Everybody Wants Some!! (2016): A Beautiful Exploration of Groups, Sexuality and Purpose

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    “Everybody Wants Some!!” might end up being my favorite movie of the year. This is a film that never stops being fun and brings depth to the purpose of being alive, group dynamics and the different parts of the self people reveal depending on who they are with and also a pretty real take on sexuality and some of the many expressions of it. I’ll get into greater details in the review, suffice to say on my non-spoiler thoughts…this film is one of the best out there.

     The film was written, directed and produced by Richard Linklater and also produced by Ginger Sledge and Megan Ellison.

    The films involves newly arrived Freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) who is part of College Baseball and is staying at the Baseball House since it is a legacy in relation to the College. There are a few days left until College starts and the drama and adventures he and his teammates have is explored.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic and manages to transport us back in time to 1980 where it takes place and from there we get to visit so many different environments and groups…from disco clubs, rock concert, country bar, the baseball team and theatre crowd…and none of them exist as stereotypes, they are fully fleshed out characters and it makes the world real.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures the adventure and different environments and situations so well. If a character feels isolated you are in it, if the environment is big and large and the full ensemble is present…you get to see snapshots of all of them. Shane F. Kelly really did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is awesome and is a fantastic blend of 80’s and 70’s songs that capture the different environments really well as well as the youthful energy of the young unknown cast, who I hope to see more of in the future.

The Writing – The writing is amazing! This is a film of show rather than tell as any good movie should be. We see characters ego and empathy and how none of them are simple caricatures. Characters may claim not to think but demonstrate just how much they think about things the less minute, characters can be jerks but the next moment they are backing up a character they put through Hell. The script is dynamic and shows what great writing actually means. Linklater truly nailed this film.

The Characters – The characters are complex and the actors are great. I didn’t really have a favorite and loved most of them, like I said in the writing…none of them are simple, each of them has a depth that is revealed over the course of conversations and the events of the film.

Group Mentality – Group mentality is something that’s analyzed in this whether it is the pro of people who have your back but at the same time can be cruel when you are the outsider becoming part of the group. This dynamic comes up countless times throughout the film as well as the core competition of the group given how serious being part of the Baseball team is shown to be. The group can the biggest troll or the greatest protector.

Humans and Sex – It is normal for people to want to have sex and this film embraces this. Whether it is a one night stand or a serious relationship sex is such a part of what makes us humans as well as our desire for it that this film cannot escape it, so it embraces it and shows all the different motivations for sex or mistakes that can happen during it. It truly is beautifully explored in this.

Of Faces and Identities – There are some great conversations in this, largely from Finn and how is is natural to shapeshift given we are animals and adapt to meet desires (in his context sex) or what it means to fit in and be your best self as Jake and his girlfriend Beverly discuss as so much of what drives them is their identity and how for them it is tied to motivation, dreams and as expressed in their relationship, the intellect and connection. The characters of this film where many faces and I found it a true expression of humanity and not just group pressure, people want to fit in or to shape a group and we see that here as ego and relationships are constantly in play.

Purpose – Purpose is another theme of the film, “What’s your focus in college?” as one of those questions, with others discussing the purpose of sex, dressing up, reality and even the purpose of the Baseball Team and one’s place on the Team either as outsider or something else. The answers are up to interpretation and that is where a lot of the power in this film lies.

   There weren’t any issues I had with this film, it is a film that when I saw the trailer for it I thought it was just be a stupid party movie, this was so much more. This was a film that tackled all the different aspects of what makes us human and life worth it. It is hard to choose any favorite character since this is an ensemble cast where each character is shown to have at least more than one face or layer that helps define who they are. This is a fun adventure that manages to be so much more than that and this is a film that could easily be my favorite film for 2016.

Final Score: 10 / 10 One of the few perfect films.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014): A Masterful and Fun Deconstruction and Celebration of Classic Spy Thrillers

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    Watching this film made me realize just how much of a fan I am of Matthew Vaughn’s work and that I look forward to reviewing “Snatch” and “Lock,  Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” He is a director who specializes in action, but it always drives the plot and his films are always so much fun. I haven’t seen the two films mentioned above but “Stardust,” “Kick-Ass” and “X-Men: First Class” are some truly great films, and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” should be added to that list as well.

      As stated above, Matthew Vaughn directed the film as well as being one of the writers and producers. The other writer was Jane Goldman and the other producers were David Reid and Adam Bohling. The story is based off the graphic novel of the same created by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

    The story follows Eggsy (Taron Egerton) who is brought in as a potential recruit to the Secret Kingsman after his Father who was in the Guard saved Harry code name “Galahad” (Colin Firth). He must face the class discrimination from the guard as well as help them to defeat the threat of Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who plans to use a chip to make humanity destroy itself as his chosen few create a new humanity from the ashes.

