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Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Departed (2006)


In this 2006 crime thriller directed by Martin Scorsese, Matt Damon stars as Colin Sullivan, a corrupt cop in the Massachusetts State Police who is working as a mole instead the Special Investigations Unit for the Irish-American mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). When the department learns there is a rat in the department, Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Staff Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) ask Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) to go undercover as his family has connections to organized crime. As Costello continues to commit crimes, the two cops race against one another to find out who is the rat for the other side, often times just missing an important clue that would give the other away.

Personally, I'm not always a huge fan of crime thrillers, but this film held my rapt attention from start to end. All of the characters, from the best and brightest cop to the most heinous criminal, are interesting and creative with their being a lot of shades of grey between the two groups as not all the criminals are awful people (though many of them are) and not all the cops are entirely white. Martin Scorsese's direction is almost impeccable (minus a few incredibly odd shots I noticed, though those were only towards the beginning of the film), and every actor in this film brings their A-game. Jack Nicholson is wonderfully threatening and menacing as the crime boss Frank Costello, Matt Damon as corrupt cop Colin Sullivan is wonderful as he does a good job of keeping up the face of just an innocent hard-working cop, and Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of the best performances of his career I believe (seriously... how did he not get an Oscar for this?) as you can almost physically feel the struggle that he is going through as Billy Costigan, being surrounded by atrocities and being forced into a situation where the smallest mistake could cause him to get killed. However, this is a tragedy, plain in simple, as even if the bad guys do get their come-uppance in the end *SPOILERS* (Costello getting shot by Colin when he learns he may betray him, most of Costello's gang getting shot down by the police), but almost none of the good guys come out of this alive (Queenan gets thrown off a building, and, most tragically, Billy gets shot in the head by another corrupt cop just after he arrest Colin and is attempting to bring him in.) *SPOILERS*. The ending is one I did not see coming at all, though I have to admit, it does make this one of the few films that I actually like Mark Wahlberg in (seriously, his character is the shit. A foul-mouthed Massachusetts cop who gives no fucks at all)

I highly recommend this film, and I also recommend checking out the Hong Kong movie Internal Affairs, of which The Departed is a remake of.

My Rating: 5/5

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)


In Martin Scorsese's 2013 black comedy/drama, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young stockbroker, happily married, who has just arrived on Wall Street. After his firm fails on Black Monday, Jordan's aggressive style of pitching earns him a small fortune working for a penny stock exchange. Deciding to take his aggressive style of stockbroking to the rest of the world, Jordan forms his own firm, Stratton Oakmont Inc., with his friends, including Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), using his own techniques and teaching them to others in order to make millions playing the stock market. However, not all is well. He divorces and gets married again to the beautiful Naomi (Margot Robbie), becomes addicted to drugs, sex, and money, and soon finds himself under the scrutiny of FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler). But they don't call Jordan the Wolf for nothing...

This movie is frankly fantastic. The comedy and the drama mixes well together, combining dark elements of debauchery, strippers, BDSM hookers, and a seemingly inhuman amount of drugs, combined with the corporate world of Wall Street, where greed and corruption run high. As always, Martin Scorsese's direction is fabulous, with several shots, including one near the end, and the film's depiction of highs and drug trips, are excellently done. Leonardo DiCaprio, who I have grown to love in recent years, develops, quite frankly, one of his best performances of all time (seriously. Watch the scene where he's high off of Lemmon Ludes [I'm not sure if that's right...] where he literally is unable to stand up. He literally crawls and rolls himself across a floor, down a flight of stairs and into a car all the while being the only actor in the scene. It is really amazing). The movie is fantastic simply because the characters in it are mainly assholes. They're awful people more concerned with earning money and keeping up their hedonistic lifestyles, but despite that, because we see things from their point-of-view, we sympathize them, especially with DiCaprio's Jordan who, quite simply, has a ton of awful shit happen to him in the end of his financial career.


In the end, Jordan's life is a wreck. His money is gone, lost to Swiss bank accounts and legal fees. His wife has left him (saying she never really loved him) and has taken their daughter from him. His best friend betrays him to the FBI when he attempts to warn him that he's wired, and he has ruined most of his own life personally, wasting away thanks to all the sex, drugs, and debauchery.


This is amazing. I love Scorsese and DiCaprio, and the two are at their finest in this film. It is a fascinating exploration of corporate greed and debauchery, all through the eyes of corrupt corporate men, even if they do have their own odd system of morality that drives Jordan to get rich and richer, though he still attempts to do so without hurting any unnecessary people, making him almost a tragic anti-hero, though one of a darker and often more perverse kind. If I only have one complaint, its the ending. It goes on a little too long, and the ending is rather odd, if it is true to the real story that occurred.

