Category Archives: Romance

“Lagaan” Movie Review

Although I’ve reviewed a handful of foreign-language films before, it occurs to me that I’ve never reviewed a Bollywood movie. So what better way to resolve that checkbox than making it a part of my New Year’s resolution? This epic musical sports drama was originally released in theaters around the world on June 15th, 2001. However, per a promise, the producers arranged to have it premiere first in the ancient village of Bhuj where it was shot. Although it was produced on the then-unprecedented budget 250 million rupees, (Roughly $5.32 million in U.S. dollars) it managed to gross over 3 times that amount. It went on to become one of the highest-grossing films in the country at the time, and scored massive critical acclaim across the world. It also managed to become the third Indian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, the film was partially inspired by the 157 film Naya Daur starring Dilip Kumar. The filmmaker had an extremely difficult time finding funding for the project, so much so that the main star started his own production company just to get it off the ground. While Gowariker and Sanjay Daima came up with the overall story and English dialogue, the dialogues in Hindi and its various dialects were handled by K.P. Saxena. With a grueling schedule that included a year of pre-planning and 6 months of filming, the cast and crew have continually stated that it was one of the most physically challenging films they’ve ever done. Set in the small Indian town of Champaner in 1893, Aamir Khan stars as Bhuvan, a young man devoted to helping his poor village thrive. With the local British cantonment putting their boot further under the neck of the Raj, the cruel leader Captain Andrew Russell, played by Paul Blackthorne, orders the citizens to pay double the tax. However, he makes a deal with Bhuvan to cancel all taxes for the next 3 years if they win a game of cricket against him and his British soldiers. Bhuvan takes up the challenge and with help from Russell’s sister Elizabeth, played by Rachel Shelley, brings along 10 other men to learn the game within the course of 3 months. For years, I had heard raves about the Bollywood film industry, but never had the chance to watch one of its offspring. It wasn’t until a few years ago during a class that I finally managed to watch one; it was this movie. Since then, I’ve watched a handful of others in the genre, albeit more modern ones such as Queen and Dangal. But after discovering that this film, along with other films by Aamir Khan, were available in their entirety on Netflix, I decided to give it another go. Would it hold up on second viewing? And thankfully, as has been the pattern with my New Year’s resolution, Lagaan is still a wonderful movie and actually improves the second time. Don’t let the intimidating runtime of 3 hours and 43 minutes steer you away, though. This is rather typical of big Indian movies, often setting their stories against a massively epic canvas. I actually argue that this is one of the best primers for getting into Tollywood or Bollywood films, as it has all of the essential ingredients the genre has to offer. It really is a huge, old-school crowd-pleaser and it’s honestly refreshing that it does not care what its audience thinks of it. In that, some people might be quick to dismiss Lagaan (or Once Upon a Time in India in some territories) as being too predictable and easy-going, and they would be partially right. And yet, the film has such a strong and engrossing way of immersing you into its world that it’s almost impossible to escape from its orbit. Aamir Khan is one of India’s biggest movie stars (If not their biggest) for good reason; he’s perfect in the lead role. As