127 Hours

Ladies and gentlemen, as it was so illustrated just moments before I began typing this, I am a sufferer of frequent nosebleeds. I can tell you how difficult it is to get dressed, brush teeth, write, clean, and do just about anything with the use of only one arm while the other supports the hand that is pinching the bleeding nose. The simplicity of this notion was put into rather harsh perspective when I saw 127 Hours.

The story of Aron Ralston is an emotional one and it is nearly impossible to fathom how he not only kept himself alive, but did so with only one hand. If the movie speaks the truth about the actual event, it was no painless feat. An experienced hiker ventures out into the great wide open with a skip in his step and a smile on his face.Read More »

Winter’s Bone

The feel good film of the year. An uplifting cinematic romp. Happy-go-lucky to boot! This is not that film. I was not expecting it to be when I sat down to watch it, either. However, director Debra Granik really worked the sad factor. The syuzhet of Winter’s Bone is a serious one and can not be taken lightly. This stands especially true for anyone who feels that this film hits close to home. See, this kind of thing actually happens in real life.

Ree, played by the new and fantastic Jennifer Lawrence, is a mother though she has no children of her own. Her own mother is essentially catatonic, her young siblings rely on her for everything, and her father… well, her father isn’t around.

See, Ree has herself a problem, I reckon. Seein’ as her pa done took off and her mama’s got the personality of a big ol’ rock, Ree’s fixin’ to find her pa so’s her family can keep their land. With the law sniffin’ around the property, the heat is on and things ain’t lookin’ too good.

Ahem… so Ree sets her sights on her father who, according to lots of folks, is dead. Unless she can prove to the police that he has, in fact, passed on then she is in a whole heap of trouble. More than what she’s got now. She must resort to doing things that no girl her age should have to do. It doesn’t help things much that her uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes), carries around a sandwich baggy of cocaine and doesn’t seem like the most positive adult supervision. Unfortunately, he’s all she’s got.

On the bright side, she has a good friend, her siblings are remarkably well-behaved, and she has a neighbor that looks out for her.

Her search leaves her beaten to a pulp mentally and physically. One dead end after another forces her to beg her mother for help to no avail.

It is unspeakably rude to spoil the ending of a movie. I will simply tell you that in the end, 127 Hours isn’t the only best picture nominee this year that contains a limb being cut off.

King Kong

When one thinks of iconic films that shaped and molded the way cinema would grow and change, many films might come to mind. The movie that spearheaded a movement in the film industry for greater and more advanced special effects that holds a special place in my heart is King Kong. Using stop motion and animatronics, the filmmakers brought King Kong to life. Kong, or Megaprimatus Kong that is rumored to have evolved from Gigantopithecus, lives on Skull Island. Skull Island is located in the Pacific Ocean and can only be found in the Kingdom of Shadows. A film that would alter the way audiences saw movies was in the works when Merian C. Cooper created this massive eighth wonder of the world.

An idea thought up by the first director, Alice Guy, to tell a story with film was brilliantly illustrated in this creative endeavor. The film is a love story according to some, and a scary story according to others. In the original King Kong (1933), A film crew led by Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) goes to a tropical island to have an exotic background for a film Denham needs to finish. The lovely Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) falls into this crew almost by accident and is swept into a world unknown. When she is kidnapped by the natives of Skull Island, she is offered as a sacrifice to the mighty Kong. Kong takes the girl and retreats into the wilderness.

What happens next is unexpected and quite strange indeed. Kong falls in love with his beauty. Wrapping his giant fingers around her, he carries her like a doll. The bond between beauty and the beast grows stronger as they spend more time together. When she is rescued, she is taken to the ship to leave Skull Island, but King Kong isn’t ready to let her go. The pursuit is on. Kong chases Ann back to the ship only to be captured by Denham and his crew. Kong is transported back to New York to be put on show. One thing leads to another and we have a giant ape on top of the Empire State Building.

This story has all the winning characteristics of a blockbuster. There have always been monster movies, but King Kong does something that none of those movies did: it gives the monster of the movie human traits. He becomes relatable to the audience and is even regarded by some as the protagonist. This idea spawned several other films that used Kong: The Son of Kong (1933), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), King Kong Escapes (1967), King Kong (1976), King Kong Lives (1986), and King Kong (2005).