The Pros: The Action – The action is amazing in this film! Whether it is Harry taking on a Religious Cult that has the chip turned on and winning, or Eggsy and Merlin infiltrating Valentine’s Headquarters, the action is fantastic and stands out. It manages to be both beautiful and elegant, like the Kingsman.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and compliments the music and writing as it emphasis where a character is emotionally or provides a contrast to the scenes. George Richmond did a great job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is a lot of fun and usually country, or rock or disco will be playing over the action giving it a surreal feel while also showing just how brutal it is. It’s a great use of cinema and music to create such memorable scenes, it is thanks to the soundtracks that so many of the fight scenes stand out beyond how well they were filmed. Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson did a great job.

The Story – The story is simple, but it works. Eggsy is the outcast from a poor family pulled into high society and ends up discovering a gentlemen is not based on sex or class, it is about how you treat others and yourself. This is a story that has been done before and there have been tons of spy movies, but this one manages to set itself apart in that Valentine kills Harry and doesn’t give him a chance to escape and Valentine actually succeeds for a few minutes at the end.

The Characters – The characters are the most memorable part of the film, this is due both to the acting and the writing as all of them have distinct personalities that further elevate the plot.

Harry – Colin Firth owns this role as an older badass who manages to take on multiple people on occasion as well as emphasizing that a gentleman is not based on class, race or sex but on how one acts. This comes through all the time with his character when he confronts Arthur to his relationship to Eggsy. His death by Valentine actually means something because of it.

Roxy – Sophie Cookson is good as the nervous recruit who manages to be the new Lancelot. She is great at following orders in contrast to Eggsy but also has much more fear, though that doesn’t stop her from befriending Eggsy and standing up for him against the entitled prats. She stops Valentine by destroying one of his satellites before he can activate the chip the first time.

Gazelle – Sofia Boutella plays Valentine’s assassin and she is fantastic! She has swords for legs and only loses at the end because of a poisoned knife in Eggsy’s shoe. She is a true believer and truly loves Valentine. She is the one who isn’t afraid to kill or murder while Valentine in contrast to his goals is sensitive and afraid of murder and blood. It is great seeing her in action! She kills the first Lancelot who Jack Davenport plays. Not putting him on the list because he was around for such a short amount of time we didn’t get any character.

Arthur – Michael Caine plays the corrupt leader of the Kingsman and he joins Valentine since he thinks humanity deserves to be destroyed due to everything he’s seen in the field. His betrayal I saw coming since it is a cliche point, but Caine handles it well and he is complicated every time we see him as he truly cared for Harry.

Merlin – Mark Strong plays the hacker who manages to help beat Valentine and survive it all. He is the brains and also the one who has great chemistry with Eggsy and Valentine as he never had the same class hangups that Arthur did. Mark Strong makes this character both arrogant and sensitive.

Valentine – Jackson is such an amazing actor! In this we see him play a senstive character with a lisp who just wants to save the world and plans to do it by having humanity destroy itself and keeping the idealists all for himself in order to build a better world. He’s truly a criminal mastermind and his character reminded me a lot of the villain he played in “Unbreakable.” He is weak but brilliant and clearly villain though not a simple character.

Eggsy – Taron Egerton plays a poorer Englishman whose father was a Kingsman. He is a thief and crook who turns around and becomes a gentleman as he begins to care for others beyond his family. His arc is cliche but his character is great as he is self aware of the the spy tropes, like Valentine, this makes him smart and self aware as well as funny too.

Deconstruction of Classic Spy Films – We get to see the weapons room, the gentleman fighter and even sleeping with a princess over the course of Eggsy’s growth while at the same time Valentine and Harry referencing the films they drew inspiration from like Bond or Bourne and throwing those elements away for the smarter move. It was very well done and I like that the self awareness enriched the film.

The Cons: The Introduction – The introduction is a random military operation in a middle eastern country where Eggsy’s father risks his live to save Harry. It would have meant more if we knew something about the operation and the people but since we don’t it functions only as a motivator and was the weakest part of the film thematically and writingwise.

Professor Arnold – Mark Hamill plays this character and all he does is function as a plot devise. W enever get ot know him, we just know what he does. What a waste of Mark Hamill. Wasn’t impressed with how this character was written at all.

This was a really good film that I highly recommend. Not only does it deconstruct and celebrate the genre it drew inspiration from but it manages to be just an all around great film in both music, characters, story and cinematography. I definitely recommend this film to anyone who loves spy films and I plan on reading the graphic novel after this, given there is a lot here and this world has potential to be explored further.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Nightcrawler (2014): The Perfect Job for a Sociopath

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    “Nightcrawler” is a wonderfully disturbing film within the same vein as “American Psycho” and “The Good Shepard,” where we follow the rise of a broken person who is unable to relate to others and is a textbook sociopath. It really is fantastic and worth taking a look at. I’ll get into what made it so good in the assessment.

