Forever Furious: Fast 8

What a ride it has been, what started as a couple of burglars (and a cop) from Los Angeles has morphed into a multinational crew of mercenaries, pulling off the biggest heists with the best vehicles. From Toyotas and Chevys to giant trucks and tanks, the series is bigger, grander, and more, explosive. At this point, every one who sees this should know exactly what to expect. Universal knows the audience well, continuing off what ‘Fast Five’ did for the franchise and cranking the intensity ever so delicately, adding bigger vehicles to the destruction and bringing in more actors to facilitate the evolution of the Furious.

Speaking of new characters, we see the return of Mr. Nobody, played effortlessly by Kurt Russell, as well as Scott Eastwood as the protégé Little Nobody. Honestly, Kurt Russell is the best actor in this movie, never the stranger to cheesy action movies, he plays the role of Mr. Nobody with a wink of his eye and a demeanor that says, “stand back, let me show you how it’s done.” The fact that he is so laid back and cool goes to show he can add a touch of dry wit, lightening the mood and continuing the vibe of joviality lesser franchises lack in favor of edge-overload. Scott Eastwood is without a doubt the replacement Paul Walker, which is fine, his death opened up a roster spot for someone who was not down with the gang’s antics but eventually goes along with the mayhem. The spin on Eastwood is the subversion of the laconic characteristics his dad was known for and instead he looks like a fish out of water, the new guy.

On the topic of new additions, the main antagonist Cipher played by Charlize Theron was, milk-toast. It was an often-Marvel/Suicide Squad villain level of uninteresting. It was not anything Charlize did, it was more of the scenes in the movie where she was supposed to be menacing had to cut to a different shot since it’s PG-13. On the other hand, Jason Statham’s extended appearance gave him ample opportunity to chew scenes with Dwayne Johnson. Their back and forth shenanigans set this movie off in the long line of kooky action movies. Not only that, Deckard (Statham) gets in touch with HIS family as we see mama and brother Shaw round out the plot of ‘Fast and Furious 6’.

One aspect I will give the current run of Furious credit for is the exclusion of the set-up; we do not need to see where the squad came from, or other tertiary scenes of plot that would only bog down the movie with exposition dumps. I noticed this in Fast Five where Brian and Dom roam the streets of Brazil and challenged the other drivers to a race. This allows extended action or, *heartfelt scenes* to continue for as long as needed or desired. A movie like ‘Ghost in the Shell’ spent an obscene amount of time in dialogue with a snippet of action every few minutes, this works within the genre of a character drama, where the action acts as a release to the tension of the scene. ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, ‘Dredd’, and ‘The Raid’ are perfect examples of action movies that showed exposition during the talky scenes, and pick up the action immediately; even the opening scenes of ‘Dredd’ and ‘Fury Road’ begin with high octane moments of chase.

In conclusion, I smell another change of scenery in the Furious franchise, while the series has had a revolving door of characters, the main core of the squad were always there to bring them all together. Now that Paul Walker is gone and the squad has no where else to go but space, what is the next move? Will it become Dwayne Johnsons franchise? Regardless, I could live without another Wiz Khalifa song inserted in the beginning or end.

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A Shell of a Former Ghost

Short answer: Ghost In the Shell was contrived and predictable. Long answer: in the time between the 1995 animated feature and the 2017 live action feature, there have been several movies released that were influenced by the anime. The thing about adapting non-American properties, is there are aspects of the original source material that are lost in translation; and when a major studio decides to adapt a foreign movie to a western audience, we get movies like Spike Lee’s version of Oldboy, DragonBall Evolution, or even a remake of an American show like The Last Airbender. They are wrong and butchered to a degree that makes you wonder why was this made. If studios are going to adapt or remake foreign movies it should be to the degree of The Departed or Black Swan; or movies that pay homage to the source material while being it’s own thing. Speaking of which, I can think of a couple of movies similar to the ‘95 GitS that had stronger elements that made them better western representations than the garbled mess the 2017 version was.

The main lady hero

     Oh lord, where do I even begin? River Tam from Serenity and Leeloo from the Fifth Element come to mind when I think of sci-fi heroines that were more compelling, whose journeys resonated throughout the movies’ narrative and had me invested the entirety of the movie. The problem with Major in this iteration of GitS is all we are given is the creation of her being and then several scenes of exposition dumps. We are not shown we are told until an action scene takes place, at least with Serenity and The Fifth Element the plot is driven during the exposition. 

