Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Revenant


After a handful of delays I finally got to see the Revenant last night at a near midnight showtime. The film is about 2.5 hours long so in the twilight of the Thursday midnight opening it might be one of the last opportunities to see a theater in a completely desolate state afterward; with nary an employee in sight. This film is fascinating for a number of reasons, not the least of which being its relative basis on a factual story. There are various elements that are constructed or adjusted for the film for obvious reasons but the actual core of the story, i.e. man gets mauled by Grizzly Bear, is left for dead, then crawls for 200 miles back to civilization seeking retribution, appears to be something that actually happened.

The first part of the film is a bit longer than I was expecting, but it did give the director an opportunity to introduce the characters and have them speak actual dialogue for a while. For the majority of the film very little is actually spoken, and I think the big reason why this is Dicaprio’s best performance to date is that he didn’t have to talk much (and about half of his dialogue is in a different language). A big issue Dicaprio and many other actors have is falling into the trap of playing almost the exact same character in every movie; regardless of the design of the character itself. This isn’t the same as being typecast, it’s simply a style of acting that lacks in range. However if you totally negate that aspect and make 90% of the acting physical: groaning, gurgling, crawling, limping; then it works pretty damn well.

Visually this film is absolutely gorgeous and was almost exclusively filmed in the wilderness of Canada (where the film is largely set) in natural light settings. The innumerable difficulties that this poses have been well documented, but it is certainly a fantastic achievement in cinematography alone. There is an odd obsession with the usage of rivers in the film which makes the exact way that Dicaprio survives seem a bit specious at times; but hey it’s a really ridiculous survival story to begin with so you should be able to bend your logic circuits a bit. I did find it odd that they never addressed Hugh Glass’ broken leg/foot directly, since setting a bone is a somewhat common film device lately why not have it in the Revenant somewhere, but that’s a relatively minor quibble.

The rest of the cast is very solid, Tom Hardy’s great as you might expect considering he’s Tom Hardy. Domhnall Gleeson delivers possibly his best performance ever, though it’s more an exceptionally competent role instead of an extraordinary one. The film has no real weaknesses and is basically a mish mash of Castaway, The Grey, and No Country for Old Men; with only the final film in that list really being on par with this one. Of course I still have to answer the big question, and no the Revenant is not better than Mad Max; it’s certainly the best not Mad Max of the year though.




Aside: I saw Snowpiercer recently since for some reason the upgraded Comcast interface is basically Netflix; really fantastic movie I’d probably stick it in 3rd for 2014 tentatively, behind Edge of Tomorrow and Birdman. Chris Evans is great in not Captain America roles (not to disparage the Cap), also worth watching in the Iceman starring Michael Shannon; another true story except about an incredibly prolific contract killer/family man.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Meaning of Life


“It’s a series of mediocre occurrences that add up to more or less nothing.” This was my response to a question I was asked today. The question was simply “Do you have any bad days?” Since my reflexive response to “how are you doing” in the hospital where I volunteer is just fine/good et cetera, as it is for most people. The sentiment itself is unremarkable, even astonishingly common in American society; I’d venture to guess 95% of people feel the same exact way about their lives as I do about mine. But what is remarkable is my oddly emotional response to having to say it.

Aside from sheer anger I rarely feel any particular emotion for long periods of time, my personality is just a continuous sardonic, purely logical observance of everything that goes on around me. I am, by my own design, bereft of most human emotional response systems. My goal once upon a time was to eliminate impulsion from my thought process, since being impulsive is the easiest way to fall into a trap in a strategic setting; so now I don’t have that more or less. I’m able to step back and take a prudent look at more or less everything. While I occasionally feel anger it almost never perpetrates a foolish action on my part, just because of the built up resistance to impulsion.

The admittance of my own mediocrity as a spoken word was enough to create some amount of sadness or depression in my mind; since it’s easier to skirt around the concept than address it so directly. I don’t believe all human existence is futile as some might and as the nihilistic sentiment above may perpetrate. I simply believe that most, even the vast, overwhelming majority of human existence is futile, that a scarce handful of great men and women dictate the course of history and everyone else is an irrelevant speck, more or less. I also believe the last person to fit that description in full died 195 years ago.


