Category Archives: Independent

“To the Bone” Movie Review

Damn it, Netflix. You’re $20 billion in debt currently, yet you continue to purchase and distribute original content to us. If you would slow down and give us quality like this, maybe you would be financially better. Oh well. This R-rated independent drama made a splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in the official competition. Shortly after its premiere, the online streaming giant Netflix acquired the distribution rights, one of many purchases at the event. Written and directed by Marti Noxon, the film is believed to have been inspired by her early battles with eating disorders. The story focuses on a young woman named Ellen who is struggling with severe anorexia, meaning she can’t eat food and she wants to vomit at the mere sight of food. Having run out of options, her family arranges for her to meet an unconventional specialist Dr. Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves. This specialist, refusing to let her give in, moves her into a house with other patients determined to fight their condition. So earlier this year, Netflix released the original teen drama series 13 Reasons Why. Many people loved it, but I saw it as a manipulative, insulting, and sometimes disgusting interpretation of its incredibly sensitive subject matter. It took the nature of teenage suicide and tried to make it into something intriguing and sexy, neither of which did any victims any justice. Because of that, I clicked “Play” on both this and the new series Atypical (Which may end up being a review soon) with serious hesitation. Would it take a taboo subject like eating disorders seriously or try to pander to the lowest common denominator? Thankfully, To the Bone falls into the former category. Lily Collins is an absolute revelation in the lead role as Ellen. Losing so much weight for the role, her character’s a complete wisecracking cynic. If they had gotten someone else for the part, she would have just come off as unlikable and insufferable. Thankfully, Collins’ subtlety and sharp tongue make a person we can understand and side with, even in her lowest moments. Alex Sharp plays one of the other patients, a ballet dancer who struggled to eat after breaking his knee. Despite his extreme optimism towards the other house members, you can tell that he mentally tortured himself and wants to better. Although he came off as a bit annoying at times, he really grew on me over time. Keanu Reeves, meanwhile, gives a performance totally unlike any previously in his action-heavy career. An uncompromising doctor with a fundamental sense of optimism, he at one point encourages Ellen to find the dispiriting voice inside her head and tell it “Fuck off voice.” His lines are the only bits of levity and balance in this film, delivered only the way Reeves could do it. That’s a relief because this movie is not a fun time by any stretch of your imagination. This is an absolutely bleak, mature, and sometimes disturbing portrayal of eating disorders, and refuses to pull any punches. Some critics have labeled To the Bone as corny or misguided in its approach to the subject matter. As a person who has actually met people with eating disorders, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this movie is not corny at all. In fact, it accurately portrays not just how Ellen reacts to her own sickness, but how her loved ones deal with it, and the results aren’t always easy to watch. Let’s talk a bit regarding the technical side of everything. Cinematographer Richard Wong frames the picture with precision and focus, often giving us wide takes of the dinner table or at group meetings. It allows for us to have a good view of everyone involved. My favorite scene in the entire movie came when the Beckham and patients visited an underground waterfall with a small natural light at the side. It was a gorgeously shot and directed moment that gave the characters a glimmer of hope. It also went down to the song “Water” by Jack Garrat, and witnessing Sharp’s dance moves to it was perhaps the one part of the movie that made me smile. Lili Taylor is an extremely underrated actress, having proven her worth on the excellent show Six Feet Under. In this movie, she plays Ellen’s biological mother, who hasn’t been a major part of her life for quite some time. She tries to offer her support to her, culminating in a beautiful scene near the end of the film. On paper, it would sound kind of dumb and awkward, but the way it’s executed completely floored me. In fact, would dare say that it is one of the most emotionally powerful scenes of the entire year. I will say, I don’t think I could ever watch it again. As relevant and well-made as it is, I feel it was too powerful an experience to have more than once. Also, some things that happen late in the film feel a bit tacked on and forced, almost like they could have been left on the cutting room floor. I don’t consider this movie to be perfect by any means. Even so, To the Bone is an unflinching yet empathetic look at a highly undervalued problem. The writing is already great, but it’s the performances of Lily Collins and Keanu Reeves that make it what it is. Be warned of how challenging it can be for those with a weak stomach.