Bhuvan, he exudes empathy and concern for the people in his village, recognizing both the oppression dealt out by the British regime and their own personal tensions. Opposite him, Gracy Singh is a true talent as Gauri, his longtime love. Not as thankless a role as it may sound, her singing and dancing skills are incredible, especially when she sings a melody about her seemingly unrequited love for the hero. Paul Blackthorne is also delightfully villainous as Captain Russell, without a doubt the main antagonist of the picture. Arrogant and stubborn to a fault, he has no problem making the villagers’ lives a living hell- or for that matter, infuriating his superior officers. The rest of the cast is rounded out by an impressive ensemble of actors with varying roles. There’s Rachel Kelley as Russell’s kindhearted and unassuming sister, Kulbhushan Kharbanda as the seemingly powerless Raja of the region, Yashpal Sharma as a woodcutter jealous of Bhuvan’s heroism, and Raghubir Yadav, Rajesh Vivek, Akhilendra Mishra, Pradeep Rawat, and Aditya Lakhia as some of Bhuvan’s cricket teammates. While these men have many differences and doubts, (Lakhia plays an “untouchable”) the chemistry the hold is key to making the audience care about them. On the technical side of things, Lagaan has so many techniques worthy of the best epics in cinema. Anil Mehta’s sweeping cinematography is a thing to behold, capturing everyone and everything in every frame with perfection. The sweeping shots and predominant colors of yellow and brown help craft a look of a piece of history long forgotten. During musical numbers, like many Hollywood and Bollywood classics, the camera often moves flawlessly between different characters during the song. Meanwhile, Ballu Saluja’s editing job is able to keep the momentum consistently going for the mammoth runtime. His graceful scene transitions and patient cuts make sure nothing is too rushed or drawn-out. The climactic yet somewhat unorthodox showdown between the soldiers and the villagers is cut together in such an elegant and captivating manner that it’s hard to lose attention. And not to mention, his editing manages to do something remarkable: It made me sweat my palms during a cricket match, something that has never happened before. That, alone, is a noteworthy accomplishment. A.R. Rahman, one of the industry’s most celebrated composers, provides the instrumental film score here, which in my opinion is one of the most underrated ones in cinema. For all of the flare, there’s actually only two instrumental tracks on the soundtracks, but they both leave a huge impression. Crescendos aplenty can be heard in percussion and horns especially, and span various different musical styles. There are also six original songs that are a joy to listen to, with extravagant choreography and lyrics by Javed Akhtar. My personal favorite is actually the very first one, “Ghanan Ghanan,” performed by all of the villagers. Concerning their plight of a serious drought, it’s quite hard to get the central melody out of your head. It manages to perfectly illustrate what the movie is all about: unwavering optimism in the face of great trial and adversity. With an incredible soundtrack, characters worth rooting for, and palpable stakes in the rather simple plot, Lagaan is a sweeping musical triumph of epic proportions. Not only is it arguably the most accessible Bollywood movie for Western audiences, but it’s also officially my favorite sports movie of all time. The wonderful costumes, fantastic musical numbers, solid cast, and impeccable finale really help to put it over the top. Please do yourself a favor and seek this gem out on Netflix. And while you’re at it, go ahead and watch any other Bollywood movies in its catalogue.

