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Let’s Do It: My Favorite Movies #10-1

And so my friends, we’ve at long last reached the end. Doing this series over the last year has made me realize how much I genuinely love creating lists on this website. I’m so glad that there are many people out there who share my enthusiasm for cinema, and hear what my favorites of all time are. It’s also been somewhat revelatory for me personally as I got a better idea of what I truly love in movies. Now, let’s get on to the final 10 of the Top 100.

#10: “Jurassic Park” (1993)

I totally envy the people who were able see Jurassic Park for the first time when it came out in theaters in 1993. From the first shot of the brachiosaurus to the final roar of the T-rex, you feel completely immersed in what Spielberg and CO. accomplished. John Williams’ legendary theme certainly helps with that. Every time I watch it, I’m still amazed at the seamless blend between Stan Winston’s practical effects and the then-groundbreaking CGI. This movie never needed any sequels because it was always perfect. Pure movie magic, plain and simple.

#9: “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1989)

No one director in the history of filmmaking does cinematic adventures like Steven Spielberg. His films are practically always imbued with a sense of fun and joyfulness, even when it can get rather dark in some of them. Nowhere does that feel more apparent than in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which also happens to double as George Lucas’ second-best creation. This is one of those films where most people probably know many of the iconic scenes, even if they haven’t actually seen it in its entirety. There’s a first time for everything, though, and few experiences are quite as rewarding both on the first watch and subsequent rewatch as this film.

#8: “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” (1991)

This is neither the last nor best sequel that you’ll see appear on this list, but it’s still totally amazing all the same. James Cameron has practically built his career off of blowing away people’s expectations, whether it’s Aliens, Titanic, or the recently announced slew of Avatar sequels. When it came to following up The Terminator, it seemed nigh impossible, but he proved all off us so wrong. Terminator 2: Judgement Day has many of the quintessential action movie ingredients and spins them in beautifully with a fantastic time-travel story involving two of the deadliest robots you’ll ever see. Arnold’s one-liners actually feel both weighty and utterly badass, portraying one of the coolest movie characters ever.

#7: “Forrest Gump” (1994)

In recent years, I’ve seen this movie receive a lot of flak for allegedly promoting a conservative agenda. However, I’m convinced that Forrest Gump is actually a lot smarter than a lot of people realize. Whatever politics Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis subscribe to are almost irrelevant as the film asks us more to just appreciate the smaller things in life, even if you never know what you’re gonna get. Hilarious in one scene, heartbreaking in the next, and imminently quotable, (I can’t run a few miles without turning around and saying “I’m pretty tired, I wanna go home”) it so gracefully captures the zeitgeist of the mid-20th Century America.

#6: “The Godfather” (1972)

Masterpiece. Literally no other word exists to properly describe The Godfather whenever it’s brought into conversation. Pick any aspect of filmmaking you like, and Frances Ford Coppola’s got it down here. A relatively simple story with rich, complex characters, fantastic camerawork, a memorable score, and stark production design. On the off chance that you have not yet seen this classic, please go and rectify that situation. Like, right now.

#5: “Pulp Fiction” (1994)

The restaurant standoff. The gimp scene. The accidental bullet in the back of the car. The dance. Pick any single moment from this movie, and I’ll happily watch it over and over again. Quentin Tarantino’s certainly had an auspicious and storied career over the last 26 years, but his second feature remains the most perfect out of all of his films. The way that Pulp Fiction deftly weaves each story together in a way that is neither forced nor tacked on is highly inspired. There were undoubtedly waves upon waves of filmmakers that have tried to mimic the style after its release, most of which fell flat on their faces. Thankfully, Tarantino’s sophomore effort still remains as awesome and brilliantly written as ever. Odds are that I’ll pick at least two quotes from this movie to be engraved on my tombstone when I die.

#4: “The Dark Knight” (2008)

It’s truly a testament to director Christopher Nolan that in the 10 years since it’s been released, not a single comic book superhero movie has come close to topping this masterpiece. Going beyond just that, I’d also argue that few films really managed to tap into the post-9/11 American psyche quite like The Dark Knight, with its pristine observations on mass surveillance and domestic terrorism. This is one of the only films I’m genuinely mad didn’t get nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, but at least they rightfully gave a trophy to Heath Ledger’s inimitable, terrifying performance as the Joker. Every scene with him in it feels like a blessing.