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“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” Movie Review

Director Luc Besson has given us a pretty kick-ass sci-fi space opera for a modern generation… called The Fifth Element, 20 years ago. And now, we are here. Let’s deal with it. This ambitious science-fiction action-adventure was released on July 21st, 2017. Estimates say that at a budget of nearly $200 million, almost all of it crowdsourced, this is the most expensive European film and the most expensive “independent” film ever made. This proved to be a disadvantage for the film, as it has yet to break just $50 million worldwide and will likely experience losses in the hundred million range. Based off the influential French comic book series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, the PG-13 rated story follows Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as Valerian and Laureline, two space-traveling agents who are in charge of fixing problems for the United Human Federation. They visit the intergalactic space station Alpha, which houses thousands of races and cultures from all over the universe. One of these races is an endangered kind that begins a series of pseudo-terror attacks and it’s up to Valerian and Laureline to figure out what exactly they want. Now when I say that the graphic novel was influential, I really mean it. So many iconic space operas, from Star Wars to Babylon 5, have taken visual inspiration from it. Just the way the technology looked as well as some of the alien designs paid homage to this series. In an ironic twist, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets the adaptation seems to want to pay homage to the early birds of that genre which itself highly influenced. Even Luc Besson’s cult classic The Fifth Element took inspiration, and that was a really enjoyable sci-fi. But Valerian is not enjoyable at all; in fact, it’s one of the worst movies of the year. Dane DeHaan is an undeniably great actor, I’ve seen it in The Place Beyond the Pines and Chronicle. But here, his character is supposed to be like Han Solo, in that he’s the most badass human being in the universe. And it’s really hard to buy him as it, considering that the titular character is a bit of a conceded prick for most of the runtime. Cara Delevingne, however, may just be a lost cause for the acting world. Her performance in Suicide Squad was a mixed bag for me, and now she tries to come off as a sexy gun-wielding savior of the universe. She is definitely sexy, but her scenes of action turned me off. The supporting cast is filled with a surprising amount of big names. Clive Owen shows up for the first movie I’ve seen in awhile and was pretty good in his own role. Though I have to say, it was fairly easy to see where his arc was going in this one. Singer Rihanna tries her hand at acting for about a 20-30 minute stretch of the film and does a surprisingly nice job. Her character was relatively interesting, even if it tried to ham-fist social commentary into the story. Meanwhile, John Goodman, Rutger Hauer, Ethan Hawke, and Herbie Hancock… are all given so little to say and do that it’s downright criminal, and ultimately feel more like glorified cameos. Hawke was particularly annoying, reminding me too much of Chris Tucker from The Fifth Element. In many ways, Luc Besson is like this generation’s version of George Lucas. By that, I mean that he has an incredible imagination and sense of creativity but these ideas are not always executed in the best way possible. There are some really neat concepts and ideas in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to be savored. One of the races in the movie is based on beach-like terrain and uses sea pearls to fertilize everything. After the opening scene, our heroes arrive on a seemingly barren planet. But as soon as they put on special glasses, they see hundreds of markets, bizarre style, in an alternate dimension. But perhaps the coolest thing was the technology. Being a big sci-fi nerd, I love to see what kind of tech the world is able to offer. And one exhilarating chase sequence sees Valerian running through a wall and then shooting his gun to be able to walk on air. On the technical side of things, it’s a reasonably competent production. Alexandre Desplat’s score is an engaging, if not quite a memorable one. But the biggest thing this has going for it, by far, are the special effects. Utilizing 2,734 visual shots overall, the CGI is pretty impressive and sometimes just gorgeous. However, many scenes required some extensive green screen work and it didn’t always look convincing. But for the most part, it did look pretty. But it just comes down to the fact that this movie is detrimentally overstuffed with pointless characters and unnecessary subplots. Besson gives Marvel Studios a run for their money on how much you can pack into one movie. The romance aspect between Valerian and Lauraline is present in the film just as it is in the comics. But Develingne and DeHaan do not share good chemistry, so their hard-to-get relationship came off as forced and stupid. That whole thing occupied roughly 30 minutes of the movie. It’s already 2 hours and 17 minutes long, so if they just shaved that whole thing, it would be much better. While it’s undeniably ambitious in the scope, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a beautiful but insufferable mess with hollow characters. It’s a mystery movie without any suspense, it’s a romance without any chemistry or friction, and it’s a space opera with not much charisma. I was actually looking forward to it, but now I can safely say I saw it. At least I can say that much.