Advertisements

“Game of Thrones” Series Finale Review

All good things must eventually come to an end, whether the corporate overlords like it or not. So if you haven’t yet figured it out from the title, this post is going to be filled to the brim with spoilers for the 73rd and final episode for Game of Thrones. If you are not yet caught up on the show, (Or simply don’t care) do NOT read this any further. Seriously, just stop where you are. Now I won’t hesitate to admit that I came relatively late to the hit HBO show. I had definitely heard about it beforehand, including some major events like the infamous Red Wedding, but I didn’t full jump onboard until about mid-2014. First, I made it a goal to read the existing books in A Song of Ice and Fire, then played catchup with the show itself. And first things first: for the most part, I’m okay with the changes that have been made to the onscreen adaptation. While I think some fans are justified in their frustration with the abbreviation of some storylines, (I really wish they had done Euron Greyjoy faithfully) ultimately the books are the books and the show is the show. And there are some plot points in these last few seasons that I could definitely see happening in The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. Now onto “The Iron Throne,” the last episode of Game of Thrones proper that we’ll ever get. While I could talk about the eighth season as a whole, particularly waxing lyrical about the sheer magnitude of the Battle of Winterfell in “The Long Night,” this last episode is all I really have time to discuss. First and foremost, I was surprised by how quiet the episode itself actually was. I had expected something of a calm after the destruction of King’s Landing, but the overall lack of dialogue made a certain impact as the surviving characters wandered the ruins. Which reminds me, say what you want about these last 6 episodes, the production value and filmmaking techniques have been so amazing. Whether it’s Ramin Djawadi’s immaculate score or the incredible production design, the below-the-line crew almost never missed a beat. The shot of Daenerys walking down the steps of the Red Keep as Drogon spread his wings was especially beautiful and symbolic. And when she throws Tyrion Lannister in the dungeons, he urges Jon to see what the Mother of Dragons has become and to do something about it. Now for the past three weeks, my friends and I have debated whether it would ultimately be Arya Stark or Jon Snow to deliver the final blow to Dany. Turns out, it was the former; Jon stabbed his love/aunt in the heart with a dagger, both swimming in tears. What really got me emotional in this scene was Drogon’s shrieks; they legitimately hurt and felt like they were in grieving for a mother. Then came something I wasn’t expecting: Drogon not only spares Jon’s life, but he completely melts down the Iron Throne in flames. If Dany couldn’t be able to sit on it, then nobody else could. Now that she was gone, who would rule the Seven Kingdoms? Should they even have a ruler? Well, as Tyrion points out to the remaining lords and ladies of the land, no one is qualified for the job other than Bran Stark. Because he’s essentially the living embodiment of Westeros’ memories, his stories of the past and present may give a good precedent for the future; and who better to serve as his Hand than Tyrion himself? But before any of it becomes set in stone, Sansa Stark asks for the North to become independent once more, thus making her brother Ruler of the Six Kingdoms for the first time in history. And with the brand new Small Council assembled, newly appointed Grandmaester Samwell Tarly presents A Song of Ice and Fire, a text documenting the events of the series in its entirety. Sidenote: I think it’s kind of hilarious that the maesters managed to finish writing A Song of Ice and Fire before George R.R. Martin managed to. We also get to see Sansa being crowned as Queen of the North, with the Lords and Ladies giving her a similar appraisal as they did Jon Snow. The biggest part of the finale I wasn’t too sure of was Arya’s resolution. She decided to give up her lands and titles to go exploring whatever’s west of Westeros, accompanied by a small crew and loads of maps. I don’t know why, but that felt the most abrupt of all the storyline conclusions here. And ultimately, the show ends in the same place where it begins: beyond the Wall. Since they can neither execute him nor let him go for killing Dany, Jon is sent to the Night’s Watch for the rest of his days. After an awesome reunion with Ghost, he, Tormund, and the last of the Wildlings leave for the woods beyond the Wall, presumably to settle back in after all of the commotions the last couple of seasons. And that’s it. 9 years, 8 seasons, 73 episodes, hundreds of hours, all come to a close here in “The Iron Throne.” From what I’ve read, I think one of the biggest reasons why fans are upset about it is because this is ultimately all we get. The HBO bosses have already confirmed that sequel shows are off the table, and I doubt the upcoming prequel show with Naomi Watts will really fill some holes that fans perceive. Personally, I do think that this season was rushed and could have benefited from having a couple more episodes to really wrap some things up. Weiss and Benioff claim to have known the ending for about 5 years now, so they at least seem to know what they’re doing. But I’m sorry, that petition to remake Season 8 is one of the stupidest fan campaigns I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some really dumb ones in my time. If you genuinely don’t like the last season, that’s perfectly understandable and I get a lot of the hate, but in what realm of reality are fans entitled to dictate how a story should be told? To quote Martin himself, “Art is not a democracy,” so if you don’t like that Azzhor Ahai or Bran warging into Drogon didn’t pan out how you wanted, that’s your own problem to deal with. I don’t run this show and neither do you. And to be honest with you, I was mostly satisfied with where everything and everyone turned out in this last episode. There were a handful of outcomes that I didn’t quite see coming, the biggest of which for me was when Drogon utterly melted the Iron Throne. My favorite development, though, is undoubtedly when Brienne of Tarth became the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. She has completely and 100% earned it after everything she’s gone through, I’m so proud of her. And if we’re being honest, the overall outcome doesn’t sound too far-fetched from what has been intended by the author. I am genuinely curious to see how different the ending is when and/or IF The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring come out. Regardless of what you thought of this last episode or season, there’s no denying the fundamental impact that Game of Thrones has had on the television landscape. And I think it’ll be a very long time before any show reaches the scope and scale of this magnitude ever again. To quote one of my favorite characters in the show: Valar Morghulis.