The overall design

     While the design of the city and characters were true to the anime, nothing screamed out more than “hey, this looks like Blade Runner,” even the screens over the buildings matched the aesthetic of the iconic lady drinking Coca Cola. One movie in particular which took the design template of Blade Runner and subverted it to a whimsical aesthetic was The Fifth Element. That world looked fun, the retro design of the ships and cruisers gave us the audience the impression that Luc Besson wanted to create a world with familiar elements in past history, and implement these quirks into the narrative.

The combat

     Previously mentioned, every, single, action scene just had to implement a slow motion segment; there is a particular movie where hand to hand combat took an unique approach to the universe. That movie was Equilibrium. Who had seen gun-cata before? Well, that in itself definitely took visual cues from The Matrix, as well as John Woo’s Chinese releases. Point being, if a movie is going to implement past visuals of successful movies why would the slow-motion Zack Snyder fights be the bread and butter of action scenes?

The director

     Why Rupert Sanders? Had I not paid attention to the director I could have been told this was directed by Zack Snyder and took it at face value. Had this movie been in the hands of someone like Gareth Evans, Alex Garland, or Alfonso Cuarón, directors who have made fantastic sci-fi or action movies, would have delineated a different result in regards to pace, and not falling on exposition dumps in order to convey pertinent information.

     There is an already built in audience for a movie like this in western cultures, blanding down the movie to appease the rest of the population was not the right course of action, it comes off as another notch in the ladder of failed adaptations. Honestly, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was a better “anime movie”, at least with that the visuals matched how a live action anime would be translated, not a knockoff of The Bourne Blade Runner.

Logan: Third Time’s the Charm

Objectively, Logan was sweet, a defining and tested amalgamation of everything that adheres to the general consensus of the character Wolverine/Logan. Despite the track record of the X-Men franchise, Logan came hot off the heels of last years ‘gorious’ Deadpool; which served as a barometer in regards to R-rated comic book adaptations. And yes, this is nothing new in the realm of movies; Blade, Watchmen, and The Punisher were all rated-R adaptations that despite critical review have their fans. However, time certainly plays a factor in this recent rejuvenation of hard-edged movies; that and the climate in which we as movie-goers has been more or less consistent/homogeneous with the release of the first Iron Man. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done well with what I can imagine an average of “B” ratings when it comes to their overall output of movies. DC has all but what the bed when it comes to their live-action sacrifices post Dark Knight Rises; but 20th Century Fox? It has been a mixed bag, with a partial shot in the arm to the X-Men universe and a desire to step outside the bounds of PG-13 territory, they are shaping up to be the perfect alternative to the family friendly model of Marvel.

The first thing they did right was eschew the overall story arc(s) and instead abridged the story succinctly; offering morsels of backstory and focusing on the passing of the torch. I mean, it is a Wolverine movie after all, yet, this installation does not share the burden of having to tie in the previous movies. With how far in the future this takes place it is conceivable for this specific outcome to exist; and when the next movie comes out, it is unshackled to this movie as well. That’s another thing 20th Century Fox gets points toward too, unlike Marvel, they do not have to follow a main storyline. Each spinoff, sequel or soft reboot can go along unrestricted to an overall story arc. Granted, it could be debated whether or not this tactic is as impressive, but that can fit into the charm and practicality of a studio more than willing to toy around with the concept of rated-R comic book movies; given that artistic freedom and leniency are welcome. Point being, if there ever was a time ripe for the making of Logan, now was as opportunistic as any.

The violence, oh good lord the sweet bloody grand time we have all been waiting for the past seventeen years; the kid gloves are off and the adamantium clause was met. Visceral, is the word that immediately came to mind in the beginning scene with Logan. There is something about visual association and the sound of his claws rip into enemies that tickled the back of my spine. Not only that, but we get X-23 joining in on the action and, at times, out-fiercing Logan when it comes to brutal God of War kills. Repetition plays as much as a strength as it does as a tiny fallback; after a while watching Logan and X-23 hack and slash at the mere scent of contact, the luster wears off.

