Category: Drama

The Departed

9/10

The Departed, directed by Martin Scorsese, is a fresh look into the Irish mob, featuring excellent performances from high-up actors like Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Leonardo DiCaprio. It follows the life of Billy Costigan, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a young man from the Bronx who enlists in the police force, partly because of his families history in crime. Two cops, Captain Queenan and Dignam see this while reviewing his file, and force him into a different path: undercover work. Once he completes his task, they’ll trust him to be an officer.

The film starts out similar to Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’ in the way it explores how a young boy gets dragged into mob work. A quasi-touching scene, always the moral contradictions in a Scorsese film, where mob-lord Frank Costello buys some groceries for young Sullivan, who will later train to be an officer and work as a rat for Costello. The film slowly focuses primarily on Billy, his mother and father both gone from his life, his mother just recently. Their are certain parallels with his undercover work, like the fact that the rat is dating a woman who is playing around with Billy, and when Billy asks about her boyfriend, we know its the man who is the focus of the entire assignment. The woman, Billy’s psychiatrist Madolyn, played by Vera Farmiga, is a mirror for the characters differences: Billy is rough-edged, young, and cynical; and Sullivan is immoral, hidden, but highly appealing, much like a mobster.

The mystery is taken away from the equation, as we see things from all viewpoints of the characters, but the suspense is not. Through seeing it, Scorsese creates precise details to cover up trails and close getaways. The film was written by William Monahan, who won an Oscar for best screenplay, and deservedly. The Boston-like slang and wisecracking of the cops is timeless, and the nuance in the relationships are perfect, as if each character were real and sat down and wrote their own part. The relationship between the Billy and his cousin, with their impulsive drug-deals, re-establishes the mobs hatred of drugs, as Mr. French, one-rank lower to Frank Costello, tells Billy to fucking stop the drug-deals with his cousin; “I knew your father” he repeatedly says, and says he was a good man, but we never get much information on what his father did, exactly.

The film’s structure, thanks a huge part to Monahan’s screenplay, is worth studying for film students. It’s intricate plot and double crosses makes one think it was trying to break a world record: the most under covers in a movie plot. It’s another seminal entry into the mob genre for the master himself, Martin Scorsese.

The Social Network

David Fincher’s ‘The Social Network’ takes the modern story of Mark Zuckerberg and twists into an entertaining,  versatile film, partly because of the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. It catalogs Mark Zuckerberg’s relationship with the Harvard students he allegedly stole the Facebook idea from–and the uprising of he and his company, along with the emotional collapse between Mark and his partner, Eduardo. The two divide when Mark becomes opportunistically attracted to Sean Parker, the founder of the free music site, Napster.

The film is a brilliant meditation on what movies can accomplish when written well: Complex, confused, and morally perplexing. Their is a montage of the muscular twin brothers rowing across the river in a race, mixed with an incredible soundtrack, that displays Fincher’s power of congruity: In each of his films, in the same tradition of Kubrick, you have the lack of feeling as to invoke how meticulate, (or not invoke, I should say) Fincher is in picking his shots; the first scene, a on-set documentary said, took over one-hundred shots to get what Fincher wanted, and it was all dialogue at a table. The actor, Jesse Eisenberg, said he was fine with it because of the nice escape static scene acting was, where like a staged play you really came to hone the scene.

Like the court case, how much the film dramatizes or how much truth it displays is questionable. The thing that’s not questionable, though, is the talent present in the film, and essentially it is an island itself with creative freedoms; In all biographical movie, fact is notoriously boring, and fiction makes a stir, the kind of stir that no matter what it says, still gathers attention for its subject; Mark Zuckerberg has definitely become more known as a result, before this being known as the young CEO who got really sweaty during that one interview.

The film, on many occasions, takes the court-case footage and splices the dialogue together with whatever their talking about; going back in time, and having Eduardo answer the question through the actual action, when it happened. That’s a unique method for dealing with court-cases in such a smooth structural pattern, where the impulses of the characters aren’t described by themselves in the court by shrewd monotone, but in flesh and blood. Because we know during the whole rise of Facebook, none of the original creators were very happy. The Social Network is an astounding piece of filmmaking that takes a rather small-scope character story and turns it into an entertaining look at ‘rights’ and dedication, with Oscar-worthy performances from young actors.

