Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Movie Review: American Beauty (1999)

American Beauty (1999)

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, 
Written By: Alan Ball
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Release Date: October 11, 1999
Rating: A+

Summary: An unhappily married, suburban man decides to change his life after falling in love with his teenage daughter's best friend.  

My Thoughts: I've put off this review multiple times because it's my favorite film and I don't even know how I could give it the justice it deserves, but here I am...doing this review. 

American Beauty is a film that I only show to people I care about, people who would understand it's messages that I'm also going to talk about here. We meet Lester (Kevin Spacey), a man who's introduced to us as a simple, average guy who hasn't had sex in forever thanks to hi overbearing, workaholic wife and a guy who is kind of stuck. He's stuck in this unhappy marriage, he's stuck in this dead-end job and most importantly, he's stuck in a life that he hates, but, then again, he seems so normal you may not notice that. But as, the DVD tagline states, we've got to: Look closer. Look closer at Lester, look closer at his life, but most importantly, look closer at your own. It's a psychological drama, one that explains the dark side of the mundane life of being a human because while it seems normal to have a good job that pays your bills and a seemingly wife and daughter, what's not normal is revealed upon closer inspection and that is whether or not these things make you happy and to Lester, they do not. Upon closer inspection of his seemingly average life does he realize that he is averagely forgettable, not respected by his family and not really doing anything of merit to himself. It is after he meets Angela (Mena Suvari), his daughter's best friend that something in him reawakens and he goes on this journey in changing his life. But why Angela? Why is she the one who puts him on his path? 

Why, that's because Angela is a symbol for youth. She reminds him of what it was like to be young and happier and he fantasied what it would be like to be with her in order to regain that. She was his catalyst and speaking of catalysts, she isn't the only one. Another catalyst is Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley). He's the only one in the movie that has truly found themselves. He's what Lester wants to be, but Lester doesn't mold himself after Ricky. Ricky is a guy who appreciates life for what it is and goes on recording life in order to capture it, to keep it for his own. Ricky knows who he is, he appreciates the beauty in life and he sees it as a whole. Lester just wants to see the beauty in the smaller things, thigns normal people take for granted that he once and this ideology is one we can't say the rest of the characters in the film follow. Lester's wife is obsessed with appearances and it rules her life as she spirals downward into her work because she wants to be on top, she wants to appear picture perfect which can be seen in the way she keeps her home, her work mantras and her obsession with material things. Lester's daughter is also obsessed with appearances, but more so her outward appearance because she hasn't accepted the beauty within herself. The same goes for Angela, who unlike Lester's daughter, puts on a front that she accepts herself, when she really has not. These characters, with the exception of Ricky, are all paper thin. They have a lot of backstory, exposition behind their choices and etc, but they're merely exaggerated, stereotypical tropes of characters that we see time and time again in the media or know in our real lives who's only job is to prove a point. They're so paper thin in order for us to recognize the tropes and relate our lives to them and how we've seen them before, but when we look closer at their quick-witted dialogue, dark jokes and other misadventures, it is only then that we see the irony, hurt and humanness in their words, which touch the viewer. And it's not until they step out of this box and become more than a trope that they really begin to become people and when they begin to feel joy about the small things in life and realize that happiness and joy isn't just a feeling from material things or being successful, but an experience that comes from being yourself and being comfortable with that and thus, happy, when it is a thing most people take for granted and that motif is expressed in the brilliant acting and writing.

Everything in this movie was created for a reason. Every sentence intriguing and though provoking, each song provokes a feeling and every joke or humorous aspect is used to break up the sad reality of what's going on in the film and I could go on-and-on about this for days, but that would take too long. The purpose of this film is about joy. Does true joy really exist? Can we truly be happy? And what sparks the need for change in an unhappy life? In Lester's case, it was Angela. In his daughter's, it is Ricky and but the fact that the director took his time to ask these questions and provoke such a response proves that this is one worth seeing and not only that, but like me, this movie may change your life. Whether it be with it's tragic ending and how it relates to the themes, the themes themselves, it's visual beauty or it's internal beauty, this movie will move you. It will make you do as the DVD says: Look closer.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Directed By: Dan Trachtenburg
Written By: Josh Campbell
Release Date: March 11, 2016
Rating: B+

Summary: A young woman awakens to find herself held captive by a man who tells her the end of the world has happened and that she cannot leave because there's no world to leave to.