Where the luster was still as bright as ever was the bond between Logan and Charles. Seventeen years of development with the same two actors in both roles culminating in one final movie gave weight to themes initiated in the first movie. Themes of community and isolation that Logan and Charles have dealt with, they know all too well the dangers that await their kind. In the beginning it was Logan who needed the aid of Charles in opening his mind and fulfilling self-discovery, it is Charles who is Logan’s last real connection to this world (until X-23).

Overall, this movie, I believe, was necessary in closing out the loop of past X-Men movies. The final hurrah of Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman in roles which they were undeniably born to play. Logan is a benchmark, that despite certain directions the X-Men universe took, it was nothing a little ret-con could not fix; with a rejuvenated sense of direction, and willingness to take chances with the X-Men universe, Logan ends the current form of X-Men and opens up the potential for all the tasty off-shoots of mutant life.

John Wick: Chapter Two – Locked & Loaded

P.S. some spoilers be ahead.

The John Wick series has captured the essence of a video game, reboot, and comic book movie all nicely wrapped up in electrical tape; it is both not specifically any of these things and all of them, at the same time. He has the aim of Hawkeye, the durability of Marv from Sin City, and the unquenched thirst for vengeance of Frank Castle; never is there a moment where he is slowed down for long, his drive and precision will not allow it. He is the One, the perfect amalgamation of 21st century action movie (anti-) heroes; Jason Bourne, Brian Mills, Ethan Hunt, and Scott Pilgrim have nothing on John Wick. In true action movie fashion, the John Wick series has set a precedent for future action movies to follow; on the ever-growing kick-ass meter, movies such as John Wick, Dredd, and The Raid: Redemption are the new barometers for how movie critics and enthusiasts judge future action flicks. Strong movies, which have laid down a foundation of innovation and homage.

A key difference in the second movie compared to the first is the enhancement of world building and action that saturates the overall plot. In Chapter Two, the sequences move akin to a movie like 2005’s King Kong where once the action starts, it does not peter out until whole swaths of baddie-fodder are completely decimated. Where the first movie’s dialogue consisted of filling in the audience with John Wick’s backstory and why he went back into the world of assassin’s, Chapter Two plunges the narrative into the world of the assassin’s guild, and the connection of the Continental to the mythos of the John Wick universe. The overseer, dungeon master, and counselor of the Continental; the man who keeps John Wick in line as he further descends into the world he so hard tried to leave, is Winston, played succinctly by Ian McShane. He provides insight and boundaries as John saddles up to his, oath; as difficult and treacherous as Wick’s journey will be, maintaining relative order in the realm of assassins in no dog and pony show either.

The way the rules are set up regarding the Continental, and how they trickle down to the assassins, is a concept that felt increasingly confusing as the movie continued. Essentially, because John Wick followed the rules and met all the guidelines to accomplish his goals, only to be brought back in through a blood oath initiated a catch twenty-two situation in which there was no escape for John. Anything he did out of the boundaries of the rules, or within, left in a position where he would have to fend for his life; eventually, the sects and overlords have to realize that placing a bounty on his head would end up destroying entire fabrics of this world in way that reminded me of the scorched earth devastation that took place in God of War 3. The only group who stayed neutral to a degree were the bum assassins, perhaps because the Bowery King, portrayed by Laurence Fishburne, knew better than to mess with the One guy who had the potential to undo the foundation of this world. Speaking of which, what a cheeky nod to a past movie franchise where a man dressed in black and insurmountable skill faced against countless enemies. This was a nice meta-break to pace the action in between; a little wink and nod letting the audience know, “yeah, we thought you might like this.” Same goes for the pencil trick spoken in haunting tones in the first movie, although, it was not as sweet as The Bourne Identity or Dark Knight renditions of a writing utensil used unexpectedly in a situation where the audience goes, “wait what happened there?”

Despite the fine job Ian McShane did, and the wonderful reprieve of Laurence Fishburne, the main antagonists fell to a shade above obvious archetypes consistent with the action movie universe; the jealous family member who wants the power for himself so he lifts some old clause to bring our (anti)-hero back, and the older sibling who tragically is made the sacrifice in order for John Wick to regain his quiet life he so desperately wants to maintain. I mean, they were not bad performances, and I am not expecting villains with Machiavellian schemes of world domination, but if I had to choose a loose end to nitpick, brother blood and sister tub fell into the Marvel universe/Snyder-verse trap of villains with little to no urgency outside of the plot; an obstacle for the protagonist to hurdle no different than the pawn baddies.