The King Kong of 1976 altered the story but had the same basic facts: crew goes to island, girl gets taken, girl gets rescued, Kong is taken to New York. In that movie, it is a petroleum exploration expedition that takes the crew to the island. On the way, Dwan (Jessica Lange) washes up in a dinghy. Along with Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) and Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin), the crew find the island and go ashore. Dwan falls into the giant hands of Kong only to be saved by the crew and taken back to New York with Kong. In this version, the eighth wonder of the world climbs the World Trade Center instead of the Empire State Building.

The 2005 version of the film, Directed by Peter Jackson, is my favorite. I am a slave to CGI and I adore Naomi Watts. In this version, Ann Darrow is back and being portrayed by the radiant Miss Watts. Girlfriend can scream like nobody’s business. Carl Denham is played by Jack Black and Adrien Brody plays the love interest of Miss Darrow, Jack Driscoll. Driscoll is writing a story for Denham to finish shooting his movie that is, eh-hem, filming in the far east. His funding is cut off and his starlet pulls out at the last moment. As a last resort, he searches the starving New York streets for a size 4. One of those movie magic twists of fate brings him to Ann. Upon convincing her to join him in the making of his film, they rush to the ship and set sail just in time.

On board the ship, Jack Driscoll writes, star Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) looks down his nose at everyone, Ann tries to catch the eye of Jack, and Carl makes up excuse after excuse to keep the ship at sea for just one more day. He knows they’ll find Skull Island, and sure enough, they do. Just as the old stories told, Ann is snatched from the ship. The Skull Island natives have their sacrifice ceremony with drums banging, dancing, shouting, and a remarkably advanced offering mechanism. Ann is tied up and in a dramatic climax the singing, shouting, and banging stops. A distant rumble and a movement in the trees is ominous enough to frighten Ann, but the initial appearance of Kong is terrifying.

The relationship between Ann and Kong in this film makes the audience want them to be together. The viewers almost don’t want Ann to be rescued by Jack and the crew because Kong saves her life again and again. He’s a lovable Kong and one that Ann is safe with. But this love between beauty and the beast can not last forever. Driscoll sets out on his own after a gruesome scene in which many of the crew are eaten by giant bugs and other nasty, awful things.

Side note: In the 1933 version of King Kong, there was originally a scene in which the crew are attacked, and many eaten, by giant spiders. Audiences were so disturbed by this scene that people were running from the theater. The scene was removed from the film and hasn’t been seen since. Peter Jackson included his version of the scene as a sort of homage.

Driscoll finds Ann sleeping peacefully in the palm of Kong’s hand. He takes Ann, much to the chagrin of King Kong, and rushes her back to the ship. Little do they know that Denham has a little surprise planned for Kong. Chloroform and a one-way ticket to New York. Once back in New York, an endearing scene occurs when Kong is released on the streets of New York City. Kong and Ann meet once more and he is instantly calm, bringing to mind the old Arabian proverb that was actually written by Kong creator Marian C. Cooper “And lo the beast looked upon the face of beauty, and beauty stayed his hand. And from that day forward, he was as one dead.” An ice-skating scene in Central Park is particularly charming. Ice-skating is nice, but once more, the giant ape who is now being pursued by the military takes his love to the top of the Empire State Building.

When fighter planes eventually take him down, people on the streets crowd around the massive monkey who now lays lifeless. When someone says the planes got him, Denham says with a glassy stare, “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast…”

Roll credits.

I love King Kong because it is an action-packed, heart-pounding love story. It is so easy to get sutured into the story and feel the emotions of the characters in their individual stories.

Any good film score will give you chills if it is constructed properly and added at the right moments. The King Kong of 2005 does it just right with James Newton Howard. The score is beautiful, the scenery takes us to a place we can only imagine. That’s the magical thing about movies. As Carl Denham said “There’s still some mystery left in this world, and we can all have a piece of it… for the price of an admission ticket.”