My Thoughts: Before we begin, I've never seen the original Cloverfield. I just heard it wasn't really a sequel to the film and I decided to rent it and see what was going on and I feel like that's a correct assumption to make. From my basic knowledge of Cloverfield, I know it's this sci-fi, horror flick and this is not that. There are sci-fi elements and things that hint at a scientific, fanatical presence, but this film isn't a sci-fi, horror flick like it's so-called predecessor. This film is a intense thriller that has you questioning things, people and their motives and that's what the movie revolves around, not so much aliens, monsters or whatever the hell Cloverfield revolves around.

We start the film with his beautiful introduction sequence that not only is my favorite part of the film because of it's beautiful, quick and fast-paced direction which I could say for the whole film, but this introduction really sets up the protagonist's (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) character arc. She's gotten into a fight with her boyfriend or fiance (I can't remember), who is played by a lovely, Bradley Cooper, and decides to just run away. She packs her bags and leaves and after gassing up her car for the long ride, she gets into a car accident and awakens to herself being chained in Howard's (John Goodman) basement. He begins to tell her that he saved her life and that she is there because the air is unbreathable and some sort of apocalypse has begun and that's the mystery behind 10 Cloverfield Lane. Is Howard telling the truth? Or is he some kind of maniac chaining people to walls? 

It's an interesting premise for sure even though at times it felt like things were happening way to fast and that it was trying to be bigger than what it really was, but what is the most interesting about it is how human it feels. This could actually happen and it feels like it is actually happening. Like the Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character, we don't know what is going on and that uneasy feeling we get that maybe something isn't right is reinforced by the powerhouse performance that John Goodman puts on. He goes from being a man who is genuinely concerned for our protagonist to a complete psychopath in literally an instant, so that upper the creep factor immensely. There was no reading that you could get from this guy from his voice, facial reaction or anything else, so you just have to wait until it's finale to figure out whether or not he was telling the truth, but while he was great and we can't forget the other characters in the film who were also well, he blew me away in this movie. And speaking of other characters, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is terrific as our helpless protagonist who turns out to be quite smart and resourceful and also turns out to be a character we can root for. As for the other guy, John Gallhager Jr, his character was nonexistent and by that I mean that he didn't really have any essence to him. There was barely any backstory to him and he felt...just...there, which was quite sad as we was good in his dialogue and etc, so he felt a little underused in the movie. 

Furthermore, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie I enjoyed and would gladly watch again. There are theories, hint and clues scattered both across the Internet and in the film that piece things together that I haven't gotten yet, but I hope to on my second watch in, so it's great that you can go in and watch this movie again and again and see and notice different things that you didn't catch the last time.This movie is a beautiful, intense thriller that keep is fast-paced and well as chilling. While you don't need to see the original film to watch this one, don't go in thinking you're getting the monster flick that it is because you'll be never disappointed, but don't miss out on this film because of that. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Movie Review: Boyhood (2014), and a bit on Richard Linklater

Boyhood (2014)

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Elijah Smith
Written By: Richard Linklater
Directed By: Richard Linklater
Release Date: August 15, 2014
Rating: A-

Summary: The life of Pablo, I mean, Mason. 
My Thoughts: Richard Linklater, the director of the film and love of my life, is a man of merit and one worth talking about in this review. While this is supposed to be a review of the film itself, Richard Linklater is who makes the film what it is. His directorial and writing style, while simple, are impeccable in the ways in which he reaches the audience and gets his point across. Richard Linklater is not merely an director or writer, he is a philosopher and if you've seen any of his films, you'll know what I'm talking about, but here are some examples featuring Boyhood.

With filming stretched over the course of 12 years, this film is about the life of a young man named Mason as he grows up. It touches on some of the events in his life like moving to a new house or his mother getting a new boyfriend, but nothing to large like other types of coming-of-age movies usually do and that's where Linklater stands apart from other directors. While most movies have rising action, falling action and some sort of climax, there is none here and a lot of people call this a boring film as we're just watching Mason go through everyday life doing the simplest of things that don't seem to hold any weight or consequence. People also say that the characters are flat with no personalities or etc, except for a fantastic Ethan Hawke. But, in my opinion, it is not boring and the characters are a tad flat, only but because they're real. The characters are us as people and it's effectiveness in doing that comes from the characters not being so distinctive and out of the box. And yes, the filim is slow, very, very show and also very long, but there's drama in his life as there is in all of our lives, but even as he ages and the issues and problems seem to either fix themselves or dissolve away, the focus still remains on Mason, who is a bit of a representation of ourselves through his actions and the childhood drama that is going on with him and his family and even though there is that focus on him, there's still this bigger picture and that's the thing that makes so great. 

