrumental film score, which is one of the most iconic of the 20th century. The main theme “Speak Softly, Love” may have been reworked from a previous work of his, but it’s no less fitting for this one. It uses mellow instruments such as Oboes and strings to convey a certain feeling of Romanticism that just doesn’t seem allowed to exist in this world. It really becomes noticeable during the beginning and ending credits, establishing a strong tone and atmosphere. Other tracks create a feeling of ambiance and sadness that often feels unwelcome in the gangster genre. It’s also a little frustrating that Frances Ford Coppola made this film this early in his career, as he could never really reach these same heights again. While Apocalypse Now and The Godfather Part II were undoubtedly incredible films, for to come swinging out the gate with a movie this amazing is a rare feat. In that, it’s more understandable why his career went downhill after this. The Godfather marries an impeccable cast with a unique story, and is without a doubt a real cinematic classic. If, by some happenstance, you claim to be a cinephile and have yet to watch this film, please rectify that situation as soon as possible. It’s one of the rare “classics” that is 100% worth its immortality in the annals of history.

 

“Lawrence of Arabia” Movie Review

The day that the casual viewer is able to make it all the way through Lawrence of Arabia with little to no guidance is the day that they truly fall in love with this medium. That’s happened to me, and I sincerely hope that that is what happens with other future cinephiles like you. This epic historical drama was first released around the world on December 10th, 1962 by Columbia Pictures. Grossing over $70 million at the box office against a budget of $15 million, it also won massive critical praise and scored multiple award nominations. It ultimately went to win 7 out 10 total nominations from the Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, has been included in several “Best of all time” lists, and- easily most important of all -has been proclaimed by Steven Spielberg as his favorite film of all time. It’s also been rereleased in theaters multiple times in different formats, both digital and celluloid. Directed by David Lean, the long in-development production on the true story marks the second collaboration between him and producer Sam Spiegel, who had worked together on  the war film Bridge on the River Kwai. It took many years to convince the titular figure’s surviving father to sell the rights of several writings collected. Mainly taking inspiration from his work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, screenwriters Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson traded several drafts, which tried to juggle the study of the main character as well as the more political aspects of the events., but were forced to start filming without a complete screenplay. Based mostly on the true story, Peter O’Toole stars as T.E. Lawrence, a highly educated British Army lieutenant who has the personality of a misfit. During World War I, he is sent to the Arab Peninsula, where Prince Faisal and the gathered Arab tribes are in need of support for their uprising against the Ottoman Empire. To the surprise of pretty much everyone around him, he becomes an important figure for the War to End All Wars in this sector of the world. His accomplishments and exploits turn him into a messianic hero for the cause, but also must contend with the emotional and psychological toll the journey brings on him. It feels cliché to say this, but I’d say that it’s a pretty safe bet that every cinephile out there has at least one film that ignited their passionate love for movies. Some might be seen in the theater, others are probably found on home media. Either way, it must have awoken something deep inside the viewer, an unquenchable thirst for answers on how a motion picture like this could be so amazing. For me, Lawrence of Arabia is that type of movie. For it not only opened my eyes to things once thought impossible on the film canvas, but proves to be a true gem in a seemingly forgotten time of ambitious filmmaking. I can still vividly remember the first time I watched it. It was the first weekend after 7th grade started, my mother suggested we go see it together. It was showing at the Paramount, an old movie theater in the downtown Austin area,  screened in 70 mm with an intermission. It is one of the most memorable viewing experiences I’ve ever had, and the moment that I wanted to fall in love with cinema. What strikes me most is how well-balanced everything is, whether it’s intimate moments with the big or broad themes with character-centric ones. David Lean never gets enough credit, in my opinion. In his first major acting role, Peter O’Toole gives a stunning performance as Lawrence himself. Whilst it exaggerates certain aspects of his character and legacy, the subtlety in his gradual spiral. This is best illustrated in two moments when Lawrence looks at himself in the reflection of a dagger, and the circumstances of both. He also employs a wry sense of humor, as the first thing he tells a soldier after trekking through the desert is, “We want two, large glasses of lemonade.” Opposite him is Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali, the protagonist’s primary Arab guide in the adventure. Far more pragmatic and stern than Lawrence, it’s clear how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the Arab cause. Like O’Toole, he deserved to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, despite not winning. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Lawrence of Arabia are almost entirely what caused me to seriously examine filmmaking. Freddie Young’s astonishing cinematography brings the Arabian desert to glorious, beautiful life. Gorgeous wides of the vast landscape paint the scope of the story on 70 mm Super Panavision film. With static push-ins and steady shots, this film as some of the most breathtaking frames my eyes have ever laid eyes on. In fact, in many ways, it eclipses the craftwork of other crew members. Which is not at all to bash Phyllis Dalton’s fantastic costumes or the amazing production design of Johns Stoll and Box. Equally impressive is the editing by Anne V. Coates, which is extremely precise and engaging. The now-famous transition from a match flame to sunrise in the desert is so unexpectedly perfect in its simplicity and effectiveness. In many ways, that one transition captures the whole scale and scope of the film, and it’s so simple. Maurice Jarre composes and conducts the musical score, which has become so iconic over the years that it defines multiple film scores’ templates. The main theme, which is used as the backbone for most of the tracks is just like the film itself: huge, bolstering, jaw-dropping, and beautiful. It primarily utilizes a series of elaborate strings to eschew the main melody several times, while also using a number of other great instruments. These include bouncing percussion such as xylophone, timpani, and auxiliary equipment to more harsh brass trumpets. There are even brief bits of marching military snare drums and trills on high-pitched flutes. The theme builds and then drops again constantly, almost like a Shephard’s Tone built specifically for the desert. It’s grand and flamboyant, much like the titular protagonist. And what an accomplishment it should be to all those who can withstand the mammoth task of finishing it all in one sitting. Clocking in at 3 hours and 42 minutes, it may sound like an intimidating commitment of time. But trust me when I say that that running time actually flies by, for it not only engrosses you in the adventure but makes keeps you enthralled by way of all of the stated qualities above. Lawrence of Arabia is an incredible and sweeping epic destined to inspire for eternity. This is the kind of movie that, as you’re watching, feels like the only movie that there was, is, or ever should be. Films like Lawrence of Arabia remind me why I love cinema in the first place, and makes me fall head over heels for the medium every time I see it. And someday, if I ever get to fulfill my dream of becoming a filmmaker, this David Lean masterpiece is the one I’ll watch right before production.

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“Henry V” Movie Review

Time for me to tackle the granddaddy of all modern literature and storytelling: William Shakespeare. But where to go? The overly stylized dreg of Baz Luhrmann or the dated drama of Lawrence Olivier? My favorite comes somewhere in between. This British historical medieval drama was originally released in the U.K. on October 6th, 1989, coming stateside a little later. The film managed to just barely make back its $9 million budget, supported by some of the best reviews from that year. Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who had built a reputation in British theatre, the adaptation had been something of a passion project for him. Despite him having no previous experience with cinema, producer Bruce Sharman and the BBC agreed to back it for at least £3 million to start. In addition to the titular play, he also included elements from both parts of its predecessor Henry IV. Based on the stage play of the same name by William Shakespeare, Branagh stars as Henry V, the newly appointed King of England. Set in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War, Henry and his court are in bloody conflict with the French royalty for the sovereign throne of both England and France. With a rough but loyal army that’s a mere fraction of their enemy’s forces, the King sets off on a campaign through the Fench countryside in an effort to defy all the odds and show his worth. Here’s a confession for everybody: I’m a big fan of Shakespeare’s work, always have been. So whenever a filmmaker wants to adapt one of his plays into a movie, I get a little excited but also cautious. Not all of his works have made for great movies, and the upcoming Ophelia, a version of Hamlet from the perspective