Quick Hit: A good thriller that turns in directions you don’t expect it to go.
A lot of thrillers these days tend to focus on a few things – extreme violence and sexuality. So when I saw that the rating for The Gift was “R”, I was expecting more of the same. However, upon closer inspection (aka after the movie), I realized the movie was only rated so due to a few “Disturbing scenes” and a few f-bombs. And frankly, you’re in for a decent thriller.
That’s because The Gift focuses on two main points – people from you past, and people you think you know but don’t. The main couple of Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) is a pretty typical couple. There are hints of marital turmoil, and signs that Simon is pretty cutthroat in business, but otherwise, everyone is normal. So when Gordo (Joel Edgerton) shows up, it seems as if we are going down a straight forward thrilling road – our normal couple being menaced by a man who is more than a little strange. It’s fun casting for Bateman, because he is allowed to play something much, much darker. The exasperation and impatience that he has so often portrayed in comedic roles now comes across as so much more… troubling. And, frightening really. We all know people with that short fuse.
But really, Edgerton is very good, which makes sense because he also wrote and directed the film. The camera often works in an easily accessible manner, frequently placed at angles you wouldn’t expect to give satisfactory images, but instead give a decent view of objects that feel (and look) like familiar surveillance. He frequently puts characters into the background of shots, and allows traditional horror to play into the film.
But, what really makes this film is how it subverts your expectations. In a way, it makes me think of the movie Hell or High Water that blurs the lines between the heroes and the villains. It’s clear that there is much more going on between Gordo and Simon than what is originally shown, and you feel your sympathies torn in different directions throughout the movie. There is one scene in particular that is difficult to watch towards the end, played in found footage video format. It’s toward the end of the film that we are reminded of the normal way these movies play out – there’s a bad guy and a good guy, and there’s no question who to root for. That’s unfortunate, because, as previously stated, up to that point it’s pretty blurred.
Overall the only thing I would have liked to see a bit more of was Robyn being her own person. All we know about her by the end of the flick is that she likes to run a lot. I would have preferred at least a small mention of how she came to be where and who she is. But, despite having the largest amount of screen time, she seems almost not to be the main character, instead ceding that to her male co-stars.
The Gift is the rare thriller that doesn’t make you see what is coming (I’m also thinking of Don’t Breathe here), and that makes it worth watching. I’m giving this one a “B”.
For more on this, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Confusing, beautiful, and original – it’s rare that a film accomplishes all three, but this film does that and maintains them.
I remember the first time I watched the movie Inception. I like science fiction movies, and I like confusing and complicated ones – as regular readers are probably tired of me saying, I enjoy time travel, so those two words go hand in hand with it. Therefore, it’s pretty incredible how confusing Inception is and is still enjoyable. It spoon feeds you almost nothing. Christopher Nolan, who wrote and directed this film, reportedly started writing during his other mind twister Memento. And this one does nothing short of pack a punch.
Creating the visuals that Doctor Strange would eventually use ad nauseam, Inception takes us deep into the mind of different people through one of the most basic tenants that all of humanity (and some animals) share: dreams. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a master thief, but he does his work through diving into people’s brains and extracting information. But while on the run from several corporations, Cobb is given an opportunity to solve some problems from his past and dive into the reverse – he is given the job to plant an idea in a person’s mind.
First off, there are a couple things that occur over and over in Nolan’s films. One is the fear of the loss of control. It occurs in Memento, The Prestige, and the Dark Knight trilogy. And what could be more of a loss of control than having someone plant ideas in your head that you think are your own? The paranoia behind this idea is extraordinary and, frankly, a bit terrifying. It’s as if our favorite dream persona Freddy Krueger decided he didn’t want to kill you in your dream anymore; instead, he was just going to control the rest of your life.
Themes aside, much of this film is extraordinary. There are so many visuals that were groundbreaking and still dazzle the mind. One scene, where Joseph Gordon Levitt is tutoring Ellen Page’s character, shows paradoxes occurring in a way to trick your mind. Which leads me off on a Segway a bit, but it ties in I promise – in the Hannibal Lecter series of books by Thomas Harris, Lecter has constructed an elaborate “mind palace” where he goes to extract memories and information. That is the first thing I think of here, because the surroundings of the dream are populated by the dreamer’s subconscious.
There’s also the action, which frequently sneaks up on you. You can tell that Nolan was gearing up for his finale of Dark Knight Rises, because the action in that film is often similar. In fact, the similarities drop into the actors as well, with both films featuring JGL, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, and Marion Cotillard (and Cillian Murphy, who only has a bit part in Rises but was the paper villain in Begins). There’s a reason why – you see the emotional manipulation in Cotillard’s Mal, and Hardy’s scene stealing presence is on display here as well. This isn’t to take anything away from Leo’s acting, he is almost always good.