Linklater focuses a majority of this film on life itself. Scratch that, Linklater focuses a majority of his films on life. Not the big things, the small things and this filim is a celebration of life in itself. It's a celebration of the simplicities in life because we can go through life and we have our own rising actions, climaxes and etc, but we tend to look directly at that and forget the little things, like the enjoyment of waking up in our childhood home, going to school and being with your family. It's breathtakingly intimate and makes you take a look at your own life to think about the things that Mason has gone through that maybe you'd overlooked or forgotten about and that's exactly what Linklater wants you to do. Another important theme going along with the one of childhood nostalgia is also, the passing of time is linear and we literally see him age, but there is no distinct message telling you he's aged. You just see it and we jump from age to age as he hits these simple milestones like going out to a party or going to college and it's not until the end where we really get the message of film and what Linklater is trying to say even though it stops short for me as if it was rushed. I wish there was more, but it would sort of detract from the message if it had been or maybe Linklater got tired of filming because, I mean, it took 12 years.

Linklater, as I've stated before is one of the greatest filmmakers of our film. He's innovative in his techniques like this one where he films the movie with the same actors over the course of 12 years, he's profound in his words and you see that a lot in the dialogue between the characters and the big themes that you see in the film. While this film is probably a bit too long and the ending feels rushed, it's a movie that hits home. It's a movie that, while you probably will only watch once, will stick with you for a long time.

Monday, July 18, 2016

TV Review: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-) and The Deconstruction of The Rom-Com

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 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-)

Starring: Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, Santino Fontana, Donna Lynne Champlin
Created By: Rachel Bloom & Aline Brosh McKenna
Airing On: The CW 
 Rating: A
*Season 1 is on Netflix as of July 18, 2016*

Summary: Sad and bored, Rebecca Bunch, meets her teenage sweetheart years after they've broken up and moves to West Covina, California to be with him (even though she won't admit it).

My Thoughts: This show came to be a bit of a surprise when I began watching it. It was originally a filler between seasons of Law and Order, but somehow I grew addicted to watching. It was a breath of fresh air. From Rebecca's intensely bubbly attitude, to the cast breaking out in song randomly during the episode to it's slightly refreshing middle finger to romantic comedies, this show is something special.

As stated, we have our protagonist, Rebecca, drop everything in her life like her great job at a hot shot firm in New York to pick up and move to California where her former boyfriend now lives. And that's where the her being "crazy" part comes in. Sure it's not reasonable that she pick up and leave everything for some guy, but it's not just about him. Women in romantic comedies usually jump through hoops for guys and they aren't seen as "crazy" like Rebecca is, but that's because the women in those movies are wallpaper women. They're seen, but not really heard. They're characters that have little to no backstory and their whole existence is to find love and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is giving us that in the show, but in a completely different way. Rebecca is doing things same things those girls are doing, but why is she the crazy one? Why are the other girls in romantic comedies not seen as crazy, like she is. I feel like it's probably because unlike those other girls, Rebecca has substance. Rebecca is real. She messes up and she makes things awkward and ends up singing about it to make everything better and even if it doesn't fix things, she tries her hardest and moves on afterwards. At the end of a typical romantic comedy, the girl wins the guy and they ride off into the sunset or whatever, but here, things are different and this doesn't just go for Rebecca, but many other characters in the show.

Josh, the guy Rebecca is chasing, isn't your typical handsome, jock guy who is perfect. He has flaws. He gets mean, he makes mistakes and can apologize for them. In one episode, he even goes on a rant about how it's okay for him to have a bad day. In rom-com's, its not typical for these guys to have any sort of negativity. I mean, they're perfect. And even Greg, they guy we want Rebecca to be with, isn't perfect. He's a manic depressive, a cynic, an alcoholic, but more so, he and Rebecca click, more so than Josh, but neither of them are perfect. We can choose and pick either of them for her, but the choice is her's to make and as per typical rom-com movies/shows go, the show revolves around her doing so, but underneath all that lies more internal drama with Rebecca and the other characters which make them better than typical rom-com trope characters.

 And not only is Rebecca more fleshed out than your typical rom-com girl, what drives her insanity to find love isn't her. It's society. It's the people around her. Throughout the whole show, she has other people like her friend, Paula, or butter commercials or her family tell her what to do. The only thing she really did for herself was actually move and while the show revolves around her moving there for Josh, did she really?

In my opinion, she did not. Everyone is telling her she did, so eventually she believes it. Everyone keeps telling her to be with Josh, so she pursues him. It's in one episode that she tells Josh about how New York depressed her that I really got it. People can say it was an act so she didn't seem "crazy" as the show portrays her to be, but then again. We're all a bit crazy. Rebecca wanted to be happy, so she left the place that was making her sad. Is that so crazy? She just happened to move to the town that made the once love of her life happy because like her, that's what we all want: to be happy. Not to find love, or to get laid. To be happy and that's all she wants as well, people just keep telling her she needs to find love to do so. And it's a reflection of today's society. People tell us we need to find love to be happy, that we need to find someone else to make us whole and like us, Rebecca is in that same position. However, Rebecca, being in a romantic comedy type situation has more of an opportunity to do so and like our society, people are molding her into that rom-com girl that we see usually, but she doesn't fit that mold, which is why she's deemed "crazy." 