of the main female character, looks like it’s trying too hard. And it’s pretty clear that some of Lawrence Olivier’s films from the 1940’s and 1950’s have not aged well. That being said, I’ve always had an affinity for Kenneth Branagh’s attempts at the source material, this being the first of 5 adaptations from the enigmatic playwright. And Henry V isn’t just my favorite of his, but quite possibly my favorite Shakespeare play of all time. What I love about it isn’t just the amazing dialogue that should come to be expected of this man’s work. It’s the simple, effective idea that Branagh understands both this story and the titular character so well, you’d swear Shakespeare’s ghost reached out and whispered to him. In any other director’s hands, we’d probably have gotten a film that lionizes Henry whilst ignoring the carnage and conquest left in his wake. And although it does portray him in a mostly positive light, we also see the internal struggle for respect among his peers and the immense weight this war carries on his shoulders. He has to be careful not to give privilege to men he once was friends with. One great moment sees the King sneakily investigating the state of his soldiers and contemplating all of the burdens he must carry. Sure, he had to fight for his right to the throne, but he also has to prove himself as just a man, and that’s the most human thing anyone can do. Kenneth Branagh has had a lot of interesting roles over his career, but he came swinging out of the gate with his Oscar-nominated lead performance here. With a powerful voice that carries across fields, he delivers an innumerable amount of monologues and dialogue exchanges with complete control. And he doesn’t mess around; when the French court sends a herald demanding surrender, he proclaims, “I pray thee take my former answer back. Bid them achieve me than sell my bones!” Another standout would be his ex-wife Emma Thompson as Katherine, the French King’s daughter. The scenes in which she attempts to learn English provide a nice bit of comedy to ease the tension, in true Shakespeare fashion. He also collects a great ensemble to assist him, many of whom have a background in Shakspearean theatre. These include Dame Judi Dench as a distressed common innkeeper, a young Christian Bale as a luggage boy in battle, Sir Drek Jacobi as the narrating Chorus, Ian Holm as a moralistic Welsh officer in Henry’s army, Brian Blessed as the King’s rousing and loyal uncle, and Paul Scofield as the weary King of France. Meanwhile, Branagh also proves to be incredibly skilled and distinctive behind the camera as in front. With the help of cinematographer Kenneth MacMillan, we are able to see the full scale of the King’s European campaign. Many scenes are done on static long takes, especially one near the end of the film that really captures the powerful consequences of conquest. We can see the gritty style of the film come through in the hazy mud and faces soaked with blood. Michael Bradsell’s editing is smart, knowing exactly when to cut and where to give pause. However, one of the biggest stars of the film has to be Phyllis Dalton, whose costume design deservedly won her an Academy Award. Like her work on Lawrence of Arabia, it’s range is wide, it’s period-accurate and detailed to a fault. Combined with the wonderful production design, it really does feel like we’ve arrived in Medieval Europe. In the first of their many fruitful collaborations, Patrick Doyle composes and the epic musical score for Henry V. The first Shakespeare film to recorded using Dolby Audio, the score is performed by the City of Birmingham  Symphony Orchestra. The vast majority of tracks consist of strings, often moving between being intense for conflict, melancholic for more sobering moments, or rousing for ones of hope. There are also a number of woodwind pipes that infect certain moments, undercutting the serious tone for something far more subdued. There’s also a beautiful rendition of the Latin song Non nobis sung at the end of the Battle of Agincourt, hands down one of the best medieval battle sequences put to film. It is sung by Doyle himself and gradually evolves into a massive choir while a 4-minute tracking shot highlights the aftermath of the carnage. It still kind of amazes me that Kenneth Branagh was able to make this movie despite having zero prior expertise or experience. Most filmmakers may wait after a few projects to tackle a medieval epic, let alone one from the mind of William Shakespeare. But he went right in and, much like Henry himself, proved his worth to everyone around him. The BBC more or less blindly trusted his vision, and that trust has paid off. Henry V is a captivating literary tale of loyalty, victory, and conquest. It still boggles me that Branagh only 5 Shakespeare adaptations, and then went on to do other things. A part of me really wishes he could return to it while his career is still going, get back to his roots. Until that happens, I’m perfectly content with watching this film again, a completely underrated masterpiece.