I can honestly also say that any movie that has their opening scene as one of midget-tossing cannot be all that bad.

My Rating: 5/5

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Based off the best-selling series by Suzanne Collins, this 2013 sequel to 2012's Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have settled into their uneasy lives in District 12 as victors of last years Hunger Games. However, as Katniss spends more time with Gale (Liam Hemsworth), President Snow (Donald Sutherland) feels threatened by her, as the rebellion against Panem have come to see Katniss as a symbol for their revolution. To this end, he announces that for the 75th Hunger Games, the participants are chosen from the pool of existing victors. Katniss and Peeta are once more drawn into these new Hunger Games, managing to find new allies amongst the previous victors and Snow and the forces of the Capital seek to demoralize the people. As the death count rises, something else is afoot, and Katniss may have to fight for her life once again if she expects to live through another game.

First of all, before I begin, I have to say that I am not a Hunger Games fan. I read the first book and did not like it. I saw the first movie and did not like it. So going into this, I wasn't expecting great things. Considering that, however, I have to say that I enjoyed Catching Fire much more than the first movie. Yes it has its flaws, but they aren't as major as the first film. The change in director, from Gary Ross to Francis Lawrence, has greatly improved the quality of the film (Look! No shaky cam! Look! I can actually see some of the deaths!). Jennifer Lawrence (who I swear I will marry one day :P) once again shows off her amazing talent as actress (seriously, watch the scene where the birds are attacking her and the other tributes and see the pain and terror on her face), and of course... shelooksreallygood. Josh Hutcherson is much better used, and I actually found myself liking Peeta much more than before. At the same time, Gale has become an even more useless character who annoys me far too much (I easily support Katniss x Peeta in this series). Plot-wise, I have only one major criticism, and that is, much like its first installment, it has a lack of subtlety. In the first movie, even if you hadn't read the book, there was no point at which I felt that Katniss wasn't going to win, and that's a major problem in a series about a game where teenagers are forced to kill another. In this movie the problem continues. There's no subtlety, no point in this film that I felt the reveal wasn't coming.

The Games is being used as a ruse by the rebellion who are attempting to break Katniss free from the Games so she can act as a symbol for the rebellion against the Capital, and many of the tributes for the 75th Hunger Games are in on the plan.

The movie almost hits you over the head with "HEY! SOMETHING'S GOING ON! HEY! PAY ATTENTION TO THIS!! THIS RIGHT HERE!!" and that's really annoying, especially when I was able to guess the ending. I will compliment all the actors in the film, especially Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland. While its not great, its certainly a step up from the Hunger Games and almost makes me look forward to seeing Mockingjay (though why its being split into two parts I don't know...) when it comes out.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Halloween III: Season of the Witch


In this film, which is in no way connected to Halloween II or Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Tom Atkins stars as Dan Challis, a doctor in California, who begins to investigate the murder of one of his patients (Al Berry). Joining up with the man's daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), the two are drawn to the small town of Santa Mira, the home of the rather secretive Silver Shamrock company, a toy and Halloween mask manufacturing company who Ellie's father had visited just before his arrival at the hospital. There, they meet Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy), the affable owner of the company, who has his own malevolent goals. But what are they? And what connection does the mysterious theft of one of the stones of Stonehenge and the strange Silver Shamrock Halloween masks have with him?

Halloween III is often seen as one of the black sheep of the Halloween series (though really, can't we all just remember that this is a franchise where Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers and Halloween Resurrection (a.k.a. Michael Myers vs. Busta Rhymes) also exist...), but honestly, I really like it. It is different from Halloween or Halloween II (dramatically so, there's no Michael Myers at all in this film), and is also radically different from most other 80s horror movies I've seen. While some parts of it are goofy or campy (the oddly out of place science fiction elements that are added to it for whatever reason...), others are dramatically horrific. The practical effects of this film are really good, especially in regards to the prosthetics they use for some of the kills are quite good, especially the death of Marge Guttman. As well, Cochran is a fun villain, affable and charming one moment and sister and malevolent the next. Plus, while Michael Myers has little in the way of motivation for his random killings, Cochran has an evil plan that he near-flawlessly executes. The plan, while again somewhat silly, has genuinely horrific results. *SPOILERS* Cochran plans to use the piece of Stonehenge he stole in conjunction with a special television advertisement to trigger the activation of the Silver Shamrock masks, causing the heads of all the children wearing them and watching to be turned to a bloody pulp as snakes, worms, and insects burst from inside their head. Yes. Put simply Cochran's plan is to commit child genocide as a celebration, to remind the people of the modern world that the festival of Samhain is much more serious then their modern interpretation of Halloween. And the scary part is... he pretty much succeeds...*SPOILERS END* I can understand why this didn't do well, people definitely wanted more Michael Myers after the phenomenal first two Halloween movies, but Halloween III I feel is immensely under appreciated. It is enjoyable and fun, the ending still creeps me out to this day because of its implications. Yes the script is a bit of a mess and the ending is rather nihilistic, but the ideas in it are rather refreshing, even now (seriously, try to find another movie like it) and I honestly think that if this had not been a "Halloween" movie, people would've liked it more. This also makes me curious of what they would've done had this been a commercial and critical success, with John Carpenter having wanted to turn Halloween into an annual horror anthology series, as that idea could've been really cool.