    “Nightcrawler” was directed and written by Dan Gilroy and produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, Tony Gilroy, Jennifer Fox, David Lancaster and Mitchel Litvak.

    The story revolves around Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), an employed man who steals from a construction site and kills and steals the watch of the security guard who discovers him. He tries to get a job with the construction company he is selling to the stolen goods too but is unsuccessful but when he stumbles upon a crash and a nightcrawler recording the event for money for the local news, Lou sells his stolen goods to enter into the business. From here the story unfolds as he gets more obsessed in the creation of the narratives and is his disregard for life beyond a tool to climb the ladder is made more apparent. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography in this film is amazing! It keeps the dark feel and captures the world through Lou’s eyes. Events also feel raw too as we see what he sees through the eyes of a camera so the scenes create another form of tension that way. Robert Elwist did great.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack has a dark tone and feel to it and pervades a sense of danger. In that way it is almost a direct expression of Lou who we come to realize is pretty dangerous in how he knows how to push peoples’ buttons and manipulate them to his own ends and power. James Newton Howard was the right guy for this soundtrack.

Okay/Con: The Minor Characters – Because this movie is through Lou’s eyes we don’t really get to know the side characters that well. We only know them as much as they matter to Lou, which narratively makes sense but I think also shows how this was Gilroy’s first time writing as well as directing so characters like the first Nighcrawler Lou meets could have been explored or the guy on the news who works with Nina but never fully goes against her. They feel lost because they don’t matter to Lou. I also feel this applies to the detective as she only functions as an antagonizing force and not a character in her own right.

Nina – Nina is a cutthroat anchor on the vampire shift of the news and is willing to do anything to get ratings up. She’s a fascinating character as the only one we see push her buttons is Lou who at one point blackmails her into sex because he wants sex and feels set on money. It’s a creepy scene and she fights how she can but in the end he knows her too well. She’s older so we get that from experience she’s gotten cynical where she only wants stories that feed the narrative of “Crime is creeping into the suburbs.” When a home invasion happens she takes that story that Lou records and hides the truth showing in the end she’s as ruthless as Lou as she doesn’t morn Rick’s death except in how it tells a good story and feeds the narrative. Rene Russo is fantastic. Her base philosophy is, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Rick – Is a young man desperate for money who Lou preys on for most of the film. It isn’t until the end when Rick begins standing up for himself that it looks like things might change as he could tell the police everything. Sadly he never gets the chance as the story goes south and he gets shot down by one of the home invaders in the street. He was the only one holding Lou accountable and calling him out for his inhumanity…but he gets nothing for it. Riz Ahmed plays this role really well as a man who is at first desperate live and later desperate for respect and for his own morality.

Lou Bloom – This is one of the best roles I’ve seen Jake Gyllenhaal in. He plays the person who doesn’t understand emotions or empathy well and is always wearing a face. Desperation drives the character initially, but once he’s in control it becomes about keeping that control. From blackmailing Nina for sex, to blackmailing Rick for not resisting the job or hiding evidence from the cops so he can paint his own narrative and story that he knows he’ll profit from. He’s creepy and a clear sociopath but a fascinating character to watch. I kept waiting for the fall that never came, which would be the one thing I’d change. We never saw him with his back against the wall which I think hurt the script and knowing his character. Still a fantastic job on Gyllenhaal’s part.

The Ending – Lou is a successful businessman. I didn’t buy this given the detective suspected him and I fully expected the police to do more to stop him creating stories even if they didn’t have any proof. In this way the ending felt hollow. It wasn’t bad persay since it showed how empty the promises to his employees were given what happened with Rick getting killed but it served no purpose the way the ending to “American Psycho” did where we don’t know what’s real but we know what he’s capable of now.

    This was a really good film, but not a favorite. The tone, setting and music are all done really well…but I didn’t care about the minor characters and I wanted someone to fight and hold Lou accountable. He faced resistance at the beginning, but once he started to rise he never stopped, we never saw him fall. When every good protagonist needs a fall, especially one as despicable as Lou. I liked this movie and would recommend it though. It’s worth checking out and even though it’s not a favorite it is worth the time to see it.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10. Solidly good and a great first film for Dan Gilroy.

Robot & Frank (2012): In Losing Finding Gain

 

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“Robot & Frank” was a meditative, powerful and touching film. It reminded me of “Big Hero 6” and “Up” (Two of my favorite animated films) in it’s themes and there were character arcs that took place. Not to mention it had a pretty amazing soundtrack. I’ll get into the details of what I mean on all of this in the assessment, but to suffice to say I was very impressed with this film.