Related image

“Avengers: Endgame” Movie Review

**While this review will be completely spoiler-free, I’m going to be under the assumption that everyone reading it has already seen Infinity War. Proceed at your own discretion.**

And to think, 11 years ago, this entire saga started in a cave, with a box of scraps. It’s truly jaw-dropping to see how far it’s come since then. But I’m extremely glad to have seen it all the way through. This epic superhero film was released in theaters around the world on April 26th, 2019, a week ahead of its previously scheduled release date. Within its first couple of weeks, it has already grossed over $2.189 billion at the global box office, and is very likely to make it as the highest grossing movie of all time. It’s broken a handful of box office records and is sure on its way to shatter some more in the coming weeks. Numerous movie ticket websites such as Fandango and Atom Tickets consistently struggled to keep their servers operating, and ended up selling the most amount of pre-release tickets for a film within a few hours. Once again directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the film was shot back-to-back with its predecessor Infinity War. This marks the 22nd overall installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and has been promised to be even more of a culmination than its predecessors. While most all of the MCU films have maintained a certain level of secrecy about the plot, the producers and marketing team for this one went extremely far out of their way to ensure nothing got out. This included filming fake scenes that were purely used for trailers, a practice which some took issue with. According to numerous sources, only one member of the principal cast was given the entire screenplay to read. Picking up 23 days after the end of Infinity War, the remaining heroes of the Avengers are still reeling from the destructive victory of Thanos. Soon, they realize that they might have a legitimate chance to undo the damage done by his snap, which ended half of all life across the known universe. So they set out on a quest to recover the Infinity Stones to hopefully bring their loved ones back. And… that’s it. That’s quite literally all I can get into here without spoiling anything else about the plot. The Russo Brothers actually sent out a joint letter on Instagram asking fans to ruin anything for the people who haven’t seen the movie and out of respect for them, I won’t say another word about the actual plot. Obviously, like so many other fans and cinephiles, I was wondering how Marvel and the Russos could possibly follow up Infinity War, a film I found highly entertaining despite feeling a little unsatisfying. This would arguably become an even bigger culmination than that film, the sum of 22 films over the past 11 years. No other film in history has had such a Herculean task to achieve, let alone take on. Would it reach the stars or crumble in our hands? The simple answer is yes, yes it can; Avengers: Endgame exceeds all expectations one could possibly hold for it. The best way I can describe it is that this feels like the series finale for a T.V. show that I’ve been watching for the last decade. It has a certain sense of finality that most superhero films don’t have, really bringing a lot of character arcs to a strong thematic close. If I were given the job of writing the screenplay, I couldn’t possibly have done a better job at wrapping it all up. Of course, Disney and Marvel still have numerous projects coming down the pipe in the coming years. But as the wrap-up to 11 years worth of stories and characters, Endgame couldn’t have been more fulfilling and awesome. The Marvel mountain will never peak this high ever again. Quite literally everyone who’s ever been in an MCU film to date appears in this movie one way or another. All of them have grown immensely comfortable in their roles to the point where it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing them. Of particular note are the Original Six Avengers- Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner. All of them have gone through incredible journeys since the first installment and getting to see them all reunited is so emotional. The end credits even include the actors’ signatures next to their names. Downey Jr. and Evans are especially amazing as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America, respectively. As the defacto leaders of the team, both feel a deep shame from having failed the people they love and struggle to reconcile with the new world. And despite the faith-shattering fallout the two of them had in Civil War, they realize that their mission goes beyond any hard feelings they harbor for one another. Also noteworthy is Karen Gillan as Thanos’ cyborg daughter Nebula. In the previous films, she had never really impressed me or stood out as a character very much. But here, she’s given a full, interesting arc where we get to witness her reckon with past misdeeds and how to try and redeem herself. And at this point, there’s no real need to espouse how Avengers: Endgame is because all parties involved know exactly what they’re doing. Whether it’s lighting, sound design, art direction, or costumes, quite literally everything here works. The visual effects especially, as it took nearly 10 different companies- from Industrial Lights & Magic to Framestore -to bring the complex visuals to life. They’ve already accomplished making a fully CG character like Thanos look photorealistic, but adding more to that and keeping all of the realistic detail is unparalleled. It also has some of the best editing in the franchise done by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt. When the mission becomes split up, we are able to cut between multiple scenes of the heroes working on their parts. This keeps the pacing aloft without having to getting muddled by exposition or constant action scenes. But when there are action scenes, they are so beautifully crafted and fluid that you can tell everything that’s happening. Without any. Rapid. Cuts. Once again reprising duties from Infinity War, Alan Silvestri provides perhaps one of the best superhero scores of the last to decades. By calling back to various themes and motifs from throughout the MCU, it feels like it’s really bringing everything full circle. The use of massive choirs, brass, and strings for new tracks is enough to induce goosebumps in any viewer. Of particular mention is the track titled “Portals,” which blends the classic Avengers theme song from the first movie with an exciting intro and outro. I’ve given the MCU heat for not having lots of memorable music, but this soundtrack truly feels like a fitting culmination to everything that’s come before in this franchise. In all seriousness, there is so much more I could write about this movie, that I WANT to write about this movie. But for now, this spoiler-free take is all that’s going to out right now. I’ll wait a little bit longer to write a spoilery review with my thoughts on various scenes or things that happened. Somehow bringing together 11 years and 22 movies worth of stories and making it all meaningful, Avengers: Endgame is an emotionally resonant journey, and one of the most satisfying feature films I have ever seen. This was the epic payoff to an unprecedented cinematic gamble that will rarely, if ever, find its equal. The Russo Brothers truly did the impossible and brought Stan Lee’s unbridled vision to life on the big screen. My only wish is that he had stayed alive long enough for it to come before his eyes like the rest of us. If this truly the endgame for most of this universe, than I am so happy to have taken this road, even through the bumpier installments. I love it, 3000.