Exit Through the Gift Shop

*Spoiler alert: This review contains many spoilers.*

Thierry Guetta, a French shop keeper, used to have one passion in life: filming anything and everything. He was never caught without a camera in hand and would keep rolling no matter what. This was an aimless passion, but a passion nonetheless. A husband and father, Guetta spent all of his time filming his family, himself, people on the street… whatever crossed his path was captured on film.

What seemed as though it would be a part of his life forever with no real purpose suddenly took direction. His cousin was working on his most recent project. He was making mosaic Space Invader pieces just to place them around the city for people to see and question. This is street art. thought-provoking works of art. Some were there just because and some were there for an obvious purpose.

Thierry loved this idea and followed his cousin, Space Invader, as he made his mark. Shortly thereafter, Guetta was introduced to street artist Shepard Fairey, the likable chap behind the Obama “hope” campaign. He and Fairey became fast friends as Guetta followed him and filmed him. He loved the danger, the adventure, and the adrenaline rush of possibly being caught. Thierry took his hand-held passion to new heights in daring feats to capture the genius of Fairey from new angles.

All the while, Thierry is introduced to more street artists like Swoon, Borf, Monsieur André, Sweet Toof, and many more. This trend became a huge part of his life. An obsession, if you will. With camera in hand, he followed the tight-knit world of street art closely. He had filmed the works of so many well-known street artist, but he hadn’t gotten them all. He needed Banksy. There was one tiny little hiccup… how would he find Banksy? The unidentified graffiti artist had no phone. The only people who knew him knew they knew him, but no one else did.

In an act of divine intervention, he finds Banksy. Guetta worked day and night to win the trust of Banksy, and amazingly enough, they became friends.

From the beginning, Guetta had said that he was making a street art documentary. He decided it was time to do just that. He took his cases of tapes and put together a documentary he called Barely Legal and took it to Banksy.

It was a mess, says Exit Through the Gift Shop director Banksy. He encouraged Guetta to leave him with the tapes and go back home. He told Thierry to work on his own street art and that’s just what he did. Guetta arrived him to his family who had already spent so much time without him only to lose him again to a new passion: street art.

Under the alias Mr. Brainwash, Guetta took to street art like a duck to water. He had watched for so long and now it was his turn.

In a wicked turn of events, Guetta was injured. Under the influence of painkillers, Guetta spent all of his time trying to create his first show. The man we saw in the beginning of the film was gone. The story changed drastically from beginning to end and what a story it was. It may be legit, but it may also be a farce. One thing is for sure… this film sheds light on a world that has previously eluded the watchful eye of a camera.

This documentary is my pick for Best Documentary (Feature) for this year’s Oscar awards. Intriguing, funny, and the first film I’ve ever seen about street art. It is an unusual story and incredibly winning with lots of character. Will we meet Banksy if it wins? I almost hope we don’t. His mystery is part of his allure. I suppose only time will tell.

Your Movie Sucks

The title of this book paired with the scowl that the author, Roger Ebert, is wearing on the front cover really says it all. The we-are-not-amused expression Mr. Ebert demonstrates on the cover is the same face that I imagine he made when the credits rolled in the end of each and every film in this book.

Roger Ebert has been reviewing films since the dawn of time, or so it would seem. That was just one of the reasons I decided to make him my mentor. He doesn’t know it yet, but he has guided me from sub par movie reviews to – dare I say – respectable movie reviews.

This man has a sparkling vocabulary and a sophistication in his writing that takes his harshest criticisms, dips them in honey, and makes them easier to swallow.

This book, Your Movie Sucks, is page after page of reviews asserting Ebert’s utter disdain for the films in the book. The collection includes such gems as American Outlaws, Constantine, Failure to Launch, The Grudge, Jeepers Creepers 2, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, Monkeybone, and Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.

With quips like this one regarding the movie American Outlaws – which Ebert generously gave one star – “When the railroad hires Pinkertons to blow up farms, and Jesse and Frank’s mother is blowed up real good, the boys vow revenge,” Roger Ebert’s sense of humor radiates throughout the book.

Another one of my favorite quotes addresses Jenny McCarthy and her… er… assets. The movie Dirty Love earned no stars from Roger Ebert and from what he says in his review I can see why. The quote that earned a genuine guffaw from yours truly was “Jenny McCarthy has a technologically splendid bosom that should, in my opinion, be put to a better use than being vomited upon.”