The film was directed by Jake Shreier, written by Christopher D. Ford and produced by Lance Acord, Sam Bisbee, Jackie Kelman-Bisbee and Galt Niederhoffer.

The premise is Frank (Frank Langella) is an ex-convicted thief suffering from dementia who is isolated from his family trying to live. His life is shaken up when his son Hunter (James Marsden) buys him a robot who is designed to care for his well being. From here things unfold as the robot is able to steal which leads Frank to exploiting that fact as he finds his memory returning. This leads to trouble though as his family is still worried for him and the consequences of his actions past and present come forward. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The soundtrack – Francis and the Lights are amazing! There is a “Postal Service” feel to them and it adds a sense of wonder and intensity to the soundtrack as well as contributing to the reflective feel of the film. I definitely plan on checking more of their things out.

Madison – Liv Tyler plays Frank’s daughter in a minor role and she does a great job. She is away for most of it and only comes back when she feels things have gotten so bad with Frank and wants to be a part of her life. You get why she is the way she is given Frank wasn’t a good father. He was in prison for a lot of it and was the tough distant guy and still was for most of his time too. His was denial so her story was the quest for connection. We see her traveling all over the world when she’s talking to Frank and she’s part of a movement that objects to the use of robots (seeing them as slaves). Frank and his time with her and attachment to the robot proves her wrong though as she realizes how much it was helping him. He eventually pushes her away too but she returns after he finally gets help for his dementia.

Hunter – Hunter is the concerned son who went to Princeton and does everything not to be his father. He is a devoted dad who does things for his kids and does things for his father too. He’s the caregiver where Madison was more focused on herself. He finally speaks up at the end and calls out Frank for using him which is part of what forces Frank to make the choice in the end to get help. He is the most active person in the narrative besides Robot. James Marsden does fantastic!

Robot – Robot is like Baymax, he doesn’t have a soul or any sense of self. It has a function that it fulfills and seeks to fulfill it’s programming. The programming, like Baymax in “Big Hero 6” is to help Frank heal. It does this by helping him in heists initially which has consequences later as his memory gets erased in order to protect Frank from being found out by the cops. It’s a powerful scene as to Frank, Robot is a person while Robot does not see itself as one. This sadness is touching too as you see Frank looking at robots in the “Brain Center” with sadness because he knows his robot and the adventures with it are gone and he’ll never have another one again because of his questionable use of it.

Frank – Frank Langella is great as Frank the grizzled, apathetic ex-con who has a good heart. We see that when he does get back into robbing it’s to impress Jennifer the librarian and to screw over the people who were digitizing all the books. We also see him open up to her after Robot helps him be comfortable and heal, making his mind sharp. Sadly in his mind getting sharper he just pushes his kids away more and his actions as a thief risk losing any possibility of a relationship with Jennifer he discovers…and they do have the final consequence in the end where he has to wipe the memory of his friend Robot so he doesn’t go back to prison. This is sad as he loses his friend who had helped him heal…though it helps him gain his family again (Jennifer was his wife) even as he continues to lose his mind.

Jennifer – Susan Sarandon plays the librarian who we learn is Frank’s ex-wife. She is a great character as we learned she stayed with him until he’d completely forgotten her. He is able to remember her though after his adventures with robot. We see her mostly as trying to deal with the changing system of everything becoming digital and her assistant being a robot named Mr. Darcy. We don’t learn as much about her as I would have liked but she’s real to the fakeness around her…and the twist about her being Frank’s ex-wife and her still loving him is powerful.

Identity and Artificial Intelligence – Robot puts it pretty well when he expresses Frank is aware he exists and his thoughts but Robot only knows his programming and is aware that he was created and isn’t attached to it…in this identity is tied to the ego and investment in the self and caring about things. Robot only cares about what he’s programmed to care about and for this reason it is much harder for Frank to wipe his memory even though Robot wants him too so he will not suffer since he was designed so Frank would not suffer and be ill. Baymax in “Big Hero 6” is very similar as he also only follows his programming and does not have a self or identity beyond what he’s programmed to do in service to others. This view of robots I think is probably more realistic though maybe at some point humans will invent consciousness in Artificial Life, of course there are some sci. fi. films that deal with this, but that will be for another Sci. Fi. week.

Okay: The Police – The detective tries to be interesting but he isn’t as he in the end is just playing Frank to try and make him reveal where the things are. This was a shame as I wish we saw more of Frank’s relationship to them (be it disgust, or anything else) given his history with them.