My favorite thing about the movie was its incredible uniqueness. I’ve never seen a movie that does less to convince you of the reality of all the moments on screen. Most movies are trying to get you to believe what's on screen, not question it. This all culminates in some of the finest moments in the film as the dreams are collapsing in on themselves. We see JGL being awesome (see above), Cillian Murphy having a heart to heart with his father, the whole crew falling off a bridge, explosions, fighting... it's really fantastic. I can't imagine having written this. It deserved all four Oscars it got.
By the end of the film, like our hero Cobb, we’re questioning what is real. And what more could you ask from a movie than that? I’m giving Inception an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: A beautiful, haunting, thrilling swan song to one of the best to ever take the mantle of “Superhero”
I’ve spent a long time thinking about Logan. For years really, long before I ever saw the movie or thought about the movie. That’s because Wolverine is my favorite Marvel superhero. I see him as the dark side of my personality: the wild, give-a-damn type who is fond of guttural screams and sarcasm. I’ve loved Jackman on screen from his first “Bub” as the clawed crusader, and it physically hurts me to think I’ll never see new content with him as Wolvy. But, this isn’t a post to lament a fallen colleague – instead, it’s to celebrate a terrific movie.
Many people (including me) have been criticizing the superhero genre as becoming too serious. And while I hold to my ground that someone like Superman should have his films a bit more “light”, here I can’t help but deny that the seriousness in Logan, that overwhelming intoxicating sadness and weariness, is incredibly well-done. More, it’s fitting. If Logan would have cracked more jokes, this movie would have fallen back into Last Stand territory. As it sits, it’s a perfect blend of the story of a gunslinger’s tragic life.
The film is incredibly violent, as the movies really should have always been. But while some people have critizied the language and the violence as being shoe-horned into the film, I think it finally feels as if Wolverine is allowed to stretch into the skin that he was written for. It’s beautiful and terrifying to see the invulnerable man so pained and so hurt physically (as well as emotionally). It’s because Logan has always been the one to fight throw the pain and save the day, and here it’s different in only one way: Logan is convinced that these are now wounds to match his emotional ones – they won’t go away.
There is also so much to be said for this film’s meta-qualities. For instance, X-24 is such a beautiful way to talk about the extremes that an actor must go to in order to achieve a look for a role. Wolverine has required Jackman’s blood, sweat, and probably tears in order to look the part. But every few years, he has commit to it in a way that few have – for decades. It's also a commentary on the comic book genre as whole: by mentioning the comics and talking about how the things that took place in the books never did in real life, it allows the director (and actors) to tell other stories than just what is written. There’s also the inevitable handing over of the reins to young Laura (who I’ll touch a bit more on in a minute), which is now metaphorical as well as literal. Jackman cannot go on – so he’ll leave it to new actors. I really liked the inclusions of the movie Shane. James Mangold (who formerly directed 3:10 to Yuma) knows the Western genre and allows the inevitable comparisons to be drawn.
And to go with those comparisons, there is also this – Logan is frequently beautiful and emotional, just like Westerns are. There are some beautiful landscaping shots that could be shown in a film studies class (who knows, they may be one day). I’ll also include some shout-outs to some of the close-ups to Jackman’s face – the man has a scary intensity, and the camera does not shy away from it. It’s evident to see how much Logan is hurting, if you only look in his eyes. Heavy metal poisoning hurts. As does living through countless wars and deaths of those that you love.
I’ve gone on ad nosium about Jackman, but what of the other players? What about Patrick Stewart, Professor X himself? He’s excellent, by all standards. Frequently portraying the heart and the hate that is the relationship between himself and Logan, Stewart allows us into his most vulnerable of positions: one where we know more than he does. It’s another painful realization, and when you see the lack of control this former super now has, it’s upsetting. Mangold helps us get past the worst of it, frequently giving us jokes to lighten up moments that could be devastating in a different light (the bathroom scene with Logan for instance). Dafne Keen, who plays Laura, is absolutely as insane as Logan in his most fearsome moments. But, without a convincing belief that she has the same heart as Logan, the audience wouldn’t care about her. Keen does the impossible – take a brand new character to the X-series and make you want to see more of her. This feral, completely out-of-control take is something that people asked to see from Wolverine for years – now we have two in the same film. Here is a collection of gifs to start of my next statements.
The last thing I have to say is simple. I want to personally thank Hugh Jackman. I know he doesn’t know me, and that there a million fanboys out there that have sung his praises throughout the nine films he’s been in (X films, there are many others including the excellent The Prestige and others that I would love to review). But, I just can’t help but want to state my thanks. He has provided me with hours of entertainment; a hero that others and myself can aspire to be; and throughout it all has continued to be humble and gracious for his good fortune to be given a character such as this. He will never read these words (barring any miracles occurring through Twitter or the like), but I felt the need to say them nonetheless. When I do cosplay as Wolverine, there is a reason I aim to look like you - you'll forever be the standard look, regardless of who else plays you. You are the Christopher Reeves of Wolverines. Thank you.
I’m giving the excellent film Logan an “A+” and jumping on the Oscar bandwagon for the film. Who's with me?
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"