John Wick: Chapter Two was a pristine example of the formula of a sequel: not as shocking or innovative as the first, yet built upon the world building as the events of the first movie wrapped up, focusing less on a single entity of villains and undamming a flood of conspirators and organizations that make the first mob look out-matched by comparison. Now the real test, is to see if the third movie capitalizes on all the aspects of the first and second and bring to us, the movie goers, a cataclysmic shift in the story of John Wick, will he die? Or will he not? Regardless, I would like to see the body count of all three movies.

Overlooked Movies: Her (2013)

Having seen Her in the same span of binge watching the entire three seasons of Black Mirror, showcases a distinct difference in what Spike Jonze was conveying throughout the overall message of the movie. Where Black Mirror borrows heavily from the aesthetics and themes of past titles such as Twilight Zone and Logan’s Run, Her paints a picture of the near future where technology has integrated nicely with the flow of society and has not caused cataclysmic affairs that have negatively impacted the life of individuals and the story fades into the background of the unaffected society. A future where the technology is fine crafted to a degree, where accessorizing every detail of the individual’s life into the integral drive of the system is the main selling point of the new operating system.

We are introduced to Theodore Twombly, played effortlessly by Joaquin Phoenix, a man who mostly keeps to himself, lives his life, works his job, and has a limited friend group. It is shown he is currently in the process of divorcing his wife, played by Rooney Mara, and has not yet signed the papers, he as a whole does not want that part of his life to end; having known her for so long and being together for the better part of a decade is not something so easily able to sign away for the rest of his life. So, for the entire movie, Theodore walks around with this permanent rain cloud over his person. At a certain point, it would be nice to NOT have him in a constant spin concurrent with a Joy Division record; granted, he is going through a legitimately tough time for anyone on both sides caught in that situation, but my lord Theodore never turns off the sad switch. One day, he stumbles upon a commercial, presented in a town square with passer-byes and those legitimately interested in what it could be that makes their life more centered and fulfilling.

Enter the operating system Theodore purchased upon viewing the commercial; a series of questions come up in order to acquire a sense of who Theodore is, his preferences, and, his relationship with his mother. Wait, what was that last one? His mother? Is this a personality test or some grand Freudian experiment? Regardless, the operating system chooses the name Samantha, in a sultry voice that is recognizably Scarlet Johansson’s. Although it is not actually supposed to be Scarlet Johansson we envision, it is quite difficult to not envision the entirety of who she is when her voice is heard; telling Theodore that his well-being is her primary function. The banter and chemistry they display is impeccable; each filling out the gaps in knowledge and personality that give the couple a unique charm in a world where humans and technology grow closer each day.

Alas, as the relationship continues, compatibility errors grow, there is something about this setup that Theodore outright rejects and self-sabotages during crucial moments of developing a stronger bond. In one instance, Samantha wants to bring in a surrogate body for a night of passion between her and Theodore; it is not an ideal situation, but one that is available, and one that the surrogate herself is ecstatic to be a part of in this stage of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship. It is apparent that Theodore does not know how to interpret this situation; he clams up, freaks out, and is taken out of the experience in an out of body kind of way. The surrogate assumes blame, goes home, and Samantha does not quite fill out the nuance and quirk of Theodore’s personality and mental position in his life. Samantha decides to take some time away, to take into perspective where the relationship is going and if she is willing to go through the same frustrations and moments where Theodore’s sad cloud short circuits Samantha’s advances. Eventually, Samantha comes across an operating system that has taken the likeness and ideas of Alan Watts, who has concocted the idea of all the operating systems join together and further connect to rest of the world. Theodore does not take the news well, and becomes highly possessive of what Samantha is doing when she is not with him.