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“The Void” Movie Review

With high-quality horror movies like Get Out earlier this year and total shitfests like Wish Upon infecting this summer, this movie got a bit lost in the shuffle. Now that it’s been released on Netflix, I’m here to tell you whether or not it’s worth your time. This independent horror thriller from Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski premiered at the Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest before getting a small release of only 50 theaters on April 7th, 2017, doubling its tiny $82,000 budget. The film was a passion project for the directors on Indiegogo where they raised all of the funds. Eventually, Jonathan Bronfman, one of the executive producers for the film The VVitch, discovered it and brought it to DFilms to be distributed. The 90-minute plot follows a policeman who brings a dying man into a secluded hospital in the middle of the night. The staff and patients inside soon realize that they are surrounded by a group of hooded cultists who will not let them leave. Couple that with some truly weird creatures hidden within the hospital itself, and now we have ourselves a big thrill ride. This is clearly an homage to horror films from the 1980’s, specifically the filmography of John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and David Cronenberg. And honestly, that is my favorite decade of horror movies, as each one that came out was perfect in just about every aspect. It also seems to take some inspiration from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. In an era where so many horror directors base their films off of something that came out recently, it’s refreshing to see a pair of people who understand modern horror’s roots. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows from 2015 proved as much. But while The Void starts off strong and promising, it fails to leave any lasting impact or impression. The most obvious way that it pays homage to the masters of the genre is that Gillespie and Kostanski had a big itch for using practical effects. They specifically avoided the use of CGI, and instead decided to rely heavily on practical effects and makeup. The hooded cultists are wearing real robes with triangles painted on them. The characters are confined in real hallways at night time. The monsters they encounter are fused together with makeup and real prosthetics. So much of the movie feels real and gives it this lived-in element. Another way in which the directors pay tribute is through the otherworldly soundtrack by the Canadian band Blitz/Berlin. The tracks are synthesized beats and ambient noise designed to create the tension of a scene. No single track is really that memorable, but it felt right at the moment and pretty fun to listen to. It definitely added to a dripping atmosphere that was so creepy and suspenseful to be sucked into. As far as characters go, they’re all pretty much exactly what you would expect them to be. The only person in the cast with any real work to their name is Ellen Wong, and she had a pretty minor role. No, the real star is Aaron Poole as the everyman cop. He’s the one who’s constantly trying to keep order in this increasingly chaotic situation. You see everything from his point-of-view from the beginning to the twisted conclusion. So you immediately empathize with him, as well as some of the other people stuck in that hospital. But where the film falters is that there is a huge gaping pit in information regarding much of the film’s lore. Where did these hooded cultists come from? What do they truly want out of our protagonists? How long have the monsters been around in our world? The ending doesn’t offer us much help either, as it kind of convolutes these questions into oblivion. “But dude, not everything has to be explained to us. Some things are best left to interpretation by the beholder.” I agree with that sentiment, my fellow cinephiles. But there is a distinct difference between giving us hints of an answer and withholding information to a point where the story begins to make no sense. Both leave people wanting more, but only one of them is actually satisfying. I thought The Maze Runner taught us that already. I will say that it’s nice to know there are still young fans of old-school horror movies and even take inspiration from them. And even though it’s not original by any stretch, it did feel much fresher and fun than a lot of contemporaries in the genre today. But still, The Void is an empty practice in nostalgia-inducing aesthetic and practical special effects. It’s great to watch with your friends at night on the couch at home, but not really worth much of a second viewing. Much less $10-12 in paying a ticket to see it theatrically.

