PAUL WALKER // Today we said goodbye to another great young actor; Paul Walker. We’ll never know what he would go on to do, but what we have are the films, impressions, and charitable acts he left behind. Even though the headlines read like a bad joke, Walker lost his life in a single-car collision following a charity event in Valencia, California, according to several press releases including this article from Variety (Variety article). Born in Glendale, California, Walker had been acting since the age of 12 and had taken on quite the level of success, especially with Universal’s ongoing franchise, “The Fast and the Furious”. He was 40 years old when he died.
Walker had first become apparent to me in his role as football prodigy Lance Harbor in one of my favorite films to date, “Varsity Blues” (1999), focusing on the pressures of football in a small town. In similar roles, he took on playing the high school jerk in the classic teen drama “She’s All That” (1999) opposite Freddie Prinze Jr. and played Skip Martin in period piece dramedy “Pleasantville” (1998) with Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon. Continuing in yet another misunderstood-villain role, he played Caleb Mandrake in “The Skulls” (2000) opposite Joshua Jackson, to which I also thoroughly enjoyed. I also remember loving his horror film turn in “Joy Ride” (2001), to which my girlfriend at the time bought me the DVD. Already in his first few theatrical pushes, he was making a living in the film industry. Continue reading →
CRAZY HEART // “Crazy Heart” is a one of a kind drama, presenting Jeff Bridges in his best role to date as fading country star Bad Blake. Blake is an alcoholic, whose been married four times and is on the road again at the age of 57. Once a huge star in the country scene, he’s now playing tiny bars and bowling alleys while his protege Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) is raking in the money and the fans. Its on the road that Blake meets aspiring music journalist Jean Craddock, played expertly by Maggie Gyllenhaal, in one of the first roles I actually really liked her in. Starting up a relationship with the much older singer-songwriter, their new found relationship is put to the test by Blake’s drinking. The chemistry between Bridges and Gyllenhaal is undeniable and carries this film much further than expected. Worthy of his Academy Award, Bridges dominates every scene he encounters and becomes this country legend, as he sings the songs and comes off completely authentic in the role. The music in the film, as well, is award worthy, with Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett involved with writing and producing most of the music, including the Oscar winning “The Weary Kind”, which progressed throughout the film and concludes with the recorded song by Bingham in the credits, leaving the viewer completely satisfied. Going against the grain, the emotions in “Crazy Heart” are deeply rooted and engulf the audience from start to finish, delivering a film that every music lover, whether a country music aficionado or not, can grab hold of.
[Directed by Scott Cooper] [R] [112 min] [16 December 2009]
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY // Visually enthralling, grandiosely captivating, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” proves that fans are safe with Peter Jackson at the helm of Middle-earth. Martin Freeman is by far the most enjoyable portion of the film, with the look and charisma to deftly carry this latest Tolkien franchise, as lead Bilbo Baggins, while returning faces like Ian McKellen as Gandalf, along with several other familiar faces, help keep the film on par with its predecessors from “The Lord Of The Rings”. The adventure is grand enough, the villains are once again developed, Howard Shore’s score is an unequivocal achievement, and with several key scenes contained in the frames of this particular film, including the return of Gollum, this first film in the trilogy sets the bar fairly high for the forthcoming films. Of course, “The Hobbit” still falters, mainly in its overabundance of CGI, relying too heavily on graphics over practical effects. Also, in its widely publicized high frame rate, the effect leaves much to be desired, with fast motions coming off strange to the eye, and although there are several scenes where the higher frame rate looks impressive, mostly sweeping shots, it is not worth the time spent “adjusting” to its differences. We can only hope this is a passing fad.
[Directed by Peter Jackson] [PG-13] [169 min] [14 December 2012]
The hope of a people weighs on Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss as she lays, hearing a solemn news about her District. A devastated look turns to a focused and vengeful one and we bring in “Silhouettes”, a calming and somber cue with a driving force and a familiar voice in Of Monsters and Men. To capture the essence of a film like “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” into one song, such as this, is a triumph all around. It’s a win for the musicians who absorb the film and produce an embodiment of the tone and story. It’s also a win for the studio, who had faith enough in this band to carry its film, long after the credits have rolled. And it’s a win for the fans, who appreciate popular music and its inclusion in pop culture such as this record breaking franchise.
“Silhouettes” is only one fantastic song amongst an entire soundtrack of familiar names and driving ballads, including that of Imagine Dragons, The Lumineers, Coldplay, Lorde, and Ellie Goulding. The music in the credits was the perfect soundtrack to both reflect on what we had just witnessed and imagine what revolution is about to come in the world of Panem and The Hunger Games. “Silhouettes” is not just another song on the soundtrack, but an anthem for the film as a whole. From now on, when I hear this song, I will think of the film and the feelings that were felt in association with this music at the time. And doing this with a band that I already adore drives home the feelings more intensely. Few directors and studios understand the importance of a popular artist soundtrack, but for those that do, they are rewarded with a much deeper following in their fans and thus helping to produce a film that earns $253,206,000 in its first week.