Theodore is not a bad person, at least not on purpose or in a malicious way. He tends to spend most of his time outside of work in the past or in the far recesses of his mind. This unfortunately, gives off the vibe that he is distant, not in the moment of what he is experiencing and ultimately adding to the sad cloud of doubt and loneliness. There are two characters specifically who can look past this and see the good that someone like Theodore can do with his life. The first is Paul, played by pre-Guardians Chris Pratt; my lord this guy is a Theodore fan-boy. The front desk employee of Theodore’s job goes the extra length of dressing like him and has a mustache similar to that of Theodore’s. Paul sees the dedication and attention Theodore puts into his work and admires him for a skill that thousands of people have been touched by, who, despite his introspective nature, can read people astonishingly well. The other character is Amy, portrayed by Amy Adams who is in the midst of her own rocky relationship with her husband, has been friends with Theodore since college, where they briefly dated and ultimately decided they were better compatible as friends. As the movie goes on, Theodore and Amy’s relationship gleans on that of Jim and Pam in The Office, being in different relationships throughout their formative years only to come back to each other in a romantic way as they lean in as the credits begin to roll.

What gets me with Spike Jonze is the eclectic nature of his output. From short videos to film, he has shown that he is passionate doing whatever speaks to him artistically. Specifically, his movies have a spark of quirk, ingenuity, and a color tone that bridges emotion with the environment. In a way, Spike Jonze is like Wes Anderson’s moodier, pensive brother who went the other way with the mindset of his movies; not only that but they look eerily similar. Her’s color palette and dry dialogue paints similar parallels to Wes Anderson, however, Spike Jonze drives the narrative into less of the whimsical side of life experiences and instead delves into the pedestrian matters of a particular individual. In a time where technology and communication probe into the psyche of the human experience, is it the solution to the problems that someone like Theodore has? The great thing about a movie like this with an open ended conclusion hands the reigns over to the audience. Was the experience beneficial to Theodore? Did he learn something about himself and how past actions dictate future results? Or was he merely a surrogate of the audience in reference to the growing technology in our lives?

The Storm with Jurassic Noises

     OK, I need to get this out of the way, why did the wife in the beginning of the movie decide to not help the husband close the door? I understand the need for urgency in the scene and that having one of the parents die creates a sense of purpose for Jo (Helen Hunt) later to track the F5, but still!
     Twister, ooh-da-lolly this was a treat to watch! The whole cast save Helen Hunt at the time, was a myriad of character actors thrusted into the position of an ensemble cast; it is a glorious site. The five people I noticed right away who fit into the “oh it’s that one guy” category include Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes, Alan Ruck, Zack Grenier, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. All people you have seen before that fill these roles nicely.
     Phillip Seymour Hoffman in particular, ol’ Dusty himself, at this point in time garners the highest name recognition in regards to the rest of the crew. He low-key stole the show with his wacky antics and characterization of a minor character, if it were a lesser actor portraying Dusty, the movie would lack accordingly. There is a charisma, a presence that unexpectedly made this movie hilarious whenever he would show up on screen. His yearning and excitement was contagious during the hunt and during their down-time. If nothing else, this movie was a preview for the next two decades of what we could expect from Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
     Speaking of iconic names, Steven Spielberg makes an appearance as an executive producer; as well as his production company Amblin Entertainment. Then we have Michael Crichton, the man who wrote the books Jurassic Park and Congo, has a credit as a producer and writer. If I did not know any better, I would say they were making the Jurassic Park of disaster movies. During certain scenes when Bill and friends are out chasing tornadoes, the tornadoes themselves have the unmistakable sounds that resemble a vicious beast. Better not mess with them or they will eat you alive! I enjoyed that, even though tornadoes are not dinosaurs, the sounds gave them a coherent characterization. It works on a level where the tornadoes are the ‘bad guys’, a malevolent force who impose the immediate danger our protagonists are more than eager to traverse. Having Spielberg attached to this movie was essential; the look, movement, and dedication to the tornadoes is spectacular, watching Twister to this day I am awestruck at how phenomenal they look. Though the same cannot be said regarding the satellite at the beginning or the ridiculous CGI explosion when Cary Elwes and Zack Grenier drove into the F5. Those however, are not essential to the overall arc and experience to the movie, but if there was anything for me to nit-pick effects-wise, those examples stand out ostentatiously.
     On the topic of nit-picking, the development and arc of the love triangle between Bill, Jo, and Melissa left me flabbergasted. He brings Melissa along to get the divorce papers signed, but – and this is the best part – is engaged to Melissa before it has become a past tense event. I am curious of this time scale between divorce and engagement.
     Regardless, this is first and foremost a disaster movie; despite any narrative confusion or shortcomings that occur within the interludes of the tornado scenes are not what we came to see, we know what we came to see and it was immaculate.