Catch me If You Can (2002)

9/10

Spielberg’s “Catch me if you Can” was made in a relatively short-period, but it doesn’t show any lack of detail. Its suave topic helps display the acting chops of a young Dicaprio, as well as a usual good supporting performance from Tom Hanks. The movie takes a normal-looking kid from a steady family of a mother and father, and makes us feel tricked when we find out such a con-genius he is. The marriage between his parents doesn’t last forever, and a sense of fraudulence is always given off from the father, played by Christopher Walken; he gives advice to his son about beating law-enforcement, not that he needs it.

The catch of it all is that this young con, Frank Abagnale Jr., is smarter than the federal agents. He is manipulative, able to blend in, and above all an excellent actor. One of the most enticing scenes in the film is when the federal agent, Carl Hanratty, approaches the scene of the crime, a dirty hotel room, and finds that someone is in the bathroom, and that person we know is frank, yet he still miraculously gets away. He pulls it off like he is a part of another organization that beat him to the punch, and in fact asks for the federal agent’s I.D. in an attempt at realism. Once he gets outside and starts running,  Carl knows immediately that he really messed up; and not just in the case, but for his own mockery of an identity.

The film moves like Goodfellas, though toned down like a Disney version of it, and keeps our attention through the whole uprising of Frank. We see him when he has a pool and a house, with preppy men and beautiful girls occupying it. And we see him when he’s paying a prostitute in his child-like innocence sort of way, which could be a method of his and not a real persona, we don’t know. Above all, we see his desperation; jumps to him in jail, trying to escape in rags and an overgrown beard, he is a product of the heist. Addicted to the thrill of getting away.

The movie sums up its parts and proves to be an effective movie as a whole, with brilliant performances, a taut moral line, and some great, funny scenarios. This will no doubt go down as one of Spielberg’s minor masterpieces.

Film Review: Reservoir Dogs

Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs takes place in a static location, a warehouse, and re-tells its story through the wounds of its characters and the conflicts of choice they debate about. Paranoid, hate-drive, rowdy, and self-interested only partly describes the emotions of the hit-men rendezvousing at the safe warehouse; among them is Harvery Keitel as Mr. White, Tim Roth as Mr. Orange, Michael Madsen as Mr. Blonde, and Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink.

The film is a great compilation of actors with a clear future, but is not at a level to compare it to great mobster flicks; well-executed and brimming with Tarantino’s dialogue, but still with the feeling of an outsider looking it, the film adds no knowledge to the business of the mob, but creates a scene with style and excitement. The black-suits and sympathetic characters are a welcome addition to the guiltless genre, particularly Harvey Keitel’s fatherly character.

The Jewelry heist that happens before the rendesvous, which is shown in maniacal flashbacks in the midst of the heist, is an interesting choice from the director; some would say if your staging it from one place, understand it all just that one place. But the flashbacks reveal how it happened and how the characters reacted to it, which essentially is very key to show for the plot of Reservoir Dogs.

The heist is organized by Joe Cabot, a large bald hoarse-talker, alongside his son, Nice Guy Eddie Cabot, played by Sean Penn, who is really a funny persona of confidence and demands; he simply insures that the jobs his daddy demands go through smoothly, doesn’t actually perform any aspect of the heist, or at least we aren’t told he does.

The film ends on a conclusive point, a wrap-up like a Hitchcock tale, and keeps its structure precise and calculated by the screenplay’s demand; a taut, entertaining look at a one-job heist and who ultimately gets away with what they wanted.

Film Review: Primal Fear (1996)

7/10

Primal Fear is a paperback crime novel on the screen, a solid cast of scandalous characters, and one supposedly psychotic boy who hits center-stage: Aaron, played with searing talent by Edward Norton, is found running on train-tracks with blood smeared on his hands, chest, and face. A priest has been killed, and Aaron is an alter boy. This sets the premise for the fame-hungry Lawyer, Martin Vail, played by Richard Gere, and his near futile attempt to prove the boy not guilty; similar to Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men.

The evidence for the boy comes up in spurts, partly revealed by Martin Vail’s conversations with him in the jail cell. Aaron has some odd outbursts in the midst of a psychiatrist, played by Frances McDormand, trying to smoothly pry inside him, and it is recorded and re-played to arrive at the conclusion that he has anger problems, which would not be good for the case, or has multiple-personality disorder. This decides whether or not Aaron will go to jail, to a psychiatric unit, or proven to not be guilty of the crime at all: For the lawyer, psychiatric unit would be second best, proven guilty the best, though this case seems to change something inside Lawyer Martin Vail. Before, he was a celebrity of the law, and now he seems to genuinely want to discover the truth behind Aaron. He finally becomes what a lawyer should be.