#3: “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)

Interestingly, it took me quite a few years to fully recognize that The Empire Strikes Back was the best film out of the entire Star Wars saga. The best thing that could possibly be said about it is that it ages like a fine wine, only getting better as you grow older. Because I can appreciate so many filmmaking aspects now as an adult and still get gitty like a kid whenever something great happens. Whether it’s the glorious yet doomed Battle of Hoth, the unique training session with Yoda, or the climactic final lightsaber battle, there’s never a moment that feels out of place. And I know I’ve already praised him, but John Williams is seriously a musical icon with no less than 3 amazing tunes in here. I liketh this package aplenty.

#2: “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975)

And now for something completely different. Monty Python and The Holy Grail breaks virtually every single rule of cinema you can possibly think of, and laughs at them in the process. Any time I find it playing somewhere, I can’t help but quote and act out the whole damn thing until the end. It also genuinely has one of the most interesting and inspirational production stories ever, as Pink Floyd was wholly responsible for its existence. Without them, we could’ve never gotten this idiosyncratic, whole-party-off-the-beaten-path delight that geeks love around the world. The stream-of-consciousness humor only gets funnier and funnier as I grow older, and will never cease to school modern “comedies” in wringing out true laughter.

#1: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003)

If someone had ever asked me to put a film in the dictionary for the word “epic,” that spot would easily go to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I’ve yet to come across another feature film in my lifetime that so perfectly crystallizes all of the things that I love in movies. The rare 3-hour movie that makes me wish it were longer every time I watch it, there’s an inexplicable connection I have with this film (And its two predecessors) that clicks from the moment the first scene arrives. With an emotional weight that practically defines the term “life-affirming,” incredible large-scale battle sequences, groundbreaking visual effects, believable performances, an unforgettable score by Howard Shore, and one of the most thoroughly satisfying endings ever, every moment in this fantasy epic has been engrained into my memory. And I absolutely hope to share it with future cinephiles to come.

And so there it is, folks! My 100 favorite films of all time, ranked laboriously over the last 10 months or so. Do you agree with any of my picks from this batch or the previous ones? What are your Top 10 or Top 100 favorite films of all time? I’m more than willing to hear if you sound off in the comment section. And for more awesome content like this, be sure to Like this post and Follow my Blog.

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“Fifty Shades Freed” Movie Review