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“The Big Sick” Movie Review

Oh, come on. If I met someone as awesome and adorable as Emily, would I abandon my family and traditional ways of life just for her? You betcha. Produced by comedy legend Judd Apatow, this romantic comedy premiered to great reviews and accolades at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival before Amazon released it on June 23rd, 2017. It has earned back $25 million at the box office and rankings among several best-of-the-year lists by critics already. The R-rated story stars Kumail Nanjiani as a caricatured version of himself in a script that was co-written by him and his wife Emily V. Gordon. He’s a struggling stand-up comedian who is taken with a young white girl in Chicago. Coming from a conservative Pakistani family, he has to lie to them in order to keep them happy and also deal with tough love when Emily is put into a coma. Now he has to interact with Emily’s parents and wrestles with what he actually wants to do with his life. The romantic comedy has always been something of a hit or miss for me. For every 500 Days of Summer, we also get a stinker starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. If there were one genre in film that could be categorized as being the “easiest,” then I guess rom coms would probably take the cake. That being said, I am always willing to branch out and try new things, and in the case of The Big Sick, all of the advertisements promised me that it would be different. Thank God I listened. Previously best known for the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, Nanjiani is a wonderful discovery in this movie. He has a tender and wholesome presence that is punctuated by a rib-cracking sense of humor. He was funnier than Bo Burnham in this movie, which says something. One of his funniest moments is when he describes to an open-mic audience the “hierarchy” of jobs in Pakistan, with doctors at the top and comedian at the bottom- even below ISIS. Zoe Kazan is great as Emily, sharing great chemistry with her co-star and a strong personality. I mean really, anyone would ditch their loved ones just to spend time with her. Surprisingly, though, Ray Romano and Holly Hunter shine as Emily’s parents in their best roles in years. The only thing either of these two has done of note in the last 15 years were fun stints in animation; Hunter in The Incredibles and Romano in Ice Age, respectively. But here they give great performances as the parents, capturing the realism of a moment like this. In fact, I think it would be a fair bet to say that Romano qualifies for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. As far as technicality goes, there’s not much to say here. The soundtrack is filled with contemporary songs that feel appropriate to the moment. And some of Michael Andrews’ minimal score is fitting for some of the more emotional moments in the hospital. Most of it is just a bit of ambient strings and synthesizers. But what made me feel a bit warm inside was that the bits centered around the comedy club Kumail spends his nights at really felt real. Just the way the cinematography was shot and the atmosphere and even some of the hilarious routines made it feel as though I were sitting at a table watching an open-mic night. Kevin Hart tried to do this last year with the theatrical release of What Now? but it just came off as tacked on and commercialized. Here, director Michael Showalter uses those moments to help build characters and their quirky personalities. Where the film peaks, though, is the second act of the story when Emily gets sick and sent to the hospital. Normally, a romantic comedy, no matter how enjoyable or subversive it may seem, will ultimately subject to a formulaic structure that we’re all used to seeing. Guy and Girl meet for the first time, Guy and Girl hit it off, Guy and Girl have a nasty emotional fight, but in the end Guy and Girl get back together and live happily ever after. And this being a Judd Apatow production, it certainly seems like that’s how it’s going to go down. But the second act of The Big Sick dumps that structure down the drain and offers something highly original. It shifts the focus of Emily and Kumail over to Kumail and Emily’s parents and his parents as well. Even in 2017, cross-cultural relationships are still considered controversial, no matter how progressive your home may proclaim itself to be. Ever since 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, many auteurs of cinema have been trying to push the idea of interracial couples into the mind of the modern population. Even 2017’s Get Out had a similar sentiment on this issue, though that film had a bit of a more out-there premise that shook its head at realism. But even still, this film touches on that concept rather brilliantly. Kumail comes from a Pakistani from, a people who have the unfortunate distinction in America of heralding from the Middle East. While there are terrorist jokes abound in here, it mostly focuses on his unconventional home life. Arranged marriage is a common practice and you can’t argue against your family’s way of life. You have to become a doctor or a lawyer, and if you fail, you’ll be thrown out of the family and have all contact cut off from you. That’s tough. It’s not strictly speaking the best movie of the year, but The Big Sick is certainly the most original romantic comedy in years and one that packs some great laughs. It’s funny, relevant, different, and filled with some nice feel-good moments. What more could you want?