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“Avengers: Infinity War” Movie Review

And there it is, ladies and gentlemen. The ultimate all-around culmination. The payoff of 10 years and 18 movies worth of franchise-building and superhero spectacle, all wrapped in one 2-and-a-half-hour movie. Will it really live up to the ridiculous hype or be crushed by fan expectations? This epic superhero ensemble film was released worldwide on April 27th, 2018, a week earlier than its previously announced date. One of the most expensive films ever made on a budget of $320 million, the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe broke records for the highest-grossing opening of all time. Having already earned over $1.16 billion worldwide, it is expected to hit the $2 billion mark by the end of its theatrical run. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the brothers behind the two previous Captain America movies, the film was originally announced as the first of two parts, the other one being released next year. Anticipation for this film was so incredibly high that the cast were all initially given fake scripts to avoid spoilers getting leaked. Inspired primarily by Jim Starlin’s Infinity Gauntlet from 1991, the sprawling story follows the all-powerful being Thanos, played by Josh Brolin, as he travels across the universe looking for items called Infinity Stones. Seeking them for his gauntlet, it would grant him the strength to wipe out half the universe with just the snap of a finger and restoring balance to the known universe. Grabbing wind of his intentions, space-friendly team the Guardians of the Galaxy and the fractured but earth-bound Avengers begin following his trail and start looking for ways to defeat him. With time running out and clues few and far-between our Marvel heroes hope to confront Thanos before its too late. To say that I and several other fans have been looking forward to Avengers: Infinity War would be quite an understatement. As someone who has continuously followed and written about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, being a particular fan of Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther and the first Avengers, the biggest crossover of all time wasn’t just another MCU film to me. This was a landmark cinematic event in the making, finally bringing together every little detail and strand that the franchise has built thus far. As a result, some of the individual films suffer in quality in favor of bringing in more Easter Eggs or hints. But it was all part of the lead-up to the endgame. I was actually scared that Infinity War wouldn’t be able to deliver the pay-off, but for the most part, it’s really satisfying. Indeed, the whole idea of wrangling almost every existing Marvel character into one major movie would prove daunting to anyone. And Joss Whedon, writer and director of the first two Avengers films, famously walked away from the MCU entirely a few years ago in anger. So it makes sense that Anthony and Joe Russo were brought on board as the two did a pretty great job at juggling and balancing multiple heroes in Captain America: Civil War. Make no mistake, there are a handful of characters who feel under-utilized and it often feels like the film is straining to carry all of the exposition present. But hopefully, they’ll all have a balance on everything for the sequel next year. At this point, the primary actors have become so comfortable with playing their heroes that they seem extremely natural. Big props especially go to Paul Bettany as The Vision and Zoe Saldana as Gamora, who are given more substantial character arcs than almost anyone else in the film. Both of them separately contemplate the cosmic dangers impending and even show a little sadness at the possibilities. But the obvious scene-stealer here is Josh Brolin’s motion-capture performance as Thanos. With a menacing voice and huge physical presence, it becomes quite clear that this being will obliterate anything and everyone in his path with just gripping his fist. But he’s not completely detached from reality or intelligence, telling one Avenger, “You have my respect. When I’m done, half of humanity will still be alive. I hope they remember you.” The whole film is really his own hero’s journey, as we see his own motivations for why he’s doing what he’s doing. It’s changed from the comics, and while it attempts to provide an emotional arc for him, it doesn’t quite land as expected. As is always expected with Marvel, the technical aspects are (mostly) hit right out of the park. For