Film Review : Out of the Furnace (2013)

IMDB Score – 6.9
Rotten Tomato Score – 52%

Starring – Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Forrest Whittaker, Zoe Saldana, and Sam Shepard
Directed By – Scott Cooper

When Rodney Baze mysteriously disappears and law enforcement doesn’t follow through fast enough, his older brother, Russell, takes matters into his own hands to find justice.

Today I sat down to watch on of the most anticipated films of last year that ended up being one of the most disappointing films according to critics. Written and directed by the man that gave us the bleak and heartbreaking “Crazy Heart”, “Out of the Furnace” stars Christian Bale as a blue collar working Pennsylvania man trying to do right by his family. Scott Cooper is a talented filmmaker. I really ended up enjoying “Crazy Heart” when I sat down to watch it a year or two ago and was pretty excited when I heard of this film coming out. The cast he put together is pretty incredible as we have the majority bring Oscar nominees and two of them being winners in Bale and Whittaker. Reading about the film before hand led me to learn that some of the film takes place in the Ramapo hills that blanket northern New Jersey. Being that I’m from these exact hills, it made me even more interested. I do however need to get something off my chest…

While not a negative on the film, the portrayal of the “Jackson Whites” that live in this area of New Jersey is pretty insane. I have personally worked with and around these people for years and have never felt in danger, ever. Are there some bad eggs? Are there bad eggs in every culture and town? I rest my case. I just wanted to point that out seeing as I have first hand experience of what living in that area, up until last month that is, was like. Back to the film…

I ended up really enjoying the movie. I did have problems but for the most part it was a gorgeously shot character study (for the most part) that only really fell apart near the end. As a writer, I know how hard it is to carry out a great idea until the finish. I’ve always had trouble ending papers and stories with a nice bow so I’m more lenient on things that can’t hold it together the whole way through. Would it have been better? Sure, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy what led up to the disappointing ending which took place in the film. For one, the acting in the film is pretty stellar. I won’t call it my favorite but Christian Bale put on one hell of a performance. There is a scene in the film with Zoe Saldana on a bridge that is one of the most heartbreaking scenes and bits of acting I’ve seen in the last year or two. Casey Affleck just continues putting everything into his roles and he’s becoming one of my favorite supporting actors. I don’t know if he’s ready for a leading role but the kid is a dynamic actor who keeps impressing me in the films he’s in. Harrelson plays a despicable villain very well and Willem Dafoe is just amazing in everything he does. The only real problem with the cast I had was with Forrest Whittaker who continues to be as inconsistent as ever. His great roles are amazing and everything else, including this, is just horrible. I don’t know what kind of accent he was going for but it just came off silly and really took me out of the film whenever he was on, which lucky for me was very little.

I think people had a problem with this film due to it’s very bleak and weak script. I can understand that. American movie watchers like to have everything spelled out for them. I just so happen to fall into teh group that can do with a little ambiguity. In teh beginning of the film Christian Bale gets into a car accident and the next scene he is in jail. I can see why this may seem bad because we weren’t told what happened but honestly, can people not figure that out? There were specific shots before the accident that are HUGE clues as to why he is in jail. The ending shot also follows this technique of letting the viewers figure it out for themselves. It wasn’t eve that difficult. People who complained about the weak script just are too lazy to do any thinking. The script had problems, but that wasn’t it. The ending is what kept this film from being great.

The first half of the film was a brilliant character study on blue collar America, getting tossed shitty cards, and trying to keep the ones you love close to you. The second half was a revenge thriller that didn’t come off cheesy but rather just unearned. I didn’t see the need to go down that path and the final encounter between hero and villain was just way to predictable. The film just ran out of steam.

I’m not going to damn a film because of a bad ending. I enjoyed the film. It’s bleak. It’s not very uplifting. Forrest Whittaker has a shit accent. Yet, it is a beautifully shot film with great performances and a first half that is up there with the best of last year. It’s a solid rental.


Recommended Viewing – Snatch, The Hunter, A Single Shot, The Deer Hunter

Film Review : The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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IMDB Score – 8.4
Rotten Tomato Score – 91%
Currently #159 on IMDB’s Top 250

Directed By – Wes Anderson
Starring – Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrian Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilso, and Tony Revolori

The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

There is only one word I can think of to describe Wes Anderson’s latest film. That word is “delightful”.