*Sighs* Why do I keep doing this to myself time and again? I feel like each time I subject myself, it gets just a little bit more painful. The third and final(!) installment of this trilogy of so-called “erotic romance dramas” was released in theaters around the world on February 9th, 2018. Yet again, it was essentially slaughtered by film critics everywhere, but now that seems to have finally had some sort of impact on its financial prospects. Over the totality of its theatrical run, the film grossed just about $371 million at the box office, officially becoming the lowest-grossing entry in the saga. People finally seem to be learning from previous mistakes. Once again directed by James Foley, the film, based upon the novel of the same by E.L. James- which, mind you, started out as Twilight fanfiction -was shot back-to-back with the second entry in the series. Foley, who also helmed the 1992 drama Glengarry Glen Ross, replaces Sam Taylor-Johnson after having a number of disagreements with the author. Also worth noting is that the final two films were written by James’ husband, Niall Leonard, virtually giving her more creative control over the final product. Picking up not too long after the seemingly inconsequential events of the second film Fifty Shades Darker, billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and his girlfriend Anastasia Steele have now gone full tilt in their “romance.” They marry and try to adapt to a newfound life together while still sharing all the luxury and BDSM type of love. But now they’re confronted by a number of shady people from their past who want to try and tear apart their relationship. You know, there was a very real (albeit small) part of me that actually held an inkling of hope that this franchise would get a decent conclusion of sorts. I had already been far too optimistic in the past with my expectations from the Fifty Shades films, but still. And yet, just as with the previous two, any shred of hope that I had was completely eviscerated just in the first few scenes of Fifty Shades Freed. I dare say that this one is the worst out of the three films, which is honestly really saying something. I legitimately can’t remember the last time I watched a movie that seemed so utterly indifferent to the cultural climate that it was being released in. Granted, Christian Grey was already a gross, creepy man way before the #MeToo movement. But the fact this movie, and the book upon which it was based, continues to shamelessly glamorize his toxic and abusive relationship with Anastasia after all the revealing stories from the entertainment industry came out isn’t only terrible timing; it’s potentially dangerous. There are (Unfortunately) many women out there who genuinely like these movies, and condoning Grey’s disgusting behavior in 2018 of all years is both terrifying and upsetting. At this point, it’s very clear that the stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson are both done with this saga like the rest of us. The two of them continue to be completely devoid of any chemistry as they attempt to chug through some truly atrocious lines and actions. Their characters are still completely incompatible with one another, despite all of the time they’ve spent together. As for any of the side characters… I can hardly remember any of their names because they’re basically all 100% useless. Even just from a technical point of view, Fifty Shades Freed is such a surprisingly incompetent picture. John Schwartzman does his best to make the film visually appealing with beautiful people and locations. However, despite all the sleek colors and luxurious settings, it isn’t very hard at all to make something really awful look decent. The film is also edited by Debra Neil-Fisher and Richard Frances-Bruce in such a way that makes any friction or heat totally dull. The scenes are never cut together in a satisfying manner, especially one laughable flashback sequence early on in the film. One has to imagine what that looked like in the screenplay. Despite being rated-R, I guarantee you that being cut into a PG-13 rating or even lower wouldn’t affect the movie in the slightest in terms of plot or character development. Sadly, even the music is tired and dumb. In the previous two installments, the soundtracks, at the bare minimum gave us some original songs that were somewhat catchy. Whether it was The Weekend’s Oscar-nominated “Earned It” in the first or Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik’s collaboration “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” they at least tried to make the experience okay to the ears. Here, the best they can do is a lame ballad called “For You” by Rita Ora, who also has a role in the film. The best it does is diminish the sexiness (Re: creepiness) of the love scenes into softcore porn for girls; without them, there’d probably be an Unrated or NC-17 cut. But they’ve gotta try and get as many seats as possible filled in the theater, I guess, so whatever. I will be genuinely shocked if there is a worse film released this year. The more I think about it, the angrier I become at its success and mere existence. I really hope that all of the parties involved can bounce back in recovery as they find better projects to work from in the future. In the meantime, Fifty Shades Freed is nothing if not an obligatory conclusion to an affectless, toxic franchise. I can somewhat see how some see this series as a kinky fantasy, but there’s no way in hell any of its tone deaf elements work for me. But I’m just glad that it’s FINALLY OVER!!! All there is to do now is wait for the next obnoxious romance saga to hit screens soon.