However the ability to become such a great person is not unique, surely, and the sheer population of the world strongly implies that there are thousands of individuals with an equal capacity for thought as any great conqueror or philosopher of old. So what makes them different than those that came before? Why, luck of course. Luck, providence, divine intervention, whatever you want to call it, what’s most important in dictating a person’s future is the situation into which they’re born, and while the population of the world increases the number of candidates for greatness it also has led to a general promotion of mediocrity and reliance on predictability. A person who is hiring someone in a modern climate wants a candidate to do exactly what is expected of them with little or no variance, the person who does exactly what they are told with no glaring failures and no remarkable successes. That is the ideal candidate for a job. Do you feel that you are unremarkable, identical to every other soulless cog in society? Well, good for you because you are that ideal candidate. Unfortunately for me, I don’t feel that way.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Hateful Eight


A good way to approach the Hateful Eight is to think of it as another Reservoir Dogs or 12 Angry Men; it is not by design or construction a Western persay; that is simply the setting of the proceedings. The film is basically a stage play with two different settings, one which dominates most of the film; it isn’t like Macbeth where there’s a dozen different locales so you could make a traditional style of movie out of it. With that in mind the film is almost three hours long, or about twice as long as the first two films. So, it should go without saying that the film does not have the rigidly perfect pacing of Reservoir Dogs (easily Tarantino’s best film) or the continuous momentum of 12 Angry Men, and on the grand scheme of things The Hateful Eight is ultimately inferior to a couple of masterpieces.

However that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see the film; I will say it is baffling just how pleasing a movie this is to sit through. Traditionally even the best three hour films have their tedium and boring moments, and at the end your ass is just sore from being in that damn chair for so long. Not so with the Hateful Eight; there is a short scene at the beginning of the film that drags for a few minutes but once you’re past that it’s nothing but solid Tarantino Dialogue and ridiculously over the top violence the rest of the way.

Another way to think of this film is in the context of Kingsman: The Secret Service, and I’d venture to say they’re basically the same movie just with different plots and genres. If you wanted 90 minutes of Sam Jackson laughing his ass off and swearing up a storm, this is your movie. Sure, sure there’s no “This a dope ass top hat!” scene and the funniest actual (unprintable by a Caucasian not named Tarantino) line is delivered by Tim Roth; but Sam Jackson is just loving this shit the entire time. Kingsman X Reservoir Dogs, the movie magic you never knew you wanted.

As for the rest of the cast, all of them are great. Haven’t seen Michael Madsen in a long time; and while he doesn’t have any “Stuck in the Middle With You” going on he’s still pleasantly satisfying. Mr. Orange returns with a British accent this time, Mr. Brown narrates a bit to explain why “Domergue’s Got a Secret.” I mourn the absence of Harvey Keitel, but all in all the entire cast performs just as well. Jennifer Jason Leigh is getting Oscar consideration and she certainly holds her ground in a fairly difficult role to sell, but like many of this year’s performances hers isn’t an astonishingly amazing one or anything.


If you have any remote interest in the American Civil War there’s a whole shitload of references to that, even moreso than something like Josey Wales; and I have to say Tarantino’s general knowledge of the time period is rather endearing. Even as someone who finds most of his work to be at least slightly overrated it’s hard to not admire his ability to make a three hour movie that’s not boring for any extended length of time; let alone with a single setting. I guess since I’m boxed into the idea of rating films I’d put this one roughly on par with Creed, joining a three way tie for 5th place.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars - The Force Awakens



I saw this on Saturday at the most expensive screen (not my choice) in the least popular theater in my area; there were like 20 people there or something out of 400ish seats. I’m sure if we had gone to the other theaters or cheaper showings it would have been packed but it was still a fairly small number all things considered. The film has received near universal praise so far, locking at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.8 on IMDB, so you’d expect it to be incredible; but in reality it’s just another JJ Abrams movie. I saw this with my oldest brother and my Dad; I found the movie to be solid, my brother loved it and my father was disappointed; perhaps for 62 year old fanboyish reasons.