better and for worse, the film is loaded with a seemingly endless amount of CGI that helps bring to life the various worlds our heroes and villains travel to. Each one is given distinct coloring styles, but overall feel somewhat muted to match the more somber tone of the story. the motion-capture work for Thanos and his Black Order were particularly impressive and realistic, so much so that they very nearly looked like regular makeup. There are a number of swooping camera shots by cinematographer Trent Opaloch, who also shot the two previous Captain America films. This is contrasted with shaky action moments, meant to feel more gritty and grounded. And while they were very much in the vein of grand epics, it felt somewhat hampered by the editing from Matthew Schmidt and Jeffrey Ford. Having cut together 6 MCU films prior, they put a number of impressive action sequences through multiple cuts and it’s almost disorienting. Fresh off his excellent work in Ready Player One, Alan Silvestri returns to compose and conduct his 4th feature for Marvel. While not as memorable as Spielberg’s film, it still works when compared to the soundtracks of several other MCU pictures. On a handful of occasions, Silvestri will reprise his theme song introduced in The Avengers as a way of getting the crowd riled up. A vast majority of the tracks consist of big rousing horns and sustained percussion, as is expected for superhero epics. Interestingly, however, he also includes samples from other characters’ films, such as buoyant African drums for when we arrive in Wakanda or synths for Thor and the Guardians. There’s a good number of tracks that also used mellow strings as a way to hit home the emotional devastation of the story. And for the most part, it worked; especially in regards to the ending. And that’s where I’m going to stop. I hate to be the jerk who spoils a highly anticipated to anyone looking forward to it. We could argue back and forth about the temperament of expectations, but I have a code and I plan on standing by it. Avengers: Infinity War is a messy yet supreme example of modern popcorn entertainment. While it fell just short of my lofty hopes, there was still enough here that I loved to count it among the better entries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s been 10 years worth of hype and build-up and now the game has totally changed. And we’re all here to witness it.

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“Heat” Movie Review

A movie so meticulous and unconventional that it often swings between being totally revered to highly underrated. You could also make the same case for the rest of the Mann’s filmography, but nowhere does he epitomize it more than in here. This contemporary crime thriller- written and directed by Michael Mann -was initially released in theaters on December 18th, 1995, just in time to get ignored for awards season. Though it was largely overshadowed by other big contenders that year, it still managed to gross over $187 million at the worldwide box office against a $60 million and also managed to receive positive reviews. Mann had apparently taken the concept of the movie from a real-life tale, initially drafting a 180-page pilot episode for a proposed T.V. series called L.A. Takedown. After that project ultimately fell through, he trimmed it down when Warner Bros. showed interest in a feature film. When it was all said and done, the main marketing material focused on the fact that its two legendary stars would appear on-screen together for the first time. Robert De Niro stars as Neil McCauley, a career criminal who pulls off a string of professionally armed robberies in the city of Los Angeles. After his latest heist goes wrong, veteran LAPD Lieutenant Vincent Hanna picks up on the trail and begins an obsessive cat-and-mouse chase. While his crew members want to leave town as soon as possible, McCauley is pulled back in by recently found love and gets ready for one last hurrah. As is apparently a continuing trend with my New Year’s resolution, prior to this viewing, I had never actually seen the movie Heat. Small clips of famous scenes, sure I had watched on YouTube. But part of my fear is that when a movie like this is held up in such high regard when I sit down to watch it I may not have the same reaction as many other fellow cinephiles. A movie about a cop and a professional thief chasing one another around a big city for 2 hours and 50 minutes? That seems like an awfully big commitment, even for someone such as myself who loves watching long movies most of the