“Venom” Movie Review

I could have watched Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born today. Instead, let’s take a look at a film that clearly has far more class and grandeur. And could have probably benefited from some subtitles. This horror-ish superhero film was released worldwide on October 5th, 2018, by Sony Pictures. It earned over $10 million from Thursday previews, breaking the record for highest in the month of October. Although it’s expected to debut with over $170 million at global box office, the nigh-endless wave of negative reviews for the film. Directed by Ruben Fleischer of Zombieland fame, there had been a desire to make a feature-length film centered on the Marvel comics character since his on-screen debut in Spider-Man 3. The project, which had gone through an enormous amount of drafts and directors, finally gained some new life after the Marvel Cinematic Universe acquired creative control of the web-slinging property. This is intended to be the first in a series of villain-focused films for Sony, with a crossover to the MCU foreseen down the road. Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock, a down-on-his luck investigative journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. After being publicly disgraced for a failed interview, he decides to investigate the shady dealings of a space-based bioengineering corporation called the Life Foundation. There, he inadvertently becomes attached to an alien symbiotic lifeform that gives him a wide array of superpowers. Now he must contend with the Life Foundation’s CEO Carlton Drake and the voice of the symbiote urging him to give in to darker impulses. In all seriousness, I’m kind of amazed that this movie exists. There had been rumors for a long time that a Venom movie would get made, and Sony actually got the ball rolling quite quickly this last year. Plus, I’m a huge fan of Zombieland and Tom Hardy, and seeing the two come together seemed rather exciting, even if the trailers weren’t particularly compelling. But just because this movie is a miracle for merely existing doesn’t mean that it’s good; in fact, Venom is one of the year’s worst and most underwhelming films. A big chunk of that comes down to the simple fact that this character warranted an R-rating. By most accounts, the filmmakers had been making process to push for it, likely due to all of the violence that is common with the titular villain-turned antihero. But nope. According to Tom Hardy, nearly 40 minutes of the movie were left on the cutting room floor. While I can see the need for the studio wanting more commercial success, that shouldn’t be a deterrent. If Fox has proven anything with Logan and Deadpool, it’s that we’ll still show up in droves, regardless of how family-friendly it might be or not be. By far the best thing this movie has going for it is Tom Hardy’s dual role as Eddie Brock and Venom. The scenes when the two are bickering back and forth about ethical problems such as killing or eating people are undoubtedly the highlights, and could’ve used way more of it. It’s at turns funny and insightful, if particularly vocal. All the other supporting players, though, are either unconvincing or just plain worthless. Michelle Williams is a great actress, but her terrible wig and nonexistent chemistry make it hard to buy her as a top-dollar lawyer. How about Jenny Slate as a good-willed scientist? Nope. Riz Ahmed, meanwhile, feels totally cliched and wasted as the villain Carlton Drake. He’s the kind of evil genius who likes whispering his plans and philosophy and goes on many a monologue about how “disposable” human beings are. Even just technically speaking, Venom is a total, inconsistent mess. The cinematography by the talented Matthew Libatique is practically monochrome in style and color, as most shots consist of different shades of pale grey. The editing by Maryann Brandon and Alan Baumgarten is choppy and often impatient. The action sequences are attempted to be elevated by constantly moving around the scenario from cut to cut. It’s very exhausting and irritating. If anything, it provides further proof at a film once rated-R that was cut down at the last minute by the studio. The CGI for Venom himself and the action scenes ranges from plain decent to outright bad. While the overall design for Venom is actually kind of cool, nothing changes the fact that the final battle makes it hard to distinguish the hero from the villain visually. Record producer Ludwig Göransson, who previously wrote the excellent soundtrack for Black Panther earlier in the year, delivers his second superhero film score. In all honesty, there’s really no track from the score that stands out as memorable, even if it tries to mix up some instrumentation. The only real distinction is when the action scenes have a slightly more percussive element than other tracks, but it’s quite forgettable. There is an original song named after the titular character written and performed by the prolific rapper Eminem, which plays during the end credit sequence. It’s actually kind of catchy, combining minor references to the film itself with the rapper’s more gritty sensibilities in an interesting way. Odds are you’ll be uttering “Knock knock, let the devil in” for a little while afterward. Or not, depends on your tastes. The more I talk or think about this film, the more infuriated I get with how much potential was wasted by Sony and the other parties involved. The bromance between Eddie and Venom is the one saving grace, and hints at something else far more unrestrained. It never can decide if wants to be a wacky black horror comedy or an outright superhero extravaganza, and the confusion is only further enhanced by the painfully generic script. Venom is as cookie-cutter a superhero film as you’ve ever seen recently. The idea that Sony cut down to PG-13 for a crossover with the MCU in the far future is kind of insulting both to fans and the character himself. I would say that this is just another sad franchise-starter to add the (ENORMOUS) pile, but it’s something uniquely bad: A turd in the wind.

