Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Avengers: Age of Ultron

May 2, 2015

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We are stuck in a perpetual middle. Never moving forward, always taking glimpses of what will be, and never savoring what simply is. Avengers: Age of Ultron follows up last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier by providing incident without resolution because something else has to happen. Still. The end is the beginning. Again and again.

We can argue that the comic book films of the past failed to accurately capture the looks and names and powers of their comic book counterparts, but they managed to be complete works. There is something endearing about just making one movie with all the gusto of “This might be our only shot!” Now that the Marvel films are a self perpetuating success, they can function as an infinite string of incidents, forever building, teasing at a climax that might come someday. Yet, for all of their clues and easter eggs, these films are all made with little need for backstory. Age of Ultron gives little reference to past films beyond an Iron Man hissy fit and some mumbled asides between The Falcon and Captain America, but you’d never know that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been infiltrated by a secret Nazi sub group and it doesn’t even really matter. The end of The Winter Soldier had all of the Helicarriers destroyed or decommissioned and Nick Fury going into hiding. Yet here is Nick Fury, in a helicarrier, saying something about “it was in storage”.

Age of Ultron is in such a hurry to cram incident and character and charm and hints of what is to come that it never catches it’s breath, which is incredible since it’s a two and a half hour movie. The action never settles enough to give much beyond a brief “whoa” before we’re cutting to something else, because there is always something else. In the first five minutes the movie is already hinting at movies three or four years out. Movies that haven’t even been made. I don’t know if we’ve hit the nadir of special effects but everything here looked great yet fake at the same time. There isn’t a single “how did they do that?” moment because the answer is obviously “computers”. Furious 7 isn’t a paragon of reality either but it has it’s toe just slightly dipped in reality so when characters drive their cars off cliffs and out of planes and through buildings it still has an awe to it. Everything moves so fast in AoU that you can’t focus on anything anyway so there isn’t much to want to analyze. Sure, some of it was neat. I’m not a monster.

Moments that are placed for “charm” and “character” deserve the quotation marks because they feel like window dressing at this point. Tony Stark’s charm and smarm, Thor’s god mixing with mortals vibe, Captain America’s man out of time, these are all given their expected lip service but it is perfunctory and stale. Director Joss Whedon has mentioned numerous times in the press that he couldn’t do another one of these movies because he is exhausted, and I can feel that exhaustion. Every quip is labored, like Whedon is screaming “Who cares anymore?” When the characters take time away from conflict to have some conversations and regroup, the film comes to an abrupt halt so everyone can have over-before-they-started debates about what to do next. We know the Avengers aren’t going to give up and it’s frankly boring as shit to have everyone hem and haw around someone’s house. This movie didn’t need to be any longer and yet here we are watching Iron Man and Captain America chop fucking wood! Then Nick Fury appears from behind a pile of haystacks and I thought “Oh good, something might happen.” but Fury just has more speechifying to add to the pile. These scenes all play better than they should because this cast is stacked with A-List top notch talent, but seeing Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo together on screen just reminds you that you could just watch Zodiac again.

One of the big complaints that will forever plague Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is that it doesn’t have enough scenes(or perhaps any) of Superman rescuing people. Much ink and hand wringing was dealt out lamenting this fact, even though no one actually died because it’s a movie. Sure you could take it as a betrayal of the character, that Superman should be shown saving people. Marvel Studios is in no danger of this kind of backlash because Avengers: Age of Ultron has many many many scenes of people being evacuated. Onto flying evacuation pods, every fake life is spared. While these scenes are there to make the film feel “real” they are repetitive and frankly un-cinematic. It’s a pretty good bet that Snyder probably had some evacuation scenes in the Man of Steel script and he said, “That is some boring shit, cut it and let’s have more collapsing buildings.” No one told him no because Warner Brothers is out of their fucking minds.The first Iron Man felt audacious even if it’s audacity was an accident and has since been subsumed by the franchise, like Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.  Iron Man 3 came closest to recapturing that spirit, and in the process made some comic fans very angry. Which is good! A film that gets the blood up! Age of Ultron is perfected to offend no one. But I digress. If you want to see people being loaded into vehicles to be flown to safety, Age of Ultron is your bag.

Avengers: Age of Ultron ends with a shrug, with characters leaving nonchalantly and new characters walking in immediately to take their place. The adventures continue but so what? Back to the perpetual middle.

The Academy Awards didn’t nominate The Raid 2

February 22, 2015

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Last year I found myself in the surprising position of having viewed most of the films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards through my own free will, lured only by their marketing campaigns and my general interest. This year when the Academy dropped their nominations I hadn’t even seen half of their choices because the Academy is always fucking up. But I rallied and I watched every damn one of these movies. None is better than The Raid 2. Even the worst of these wasn’t as bad as Jupiter Ascending.

"I just took the most incredible nap."

“I just took the most incredible nap.”

Is Clint Eastwood lazy or incompetent? I ask this since I don’t know myself, and maybe someone who has worked on his films in the last ten years can educate me. American Sniper neither enraged me nor challenged me to think, and instead joined the long list of late era Clint Eastwood directing jobs where the camera just gets propped up in the corner and the acting is wooden and indifferent. Bradley Cooper is actually pretty good but he’s surrounded by a bunch of nothing. The action scenes have no rhythm or intensity and feel half speed. The supporting cast is Gran Torino level skilled, so you have scenes where a soldier learns one of his buddies was killed and he bellows “Fuck!” the same way you or I would when you forgot to buy pretzel bread at the store and have to use regular bread for your sandwiches for lunch all week. I’ve made some noise online about the fake baby in this movie and it fits with the laziness of everything else. There is a baby whine placed over every scene with the infant but it’s so haphazardly applied to the soundtrack that it only draws attention to this fake fake baby. Most importantly, Eastwood doesn’t even make the disgusting, rah rah America “God I love the military” movie that so many places have made this movie out to be. Cooper’s Chris Kyle is clearly tormented by the horrors of war and has some PTSD but he doesn’t at all seem excited to be killing anyone. Instead it just becomes a rotation of Kyle going war, coming back, going back to war, again and again. It’s like the second half of The Hurt Locker, which is the part that no one likes of The Hurt Locker. The best part of the whole movie is when we see that the enemy sniper who has been gunning down American soldiers spends his free time SPINNING BULLETS ON HIS KITCHEN TABLE. This movie couldn have used more of that bullshit.