time. Yet once again, my fears were almost completely unfounded; this film is amazing and inexplicably gripping. Most films will probably have one moment that shows any hint of realism or attachment to reality. Ultimately, while these moments might be nice, the film will have to sacrifice the rest for style, obviously to keep the viewer intrigued. What’s especially remarkable about Michael Mann’s Heat is how well he balances the traditional style of Hollywood with realistic combat and character interactions. From the intelligent lines of dialogue to the hyper-intense gun battles between cops and criminals, it all feels like something that could really take place in our own world. Not just because this story actually happened in real life, but also because these characters are fully fleshed out into tangible beings. And a lot of that credit goes to the remarkable all-star cast. The film may have been marketed solely on Robert De Niro and Al Pacino appearing onscreen together, but they’re incredible on their own as well. Both feel so alienated from the rest of society that they ironically complete each other, despite their opposing professions. The iconic scene where the two sit down for coffee is so simple and naturalistic, yet carries an invisible weight of tension. Their supporting players include Val Kilmer as McCauley’s restless sniper/right-hand man, Ashley Judd as a prostitute-turned housewife, Amy Brenneman as a young graphic designer looking for a bit of excitement in her life, Mykelti Williamson and Wes Studi as local cops running out of options, and an early role from 15-year-old Natalie Portman as a depressed step-daughter. They all bring their A-game and add little pieces to the overall puzzle. Meanwhile, Mann’s ability to balance out style and realism shows in the technical aspects. The cinematography by Dante Spinotti is caught primarily on a widescreen telephoto, which brings the city of Los Angeles to vivid life. Much in the same manner as Mann’s later film Collateral, some of the best shots in the film are captured at night time. The opening and closing shots are particularly artful, taking place in spaces that feel familiar yet strangely alienating. But major props to the sound designers for their commitment to realism. The gunshots during action sequences in this film sound and feel like the real thing. Cracking, echo-like, utterly shocking. This is especially the case during the famous heist shootout, which has quickly risen up to become one of my favorite action scenes in cinema. Combined with the frenetic, collaborative editing of William Goldenberg, Dov Hoenig, Tom Rolf, and Pasquale Buba, the 7-minute sequence never ceases to tense up and leaves little breathing room. It’s almost never shaky and rarely features multiple cutaways in the same scene together. Elliot Goldenthal, one of the most unconventional film composers in the industry, brings a harsh and unforgettable score to the table. Like much of his other work in the action genre, there are several atonal passages of French horns whining about. However, he also builds and sustains a penetrating, challenging atmosphere through a set-up of electric guitars. The soundtrack also includes works from other composers, including Brian Eno, Kronos Quartet, and Moby. The latter two are really impressive with a piece called “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” that plays during the final scene and over the credits. It’s a gorgeous track that perfectly captures the entire tone of the story thanks to contrasting piano melodies, low strings, and distant percussion. However, I have to recognize that there are probably going to be a handful of people who don’t like this movie. Michael Mann doesn’t really make movies that are in the mainstream, per se. The characters, lawful or chaotic, are all initially hard to like, despite their motivations and traits being laid down early on. And plus, as mentioned before, to some, the daunting runtime of 2 hours and 50 minutes, will likely make viewers feel bored or uninterested. What sort of rime thriller ever has to be that long anyway? Thankfully, for today at least, I am not among that crowd. Heat is an amazing blend of character drama and cinematic style. Although I’ve only just recently watched it for my New Year’s resolution, I’m perfectly willing to rank it among the greatest films ever made. The coffee scene, the heist shootout, the final chase. It all adds into a action-packed yet still-human look at the dichotomy of professions. This should be taught as an example of style meets realism.