The Cons: Jake – He is the hipster techie advancing the library to the digital age. The guy is an ass to everyone he meets, even his wife and there is nothing redeemable about this character. I disliked that given he could have been used as a foil and contrast to Frank, but instead we just a get a blanket buffoon who is mean to everyone.

This was an amazing film and definitely one of my favorites! How it handles Artificial Intelligence and the near future is believable and it has compelling characters (all of the main cast) as well as having a fantastic character arc for Frank and giving Robot a great approach to everything. We humanize Robot just like Frank does which gives consequences to everything Frank does…we understand why Frank stops and is sad about wiping Robot’s memory because we’ve come to care about Robot too. Robot doesn’t care though, which in a way makes it all the sadder..especially since it mirrors Frank’s loss of memory and him losing the life the people he loves has lead and only remembers their pasts. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. A little slow and the villain is uninteresting but still an extremely solid and amazing film. One of the best that explores the concept of Artificial Intelligence.

Birdman (2014): A Surreal Exploration of Meaning and Ego

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      I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of good and okay movies over Thanksgiving Week. Out of all those movies, “Birdman” wins hands down. It will probably be in my end of year Top 5 list, but we’ll see. December still lies ahead and there were some films that I saw before reviewing the blog that will be major competitors.

   “Birdman” or “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu who also was one of the producers and writers. The other writers were Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo and the other producers were John Lesher, Arnon Milchan and James W. Skotchdopole.

      The premise is Riggan (Michael Keaton) is an aging actor famous only for being Birdman trying to make it big on Broadway and be relevant again. From here the story unfolds as he wrestles with situations, his ego and characters and his possible magic powers as well as the character of Birdman who pressures him into actions. From here the story unfolds as things become undone. From here the story unfolds.

The review does contain SPOILERS.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Soundtrack –  The music for this movie has a life of it’s own. There is a snare drum (and you see the drummer) at different points during the film and it does a good job of giving New York City life and creating tension. It makes everything organic and tense and draws you into the scene at hand.

Lesley – Naomi Watts plays Lesley, a character who has been working all her life to get on Broadway and is roommates with the selfish method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), when he attempts to rape her on stage she fights back and has her dreams come crashing down as the one who had helped her get to where she was betrayed her and didn’t own up to it. After she connects with Laura (Riggin’s girlfriend) and they share a kiss and appreciate each other as Laura reaches out on how Riggin had never showed the appreciation for her performances the way he did for Lesley. After she sets the boundaries with Mike she is a rock throughout the rest of the film and is able to comfort Riggin when he loses it after another bad Preview before opening night.

Jake – This is the best role I have seen Zach Galifianakis play. His character is driven and does all he can to pull the play together…from hiring Mike and doing what Mike wants no matter how outrageous and finding the money for different things the play needs…no matter how tight it gets. He comes through and his darker side is only revealed when he lies to Riggan to keep him afloat telling him they were sold out and that famous people showed up tonight to cast for movies and when he is celebrating the show’s success even though his best friend just shot off his nose and he hasn’t checked into his friend’s mental state. He was compelling to watch though.

Sylvia – Amy Ryan plays Sylvia…Riggan’s ex-Wife who he cheated on. Post divorce she is the only person he is honest with and opens up about Birdman being in his head pressuring him to do certain things. She listens to him but keeps him grounded and it looks like they are able to resolve things as he shows he cares and has learned and it happens organically too as she’s the adult in the room and he’s the one growing past his ego.

Sam – Sam is Riggan’ daughter and is played by Emma Stone. She plays a young woman out of rehab and she plays the part well. From the apathy and skeletalness, to using what she learned there (marking a napkin with dashes to represent time) she is there for her dad and admits he wasn’t a bad father after she talks to Mike about he was never there and realizes he wasn’t bad. She makes him relevant again and uses the popularity he receives on youtube after he gets caught outside the theatre in his underwear to boost him to relevant again as at the end she’s the one running his social media sites. They are friends at the end and she knows he found freedom as when she goes into the empty room and looks outside, she smiles.

Mike – Edward Norton plays a prick who is only real when he’s on stage and being someone else. We see this in how he plays a critic talking poetry and meaning…but than bashes everyone and during Truth or Dare has Sam spit on a bald guy’s head…as well as when he tries to rape his friend. I didn’t like this character. He was complex but he doesn’t even compare to Riggan in regards to how good he is. He is driven by ego, jealousy and want above all else. He only really cares about people after Riggan calls him out and fights him and after he loses Lesley. That is when he begins to learn and see beyond himself. He is devoted to the craft and that is part of what makes him interesting. If the script says his character is drunk, he was real liquor on stage, etc. I’m glad he grows but because of the scene with Lesley I could never like the guy.