There has not, to this day, been a Wes Anderson film I did not love. Every single one of them is special in my eyes. Had I known absolutely nothing about this film, I still would have had no doubt in my mind that it was directed by Wes Anderson. He has a style all his own and that has been copied by almost nobody. There’s something about that kind of niche that I just find enchanting. Enchanting could also describe this film, which stars more of my favorite people then I think any other film I’ve seen. I mean, look at that list of people who contribute to this film. It’s an indie film fan’s dream come true. I’m going to spoil something a little bit. Some of those names have such little screen time that I’d be surprised if they spent a full day on set, but the whole picture is empty without them. Everything about the film enchanted me. There are rarely times where I have a smile on my face throughout an entire film, and Wes Anderson has done this to me multiple times, this just being the latest.

In one of his more complex stories he has brought to the screen, the film takes place, during many time periods, in and around The Grand Budapest Hotel, located in a fictitious Polish town during times of war. During these time periods we are introduced to two characters whose friendship is the reason this story is being told. M. Gustave, played as perfect as anybody could play any character by Ralph Fiennes, and his protege lobby boy Zero, played at an old age by F. Murray Abraham and at a young one by a breakout actor named Tony Revolori, are the centerpieces of an intricate yet vastly profound story. M. Gustave has just inherited a small fortune from one of his hotel guests whom he has developed a relationship with and the immediate family of said guest is trying to get rid of him for their own greedy ways. Like always, I don’t want to give away much of the plot but that is pretty much the gist of the film and you’re going to have to find out the rest for yourself.

When “Moonrise Kingdom” came out last year, I thought to myself that one one Wes Anderson was going to cease being able to bring us fantastic cinema. I guess this is just some innate idea that at some point people start to decline but Anderson is proving that wrong by giving us some of his best work as his career continues to move forward. There is n doubt in my mind that he’s going to be making incredible movies until he dies of old age. This latest one is something special, but certainly has some of his traditional trademark qualities. One of the things I love about his work is how symmetrical every one of his shots are. There is a fluid way he moves the camera into the perfect position where we have an actor centered in front of the screen with nearly identical lines surrounding him. Perhaps it’s my OCD leaking through my eyes. I just can’t gt enough of it. He also utilizes the shots from a distance that he has been using since Fantastic Mr. Fox. We see some characters off scurrying along the base of the shot while behind them is a huge scene of mountains or buildings, obviously made of cardboard and paper, but nevertheless whimsical and charming. The wit in this film is also rampant. There were countless times I literally burst out laughing, mostly from either Ralph Fiennes or Adrian Brody saying something insane. The film, which is rated R, uses the perfect time and place to insert either bad language, or in some cases hilarious and crude nudity. It was a riot, and while I didn’t see the movie with a lot of people, the humor was felt all around. Everybody was laughing. It’s a hilarious film.

With such a talented cast, you can’t let everybody have a huge amount of screen time. There just isn’t enough time in the world. Everybody was pretty perfect though. Tilda Swinton was literally unrecognizable as an 84 year old woman. Willem Dafoe was a cold, evil man that almost seemed to turn into a vampire at one point in the film. Jeff Goldblum handled most of the legal dialogue with a diction that only the voice of Jeff Goldblum could make funny. Edward Norton gave the best laughs with the least amount said. His first appearance in the film had my dying and he hadn’t even said a word yet. Harvey Keitel as a bald, muscle flexing prisoner with prison tattoos and Adrien Brody with his short bursts of hilarious anger could not have been better used. I just loved every single aspect of this film. Every single character has their own quirks and humor no matter how long they were on screen.

Overall, I can’t say enough good things. Ralph Fiennes stoles every single scene he was in and he was in a damn lot of them. That’s how good he was. When “Moonrise Kingdom” came out, I knew that it was going to be in my top five of the year regardless of what else got released because of how unique and funny it was and I honestly enjoyed this a lot more. I’ll try to get out to see another viewing, maybe with some friends, but this is most certainly going to be one of my favorites of the year and is already inching it’s way up the ladder of favorite Wes Anderson films the more I think about it. I seriously can not wait to see it again and look forward to everything Wes Anderson will give me in the future.


Film Review : Antichrist (2009)

IMDB Score – 6.6
Rotten Tomato Score – 48%
Netflix Watch Instant
Best Actress at Cannes Film Festival – Charlotte Gainsbourg

Directed By – Lars Von Trier
Starring – Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg

A grieving couple retreat to their cabin in the woods, hoping to repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage. But nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse.