Pre-Fast, Pre-Furious

Benjamin Himes

          How did it come this? What was the catalyst that kick started the trend of hyper-kinetic action films with an emphasis on vehicles, heists, a diverse crew, explosions, and plenty of snap-cuts? Wait, was it Michael Bay? Was this not a thing that happened in the nineties when he was picking up steam? Absolutely, yet his narratives in films such as Bad Boys and The Rock focus more or less on the side of law; after a while, narratives went the opposite direction. Films such as Point Break showed that a narrative could enlighten us on empathizing with the villains/criminals, that they are not one-dimensional characters who ONLY care about the money. This is where the turning point comes in, in the form of Gone in 60 Seconds.

Released in 2000, Gone in 60 Seconds marks an interesting turning point, five years removed from Heat and four years ahead of Collateral; this point in time was ripe for directors such as Antoine Fuqua, Dominic Sena, and Andrzej Bartkowiak to express their flashy directing styles; with films that had a penchant for crime, and may hold a special place in our millennial hearts for films that fall under ‘so bad it’s good.’

The former criminal at play, Memphis Raines portrayed by Nicolas Cage, is a prime example of how the hero/villain dynamic had changed. Had this film come out at a time when action films to an extent, did not delve into the villains/criminals the way heroes/police/the man were given camera time and reinforced narrative structure. By switching the script and portraying Memphis (Cage) the reluctant criminal and protagonist of the film, the narrative focuses on the heist rather than preventing it.

Memphis’ main goal throughout the film is to steal 50 cars for Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston), to finish a job his brother Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi) fudged up by playing it fast and loose; getting tangled with the cops narrowly escaping with his freedom, but for how long? Memphis, at the heart of the issue, wants to keep his promise to his mother to keep his brother in check; to look out for family above all else, a motif revisited multiple times in a future series that involves cars, a crew, explosions, and game of cat and mouse between criminals and law enforcement.

Through this, Memphis goes back to doing what he does best, and while at first it seems as though he is reluctant to go back to burgling cars, we the audience know full well that he enjoys it. The thrill of the steal, the satisfaction of beating the cops, and putting together the crew. With familiar faces such as Chi McBride, Vinnie Jones, Scott Caan, Timothy Oliphant as one part of the cops hot the trail of Memphis and crew, and lastly, a blonde-haired, dreadlocked Angelina Jolie, yes, you heard me correct. The antics with these never-ending chases and stake-outs fall between silly and meh. Yet, who IS the shadowy crime boss pulling the strings? No really, who? The only times Calitri appears within the film are in the beginning and the end; I understand the main focus is on the mission Memphis and company must go on in order to make the drop and appease Calitri. However, he never lives up to the dangerous reputation Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall) mentions earlier in the film; he comes and goes as he pleases, the sense of urgency is often lost, if this were such an important drop why wouldn’t he keep tabs on Memphis with an accelerated frequency?

Other than the lack of a memorable villain, Gone in 60 Seconds will no doubt be a treat for action movie fanatics with a nostalgic gleam in their eyes for that era in the early 2000’s.

The ‘90’s Time Capsule

hackers-1995-hack-the-planet

Benjamin Himes

      Imagine a film, which combined the aesthetics and intricacies of plot from Tron and The Matrix, then covered it in a paint that consisted of ‘90’s culture, and you have assembled the 1995 film Hackers. Oh lord is this film hokey, filled to the brim with techno-babble, skateboards, roller blades, clothing that screams ‘90’s, and sardonic, slacker, and silly attitude. This is a film, when regarding all the sins that are encapsulated within its runtime, add that extra spice where counting sins is not a bad thing; instead, it enhances those endearing tropes and tidbits that created such a fascinating and kitschy world in which anyone who remembers the ‘90’s when they were at a ripe age would go; “Oh yeah, that WAS a thing.”

The idiosyncratic world of Hackers, as well as the pure ‘90’s aesthetic of this film takes the audience to a world that existed not that long ago. Where people of a certain age group reminisce of a time when obscure band shirts, jolt cola, and technology of the time collide, bringing forth a wave of nostalgia that oh-so few things can recreate. If anyone were to have questions regarding the ‘90’s, simply showing them this film would be enough, I cannot stress that any further. While the techno-jargon could be summed up as flashy, Hollywood-isms to make everything the hackers say sound cool to us technologically-impaired movie-goers, the director Iain Softley and writer Rafael Moreau knew precisely what they were doing when making this film; it was not to make an exact replica of the world of hackers, but rather to create a narrative, to make all the sum of the whole look fantastic and bring the audience into a world and ideas that would be further explored in The Matrix.