The relationship between Janet (Laura Linney), and Martin begs the question of whether or not it is right for lawyers to connect, personal history or whatever, in discussion of the case at hand. I feel it creates an unfair complication, the personal interlacing of values and sensitivities, that makes one of the sides being defended not balanced. Why do we not allow jury members to have relationships with the subject? Blackmail and other ulterior motives, of course.  The dialogue has some memorability to it, also, with the Lawyer’s longevity providing inexcusable pouts of familiarity; he thinks he knows the game, yet who is really playing it?

The film is well-paced and confident in its staging of the court, featuring bravo performances from Gere, Linney, and particularly on Edward Norton’s end as Aaron. Without the great performances, it would seem rather TV procedural, but yet it is also a testament to the power of a well-executed pot-boiler, even if  its psychological drama is one dimensional.

Film Review: The Shawshank Redemption

9/10

Frank Darabont directed this inspiring adaption of Stephen King’s novella, taking place mostly in a prison in the 1940s, where Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, is sent for killing his wife and her lover. Through out the film, he remains firm that he did not kill his wife, and his prison-mates mock at his consistency, for everyone who comes into prison says they didn’t do it, at least during the first year or so. Andy is quickly respected among the prison mates and begins a long friendship with the prison trader, ‘Red’, played by Morgan Freeman, who narrates Andy’s story, thus why it takes place mostly in the prison.

Andy was a bank teller before sent to prison, and invents ways to keep himself busy. The first encounter Andy has with Red is to request a rock hammer, and he starts sculpting rocks taken off prison grounds; at first, Red is worried about getting something close to a weapon, but once he sees the size of a rock hammer, Andy says, he’ll know its harmless. He comes to find out that Andy too is harmless; he even opens up about his own criminal activity, probably in hope for Andy to do the same, but he doesn’t. These two men’s interactions are the main evidence in the film, for the viewer, that Andy did not murder his wife and her lover. He is far too compassionate.

Andy soon picks up a hobby and begins organizing the Library’s books and requests to get a load of new books: he’s very much trying to change lives, partly as a way to cope with his own. He’s encountered by homosexual men several times, and every time, as Red remembers, he fights tirelessly. The world we live in during this films long run-time truly encompasses like not many films do: Once its over, you feel a rush of cinematic joy, of inspiration and amazement of the character Andy Dufresne.

The cinematography is great and the spectrum of characters displayed and introduced creates a true feeling of scope, like Scorsese’s GoodFellas, where it is not strange to meet new people half-way through the movie. It explores themes such as false punishment and equality in the prisons, and since 1940 many regulations have been placed in prisons, not that the people  sent to them act much different inside, but hopefully the guards have more reason to defend prisoners rights. An emotional and uplifting movie, The Shawshank Redemption will go down as one of the greatest Stephen King film adaptions.

Film Review: One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

10/10

Milos Forman’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest depicts the rebellious nature of the 197os through a strained relationship between Randle, a psychiatric patient(Jack Nicholson),  and Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), a character symbolic and iconic of authority, or what the 197os upheavals thought it to be. She snares back to requests and questions with dogmatic, parent-like answers like ‘because’, and frustrates Randle to the point of making his stay longer than needed. He is essentially the most transparently sane, with able gesture and thought-process,  yet Nurse Ratched is able to find illness in simply the words that leave his mouth.

The characters in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest are memorable and comical, though not in a hurtful way. It’s a true depiction of that era’s psychiatric unit: black men cleaning up and keeping control, dressed in white slacks and shirt, and neat nurses in white dresses, all women. The main social premise is that authority, the nurses, are the ones causing the permanent stay of some of the patients, because they make them feel inferior: not until later do we and Randle find out that most of the patients are there on a voluntary basis. Randle was transferred from jail to the unit–but to go to the unit on your own free will he finds insane in itself. The social metaphor moves from the book to the screen in a very economical and entertaining way.

When Randle tries to help a young patient, show him to a few pleasures of the real world, it results in panic and paranoia for the young boy, Billy, when Nurse Ratched threatens to tell his mother of the things he did under the finger of Randle. Randle is trying to preach rebellion–that their is better ways to do things than what the status quo says. But ultimately, most of the patients are trapped in their own familiarity with the psych unit and cannot escape. The one who follows Randle in his escape, is the one who didn’t talk through out the movie.