Abrams is a reasonably talented director and poor TV show organizer that’s superb at introducing new ideas and then not really delivering on them; as far as movies are concerned he’s able to make a tightly constructed, fun action movie almost every time out; but those are the extent of his powers. No Abrams movie was ever going to be utterly fantastic or anything, he’s just the ultimate safe bet for a very safe movie. The Force Awakens is basically just a New Hope with a slight reskin in almost every case; and I do mean slight. The film adheres so much to the traditional look of the original trilogy that various aspects of it look sort of “cheap” in a modern context. It’s certainly possible to use practical effects incredibly well and make a film not use that much CGI (a la Mad Max); but in the case of Star Wars I just want to see some cool shit; I don’t really care if it uses actual models of star fighters or what have you.

So, while a lot of cool shit does happen in the movie some of it, especially early on, looks a bit suspect. For comparison’s sake the game Star Wars: Battlefront (which my brother bought for some reason) uses the exact same aesthetic and looks fucking incredible at all times. There’s a lot of uncanny valley going on in the new film, because everything looks pretty much identical to things in the original trilogy but ever so slightly different; just a little off to the point where it could bother you. It isn’t enough to hamper the film too much but it does speak to a very restrictive set of options that the filmmakers were given with which to create a product; they basically said “Here’s Star Wars, don’t fuck it up!” and as a result we have this very crowd pleasing acceptable movie that is generally unremarkable otherwise.

That said the level of polish and attention to detail in the movie is incredibly impressive and it certainly does feel like Star Wars. There’s a variety of cool scenes and scenarios reminiscent of a New Hope, and some general joyous swashbuckling on the part of Han Solo that everyone will appreciate. The new characters fit rather nicely into their pre-existing molds and don’t really do anything particularly astonishing aside from that; both Daisy Ridley and John Boyega seem to be very competent actors but their roles are very simple and have almost no backstory beyond general vagueness. My Dad found this to be reprehensible for whatever reason, but this is probably just a thing with modern films where there needs to be more action so they can’t spend time hanging out with Lars and Beru and the Cantina scene can’t have a few minutes without something weird going on immediately. It didn’t really bother me that much; the characters themselves are just totally acceptable and within the norms of Star Wars more or less.

As far as specific things that people bitch about in the prequels I think a lot of attention was paid to that as well, the force is used much more simply and directly; the bad guy just gets pissed off and aggressive instead of simply being evil, and the Lightsaber duels are more like an actual sword fight instead of just a ton of choreography. That said I don’t think the new Villain is as intimidating as Darth Maul and his backstory is a little too loaded to work particularly well. He’s played by Adam Driver who I’ve previously seen in the Woody Allen Noah Baumbach movie While We’re Young. In that movie he’s just a really charming, relatively nice (though ambitious) guy and in the new Star Wars he oscillates from being evil to whiny and evil again. To be blunt it’s hard to impress me with a villain now since that’s like the one great thing about the last 15 years of movies, so if you’re just going to have a villain that’s okay it’s not going to bother me much. He was probably more intimidating than James Spader’s comedy routine in Age of Ultron.

The film is paced well, has interesting action sequences, and will be somewhat watchable in the future; though it’s never going to be a New Hope; just a very well-crafted imitation of a New Hope. To my surprise the references in the film are toned down relative to the new Star Trek movies and while there are some extended universe nods they’re just there for the fans and not a massive aspect of the storyline. There are some surprisingly brutal scenes in the old Star Wars movies if you think about it, like Lars and Beru being scorched to skeletons or Han Solo straight murdering a dude in close quarters; or various other scenes in the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi; but the new film is extremely safe on that front. 

The only thing in the movie that really takes a horrifying beating is a bulkhead and most of the rest of the “evil” scenes are played for comedic effect. I don’t think Disney is incapable of making an interesting movie that pushes violence boundaries and so forth, the original Pirates film is testament to that; but the Force Awakens is very nearly “PG” caliber in terms of the level of violence on screen. I get that it’s kid friendly and all that and I have no problem with PG movies (Mr. Holmes is my second favorite film of the year), but they could have tried to do something shocking aside from plot choices.