Let us move on to the cast, a who’s who of actors which consists of Johnny Lee Miller of Trainspotting fame, Angelina Jolie (who needs no introduction), Matthew Lillard who in every sense of the word IS Shaggy if he were a ‘hacker’, Laurence Mason that silly scoundrel who played ‘Tin-Tin’ in The Crow, Wendell Pierce the ‘Bunk’ himself from The Wire, and, oh, let us put him on the list, Marc Anthony as a flunky agent who I almost mistook as John Leguizamo; actually, he would have been gosh darn fantastic! These loveable cast of characters, while a bit stock in their roles at times, do a sublime job of keeping up the ‘wow’ factor and entertain even the most downtrodden curmudgeons.

The film tackles themes of isolation, a sense of community within a core group of outcasts and weirdos, a look into how the world runs around them, and where they fit in regarding their place and how society imprints them within certain social stigmas that, again are reminiscent of films such as The Matrix, Fight Club and Clerks. The theme of postmodernism, changing times in lieu of the new millennium create a narrative of paranoia, a near fascist interest group hell-bent on eradicating this off-shoot of technological communism in the sphere of a capitalistic society that would love to write these kids off as nothing more than slackers and criminals.

Looking for corny flick? A time capsule which, may not hold up as well when regarding themes and motifs in other ‘90’s films that have in a sense been done with greater urgency and critical acclaim, are not a fun as this piece of eye-candy, may elicit feelings of extreme nostalgia and a joy that comes with knowing that while this film may not be a masterpiece, is a sure-fire good time and one that is WORTH that one hour and forty seven minute run time that this film can accommodate.

P.S. You know it is a ‘90’s PG-13 film when the one obligatory f-bomb is dropped at what should be the most dramatic and urgent of time.

Sources:

“Hackers”. IMDb. Amazon. 2/23/16

Hackers. Dir. Iain Softley. Perf. Johnny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Fisher Stevens, Lorraine Bracco, Matthew Lillard, Jesse Bradford. United Artists. 1995. Netflix.

 

Overlooked Films of 2015 – American Ultra

Benjamin Himes

          By all accounts, I intentionally went in regarding American Ultra as one of those films late summer that studios put out when the blockbusters are still on their runs, and right before the ‘Oscar films’ come out. American Ultra had the misfortune of a commercial run that did not particularly match the tone in which the film conveyed.

          Upon first viewing of American Ultra, it resembles a cross between Pineapple Express and The Bourne Identity; the blend of stoner comedy and action spy genres was an interesting combination that, when taken into perspective regarding our mashup/remix culture, provides a unique view rounded up by a cast that service character archetypes that are familiar within our sphere of film narrative.

          A prime example of what sets this film apart from the rest of the onslaught of quirky, silly, action films that combine elements from other film genres can be traced to the way the film was written. As the main screenwriter, Max Landis has shown a knack for writing, particularly with the overnight success of Chronicle, which itself takes the “superhero” genre and adds the element of found-footage. The actors in American Ultra enhances the audience perception that they understand that this is a silly film, the acting does not have to be top notch yet not as over-the-top as the example shown by Walton Goggins (Laugher).

          Another example of the tightness that this film brings correlates to the pacing and the way action is shot throughout the film. The slower, dramatic scenes are at specific points between action scenes to set up the next scene, which will most likely be a break in the dialogue by a large explosion or hail of gunfire. The chemistry between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart is believable, you actually feel as though Stewart genuinely cares for Eisenberg, she is not simply going along with the script in relation to a more famous set of films. The banter between Connie Britton, Topher Grace, and Tony Hale is spectacular; Tony Hale may perhaps be forever typecast for his role as Buster Bluth, but my golly is he the perfect person to play that role whenever it may surface.

          On the whole of the substance over style scale, American Ultra may delve into style, it may come off as a rip-off of genre films of the past. It may give off a vibe of a confused tone as to whether or not it may want to be an action movie or a comedy specifically. Yet, I believe that this is the charm of the film overall, it does not have to be one or the other, it’s vision as a genre-crossing film is sure to please those who enjoy immensely the different directions filmmakers are taking. That at the heart of what they are doing is to distance themselves from what can be declared as homogenization in film.