Birdman – Birdman is Riggan’s ego and desire to matter. He is core Id and at one point during Birdman’s monologue near the end that gets Riggan to imagine he’s flying he’s describing that people want action, special affects and most of all him as Birdman taking the screen and soaring. He describes how they’ll make billions and outdo to “The Avengers.” It’s a messed up scene and you see just how twisted that part of Riggan is as it is the part where he believes he can move objects with his mind and where the show is just about him…not all those apart of it. Birdman is defeated though after Riggan faces death on the stage and shoots off his own nose leaving him in a Birdman mask of bandages that he takes off to reveal is bedraggled face but who is finally free of Birdman’s voice as Birdman sits silently on the toilet.

Riggan – Riggan drives the plot as he wrestling with his own self worth which gets shot down multiple times as the press only wants to talk about a possible “Birdman 4” or shoot him down for entering into their world (the critic who hates him for bringing Hollywood to Broadway). He is a flawed character and we see how his ego drives him as he dismisses those who try and help him like his girlfriend and how he isn’t able to connect to his daughter and ex-wife until he is at the bottom. Everything is about his popularity and power until he loses it all. It’s only after getting through losing it that he comes out flying and free from the voice of his ego and the outside pressures around him. It’s a powerful arc.

Messages – Riggan’s arc is growing past his ego and realizing it doesn’t matter. That he can be free if he chooses to be and what everyone wants to see is himself not the character as when he is truly himself on stage (he describes the play as a twisted version of himself but in the end accepts that darkness into himself) that he is able to survive and grow from it. He dies and is reborn without the beard and without Birdman’s voice in his head. We also see that art transcends all mediums as this film is a film and not a play so the critic’s point about Hollywood not being art is countered as the film represents the use of both mediums. Mike is also revealed to be a selfish hypocrite who can talk deep things but can’t live it in any meaningful way until the ones who have been through Hell (Sam and Riggan) pull him out of it. There are more as well, but these were the major ones.

Symbolism – Birdman is a dark bird representing the darker side of the ego I got from the film and the flight is only true flight when he lets go of that part of himself and is free. We also see the symbolism of the city which is loud, large and confining. Riggan and other character care trapped unless they are above it all from Sam, Mike to Riggan himself. These were some of major symbolic moments I caught.

Okay: Ambiguous Ending – The Ending is pretty ambiguous so I have mixed feelings about it. It implies he flies or is free after he blows off his nose based on his daughter’s reaction and the fact that Birdman is present but is not longer pressuring him to become Birdman again…but I would have liked it to be a little clearer. I get the symbolism of freedom and rebirth but when he had an imagination sequence where he was flying it was just that as the taxi driver is angry at not getting paid when he returns after getting drunk for opening night. This is my only issue, but it isn’t a con. It’s just not a pro.

     This film gets so much right that I can’t help but recommend it. It explores the ego, meaning and the different identity of individuals and groups and how they relate to each other…as well as that in relation to the art of the stage and life as a whole. It is powerful and one of the best movies of the year I’ve seen. If you have the chance to watch it, check it out. It is worth the money and time as it tells a story with a point and with amazingly compelling characters.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. The only thing keeping it from a perfect score is that ambiguous ending. I would have liked to get what Riggin was thinking but his silence may have lended for good acting…but no answers on what actually happened.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): A Fun Tale of Finding Freedom Through Struggles

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     “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is in no way the best of Wes Anderson’s work…but like all of his works it is a lot of fun and has some pretty amazing characters. There aren’t many characters in it, but the characters who do have arcs get the time and attention they deserve that shows just how complex they are as well as giving some great threats to face as they are all forced to grow.

      The film was directed by Wes Anderson who was also one of the producers and screenplay writers. The other writer was Noah Baumbach and the other producers were Allison Abbate, Scott Rudin and Jeremy Dawson. The story came from the same Roald Dahl book of the same name, which I hope to read.

     The premise follows the story of Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) getting caught in a fox trap where Mr. Fox learns she is pregnant. She makes him promise if they escape to give up stealing food which he agrees to. They settle down in the Tree that is close to three dangerous farmers and are raising their son Ash as Mr. Fox begins to get back into the stealing business with their neighbor Kylie Opossum which gets more complicated when Ash’s cousin Kristofferson arrives making Ash feel like even more of an outcast as he is rejected by his father who pulls Kristofferson into his stealing plots. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: Production – Everything is miniatures and is done with stop motion animation making the film really unique and cool as the animals move like animals and it gives an organic reality to it you would be more hard pressed to find it was done with animation or cgi.

The Script – Wes Anderson’s script is quick and witty and he does a good job paying tribute to Roahl Dahl as there is a dark survivalist undercurrent through the script and the characters are all reckless in different ways as the war with the farmers gets more intense.