100 Followers Special Post- Thank You, and What This Site Has Meant to Me

I literally cannot believe I’ve gotten here. There’s a wave of different but equally strong emotions coming over me. To some, it may seem somewhat inconsequential, but I absolutely have to something about it. Today, I have just earned over 100 Followers on my WordPress website. That is a huge and important number to me for a multitude of reasons. There’s simply so much that I want to say and acknowledge before carrying on with normal Blog Posts. Allow me to start by telling you a story. On June 30th, 2014, I was at a particularly transitional period in my life. I was in high school, more and more responsibilities were being dropped on my shoulders, and very few options for future job opportunities sounded very appealing to me. But then, my bright little sister, very much aware of my deep and passionate love of cinema, suggested I could start a blog. She and some of her friends had tried it a few years earlier but for some reason never got back around to it. I was looking to improve my writing skills, as I had some stories I really wanted to tell but wasn’t sure if I could. So I went out on a whim and created a WordPress account. The very first film review I ever published on my new Blong, titled Geek’s Landing as a play-on from Game of Thrones, was for Disney’s Maleficent. It was little more than a paragraph long and, in retrospect, I think I was far too forgiving to that film. And yet, the allure of sharing my opinion on films I had seen kept drawing me back to the desktop. So I wrote another review, this time for Snowpiercer by Bong Joon-Ho. Then Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, then Guardians of the Galaxy. Then I started expanding and talking about video games and even T.V. shows every now and then. My reviews got longer and longer, the writing got better and better, and my opinions became more structurally formed. The whole time, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from having a Blog like this. What would people think of a kid from Austin, Texas, trying to share his passion with the world, when it may seem boring to others? I don’t have any social media whatsoever so if I have had an opinion on something, it was either writing up a new Blog Post or sending a letter to the local newspaper editor. If someone “Liked” my posts, it was good. I got one occasionally, but it wasn’t anything worth boasting. And then, on July 25th of that year, I had gotten my first official Follower; the user’s name was jgiambrone, and he still posts new stuff every day. And as more and more users Followed my Blog over the next 4 years, my confidence and organization skills grew. Which is why I wanted to take a moment here on Geek’s Landing to show you that I truly appreciate all of the support that I have received from fellow readers and users. Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for sticking through, because it hasn’t always been easy. More than once, writing reviews or compiling “Best Of” lists on here has helped me chug through some extremely emotional periods of my life. At one point, I legitimately considered terminating this website and quitting my hobby altogether. Yet somehow, I still felt the need to write reviews for the people who kept Following me. And so I pressed onward, and it’s done so much more than just give me the idea that I might be popular online when I really wasn’t in real life. No, it’s made me truly realize that I am not the only one out there who loves watching movies and talking about them. That there are more people who feel truly passionate about the medium in the same way as I do. And I’m not trying to compete with my fellow movie critics here on WordPress. I am saying that you guys, especially, as well as every other user who has kept up or been curious with my writings, has helped reinforce my passion and why I one day want to be a part of it. In fact, I have actually written a number of screenplays just over this past year that I’m really excited about. Most of them are still in early draft stages, but there are a couple that I feel the most confident about making soon. I’ll hopefully have more details to share with y’all on them once I can get a financier from the Austin or San Marcos area involved. (If you know of any, please don’t hesitate to point me in their direction) Plus, a handful of my friends or colleagues might be willing to lend me a helping hand in production. And again, any of that probably wouldn’t have been possible without you guys, without your consistent support. No matter what my family might expect of me as an adult, or no matter how many educators and peers scoff at my excitement for it, I can always live with the comfort that at least some people on WordPress or other places will share my passion for cinema. Don’t worry, I do still intend to keep writing reviews and all as time goes on. But I just really wanted to let everyone reading know how much this Blog has genuinely changed my life for the better. And I look forward to whatever it brings to me, whether on this website or in real life elsewhere.

Let’s Do It: My Favorite Movies #80-71

I’ve been busy as of late with various academic developments in my life. But now, while I still have the opportunity, I felt it was time to continue on with going through my Top 100 favorite movies of all time, starting with the next group of ten.

#80: “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (2015)

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It’s funny because while I actually do agree with most of the criticisms for The Force Awakens, I also really don’t care. I can still remember a time when we Star Wars fans all just accepted the fact that a new trilogy was never going to happen. And I also remember hearing for the first time years ago that Disney would continue making Star Wars films and J.J. Abrams would be spearheading the first of those pictures. For three years, I was hyped and that excitement transferred over to the theatrical experience. Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren all proved themselves to be complex characters worth caring for and seeing their arcs continue to grow is a thing of fascination.

#79: “The Prestige” (2006)

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Telling a nonlinear story is by no means a new or groundbreaking technique in cinema, but it takes a real storytelling genius to keep audiences invested from beginning to end. (Or end to beginning?) Few contemporary directors have achieved this as consistently as Christopher Nolan. You will most certainly find some of his other films later on this top 100, but The Prestige is perhaps his most underrated picture. All of his hijinks are on display here, and it’s utterly compelling. Nowhere else in movies will you get to watch a rivalry between two artists as abstract as magicians become so deadly and volatile.