Overall I’m optimistic about the next 20 years of Star Wars movies and reboots and prequels and sequels and spin-offs; The Force Awakens is certainly a step in the right direction. Universal consensus seems to suggest that the Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the series and certainly up there all time in terms of Action movies, but personally I like a New Hope the best and this movie had just enough of the right beats to keep me entertained. On the whole I think it’s around the 7th or 8th best movie I’ve seen this year out of like 25 in theaters, it’s certainly no Mad Max but I think it will hold up better on repeat viewings than Kingsman (though it is only slightly better) for example. Sicario is sort of an action movie so that would make it the third best one of those all year. Worth seeing if you like Star Wars, worth seeing if you don’t (actually from the general response those that dislike SW seem to like this one the best).


Aside: Christmas makes this unpredictable but it looks like the film is going to fall just short of beating Avatar's domestic run. Edit: Nope, definitely going to beat it. Probably not going to get a billion domestic but who knows. The brand is invincible.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Creed



Greetings friends, it’s time for your annual motivational story about boxing and montages, give or take 20 years between Rocky V and Rocky Balboa. Actually annual is perhaps not the best term to choose, but it does seem like this exact movie comes out an awful lot. However Creed is not a poor man’s Rocky by any stretch of the imagination; and while it’s true that the film is mostly predictable I think it deserves recognition for its own merits and at least some perception of the minor issues that it has. I’ll go at this review assuming you’ve seen the admittedly mediocre previews.

Creed starts depicting Adonis Johnson as a “good kid that likes to fight a lot” right out of the gate and he doesn’t really shed that tendency throughout the film. There’s a brief instance of arrogant swagger right near the beginning that quickly gets shut down in favor of him being a relatively mellow guy that just happens to be good at punching people in the face. So if the goal of the film was to create a mirror of Carl Weathers’ storied performance it’s definitely not even remotely similar. However that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Michael B. Jordan’s character is much easier for the audience to immediately connect with; if not be awed and inspired by.

On that note it’s kind of interesting that he was mostly raised in a well to do “family” with Claire Huxtable. After a rough early childhood he basically settled down and became a white collar citizen. It’s implied that he kept boxing on the side but we’re not actually sure of that and I’d actually be fairly interested in a portrayal of him in High School or something. Did he just randomly beat the shit out of people or did he keep that to Tijuana? It seems like whenever “Donny” has an emotional moment in his life his natural instinct is to bash into smithereens; and I suppose I can appreciate that approach.

It is novel then that Creed is able to make Adonis seem like a gentlemanly figure who cares for family and his elders as well as maintaining his self-respect. In fact his dialogue is almost exclusively positive aside from a few scarce scenes. He really does seem like a wholesome guy in the end, which if I was to make a portrait of Apollo Creed may not wind up being the case. His character flaw is sort of his biggest asset, punching things; but he never does anything shocking in that regard just gets a little frustrated with a door or a rapper or what have you.

I guess they didn’t want to add too much depth to Adonis so that they could still focus on Rocky still having a good, interesting, extremely emotional character arc. Oddly while this got something of a reaction out of me what really got me invested in the film were the training montage segments, especially the final one. The score of the film is extremely varied and effective, but it is perhaps at its most effective in that moment. I’m sure people will hail the eventual usage of the Rocky theme but that’s kind of super predictable so it’s not a revelatory moment or anything.

This film was not nearly as elusive as the Martian and I was able to go out and see it just this morning; for some reason my newest movie buddy likes going to very early movies, presumably because of the relatively cheap price. Due to Bloodborne I’ve been waking up early for a week or two so it’s not a huge deal on my end; and hey ultimately I save a little money on my never ending crusade to see every potentially good movie that appeals to me, and even the real classics that are outside my repertoire.