This man has taken the art of reviewing films to a level that I can only aspire to. He writes with passion and umph and a style that constantly reiterates how much he loves what he does.

I read this book because for a long time I refused to see the bad in any film even if it slapped me across the face for two hours. It was always all good to me because I love the movies with all of my heart. However, I wanted to learn to dislike movies. There is a distinct difference between watching films to watch them and watching films to review them. I wanted to learn how to be able to come up with educated responses to the movies I was seeing, and this book has helped me do so.

I will leave you with one more quote from the book. It is from Ebert’s review of The Girl Next Door. In the scene, the girl next door spots her young neighbor watching her undress through her window. She shuts off the light and moments later is standing on the doorstep of the young man’s house. He fears she will tell his parents that their son is a peeper, but instead they hop in her car to go for a drive.

The boy ends up naked in the street, standing in the glow of her headlights and she drives away, scooping his clothes off of the street and leaving him naked as the day he was born to walk home. Ebert says to this scene “It is not easy to reach out of a car and scoop up underpants from the pavement while continuing to drive. Try it sometime.”

Oh, Ebert… I so enjoy your wit. Readers, check out Your Movie Sucks by Roger Ebert. You’re in for a real treat.

Cloverfield

I watched Cloverfield again last night after seeing it in the theater so long ago. From time to time I’ll see a trailer before a movie that is ominous and creepy and gives you very little information about the movie it is advertising. Cloverfield was very sneaky in this way. The movie was kept very tightly under wraps. The film, also known as 1-18-08, released this trailer in theaters first:

For those of you who have seen the film, you know that most of the scenes in this trailer are not even in the film. It doesn’t give up very much, does it? Clever moviegoers figured out that it was clearly going to be a monster movie. Being the monster movie lover that I am, I was tickled!

You’ve got Godzilla, King Kong, Jaws… all the best monsters. So what does Cloverfield do differently? It does something so atrocious that it makes the audience feel sick to their collective stomach. It shoots the whole film through the eye of a hand-held camcorder à la The Blair Witch Project.

But what of the story? This story follows Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) and his ladylove Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman). In the beginning we are looking at Beth’s dad’s place through the shaky eye of the camcorder. Rob and Beth are in bed being cutesy. Then they are on a train being cutesy.

Suddenly we are on the streets of New York. Rob’s brother Jason Hawkins (Mike Vogel) and his gal Lily Ford (Jessica Lucas) are in the midst of final touches for the going away party they are throwing in Rob’s honor. Rob has taken a job in Japan (shout out to Gojira 1954) and is taking off. Sayonara, Rob! Or not…

Just a month before this party, Rob and Beth were heading to Coney Island. Now, they have not spoken and when she shows up at the party with some other dude, Rob is less than pleased. Hud, (T.J. Miller) Rob’s best friend, has been given the job of documenting the night and through his video snooping, he learns that Rob and Beth “totally had sex together.”

So Beth leaves with her new sweetheart, Rob pouts on the balcony, and all the while a giant monster is getting ready to make it rain… fire… on the whole city.

When the monster finally does start attacking, there is all kinds of mayhem. The Statue of Liberty’s head is thrown into the street, claw marks on her face. Flaming debris spews every which way. Buildings are taken down with one swipe of a giant, angry fist.

So, Hud, Rob, Lily, Jason, and Hud’s dream girl Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) – who had been at the party – are making their way across the Brooklyn bridge to get out of the city. Clover, as the special effects crew of the film called it, used his – or her – giant tail to crush said bridge.

One by one the kids are knocked off at this point. In a predictable and inevitable turn of events, Rob decides that he must save lady Beth and has to go in the same direction the monster went. This has bad idea written all over, but in Rob’s defense, Beth is a smokin’ hottie.

The movie is hard to watch at times due to the camera shooting all over the place, but overall I would say this is a well done movie about something that movies really don’t need to be made about anymore. I mean, it’s been done.

The acting is, well… pretty bad, with a couple of exceptions from Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller. If you can stomach it, Cloverfield is pretty enjoyable.

If I learned one thing from this film, it is that love does not conquer all, giant monsters do.