She's not crazy even through the macaroni face sculptures and homemade teddy bear. She just has feelings and this show tackles those feelings in a way I appreciate. Her abandonment issues, her depression, are all sung away and made off as punch lines, but some of the things she says and does really hit home with a viewer when things start to actually get serious. Here's a quote from the show: "You think I don't want to opt out of the hard things in my life. You think I don't want to unsubscribe from half the bad things in my life." And this hit home for me, personally. Sure, it was set up as joke, but it's so real. This show is so real, even if it makes it off to be a big joke.

However, the only joke that's it's really presenting is on the rom-com genre. It's giving you everything that you want in a rom-com and shoving it right in your face because while they're things society wishes upon people, it's not real. This show, however, is. I'm in love with this show. It's funny, it's original with a lot to say. Please give it a chance because I know I'll be tuning in for Season 2. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2014-Present)

BoJack Horseman (2014-Present)

Starring: Will Arnett, Allison Brie, Amy Sedaris, Aaron Paul
Created By: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Airing On: Netflix
Rating: A-

Summary: Bojack Horseman centers around Bojack Horseman, a washed up, 90's sitcom star who longs to be relevant in modern day Hollywood.

My Thoughts: Forget anything else you've been watching, you NEED to be watching this show. Firstly, it's hard to put this show into words. It comes off as your average, run-of-the-mill animated comedy series, like something off of Animation Domination, but what this show has that those other shows lack is heart, no matter how hard it is to actually see that. 

I've watched Season 1 and 2 so far and they're both impeccable. BoJack is quite a character and it's quite easy to write off his bitter monologues and witty banter with other characters, but deep down there are real issues and real problems that he's going through, but they're played off as jokes, which as someone with depression, I find quite relatable because it's what I do. However, in the case of this show, I don't know yet if that's it's strong suit or not because it makes it seem like every other adult animated series that writes off all internal character problems as jokes. It's just here they're more vivid and it's dark, but again, still funny ever.

In just the intro, which is also easy to write off, you see his long blank stare at the camera as things go on in the background, representing his depression and unwillingness to really look at his life for what it is, drinking heavily in order to fill that void that his celebrity status once filled beforehand. He stares off into the camera, only stopping to drink or fend off the paparazzi that plague him for no longer being famous.

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 BoJack was a star in the 90's. He had it all: money, fame and women and honestly, he still does have it all, except no one really cares about him anymore and that's what he worries about the most. The show revolves around him trying to get his life together, but where this show stands apart from most adult animated series is that this show isn't just about these humans and animals doing funny things. If anything, them being animals has no importance on the show, it's just a fresh way to tell the story.
There's sex jokes, there are pop culture references, but besides that BoJack, being an alcoholic and manic depressive, just wants what we all want: To stand out and be noticed and appreciated. He had all this once before and it fell through the cracks, but the underlying issue behind all that is something the show hasn't touched too much on, but may do so as the show goes on: His family issues. He never knew love, his family didn't show him any and he used fame to fill that void and now there's another now that his fame is all gone, but again, with the way the show has evolved, we haven't touched too much on this family factor, but hopefully we will with time. It's a slow show and it takes a while for it to really understand what it wants to be, but it gives you enough to be fulfilled and wanting more after its done. It's cynical and is quite sad, but the way that the story goes kind of puts that all on the back burner and lets you get your fill of humor and whatnot before you even feel any sort of sadness from what's going on through BoJack and his other friend's misadventures all in the pursuit of happiness because that's what we all want, right? 

And that's where we resonate with BoJack. He doesn't always make the best choices, but neither do we and after we figure out where the show stands and once it finds out where it stands, we understand BoJack even when he's making a mess of everything and even end up rooting for him and this goes for most of the characters. We can get to understand most of them and their choices and end up loving them through their faults and whatnot, however while we often go off and build relationships with other characters, we never lose sight of BoJack.

BoJack Horseman is a thought-provoking, relatable, clever little show and one of the most interesting things I've seen in quite a while. It makes me think and feel things that I tend to overlook in life in pursuit of other things, like BoJack, just less bitter and angry like he is. It's a funny little show that's also quite depressing, but it's some of the best TV you'll see in a while.