So when it is seasonally appropriate Inarritu DOESN'T wear a scarf? This fucking guy.

So when it is seasonally appropriate Inarritu DOESN’T wear a scarf? This fucking guy.

I have been more than forthcoming with my thoughts on Birdman. It’s pretentious and masturbatory, it attacks low hanging fruit and strawmen, and it isn’t even funny. People have told me that it isn’t supposed to be funny but tell that to all the marketing that says it’s comedy. I will admit that after sitting through some of these other stinkers, at least Birdman is attempting to be visually compelling, even if that very attempt is another misfire.

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Boyhood is wonderful film. Beyond not feeling like a stunt it nails the way that our parents can mold us and influence us and try to make us good people but we still become who we are all on our own. I know my dad didn’t intend for me to write snarky shit about movies online but here we are.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel is another fine Wes Anderson production and his first best picture nomination because it references World War 2. It also has the saddest ending of an Anderson film, unless you count the sadness you feel after sitting through Darjeeling Limited and thinking “They literally threw the metaphor off the back of the train? Fuckkkkkk thissssss.”

See, he cracked Enigma but also he was gay. That's what this means. Heavy.

See, he cracked Enigma but also he was gay. That’s what this means. Heavy.

Listen, actors got tricks and skills and some guys can do a lot and some guys can do a couple things. But after sitting through The Imitation Game I dunno if Benedict Cumberbatch has that much to offer us as an actor. I’d love to see this guy not play an introverted genius with bad social skills. Imagine him playing a party planner who gets along with everyone? I’m gonna say it, BC needs to do a romantic comedy where him and Jennifer Garner don’t get along but keep meeting on transatlantic flights and arguing over who gets the aisle seat. The rest of The Imitation Game is standard biopic business, and considering it comes from the guy who did Headhunters, it is a total disappointment. It’s the kind of movie that social studies teachers will make the class watch on half days.

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I was genuinely moved by Selma. By focusing on one particular moment in history instead of trying to summarize a historical figure’s entire life, Selma manages to create nuance and suspense around a well known event in the cause of civil rights and make Martin Luther King Jr. a real guy and not some awards beacon. David Oyelowo’s performance is perfectly level, playing a man instead of icon. He felt like a real guy who was trying to figure all this shit out and genuinely worrying about failing. Also, despite having Common in a prominent role, this movie is great. First time for everything!

"Swing me while you can, Stephen!"

“Swing me while you can, Stephen!”

I’m going to repeat a joke I made about The Theory of Everything right after I watched it the other day: “We all know that Stephen Hawking is more than his disease. What this movie presupposes is, what if he isn’t?” Theory is as Oscarbaity as they come. Even more than The Imitation GameThe Theory of Everything will become a threat amongst tenth grade English teachers and their students. “If this class doesn’t behave I’ll make you sit through that Stephen Hawking movie.” “No, teacher! We promise to behave. Please give us a test!” Theory of Everything has two(!) scenes where we watch someone stock a bookstore window with copies of Stephen Hawking’s new book. What is the book about? Who cares? Stephen Hawking still has a working dick! That is the lesson of this movie as Hawking’s wife says “Look what we did” as their three children run around a fountain. I’ve never even heard of Stephen Hawking’s kids! I do know that he’s been on The Simpsons and Star Trek: The Next Generation which this movie never mentions because it is too busy being lame as fuck. Also Eddie Redmayne should be in movie jail for Jupiter Ascending, not up for awards. Get your head out of your ass, Academy.

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Whiplash is fire, is flames, is greatness. J.K. Simmons is a monster and his monstrousness consumes Miles Teller to the point where instead of being repulsed by the monster he wants to be him. Still the greatest finale of any of the nominees and the best delivery of “Fuck you.” in cinema for the year 2014.

It doesn’t matter who wins this year, just like it didn’t matter last year. SPRING BREAK FOREVERRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

Blackhat

January 19, 2015

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Michael Mann is an old legend who has come to the point in his career where he is just making reiterations of the same themes that run through most of his prime work, with varying degrees of success.With Blackhat Michael Mann indulges and takes his love and fascination for criminals who are excellent at their work while showing due diligence to chip away at things like plot and exposition to the point where the movie starts to resemble abstract art pieces intercut with violence, rides on expensive private planes, and vast open spaces for characters to find their thoughts.

The choice to cast Chris Hemsworth as computer hacker Nick Hathaway has already been widely mocked but who else would Michael Mann cast as his avatar this time around? Hathaway is a genius hacker, lethal at hand to hand combat, good with a gun, a giving lover, and a loyal friend. I guess I’m just used to Michael Mann movies at this point that I didn’t even flinch when Hathaway started hiding bladed weapons on his person in preparation for what looks like a suicide mission. Hathaway is such a good guy that even though he went to jail for cybercrime and has a least a pretty healthy disdain for authority, when he’s told later that he has to go back to jail his first reaction is “Sure. Do the crime do the time.” His friends have to actually convince him to be a fugitive. Whattaguy. Hathaway is also the type of guy who has the top two or three buttons on his shirt undone. Always.

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Like Miami Vice, Blackhat treats much of it’s dialogue as literal afterthoughts. The sound mix runs in and out, fading up and down. Hathaway starts talking about his father and the sound just trails out. “You get the idea”, says Mann. When the plot sorta kicks in during the second half of the film and the characters start facing real danger it takes you by surprise since so much time has been spent hanging out, flying around, and wandering into nuclear hot zones like it ain’t no thang. Mann actually starts the first big action sequence with everyone being woken up early, wandering around their hideout all bleary eyed like it’s the first day of school and everyone missed the bus. Later Hathaway and his girlfriend spend their time waiting for the bad guy to call them back by spooning in bed and flipping through pictures on their phones. This scene was very real and true.

As with any other Mann film the violence is exquisite, brutal and final. Wall mines fillet unsuspecting police, Hathaway destroys a group of attackers with a bar table and beer bottle, machine gun bullets literally lift people off their feet. Is this the first Michael Mann film to utilize a missile launcher? Please don’t let it be the last. The blade work at the finale is monstrous and efficient, lest we forget that Hathaway is a guy who has done some time.