#78: “The Shape of Water” (2017)

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A mute cleaning lady in the 1960’s falling for an ancient God-like Mer-Man? This has Guillermo del Toro fingerprints written all over it, and I mean that in the best sense possible. The Mexican auteur has always dabbled in the fantasy genre in various ways, but The Shape of Water was his first time telling a straight-up fairytale for grown-ups. And it was gorgeous to witness. It also helps that it has one of my favorite original scores of the last 10 years, thanks to Alexandre Desplat.

#77: “Gravity” (2013)

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Some will call Gravity for its numerous scientific inaccuracies. Others will dismiss it for being too “simplistic” of a movie. But on its own merits, as a low-sci-fi thriller about the need to carry on and survive in even the direst of circumstances, Alfonso Cuaron’s film is breathtakingly beautiful and unexpectedly moving. You’d be hard-pressed to find another film set in space that actually looks, feels, and sounds like the real thing.

#76: “Avatar” (2009)

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I’m not usually one to play the role of contrarian. Most of the time, I tend to fall under the same critical consensus as everyone else when it comes to opinions on popular films and I even agree with the Academy a lot of the time. Although I can’t quite explain it, there’s just something about Avatar, James Cameron’s much-maligned space epic, that just clicks with me. Sure, its storyline is extremely derivative and its overall messages may be too on the nose for some viewers. But in terms of visual storytelling and worldbuilding, the Na’vi stand almost peerless to this day. If for nothing else, it’s a perfect movie to get a Blu-Ray copy of and test your new T.V. I just happen to stay for the journey.

#75: “Being John Malkovich” (1999)

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By my estimation, Charlie Kaufman is the type of screenwriter who you either consider to be one of the most brilliant minds of the 21st century or a self-indulgent, pessimistic hack. And I believe that you would have a right to have either opinion on the matter. Admittedly, I’ve yet to watch some of his other films, but Being John Malkovich is honestly an underrated masterwork of creativity. Rarely will you ever watch a film so bizarre and original, especially one in this day and age. The whole concept of wanting to step into another person’s shoes, if only for 15 minutes, is actually quite sad but rings very true.

#74: “Metropolis” (1927)

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It truly astonishes me that this movie is 91 years old because it still feels so, so, SO pertinent in the modern era. Fritz Lang’s dystopian epic was decades ahead of its time and still holds up remarkably well to this day. Everything, from the otherworldly design of the iconic Maschinemensch to the palm-sweating finale, this stands proof that silent films can still be just as captivating as any “talkies that have come in since. There are only a handful of films that I’ve ever seen that I am willing to call “perfect” without any reservation. Metropolis is one of them.

#73: “Apollo 13” (1995)

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I was just raving about Gravity a few films up, but it probably wouldn’t have happened without Apollo 13. Ron Howard has a penchant for telling stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and it’s no different with this historical drama. If you have no idea what Apollo 13 was or who was involved, go into this movie with that lack of knowledge. It’s arguably the best way to experience it, coupled with the realistic visuals and believable performances. Smart people doing smart things to get themselves out of a stupid problem. This is definitely my kind of movie.

#72: “Moonlight” (2016)

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The weirdest thing is that despite Moonlight‘s current place among my favorite movies, I initially had no interest in watching it. However, it was only after it started getting all of its well-deserved awards buzz that I began paying attention. Setting aside one of the most unprecedented Best Picture debacles in Oscars history, what Barry Jenkins accomplished here is a rarity of empathy for a kid growing up in a neighborhood that doesn’t quite understand him. It all comes from a deeply personal place, putting the audience in the middle of the world. Mark my words, its relevance will never go away.

#71: “No Country For Old Men” (2007)

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Joel Coen and Ethan Coen are both geniuses and No Country For Old Men is a stone-cold masterpiece. There’s just no way working around that sentiment for me, not when a scene like the one depicted in the image above exists for me to watch. Granted, a story by author Cormac McCarthy is certainly not going to appeal to everyone. But when you have Javier Bardem in your movie to play one of the most terrifying villains in movies ever, well, you’ve already won me over. What’s so scary about him is that he has so few words, but his presence is still felt. And I just love the ending simply because it wants to inspire discourse among film lovers.