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“2001: A Space Odyssey” Movie Review

Oh boy. It’s that time, ladies and gentlemen. This moment is one I’ve dreaded ever since starting my Blog on WordPress. The so-called “Sacred Cow” conversation of cinema simply cannot be avoided any further. And what better way to embrace it than in its 50th(!) anniversary? Stanley Kubrick’s epic science-fiction drama was originally released in the United States on April 3rd, 1968. While it turned out to be extremely profitable with a box office take of $190 million against a budget of $10.5 million, critics and audiences were entirely split on what to make of the film. While Roger Ebert hailed it as one of the greatest films of our time, others like Pauline Kael threw words such as “pretentious” and “boring” at it. Today, the consensus has generally fallen over to the positive side of reception. Co-written by the acclaimed sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, the movie was written in tandem with his titular novel. Kubrick was supposedly less interested in the book itself and instead drew from 6 other short stories by Clarke for inspiration. This is a commonality in his oeuvre,  as he really just wanted to explore the concept of extraterrestrial life and our relationship with the stars. The plot is very hard to explain without delving into speculation. On a literal level, the setting is the year 2001 where human beings have mastered both artificial intelligence and space travel. (Note: None of this came to life) After a mysterious black monolith is discovered buried on the Moon, two astronauts, Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole, are tasked with tracing its origins all the way to Jupiter. They are assisted by HAL 9000, the world’s most advanced computer, and unexpectedly embark on a journey concerning evolution and what it means to be human. I think. As said before, even trying to discuss this film is bound to be controversial. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “Sacred Cow” is an idiom usually referring to a piece of art that is held above criticism, sometimes to a ridiculously unreasonable level. There are many people who will likely murder me if I even dare to say anything negative about the film. In fact, I’m going to put something forth that may anger them even more- I’ve been somewhat lukewarm to most of Kubrick’s features. While I do “get” a lot of things he’s trying to say and absolutely understand his importance to cinema, most of his pictures are ones that I respect and appreciate more than I actually love. There are two exceptions to that rule, and the best one is 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the boldest films ever put on the silver screen. This is not going to be a review in which I try to analyze every frame of this movie trying to search for the hidden meaning. There are already plenty of essays, dissertations, and YouTube videos covering that area. Rather, I just wanted to break down the fact that this movie is so beloved for that exact reason. A whole lot of movies, whether they be effects-heavy blockbusters or ambitious indies, almost always try to relay information to the audience and leave little breathing room. It’s certainly common among today’s cinema but also prevalent in several films from years ago. The beauty about someone like Stanley Kubrick is that while his narratives are well-told and satisfying, it’s the themes that make him a true auteur. There are only a handful of living filmmakers that can reach that level of profundity and ambiguity. One thing a lot of people don’t really talk about when reviewing this film is the acting. Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood both do fine work in the roles of human doctors, Bowman and Poole. While the film is famously minimal on dialogue, the two of them are able to deliver the technobabble with a surprising sense of naturalism. But both of them are outdone by Douglas Rain, the voice of HAL 9000. Even with such a monotone voice, this robot is able to convey more emotion than either of his human colleagues during the entirety of their cosmic journey. Late in the plot, when he decides to defend himself against deactivation, he menacingly tells his creator, “I’m sorry, Dave; I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Aside from them, Daniel Richter is also notable as the chief of the man-apes in a surprisingly haunting prologue. Using nothing but a suit, primate vocal sounds, and a large bone at his disposal, he leaves a lasting impression for the remainder of the film. Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, 2001: A Space Odyssey is an unprecedented achievement even now. Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography does some incredible shots of both the African landscape in the prologue and of space itself. Kubrick’s signature tracking shots and static wides are all present here, and looks especially impressive if you can see it on 70 mm film. What’s really impressive is how scientifically accurate much of the film is, especially the scene set on a lunar base. The director spent months consulting with NASA to ensure that everything would be plausible, including his use of silence and slow movement in space travel. The sets and costume designs are all entirely practical, built with hands and shot with pure celluloid. Compare the effects, spaceships, and costumes with any sci-fi movie going into the early 2000’s- it really holds up. In fact, a lot of CGI fluff we’re getting today pales in comparison. Similar to most of Kubrick’s other works, this is not a film meant for everyone. While several film fans will be completely immersed in the glorious spectacle of it all, just as many will proclaim it to be the most boring motion picture of all time. There are no concrete answers to everything on-screen and moves at an unusually slow pace. Plus, it contains one of the most ambiguous, head-scratching, straight-up WTF endings in the history of cinema- even to this day. I totally get why I lot of people don’t like this movie, and it actually took a rewatch for me to truly appreciate it. But for those with the patience to go on the journey, those who will dare to keep an open mind to all that comes forth, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a peerless cinematic embodiment of sheer visual poetry. Every science-fiction film in the last 50 years has been influenced by it in one way or another. And hopefully, it will do so for at least 50 more.

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