You have to love that despite a track record of never delivering what people expect (a straight ahead biopic, a television show adaptation), Michael Mann still gets to make the movie he wants to make. Blackhat is a thoroughly un-compromised Michael Mann film and I love it to pieces.

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Best of Movies of 2014

December 23, 2014

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This was not a hard list to make. In the past I have agonized over these things, moving them around for days and days, fretting over placement. What a waste of time! But this list came easy because I followed my heart.

The Best

1. The Raid 2 

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Best action, best violence, best payoff, best everything. How can you hype something in your head and it still exceeds your wildest dreams? The answer is The Raid 2. I think I’ve covered everything I love about this movie in various other places or if you’ve ever met me in person but let me just reiterate that nothing is beating this bad boy for a long time. The bar has been raised. Never forget that at the U.S. premiere someone had a seizure and they had to stop the movie. The Raid 2 is so good it might kill you.

2. The Guest

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I loved how they kept showing you that David is a bad guy but then have him do something cool as hell, like intimidate a high school principal or casually smash a guy’s head into the wall and then fuck that dude’s girlfriend. “This guy is bad, right? So why does he rule?” The grenade toss is highlight reel hall of fame shit and put it in the Smithsonian.

3. Whiplash

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There is a moment about 3/4’s the way through that a few people say is too over the top and throws the movie into some crazy realm. And definitely when that scene happens the first thought is “Whoa movie! You are getting crazy! Settle down, baby.” But then Miles Teller tries to play the drums while covered in blood and I got it, it worked. The movie is all about playing till you bleed and about playing so well while mouthing “Fuck you” to your archenemy. The best archenemies are the ones who might be your friend but then turn on you but you could almost be each other. Dr Doom and Reed Richards, Wolverine and Sabretooth, heck DeNiro and Pacino in HeatWhiplash even has it’s own version of the restaurant scene!

4. John Wick

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Keanu Reeves is a national treasure and a legend. The Matrix, Point Break, Speed, classic status. His legend is secure, he directed The Man of Tai Chi and fucking crushed it, and still he made head shot masterpiece John Wick because he wants you to know that he is still a legend who will barrel roll and pop you in your right eye.

5. Blue Ruin

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Everything goes wrong in Blue Ruin and just keeps going wrong for a while and never really goes right. It’s sad but also hilarious, like when a character gets shot with an arrow and tries to remove it like DeNiro in Ronin and then realizes fuck it and goes to the hospital.

6. Nightcrawler

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Jake Gyllenhaal is a fucking creeeeeeeep in this movie. Also I believe that the person he plays is very real and true.

7. Edge of Tomorrow

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Tom Cruise in a mech suit fighting aliens. NO CONTEST CLASSIC STATUS.

8. Snowpiercer

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I like how people watched this movie and said things like “That train didn’t make sense, where did the rich people sleep?” What is it like to be dead inside? Bong Joon-Ho has about 5 classic set pieces here, the classroom being the most obvious but that ax fight is goddamn poetic. This is also the film I get the most texts about, after The Raid 2. “Did you see Snowpiercer, Lorin? Seems like your thing.” You are correct, everyone. Awesome movies are indeed my thing.

9. Only Lovers Left Alive

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Literally two vampires spooning and playing shoegaze. Masterpiece.

10. Under The Skin

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Scarlett Johansson lures men into her van and then rips their guts out and leaves just the skin. This was really good.

Honorable mentions

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Wasn’t that ending like the saddest fucking thing?

Boyhood

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Relatable.

Sabotage

USA Today keeping readers informed about Arnold shooting people in the spine.

USA Today keeping readers informed about Arnold shooting people in the spine.

Goriest Arnold Schwarzenegger movie ever made. At one point they’re just stapling people to the ceiling and shoving main characters into fridges. INSANE.

Underrated

300: Rise of an Empire, Hercules, Pompeii

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These movies had no obligation to be any good and yet they were all wonderful romps. Pompeii is a John Snow and Mr. Echo team up movie against Jack Bauer! 300 Part 2 is a prequel, sequel and sidequal all at the exact same time. Eva Green shoots a flaming arrow into a monster which causes a domino effect explosion and she just turns and walks away like, “This is what I do.” And Hercules had The Rock casually murdering dudes as one does.

Worst Movies

Birdman

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I’ve gone on the record.

They Came Together

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I think I hate David Wain movies.

Godzilla

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Every defense of this movie is verbal gymnastics trying to say boring is not boring.

Need For Speed

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Everyone is embarrassed and sad about being involved. Also people keep getting out of their cars and not racing! Get back in your car!

Birdman

November 12, 2014

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Why is it that any piece of media that attempts to exult art just ends up a total garbage heap? Never trust a movie that gives itself a standing ovation. Birdman might be the worst film of the year. It’s pretentious, overlong, and witless. It contains merely character sketches portrayed by numerous humans with mouths that spit words. Words, such meaningless things. I say that not because I devalue the dialogue or the written word, but for what Birdman tells me. Characters talk and walk and the soundtrack booms an incessant drum beat, never building to a groove, just hanging there as noise. Characters are angry and dejected and betrayed and surprised and saddened and bewildered but who are they? Who are these people? Why should I care about them? The camera moves with confidence and it all looks great I guess but why do I care? Sure I like Michael Keaton, but I like him in movies where he has something to do. Director and co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu is merely using Keaton as a vehicle for his own pity parade. Iñárritu is an artist! He’s working over here! You wouldn’t understand, critic!

Birdman loves low hanging fruit. Superhero movies take some obvious hits because superheroes are so stupid, right you guys? Not like this movie that uses superheroes as the hook to get you to see it and even has a superhero sequence with tanks and monsters and the main character flying around the city. But yeah, fuck superhero movies.

I’m going to share a tidbit from the IMDB trivia page:

“According to Alejandro González Iñárritu, he had dinner with director Mike Nichols in New York two weeks before he began shooting the movie. Inarritu told Nichols of his plan for how he was going to shoot the movie as one long take. Nichols predicted it would be a disaster because not having the ability to use cuts in editing would inhibit the opportunities for comedy. Inarritu said the meeting didn’t deter him, but was instead helpful in raising his awareness level of the difficulty of what he was about to do.”