All in all, an excellent if slightly campy film with an ending that will send chills up your spine and will never let you forget the Silver Shamrock company's jingle (Seriously there's even a drinking game where you drink every time you hear it....).

My Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Scream (1996)


Scream is a 1996 slasher horror film directed by the wonderful Wes Craven, who also directed the very first A Nightmare on Elm Street film. After the brutal murder of one of her classmates, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) starts seeing a masked killer nearly everywhere she goes as the anniversary of her mother's brutal rape and murder some years ago approaches. While her childhood friend and deputy sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) seeks to uncover the mystery of just who is wearing the mask, the bodies begin to pile up and soon all of Sidney's friends come under threat form the masked killer, Ghostface.

Scream is a smart slasher film, mixing together common tropes of the genre and adding a metafictional sense to the film by making many characters aware of these tropes and cliches, often due to them having seen horror movies in-universe. I personally love Scream, the entire series being one of my personal favorites and I feel like not many people appreciate it for what it is. Before Scream came out, the horror genre, and the slasher genre in particular was becoming rather bland. This was in the later half of many franchises when things started to become rather silly (Jason was fighting psychic teenagers and visiting Manhattan, Freddy was attempting to possess a baby, and Michael Myers was hunting his niece and became merely the tool of really dumb cult). The genre was becoming filled with indestructible monster killers and plots were becoming predictable and dumb. Then Scream came out. Scream changed the game. Scream brought back old tropes and combined them with new ones, in a blend of metafiction and horror, creating a great and enjoyable slasher film. Scream brought back the costumed killer, in this case the iconic Ghostface killer, brought back the whodunnit aspects of classical slasher films (most notably the Italian giallo films from the 60s) where the characters nor the audience really know the true identity of the killer until the very end of the film (in a manner similar to the first Friday the 13th film), and more importantly, it ignored the idea of a superhuman killer in favor of taking a normal human and making him scary. Ghostface is just a normal person in a costume; he runs after his victims, he makes mistakes, and he does it all in a creepy costume and mask. These aspects, as well as the rather brutal kills of the film (the opening kill is one of my favorites in any slasher movie ever), revitalized the waning slasher genre, spawning a wave of copycats (such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend) that attempted this same formula with much more mixed results.

The film still holds up over a decade later, being a good and scary slasher with a good mix of creepy tone and gore elements, and to this day, I still think the twist at the end of the film of the killer's identity is one the best I've seen in a slasher film as it is quite unexpected the first time you watch it. Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox, all of whom returned and played their characters for the other three films in the series, are all great in this film, though I do think Neve Campbell seems a little vacant sometimes..., but this could also be her dealing with the emotional troubles of the anniversary of her mother's murder as well as the horrific acts now surrounding her in her average life. And lets also point out the fact that Sidney is no damsel. Unlike the characters of many previous horror slashers, who don't really become badasses until the film needs them to, Sidney is quick and smart on her feet, fighting back against the killer from the very first time they cross paths.

I love Scream and the entire rest of the series (though that third one...). They are wonderfully acted, wonderfully directed, and also have an important cultural role in the genre it exists in, making me think that Ghostface definitely deserves to be up their with other iconic killers like Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kreuger, and Michael Myers as a horror movie icon.

My Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Machete Kills (2013)


In this 2013 sequel to Robert Rodriguez's exploitation movie-homage Machete, spinning off from the fake trailer from the Grindhouse double-feature he did with Quentin Tarantino, after the death of his partner (Jessica Alba), Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) is hired by the President of the United States of America (Charlie Sheen/Carlos Estevez) to go deep into Mexico in order to stop a mad revolutionary named Mendez (Demián Bechir) from nuking Washington. However, he discovers that Mendez has wired the nuke to launch if his heart stops beating. Now, pursued by assassins and hitmen looking for the bounty placed on their heads, Machete must get Mendez across the border and into America in order to get him to the only man that can diffuse the bomb, the ruthless billionaire genius known as Voz (Mel Gibson).