The Weinstein Effect- And Why We All Need to Stand Together

*Disclaimer: If, at any point, it sounds as though this post is condescending or misguided on the issue, please let me know. It was never my intention to be either of those two. I just wanted my thoughts on this whole ordeal to be known.*

You know, I thought for a long time that I could continue my Blog without really addressing this issue. At first, like many people, I thought that this was just a case of a few rotten apples on the tree of Hollywood. But God Almighty, was I wrong. And now, especially after the 75th Golden Globes ceremony, I can’t resist the urge to write about it anymore. I simply can’t shake the feeling that if I don’t put this out there, I’ll feel ashamed within a few weeks. Before proceeding any further, I have to assume that there are a handful of readers out there that are confused about the situation. Long story short, in October 2017, Ronan Farrow published a lengthy investigative piece for The New Yorker. In this piece, he detailed decades worth of sexual misconduct committed by Harvey Weinstein- including harassment, assault, and even rape. Since then, nearly 100 women have come forward with their own stories, and have even started criminal investigations in at least three cities. Weinstein, the head and co-founder of the studios Miramax and the Weinstein Company, was then stripped of all of his honors and membership. His reign was over, no doubt. But soon after his downfall, other stories began popping up around the industry of men abusing their power. This has been dubbed by many observers as “The Weinstein Effect.” Among the many people accused of abuse or harassment were Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Andy Signore, Harry Knowles, Brett Ratner, James Toback, Andrew Keisberg, Russell Simmons, Dustin Hoffman, and John Lasseter. And it’s not just in Hollywood. This controversy has become so widespread that it has reached into politics, journalism, and even across international waters. A number of these accusers have already faced consequences; Louis C.K.’s newest film I Love You, Daddy was dropped the week before release and Spacey wasn’t only fired from House of Cards but completely cut from his film, All the Money in the World. The optimist in me wants to say that this whole thing is finally over and we can move forward. But the cynic in me is telling me something else, which I’m more inclined to believe: This controversy has revealed the systemic network of abuse and cover-ups prevalent in any industry within our world. It’s not like Ronan Farrow wrote the cataclysmic article over the course of one weekend. No, he probably spent many months putting this piece together, years even. If one of those women came forward by herself, Weinstein could have used his powers as a wealthy man to silence her. But since all of them came forward at once, it has opened a floodgate of shocking, disturbing truths. Not since The Boston Globe‘s look into the Catholic Church in 2001 has a sexual abuse scandal been so widespread among the public and so earth-shattering. Sadly, one of the fallouts of this exposure is that many people within the industry have started pointing fingers at each other. Not necessarily accusing them of abuse, but stating how they knew of Weinstein or any of the other culprits and did nothing about it. Quentin Tarantino has specifically apologized for having done nothing in the way of bringing their actions to justice. (Weinstein produced and distributed all of his films up to that point) Now, did everyone in Hollywood know about these accusations prior to his ousting? Maybe, maybe not. But yelling at them on Twitter or in the streets isn’t going to make anything better. So then why am I typing an entire post on this debacle? Because I’m fed up. I’m mad, dumbfounded, tired, heartbroken. Some people that I really admired were among the accused but I can’t force myself to stand with them anymore. And we can make the argument of “Separating the art from the artist” all day long, something I generally am okay with. In fact, a number of these social pariahs have put out revered works over the years. To this day, people such as myself are still rewatching films like The Usual Suspects, Se7en, and Pulp Fiction. And we probably still will for years to come, with the controversies being put into the back-burner of our minds. Regardless how much it bothers some people, that’s the reality. I really wish I could give you a concrete answer to that problem, but there’s nothing I can say or do that will keep you from swaying to one side or the other. That’s up to the individual Instead, I wanted to let people know that I stand in solidarity with the survivors. I have had friends who’ve gone through similar experiences as the victims. It was unacceptable then, and it’s unacceptable now. There is absolutely no excuse for anyone to stay quiet on this issue. Speaking up is the first part of change, and the only way that this decadence can be addressed is if we all sound off our voices together. To quote Oprah Winfrey in her acceptance speech, “I want all the girls watching here to know, that a new day is on the horizon.” Indeed. And may that day be bright and full of beauty and hope.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” Movie Review