Mike Nichols told you, Alejandro! Iñárritu’s style meshes with comedy like oil and water. Or critics and artists!(amirite Al?) I can only figure that Iñárritu shot it that way because otherwise what would there to be to talk about? I read a guy on Letterboxd calling Birdman brilliant and then just typing “Camerawork!” in all caps. Dude, I know. They used a camera. So did every other movie ever made. Ask around, I’m a sucker for a good long take, but generally they serve a purpose. Iñárritu did it for no apparent reason except that it made his movie really hard to make for all involved. Nothing makes great comedy like stringent rules!

If I have to say something nice about the movie it’s that Edward Norton is pretty great. I’ve read that he is playing a parody of himself but how do we really know? I’m no Hollywood insider! He also gets some really bad lines in a scene with Emma Stone that Stone’s character calls out as bad writing but as my dude Justin Muschong would say, “Just because you point out the shitty thing you did doesn’t mean it still isn’t shitty.” Paraphrasing.

Bless your heart, Naomi Watts. Even after the forced nude scene in 21 Grams you still show up to work for this guy. Watts joins Emma Stone, Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough as one of the women in Keaton’s life who is there to love him and deride him. He’s a shitty father, a terrible husband, and a bad boyfriend. But you know what, even though he doesn’t really change, they still give em a little smile at the end. Riseborough even has a miscarriage and then turns into a lesbian with Naomi Watts. This has no precedent, except maybe Iñárritu yelling off camera “Why don’t you ladies kiss now? That’s what women do when they’re alone together, right?” Amy Ryan is one of our finest actresses but she is reduced to sighing (ex)wife here. Emma Stone has a monologue where she yells at Keaton about how old and irrelevant he is and then she just walks out of the room, leaving Keaton to fiddle with a joint for an extremely long period of time, probably because they couldn’t cut to a new scene because our boy Iñárritu is already married to this continuous one take style. Stone later warms to her dad because he’s the star of viral video that gets 300,000 views. (Birdman is the kind of movie that talks about things like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter from the point of view of someone who has heard of them but never used them. 300,000 views is not that impressive. Too Many Cooks has over a million!)

Any jokes are either obvious or dead on arrival. There is a scene where Norton and Keaton are wrestling on the ground and Norton is wearing nothing but briefs. So wild! Scenes like this always remind me that a director told them to do this stupid shit and they said yes without hesitation. Keaton later gets stuck walking through Times Square in just his underwear and I guess I should be impressed that it is a long take? The whole movie is a long take! This isn’t impressive anymore. The bloom is off the rose. Also, they film movies everywhere. You can’t just film in Times Square and expect me to stand and applaud. You know who else filmed in Times Square? Total Request Live. And they did that shit every day for years!

Birdman isn’t funny ultimately because Iñárritu came with an axe to grind. If he was simply telling a tale of wild times behind the scenes, well, he might have carried it off. But instead wants to tell us he is An Artist and that critics are Lazy. Michael Keaton’s critic rant is easily the most embarrassing moment in film in 2014. Critics don’t have any power, Al! Just ask Michael Bay and his pile of money! Having the critic say she is going to pan Keaton’s show without even seeing it is the stuff of dreams. Lots of laughs over here.

Has anyone talked about the fact that the play within the movie is not very good? The costumes are shabby, the characters never block towards the audience so someone always has their back to the crowd. “We didn’t pay good money to look at your ass, sweetheart!”

I really wish someone could make a really great film about the behind the scenes of show business. OH WAIT someone did it was Robert Altman it’s called The Player it’s a masterpiece. It even has a long take at the beginning if you want to watch it and need to type out “Camera work!” in your Letterboxd review.

Anything is Possible: Thoughts on The Raid 2

July 19, 2014

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It has taken me a moment to write down the thoughts, emotions, the sense of truth and purpose that comes from The Raid 2. Since it’s release on March 28th I have felt great elation as words of joy and excitement filled my social media timelines, text messages, and phone calls. The Raid 2 is love.

The Raid 2 fucked the game up for everybody. I don’t just mean in the way that Gareth Evans made a sprawling 2 hour plus crime/action movie hybrid for four million dollars that looks and sounds better than every big budget action blockbuster this year. The moment that fucked the game up, that fucked my mind up, is when Kenichi Endo’s character Goto says, “Anything is possible.” Sure, he is referring to criminal machinations being unfurled around him, but Evans holds the shot on Endo and lets the line linger in the air. This is a mission statement, a call to arms. The Raid 2 is proof that you can do anything. Every action sequence has a breathless chant of “This is happening this is happening this is really happening” running underneath it. Long take battles in a nightclub that spill out into snow covered alleys. The camera floating above the jail yard as prisoners fight to the death covered in mud. A woman who kills a whole subway car full of thugs with two claw hammers. The camera traveling effortlessly through a vehicle during a car chase. But on top of what “Anything is possible” means to The Raid 2 I keep thinking what it means to me as a human being, a person trying to exist as a creative person. I perform improv, which has it’s champions and critics, much like any other art form, and “Anything is possible” is true for any improvised scene. There are no limits, no settings, no rules. You decide your destiny. When Goto said it, I felt a kinship and a bond with the film and with true creative people everywhere. We can do whatever we want!

Going back to The Raid 2 as a film, all of it would be for naught if I didn’t care about the characters. And I do! Obviously Rama is the guy I care about over everything, he’s just a good guy in a bad situation who happens to be just better at fighting than anyone on planet Earth. Still, there’s only one of him and a shit-ton of bad guys. I care about Bangun, the world’s most sensible crime lord. He knows when to kill a guy and when to take the high road and not leave a mountain of bodies. It still doesn’t work out great for him but his sensibility rang true. A character like Uco is inherently unsympathetic but Arifin Putra’s performance is such that his sadness and ultimate betrayal are given time to well and grow so that when he decides to gun down his father, the scene has weight and it means something. Even when the characters are only small sketches, like Hammer Girl and the Bat Guy and the guy who just looks tough and leaves your body in a field, their characters are illustrated with small wordless details that say more than a ream of exposition. On a very base level, my feelings on The Raid 2 are purely “Holy fucking hell that guy just had his face blown OFF!” But I also cherish moments when Bangun realizes his son’s treachery or when Uco faces himself in the mirror after murdering his father. That show of emotion and betrayal wouldn’t mean shit if Evans hadn’t laid the groundwork. Also the car chase. And the kitchen fight. And the porn den battle. And on and on. The Raid 2 is everything.