OLDBOY // Nowhere near the masterpiece that is Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy”, Spike Lee gives an admirable attempt at bringing the 2003 cult classic to life in American cinemas. Josh Brolin embodies the drunken misogynist, Joe Doucett that we eventually root for after he’s framed for his ex-wife’s murder and imprisoned by an unknown person for 20 years. However, his revenge rampage that follows is nothing like what we experienced in the South Korean version of the film. Instead of a street gang hustling the main character for money to show off Oh Dae-su’s new found fighting skills, a harmless football team is brutalized for trying to check on the female Joe is harassing. The long take fight sequence that the original film is known for is also mishandled, as it becomes a lesson in bad stunt-fighting, with ghost punches and bad props filling the entire take. I do extend a slight appreciation for certain scenes that Lee chooses not to recreate, like the humorous drunken bout at the police station and the elevator sequence when Oh Dae-su is first released. These are moments that just wouldn’t translate to American cinema.
The element of “Oldboy” that I appreciated most was the casting, especially Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, and even Samuel L. Jackson. Even though Jackson felt typecast in this mean spirited, shady business owner, he fits the part so well its hard not to justify. Elizabeth Olsen is fantastic in the role of Marie Sebastian, who becomes attached to Joe after helping him with his injuries and joins him as he searches for his daughter and the man responsible for locking him away. Sharlto Copley displays his true acting prowess, as The Stranger, a true villainous force to be reckoned with, capturing a hint of what we’d see in a James Bond villain. Copley, a man that often feels on the lesser side of an actor, grabs such hold of this role, that he becomes one of the highlights of the film. With a strong cast covering up many of the flaws of the remake, Spike Lee’s venture into this story is at least more enjoyable that I had anticipated. Whenever a great film is remade, the bar is set so high that the remake cannot possibly live up to its standards, but “Oldboy” at least remains an entertaining film and reaches just a little bit further than the disaster it could have been.
[Directed by Spike Lee] [R] [120 min] [27 November 2013]
FROZEN // Entering the annals of the Disney collection, “Frozen” takes the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Snow Queen” and gives it the classic Disney touch. Working in its favor are the strong female characters in Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) as they sing and dance their way through Elsa’s unwanted ability to freeze things. This was fine as she grew up in a closed off castle, but when she is to become queen, her abilities frighten the townspeople and lead her into the mountains, where Anna must follow. Also, the living snowman Olaf, voiced perfectly by Josh Gad supplies almost the entire film’s comedic relief, as he bumbles alongside Anna and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) as they attempt to locate Elsa and her new ice castle. The pacing of the film was a bit bothersome, as it flies through the different set pieces with little to no regard. Certain characters like the Duke (Alan Tudyk) feel extraneous and unneeded, while characters like Hans (Santino Fontana) are not properly labeled from the get go, causing for some much too late character twists that feel forced and blind siding. The songs of the film are quite enjoyable, fitting the dialogue to song transitions quite nicely, but again, the majority of the songs are weighted on the front of the film, while the entire back end remains refrain-less. On the animation side of things, the visuals could not be any better, developing some of the best looking characters and settings from any Disney film to date, as it should be. “Frozen” will not land any where close to being one of favorite Disney films, with a lackluster villain and only a few strong characters, but does carry on the legacy of their installments like “Tangled” and “Wreck-It Ralph” which deliver just enjoyable enough to keep from being average.
[Directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee] [PG] [108 min] [27 November 2013]
THE CANYONS // Not intellectual but ultra sexual, “The Canyons” takes a down-and-out Lindsay Lohan and delivers a novelty in the form of nudity and sensuality. Gone are the days of “Herbie Fully Loaded” and “Mean Girls”, Lohan has completely obliterated her former Disney charm and has set on a course of rehab and full on nude scenes. And from a very heterosexual man, I cannot completely complain. Lohan is the driving force in this film, directed by Paul Schrader, known for his collaborations with Martin Scorsese, and written by author Bret Easton Ellis of “American Psycho” fame. For an actress returning from quite the hiatus, Lohan grabs a hold of this role and never lets go, commanding attention as the sexpot girlfriend whose open sexuality and conflicted feelings between two men turn the Hollywood love triangle dynamic on its head. Reminiscent of Soderbergh’s casting of pornstar Sasha Grey in “The Girlfriend Experience”, Schrader brings on male pornstar James Deen, who actually surprises as being an okay actor. Only flashing the moneymaker in one scene, he relies on dialogue and attitude to get him through the film and even though most of his deliveries are flat, the Hollywood bravado rings through. The story is nothing new, with a jealous boyfriend (Deen) keeping tabs on his girlfriend (Lohan) and finding out she has a secret lover (Nolan Gerard Funk). The unraveling eventual leads to a violent conclusion that slams a giant dot on the exclamation point that is this film. In the case of being memorable, “The Canyons” definitely is, with the reemergence of Lohan in her sexual prime. However, on the scale of being a good film, this remains entirely entertaining but extremely lacking and without Lohan, would likely be absolutely worthless.
[Directed by Paul Schrader] [R] [99 min] [2 August 2013]