This movie represents the best type of advertisement out there: Get up off your butts and go make a difference. This darkly comic crime drama won the top prize of People’s Choice Award at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival back in September. Following a relatively limited released on November 10th, the film has already made back its $12 million budget and will no doubt continue a strong run thanks to strong word-of-mouth and rave reviews from critics. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the playwright behind the films In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, the screenplay was reportedly conceived back in the early 2000’s when he saw billboards similar to the ones in this movie while traveling through America. He apparently shaped the story around the question of “Who would put up something like that?” Set in the titular small town, Frances McDormand stars as Mildred Hayes, a woman whose daughter was raped and murdered 7 months prior. Frustrated with the lack of progress on the case, she rents three billboards just outside of her town condemning the police department. This leads to a war with the cops, particularly the chief and one racist officer, several townsfolk, and her own family. But hopefully, this can get them to find a new suspect and bring it all to a close. No, I have not yet seen the director’s debut feature In Bruges, though it is high on my watchlist. But I have seen, and enjoyed, Seven Psychopaths, an underrated black comedy with Tarantino-esque dialogue and circumstances. So in that, I knew I had to keep an eye on Martin McDonagh and the projects he’d potentially undertake. And when I first heard about this movie, two thoughts ran through my head. First, this is ridiculously relevant to the current anti-police climate being felt in many areas of the country. Second, how did he come up with such a cool concept? I wanted to see how he’d approach the subject matter. And he has come up with one of the year’s best films. What I appreciated most about the film is how realistic it was. One of my complaints about Seven Psychopaths was that the story felt too ludicrous at times and sometimes felt like style over substance. Three Billboards is almost as if McDonagh heard those responses and decided to get down and dirty in this small town. The dialogue is once again brilliantly written and endlessly profane. The characters have no problem saying some really inappropriate things to each other, some on a regular basis. Virtually every single swear word that you can think of is probably said in this movie, but not in a gratuitous way. It feels like this is as close to reality as could be done if a situation like this were to actually occur. It was unexpectedly funny and, at times, sobering. Frances McDormand is already a legend for movies like Fargo, but she honestly gives the best performance of her career in this film. She curses like a sailor, smokes like a dealer, and is mean to everyone who opposes her actions, but still incredibly thoughtful and deeply troubled. My favorite scene is when a priest asks her to take down the billboards and she goes on a diatribe about how gang laws passed in the 80’s related to priests who are “culpable” to abuse. A pointed, if cynical observation. Woody Harrelson portrays the irritated yet sincere Chief Willoughby, a man who clearly wants to do some justice, but has to deal with rotten apples. One of those apples is Sam Rockwell, who turns in a brilliant role of a racist, drunken cop. Though the character could be easy to write off, Rockwell gives him shades of pity and foolishness as we see he’s nothing more than a product of his environment. And while the rest of the cast, especially Lucas Hedges as Mildred’s troubled son and Peter Dinklage as a funny yet insecure townsmen, do a great job, it’s these 3 actors that are at the forefront of the drama. Let’s take a minute to discuss the technical attributes of the film. Previously a favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, cinematographer Ben Davis uses natural lighting and washed colors to get the accurate look of a small town. Whether we’re on the side of the freeway with the titular billboards or inside neon-lit bar with the characters, we’re always there in the moment. McDonagh’s background as a playwright means that single-location scenes are always engaging, but he makes sure that something else happens to keep the audience’s attention. The edits by Jon Gregory between stuffy indoor rooms and open-air environs outside is rather clever. One of the most memorable sequences is when one character goes on a full rampage, and it’s all taken on a single, handheld shot. I wouldn’t necessarily call this an “action scene,” but it definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. The soundtrack is brought to us by Coen brothers collaborator Carter Burwell. (Which is fitting since this feels like a film they would make together) Compared to most other musical scores this year, it’s a rather simplistic one, but undeniably effective. Most of the tracks consist of the rhytmic blues-like beat of a guitar and hand percussion, giving off the effect of armies marching to war. It also contains real-world songs of country or rock in the background, but their names aren’t coming back to me right now. And in some instances, there is no music. This, I feel, allowed some of the more powerful scenes to breathe. My major issue is about the ending. It made sense for the sake of the story and ended on an unconventional note. But you’ve just spent 115 minutes with this town, and it felt stretched out a little. I’d have liked to watch at least one more scene. In any case, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri finds its outstanding cast reveling in searing comedy. The perfect blend of pitch-black humor and frighteningly real drama.

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