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Lorin saw all the movies nominated for Best Picture. Give him a kiss.

March 1, 2014

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The morning of the Oscar nominations I was surprised that I had already watched eight of the nine films nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.  I saw their promotional campaigns, caught some trailers and thought, “Heck, I’ll check that shit out. Why not?” This never happens, as I stopped seeking out Oscar bait films and even after a film is Oscar-nominated(and subsequently becomes an Oscar-winner) I don’t run out to see it. The Artist and The King’s Speech can win all the awards they want, doesn’t mean I gotta subject myself to their tyrannical middlebrow ways. (If I’m going to watch a black and white silent movie I’ll watch Buster Keaton, who was straight killing it back in the day. You see Sherlock Jr.? Fuck outta here with The Artist.) So I realized, if I just went to see the one remaining nominated film, I would have seen them all and I could knock out a nifty blog about all the films.

Philomena

Learning lessons!

So I went to see Philomena and it was fine, you guys. Total middlebrow, “funny” without actually being funny, more soft chuckle than loud guffaw. Sassy old lady teaches stodgy middle aged man how to, well, not be so stodgy I guess. And he teaches her that the Catholic church did her dirty. It was hardly the worst, not close to the best, but the theater was warm and my friend and I were easily the youngest people in the theater by 30 years. So it was classic Oscar bait. Won’t offend anyone too much(the Catholic church is shown as shitty, but not totally shitty), and it has that “gay people are real people too” bent but without actually giving any significant speaking roles to gay characters. If this thing had dropped in 1995 it would have looked like Santana at the Grammys, only at the Oscars, and instead of holding Grammys they would be holding Oscars. Y’know, that’s not a great comparison. Forget about it.

Shit.

Oh shit!

Did you see Gravity? That movie is Fucking Awesome. People got real bent out of shape about Sandra Bullock’s back story but I thought my wife made a good point when she said, “It was going to be one of three things: dead husband, dead kid, or sexual assault. I admire their restraint.” As do I! You see some of these people bagging on Gravity like it’s 2 hours of Sandy crying about her kid, when it’s actually 90 minutes of Sandra trying not to fucking die in space! It’s amazing that Rachel and I didn’t break our hands watching this movie. Ebert used to talk about movies where you would bruise your partner’s forearm from squeezing it because shit was so tense. Gravity is the quintessential bruised forearm movie. Heck, forget bruised, you and your friend/lover will both need hospital care for your broken arms because Gravity Never Stops. Just like real gravity, it’s always holding you down, quite literally pinning you to your seat, for fear of being demolished by a passing burning satellite dish. Sandy doesn’t get a single moment to chill between dodging debris and explosions and making sure she has enough air. My dog for life Alfonso Cuaron directed, so no surprise that the movie is hot fire. Cuaron previously directed Children of Men, which is hall of fame, lifetime pass greatness. Cuaron could blow up a hospital of legless babies and blind puppies and we’d be like, “Al! Holy shit! Jeez, man! What did you do? Be careful! That is fucked up. Oh my god, all those legless babies. Fucckkkkkkk…………..Jail? Nah man, it’s cool, see ya later.”

Your dad

Captain Phillips is solid work from a director I don’t like that much. Paul Greengrass bears the responsibility for 90% of all American action movies containing barely any shots where the audience can tell what is going on. The second Bourne movie has Matt Damon in a car and apparently something happens. I dunno, AND I WATCHED THE MOVIE. Captain Phillips doesn’t have this problem. You can clearly see what is going on the whole time. And what is going on is life, man! Tom Hanks is just trying to move some shit in his boat and these pirates are just trying to hijack so they can just keep living under horrible tyrant conditions. Captain Phillips is the quintessential dad movie. Every critic hates the conversation Tom Hanks and Catherine Keener have at the beginning of the movie but that is an exact conversation that my dad has with my mom all the time. All dads. All moms. Captain Phillips is life.

This is actually tagged "old-people-watching-tv.jpg"

This is actually tagged “old-people-watching-tv.jpg”

Nebraska is fine and understated and legitimately funny. Once again, total dad movie. The scene where all the old people watch tv and talk about stuff they can barely remember, I’ve lived it! Everyone with grandparents has lived it. It was too real.  That said, the best performance in the movie is from Will Forte, but he was once again snubbed by the Academy.

dallas-buyers-club-art-poster

Dallas Buyers Club is a perfectly fine, minor film. It’s been positioned as a major work and some kind of acting tour de force by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. McConaughey is good, Leto is turrible. I enjoyed this movie while I watched it, in a very “sticking it to the jerks” kind of way. The jerks in this case are doctors, who only care about profits and killing people instead of helping them. Classic movie doctor stuff. Since I heard that the actual guy McConaughey portrayed was a bi-sexual dude, it’s kinda lame that they had to concoct this whole homophobia angle, essentially saying that there wasn’t much story there and they had to change an essential aspect of the main character’s life in order to give him an “arc”. But seriously, Jared Leto sucks so bad, don’t give him an Oscar.

Buffering

Buffering

Would Her work if the OS were voiced by someone other than Scarlett Johansson? The glut of internet videos that have parodied the film seem to prove that it would not work at all. I feel like anyone who bought in to this relationship between a man and his OS was just seeing Johansson in his head and thinking, “Well, yeah, it’s Scarlett Johansson. This makes sense.” Why else would Spike Jonze replace Samantha Morton as the voice of the OS, except to replace it with the voice of one of world’s hottest sex symbols? Plus the world it presents does not make any sense. Joaquin Phoenix’s job makes no sense. Everyone’s pants make no sense. This whole movie was like the Emperor’s New Clothes.

What a buncha dummies.

What a buncha dummies.