The Soundtrack – Alexandre Desplat does a fantastic job with this soundtrack and gives the world a very lived in feel while paying tribute to bluegrass and country which fit with the survival themes of the film.

Badger – Badger is voiced by Bill Murray and is Mr. Fox’s lawyer and he is the one who should have been listened to. He was right about how dangerous the house in the tree was by being close to the farmers and because he was listened to (and his client Mr. Fox harassed the farmers) he and the rest of the forest creatures became refugees. He holds Mr. Fox accountable and like Felicity forces Mr. Fox to take action to right the wrongs he did by his selfish actions.

Kylie Opossum – Is voiced by Wallace Wolodarsky and is one of the folks who sees the big picture in a lot of ways. He has a credit card and good credit, he is happy in his life but is pulled into Mr. Fox’s schemes because he above all else is a follower looking for identity and fun. In the end he finds both as he comes up with his catchphrase (like Mr. Fox’s whistle and wink) and dances with all at the end.

Ash – Ash is played by Jason Shwartzman and is a disgruntled teen through most of the film. His arc is accepting that he is different as he glares and spits a lot but he learns from his mom Felicity that weird runs in their family and when he makes peace with that he is able to accept responsibility in regards to how cruel he was out of jealousy to Kristofferson. His arc is the most solid as when he accepts himself he is able to have a relationship with everyone else around him and shows that it is the strange stuff about us that are part of what make us who we are.

Kristofferson – Kristofferson is one of my favorite characters. He is a calm, talented fox who does yoga who Mr. Fox adopts as a son by pulling him into his schemes. Kristofferson clearly feels grateful as he eventually gets caught by the farmers and used as bate to catch Mr. Fox. He makes peace with Ash as the end and teaches him to meditate. He doesn’t really have an arc but is mostly put together (more so than Mr. Fox) so others learn from his cool. He was voiced by Eric Anderson.

Felicity – Mr Fox’s wife Felicity is the character who is just as reckless as him until she is pregnant with Ash. We learn she always had that risk taking in her though and see that she sees beyond herself more easily than Mr. Fox as she cares for the forest refugees and pulls Mr. Fox out of himself to where he sees the consequences of his actions and works harder to care for others because of it. I really liked her character and Meryl Streep is fantastic.

Mr. Fox – George Clooney owns this role as his addiction to the thrill of the hunt and experiencing great food and drink lead him into trouble. He is a good person at his core but extremely selfish as the farmers were minding their own business until he began stealing from them again. He justifies it initially as he is a wild animal but when he’s reminded he’s also a father and husband he gets his act together and works on making the refugees a home. His arc is getting outside of himself and he eventually gets that as others risk for him forcing him in turn to risk for others.

Okay: Agnes – Is the fox love interest of Kristofferson who makes Ash jealous. She exists mostly as a plot device and isn’t much of a character sadly beyond supporting Kristofferson and eventually becoming friends with Ash.

The Other Minor Characters – There are Otters and Rabbits and a few other creatures who are mostly background. They have great design but aren’t memorable as characters, they aren’t bad either for what it is worth.

The Cons: The Farmers – The farmers are a good threat but they aren’t all that complicated. They are just defending their property and going to great extremes to do so. The fact that they aren’t complicated is one of the things I didn’t like as they weren’t super memorable and could be interchanged with any farmer threat in a film that follows the story of forest creatures…and they are as complex as their last names (Bean, Boggis and Bunce).

    This was an extremely fun film and my second time watching it. My favorite parts were the interactions between Ash and Kristofferson and Mr. Fox and everyone as he is a selfish guy who creates most of the conflict in the first place, and realizes it so much of his arc is trying to make amends. There are constant consequences and there aren’t really any happy endings…it’s bittersweet as the animals are living in the sewers now and the three farmers are still seeking their destruction, but it has hope. Part of what I always like about Wes Anderson films is how bittersweet they are as well as fun and this film captures both those things beautifully. If you like Wes Anderson, chances are you will like this film.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006): A Fascinating World and Wonderful Love Story

tWristcutters A Love Story

“Wristcutters: A Love Story” take a fascinating premise (any folks who die through purposeful suicide or other (drug overdose) are sent to an inbetween world, slightly worse than our own. It is a world where they cannot feel or smile but that there is more to as well as miracles can be performed and otherworldly beings act as humans. The screenplay was based off the short story by Etger Keret called Kneller’s Happy Campers, a story I now plan to read later as well as the graphic novel Pizzeria Kamakazi.

This is a difficult subject to do a movie over and if the film had made light of suicide I wouldn’t have directed it. Though it does have dark humor, it also has so much respect for it’s characters and their motivations, that for that reason alone the film is already rated very high after watching.