That was the worst handjob of all time. I’m not going to explain this. This is my way of having fun with you.

So tonight I sat down to watch “Antichrist”, a film which I have been putting off for some time now. Why was I putting it off? Well, Lars Von Trier makes a living out of tearing my heart out of its chest, spitting on it, and throwing it overhand back into my rib cage without any form of courtesy or apology. My first exposure to the man was “Dancer in the Dark”. What a wonderful film to start what would be an on going love affair with the man. I’ve always been drawn towards music and film that go against the grain. I like when people think out of the box and present us with something new. I also appreciate going to dark places where most filmmakers are afraid to go in fear of alienating their audience. Lars Von Trier doesn’t give a shit. He’s going to make his films the way he wants to. The man is a mad genius. He’s constantly pushing the envelope to new heights and I’ve always appreciated that. While my admiration for him is still as high as it has ever been, this film unfortunately did not further heighten my opinion of the man. This was my first Von Trier miss.

After viewing the film I did a little research and found out that Von Trier was going through a hell of a depression when writing/making this film. Holy shit did it show. The story revolves around a couple who had recently lost a child because they were too busy having loud sex in snowstorm. I had no idea Willem Dafoe was so well endowed. No I do. Thanks Lars Von Trier. I had always wondered what the mans package looked like and you have delivered on all fronts. The couple soon realizes that they are in a world of misery and Willem Dafoe’s character, who is a licensed therapist, decides that they should both go into the woods and live in a cabin for a few days. This is where the horror begins. This is where I stop describing the plot.

If you have ever had a messy room before then you’ll understand what I mean when I say this film is messy. All the parts of a coherent story line are in the film except they are in places that just don’t make much sense. I lost a lot of the surprise and meaning of the film because I was being bombarded by random acts of supernatural occurences involving animals and plants. The film is about the evil of nature. I understand this. I understand it more since the film ended however. During the film they hinted at it a couple times but eventually went into full on “spelling it out” mode by the films end. I would have appreciated a little more subtly, by which I mean letting me figure it out by myself, towards the end of the film. I didn’t get that. Instead I got some very disturbing images that I’m not going to be able to scrub thoroughly enough from my brain. I’m am going to have nightmares tonight and I don’t even own a vagina. Again, I’m not going to explain that.

Going through depression is hard. I’ve been there. Lots of people have been there and I’ll venture that most of them have had it worse than me. I was willing to stick with the film during the first half where we see the stages of grief in full play. Once we took our trip to the woods however, the stages of depression suddenly jumped a few gears into full blown lunacy. I was honestly taken aback by it. It was like a light was switched and all of a sudden we have a grotesque horror film. Perhaps this was intended? I know serious depression comes in waves. Sometimes these waves come in with more intensity as time goes by. If Von Trier was going for that then I can say I honestly get what he was trying to do albeit he decided to do so in an odd fashion. Again, subtly would have been nice here.

A lot of people compare this film with “Melancholia”, which is a film that I loved. I get this. Both deal with depression and it’s different forms. “Melancholia” however was a slow burning descent into the illness where “Antichrist” was like a slow jog into depression that turned into a dead sprint to hell. Insanity finally turned its ugly head and I found myself just wondering where my slow paced character study went. Now, this isn’t to say I hated the film. I didn’t. I just had major issues with the foundation of the film.

One thing about Von Trier is that he is incredibly gifted behind the camera. Like all of his films, the cinematography is gorgeous. His usually opening of a slow mo prologue was one of the prettiest intros I’ve seen in a long time except for that wonderful shot of Dafoes dong. I could have done without that. The film was dark. There were very few colors involved and I think this was intentional given the nature of the film. The acting was also very good. Both the leads had great chemistry and while they were trying to sex each other during about half the film, the other half was a great back and forth of body language and eye movement. Gainsbourg deserved her award. Hell, I’d say that any actress that has to work with Von Trier deserves an award after reading so much on what he puts them through. I guess that is the mark of a great director though. Alfred Hitchcock was notorious for destroying the souls of his actresses and now I guess Von Trier has grabbed the torch.

Overall I can’t say I’d watch the film again. I’m glad I got it out of the way but disappointed I didn’t enjoy it nearly like I enjoy his other films. The insane train that the film turned into was too much for me and eventually I just wanted to get off it. Also, if you have genitalia of any kind, do not watch this film.