But I do not begrudge Her and it faded from my thoughts not long after I walked out of the theater. Unlike American Hustle, the worst film of 2013. Now certainly movies like 47 Ronin and A Good Day To Die Hard are ostensibly “worse” but American Hustle, this fucking movie. Where to begin? David O. Russell has managed to top his terrible track record, after the shitshow that is The Fighter and the abomination of I Heart Huckabees. Those movies are total garbage but American Hustle feels especially terrible since Russell is trying to imitate Martin Scorcese and failing in every way. American Hustle has all the important features of a post Three Kings Russell work: shit acting, no sense of tone, and camera work that is straight up amateur hour. Amy Adams is next level terrible. I could feel the entire audience recoil every time she uttered that “Australian/British/nope” accent. I can suspend disbelief pretty far, but none of my group of friends could grasp how any of the characters in the movie ever thought her accent was genuine. My good friend McCarty is a big David O. Russell fan, and even he said to me, “Yeah, Amy Adams is really bad in this.” When Bradley Cooper’s character gets all upset that he had been “duped”, there was a collective sigh of exasperation in the theater. These characters, what a bunch of dummies! Not to mention that David O. Russell managed to make a Scorcese ripoff that is devoid of all the sex, drugs and violence audiences flock to decadent 70’s era movies to experience. One gun is fired in the whole movie! In a goddamn flashback! Jennifer Lawrence is miscast as a woman at least ten years older than Lawrence can actually portray. How are we as an audience supposed to believe that Christian Bale would cheat on Jennifer Lawrence with Amy Adams? Fuck outta here!  And that twist? Who didn’t see that coming? Why did this movie that cost millions of dollars to make look like it was shot in your grandma’s basement? Why does it look like dinner theater Goodfellas? Shoulda called this thing Garbage Town USA.

primary_12-years-a-slave-trailer

12 Years A Slave is intense. You saw it, you know what I mean. It’s impressive in the way it never stops to let you get a breathe and collect yourself, because slaves didn’t get that option either. This movie is great in just about every way that a movie can be great. Will any moment in film be able to duplicate the combined sensation of elation and dread like the Paul Dano beating scene? Oh man. I’d never felt anything like that before. I can’t say it’s my favorite movie, but if it won all the awards I would not be mad about it.

Balling out of control

Balling out of control

The Wolf of Wall Street is nuclear powered craziness, top down no stop fuck your shit up insanity. 3 hours this fucking thing just beats you senseless. At one point I thought, “Oh shit, I guess it’s powering down.” I was wrong! It was just a fake out, because then they’re driving boats through hurricanes and blowing up planes! Leonardo DiCaprio is hall of fame in this one, physical comedy master class. Who knew? We knew! We all saw him going buckwild in Django Unchained last year. How’s he gonna top this one? He might not! Who cares? Scorcese shamed everyone in the directing game. Bow down to the master.

Would it have killed the academy to put an even ten movies up for best picture? Throw Inside Llewyn Davis a bone. For a best picture list this isn’t half bad. You got a couple instant classics, some easy crowd pleasers, a few dad movies, one lame-o stinker and only one total piece of shit. For the Oscars this is not bad at all. But honestly, my favorite movie of 2013 was Spring Breakers. Franco, Korine, and Benson got robbed.

Spring break foreverrrrrr

Spring break foreverrrrrr

Lorin Kozlowski’s Favorite Movies of 2013

1) Spring Breakers

2) The Wolf of Wall Street

3) Fast and Furious 6

4) Gravity

5) Before Midnight

6) This Is The End

7) You’re Next

8) The World’s End

9) Evil Dead

10) The Counselor

Vampire Academy

February 12, 2014
VA

Vampire Fucking Academy

I really need to get into this Young Adult Fiction game. These guys are making bank, selling millions of books, and everything is a copy of a ripoff of a pretty terrible original idea. According to wikipedia, which is never wrong, Stephanie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series, “had no experience as a writer of any kind and had never even written a short story before Twilight.” Incredible. We can do it, you guys! Someone who definitely did it is Richelle Mead. She is the author and creator of the Vampire Academy series, a blatant mishmash of Twilight, Harry Potter, and Gossip Girl. Get that money, Richelle.

I don’t want to give excuses but I went to see Vampire Academy because of the creative team behind it, brothers Mark and Daniel Waters. Mark directed Mean Girls and Daniel wrote Heathers(and Demolition Man!) What a team. But what they had to contend with is the Vampire Academy mythology. Shit is complicated. Three(!) varieties of vampire. You got your cool, laid back, chill vampires that apparently just want to get jobs and live chill lives. Then you have these 30 Days of Night/Blade II looking jerks, who run around with red, infected eyes and generally seem like rude, dirty people. I couldn’t tell if they were full on monsters so in thrall to their bloodlust that they had lost all sense of decorum, or if they actually have some plan besides ambush and kill. Some of them can talk, but it is of the wheezing, “You shall die…” variety. While I expected them to be the main villains of the piece, they actually only exist on the fringe of the plot for some boo scare attacks and to be cannon fodder. Apparently you can choose to be this kind of vampire, like how some people aligned with Voldemort in Harry Potter though I don’t know why. Voldemort had some swanky safehouses. These guys live in bushes and caves and their eyes look just terrible!  The third type of vampire is not even really a vampire, more of a glorified security guard, who just protect the more chill vampires from the crazy ones. These three types of vampires have specific names that I cannot bring myself to type. I am so sorry.

The main character is Rose Hathaway, who is played by Zoey Deutch, who is, fun fact, Lea Thompson’s daughter. Bury us old people in the ground because the new generation is here to replace us. She is pretty good, just the right kind of detached, take no shit kind of girl. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t follow the instructions of a single adult for the entire movie. Do you, Rose/Zoey! Rose has a thing for her combat training instructor Dimitri, and it was pretty much the only relationship I cared about. There is this red headed guy (Rose calls him Duckie at one point) who keeps trying to get with Rose but she knows what is up. And what is up is Dimitri and his ten year age difference.

Sh'yeah right! Keep dreaming, son.

Sh’yeah right! Keep dreaming, son.