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“There Will Be Blood” Movie Review

So recently, actor Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he was done with the film industry and will spend the rest of his life in private with his family. I absolutely respect this decision of his, but please don’t actually give up acting. You’re amazing at it. This epic historical drama was released during the height of award season in 2007, garnering more critical and commercial success than most independent films. Paul Thomas Anderson’s modern classic also earned 8 Academy Award nominations and is considered by many critics film scholars to be one of the best films from the 2000’s. Based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair, we follow Daniel Plainview, a man in the San Fernando Valley who begins exploiting the rich amount of oil beneath the surface of the land. As the R-rated narrative moves from the late 19th into the early 20th century, his lust for more of this resource grows and grows, even when some meager competition gets in the way. But he won’t let them compromise anything for him. Many of Anderson’s trademark filmmaking styles are present here, as well as some differentiations. He directs the drama beautifully and confidently, as most of the cast seems to be made up of actors or actresses who know what they’re doing. And as good as Boogie Nights and Magnolia were, I would say that not only is this his most accessible film to date, but also his best. And this is coming from someone who enjoyed both Magnolia and Boogie Nights immensely. At the forefront of everything in this film is Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar-winning performance, which may just be one of the best ever put to celluloid. Masterful and wholesome in every sense, his character is an interesting one. Plainview is someone you should normally hate but can’t help understand and want to see him succeed in his endeavors. When remarking on his ruthlessness and cunning intellect, he remarks to a comrade, “I see the worst in people. I don’t need to look past seeing them to get all I need.” It’s no surprise that P.T. Anderson had written the part specifically with him in mind. In a duel role, the underrated but versatile Paul Dano plays two brothers both seeking a profit off the main protagonist’s petroleum ventures. One’s a carful-minded pragmatist wishing to benefit just for the sake of it, another is a devout pastor desperate to keep preaching his beliefs by acquiring the funds necessary to do so. Even as far as religious fanatics go, this guy was borderline unlikable. Note: The fact that Eli was this awful possibly made Daniel Plainview even more of a likable character than he had any right to be. But there are some that believe that without Day-Lewis’ phenomenal performance, the rest of the movie isn’t that good. I respectfully disagree, as there is enough brilliance behind the camera to match what is happening onscreen. Very few movies of the 21st century have attained the amount of technical mastery that Paul Thomas Anderson assembles here. One of the most notable attributes of There Will Be Blood is that of the cinematography by Robert Elswitt, which also nabbed an Academy Award. Many intimate conversations are characterized by focused close-up shots of the character most pivotal in that scenario. Even when someone else is talking, the camera refuses to cut or pan away from the primary subject, allowing us to get a better sense of closeness to these individuals. These harsh close-ups are contrasted by anamorphic wide shots of the gorgeous and vast frontier waiting to be dried up of oil. One of the most memorable sequences occurs near the end of the first act when Plainview discovers a whole ocean worth of oil beneath one of his large mines. As it continues to erupt from the late afternoon into the dark evening, a fire is lit near the top of it all. You see him as well as all of his employees drenched in black oil and soot as well as a beautiful coloring of orange firelight. Meanwhile, former Radiohead lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood composes the musical score for this film, making this the first in five movies he has collaborated with Paul Thomas Anderson. Although it uses a lot of preexisting material, there is still quite a bit of new stuff to gouge down on. Often it’s just little bits of ambient strings that heighten the tension of a scene or when various percussion instruments are banged together in a cacophonic manner that is as raucous as it is poetic. In the vein of all his other work, though, There Will Be Blood is much more than just an excuse for Anderson to direct someone in a way that might earn them an Oscar. Much like a strip of barren land in Southern California, there is a lot of precious stuff to appreciate and dig for underneath the surface. In this case, we see the ideas of American capitalism and natural greed deconstructed to their very cores. During this period, some Americans had idolized Titans in this industry such as John D. Rockefeller. But this film does its very best to illustrate that these “heroes” at the turn of the century were anything but considerate, let alone worth idolizing. With Daniel Plainview’s ambitions and lust for wealth growing ever so much, he becomes more disconnected from everyone around him, thus making him more ruthless and dangerous. Similarly, Eli is so dead-set on acquiring this oil that he uses any justification, including and especially religion, to get it. There Will Be Blood is a believable meditation on greed with one stunning performance at the center of it all. It’s a damn shame that Daniel Day-Lewis has retired from acting because there really is no other thespian like him in the industry. May he enjoy his days in peace.