“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” Movie Review

Alright, I’m going to be completely honest with everybody reading this review. It is May the 4th, and this is not really the Star Wars movie I want to be talking about right now. However, I promised the review for a while and it’s appropriate for the 20th anniversary, so let’s do this. This epic space opera was originally released in theaters worldwide on May 16th, 1999, almost 16 years to the day from the premiere of Return of the Jedi. Widely anticipated from fans and the general public, the film managed to gross over $924.3 million at the global box office. This made it the highest grossing film in the Star Wars saga and the second-highest grossing film of all time at that point. It was also rereleased in 3D in 2012, bringing its total to over $1 billion. Despite this, it had an incredibly mixed reception, with fans and critics saying it was either just fine or a hot pile of garbage. Written and directed by George Lucas, the director had long expressed no interest in continuing the Star Wars saga as he felt it would fade out, even cancelling a planned sequel trilogy. However, after seeing the franchise’s sustained popularity through the Expanded Universe comic books and novels, he decided to move forward. He apparently adapted the screenplay from a 15-page outline he wrote way back in 1976, and took advantage of the then-burgeoning innovations of CGI. It’s also been confirmed that he tried to hand the reigns over to Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg, all of whom insisted he be the one to helm it. Set 32 years before the events of A New Hope, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor star as master Qui-Gon Jinn and apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi, two Jedi Knights sent to try and end a dispute between the Trade Federation and the Galactic Republic. Barely escaping an attempt on their lives, they soon abscond with Queen Amidala just as the Federation launches a full-scale invasion of the planet Naboo. While on the run and trying to make it home, they come across a nine-year-old boy named Anakin Skywalker, played by Jake Lloyd, who has unusually strong powers with the Force. They ultimately decide to take him and a misfit alien named Jar Jar Binks on a quest to prove that the Trade Federation’s actions are completely illegal and under the influence of the Sith Lord Darth Sidious. This is one of those films that’s hard for me to review fairly because it’s such a divisive film among fans and critics. I myself have had conflicted feelings over it for many years. I used to really like it and defend it to death as a kid, along with the other two prequels Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Now that I’m older, I can definitely understand why so many fans felt burned by it when it was originally released. But is it the intergalactic dumpster fire that a lot of people have continually proclaimed it as? While Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace may be extremely disappointing and subpar compared to the rest of the saga, there are still a handful of things I like about it. I think George Lucas is a very creative person, with tons of different ideas that he wants to get out on the canvas. He wants to make a film about the political and economic machinations behind a galactic civil war? That is perfectly fine by me. What’s so bothersome about The Phantom Menace is that it never really weaves all of these ideas into the story in a compelling or organic way. Sure, we get to see that slavery exists in the Outer Rim and the lightsaber battles are glorious, but it doesn’t really matter when the direction and characterization are so choppy that it feels like they might have been sleepwalking. And I’m not even going to dive into the problematic nature of “midichlorians” and how that alters the Force. The performances, across the board, are an incredibly mixed bag. The impressive ensemble, including everyone from Samuel L. Jackson to Ian McDiarmid, try their hardest with the material given and are occasionally able to power through the wooden dialogue. Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman, as Quin-Gon Jinn and Padmé, seem particularly stiff and uncomfortable, not quite able to make out what to do with their characters. Ray Park and Ewan McGregor are by far the best of the bunch as Darth Maul and young Obi-Wan Kenobi, respectively. McGregor’s interpretation as a somewhat hotheaded Padawan is a neat foil for his later role in the franchise, and while Maul has few lines of dialogue, he left an impression as one of the coolest villains in the saga. Now we come to Ahmed Best and Jake Lloyd. I have no problems with these two personally, and the career-hurting hate they received is wholly unfair. But it’s hard for me to deny that Jar Jar Binks is an annoying character, even though Best is clearly have the most fun out of any of the cast members. And Lloyd does some decent work as young Anakin, setting the groundwork for the character’s tragic arc to come. But because the characterization is all over the place, there isn’t much of an angle that he gets from it. Even when it comes to the technical aspects, The Phantom Menace is still a hit-or-miss. David Tattersall’s cinematography is usually quite flat and uninteresting, opting for dull camera angles and zooms. Occasionally it starts to pick up when something exciting happens, but the film is so focused on expository dialogue that they’re few and far between. It also has a weird and confusing color palette, being bright and gorgeous one moment and absolutely dull the next. For better and worse, it goes hand-hand-hand for the editing by Paul Martin Smith and Ben Burtt. Using classic screen-swipes for transitions, the disparity between what’s convincing practical effects and obvious CGI is too often. While some of the effects still look fine and were probably fantastic for their day, others just have me scratching my head. But it does shine during the pod-racings sequence and the lightsaber duels, which are now much more elegant and choreographed. As is tradition, the musical score is provided here by franchise veteran John Williams. He brings a number of brand new themes to appreciate here, particularly “Duel of the Fates,” which plays during one of the most exciting lightsaber battles in the series. Using a full choir that sings in Sanskrit and backed by a full orchestra, the 4-minute track is beautiful and majestic all the same. Of course, the rest of the soundtrack utilizes Williams’ signature brass horn line, but also incorporates strings in a rather unique way. If for not the sake of continuity, this film is worth watching for Williams’ iconic score, which makes it at least FEEL like a Star Wars movie. I would definitely recommend watching the 2008 CG cartoon Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Not only is it a great series on its own but it also retroactively improves the prequel trilogy and provides even more context to what happens. In that, I can definitely appreciate what they’re going for here even more now and can see its potential. Unfortunately, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is still a frustrating mishmash of confusing lore and uncertain characterization. I have no doubt that George Lucas tried his hardest to make this film great, and you can definitely see little moments that hint at it. But I truly feel like it would have been a lot better if he had handed the helming duties over to another director. And yet, it’s still not the worst film in the saga; that title still belongs to the Christmas Special and Attack of the Clones. Whether we like it or not, this movie introduced a whole new sect of the universe to explore and devour. And it’s definitely an interesting sect, but the execution of it all is still extremely underwhelming, even watching it now as an adult. May the 4th Be With You, fellow geeks!