I personally loved Machete, me being a huge a fan of Robert Rodriguez's films and exploitation movies in general, and while the sequel is entertaining, I don't think it is quite as good as the first one. While the movie is ridiculously over the top, other parts fall flat or seem to have no real reason for being in the film, making it seem more like a parody than a homage to the genre. The screenplay was done by a different writer (in this case Kyle Ward rather than Robert Rodriguez himself), and that really shows. Danny Trejo continues to be his usual badass self, and Michelle Rodriguez is her usual badass self (being the same amazing character she seems to play in every movie... which is a-okay with me [badass Latina action girl with a foul mouth? Yes please!]), but other characters seem underused. Demián Bechir is hilarious, though he gets killed rather pointlessly..., but the various actors who play the assassin known as El Camaléon (Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas) have criminally short parts, which while most are amusing, feels like they should've done more than just their little parts. Sofia Vergara (who I've always kind of had a thing for) is amusing, with her breast gatling guns, but she, like several characters, seems to vanish half-way through the film after the action leaves Mexico and starts to bait for the sequel. Charlie Sheen is amusing, but many of his "jokes" (if you can really call them that...) kind of fall flat as they seem to be based on him two years (like his name's President Rathcock [get it? cock!], or the winning joke in the fake political ad [which I get they're doing a callback to the first movie, but it really felt out of place in this film]). Mel Gibson is hilarious, seeming to have a grand old time playing a goofy over-the-top sci-fi genius billionaire who leads a cult that believes in aliens. However, that is not to say this a bad film. It's fun, and the over-the-top violence and gore make it a fun watch, but I feel like they could've done more (seriously, they use CGI blood. Don't use CGI blood in a Grindhouse homage, use fake. We want it to look fake. That's half the fun of the film).

All in all, I recommend seeing, but if you want a more fun and over-the-top movie, I'd probably direct you to the first one.

My Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Thing (1982)


In this 1982 sci-fi horror film directed by the famous John Carpenter (who has done other such works as Halloween, In the Mouth of Madness, and They Live), an American scientific base stationed in the Antarctic comes under threat from a shapeshifting alien threat from another world that was accidentally awoken from deep beneath the ice by a Norwegian survey team. The creature is malevolent, and not only that, it can take on the appearance of whatever creature it consumes, meaning everyone at the base is now a suspect of secretly being the creature. As tensions rise and paranoia sets, McReady (Kurt Russell) and the others have to fight for survival in the cold darkness, all the while not trusting one another out of fear of one being... the Thing.

This movie is one of my all time favorite films and with good reason. It is a horror movie, but it doesn't rely on gore overtly, and when it does use it, it is purely to show horrific this extraterrestrial beast truly is at it morphs and twists the flesh of whatever thing it has taken the shape of. Truthfully, the scariest parts are when we don't know who is the thing, when we simply have a group of people, filled with paranoia and fear, as neither we nor the characters no which of them are truly who they say they are or if they are actually carnivorous shapeshifting monsters from outer space. The film is wonderfully directed and acted, with all of the men (seriously... there is not one woman in sight, though I suppose that makes sense story-wise) acting and reacting realistically, like you would imagine any person would in a fear-filled enclosed space in the middle of nowhere. The best part of the Thing, however, aside from the tension Carpenter creates from Bill Lancaster's wonderful script, is the Thing itself. The creature effects are amazing for their time, slimy, gooey, and incredibly spooky looking and feeling that makes them seem more terrifying than if they were a CGI monstrosity (*cough*theprequelreallykindofsucksbytheway*cough*). Mouths opening where chests should be, spider legs sprouting out of abnormal places, tentacles coming out of every available, and some forcibly made, orifices, strange disjointed limbs, eyes where they should most definitely not be, etc. You really get a creepy alien feeling from these creations, and I most definitely applaud Rob Bottin and his team for these wonderful creatures. If anything is to be criticized in the film, I'd have to choose some of the cinematography. There are some really tense scenes that are somewhat ruined thanks to fade to blacks that feel out of place, jumping from point to point instead of just letting it flow. I can easily forgive that, however, especially when we get monstrosities like a human head that spouts spider-legs walking around in the film.

All in all, a good creepy movie that builds tension and fear, both of which are amplified by excellent creature effects. I highly recommend this.

My Rating: 4.5/5