I looked up the plot of the book series when I got home and it looks like they tried to cram about 5 books into one movie. It shows. Rose is BFFs with Lissa, who might be Queen of the vampires one day, but first she has to declare a major, I think? Rose and Lissa start out the movie having run away from the Vampire Academy because of some car accident that killed Lissa’s parents. Oh man this car accident. You guys, these cars couldn’t have been going over 15 miles an hour, tops! Right before they collide it cuts to black and pans up on flipped cars and broken glass like they were doing some Twisted Metal shit. Hilarious. After this crash is shown, it is then repeatedly mentioned for the next half hour, just in case you forgot about the crash. Oh man, the crash. Remember the crash? The crash. Oh shit, damn. But maybe they were talking about when Crash won best picture and how it was a travesty? I bet that’s it.

Never forget.

Never forget.

Rose and Lissa have a very similar dynamic to Blair and Serena from Gossip Girl, right down to the hair color. This did not occur to me until AFTER I got home from the movie, so I’m pretty disappointed in myself. Despite weighing about 95 lbs, Rose is supposed to be Lissa’s bodyguard, or at least will be in future after she graduates from Vampire Academy. Lissa gets to be queen and  you  have to go to school to get a degree in bouncing? Weak sauce, Rose. Tell Lissa to outsource and you get a degree in one of the sciences.

Oh man, the magic in this movie. I can imagine Mead’s “A-ha” moment when she said, “Vampires, but they can do magic! Where is my pen? Honey, have you seen my pen? What? I can’t hear you. Stop vacuuming and talk to me….My pen. I’m looking for my pen…..Which drawer? The one we keep the stamps in?….Hmm, I don’t see it. Oh, here are those scissors you were looking fo-OH MY PEN!”

I'm just kidding, Richelle.

I’m just kidding, Richelle.

Team Waters were given next to no budget for the magic in this movie, which consists of a scene where wind powers are demonstrated on a row of pinwheels and some guys display their fire abilities by making gun fingers at candles. You did what you could with what they gave you, Team Waters! Oh wait, one guy does get set on fire at one point for calling someone a slut. Down with slut shaming! There is also a water effect at one point that is so bad Rose breaks the fourth wall.

Rose doesn’t get to do any magic, because she’s too busy brewing up sexual chemistry with Dimitri while they “train”.  Late in the film Dimitri and Rose are bewitched into almost fucking in order to distract them from a larger dastardly plot. This leads to the great line from Dimitri as he rips off Rose’s clothes and says, “Nice dress, let’s burn it”, and tosses it into a fire. This scene was very real and true.

"Sorry I burned your dress." "No you're not." "Yeah, you're right."

“Sorry I burned your dress.” “No you’re not.” “Yeah, you’re right.”

Despite having more exposition(and hidden exposition) than I usually will tolerate, I kinda liked this movie. Team Waters was clearly fighting an uphill battle of low budgets and derivative source material but they carried off most of it. When Vampire Academy puts the mythology aside and focuses on the high school drama the younger cast members get a little spring in their step. No one in the cast seems completely comfortable with the silly supernatural elements that make no sense, but everyone knows how to deal with high school drama. At a few points no one even talks about being a vampire or having powers and they go to the mall and buy dresses for the dance. When one character bared her fangs near the end of the movie and got punched in the face I thought for a second, “Oh shit, this chick is a vampi- oh wait, I knew that. She punched her because she is a bitch. Being a vampire had nothing to do with it.” VA has a bunch of scenes where characters call each other “blood whores” and spread rumors about blood sucking threesomes and that shit was fun and interesting. When characters start talking about destiny and healing abilities I would lose interest. Obviously I still miss Gossip Girl a lot. 

Truly never forget.

Truly never forget.

Heck, I would say that your tolerance for teen dramas will determine whether you will even make it through this whole movie. The pan of the film at Grantland points out that Vampire Academy would have been better served on tv, and I agree. Give us a whole season of Rose and Dimitri burning holes in their loins. Take your time with your apparent vampire war that is set up for a sequel that will never happen now. I hope some of these guys find work after this movie. I’m sure Zoey Deutch will be fine, and the guy who plays Dimitri has a bright future of getting thrown out a window by Jason Statham.

 

Man of Steel

July 2, 2013

I realized about 10 minutes into Sucker Punch that Zack Snyder is my dude for life and I just had to get over myself and let him in. People hate Sucker Punch so much but that train action sequence is some hall of fame one take awesomeness(in the truest sense of the word) and the rest of the movie is just overreaching but it means well. Could my dude have done more to not set his female empowerment movie in a world of rape, abuse, and prostitution? Sure. But he didn’t know any better. I could say the same for Zack’s work on Man of Steel. Could it have been more thoughtful and bright? SURE. Zack wants to make you happy, and he heard you hated Superman Returns for being a fucking bore where Superman spent 5 minutes lifting planes and 135 minutes staring at his child through a wall. So he gave you a movie where Superman levels a goddamn city. Like Superman, Zack Snyder doesn’t always know his own strength.

Snyder was hand picked by Christopher Nolan himself to make this one. The internet loves themselves some Nolan but I’m fine about him. I can respect Inception but that whole fucking movie is also exposition though shouts to the elevator sequence and JGL flipping and flopping like the pro he is. I like his Batman movies but I don’t think Batman Begins has aged too well and The Dark Knight Rises was hindered by the same choppy fight scenes that Nolan always has in his movies. BUT, I’m fine with Chris Nolan. Like everyone else, I ride for Dark Knight. Oh, Insomnia was solid.

“You’re killing it, kid.” “I’m actually older than you, Chris.”

Man of Steel switches up from the get go by showing us Krypton before it exploded and letting us know that Superman’s dad was balling out of control. Right now Russell Crowe is straight killing it in everything I see him in, and Man of Steel is no exception. Riding winged wilderbeasts, jumping off cliffs, straight baller shit that you always assumed your dad did before you were born. Match this one up with his scene stealing run in The Man With The Iron Fists and Russell Crowe is having a great second act of a career. Now he just needs to show up in a Tarantino and rip someone’s eyeballs out while talking about how great Isaac Hayes was in Truck Turner(much love to the hospital shootout in Truck Turner).