“Casablanca” Movie Review

Oh come on, who doesn’t enjoy a good old-fashioned Hollywood romance every now and again? Even if you have the coldest, blackest heart known to man, I will be left in a legitimate state of shock if you aren’t won over by the end. This war-time romantic drama was originally released in theaters by Warner Bros. on November 26th, 1942, before going wide in theaters the following January. Made on the budget of about $1 million, it managed to gross just under $7 million at the box office, half of which came in from foreign markets. It then went onto win the Academy Award for Best Picture and Director, and has sustained a lasting influence on the film industry in the years since. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the film is adapted from the novel Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. While it was initially written by brothers Julius and Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch came into finish the script while producer Hal B. Wallis scrambled to put everything in motion. The film also fell to the mercy of the Hays Code, which forced the filmmakers to change several scenes, some of which were arguably for the better. And Wallis’ working relationship with Jack L. Warner became so strained that after the Academy Awards, he left the studio for good. Set in the titular Moroccan city in December 1941, Humphrey Bogart stars as Rick Blaine, an American expatriate who runs an upscale club and gambling den. Despite professing to be politically neutral, he is secretly known for running guns to Ethiopia and helping refugees stranded in the city. One day, his former lover Ilsa Lund, played by Ingrid Bergman, walks into his establishment and begs for him to help her and her husband, who’s a Czech Resistance leader, escape to America. Rick is now forced to choose between staying with the woman he once loved and doing something right for the burgeoning war effort. Much like some of the other films in my New Year’s resolution, this is one of those “classic” movies that most people have likely heard of even if they’ve never seen it. Regardless of your familiarity with the film overall, odds are that you’ve probably heard the line “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid,” at least once. I myself had never really seen it before until early last year, though I had definitely known about it for a long time before hand. Like The Shawshank Redemption or Throne of Blood or Life of Brian, this New Year’s resolution has given me the opportunity to watch some highly regarded films I had always tried to see. I was especially curious to see how well the film would be able to hold up on my third viewing. And lo and behold, Casablanca is indeed one of the few “classic” films that’s actually deserving of all of the reverence it’s received over the years. Interestingly, if I had tried to watch this movie over a decade ago, I likely would have turned it off before the halfway mark. I just didn’t like watching romantic movies back then, at least ones that didn’t have a ton action in them. But now I’m older, wiser, and have realized that I had just been looking at the wrong ones at that time. Casablanca is not as glossy as a lot of rom-coms or dramas in the years since, but it still feels unmistakably old-fashioned. There’s a rhythm to this film that so few others in the genre have, even musical romances that have actual song and dance rhythms. In all seriousness, when people talk about Humphrey Bogart, they’re really talking about Rick Blaine. The first in a slew of suave romantic lead roles, he so expertly tries to hide his good nature under a world-weary cynicism and alcoholic coolness. Reflecting on Ilsa’s untimely return into his life, he drunkenly remarks, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” Ingrid Bergman is his perfect onscreen partner, exuding a vulnerability and regret for some of her past actions. While she may not be quite as strong-willed as the writers may have intended, for the most part she retains her emotional poise and is genuinely wanting to die to get her husband back to the States. Paul Henreid shouldn’t be overlooked as Victor Lazlo, the Czech resistance leader who’s trying to carry on his guerilla war with Nazi Germany. His reluctance to trust people in the titular city is convincing and real, undercut by a certain tenderness for his wife. They are also flanked by a supporting cast of colorful and interesting characters. There’s Dooley Wilson as the energetic club musician Sam, Sidney Greenstreet as an underworld business figure who has a friendly rivalry with Rick, Claude Rains as the shamelessly corrupt prefect of police under Vichy rule, Peter Lorre as a petty crook able to get his hand into deep places, and Conrad Veidt as the ruthless Nazi emissary Major Strasser. Despite the film only running about 102 minutes, you really feel like you get to know these characters and the dire situations they find themselves in. Meanwhile, on the technical side of things, Casablanca is Classic Hollywood at its most lush and posh. Arthur Edeson’s black-and-white cinematography has many traits of film noir and expressionism. These include precise lighting and fantastic use of shadows, which emphasize the moral ambiguity of Rick’s position. Bergman is mostly shot from her left side, an effect which makes her eyes sparkle and her face glisten with beauty. It uses a number of steady shots to follow the carefully blocked action in every scene, while also allowing actors room to breathe with their iconic rapid fire dialogue. Owen Marks’ editing is also notable for its precise use of cuts between different shots and moments. The most memorable example is our introduction to Rick, which cuts between different parts of his hands and body before revealing his face. Not only that, but the subtle fades between the present day and his past life with Ilsa creates a certain nostalgia effect. The prolific Gone With the Wind composer Max Steiner provides the instrumental film score and boy its a doozy. One of 24 Oscar nominations Steiner would receive over his career, it masterfully mixes different melodies that are familiar but not quite patriotic. With a sweeping orchestra befitting of David Lean epics, the main suite has a wide range of classical instruments, including strings, brass, and piano. The way it’s infused into each scene makes it feel like a romantic adventure on a grand scale, as well as a more personal tale of intrigue. The soundtrack also has the famous song “As Time Goes By” by Herman Hupfeld, here performed by Dooley Wilson. Using a soft piano as the backbone of the song, the jazzy and slow-tempo tune makes for a perfect dance number between Rick and Ilsa. Although Wilson himself could never actually play the piano, Elliot Carpenter provided the playing on set, which comes together to create one hell of a memorable song. I really feel like if you wanted an intro into classic films, there’s no better place to start than here. One iconic scene moves to another, the script is as sharp and whip-smart as ever, and it all just makes filmmaking look so easy in the process. It’s also eminently quotable, with all of the characters each having at least one memorable line. When it comes down to it, Casablanca is perfectly conjured and fantastically produced bubble of escapism. Whether it’s the way Michael Curtiz and Hal B. Wallis put together the final product or the chemistry between Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, there isn’t an inch of this film that doesn’t work. This is what we talk about when we talk about the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood.