“Wristcutters: A Love Story,” was directed and written by Goran Dukić and produced by Chris Coen, Tatiana Kelly, Mikal P. Lazarev and Adam Sherman.

The story is about Zia (Patrick Fugit) who commits suicide after his ex breaks it off with him. He is transported to the world where all suicide victims go and here learns that his ex Desiree (Leslie Bibb) killed herself as well. Having no memory of his prior life besides the incident he goes off to try and find Desiree while Eugene (Shea Whigham), a Russian musician and the Hitchhiker Mikal (Shannyn Sossoman) who is looking for the People in Charge as her coming here was a mistake. From here the story unfold as characters clash and more about prior lives is revealed.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The world the suicide people are transported to is fascinating. It is like a post-apocalyptic wasteland but with the trappings of our own. There are cops, restaurant owners and people can still experience some of the same things. There are also miracles too, showing how this world is very physically different than ours in it’s Laws (Law of Gravity, etc.).

The Soundtrack – The music for this film is wonderful. It is reflective and gets you into the circumstances of the characters and situations. Bobby Johnston and Gogol Bordello were prefect for this film.

Zia – Initially it was hard for me to like this character, he was way too apathetic and he had no motivation. He doesn’t really become interesting til he meets Eugene, who is a live for each moment kind of guy and finds out Desiree is alive which gives him a motivation to leave the rut he’s stuck in in this afterlife. It after he meets Mikal that things change as she sees the bigger picture and gets him to think about the miracles they see and in turn about the life he once lived as she talks about all the people she left behind she misses. This changes him from a very selfish to selfless character to the point that he waits for her and makes community in this new world. Patrick Fugit does a great job.

Eugene – He’s a bit base at times (can’t see beyond physical, only comments on physical) but he grows as a character too when Mikal calls him out on his crap and he falls in love with someone at Kneller’s commune. He is a bit of the comedic relief but has a lot of heart.

Mikal – Mikal is one of the most interesting characters as she came to this world by accidental drug overdose. She is there reminding everyone of the world they left behind and to take control of their lives since she’s looking for the People in Charge. We see her love with ZIa happen over time as she distrusts him when Eugene is bashing her belief in People in Charge and Zia does nothing to stand up to that but they resolve things when Zia stands up to a cop who pulls her over for asking questions. After this we see their friendship and later love when Mikal says she’ll see Zia again and to wait when the PIC arrives and Zia realizes Desiree died for religious reasons for a psychotic madman who kills himself again in the world they are in. Sossamon owns this role and is one of the best parts of the film.

Kneller – Is not all he appears to be. The group (Zia, Mikal and Eugene) find him on the side of the world and he takes them to his commune where miracles happen if you aren’t invested in them…which is almost zen in how amazing things happen when they aren’t forced. His dog eventually gets stolen by Messiah King which leads to a confrontation that shows that Kneller is one of the People in Charge (PIC). We see that he is a good guy too when he takes Zia’s file so Zia will appear again in the hospital next to Mikal, completing both their arcs. He has a great community too as they are outcasts which is what this world is made of, and especially the main leads. Tom Wiats is greats.

The Message – The message at the core seems to be reasons to live, showing how connected all of us are no matter how apathetic we may first appear to be. It also is not to judge by appearances as Eugene comes around as a good guy and Zia and Mikal are shown to have a lot of depth. This makes the movie powerful as it treats victims of suicide with respect and also shows what there is to live for in life. It isn’t moralizing or blaming, it’s trying to show as much a picture as it can through it’s point of view.

Okay: Desiree – I never got the love between her and Zia so her becoming a religious fanatic for a Cult Leader and killing herself for him to get to the world wasn’t a surprise. This was a shame as most of the other characters get a lot of exploration. She’s a plot device, but not a bad one.

Messiah King – Is also a plot device to reveal that Kneller works with the People in Charge, he’s a crazy guy who thinks he is God and kills himself in front of everyone. I never got his motivations either and there was nothing to show him as special versus Kneller who was helping people perform miracles.

Slow Start – The first 30 minutes of the movie are pretty slow, and considered how apathetic Zia is at that point it’s hard to get invested until he runs into Eugene and we learn more about the world and he finds his motivation.

I would highly recommend this film. It is truly great and I’m grateful my friend let me borrow her version of it. This film lets the characters tell their own stories and shows the complex motivations that make us do things or change our outlooks on life. It also shows a great love story as two people who feel attraction fall in love over their conversations and adventures when they become friends and onward from there. Only issue is Desiree and Messiah King felt more like plot devices than actual characters, and it does start out pretty slow. Regardless, it really is a good film that covers a difficult subject with a lot creativity and respect.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. A favorite film for sure.