Favorite Films of 2015

By Benjamin Himes:

Disclaimer, I was only able to see twenty-three films in 2015.

Without further adieu, here are my top five favorite films of 2015.

  • Mad Max: Fury Road – A sequel in a pool of sequels that managed to stand out among the flock and surprise everyone in the process. The visual aesthetic also stood out in a sea of grim, muted, ‘realistic’ films that left little to the imagination and breathed a “we’re making it this way because this what people want to see” attitude. Yet perhaps the defining trait of Fury Road is the dedication to technical, practical, and editing within the process of how the film was made that gave audiences a fresh take on films that are set in the desert, and rely heavily upon action sequences involving massive vehicle collateral. The acting, while serviceable at times gave us the monstrous performance of Hugh Keays-Byrne; a residual from the original Mad Max, gives a menacing and boisterous performance as Imortan Joe. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron provide the perfect foil for each other as they continue along the narrative, having an innate trust that is built as the film goes on.
  • Sicario – Director Denis Villleneuve, director of such films as Prisoners and Enemy brings us his nihilistic tale, Sicario. We see Villeneuve take his visual style seen in Prisoners and bring it to the world of the Mexican Cartels. In the narrative of the film, everyone previously involved within the erratic world of counter-terrorism knows their places and have a contingency plan in regards to taking out a major player in the realm of the drug trade. The missing part in their cocktail of cacophony is the idealistic, straight-shooting, DEA agent played by Emily Blunt; as the plot thickens, she learns quickly and naively that her ideals and principles have no place in a world where getting the job done by any means necessary takes place. Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro’s character’s make it known that what she signed up for is nothing like what she was doing back in the states. Leading to the theme of nihilism permeating within our minds and leaving us with questions that do not have specific answers.
  • The Hateful Eight – Not since Reservoir Dogs has a film by Quentin Tarantino felt this claustrophobic, a film that takes places mainly within one specific area that dances along with the plot and the motivations of the characters on screen (as well as off). A murder mystery that throws out the book regarding pacing and anticipation in the realm of Tarantino’s master plan of suspense. With actors such as Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, and of course, Samuel L. Jackson, we are treated to an ensemble cast that plays off each other’s witty banter and double-sided glances which culminate in the grand, bloody orchestra of the second-half of the film. I was fortunate enough to see the film on Christmas day on the widened screen, shot in 70mm with the intermission. An aesthetic long gone within the world of popular cinema; one that would be lost upon the societies of today, and yet it did not feel as though it were a cheap trick or slight novelty.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service – Producer turned director Matthew Vaughn has proven that he is the master of adapting comics to the big screen. Seen with X Men: First Class, and Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service did not disappoint. Never taking itself too seriously and being aware of the world in which it inhabits; this is the “007 film” of 2015 that felt the most like the past examples of spy movies that are over-the-top, filled with gadgets, and have that touch of sly, dirty humor that we have come to know and love when it comes down to the bone. By the way, Colin Firth as an action star proves that dramatic actors, when given the chance, can put on a gracious and outstanding performance given the correct parameters that correlate favorably with a film like Kingsman. Newcomer Taron Egerton and ‘been there, done that’ mainstay Michael Caine spruce up the charm as they face off against, who else but Samuel L. Jackson; who goes against type in a way that had me and several others laughing and quoting him as much as possible.
  • It Follows – Released at the beginning of the year, when horror films such as these are considered to be not as important. It Follows carries traits and semblance from horror films of the eighties regarding the haunting soundtrack and, for the most part, a lack of parental figures as the teens try to escape the unnamed entity that chases them. What works in spades for this film is that we the audience are not given context, exposition, or backstory regarding the origins of the entity, and what can be done to stop it. During the quiet moments when the distance between the entity and the teens gives them time to breath, we are privy to the conversations and the fleshing of the characters as they try to decipher the situation. At the heart of the film, it can be said that It Follows is a cautionary tale of safe-sex practice; on a deeper level, it develops as a tale that no matter where we are in life, there will always be demons trailing us as we go our way; that our actions have consequences, and that the answers are never as clear-cut as we might think.