“Iron Man” Movie Review

I’ve been meaning to dig back into the older Phase One Marvel films for a good while now. And with Avengers: Endgame promising to be even more of a culmination event than Infinity War in less than a month, I figured it was as good a time as any to go back to the beginning of it all. This tech-based superhero film was originally released in theaters on May 2nd, 2008. Although expectations were relatively low, it managed to gross nearly 5 times its $140 million budget and set a number of box office records which, in hindsight, seem rather puny at the time. It also managed to impress critics, comic book fans and general audiences alike, and singlehandedly launched the most lucrative media franchise of the 21st Century: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Jon Favreau, the film had been in development hell since 1990, with multiple studios attempting to get it off the ground. After Marvel Comics managed to reacquire the rights to many of its characters in 2006, Paramount Pictures got their hands on the distribution. It became the first film Marvel financed entirely by themselves, setting the path for future installments based off relatively obscure characters. While Kevin Feige, Avi Arad, and the credited screenwriters spent extensive time discussing the story and action, the actors were encouraged to improvise most of their dialogue; several scenes had multiple cameras set up in case someone said something especially memorable. Robert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark, a genius billionaire playboy in charge of his father’s massive weapons manufacturing company. Following a life-threatening incident in war-torn Afghanistan, he develops a powered armor suit to help him escape a terrorist group called the Ten Rings. Realizing his culpability in the armed conflict, he modifies his suit with more improvements, adopts the nickname Iron Man, and sets out to fight those who want to use his technology for nefarious reasons. It’s truly strange looking back at this film, having watched all of the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe now. Back when I saw this in the theater for the first time, even though I was pretty young, I had a general understanding of the character and his origins. Most audiences didn’t at the time, and the fact that he’s become a household name shows how much the genre has grown in the 11 years since. So I figured that my New Year’s Resolution could use a little shakeup with something that isn’t too far away from the present but still old enough to bare some form of influence. I was a little worried, though, that on a rewatch, the inaugural installment for the MCU wouldn’t hold up very well. That just makes it even sweeter to say that Iron Man is still as badass as I remember it being, and still stands tall against many entries in both the franchise and the superhero genre as well. Do any of you remember a time when movies based on comic book characters were considered uncool? I can still think of the times when I would just mention a character’s name like Iron Man or Captain America and the people I’m talking to would just ask, “Who?” And perhaps the best compliment I can give Jon Favreau isn’t that it somehow managed to swing the franchise out the gate so confidently, but that it managed to have a wide enough appeal to general audiences without feeling like it lost its origins. It truly can’t be understated how hard that task was. Just two months later, it would arguably become overshadowed by Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece The Dark Knight. Marvel and Kevin Feige really had prove to themselves early on, and have earned the success they’ve gotten from it. Let’s get one thing straight here: Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark, no question about it. The role he was seemingly born to play, his snarky attitude and hilarious wit are undercut by his clear intelligence and care for the few friends he has. The actor has literally credited the character was saving his life and career, and if he wasn’t the architect for the MCU, then the whole thing would have crumbled before it got off the ground. Opposite him are Gwyneth Paltrow and Terence Howard as Pepper Potts and Lieutenant Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Stark’s personal assistant and best friend respectively. Although Howard would later be replaced by Don Cheadle, the film manages to get this trio’s relationship down from the beginning, which would develop over the course of the next several films. Jeff Bridges is also unexpectedly good as Obadiah Stane, Tony’s business partner and former mentor. While the MCU has long struggled with making compelling antagonists, Bridges manages to give off a convincing impression of a greedy and overzealous businessman who wants what’s inside Stark’s mind. Shaun Toub should also not be overlooked for his role as Tony’s cave cellmate Yinsen. With enough aged wisdom to match Stark’s cunning intellect, it’s clear he knows what’s going on with the Ten Rings and what they want. Even though he’s not onscreen for a large chunk of time, he very much leaves a solid impact for the remainder of the story. As far as the technical aspects go, Iron Man was merely the first in a long line of impressive below-the-line feats for Marvel. Shot by the incredibly versatile Matthew Libatique, the cinematography is the right amount of clean and gritty. With some colors muted and couple enhanced, it really feels down in the dirt as Tony is attempting to figure out how to reconcile his identity with his newfound purpose. Unlike many later entries, the camera movement is actually quite controlled and smooth, and we’re able to see exactly what happens in every action scene. This matches up well with the editing by Dan Lebenthal, who collaborated on many of Favreau’s earlier films. The continuity of each scene is kept perfectly, not a single gesture or line feeling out of place with the cut. Considering they filmed with multiple cameras at once, it’s kinda impressive he was able to cut together that much footage and make it cohesive. Not to mention, Stan Winston himself brought the character of Iron to such vivid life, one of his last creations. Ramin Djawadi, who would go on to compose for HBO’s Game of Thrones and Westworld, provides the instrumental film score here. Like his work on those shows, it’s highly unusual for its genre and all the better for it. Mixing grungy rock with traditional orchestral arrangements, the mixture of electric guitar and strings is very memorable. he end results are perfectly suited to the main protagonist. It’s fresh, unpredictable, and quite brilliant. A quiet industry game-changer if ever I’ve seen one, Iron Man is the apex of superhero origin stories for cinema. It really can’t be overstated what Kevin Feige and Jon Favreau did here: they managed to defy expectations and create a cultural shift. Whether it’s Robert Downey Jr.’s immaculate performance as the titular character or Favreau’s assured direction, there’s little that doesn’t work in this film. And that legendary post-credits scene was only the beginning. We’re part of a bigger universe now, and I’m here for it.