Kevin Goddamn Costner on fire as Jonathan Kent. Seriously, that halting self importance is utterly perfect here. First he’s telling little Superman that he should have let a bus full of kids die(true) and later he has probably a top ten all time death scene. I know I engage in plenty of hyperbole but when ol’ Kevin put his hand up my damn jaw dropped. “It’s cool, son. One day you’ll level Metropolis. Let me get killed by a tornado.” Diane Lane does good work as Martha Kent, even taking a choke slam from Zod. I don’t want all of Superman’s parents to have brutal deaths but if Zod had, I dunno, thrown her into space or something, Superman would have a veritable hattrick of insane parent deaths. (Superman’s real mom is consumed by the fires of an exploding Krypton, which she confronts like a boss.)

Henry Cavill is fine as Superman, you guys. If he was trying to be funny and charming and failing I MIGHT see your point but this Superman is serious and conflicted and smoldering and Cavill has that shit down. It’s 2013, Nolan and Snyder cast for fuckability, and ladies want to mount Henry Cavill. It was a little on the nose to have someone in the movie say as much but also it is 2013 and not at all surprising to have a big budget motion picture assume the audience isn’t picking up what it is putting down. In this case it is putting Superman’s sack on your chin. Does he have a ton of chemistry with Amy Adams? Maybe not. In this iteration Lois Lane doesn’t really seem like a lady on the prowl, just a reporter looking for a story and willing to do some sneaky shit to get away with it. Good luck tricking Lois Lane, everybody. She will get by you and you will be so mad but still let her keep her job and fly on the secret jet holding the only weapon that can stop the bad guys.

Mad props to Michael Shannon who decided to not evoke Terence Stamp’s Zod at all and just be sad and pissed off Michael Shannon. He just wants to wipe out the planet Earth of all humans and animals and replace it with Kryptonian shit he grew up with. Why won’t you let him just live his genocidal dream? Shannon never cries but he is clearly bummed out about all this.

The two big action sequences are NUTS. Smallville? Cinder. Metropolis? A pile of glass and cement. Let us be real: if Superman is going to fight other super people the resulting damage is going to be excessive. I understand the handwringing by some Superman purists that Supes should have taken the battles away from populated areas, which is totally true. Completely irresponsible! That said, battles in unpopulated areas are low budget movie moves. If you have the budget to level a city with actual people in it, you do it. Leave the empty warehouses and wide fields to Asylum and DTV. That isn’t really a defense but the shit looked great. And isn’t insane collateral damage a touchstone of comic book battles? Joss Whedon originally had a whole section of Avengers dealing with the damage fallout and he scrapped it because what a downer! “How was the movie?” “I didn’t like the part with the lawyers and the rebuilding.” Shouts to the first 45 minutes of Avengers that kinda suck.

The other controversy surrounding this movie concerns the scene where Superman thrashes Zod all over the city trying to kill him and then kills him. “I can’t believe he killed the guy whose face he smashed through a hundred windows!” Superman had to kill this guy, he was trying to terraform the Earth into Krypton! Afterwords Superman is really bummed about it, as anyone would be after killing someone. Then he talks to his mom and gets a job.

In closing, Man of Steel is the best Superman movie ever made where Kevin Costner gets killed by a tornado and someone keeps a portable version of Russell Crowe on a flash drive. Zack Snyder is already writing a scene in Man of Steel 2 where Superman kicks the moon into Brainiac’s house.

Cloud Atlas

November 4, 2012

The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer go hard. They also treat the audience like intelligent adults, which didn’t get them much money back but that happens. Cloud Atlas is remarkable in that they got it made at all and with this cast. Hugh Grant as a face painted murderous cannibal? Hugo Weaving as Nurse Rachet? That alone is worth the price of admission.

Cloud Atlas isn’t afraid to hit the audience in the head with it’s messages and that is fine, just fine. The filmmakers also wanted to do everything in this movie and lord do they. Probably the only movie ever made with a daring escape from an old folks home cross cut with a high speed aerial race through holographic roadways of a futuristic Asia. It’s like no one ever said no to any idea but most of the ideas were good anyway so it worked out. When I was in college I used to find movies all the time from Japan, Korea and France that would push the envelope of content and form and I would lament that American filmmakers never came close to that level of audacity and creativity. Based on the grosses of films like Cloud Atlas and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, American audiences don’t want daring. It is still nice to see someone try every couple years. Darren Aronofsky went buck wild with The Fountain, which flopped, but was able to recover and become an Oscar guy while still going hard(Black Swan is hot fire)(y’know what The Fountain is hot fire too) so I can only hope that the Wachowskis don’t lose their nerve and make something boring. I have gone on record as not enjoying Speed Racer but they clearly weren’t taking notes from anybody on that one either.

But Cloud Atlas is a winner because it has ideas and characters and momentum. All six of the intertwined stories are interesting and compelling in different ways while still contributing to the thematic whole of the film. And the really crazy thing is that everyone is relatable and sketched out, whether they’re a worker clone, a gay prostitute/composer, or a post apocalyptic tribesman. All human experience is relatable, and the basic human need for freedom and the search for ideas is always a great framework for a story. Or six stories at that.

Y’know who is great in this movie? Halle Berry. No shit. I know she has an Oscar but man have I sat through some Halle Berry shit shows in my time. Some how, Big T and The Ws managed to pull some fine work from Ms. Berry, be it as an intrepid reporter or as a white Jewish woman. Tom Hanks is kinda hit and miss, but he is very, very good as Zachry, the post apocalyptic tribe guy who is constantly haunted by a top hatted Hugo Weaving hallucination. Classic Hanks. Classic Weaving.

The makeup in Cloud Atlas is frankly bananas. The movies have not yet figured out old age makeup so that means that we have to endure a couple scenes where Hugh Grant is playing a melted candle. Hugo Weaving goes through the most transformations, playing a large breasted female nurse, an asian guy,  a sideburned assassin, the aforementioned top hatted, green skinned ghoul, and a rotted nose slave owner. The yellow face that Weaving wears along with several other non-asian actors is inevitably distracting and yeah, kinda racist and ignorant. I think the Wachowskis and Tykwer were trying to be post racial and work out their ideas about universal people and that we are all one in a continuous loop of life but ehhh, that shit is still kinda racist. I mean, Tom Hanks didn’t play a black guy at any point, yknowwhatImean?

But better we reach for the stars then never try at all, right? Right. Cloud Atlas is literally about trying when it seems like a bad idea/wrong idea/worst idea and just living(or dying) with the consequences.


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