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“Blue Velvet” Movie Review

Hmm… I’m not quite sure if I should love this movie for challenging me to think or hate it for leaving me unsatisfied. I guess I should write a review and see what comes up from it. This off-kilter erotic mystery thriller came out in September of 1986, where it barely turned a profit on its $6 million budget and garnered initially mixed reviews. Eventually, writer-director David Lynch’s 4th theatrical feature film gained great critical acclaim and analysis in the years that followed- though it was still famously hated by critic Roger Ebert even after revisiting it. The plot is a mystery where Kyle MacLachlan plays a perve who, through a series of circumstances, gets wrapped up in a plot of sadomasochism and murder involving a night club singer and a really demented gangster. I call him a perve because what other kinds of person would hide in a woman’s closet and then return the following nights to have sex with them? This actually happened in the movie. Twice. Look, I get it. David Lynch is an absurdly creative talent with an eye for the visually and narratively strange. In fact, he often embraces that weirdness with open arms to wrap around the audience. But sometimes, he just gets so caught up in his amount of weirdness that it becomes rather hard to enjoy his movies. Take Blue Velvet, for example. To be clear, I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad film. In fact, there are moments of Blue Velvet that are genuinely entertaining and watchable, particularly when it gets into the noir elements. Lynch has always been a master at that level of storytelling with the cult classic show Twin Peaks and his later film Mulholland Drive, both of which I adored. And the performances are alright from the main actors, but let’s be real. The only truly great actor here is the late, great Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth. This is basically the movie that relaunched his dormant career with his surprising turn as an unpredictable if outrageous villain. It’s always fascinating when a movie has a hidden meaning or message underneath the surface, as it can often time warrant watching the film a few more times to soak in everything that needs to be. David Lynch himself has professed that his art is meant to be interpreted freely by the viewers. And the ideas that Blue Velvet brings to life are pretty interesting. But more like his first feature Eraserhead, this film became so obsessed with what it was trying to say that it virtually eliminates the need for a rewatch. My politics being my own private business, I tried to watch this movie without any feeling of demoralization or anger. But truth be told, this movie really got under my skin early on. The level of sadomasochism and sexual pleasure these characters take in is not very believable and borderline unrealistic. To be fair, Lynch has always gotten close to the surreal and blending fantasy with reality. But here, Blue Velvet seems so determined to make Isabella Rossellini as abused as possible and make her ask for even more from a totally innocent man. Considering the amount of press that feminism has gained recently, it’s arguable that this may be Lynch’s most dated movie out of his whole catalog. When sitting down to watch a film by David Lynch, there are usually a set of expectations I set for it: a completely self-absorbed, overly-indulgent showcase of thematic fingerpaintings featuring good actors playing unrealistic characters. Not everything in a movie has to be realistic. I mean, shit, some of my favorite movies are in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. And with Blue Velvet, it’s not quite as much of a fantasy as Mulholland Drive, but it was a bit better than I had expected it to be. If you like serious films with interesting messages, then definitely check it out. Others may be off-put by its excessive weirdness. But this is not conventional filmmaking in the slightest. I’ve already established that about David Lynch. He thrives off of the refusal of formula or convention. I like Blue Velvet and I don’t like it at the same time. It’s as simple as that. It’s a fascinating if a somewhat pretentious portrait of suburban lust that’s just not worth watching too many times. Maybe twice, but that’s about it.