“8 Mile” Movie Review

*Insert some unoriginal joke about Mom’s spaghetti somewhere in here* This hip-hop focused drama was originally released in theaters worldwide on November 8th, 2002, having been pushed back from a previous summer opening. It went on to gross over $242 million at the worldwide box office against a $41million budget and set a record for the biggest R-rated opening weekend at the time. The film managed to garner some very positive reviews both from critics and the rap community, even winning an Oscar. It also made over $40 million in DVD sales the first day of its release, a record for an R-rated  film at the time. Directed and produced by Curtis Hanson, the screenplay by Scott Silver is loosely based on the life of its main star. Numerous other filmmakers were in the running for the director’s chair, including Quentin Tarantino who had to turn it down to finish Kill Bill. Much of the rap battles, the centerpieces of the entire film, were auditioned for by various local artists and were given an improvised, one-take only opportunity. There was a bit of controversy when rap producer Buckwild claimed that one of the scenes used an instrumental of his song “Time’s Up” without his approval. Set in 1995 in Detroit, Marshall Mathers A.K.A. Eminem stars as Jimmy Smith Jr., an unhappy blue-collar worker struggling to provide for himself and his family. He harbors a strong passion for hip-hop music, participating in various underground rap battles under the stage name “B-Rabbit.” As he tries to win back respect after a humiliating defeat, he also attempts to look at his world beyond just his dreams. I’ve been a big fan of Eminem’s music for a long time now. Not just because it’s good music, but also because many of his songs are genuinely inspiring and motivational to me. Hell, even if his newer stuff doesn’t measure up to his first few albums, they’re still a lot better to listen to than most contemporary rap artists. Aside from his hilarious one-scene cameo in The Interview, I had always been curious what his leading role in this film would be like. I also adored Curtis Hanson’s film L.A. Confidential, and while this was a sharp departure for him, it still made me curious to see what he could do. And while 8 Mile is definitely rough around the edges, it’s still a very compelling drama with a surprising amount of insight. While yes, the rap battles themselves are gripping and fun to watch, they’re not really the point of the film. Rather, Hanson and screenwriter Scott Silver are far more interested in using them to contextualize the old and decaying city of Detroit. There are numerous empty houses lined up in entire neighborhoods where people go to party and the characters struggle to get jobs better than on the factory line. One of the areas where it falters is that 8 Mile, named after the titular highway separating demographics, can get a little didactic about these issues. There’s even one character who constantly goes on diatribes about the lack of economic opportunities for citizens there. All of this is well and good, but I feel like we didn’t necessarily need this. Eminem might not want to be a big movie star, but it’s impossible to see anyone else playing B-Rabbit. Yes, the character is based on him, but he inhabits such a hidden energy and repressed anger at his social circumstances that we can’t help but root for him. And when the battles in the final act finally come into play, he absolutely explodes in a fury of brilliance. By his side for much of the film is Mekhi Phifer as Future, B-Rabbit’s best friend and host of the rap battles. He maintains an unwavering optimism for his buddy’s talent and artistry, in spite of the problems they face on the daily. The late Brittany Murphy also makes an impression as Alex Latourno, B-Rabbit’s love interest. Although she sometimes feels more like a sketch of a person than an actual individual, she does good work as a woman who sees the potential in the protagonist’s abilities. Michael Shannon and Anthony Mackie also have effective small roles as men Jimmy has to overcome while D’Angelo Wilson, Evan Jones, and Omar Benson Miller chip in as his enthusiastic best friends. The one weak link is Kim Basinger as Jimmy’s alcoholic mother. She felt really miscast in her role, and wasn’t really convincing in her own struggles. Meanwhile, for a studio movie from the early 2000’s, 8 Mile‘s technical aspects are surprisingly down in the dirt and gritty. The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, who later shot Silence and Brokeback Mountain, has a dark aesthetic to it. Most of the scenes are shot in a handheld, cinéma vérité style without much flare or fancy movement. The naturalistic lighting and focus create some organically beautiful shots, such as an abandoned house burning down in the middle of the night. The added fact that all of the film was shot on location in Detroit creates a certain level of authenticity and honesty that’s rare in films. It matches up perfectly with Jay Rabinowitz, which somehow feels wise in the amount of shots shown in each scene. Although a number of scenes take place at night, it’s still easy to tell what’s going on. The rap battles near the end of the film are perfectly cut together, especially considering the fact that each one was done in just one take. As could be expected, Eminem also produced and curated the music soundtrack for the film. The vast majority of tracks are essentially instrumental backings from various songs of his, such as “8 Mile Road.” But there a re couple of more obscure songs, mostly by local artists from Detroit. The centerpiece of it all is obviously “Lose Yourself,” which became the artists first song to reach the top spot on the Billboard. With a very consistent beat of pianos, drums, and guitar, the lyrics are a fiery call to chase one’s dreams. He apparently wrote the song’s music and lyrics in between takes during filming. It ultimately went on to become the first hip-hop song to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song, which Eminem ironically slept through. 8 Mile is a familiar yet gritty drama about the trials of achieving one’s dreams. Although there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about the film, it has enough conviction to earn a spot of memorability thanks to Curtis Hanson’s direction. And not only does Eminem surprise with a great lead performance, but also gave us one of the best songs ever written for a feature film.