Boxing films are movies I enjoy though most of them follow a similar arc, the notable exception being Raging Bull which kind of has a dichotomous storyline. The Fighter of recent years had a unique flavor to it and actually had Christian Bale showing some of his youthly range again so I was all over that one. But as far as Rocky goes I’ve only seen the original Rocky and Rocky IV. Rocky IV is of course a hilarious movie and a masterpiece on that level alone; any movie or piece of fiction that spurs on popular culture is always worth seeing even if the film itself is not up to the usual standard. I’ve also seen Cinderella Man and I think that is more or less exactly the same quality as Creed.


Creed is a fantastic Boxing movie and one of the year’s best. The most impressive part aside from Stallone and the score was the fantastic cinematography. There is an entire two round fight in the film that is a single 5-6 minute cut; and while that’s difficult enough to do in any scenario it is incredibly hard to fathom how they managed to pull off boxing choreography with no cuts or dramatic zoom angles and so forth. Faux Boxing in films is generally done at much lower speeds than actual fights for obvious safety reasons but it seems unlikely they could have made it look convincing in a single cut; and I’m sort of curious how they did it other than make the actors take actual swings at each other. So if this movie gets nominated for Cinematography and (criminally) Mad Max does not this is probably my second choice for that award. Next to best Actor and Picture I think Cinematography is the highest determinant of how good a film actually is with relation to the Oscars; though obviously Picture can go awry.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Martian



Ah the elusive Matt Damon failed to elude my grasp forever! I asked five people to see this movie and all of them had similar “I despise Matt Damon” responses to the question. So I had pretty much given up on it at that point, but I finally found a willing soul a month later. I’m something of a Ridley Scott aficionado and this film is likely his best in over a decade; though many of his others have been conceptually interesting at the very least.

This is of course your requisite Gravity/Interstellar Space and “Science” movie for the year but it falls somewhere in-between on the scale of absurdity. Interstellar has been praised for being relatively grounded in actual science, which isn’t surprising given the meticulous detail of one Christopher Nolan; and Gravity on the other hand has been disparaged for being totally implausible. I don’t know where actual Scientists stand on the Martian but for the most part it isn’t strictly a series of improbable events.  It seemed believable, though perhaps optimistic for a variety of reasons.

Yes this film is a happy one believe it or not, happy films (that aren’t asinine) are all too rare so I’m glad to have been able to see it while it was still relevant.  I don’t think it is quite as intelligent as Mr. Holmes as far as the expansive “Happy, Smart” genre goes but it does move the plot along with relative efficiency without being overly insulting to the audience.  At one point I was sure the film was going to drag as they justified a potentially confusing decision for 5 minutes and they just immediately moved on to the next part of the film, to my pleasant surprise.

The movie does however have a shitload of “stock” characters; actually I think every single character in the film is a stereotype other than Matt Damon (who’s just a short brown haired guy protagonist of course). This is something that happens in almost every movie of course, but for an exclusively excellent film to do it is a little perturbing.  The optimism of the film clashes with the bleak presentation of over a dozen typifications of humanity.

However despite these issues I still felt almost the entire cast was excellent and they played their roles quite admirably. Matt Damon’s character (Watney) is played humorously, which takes the edge off the solitude and loneliness of Mars; it would have been very easy to make a depressing or tiring character but instead we have an entertaining one. Damon himself plays the role quite well as he tends to in less serious movies; he is certainly not as inordinately offensive as he was in Interstellar; and instead of despising him at the end of the movie you’re just happy you were able to witness his incredible Botany Powers manifest.


Overall I think this movie is just about dead even with Sicario for the third best film of the year; haven’t really decided which one I like more. Sicario is on the outside looking in as far as Oscar nominations go and the Martian will sail to a Gravity-like dozen or so nominations; but as far as actual valuations of movies go it’s hard to say. I think it just depends on your personal preference; a happy elaborate yet simple movie or a brutal, complicated movie with an at best ambiguous message. As always naught will touch Mad Max (which may actually be in Oscar contention) come year’s end.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Daniel Murphy



So this is the first sports post I’ve written in a long while, to commemorate the glorious magnificence of one Daniel Murphy and his improbably nay impossible postseason performance so far. There will be numbers ahead but I’ll try to stick to the semi-legible ones and make fairly simple comparisons so that more people can understand it. Most (but certainly not all) stat minded baseball people are God awful at expressing themselves in an intelligible fashion so I’ll try to avoid too much of their densely overwrought writing.