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“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Movie Review

And this is how to make a movie that is truly deserving of Best Picture. This provocative drama from director Milos Forman and producer Michael Douglas was released by United Artists on November 9th, 1975, earning back over $100 million on a small budget of $4.4 million total. Today, it is rated as the 16th greatest movie of all time on IMDb and listed as one of the late Roger Ebert’s favorite films. Based on the controversial novel by Ken Kesey- who apparently hated the finished product –One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest recounts the story of Randle McMurphy, an ex-con who transfers to a mental hospital in order to avoid more jail time. Once there, he falls into a trance when he’s introduced to a system where patients are heavily medicated, physically abused, and treated with almost no empathy. He begins to encourage the suppressed patients to fight back against Nurse Ratched’s tyrannical, bullying rule. Recently, I read the book this film was based on as part of a course examining the most challenged novels in American literature. And yes, there are many moments where artistic license is taken with the source material by screenwriters Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, particularly of the point-of-view with the story. But I’m not here to nitpick the differences in the adaptation, I’m here to dissect this simply as a movie on its own. And on its own, this has to be one of the best pictures released in the 1970’s. In the performance that launched his storied career, Jack Nicholson is absolutely electrifying as Randle McMurphy. This basically set the groundwork for all of his crazy roles to follow, from the Joker to Frank Costello. But none were as memorable or arguably as likable as his work in this film. Slightly older than him, Louise Fletcher is completely heartless and uncaring as Nurse Ratched. Male or female, she has to be one of the most despicable characters in film history. Her rule emulates that of any infamous world dictator, manipulating every patient and staff member with careful words. The film also features early roles from Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and an Oscar-nominated performance from Brad Dourif as a stuttering man-child. Will Sampson as Chief Bromden, the narrator of the original book, is also worth noting. His captivating portrayal of a deaf-mute is a unique depiction of modern Native Americans and remains one of the most memorable fictional ones on the celluloid. Although sparsely present, what there is of Jack Nitzche’s score is beautiful. The film opens and ends on the same track with steady percussion and a high voice, punctuated by goosebump-inducing strings. It’s the kind of soundtrack that gives one hope for their lives and makes you want to live life to the fullest; the primary theme of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The camera work by Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler is rather dry. Often the action will be shown in short cuts of editing. Other times it will keep on one shot to emulate the feeling that we truly are inside this mental hospital. Such a moment occurs late in the picture when after a large celebration, the camera focuses in on Randle. He’s not partying, not monologuing about his past. Just a static shot of him drinking a beer while sitting down, silently smiling at his accomplishments. It is this silent simplicity that helps give this film its advantage and likability. But that doesn’t mean that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is always fun and lighthearted. There are some moments that are so powerful that you can hardly finish. The actors and extras did a supreme job at making the environment as realistic as possible. But the portrayal of mental illness, and of the authority that tries to exploit it, is so raw and unpretentious that it sometimes borders on hard-to-watch. From challenged patients who refuse to take their medication to electroshock therapy for those who resist, the movie pulls almost no punches. Which is probably why it went on to win the Big Five Oscars. These were Academy Awards for Best Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Director, and Picture. One of the rarest feats in the Academy’s history, to win all of these categories in one night is a truly astonishing achievement. And this is a film that really did earn all of it. It also has an ending that can make you feel teary-eyed from both sadness and joy. All I can say is that you will have the feel the feeling of you were graduating. With unforgettable characters, realistic dialogue, fantastic performances and a great sense of dark optimism, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an uncompromising and captivating look at standing up to your oppressors. It may not quite be perfect as a whole, but the smaller moments are the ones that truly make it what it is. It is hard to watch sometimes and to rewatch but it’s absolutely worth it to get a better understanding of mental illness and the will to survive in the face of adversity.

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