A touching and involving look into the ideology of the 70s, and featuring a powerhouse performance from Jack Nicholson who carries the film almost on his charismatic back; without someone as assured in his profession as Jack Nicholson, this film could have been completely different: seriously, Imagine someone else as Randle. An excellent film that holds up the  same inequality argument forty some years afterwords.

Review: Requiem for a Dream

“Requiem for a Dream” Directed by Darren Aronofsky and based on a novel by Hubert Selby Jr., is a real jaw-clenching experience of drug-abuse. Jared Leto stars as Harry Goldfarb, a paper-white needle-pushing hound, alongside his equally placid girlfriend, Marion, played by Jennifer Connelly. The two are the Bonnie and Clyde of druggies, always self-assuring each other and hoisting up their constantly moody spirits; the feelings of doom that can quite literally be calculated by how many hours it’s been since they’ve last used.

Alongside Harry Goldfarb is his fast-talking pal Tyrone Love, played by Marlon Wayans. As partners, they collaborate on the streets, sniffing out deals and outrunning collectors. We are also shown a side-story of Harry’s seemingly old mother, who dries up all day in a hot and uncomfortable apartment. She watches a game-show on television, which is advertising for participants to come on the show. She sees the glamorous excitement in the eyes of the contestants, and in response begins to grow a strong desire to become beautiful and get on the, which she attempts to do by taking various diet pills. The outcome of all this dreary depiction of broken lives, the Director Aronofsky hopes, is for the viewers to be able to predict the ending, if you already cannot; this is a movie where it’s right to know the outcome, as most people realize that prostitution for drugs and repetitive needle use does not lead to long kisses on the beach. And this one, I can assuredly say, does not end on the beach.

The path to destruction is the main depiction being shown on screen; along the way, we see the self-induced slums, the idiosyncratic sensibilities and attitudes, similar to Danny Boyle’s film ‘Trainspotting’ about British heroin addicts. Behind its own righteousness, the film has an ulterior way of trying to seem hip and spontaneous with swift jump-cuts and hot getaways; however, the film wouldn’t have much of an impact if the characters were arrested early on; the most frightening thing about the whole film is the final, hectic third act, where not only does the emotional turmoil begin boiling to the surface, but also the physical-wreckage of Mrs. Goldfarb and her son Harry Goldfarb’s bodies. Despite a keen sense of blunt righteousness, “Requiem for a Dream” is an eye-opening and important American film.

The Conversation (1974)

The Conversation, a seminal film by acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola, takes a few seconds of fragmented, audio-recorded dialogue between a man and a woman and makes it the subject of a film. Scrutinizing the audio-track is legendary surveillance expert Henry Caul, a quiet, heavy-gazing man with a few (many) years of experience under his belt. His longevity does not provide him with any moral cushioning, however, and the film progresses as he realizes that the tape he is submitting to the corporation that hired him might result in the murder of his clients, a man and woman.

We see early on, when Harry visits a woman in a different apartment, the sexual tensions present: he’s afraid to become close to a woman, it seems, because he is afraid to reveal any sort of inner secret. And when he reveals this to a woman in what seems to be an entirely honest moment, it is recorded by a competitor, who Harry hadn’t realized had bugged him; all fun and games, for the competition, but Harry takes guard and responds equally as mad at this act of private thievery as he would have if his professional tapes were stolen. It’s all the same to him.

Earlier in the film, when the same sardonically hateful and envious fellow surveillance expert asks Harry about how he tapped into a boat and recorded a highly-guarded dialogue, which resulted in the murder of three different persons, we find out why he is so ambivalent to give the tapes in and return to such a state of murderous guilt. He tries to remain objective, but the line between duty and moral obligation becomes thin; a machine would be better fit for the job of Henry, but then does that not make the creator of the machine equally immoral?

The Conversation expertly blends existential angst and obsession into a sharp and uniquely spliced audio experience filled with buzzing, static voices. The slow increase of paranoia hits Henry hard, his past being suddenly explored in a sort of expressionistic black- and-white scene where he’s calling towards a woman he listens to, standing fearfully atop long concrete stairs, listening to him, as if he were another person just exploiting her for information, not a friend, not anyone who would help.

Francis Ford Coppola’s sensitive and intriguing look into surveillance professionals boasts great performances from Gene Hackman as Harry, and a very influential use of audio as a stepping stone and as a main ingredient in the narrative. A jarring, tantalizing look into a man who cares about nothing more than the keys in his life; to his apartment, his mind, and to his various recordings.