If you hadn’t heard at this point Murphy, he of 12 regular season Homeruns, has hit 7 in this postseason and 6 in his past 6 games; assisting the Mets in a sweep of the beloved Cubbies. Despite being a White Sox fan I didn’t grow up in Chicago so I have no real hatred for the Cubs but them failing over and over is still amusing. Especially when they have the best Manager in baseball and one of the better GMs. Theo Epstein is probably at least a little overrated but Joe Maddon really is a messianic figure. Speaking of which Lord Murphy definitely fits that description as well.

In the regular season Murphy hit 281/322/449 (771 OPS), a generally unremarkable figure, he’s more or less average or slightly above average. Nothing is offensively bad about Murphy and nothing is particularly great either, he’s just an alright MLB player. He is however white and also has a shitty OBP so that means people will like him a lot for no particular reason; he’s the nitty gritty heart of the team and all that shit. Never failed to run out a ground ball, Rudy personified, effort, passion, love of the game and what not.

So out of the blue he just decided to have a fucking insane postseason to this point and in the NLCS alone he hit 529/556/1.294 (1.850 OPS), with a home run in every damn game of the series. That is, quite simply, preposterous; it just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. He’s not even a young player where maybe he could be having his breakout moment or something, no this guy’s a pretty set in stone alright guy and will continue to be so. How does that series line stackup? Well let’s look back at some old chums of ours and compare:

Carlos “former Lugnut” Beltran 2004 NLDS 455/500/1.091 (1.591 OPS)
Alex “Sucks in the Postseason” Rodriguez 2009 ALCS 429/567/952 (1.519 OPS)
Mickey “Mick” Mantle 1960 World Series 400/545/800 (1.345 OPS)
Barry “My Ego is as big as my Head” Bonds 2002 World Series 471/700/1.294 (1.994 OPS)
Babe Fucking Ruth 1928 World Series 625/647/1.375 (2.022 OPS)
And last but not least David “The Forgotten One” Freese 2011 NLCS 545/600/1.091 (1.691 OPS)

That my friends is a fascinating list. This upstart from New York has some mighty fine company, outclassing all but possibly the best two players who ever touched a baseball bat. Yes yes small sample size and all that, but that’s what makes this whole thing fun. Babe Ruth gives no fucks about legends and so forth, he’s just the best; he didn’t need no fancy ass numbers to prove it back then and now they all vet him and grovel before his transcendent magnificence. Barry Bonds, he of the 36.8% Hall of Fame vote, merely posted a 700 OBP in his lone appearance in the World Series; only a slight improvement over his 2004 regular season stat of 609. Bonds, he was just on base, like always. 400 OBP’s good you say? Nah fuck that shit, 600 or you suck; as Barry would not doubt inform his captive audience.

Freese was a very young player in 2009 so he was a bit of an unknown going in and could have theoretically become a very good player; instead he’s just kind of okay. He became Daniel Murphy over time while Daniel Murphy has just been living his workmanlike $8 million/year life and casually posting an OPS+ over 100. It’s very possible Daniel Murphy has a career year in the next few (post contract ironically) and further justifies his existence, but the man has no chance of ever being a legendary hall of famer or anything. At best he’ll get his number retired by the Mets or something, assuming they win the World Series (get fucked Royals fans). At worst he’ll be like Freese and be an obscure bar trivia question in a few years (I was the only one in the bar who knew it).

What does Murphy’s future look like contract wise? Well he’s probably going to get 4/48 at least, maybe 5/60, maybe something inbetween. Without this postseason I doubt many non-Mets fans would be aware of his existence, even for a short while; and that prominence means he’ll come up in more contract talk, but ultimately it will only boost his price by 10-15% or so; nothing particularly abrasive. I’ll remember you Murph, if no one else does; you did good kid. Now go back to being a normal sized Nick Punto. Unless of course the White Sox sign you, then you’re doomed.


Aside: I’ve only seen Interstellar once so no references, alas. Murphy, it's you.